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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Wisdom from Above

Charles Dickens opened his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, with possibly one of the most famous lines in English literature. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity 

How well it describes the times we live in. Scientific discovery has opened doors to many possibilities. Man is able to better explore this world. Medical research is helping in the fight against certain diseases.

But at the same time man is still faced with age-old problem of pain, death and decay. The 20th century had seen arms races and two world wars, resulting in the death of many millions. The 21st century sees no letup in acts of terrorism.

The controversy of genome research and cloning has been ongoing for years now. Science has ‘allowed’ man to try to ‘play’ God. The accumulation of so much knowledge has caused some men to believe that we are terribly wise.

This has led to arrogance and the feeling that we no longer need God because we are now self-sufficient. But is mankind any wiser in the sight of God in spite of these scientific and technological advancements?

James asks an open question. “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you (James 3:13)?” Without waiting for an answer, he provides an inspired one. “Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.”

This question challenges every one of us to examine if we are truly wise and understanding, not whether we are pretending to be so.

Knowledge is the accumulation of facts. We go to school and we learn from people who have the knowledge we need. We build up a data bank of facts. But knowledge is not wisdom.

Wisdom has to do with the ability to use knowledge in a right, responsible way. Wisdom is practical. This is true in the secular realm but even more so in the spiritual. James points out that to be wise our manner of life must be good and meek.

Real wisdom is demonstrated by a godly life; not by claim, argument or university degrees. Good conduct with meekness of wisdom – without pride and desire for worldly acclaim. Meekness is the very opposite of pride. Good conduct is not to draw attention and garner the praise of men.

How do we distinguish the wisdom from above and that of the devil? By the very opposite of godliness and meekness.

“But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work (James 3:14-16).”

Out of envy and strife come all sorts of evil imaginable – backstabbing, rumour-mongering, maliciousness, physical and emotional abuse, etc. Envy and strife are included in the catalogue of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21.

“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).”

The wisdom God is pleased to bestow us is a holy, godly wisdom. We see the Lord’s characteristics in this godly wisdom, totally unlike the wisdom of the devil and the world.

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace (James 3:17-18).”

Not every one of us can have the IQ of a genius, but everyone can have the wisdom described by James in this passage. There is a key factor which must not be overlooked as we think about how we may attain to this wisdom.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever (Psalm 111:10).”

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13).”

Obedience to the Law of Christ is the key to the wisdom from above. All who desire to be truly wise are invited to come to Jesus.

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Truth is Not an Opinion

 

“Well, that’s just your interpretation. My interpretation is as good as yours.”

Have you heard of the above assertion or some others along that line before? Some I have encountered would be, “You are entitled to your opinion and I am to mine.” “As long as we love Jesus, these other things are just minor details.”

And this one in all its in-your-face but blunt honesty: “You are intolerant for even suggesting that you are right and I am wrong. Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged!”

Any Christian (and I hope that means every Christian) who has tried to correct erroneous beliefs about the Bible held by friends can testify to hearing the above assertion expressed in many forms, from the polite to the downright rude.

I would like to suggest that we continue to exercise patience and kindness to the person/s making these assertions. At one point in our lives, some of us were similarly misguided.

As we came to learn the truth due much to the patience and kindness of the ones who taught us, so we want to extend patience and kindness that others may come to the saving truth even as we did.

It is helpful for us to understand that a key influence behind the above assertions is actually the postmodernist worldview and its belief that there is no objective truth and therefore ‘truth’ is relative.

In other words, the postmodernist believes that “What is true for you may not be true for me and vice versa. Since we can never know for certain, let’s agree to disagree. Live and let live.”

Postmodernism may be a dying phenomenon, crushed by the weight of its own unsustainable core beliefs. Yet the residue of its vast influence in the 20th century filters into the 21st century.

And so whenever we hear someone say to us during a Bible discussion, “It doesn’t matter. One interpretation is as good as another” or other statements along the same line, we can detect the postmodern influence right there, whether the one making the statement is aware of it or not.

I can sympathise with brethren who have had such assertions thrown at them. Some of them felt threatened, some were at a loss for words. Once a sister confided that she actually felt shaken. She wondered if there was actually a hint of truth in what the person said to her.

Well, if what that person said were true, then it would be a self-defeating statement. How could there be truth in a statement meant to debunk the belief that truth is objective? It simply doesn’t make sense.

Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth.” The KJV says “rightly dividing the word of truth.”

The words ‘aright’ and ‘rightly’ tell us that there is a correct way of handling the word of truth and at least one wrong way of doing it. What does it mean? It means the idea that one opinion is as good as another has no place in the interpretation of the commands in the New Testament.

It is not arrogant or intolerant to point out doctrinal errors when we see it. Think about the souls at stake. If we remain silent just to keep the peace, how will they come to realise the truth?

The Lord is adamant that His truth—His objective, not subjective, truth—be adhered to. Is He intolerant then? (Cf. Mat 7:21-23). Not so. Besides, the Lord and His apostles never cared about political correctness. They cared for God’s truth and glory and the souls of mankind.

I would usually try (with patience and kindness, so help me God) to point out that it is actually an evasion for anyone to say, “That’s just your interpretation”. To be blunt, it is intellectual dishonesty.

It is a vain attempt to evade facing up to the demands of God’s word. Ultimately, all of us will have to face up to it. “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).

The truthfulness of truth is not dependent upon subjective opinions. When we apply ourselves diligently and handle rightly the word, we can know the truth that sets us free (cf. John 8:32).

The next thing is to obey in humility.


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The Longing Heart

Psalm 42 was subtitled by a commentator, The Psalm of the Longing Heart. This description is apt, for the heart of the psalmist pined for the Lord God Almighty. The opening verses express the fervent desire of the psalmist for God, not so much for His blessings, but for God Himself.

Thirst is a sensation which, at its extreme, are tremendously hard to bear. Anyone who has endured thirst that burns the throat and cleaves the tongue to the roof of the mouth – such as that which athletes and soldiers routinely put up with – will understand the longing of the hart for refreshing water.

Shift the analogy to spiritual thirst and we begin to appreciate the burning desire of the psalmist and many in the Scriptures like him.

In today’s world we seem to suffer from such a low view of the majesty and awesomeness of God that our desire for Him comes a lowly second (perhaps even further down the rank) to our desire for fulfilling relationships, academic achievements, career accomplishments and various what-not’s.

A right view of God, which can only be gleaned from Scriptures, will stir within us a similar holy longing for fellowship with God – He whom unbelievers sometimes mock and disregard but whom we address as our beloved Father in heaven.

We live in a world of distractions. We are pulled in all directions by every little thing that demands our attention, and then pressed in by the accompanying stress of trying to be the best in all our endeavours—as parents, spouses, children, students, workers, employers, men and women in authority and under authority.

Tourism is a massive industry mainly due to the need for us to get away from it all, to go someplace where we can leave it all behind, albeit for only a brief period of time. We need a break desperately. We need to recharge.

Through all the stress and pressure, the Lord waits for us patiently. We make and spare time for the important things in life. We split minutes—seconds if possible—to cover as much ground as we can. And still the Lord waits.

We have almost forgotten that we are made for God’s glory and pleasure. The leftover time we spare Him is surely evidence to that sorry fact.

Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him (Isaiah 43:7).”

“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created (Revelation 4:11).”

A long time ago a man by the name of Augustine of Hippo (North Africa) wrote: “Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our hearts are not quiet until it rests in Thee.”

Augustine expressed a truth which ought to be the heart-cry of every person caught in this never-ending pursuit of meaning and happiness. The psalmist in Psalm 42 found rest and quiet, meaning and purpose, only because he found it in the Lord, the Lover of his soul.

May the Lord bless and guide us, that we may pursue Him as a thirsty hart pants after the water brooks.

As Pants the Hart

As pants the hart for cooling streams,

When heated in the chase;

So longs my soul, O God, for Thee,

And Thy refreshing grace.

 

For Thee, my God, the living God,

My thirsty soul doth pine;

Oh, when shall I behold Thy face,

Thou Majesty divine?

 

Why restless, why cast down, my soul?

Trust God; who will employ

His aid for thee, and change these sighs

To thankful hymns of joy.

 

God of my strength, how long shall I,

Like one forgotten, mourn;

Forlorn, forsaken, and exposed

To my oppressor’s scorn?

 

I sigh to think of happier days,

When Thou, O Lord! wast nigh;

When every heart was tuned to praise,

And none more blessed than I.

 

Why restless, why cast down, my soul?

Hope still; and thou shalt sing

The praise of Him who is Thy God,

Thy health’s eternal spring.

 

Nahum Tate, 1652-1715

Nicholas Brady, 1659-1726

Psalm 42 Paraphrase


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Moral Courage to Speak the Truth

What would you do if you saw a young child wandering off alone onto a busy road with oncoming traffic? Or imagine yourself relaxing by the pool at a holiday resort and your attention was suddenly drawn to the desperate splashing of water by someone suffering from cramps—but you can’t swim?

Every now and then we find in the news reports of exceptional deeds of valour performed by ordinary people. These men and women look nothing like Hollywood heroes but when danger struck, when someone else’s wellbeing was threatened, they put themselves on the line to help.

Perhaps you have never given any thought that you could be one of these people. “Me? Brave? Running onto a busy road to pull a child to safety? Jumping into a pool to pull out a drowning person? Not likely!”

Physical courage is one of those strange things we can never quite measure until we are actually put on the spot. It swings both ways. Some folks who think they are courageous wilt in the face of danger while others who blanch at the sight of a cockroach willingly put aside their safety for others in need.

So much for physical courage, as admirable a quality as it is. What about moral courage? Pop quiz: which is rarer? Physical courage or moral courage?

“Doing the right thing for the right reasons in the right way is key to quality of life”, so says a popular writer. I imagine many of us would nod in agreement. But we are almost immediately reminded of another popular idiom, “The test of the pudding is in the eating.”

Both the Christian and non-Christian are moral beings; we are capable of making moral decisions and taking moral actions. Christians are expected to be kind, helpful and magnanimous. We are judged by the world not so much by what we say—which might just be a lot of platitudes to unbelievers anyway—but by how we conduct ourselves.

Let’s consider moral courage specifically pertaining to a Christian. A major difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is the Christian’s moral responsibility to proclaim the gospel truth.

If someone’s physical wellbeing or life was in danger and you risked your own safety to save that person, you displayed physical courage. What happens if it was the person’s spiritual wellbeing in danger? That demands moral courage on your part as a Christian.

And here is where the rubber meets the road; here is where the test of the pudding comes in.

You see, in rescuing someone from physical danger, you will be risking your own physical wellbeing. But in exercising moral courage to share the good news of Jesus Christ, you will be risking—what? Rejection? Ridicule? Looking like an idiot when your friend/colleague/family member throws you a question you can’t answer?

Call it ego or emotional fragility, but isn’t it amazing how much easier it is to risk physical wellbeing than to risk getting our feelings hurt?

Christians know they ought to and want to share the gospel with others. Churches conduct training courses to equip members on how to bring the good news to the lost. Come to think of it, we are better off than the prophets of old. At least we do not risk persecution like they did.

The one thing seemingly lacking is the moral courage to actually do it.

Let’s recall what the Lord told the disciples in His concluding remarks to the Great Commission. “…lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:20).”

In addition, the apostle said, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2Timothy 1:7).”

Physical cowardice does not become a soldier in battle. In a parallel sense, moral cowardice does not become a Christian soldier in the mission of seeking and saving the lost. It is the Lord’s work (cf. Luke 19:10). We are His body (Ephesians 1:22-23). He works through us.

Take (moral) courage, saints of God. The Lord is with us whenever and wherever we seek to carry out the Great Commission. We find courage and moral support when we have a partner with us in the work of evangelism. Well, we have Someone infinitely better. We have the Lord!