Thursday, May 25, 2017

John 17:1-11 Jesus' Prayer for Unity

KEY TEXT: John 17:11 "And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one."

KEY THOT: Jesus prayed for his disciples on the eve of His departure from this world. He prayed specifically for their unity: "keep them in  your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one" (v.11). Jesus' desire for our unity is not just because it looks good to the world, but because the Godhead itself is Three-Persons-in-Unity. Which means that the reason we as a church must be one is because it is the most God-like characteristic as a schurch. The world is characterized by disunity, disharmony and division. In contrast, the kingdom of God is characterized by unity when they are truly filled with the Spirit. The NT church was one of unity and power: "Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:32-33).

Not only is unity God-like. It's also the only basis for the Father, Son and Spirit to manifest Themselves in a church. The church that is united in one heart (spirit) and one soul (mind) is missional ("giving their testimony") and experiences great power and grace of the Holy Spirit in their midst. To be united in one heart is to have one vision and purpose--a common commitment to the same goal. To have one mind is to share the same mindset and values regarding the church's priority and mission. It's not just good to have spiritual unity--it is God-like and God-friendly when we are one in heart and mind. God takes delight to manifest himself in that community: "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him" (John 14:21).

Father, help us to become one as You are One in the divine Godhead. May we have one heart and mind as the Father and Son are one, so that we may attract Your presence and power into our midst. Amen.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Be Prepared for Tribulation, not Rapture

KEY TEXT: 1 Peter 5:6-10 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

KEY THOT: Suffering for the name of Christ should not surprise us: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you" (1 Peter 4:12).  In fact, it is a common experience of true believers everywhere: "the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world" (1 Peter 5:9) Such relentless persecution of Christians because of the name of Christ they bear is demon-inspired: "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (v.8). The world hates Christ and so hates his followers: "the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you" (John 15:18). And Satan is the god of this world: "In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel" (2 Corinthians 4:4). 

Satan is the power behind the worldwide persecution of Christians for more than two thousand years since Pentecost (Acts 2). But in these last days, we will see an increase in his fury against the church because he knows his time is up.

When we are being persecuted as Christians, we must remember who our real enemy is: it is not ISIS, nor your boss nor your colleagues but the devil himself. Therefore, we should direct our resistance against the devil in prayer: "Resist him, firm in faith" (5:9). Satan instigated non-believers to persecute believers because he has control over their mind, their emotions and their will. He is the anti-Christ spirit that is present in the world: "Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour" (1 John 2:18).

One of the signs that we are living in the "last hour" is the increase in persecution of believers: "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake" (Matthew 24:9). It won't just be ISIS and Al-Qaeda who are persecuting Christians. The devil is now stirring opposition to Christ through secular humanists and far-left liberals. They are attacking anyone who dares stand up for faith and for Christ.

The only way to resist the devil in his attempt to devour believers is to stand firm in our faith and never to compromise or deny Christ till the end: "And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death" (Revelation 12:11).

In the meantime, Peter encourages those who are undergoing suffering for their faith to "humble yourselves...casting all your anxieties on him for he cares for you... be sober-minded; be watchful" (v.6-8). We mustn't let down our spiritual guard, for persecution can come suddenly without warning. As believers, Jesus has warned us to always stay awake and alert in the last days.

Father God, grant us the grace to humble ourselves in the these last days and to resist the devil and stand firm in our faith when we are suffering for our faith. Amen.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Psalm 68: The Gospel of Salvaging

KEY TEXT: Psalms 68:4-6, 20, 34-35 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land... Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death...Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies. Awesome is God from his  sanctuary; the God of Israel—he is the one who gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!

KEY THOT: When we speak of salvation, we think of salvaging broken lives, broken hearts and broken relationships. God offers us salvation to salvage our brokenness and through his Spirit bring forth light from darkness, beauty from ugliness, and life from death. The psalmist calls us to celebrate this awesome God who "gives power and strength to his people" (v.35). Our Saviour-God is in the business of salvaging broken people: He is the "Father to the fatherless"; He is the "protector of the widows"; He "settles the solitary (lonely) in a home"; and he "leads out the prisoners to prosperity".  The orphans, the widows, the lonely, the prisoners of sin and Satan--these are the broken people God delights to save and salvage. Healing and deliverance is the key ministry of the church. If a church is not doing such ministry of restoration of broken people, it's not offering salvation for which Christ secured for us at the Cross.

It's time for the Church to rise up to our calling as a "people belonging to God" (1 Peter 2:9, NIV). But who is this God we belong to? The psalmist describes and extols him thus: "Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death" (v.20) and "Awesome is God from his sanctuary; the God of Israel--he is the one who gives power and strength to his people." We have a powerful God who can save us from spiritual, mental, emotional and even physical death. The Gospel is a message for "dead" people who are still walking around--the Gospel is the power of God to deliver such people from death to life and from sickness to wholeness.

It's time for the Church of Jesus Christ to re-examine the Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim. Many pastors are enamoured by Paul's Gospel of Grace but have forgotten Jesus' Gospel of the Kingdom that releases God's power and presence to heal. Jesus has commanded His church: "proclaim as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons" (Matthew 10:7-8). Some shy away from this supernatural ministry and stick to the "safe" (human) ministry of counselling and talking. But there are many people struggling with unforgiveness and bitterness leading to spiritual, mental, emotional and physical sicknesses and diseases. The fact of sicknesses and diseases is telling us that we have many broken people around us in need of the Gospel of Salvaging.

And the Church has the cure to all these sicknesses and diseases whose roots are in sin. The cure is the Gospel of Jesus Christ--not just about Jesus Christ but from Jesus Christ. He has proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom that primarily saves people not from the other-worldly hell but from this-worldly "hell" they are now experiencing in their spirit, soul and body: "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it" (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

It's time we stop playing church by keeping God's people busy with trivial pursuits: religious events, socializing activities, self-focused seminars, time-wasting recreational trips, expensive tours, etc. Let's return back to our basic calling and self-identity: we are a missional people belonging to God, commissioned to "proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). 

Father, deliver us from our trivial pursuits so that we may proclaim the Gospel of Salvaging for broken people for whom Your Son has paid the price at the Cross with His blood. Amen.