09 Feb 2014
You know, we're just so happy you're here with us this morning. And I was doing my devotion in December and as I was doing my devotion through the book of Deuteronomy, I came across this passage and it spoke to my heart and helped me to prepare for the new year in 2014. And so I thought it good that I could be able to share this message with you on three reminders for the new year - not truths that you have not already heard nor known, but it's good to be reminded so that we are ready as we face challenges ahead, as a new year often brings new challenges and desires and expectations. It is common for people to express this in the form of new year resolutions and I searched the web. I found this very interesting list. It includes buying a house, being confident, being healthy, being responsible, being open-minded, and right below that, a little smaller, ‘eat healthful food’. And if you look a bit to the right, in smaller print, it says there, ‘don't be late’ - kind of a good reminder for us, right? And so these are some ways in which we express our desires and expectations for the new year. And interestingly, as I search further, I found that in the USA government website, they actually published the common new year resolutions of American for this year 2014 and top on their list, as you can see (Can you see what it says there? Can you see it?), it says there ‘lose weight’ - seems like a national problem, right? And if you read on you will find (let me read it to you), ‘volunteer to help others’, ‘quit smoking’, ‘get a better education’, ‘get a better job’. You know, all these express our desire deep within for our life to be better, doesn't it? In every way, we wish our life to be better. And this being the Chinese New Year season, you will be familiar - this is the year of the horse for Chinese. And the Chinese, liking to play puns on their words, came up with this new year wish for the year of the horse - ma shang, which in Chinese means either immediately or on the back of the house. And so you notice down there that their wish for the year of the horse is ma shang you qian (which means to have money or be rich immediately) and I don't know how true that happens for most of us there and then they play a pun on the word xiang (which is elephant in Chinese) but dui xiang (which sounds the same) actually means a life partner, so they hope that in the New Year, they will ma shang you dui siang (which means to have a life partner immediately). On the bottom left, it says ma shang fang jia (which means to have a break or go on holiday immediately) - I was kind of puzzled but after the first service, two brothers and sisters very kindly came up to me and explained why is a cross there, and it was because they think that it is ma shang de shi zhi jia (meaning the cross on the horse), so the jia (meaning cross) sounds like jia (meaning holiday) also, so they say that this represents having holidays immediately. And then there is ma shang you che (which means to have a car immediately), for those who wish that the COE prices will start plunging and you know, they can buy a new car. And here's the Singapore version. You notice the $50 notes on the back? So we all have our wishes and expectations for the new year, don't we? Why? Because we hope that the year will be better for us. This is the desire and longing of our hearts but when we go into a new year, not only do we bring into it our hopes, expectations, and wishes, we also bring into our hurts and griefs and sorrows. How do we handle such a complicated mess of desires in our hearts? You know, we as Christians do not need to merely have the lou hei and yu sheng, you know, and with that somehow - you know what is lou hei right? You all look a bit dazed... you know lo hei, you know the chopsticks go up? I don't know about you guys but every time as a Christian I don't know what to say, and when I say, I will usually say something funny because I cannot say gong xi fa cai (which means to be blessed with good fortune and wealth), right? Because gong xi fa cai is not very Christian, you know. Then all this is like ah, I am kind of stuck. And you know the Chinese, they pin
their hopes through these expressions. The English-speaking people use new year's resolutions. But as Christians, what does God's Word have to say for the new year to you and to me?
You know, when we come to the book of Deuteronomy, it seems as if God is bringing aside the nation of Israel, just before they enter the promised land, just before they go into a new chapter of their lives, and they begin a new year, so to speak, in their journey. God gave them some reminders of truth they have already learned. Look with me in Deuteronomy, chapter eight, verse one. It says, “the whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.”. You see, God wants you and I to succeed. God wants you and I to be blessed in the new year. We don't have to merely have a wish upon our heart or to send our new year greetings or just make new year resolutions. We can come to His word and learn and apply these truths that we already know, that we may have success and blessings upon our life in a new chapter ahead.
In testings, be trusting (Deut 8:1-3)
Now, what is the reminder that God wants to give us today? The first reminder to share with you: in testings, be trusting. Look at what the scripture says. It says here in verse two of Deuteronomy, chapter eight, “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years”. Forty years is a long time. And it is in the wilderness - the wilderness is not a place where you can go to grab a burger from Carls’ Jr. or to go for KFC, if you prefer fried chicken. It is the place where there is lack. It is a hard place. It is a difficult challenge. And He is saying, “you know, why do I allow you to go into a hard place, a difficult situation for a long time?” It is that He might humble you, test you to know what is in your heart, whether you will keep His commandments or not. You know, some of us may have come out of a rough place and it seems like a long time in your life in the past year. Maybe you are looking forward and you are fearful because maybe in your projections, the year 2014, the year of the horse, is not going to move too well or too quickly in the path of success or blessing for you, in your opinion. And you're struggling and you're wondering, ‘Why is God allowing this to happen? Why did God allow me to go through such a rough time?’ And God pulled the nation of Israel aside and spoke to them and said, “This is why I did it”. And in verse three, the Scripture tells us, “And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”. That is why God allows us to go through a hard place for a long time in our lives, so that we might understand that our life does not consist in the abundance of things we possess. You know, all through the ages, till this day, here in Singapore, everybody believes in this world that if you have made lots of money, if you have nice clothes to wear, a good house to live in, you know, a good car to drive, etcetera, you made it in life and you are living it up. You're having a good life. It is common, and it's common even among believers. How do we know if we are different?
How do we know if we really believe in God's word and live by His truth? You see, the Bible tells us that God allows us to have testings. Because you see, when we go into testings, there can be one or two responses. If we don't think much different from the world, if we also feel and think within our hearts that we need to have this and that materially, or maybe in our education, etcetera, to make it in life and that alone, then you will find that when you still go through hard times, you will be murmuring. You will be complaining. You will be wondering, “God, why? Why is it that although I have been a good Christian, I have read my Bible, I pray and I come down Sunday to sing songs and worship you, and I even serve in the church, You still give me a hard time? And You still haven't gotten me out of this difficulty! Don't you love me? Why is it that I don't understand what's going on?”. The Bible says that God tells us through Moses, through the nation of Israel, and through us today, so that He might test you, to know what is in your heart, to know if you are trusting in the same things that the world is trusting in or if you are trusting in God and His Word. So the Scripture tells us and teaches us this important truth that bread sustains, but does not guarantee life. It's not an easy lesson to learn. Because we all know we need to have our material needs met. And so we work for it day in and day out. And much as we like to think that we are Christian, but very often our attitudes turn out to be unchristian. And so God allows us to have testings in order to teach us this simple truth.
Now if bread sustains but does not guarantee life, then where does real life come from? The scripture goes on to teach us and tell us that man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God. That is how he helps us to grow. Perhaps you think that you grow because you come to church, you attend a service, you sing songs, you listen to a message, and you're blessed by it. Or, you're so diligent that when you go home, you read Christian books, you get on a website, and you even do Bible studies, etcetera, and you grow. No, you grew in knowledge but you may not have grown in faith. And so testings are the moments and times in which we find out what we really believe in, what we're really depending on, and God tests us to help us to trust. Now, I searched also, and I read some postings on the Chinese version of Twitter and I found some funny pictures. I'm sure you also find funny pictures in Twitter, on Facebook, etcetera, but here is what I found about how some Chinese folks like to enjoy their noodles, and you might be a little shocked and surprised at the amount they eat. So this is the huge bowl of noodles that they eat. And if they can't find a bowl that big, then I saw some creative pictures - they decide to use a pail, you know, and they are really going to dig in. And this third one that I found is most shocking. They decided to find an even bigger pail, you know, that kind of pail that my mom used to wash clothes and soak clothes in - they filled it up with noodles and they piled it in. And you know, what is pretty extreme, isn't it? But come to think of it, how often we think that when we want to live by the word of God, we need to pile in the word that way. You say, “Aiya, Pastor, I understand but you know, I don't have time to read my Bible for two hours.” or, you know, “I haven't been to Bible school”, “I haven't been to theological training”, you know, and “maybe when I retire, I will go and feed myself this way, then I will learn not to live by bread alone”. You know, this is kind of a mistaken understanding of what God means. Because when God fed the nation of Israel with manna, the Scripture tells us that the manna were shaped like coriander seeds. And as you can see in the hand, the coriander seeds are a little seed, they are small seeds, but yet it is eminently sufficient to meet the spiritual needs, the physical needs of God's people. You know when we think about it, even when we eat, do we eat a tub of rice? Even though it's Chinese New Year, you have a small bowl of rice, isn't it? And that small bowl is enough to last you through that period of the day. In the same way. God is not saying, “Go back, study your Bible and come out after three years of training”. No, He's saying, “you need to be feeding on My word. Otherwise, you will find yourself unable to understand the testings I send your way”. Look at what the scripture says in verse two again, it says, “you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart”. So the key, my friends, is not the amount of Scripture you know. The key is, what scripture are you trusting in for your testing? Because if you are not trusting in God's word for your testing, then you will be murmuring - because you cannot make sense; you cannot make sense why God is not giving you good health or good wealth, or giving you a dui xiang, meaning a life partner. “I've waited all these years and where is he, or where is she?” You'll be wondering because you do not have God's Word to depend on. So maybe if you want to face the new year with success and blessings, you need to come to God and simply say, “Lord, you know, it has been rough for me. I think it'd be rough for me in the year ahead. Can I have your word? I don't need a whole pile of it. I just need one truth. Give me that coriander seed. Give me that manna. Give me the truth I need for the testing ahead so that that is in my heart, and I am ready, and I wouldn't be found murmuring, but trusting in You.”.
You know, I was driving around during my Chinese New Year visits and my two sons, the elder is chatting with my younger, and my elder is just sharing, teaching, you know, with my youngest son. My younger son loves to listen to him too. And they are chattering away and suddenly, I hear my elder son say to my younger son, “you know people are like ang paos” (and ang paos refer to red packets that contain money). And I said, “okay...” and he said, “it is what is inside that counts”. Whoa, okay. I didn't teach you that, right. Mom, did you teach him that? You know, in a sense, it's true of our hearts, right? It's what inside that counts! It is not how much you know! So often we are misled. We think, “I don't know this book. I don't know that book. You know, I haven't read this book. Wow, this big name.” You know, it is not what you know. It is what is inside your heart that counts. What are you trusting in for the new year? Are you trusting in your wealth, in your strength, your intelligence, in your position, your education? You're going to find that that is always going to be lacking. And so, you are tested. But if you do not wish to murmur and say, “God, why, why, why?” then, hide God's word in your heart and ask Him for that promise you need to face the challenge ahead, and ask Him for that verse that will shed light on your sorrow and pain in the year that has passed, so that you wouldn't live in the grip of fear and you wouldn't be chained by your confusion and thirst in sorrow and anger, and make wrong decisions for the year ahead.
In testings, be trusting in God’s Word!
How can I be trusting? How can I be trusting instead of murmuring? In testings, be trusting in God's word! So I hope that in the new year, I know you know these truths already but it's good to be reminded, because it's not how much you know, but how much of it you apply. It's your dependence on God's word that counts, not your mere knowledge of it.
In blessings, be praising (Deut 8:7-18)
But you see, it's more than that, because life has a mixture of experiences. I would like to share that perhaps, for some of us, we have a different set of experiences and that is, blessings. You know, in blessings, we need to be praising. Sometimes as Christians, we get the wrong idea of the Christian faith. We think that the Christian faith is all sorrow and pain because of the cross of Jesus Christ. We have to bear our cross. So we think that to be a Christian means we are going to be poor, we are going to be despised, we are going to be kicked around, we are going to be almost like the scum of the earth. Why? Because we are Christians. And we are not therefore ready and prepared for blessings. In fact, it takes us by surprise! You know, if testing comes, we think, “Aiya, My Lord, it is because I'm a Christian.” But when God blesses, we go, “Huh? Why ah?” You know, and you are not ready for it. You are not expecting it and as a result, you get tripped over.
You know, in the new year, maybe for some of you, your fortunes will begin to change. Maybe you will get a job, or you know, get a pay raise, or maybe you will get a promotion. Maybe, you know, you will finally hit or strike a lucky draw that you never expected to win from NTUC or cold storage, and you get a new car, or whatever, I do not know. You know, life is just sometimes so amazing that you cannot project what's going to happen. But you see, the Scriptures tell us that God wants to bring the nation of Israel into a place of blessing. And so actually, it is sad if Christians only expect the worst from God and they don't expect God to bless their lives, to help them do well in their jobs, to give them what they need, and to help them take that vacation. But before long, some of you may be shopping, you know, buying Prada and LV and driving a BMW, and you're like, “Whoa, this is so fun”. And you're like, “Huh? How come? I don't understand it.” And God wants to prepare the nation of Israel - the days of the wilderness for them was passing. They are going to go into a good land, and it says here, “a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountain and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey”. So the promised land is often described as a land flowing with milk and honey. Now I know that doesn't kind of attract us that much because honey is like... well, okay. But how about this? Think of it like this - in Singapore, you know, we are actually living in a land, perhaps we can say flowing with shark fin and abalone. You know, you have abundance. You know, your problem is not nothing to eat but what to eat. Your problem is which restaurant to go to. You know, so you are just living in a land of abundance. God is blessing you. Maybe you have just upgraded to a new condo, maybe you have just shifted out of your old flat, maybe instead of renting now you have bought, and you know, you are just being blessed by God. And the scripture goes on to tell us, “a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity”.
You know, in Singapore, our problem is really that there is too much to eat. So like Americans, probably one of our new year's resolution is to lose weight, how to keep slim, how to lose all the fat gained over the Chinese New Year goodies, the pineapple tarts and what have you. You know, you're thinking like, “Wow, this is really too much for me”, and you see, it says, “in which you will lack nothing”. Isn’t that kind of descriptive of life here in Singapore? One of my biggest concerns about my two sons is how much further they will grow horizontally and how to keep them growing vertically more. You know, so we have the same problem as well - “A land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full”. And the Scripture tells us that in times of blessing, “you shall bless the Lord your God”. You shall be praising Him for the good land that He has given you. Why? Because we are often taken by surprise. Now please don't misunderstand. I'm not talking about the prosperity gospel here. I'm not talking about giving some to God and then God will give you even more, and getting into a bargain or barter trade with Him. I am just saying that our God is a good God, and He wants to bless us. And in the right time, He will give you what you need for your life or your family and your job. And when those times happen, it is easy for us to forget we need God. You see, whereas in the wilderness, Israel had to depend on God for the necessities of life. Their newfound prosperity might conceal the need for the same dependence.
You see, when good times begin to roll, you know what happens? The pessimists are like, “Oh no, how to keep it up?” And we're all stressed out. “Where to save it?” And they get so busy trying to find storehouses for their newfound wealth. And then maybe the optimists will go, “Wah shiok ah, can go and play already! Can go fly to Paris, can go this place, can go New Zealnd, can go Korea” and you begin to spend all your time enjoying your newfound wealth. And then those planners will sit down and start to plan, you know, all their time spent studying about where to invest, where to stock exchange, interest rate, how much, so on and so forth, and go into all kinds of studies on the website to make sure that they are planning well for the future. And you know what, we are so busy that we forget God, so busy in our new jobs, so busy handling our new wealth, enjoying our new wealth, enjoying the blessing. Got the new car must drive around more often, so every night drive around the estate, drive to town, you know, beep beep everywhere. You are going, enjoying and you are living it up. But you're forgetting God. And the Scripture (Deut 8:12-13) tells us, “lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply” - maybe we don't keep herds and flocks in our house, and certainly when you have landed property, you don't keep them in your backyard but we can think of this as, ‘lest, when your stocks and shares multiply’, you know, ‘lest, when your investment begins to bring in returns’ and all that you have is multiplied, when all this is happening. What are you going to do? “Your heart be lifted up”, you think, “Wow. Well, this is me. I mean, I have worked so hard as a student, get my university degree or get my diploma. I worked so hard, you know, in my office. So for the past 10 years, I was not recognized but finally, I have reaped the rewards and returns of my labor. Now I have a boss who has the sense to recognize my contribution. Now I am noted, now I am living it up.” And you think it's all because of how good I am. Why? Why do we think that way? Because we got so busy. We got so busy managing the blessings and enjoying the blessings that we forget God.
And the Scripture tells us that this would cause us to conclude - because you know, you don't start the new year saying, “I'm going to be proud”. I hope no Christian starts the new year that way, right? That's not a good new year's resolution. Or you know, “I'm going to really make it in life and I'm going to forget God” - no, I don't think we're gonna start the new year like that. But you know what we're gonna do? We are just gonna enjoy life. We are just going to work hard and when the blessings come we just begin to run around like a chicken with the head chopped off, trying to do everything we can to keep it coming. You know, the Chinese say what? Cai yuan guang jin (which means that there will be abundant wealth). Do you know what is cai yuan guang jin? It means that all the wealth, come, come! All come to me! And one of their favorite Chinese New Year's songs is cai shen dao (which refers to the arrival of the god of wealth). You know, I find it very hard sometimes to celebrate Chinese New Year because I can't meet them and say cai shen dao. It is not very Christian or spiritual. But you know, this is all the hopes and dreams coming true. But you know what, you have been so busy, so busy enjoying, managing, spending, that you forgot God. And because you've been so busy working so hard, you begin to say in your heart, “my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth” (Deut 8:17). If I didn't invest there I wouldn't have this. If I didn't buy that bond... Wow, if I didn't buy this car. If I didn't buy this house 10 years ago... Wow, I kio tio ah. What is kio tio? It means that I got it. Wow, heng ah, swee ah. You know what? You think that it is all because of you. You made that splendid investment choice and you forget God. You know, this is a proud person in God's eyes. He's proud not because he walks around looking at you and says, “I got one car but you don't have.” No, no, no, not that kind of pride. Or you know, he walks around and says, “See my shirt, branded designer brand.”. No, no, no, it is not that kind of pride. But God is talking about the kind of pride that when a Christian, a believer, an Israelite, someone who has entered into God's blessing, begins to conduct a life that is completely untouched by who God is and what he does. That's why we need to be careful and be prepared for God's blessings. Because you can get so busy when the blessing comes that you think you have to run doubly hard to keep up with it and keep the good times rolling. And the Scripture tells us that when that happens, “you shall remember the Lord your God”. “You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth”. How sad it is that God sometimes has to use sickness to humble such a proud person and bring him back to square one just so that he remembers his God. Because he has gotten too busy, gotten too complacent, and he is really thinking that it is because he works so hard that he is so rich, or because he's so clever, and he worked so hard that he had all these brilliant plans and got all these recognition. And he forgot that it is God who gave you and I the power to get well, that He may confirm His covenant that He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. So in blessings, be praising.
And here are some simple examples of how we can remember in the new year ahead, how we should be praising or remembering God. Now these are not like rocket science. It is not like you have not heard this before but it's good to be reminded. How about this? Give thanks. Give thanks before your mea. Remember the verse of scripture we read just now about how when you've eaten your food, you should bless the Lord your God. Remember that verse? If you turn to Deuteronomy chapter eight, and you reflect back, the Bible tells us that when we have eaten to our full, when jiak ba liao ah (which means that you have eaten your fill), we must say, “Wow, ho jiak ah. Thank God.” Uh, pastor, you are out of this world... you know, we don't really do that. No, no, I'm saying in your heart at least, okay? Don't frighten all your friends by going suddenly, “Hallelujah!”. That is not socially very friendly, right? But in your heart, what do you say? You know what we often say? We often say things like, “wow, you know, this one ah, the Auntie for the past 30 years, cook with charcoal fire so very good”. You know what you're praising and blessing? The charcoal fire. Correct? Or this one - the chef all the way from Thailand who cooks for the king one? Or this one - wow, from China who opened a very big restaurant. You know who you are blessing? You are blessing the chef because he is very good! Or you always go, thank God for my friend ah - he really is the “I eat, I shoot” that kind one. So he went to find all the ho jiak one and he told me, you know what you are doing? Your blessing! The friend contact, that means you have a very good guan xi, a very good relationship. And you bless everyone and everything, except God, alright? That's why Christians should give thanks before they eat. Why? Very simple gesture in which you remember it is God who has provided and blessed you. Whether it is roti prata or abalone, but still can eat one. So, thank God for it. How about this? How about doing your daily devotion, reading your Bible and praying? Most people, when they have a busy day, you know what they do? “Wow, today ah, big business! Must chiong (which means to rush). So wake up early in the morning, brush your teeth, get ready and everything and then you rush out to acquire your new wealth and you have forgotten your God. Why? Because you didn't stop and come before the Lord and say, “Lord, you know, I want to seek You today. Give me Your word. Give me Your truth. Guide me by the light of Your truth.”. You know, daily devotion is a very simple, important and good way to remember your God everyday. You know, sometimes people say, “you know, I don't want to read because I really don't understand what it is saying.”. You know, relationships are like that. At first you don't know what it is talking about but you hear a bit more and after a while, you begin to understand. So the more you read of the Bible, the more the light turns on. But you see, the important thing is to pay attention. The important thing is that you actually took time to remember God in word and in prayer.
How about this? Before you go to bed, before your children go to bed, go in and thank God for the day. Thank God for the safe day, for the fun times. Pray with them before they sleep instead of lying on your bed and playing your iPod or iPad, or you know, sending your WhatsApp and playing your candy crush. You know and stuff like that, like checking your stocks, your shares, watching your latest Korean movie. You know, it is not doing all these stuff. How about going into your kid's room and saying, “kids, let's bless God! Let's praise Him for this day!” and simply coming to church to worship God.
You know, these are not rocket science. But you know, what's the problem? The problem is when we get busy, these things start disappearing from our lives. Even if you're doing it right now, just watch, in the year ahead, you will stop doing it when the pressure kicks in. When things begin to get rough, you feel that you have to keep running and running harder to keep it up, to live it up, otherwise, I'm going to lose that business, I'm going to lose the profit, I'm going to miss that. And before long, none of this is true in your life, and you will think it is by the might of my hand that I've gotten this wealth. You have forgotten God. Why? Because in the times of blessing, we have stopped praising our God. This is a very good reminder for all of us because in Singapore, hard times are not that hard and they are not that long. I still remember a few years ago, there was this financial crisis and the American dollar was crumbling, and all kinds of problems were happening. And I think that this is the economic collapse, depression is coming. And in Singapore, we're like, “we are all going to die, we're all going to die!” You know, but nobody died. Everybody still continued to bless and prosper. And we had it rough for maybe a few months, and soon everything is booming again. What are we going to do as Christians? Are we going to think that it is because we are lucky or think that it is because we are clever? Are we going to stop and say, “God, I thank you that you have blessed my life and given me this plenty. I want to remember it came from Your hand.”. So in the year 2014, if your life turns for the better and fortune begins to come in, remember to be praising God.
In victories, be knowing (Deut 9:4-6)
And finally, I'd like to share this last reminder. Now, this reminder is a little more special, a little more unique. It is meant for those of us who have applied the principles of Scripture and for years we have struggled but finally, we begin to see God bless our life and our ministry. What do I mean? I mean, you may have been giving faithfully to the Lord and you have been doing without because of that, and it doesn't make sense economically but God suddenly began to bless and supply your needs and you're rejoicing in it. Or maybe you have taken time out to serve God, come early on Sunday morning, or over the week, you are serving in the care groups, or you are helping out in the better-half of whatever. And you know, you are giving up your family time, you are applying the principles and making sacrifices to serve God's people. And before long you begin to see God bless your ministry, people begin to come, they begin to get saved, they begin to grow, and you are just so excited. You're having victories. What does God want us to do, if in the year 2014, God-loving people or sacrificial people are beginning to experience his victories?
Look with me in Scripture as we come to Deuteronomy, chapter nine, and let's see what the Bible says. The Bible says, “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you” - this is a picture of the victory that the Lord gave Israel when they went into the promised land and began to win battles after battles. Allow me to recap with you some of the victories that they have experienced. I'm sure Pastor Jason, over the past weeks in sharing the book of Joshua, had been talking about this. But let's recap together. For instance, you remember that when they came to the River Jordan, they didn't have to build a bridge and they didn't have to go around. They simply stepped upon the river and it parted at their feet. Wow, that is amazing that they could overcome it just like that (this obstacle in their way). And then you read on in the book of Joshua, when they move in to conquer the city of Jericho, they didn't have war equipment, they had no technology of the day to help them. All they did was walk around the city seven times and on the seven day, six more times and the total was seven, and the walls fell down, and they won the victory against the city. And how about the next battle at Ai? At Ai, they were initially defeated because of sin but after that, the Lord gave them a strategy, they applied it, and once again, they experienced victory. And this is even more astounding! They were fighting against five kings and they had such success and victory that they didn't have enough time to complete their conquest. And so Joshua actually cried out to the Lord, and He made a very bold request, he asked the sun to stand still. Now, if you think that is a small deal, you can try later to see whether the sun will stand still. You know, this is like a really big deal. Could you imagine that the sun stands still? And it stood still for a day and they completed the conquest. In other words, when they went in to win the promised land, there wasn't a city they didn't take and there wasn't a battle they didn’t win. Now, how are they going to explain their victory? They know that they can’t ask the sun to stand still - God is the only One who can do so. They can’t part the river - God is the only One who can do so. They can’t make the walls fall outwards - God is the only One who could do so. But why would God do it for me? Why would God hear and answer my prayer? And if we don't have a good biblical understanding of victory, then we will be tempted, as God knew Israel was tempted, to say that “it is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land” (Deut 9:4). In other words, you will be tempted that it is because you are more holy, you are more spiritual, you are more godly, so like your power is stronger, and therefore God listens to you. You become the he-man, the hero in your own eyes. You think that you are so great and so powerful? In the past, when you were out in the world, when you were not a Christian, you boast of the power of your wealth and what it can buy, or maybe you boast of your intelligence and how well you can design things and get the company moving. Now that you are Christian and you see success, you say, “Ha! It is because I am more spiritual. I am more righteous. I am more godly.”. You know, this may seem true on the surface, but the scripture says that there is a way that seems right to a man but the ends thereof are the ways of death. In other words, if you really think that it is because you are so holy, godly or spiritual that God gave you the victory, within your heart will be giving birth to an insidious spiritual pride that makes you think that you are better than others. Because, “Hmm, I won a soul. Ha! How about you?” You know, you think you are so great. Or, “You know what? My care group grew last year. Now my house is not big enough. How about yours?” You know, you think that because you are so spiritual, that is why you are experiencing success and your ministry is booming, everybody is coming.
Your greatest fear may come before the battle, but your greatest danger may be after the battle.
Your greatest fear may come before the battle, but your greatest danger may be after the battle. Usually before people serve, they are very scared - “Pastor, don't want, can?” Pray, pray, pray after that and then, “Okay, I do a bit.” But after they have the battle and after they have had success, people begin to say, “you very good”. Initially, Christians are very humble, right? “Oh, no lah, no lah. God bless. God bless.”. But year after year, maybe week after week, month after month of “very good!” and “good, good, good”, after a while you will say, “Yeah, actually I think I am not bad also lah. Not that good but not bad lah. That is why God bless me mah. You see, I read my Bible and pray every day. You know, I come to church and I serve. Of course, God blesses me!”
But God says, “No, stop there, stop there. Don't go down that path.” Why? Because he wants to expand our minds to understand purposes beyond our narrow hearts. He says that, “not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart” (not because you are good) “are you going in to possess the land, but because of the wickedness of these nations”. In other words, God has a job to do and He has just decided to use Israel to do it. God has a job for you and I to do in this church, and it is a privilege that God says, “Child, come and serve Me in this area”. And it goes on to say, “The Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Issac, and to Jacob” (Deut 9:5). In other words, God has a promise to fulfill and He is going to be true to His word, not because you and I are good but because God is good. He is going to do it and it is our privilege to be there, right sitting at the front seat to watch him work. That's why God is doing all this.
And you know what, if you really still cannot believe and swallow this really hard truth? God stops there and says, “No, that's our word, isn't it?”. In victories, be knowing! If you still haven't got this into your mind, I want you to stop for a while and think now. “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land (not giving you this victory) to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people” (Deut 9:6). He says that the reality is that, because of your sin and my sin, we are all not worthy. No matter how many years we have been Christian, no matter how much experience we have, even if you have been to Bible College to study the Bible and you know everything about the Bible from young, you can tell all the stories, it is not because of that. It's not! It is because God is gracious.
So let's recap. Why would God give you victory in your family? Why would God give you victory in your ministry? Why would God give you victory at work? You leave on time to spend time with your family and you think that your boss is going to fire you but instead, he promotes you. You know, you observe and you honor your parents and your friends laugh at you in school, but soon you know, your grades begin to do well and God is beginning to bless you and give you a testimony. And you know what? You are serving in church and God is just adding people, letting you connect with them and reach them. Why? God wants you to know that we are victorious because of what God wants to accomplish. The reason why He is raising you up is to be a channel, not to be stuck there with our pride.
We are victorious because of what God has promised. He wants to fulfill His word and help us experience His presence and power.
And number three, we are victorious because of God's amazing grace. God is gracious. He overlooks our flaws and our problems and He says, “You know what, child, I will use you because you are willing. You are not perfect but I can accept that. I'm going to let My glory shine through your imperfection.”. And so these are the things that one has to know. And I hope that we begin to understand this so that we are not lured by selfish pride to become spiritually superior Christians, but that we will learn to appreciate and have a broader understanding of why God uses poor instruments like me and you.
So we ought to ask ourselves, “Do victories cause me to be humbled or proud?”
Now let's apply this to Punggol, shall we? I'm sure you have all heard about it. We are all very excited about the land in Punggol because, you know, it is amazing how God led us to this land. We weren't even expecting it. How God allowed us to get this land because we weren't even thinking we could succeed in it. And it's even more amazing how within three months, I'm sure you heard from Pastor Jason, that the Lord allowed God's people to give in such a way that we would meet the requirement of the land. We were almost worried and concerned that we might not cross the line, or we may not be able to pay off the bill for this land on February the third. But God amazingly answered our prayers, moved the hearts of God’s people and gave, so much so that it is not uncommon to hear people ask, “oh, how long do you take to raise? Is it 10 years or 20 years?”. And then like yesterday, when I was sharing with a family member, I said, “three months” and then her jaw dropped, “Oh, really? How did that happen?” I said, “God is so good to us”. You know, when times like this roll, when God begins to give victory, amazing victory, initially, we are humble. But if as a church, we are not careful, we begin to think, you know what, because we are a good church, we are spiritual, we are holy, and we are a better church than others. You know what, we are not a bad church, alright? But if you have been with us long enough, you know, we have our flaws too. We do have our mistakes. We do have our blind spots and there are things we are still trying to learn along the way. And I am saying these not to try to put us down, but understand that we are not perfect. And when we move into the new building, we are still not going to be perfect. But why is God giving us this land? Why is God giving us this ministry - the people in Punggol? Not because we are righteous, but to remind us that it is because of what He purports to do through us. And if we move into Punggol with that sense, with that understanding, with this reminder, I believe God can use us in a greater way than if we strut around thinking, “Well, I'm better than you, you know, haha, I got the land but you don't.” You know, and then you think that you are so wonderful. You know, we may not be strutting around about the land but how sad it is to see Christians getting carried away because they, you know, suddenly won a soul. “I won a soul!” and you are so happy and after a while you begin to look down on others and go, “You got go and win souls or not?”. And then you begin to be so wrapped up in yourself or in your care groups or in your ministries, you begin to get so carried away. So let's ask ourselves this question. We have to ask ourselves, “do my victories cause me to be humbled or proud?” You see, if you really understand what God wants you to understand, you will be humbled, that as flawed an instrument as myself, I can still be used. You know, I still have a lot I do not understand and Lord, I cannot manage. But God, you still use me - I am amazed! Or if you think that you are better than others, your victory will make you proud. So in victories, be knowing; be knowing God's purposes! Broaden your mind and broaden your understanding, so that you can continue to experience the success that God wants to bring into your life in the year ahead, in the year 2014, in the year of the horse. You know, you don't have the count on the lou yu sheng. You know, you don’t have to count on the new year wishes, which although everybody says every year, you know that most of it doesn't come true because they are just wishes. But these are truths that God wants us to know. These are truths that if you remember and apply, you are going to find that you will have success because that's God's intention - to let you be trusting in God's Word in testing so that you can come out of it better and not bitter. In blessings, be praising your God so that you keep a close walk with God and in victories be knowing His purposes so that you will not be tripped over by pride and you can continue to be used. Because you see, holiness is for living with God, for keeping a close walk with God. It is not a guarantee for victories and successes because God is always free to choose the instrument He wishes to use to accomplish His purposes. So I pray and I hope that in the new year ahead, these reminders will help you move in with confidence, face your challenges, and enjoy the blessings that God has prepared for you. Let's bow our heads, close our eyes and let's respond to the Word of God with a time of prayer, shall we?
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