Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Once upon a time, there was a village of fishermen who loved to fish. They gathered to form a fishing society with the vision to promote fishing all over the country. They published books on the benefits of fishing as a hobby and as a career. They organized seminars on the latest technology for boats, baits and fishing equipment. At these forums, they sang songs about the joys of fishing. They also hired experts to research on the migration patterns and breeding habits of various fishes. They were so busy with all these activities that there was no time left… to fish.
Until one fine day, a young girl actually decided to sail out to the ocean and cast a net into the waters. Lo and behold, she caught a huge load of fish. Instantly she became famous. She was invited to write a book about her adventures. She was asked to share her amazing experience at fishing conferences and travel the world to lobby for cross-cultural fishing. Of course, she too became so busy that she forgot… to fish…
This is a parable... Spend 2 minutes to discuss what this parable is about. When Jesus called his disciples, He said: Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. This is a call for them be with Him, to give their lives to Him and bring people into His kingdom. It’s a call to evangelism… to make disciples of all peoples. And you can’t make disciples unless you are first a disciple. We find those fishermen funny but more often than not, we Christians can be a lot like them. We can attend trainings, read books and sing songs about evangelism so much so that the only thing we forgot to do is to evangelize. Really… how much of our personal life or even our church activities can really be intentionally evangelistic?
Ouch… this is going to be a tough sermon this morning. Whenever the topic of evangelism crops up, I think a lot of us squirm with a sense of guilt… a sense of inadequacy… believe me, I know that feeling all too well. But there is hope because Jesus says come to me, follow me, learn from me, trust in me and I will make you fishers of men. There’s a promise. He will do it. He will make us fishers of men. But will we follow?
For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
CDPC Puchong: We are a SIMPLE church. We are committed to preaching through chunks of Scripture week in, week out to see how all of them point to our Savior the Lord Jesus. Our desire is for all of our lives (in the workplace, family and in the city) to be shaped by His truth, His grace and His justice. One of our key values is to make disciples of all people groups… ergo, City “Discipleship”. This year, we really want to focus on Making Disciples (through evangelism, pastoral care and growing leaders). That’s our top priority. Why? Because we want to be a gospel-centered church. Because if we don’t do that, then we are not living up to our name. And because “gospel”, “community” and “mission” are at the heart of the book of Romans.
As you may know, this month, we are continuing our exposition on Romans 9-11. We have journeyed through 8 chapters last year and it’s good to just back up a little bit and see where we are. What is the purpose of this letter? Well, Paul is writing because he plans to go and bring the gospel to
And he plans to stop over at the church in Rome
first for evangelism, for ministry and for mutual encouragement. So it’s like a
mission newsletter – Paul needs some assistance to preach the gospel somewhere
which no one has gone before. He needs the church’s support in prayer, help and
perhaps finance. Mission is always a community project, a church project. Even
an apostle doesn’t want to go it alone. But the church in Rome
doesn’t know him personally so he wrote this epistle to introduce himself as an
apostle to the Gentiles and what his gospel message is all about. He ended up
writing up one of the most important and influential books of all time but it’s
good to remember that he didn’t set out to write a theological textbook. Its
core concern is missional. It’s a manifesto, a public declaration for
And the other main purpose of writing the epistle relates to a problem faced by the church itself. It was culturally mixed with a Gentile majority and a Jewish minority. The controversy of whether obeying the law and circumcision as boundary markers that segregate you as a member of God’s people was unsettling the church. There were those who wanted to obey food laws and ceremonial regulations, and others who didn’t. Paul wanted to step in and say: The people of God are defined by faith in Christ alone. Your cultural, ethnic differences are transcended by Christ so you now stand united in the gospel of grace.
Guess what? That means gospel, mission and community are at the forefront of the epistle. David Chong didn’t come up with these brilliant ideas by himself, in case you are wondering. It’s not just a CDPC idea. It is a biblical priority. They are all central concerns in the book of Romans, and if you miss those things, you haven’t grasped it yet.
From the passage we read just now and the rest of Romans 9-11, we can see at least 3 things about
1) The urgency of evangelism
2) The hope of evangelism
3) The purpose of evangelism
If you recall, the broad outline of Roman goes something like this imaginary chat. Paul says: “I am eager to preach the gospel. I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of salvation for everyone who believes (first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles).” Why, Paul, who do they need to be saved? “Because God’s holy anger is revealed against all who suppress the truth in wickedness.”
Well, how have they done that? “The Gentiles have suppressed the knowledge of God available to them in creation and the moral law written in their hearts. They are without excuse. The Jews have the revelation of God’s written law but they break the law. They cannot keep the law. So all of humanity have sinned and come short of God’s standards.”
What then is the solution? That’s why the gospel is so urgent. Why it’s so necessary.
We need the righteousness of God that is given though faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. All who believe are declared righteous (not guilty) on the basis of what Christ has done on the cross. He redeemed us from sin. He turned away God’s holy anger through His sacrifice for us, on our behalf. Not by obeying the law, but by what Christ has done for us – His life, death and resurrection.
That’s why there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, bumiputra or non-bumiputra: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Saved from what? Our universal need is to be freed from the guilt of sin. From the controlling power of sin. From the condemnation of sin. Saved from God’s holy judgment. There is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, Indonesians, Malaysians, Egyptians and Americans. We are all sinners and we all need Christ for salvation. All nations (the entire human race) must hear the gospel. That’s the scope of evangelism: It’s world-embracing. Among us are young people who have traveled hundreds of miles, away from home and family, to be here in
precisely because of this urgency, this longing to see Christ lifted up, adored
and treasured in hearts of peoples from every nation. A sister here told me of
a Bible study she’s part of with a Mongolian, Mainland Chinese, Omani, American
and Egyptian. Like United Nations. Wow, wouldn’t you like to be part of a Bible
study like that? Isn’t that beautiful?
My heart’s desire for CDPC is that we become partners in the gospel with these young people and support them in any way we can. My heart’s desire is that we all catch a glimpse of Paul’s heart, his longing, his agony, his yearning for the salvation of people… “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of
.” (Romans 9) Of course, it is not possible for
him to trade places with anyone… but he so loved his people so much, that if it
were at all possible, he could wish that he was condemned in hell for the sake
of his people, that they may know and enjoy Christ. Can we say the same thing
for anyone who is spiritually lost? Paul can’t die for anyone’s sins, but
Christ was cursed so we could be blessed. Christ was cut off from the Father so
we may enter into His fellowship. There is only one Savior. Israel
But Paul is reflecting His Master’s heart… he yearns for their salvation so much that he was ready to cursed for their sake. That’s the heart of carrying the cross. The only people for whom I have that kind of anguish and sorrow are for my own father and mother who are not yet believers. For them, yes, I could gladly and willingly wish if it were at all possible to trade places with them. But that’s nowhere near the kind of sorrow and love that Jesus and Paul had for the salvation of even their enemies. Those who rejected and opposed them… So our prayer this morning is that the Holy Spirit would melt our hearts and give us the same intensity, the same love and longing. That’s the heart of mission, the urgency of evangelism.
The hope of evangelism:
To call on Jesus’ name is to ask Him to save us according to who He is and what he has done. See, you are the one who must call on the name of the Lord. Nobody can do it for you. And everyone who calls on His name will be saved. There is no such thing as a person trusts and obeys the gospel but gets turned down by God. “Sorry, I know you decided to put your trust in Christ alone but so sorry, you are not one of the chosen ones.” It doesn’t work that way. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
But the problem is: there are a million and one reasons why people would not want to call on His name. They are too busy. They are too obsessed with what the world has to offer. They are too self-satisfied with their own achievements. They thought it would cost them too much freedom. You know, if you have ever tried to share the gospel, there are just so many, many obstacles/excuses that people give for not coming to faith. What hope is there for us to bring our friends into our homes, into this church to listen to the gospel? It seems like a distant fantasy… Maybe in our hearts we have given up hope long ago so we have stopped even trying. What’s the use? What’s the point? I know that feeling…
But then again, that’s exactly how we once were, right? We too were once hardened in rebellion against God, we too were once too proud to acknowledge Him, we too were once substituting other gods instead of worshiping Him. We were too worldly. We were just like that. What hope did we have?
That’s why Paul says in Romans 9: “It does not, therefore, depend on your human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. He has mercy on whom he has mercy and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” There is no hope unless and until God overcomes our rebellion by His love. There is no hope unless and until He opens up our blind eyes by the light of His word, and until the Holy Spirit melts our heart of stone and replace it with a heart beating with new life.
The only thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless is the sovereign grace of God… The only thing that gives you and I hope in pressing on with the gospel is the effectual call of the Holy Spirit. The only thing that keeps us going when all hope is lost is the assurance that God so sovereign that he can bring the most hardened sinner to faith… That’s the hope of evangelism that drove missionaries and evangelists to the ends of the world. That’s the hope that drives us (CDPC) to be salt and light in Puchong.
Back in those days, people do not have the Internet or television so important news from the king travel by means of a herald. The herald would run for many miles to the marketplace and announce the good news: Our king has returned to
He will restore the nation. You will all return from exile. So Paul quoted
Isaiah: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim
peace and salvation. The logic is simple there can be no salvation without
calling on Christ, and no calling on him without faith, there is no believing
in Him without hearing him, no hearing without the preaching of the gospel and
no preaching without preachers sent. And so Christ sends you and I to be
heralds of the gospel.
Now, what is the purpose or goal of evangelism? Evangelism is not an end in itself.
exists because worship does not. Evangelism gathers and unites us with the
people of God, an inclusive community that transcends racial barriers… a family
united in Christ of both Jews and Gentiles. In Romans 11 the picture is that of
an olive tree where believing Gentiles like wild olives are grafted in and
believing Jews are grafted back. We share the same history of faith that
extends back to the promise to Abraham. We stand in solidarity with the persecuted
people of God all over the world. The way we worship together, the way we serve
each other and treat one another especially when we disagree and have theological
differences should model the gospel of grace.
But the ultimate goal of evangelism is the glory of God! That’s why Paul ends chapter 11 with worship – “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen”. All that exists came from Him… He is the creator… all that we are and all that we have are sustained through Him… and why everything came into being and what is the reason for their being? The answer is: For Him and to him are all things. He is the source, the means and the goal of all things.
So we have seen the urgency of evangelism, the hope of evangelism and the goal of evangelism… You may wonder: How can we evangelize? What should we practically do?
Let me share this true story from Michael Ramsden, whom I met at a youth conference in
Bali. He is an evangelist in Europe:
Conversations over the course of normal, ordinary life that points the way to Christ … Sometimes we just plan a seed, other times we soften the soil. Sometimes we water the plant, other times we reap the harvest. It is God who makes it grow and bear fruit.
And I really have nothing more profound to say today than that.
Talk to the people you meet in church this morning… especially those whom you have never met before. Our guests who are here for the first time… The last thing you want to see when you bring a friend or student from
to church is to see her checking her Facebook alone at one corner while the
rest of us were chatting among ourselves… Be welcoming, get to know people and
where appropriate, pray for them… invite them over for lunch… Show them the
hospitality of Christ… Serve them… Fetch them home, if necessary… Befriend the
families who come to the library… Play and read story books to their children… It
is holiday season with the Lunar New Year coming this Friday. A lot of us will
balik kampong, visit relatives, friends, colleagues and open houses… Those are
the contexts in which conversational evangelism can happen.
Let’s not become fishermen who were so busy singing and talking about fishing that they have no time left to fish.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Wednesday, January 01, 2014
Can I have a show of hands? How many of you here have read the entire Bible at least once?
No matter what your view on Bible is, whether you have confidence and trust in it as being from God in any special way or not, I would like to encourage you to pick up a Bible and read through it with an open mind, with a critical mind at least once in your life. Even if you are Christian or not, the Bible has such a profound impact on the English language as literature (it’s the number one best seller of all time) and on human culture and civilization that some Bible knowledge is essential just to make your educational development more complete. If you do not have a copy, just google BibleGateway.com and you are ready to go.
Now, what is the Bible anyway? Is it historically reliable? Is it relevant for our lives today? These are the three questions I like to address today.
What’s the Bible?
Here’s a trick question: How many books am I holding in my hand now? The answer is not one. Actually, the Bible is a collection of 66 books written by about various authors (kings, prophets, fishermen, poets, wise men, song writers, even a doctor named Luke), in three different languages (Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic). They were written over a period of approximately 1600 years (1500 BC until 100 AD). It has been translated into more than 2000 languages around the world in either complete or partial form. And the Bible contains many different styles of writing such as poetry, songs, stories, history, law, letters, proverbs and prophecy. To understand what they say, we need to read them in context of those styles.
Even though everything seems so different, the amazing thing is that the entire Bible tells one Big Story. In spite of all that diversity and complexity, there is an overarching unity of theme. Now some people think the Bible is a book of moral rules, to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. Well, there are some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should do. It’s about God and what He has done for you.
Other people think the Bible is a book about heroes of faith, showing good examples you should follow. There’s truth in that but people have been quite shocked when they find that these heroes in the Bible like Moses, Abraham, King David, Samson, Solomon, Peter and Paul are often not very good role models after all. All of them made some pretty horrible mistakes, sometimes on purpose. The fact is: they are all broken people (sinners) just like us and they are all signposts that point us beyond themselves, they show us the only one true Hero in this Story: His name is Jesus the Christ. By the way, Christ is not his last name. It’s His title – the King, the Anointed One, the Chosen One.
That’s why the Bible is divided into two parts: Old Testament written before the coming of Jesus and New Testament written after His life, death and resurrection. The Old Testament prepares and promises the coming of this perfect King. It gives people clues, hints and symbols about who He is, where and how He will come, what He will do and so on. The New Testament records eyewitness accounts, it reveals and explains to us what Jesus has taught and done in history about 2000 years ago. So Christ is prophesied in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament. He is the main character in the story.
For Christians, this unity in such diverse writings and fulfilled prophecies are not by random accident. The Bible itself claims to be inspired by God: “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Jesus Himself says: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” God is the Author behind all the human authors.
Now, what is this Big Story that runs through the whole Bible? What’s the message?
Well, to summarize it briefly: you can think of it as a love story with 4 chapters. A story of how God loves His children and comes to rescue them… Right at the beginning (in the first book called Genesis), we are told that God made the whole universe and everything in it – the oceans and mountains, whales and lions, planets, quasars, atoms and human beings – the wonderful design of our bodies, nervous system and encoded DNA in every cell. We are created in God’s likeness with great worth and dignity – with special ability to think, feel and we can have a special relationship with God and with one another. Life is full of purpose, beauty and harmony when it works according to His original design.
Until the day when everything went terribly wrong. In Chapter 2: We decided to run our lives and seek happiness apart from God. We became self-centered, our desires turned inward. As a result, we seek our own good above others' and exploit the world out of greed and violence. But there is no happiness apart from God. Death, sorrow and sickness entered the world. The wonderful relationship with God, with each other and with nature itself was broken. Evil has corrupted our hearts.
But God loved the world too much to leave it that way so he came to our rescue. Chapter 3: At the heart of this Story is God coming to earth in the form of a human person – Jesus. Not because of how good, humble or smart we are. Jesus lived the perfect life that we should have lived. He died the sacrificial death that we should have died for our sins. He died an innocent death on the cross and came back to life again so that our relationship with God can be restored. Last chapter: Jesus will return one day and His kingdom will turn back all that is evil and heal all who suffer in the world. Every tear of sorrow will be wiped away from our eyes. Death shall be no more. In the meantime, Jesus invites all who follow Him to live in the way of His love, justice and grace.
So that in a nutshell is the big Story in the Bible.
You see, the best thing about this Story is – it’s true. If the Bible is just about moral rules, it doesn’t matter if all this is just a fairy tale. Even myths can tell you to do good without being historically true. But the gospel or good news is not about what you do but what God has done. So it’s important that Jesus lived and died and rose again 2000 years ago.
Which brings us to the next question: Is the Bible historically reliable? Did it really happen?
More than any other book, the Bible has been analyzed, criticized, dissected and defended by scholars, scientists, philosophers and historians for hundreds of years. So you can easily find arguments on both sides disproving and proving the Bible on Google and Youtube. And this will go on forever.
So first, let me just say something about the discipline of archaeology and history. We need to know that only a small part of ancient artifacts or documents survived the ravages of time, war and humid weather. And only a fraction of ancient sites were found and dug up for research. Some of them were never found. So the evidence that we now have are fragmentary, limited and partial in nature. They cannot finally prove or disprove the Bible because new findings may come.
So archaeology is valuable to tell us more about the historical context and background information of the Bible, but not to prove the Bible. And the absence of evidence is never proof that something did not happen. For example, for a long time, people doubted if King David and Pontius Pilate the person who sentenced Jesus to death ever existed because we cannot find the evidence: Ahh… this is just a myth. But with further research, documents and inscriptions have now been found to confirm that they both existed. Sometimes, we just have to be patient and wait for more evidence.
When it comes to the life of Jesus, we are lucky that quite a few ancient documents outside of the Bible (even by enemies of the Christian faith) provide details about him. Talmud (Jewish source): “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged.”
Lucian (2nd century, Greek writer): “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.”
Tacitus (A.D. 55 - 117, Roman historian): “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…”
But the earliest and most complete historical source about Jesus’ life is the Gospels and other documents in the New Testament itself. The life and death of Jesus are historically verifiable, not an imaginary fairy tale. There were eye witness accounts. Faith is not blind, “take it or leave it”. Biblical faith is based on historical facts that can be checked.
Now, how do historians check whether an ancient document is reliable or not? Well, they ask these questions:
1) How many surviving copies of that ancient document do we have to compare and test? The more manuscripts we have, the easier it is to detect differences and check for any copying errors.
2) What is the time gap between the oldest surviving copies and the writing of the original? The closer to the original, the more confidence we have in the manuscripts.
First let us look at the statistics for non-biblical texts:
Caesar's The Gallic Wars has 10 surviving manuscripts with the earliest copy dating to 1,000 years after the original writing; Herodotus' History (8 manuscripts; 1,350 years elapsed) and Tacitus' Annals (20 manuscripts; 1,000 years). The best preserved of ancient non-biblical writings is Homer’s Iliad with about 650 surviving copies (500 years elapsed).
In comparison, there are more than 5,000 existing Greek manuscripts that contain all or part of the New Testament! They were was written from about A.D. 50 to A.D. 100. Two major manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus (A.D. 325) and Codex Sinaiticus (A.D. 350) date within 250 years of the time of composition. Most fascinating of all, the earliest fragment of a small portion of John’s Gospel dates about A.D. 120.
If skeptics dismiss the Bible as unreliable, then they must also throw out virtually everything we learn from ancient history.
OK, so far we have seen how the New Testament is a basically reliable historical document but is it really God’s word? A lot of ancient documents can be historical but we don’t think that they are from God. How is it relevant to my life as revelation of God?
That’s a great question and we need to start with Jesus who is at the center of the Bible’s Big Story.
You see, Buddha did not claim to be God. Moses never said that he was Yahweh. The prophet of Islam Muhammad did not claim to be Allah. Yet Jesus said: He who has seen me has seen God the Father (John 14:9). From the Bible, we also discover that Jesus claims to have authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:5–7) and equal with God (John ). He claims to be the Son of Man who will judge the world, rule over the nations and receive worship from all peoples (Matthew 26:63-65).
Someone who claims to be equal with God cannot be just another human teacher. He is either mad or bad or really, He is Lord of all.
When some religious teachers said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you. Show us a miracle to prove that you are from God,” Jesus answered, “Just as the prophet Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 28:38-40)
Three days after he was dead and buried in a grave, Jesus rose back to life and proved that His claims were true. The resurrection is a miracle, a sign that vindicates His claims to be true. All his disciples except Thomas had seen him alive. So Thomas said he would only believe if he could put his fingers on the nail wounds of Jesus’ hands and into his pierced side. So finally Jesus appeared and told him: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side.”
Thomas cried out: “My Lord and my God!” and worshipped Jesus. Jesus accepted his worship: “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who haven’t seen me and believe anyway.” (John 20)
Jesus conquered Death to prove His claims to be true. Therefore we trust and accept His teachings that the Bible is not only historically accurate but also God’s word for our lives. Therefore we receive the answers Jesus gave to the big questions: Where do we come from? Who are we? What is purpose of life? Where do we go after death? All these questions are relevant to our personal lives.
If the Bible is a reliable record of God's word, then it is essential that we take time to read and study it. It is sad indeed that many Christians can devote hours to their hobbies or studies but often give so little time to studying His written revelation. Many Christians have never read the whole Bible even once, despite coming to faith years ago. If you are not already in the process of studying the whole Bible, let me encourage you to do so.
Not only should we read the Bible, we must also live it. 'Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.' All of us are dying and it is the message of the Bible, that alone can give us hope and salvation.
As you read the Bible, don’t take it as just moral laws or religious rituals that teach you to be a better person. The purpose is not that you may impress God and earn your ticket to heaven by good deeds. The Bible shows you God’s holy standard is so high that you will never reach it on your own. It shows you what God has done in history – Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He doesn’t just show you the way. He is the way. You come to God through Him alone. He is your hope. If you turn away from living for yourself and trust in Jesus as the One who rescues you from your sin and as the King who now rules over your life, you can have a living relationship with God. Today.
He can cleanse you from all your guilt and sins. Then the Bible will be a joy and a fountain of wisdom to you. Because it always points you to Jesus, the God who became human and gave His life up to save you.
He can cleanse you from all your guilt and sins. Then the Bible will be a joy and a fountain of wisdom to you. Because it always points you to Jesus, the God who became human and gave His life up to save you.