Jurong Outreach

"whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ."

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Should Christians Fast?

We read in the Bible about fasting. Should we practice fasting in the church? What can one profit from fasting?

As we consider these questions, we must first understand what fasting is. In the dictionary we find that fasting is defined as “eating sparingly” or “abstaining from some or all foods.”

In the Bible we have many examples in the Old and New Testaments where individuals fasted. In these examples we see that the individuals were putting away personal desires to focus specifically on the spiritual. In the Old Testament, fasting also included the idea of “afflicting the soul.” These were times when a person would allow himself to become totally consumed in religious things, therefore putting away the desires of the flesh, such as food. These periods of time were usually specified by the individual or groups and a certain amount of time was set aside for the fast. Often individuals would also fast because of sorrow over sin or the mourning of a loss.

In Matthew, chapters 5 & 6, Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon we see that Jesus gave references to givingprayer, and fasting. Because of this, many assume that fasting was given the same importance as giving and prayer. However, let’s remember that giving and prayer are also confirmed as specific acts of worship to be engaged in by the church of our Lord (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2). Fasting is not! We should also acknowledge that Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, was dealing more with the problem of hypocrisy in relationship to giving, praying, and fasting. In Matthew 6:16, Jesus said, “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” Many in that day, like the Pharisees, were obviously not sincere in their spiritual offerings to God because they were basically performing these acts to be seen of men.

When we consider the true uses of fasting in the Bible, it was basically engaged in at times when someone needed to draw closer to God, thus putting aside the things of this world (Matthew 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33; 1 Corinthians 7:6; Acts 13:2; 2 Corinthians 6:5). So, the Bible does not specifically command that a Christian fast in order to be pleasing to God. However, the Bible does give many examples when people did fast in order to focus entirely on God.

Although we are not specifically commanded to fast, fasting can be a great source of strength. If an individual or group is willing to put aside fleshly desires in order to focus specifically on the spiritual, what greater devotion could one give to God? Fasting is a time to reverence and honor our God, to be encouraged in His Word, and in our devotion to Him. At the same time, keep in mind that it should not be done in order to be seen of others or to prove we are good Christians. If we fast, it should be done out of a sincere heart and a clear conscience. Fasting is setting aside time to give ourselves totally to God; time specifically allotted by us to grow closer to our Creator.

Today, I believe we should engage in some forms of fasting, especially Christians who are actively involved in local evangelistic works or foreign mission works. Often we can become involved in these works for the Lord such as campaigns, evangelism, gospel meetings, and Bible studies. These events can sometimes consume an entire day before we give in to our physical needs such as food and rest. Even though we did not specify a time to fast, we have put aside the fleshly desires and needs and have given ourselves totally to the work of the Lord.

The greatest lesson we can learn from fasting is that we all need to give more specified time to the Lord. The more we study and dwell on His Word, the stronger Christians we will become and the more we will accomplish for His Kingdom!

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Do Demons Possess People Today?

Many believe that evil spirits, called demons, can take over people’s bodies today. This was widely accepted in Europe hundreds of years ago. It is still believed by many in Africa in areas where the influence of Christianity is not strong. It is also a growing belief in America. A study revealed that about one third of all Americans believe that demons can take over the bodies of people. Is it true? Should we fear demon possession today? What does the Bible teach?

The Bible clearly teaches that evil spirits exist (James 2:19). They are called “devils” in the King James Version and “demons” in other translations of the Bible. These devils or demons must not be confused with the Devil, Satan, the Tempter (Matthew 4:11). There is only one Devil, but there are many demons.

In the Bible, we learn that demons entered into people and controlled them (Matthew 8:28-34). They were under the power of Satan (Beelzebub), the chief of all evil spirits (Matthew 12:24). They often caused sickness in the people they entered such as not being able to speak or see (Matthew 12:22); insanity or madness (Luke 8:26-36); personal injuries (Mark 9:14-26); and other bodily infirmities (Luke 13:11-17).

These demons also knew who Jesus was. They knew why He had come into the world (Luke 4:41). They believe in God (James 2:19). They fear the Judgment and eternal punishment (Matthew 8:29). This clearly shows that demons are not diseases as some have suggested. They are spirit beings who think, speak, and act. Jesus often cast demons out of people (Matthew 8:16). He also gave the ability to cast out demons to His apostles (Luke 10:17; Mark 16:17,18; Acts 5:16; 8:7; 16:16-18; 19:12). The apostles were able to give miraculous gifts to others by laying their hands on them (Acts 6:6-8; 8:14-21; 19:1-6). This included the power to cast out demons (Acts 8:5-8).

An account of Jesus’ casting out a demon is found in Mark 5:1-20. When Jesus came to the country of the Gadarenes, a man met him. He had an “unclean spirit” (demon). This demon-possessed man lived in the tombs. He wore no clothes. He was not in his right mind. He cried day and night and cut himself with stones. He also had great strength. When others had bound him with chains, he broke them and escaped. The evil spirit in the man knew who Jesus was and begged Him not to torment him. Jesus asked the evil spirit, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” When Jesus commanded the demons to come out of the man, they begged him to send them into pigs who were feeding nearby. Jesus did so. The pigs ran to the cliff, fell into the sea, and drowned. When the people of the area came to Jesus, they saw this man “sitting, clothed, and in his right mind.” When the demon was cast out, the man was restored to health of body and mind.

Do demons still possess people even today? Zechariah, an Old Testament prophet, spoke of the time when Christ would come. He said: “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness”(Zechariah 13:1). This fountain was opened when Jesus shed His blood on thecross for the sins of the world.

Zechariah then said: “It shall be in that day, says the Lord of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall be no longer remembered. I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirits to depart from the land” (13:2). Following the time when the Lord would die for our sins, prophets (men who spoke by the Holy Spirit) and unclean spirits (demons) would no longer be in the land (earth). When did this happen?

We have learned that the apostles could give to others the ability to work miracles. The purpose of these miracles was to confirm (prove) God’s Word (Mark 16:20: Hebrews 2:2-4). Paul said these gifts of the Holy Spirit would fail, cease, and vanish away (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). These miraculous gifts would cease when that which is perfect had come (v. 10). This refers to the New Testament, which is called the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25). One of these gifts was the power to cast out demons. Therefore, evil spirits possessing men, along with the power to cast them out, ceased when the New Testament was completed and confirmed. If demon possession continued today, Satan would have more power than God, for he could send his demons into people, but God’s people could not cast them out.

God permitted demons to possess certain people in the time of Christ and the apostles so that His power could be seen. Not only did Christ have power over nature, disease, and death, but He also had power over the spirit world. The Devil and his demons were proven to be powerless before the Son of God (Colossians 2:15; 1 John 3:8). Demons still exist, but they do not possess people today. Today, we need to be concerned about Satan, the Devil, who tempts us to sin (James 1:14; Matthew 4:3; 1 Peter 5:8).

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The Second Coming of Christ

People are interested in the second coming of Christ! Every few years someone sets the date for the Lord’s return. In fact, one of the most popular religious subjects in the past twenty-five years has been the teaching that Jesus is coming back to the earth to set up His kingdom and rule on earth for one thousand years. This doctrine is called “premillennialism.” A large number of preachers teach this doctrine. Can it be proven from the Bible, or, is it the doctrine of men?

What is premillennialism?
This doctrine says that when Jesus came to the earth the first time, He intended to set up His kingdom. Since the Jews rejected Him, Jesus set up a temporary institution, the church, instead. The New Testament refutes this claim of premillennialism. The church is not a temporary institution, but is a part of the eternal purpose of God (Ephesians 3:10, 11). Premillennialism claims that the church and the kingdom are not the same. Jesus promised to build His church, which is His kingdom (Matthew 16:18,19). He fulfilled His promise in the first century (Acts 2:47; Colossians 1:13; Revelation 1:9). Premillennialism also teaches that Jesus is coming soon! It teaches that there will be many signs before Christ’s coming. It implies that God failed in His first attempt to establish the kingdom as prophesied in the Old Testament. Premillennialism is a false doctrine! It is not supported by the Word of God. Let us examine the Bible to see what it says about the second coming of Christ.

Is Christ coming again?
Yes, He is! Note the following passages from the Bible: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Hebrews 9:27,28).

When will Christ come again?
No one on earth knows the answer to this question! No signs will be given to tell us when the second coming will be. Jesus said: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).

What will Christ do when He returns?
First, He will raise the dead. “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:28,29).

Second, Christ will judge the whole world when He comes again (Matthew 25:31-46). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Third, when Jesus comes again, it will not be to establish a kingdom, but He will return the kingdom, which is His church, to the Father: “But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterwards those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:23,24).

Fourth, when Jesus comes again, eternity will begin when the dead are raised to life, never to die again. Premillennialists teach that there will be two or more resurrections of the dead, but the Bible teaches that there will only be one when Jesus comes again. Please note that the resurrection is singular, not plural in the following passage: “I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15). Please read John 5:28,29 again also.

Fifth, when Christ comes again the earth will be destroyed! Therefore, there will not be a place for the rule of Christ on the earth which the premillennialists teach. This earth and everything in it will be destroyed by God! Please read 2 Peter 3:7,10,12.

Christ came to this earth almost 2,000 years ago. He is going to come again. Because Christ is coming again, faithful Christians are busy preaching the Gospel to the lost and dying world. What about you? Are you ready for the Lord to come again? Are you prepared to meet Him in Judgment? If not, begin your preparation now by obeying His Gospel (Mark 16:16).

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Why God Wants Autonomous Congregations

We have learned that the word “autonomy” means “independent” or “self-governing.” We have also learned that God wants each congregation of His people in each area to be autonomous (self-governing and independent). Even though we may not understand why God wants autonomous congregations, we must still obey His will. However, there are many good reasons for each church in each area to be self-governing.

One reason is that an autonomous congregation develops its own members to be leaders. When leaders for a congregation are brought in from other places, local men do not develop their talents for leadership. Members of the church do not grow as they should (I Peter 2:1,2; II Peter 3:18). Denominational church organization discourages members from developing their talents (Matthew 25:14-30).

In Romans 15:14, Paul praised the Christians in Rome for being filled with goodness and knowledge and being able to admonish (teach) one another. These men had developed their talents in an independent church. In Hebrews 5:12-14, the members of the church were rebuked because they had not developed their ability to teach others. These Christians had been in the church for a long time, but were still unable to teach. The best way to learn is by teaching others. Leadership in the church requires men who are experienced in doing God’s work. God wants each congregation to develop its own leadership and not to have to be dependant on others.

Denominational plans of raising money often require the local church to send its contribution to the headquarters of the denomination. But in God’s church where each congregation is self-governing, the money that is given is used by the local church for its own work. When funds are available to help other works, the local church has control of where its money goes. The best way to encourage the members to give as they have been prospered (I Corinthians 16:2) is for them to control how the money is spent. People will give more and do more when they can be a part of the work.

God’s plan of church organization also prevents the spread of false teaching! If several large stones are tied together along a piece of rope, each rock is not independent, but they are all joined together. If any one of these stones falls into a river, it will pull the others into the water with it. But if the stones are not tied together, and one stone falls into the river, the others will not fall. This shows a very good reason for having autonomous congregations. Denominational churches tie churches together and take away their independence. If one of them goes into false teaching, all the rest will soon follow. Or, if the leadership of a denomination teaches false doctrine, then all the congregations that make up the denomination will also teach false doctrine since they are all tied together. God’s plan is best. Even if a congregation goes away from the truth, the other congregations do not have to for they are independent.

A church can never receive outside leadership without losing its independence. However, a church may receive outside support for a time without losing its independence. We can learn this from the New Testament. There is no command, example, or implication in the New Testament that a congregation was ever governed from the outside. But we do read of congregation receiving both spiritual and financial support from sister congregations. Churches in Judea received help from the church at Antioch in a time of famine (Acts 11:27-30). Paul received support from other churches while preaching at Corinth (II Corinthians 11:8). The church at Philippi sent support to Paul when he preached in other places (Philippians 4:15).

God intends for each congregation eventually to become self-supporting. Paul commended the church at Philippi for supporting him financially (Philippians 4:15). However, a congregation is not fully independent until it is able to carry on its own work without help from outside help. While temporary help may be necessary, the congregation should work toward being financially independent. Just as a baby grows and learns to care for himself, so a congregation must grow and learn to care for itself. Just as a child grows up, becomes a parent and cares for others, so a congregation must grow and become a helper of others.

When parents teach their baby to walk, they require him to take steps for himself. If the baby does not try to walk alone, he may never learn to walk. Each step he takes by himself, he is learning to walk. In the same way a congregation must take steps for itself even from the beginning. As long as others provide the finances, it will never learn to walk alone. But the more steps it takes by itself, the more it learns to walk by itself. God not only wants each congregation to be self-governing and self-supporting, but he also wants it to be self-propagating. A self-propagating church is one which reproduces itself. It grows. The leadership of an autonomous congregation will see that the Gospel is taught to others. It will work to establish other congregations. The “seed of the kingdom is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). Any seed has within itself the life necessary to bring forth the same kind of fruit. The Word of God has the power to produce churches of Christ wherever it is taught. Whenever good and honest hearts receive the Word of God, new congregations are established. A congregation is like a banana tree. Once it is planted it has the ability to grow even if it does not receive any outside care. It will also cause new banana plants to come up. This is the meaning of self-propagating.

The Bible says the church is the “pillar” or support of truth (I Timothy 3:15). Each congregation is to support the truth and to defend the truth. This will cause other churches to be planted. Each of them will also support the truth in other areas. Outside missionary agencies or denominational organizations are not necessary for the spread of the kingdom.

God’s plan is simple and effective. We cannot improve upon it. Let us be happy to do what God says.