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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The Usurper

We are faced with an ancient problem. The origin of this problem goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when our common ancestors made the conscious choice to defy the Creator as their God and instead install themselves as their own little gods.

“And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen 3:4-6).

Since that day the self has never stopped attempting to usurp God’s rightful place in human lives. Selfishness, self-centredness, conceit—call it by any name, it remains the foremost enemy that robs us of the purpose and meaning of our existence.

We are created by God for a purpose. The wise man puts it in the clearest way possible that anyone of us can understand.

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecc 12:13-14).

Like Adam and Eve, we so often choose to listen to and gratify our desires rather than bow in submission to the will of God. Take sexual immorality, for example. Fornication seems to be more rampant today with Hollywood and the media touting it as ‘normal’ behaviour.

It is impossible to count the number of people engaging in pre-marital sexual behaviour. Does God ever mean for men and women never to enjoy sexual pleasure? Certainly not. But He never means for creatures created in His image to indulge in what He has confined to marriage.

Like some of the children in the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment, so many people are unwilling to delay gratifying their desires till marriage, and choose to place self before God.

A look back at history will reveal that this ancient problem is still very much active today; it does not go extinct with time and improvements in standards of living. In fact, it seems to have become more creative with time in marketing.

Humanism celebrates mankind and places him at the highest places of honour. Countless interviews are being conducted with celebrities (or anyone who fancies himself/herself as one) where they are given almost free rein to talk about themselves.

Books with titles such as Looking Out for Number One (Robert J. Ringer), Awaken the Giant Within (Anthony Robbins), Good to Great (Jim Collins), See You at the Top (Zig Ziglar) and Feeling Good (David D. Burns), The 48 Laws of Power (Robert Greene) etc. are bestsellers.

Social media platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, are used as avenues to promote the self. The English language has churned out terms such as ‘self-fulfillment’, ‘self-enhancement’, and ‘self-expression’, etc.

These are signs that the great usurper, Self, is alive and well and active. We live in a world where men and women are preoccupied with the self. Stripped bare of its eye-pleasing marketing, it is no more than narcissism—an inordinate fascination with oneself; vanity.

We may argue that things are not as bleak as painted above; most of us are not at the point where we are so absorbed with self that we become blind to everything and everyone else around us.

We may also argue that paying attention to self is not all that bad. After all, aren’t we to pursue improvements? Besides, it’s not as if we have forgotten or neglected God. We still read the Bible and attend worship every first day of the week. So what seems to be the problem?

Well, what is the essence of idolatry? In other words, what is at the root of idolatry?

Paul says, “Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5).

Idolatry is anything which seeks to usurp the place of God in our lives. ‘Anything’ means not only what we generally agree as evil, but even good things can become idolatrous if we are not careful.

With that understanding, let’s ask the question: What is the biggest idol of them all? It is the self. When we regard the self higher than it deserves, it becomes an obstacle between God and us.

We are disciples of Jesus when we follow Him and His word. What does He say to us?

“And he said unto all, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose or forfeit his own self” (Luke 9:23-25)?

Deny self. Take up the cross daily. Follow Him. Remove self from the throne. Die to self and sin every day. Obey the Master. This is the true description of a disciple.

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Reading and Our Spiritual Growth

The letters of the apostle Paul, besides revealing to us the divine will of God, serve also as windows for us to peek into the apostle’s fascinating life. He comes across to us in his letters as a man of flesh and blood, one with whom we can certainly relate.

One of the snippets we pick up on Paul’s life is his love of reading. Near the end of his life, while he was languishing in a cold dungeon awaiting his possible execution, he wrote to his friend Timothy, giving him instructions and encouragement to continue in the work of the Lord.

He also asked Timothy for some personal favours, among which was this:

“The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments” (2Ti 4:13).

There are speculations as to what these books and parchments were. It is widely agreed that the parchments would include the Hebrew Scriptures, what we today call the ‘Old Testament’.

The books might include secular writings and commentaries of the Scriptures by the rabbis. Paul was not averse to non-Jewish writings and Gentile cultures. In Acts 17 he appealed to a common understanding with his Greek audience when he paraphrased a Greek poet.

“For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:28).

Some might think it strange that Paul would need copies of the Scriptures. He was trained from young in the tradition of the Pharisees and had displayed a remarkable memory in quoting Scriptures both in his preaching and writings.As an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul was guided by the Spirit.

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).

Furthermore, books would be quite useless to a man near death.

Here we see Paul, the reader. Anyone who loves to read will easily relatethat when a person is bitten by the reading bug, he/she will remain a reader. Paul was also consistent in his study habits. He never ceased to learn and improve.

The advantages of reading are many. Reading is the best way to gain knowledge. Today we have access to instructional videos, but reading remains the best way to gain knowledge as books are still the preferred vehicles of information.

Reading, when done actively, improves our critical thinking and communication skills. Critical thinking is crucial for Christians because of the myriads of ideas disseminated through books and the media. Better communication skills are a boon not only in our interaction with others but also in sharing the Good News with them.

Attention span seems to have deteriorated ever since the day every household began to own a TV set and later on a computer. Mindless staring into a screen is numbing to the brain. Active reading forces us to engage our attention if we are to benefit from a book.

Reading also allows us to learn at our own pace. As a person who is rather ‘slow’ and finds it hard to keep up with a lecturer, reading not only affords me the advantage of learning at my own pace but also gives me countless hours of pleasure.

Reading has another advantage. It allows us to experience vicariously through others what we probably will not have the opportunity to experience: an adventurous trip, a debate with someone of a different religious persuasion, etc. Reading is truly a learning experience.

In his request to Timothy, Paul was setting an example to his protégé (and to us) that Christians ought to constantly seek to improve ourselves though learning. Unlike the apostles, we do not have the Holy Spirit to teach us all things and to bring all things to remembrance.

We are called to be diligent students of the Bible, and to train to be able to handle it correctly (cf. 2Ti 2:15). Good books are the best supplements to our learning. While none of these books are inspired and therefore infallible, through them we can tap into the writers’ minds and allow them to share with us their thoughts and discoveries.

Reading good books train us to exercise discernment. We cannot accept wholesale anything we read, even from writers reputed to be sound in doctrine. So how do we exercise discernment? Be like the Bereans.

“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).

A Christian who studies the Bible diligently is a Christian who grows. A Christian who also follows Paul’s example and learns constantly from reading good books are better placed than one who deprives himself of the riches of sharing in the learning of others.