“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)
“Ye cannot serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:19) – that was exactly what Joshua asserted to the Israelites who had said, “therefore will we also serve the LORD; for he is our God” (v. 18). It must have been a crushing statement to a people who expressed their zeal to serve the LORD. But why such a staggering admonition? Why would Joshua tell them that they cannot serve the LORD?
John Calvin commented that such a harsh mode of rebuke was necessary “in order to rouse a sluggish people, rendered more lethargic by security… Joshua does not deter them from serving God, but only explains how refractory and disobedient they are, in order that they may learn to change their temper.”
Serving God is not what we do when and however we like. It demands absolute surrender to God’s will. At His bidding, we must set out to do all that He says with faithfulness and zeal. We cannot decide when and how we would serve Him, for it is God’s sole prerogative as the Sovereign One.
Serving God begins with an acknowledgment that we are incapable of serving Him on our own. It is what the theologians have called the doctrine of “moral inability”. Our impure hearts and unclean hands are an abomination to the most Holy God. This is what Joshua meant when he said to the people, “Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins” (v. 19). Offering something to God or doing something in the LORD’s name would not be regarded as a service, if those who render them do not repent and put away their sins.
So Joshua warned them earlier, “Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD” (Joshua 24:14). Service demands absolute consecration to God.
If God be served at all, He must be served alone. Nothing and no one should be allowed to take first place in our hearts, except the LORD. No other claimant can be our God. This was also Jesus’ admonition when He said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
Today, in the church, many come to serve God, but their hearts hanker after the gods of our time – wealth, luxury, carnal pleasure, headknowledge, fame, etc. How can God ever be pleased with their service? Jesus warned, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9).
If God be served at all, He must be served in sincerity and truth. God will search through and through every form of service offered to Him, and hence it must be sincere and “clean every whit”, or it will not be acceptable to Him. Every service rendered to God must be born out of obedience to His Word. The service to our holy God must be rendered with humility and resolve of heart (cf. Acts 20:19), with faith and prayer (Hebrews 11:6), with all our strength and might (Ecclesiastes 9:10; Romans 12:11), and with gladness and thanksgiving (Psalm 95:2; 100:2; Colossians 3:23).
I am writing a personal testimony about how God has been gracious and merciful towards me over the past 9 years ever since I was diagnosed with psoriasis. In a nutshell, psoriasis is an auto-immune skin condition whereby the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues, causing inflammation on the skin and potentially on the joints as well. On the inflamed parts of the skin, the skin cells are on an overdrive, reproducing at a much faster rate than normal. Because of this rapid build-up of skin, the top layer of the skin will turn flaky and fall off. Currently, nobody knows the exact cause or has found a definite cure for this skin problem.
Living with psoriasis can be a little inconvenient. Sometimes, the affected area on the skin can get itchy and will bleed easily when scratched. I will sometimes wake up the next morning to find small bloodstains on the bed sheet. If I do not clean the room regularly, the floor will be littered with flaky skin.
I want to praise God for His hand of grace towards me, for helping me to accept my skin condition as it is and to learn how to live with it. At times, I would feel depressed thinking about my skin condition and become more self-conscious about my own appearance. However, the Lord quickly reminds me of His words to the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Secondly, I also want to thank God that my skin condition serves as a reminder of the ugliness of sin and the need to always lead a life that is holy in God’s sight. Thirdly, I want to thank God for the brethren in the church who are concerned about me and have offered me advice and supplements to help me improve my skin condition.
Should it be the Lord’s will that I should live with this condition for the rest of my life, I pray for the Lord’s grace to continue to strengthen my faith. I pray also that I will think less about my earthly body which is prone to infirmities and corruption, and look forward to the glory and joy of Christ’s presence in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:52-54).
All glory be to God!
God willing, the 5th Missionary Conference of Gethsemane B-P Church will be held in Kuching (Sarawak, East Malaysia) from 5th to 9th of June this year. We thank God that about 170 people have already registered to attend this conference. (If you have not yet registered for the conference, I would encourage you to immediately register and book your flights to avoid disappointment of missing this blessed occasion that the Lord has helped us to organise).
Missionary conferences are held for a twofold purpose. Firstly, that Gethsemane B-P Church, Singapore, as a whole may renew itself concerning her God-given vision of global Gospel advancement – “… ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Secondly, that the church may bring together her missionaries, mission-partners and preachers, as well as like-minded preachers of other churches, in order to encourage and strengthen them through the Word, prayer and fellowship. It is a special blessing to have various servants of God to come together, that we may have an opportunity to cheer their hearts in the Lord and also to learn together from His Word. This conference has hitherto afforded us a God-given opportunity, wherein our care for His servants and worldwide preaching of the truth may flourish again (cf. Philippians 4:10).
The theme of the upcoming Missionary Conference will be: “That the Truth of the Gospel Might Continue with Us” (cf. Galatians 2:5). This theme is utterly important for us, as we see in these days an increasing trend of perversion of the Gospel in churches.
The churches of our time have been careless about Gospel preaching. Many churches propagate a distorted, diluted Gospel, as they are concerned about preaching messages that please people, rather than honour Christ and His redemptive work. Churches have also lost their zeal in declaring the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many are more focused on charitable activities, the promotion of the “health-wealth” gospel, and have neglected declaring the unadulterated Gospel.
We should neither forget nor neglect the primacy of the Gospel in the ministries of our church. God intends for the church to always declare and defend the truth of the Gospel. So in all our mission churches and evangelistic outreaches, the truth of the Gospel must be unashamedly declared.
A team of brethren have been appointed to help run the 5th Missionary Conference. The team leader (who is the Camp Master) is Dn Low Boon Siang, and he has gathered a team to co-labour with him. Let us pray that the Lord will bless their labours in organising the camp. The team consists of Dn Kelvin Lim, Pr Jeremiah Sim, Pr Ho Kee How, Pr Andrew Koh, Dn Lok Kwok Wah, Kenneth Wong, Cayson Chok, Gerry Lee, Matthew Mah, Benny Skariah, Matthew Peh, Ernest Lim, David Tan, Ng Kwan Teng, Arnold Diaz, Cornelius Koshy and Andronicus Koshy.
The estimated fund for the expenses of the Missionary Conference is close to S$50,000. This amount is needed for the plane tickets, accommodation, meals, etc. for our missionaries and needy brethren. Incidentally, in 2005 (i.e. 12 years ago), we raised about S$30,000 for the first missionary conference. After 12 years, it is certain that our expenses will increase. Let us pray and support financially by giving to the Missionary Conference Fund.
The fund must be met quickly, as we need to book the plane tickets for all the missionaries to come from the countries where they serve. Please give cheerfully and speedily. May God bless our efforts to strengthen our missionaries and their Gospel work.
There are all sorts of opinions about what should characterise a church. Many ideas are being offered to church leaders by the so-called church growth experts and business strategists who claim to have developed powerful ideas, having studied many opinion surveys of the people. Their ideas and activities are enthusiastically considered as vital to becoming an effective church.
It appears that churches which implemented the opinions of the ‘experts’ have grown in huge numbers. They recommend more entertainment in the church services – entertaining music, dance and light-hearted preaching, etc.
We should not be consulting the modern church growth experts for any counsel with regard to what sort of church we should be. Scripture provides us with very clear advice about the kind of church we ought to be. In 1 Timothy 3:15, it is said of the church that it is “the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Here we are given some very essential truths about what a proper church ought to be.
Just as it is said in 1 Timothy 3:15, seven more times it is mentioned in the New Testament that the church is “the church of God”. The emphasis in this description of the church is that God is its originator and owner. The church is God’s design, and it is meant always to remain as God’s belonging.
And in contrast to the temples of dead pagan idols, Paul says that the church is of the living God (1 Timothy 3:15). Our God is actively moulding and guiding the church to be what He wants it to be. His church is being built by Him. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).
Every biblical church must therefore be Godcentred rather than people-centred. A total dedication to God’s glory must be seen in all its ministries. Every church “ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1; cf. Galatians 1:10). Unfortunately, many churches today have a “consumer-focused” attitude in their ministries, thus working to please men rather than God.
A biblical church’s great concern is not to please the crowd but God. The main focus of its worship and ministry must be for the glory of God rather than making people feel good. In other words, a biblical church will not be preoccupied with people’s preferences but God’s will. When a church is manoriented rather than God-oriented, it ceases to function as a biblical church.
Psalm 2:11 says, “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” In other words, when we worship and serve the Lord, we must come with joy and thanksgiving that is tempered with a respectful fear of God. A solemn recognition of God’s greatness and holiness must prevail in the worship of God. So the apostle Peter wrote: “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:17). We can come to God without terror, but that does not mean we can conduct ourselves without fear of His holiness and judgment. Concerning the early Jerusalem church, it is written: “And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43a).
A good church, therefore, will be conscious that its pre-eminent duty is not entertaining man but glorifying God. Certainly, a church should serve its people but only when that service brings glory to the Lord.
The second characteristic of the early church was an unswerving commitment of its leaders and members to God’s Word. The church being “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), we must have high regard for the perfection and authority of God’s Word.
While the apostles preached and defended the truth of God’s Word, the members learned and obeyed the truth. Allegiance to God’s Word is a foundational trait of every good church. Acts 2:42 testifies to the continual devotion of the early church to the apostles’ teaching – “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…” This tells us that the early believers were earnestly and perpetually dedicated to the apostles’ teaching; it also speaks of enthusiasm and excitement towards it. The Greek word translated “teaching” (didache) encompasses both the content and the manner of the apostles’ teaching. Understanding both of these fully will help us to biblically evaluate any church today.
Concerning the content of the apostles’ teaching, we have the testimony of Paul in Acts 20:20-21 – “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Later, he wrote: “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
The manner of the apostle’s teaching was effective and pleasing to God. The following are some vital observations concerning the manner in which the preaching of God’s Word was done in the early church:
It is most appropriate at this time to consider Calvin’s words concerning the kind of church that we should choose. While commenting on Acts 2:42, he said, “Do we seek the true Church of Christ? The picture of it is here painted to the life. He begins with doctrine, which is the soul of the Church. He does not name doctrine of any kind but that of the apostles which the Son of God had delivered by their hands. Therefore, wherever the pure voice of the Gospel sounds forth, where men continue in the profession thereof, where they apply themselves to the regular hearing of it that they may profit thereby, there beyond all doubt is the Church.”
Personal worship or devotion is a time when each individual devotes himself to meditation of God’s Word and prayer, as a special means of communion with God. During this special time of individual worship, singing of psalms and hymns can enhance one’s adoration and worship of God. Such a special time with God can be observed early in the morning or in the evening. Some devout Christians, like Daniel of old, would even have their personal time of worship with God three times a day (Daniel 6:10, 13; Psalm 55:17)!
Private worship is most necessary to one’s faithful, triumphant and fruitful Christian life. It is also the root of family and public worship. A man who neglects personal worship would fail to render genuine and fervent family and public worship. Just as he who labours must have his three meals, a fervent Christian must also have his spiritual feeding and communion with God daily.
Some have argued that there is no express command in the Bible to instruct people to observe daily personal worship or devotion. On the contrary, the Bible records very many injunctions to continual meditation of God’s Word and prayer, as well as examples of personal worship by godly men (such as Daniel), for us to follow.
Consider the following biblical commands that call us to daily and frequent devotion of His Word:
Now, consider the biblical exhortations to pray often, and to make prayer a continual habit:
Daily feeding upon God’s Word, and communing with God in prayer and worship songs, are essential to our souls’ spiritual nurture and strength. How can we, who claim to love God, be satisfied without having communion and worship of Him?
Brethren, begin and end your day with the Lord. Let your souls be daily renewed and enriched in His presence through His Word and prayer. We should not view prayer as a mere religious performance; nor should our prayers be vain repetitions of asking for some material benefits that we need from God. Rather, it should be the joyful claiming of God’s promises that we read in His Word. As one puritan, William Gurnall, said, “Prayer is nothing but the promise reversed.” He also said, “The mightier any is in the Word, the more mighty he will be in prayer.” If you are regular in your personal devotion, you will certainly be mighty in the Lord.
This a report on the patient and prayerful waiting of 120 followers of Christ, including the apostles (except Judas Iscariot), after His ascension. They were facing a hostile and uncertain future after the Lord has been captured and killed by the dwellers of Jerusalem. Yet they had a mandate from their Master to fulfil in that city, even to preach Christ to those who crucified Him, before they move on to other parts of Judea and then to the ends of the earth. Their situation was indeed very dire. What would they do? Call for a planning meeting? Or hire famous consultants? Or quit being followers of Christ and go back to their old professions like fishing and tax collection?
They resorted to an upper room in Jerusalem so that they might pray together. There, with one accord, they besought the LORD for guidance and help. It was the only solution that the infant church had in their dreadful circumstance, but the best. Soon they received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – whom Jesus has promised them – and they were empowered to be bold and effective witnesses of Christ! Though the adverse circumstance only got worse, they did triumph over all the intimidations, needs and obstacles and the church grew in number and in spiritual strength. The church continued in prayer, and their prayer meetings grew in frequency and in size.
Beloved Gethsemaneans, in the New Year, many challenges, burdens and difficulties lay before us in the service of our Lord. Besides all the regular ministries and their burdens, we are much pressed in our hearts and minds because of the urgent need for premises to accommodate our growing ministries, resources, staff, etc. Though we desired to accomplish it by the end of 2016, our best efforts have fallen far too short of fulfilling it – whether it be funds or registration of CLG. We cannot be disheartened nor become lethargic. Though we have not yet achieved what we have desired in the Lord to do, we must continue to strive joyfully, especially to pray, which is most necessary. With one heart, we must come together to seek the Lord in prayer.
Another important project that we have in 2017 is the Missionary Conference (June 5th-9th). We have planned to bring our missionaries and pastors in fellowship with us together for the conference that will be held in Kuching, Sarawak. It is an important work to strengthen our world-wide Gospel endeavours. We need to have a fund of $50,000, which is yet to be accomplished.
It is high time for us to come together with one accord to pray, even with fasting. So I call you, together with the elders, preachers and deacons, to begin this New Year with a month of fasting and prayer on Tuesday nights. Throughout the month of January, we shall seek the Lord with fasting (except those who are unable to fast for medical reasons) during the Tuesday night prayer meetings.
We thank God that about 120 Gethsemaneans, young and old, regularly get together on Tuesday evenings to pray. Our prayer meetings have been the “granary” of divine provisions. We love our prayer meetings because of the divine presence and blessings that we experience.
I urge all the members and regular worshippers to make every effort to come for the prayer meetings. Let us come together with joy and earnestness. Surely, we will find all the wonderful divine provisions of wisdom, strength, faith and boldness to meet our many tasks, needs and problems.