Archive for December, 2011


Ready for Jesus?

We have been greatly blessed by the series of celebrations for our 90th Anniversary over 90 days. It has been inspiring and encouraging to remember the love and mercy of God towards our congregation. We praise the Lord for His enduring kindness and generosity. WVBC is a testimony to God’s presence and power on the North Shore. We have seen the Spirit of God healing lives and renewing hearts. We are becoming a community of people who love one another and pray for one another.

Looking ahead, what are some of the opportunities and challenges for WVBC? I sense a prevailing culture of amusement and entitlement will affect the way we engage people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Recent reports from Google about the most popular search items in 2011 reveal certain features of this culture. Celebrities and video games dominate search interests. “What is love?” was the most searched query. While Canadians are amusing themselves, there is an inner yearning for love. Ironically, celebrities offer vicarious experiences but do not satisfy the deeper longing for authentic relationships that endure. There is an openness to the spiritual but it is undermined by emotional immaturity and cynicism.

In the Google report, there is a conspicuous absence of “Jesus” among the top ten searches. Brands like Apple and Google are better recognized than Jesus Christ. We are not surprised when the recent “Back to Bethlehem” presentations reaffirmed the vital need to tell the story of Christmas as it really is. People need to hear the Gospel according to Jesus Christ. We have a compelling reason to present “Back to Bethlehem” in 2012. As followers of Jesus, we embody the life and love of Jesus. Therefore, we are witnesses who testify boldly concerning the person and work of Jesus. We are also characterized by a deep confidence and courage in waiting for the return of our Lord Jesus. In other words, we watch and wait with patience and resilience. Just as the first Advent came without warning, so the second Advent will take place when people are most skeptical, cynical and defiant. However, Jesus issued a warning and reminder to his disciples that we should always be ready and prepared.

The Lord Jesus warned the disciples: “Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:12-14 NLT) In our day, we observe how sin is rampant and the love of many have grown cold. We also note how the Good News is spreading throughout the world. Therefore, we have an urgent mission today. We are called to share the message and love of Jesus. We are also called to be courageous disciples who grow in love and maturity. It is my prayer that WVBC will become a community of love where the Spirit of Christ is present and the Father is glorified in our worship, fellowship and service together.

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In 1868, Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal priest, wrote the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” after an inspiring visit to Bethlehem during Christmas of 1865. Brooks felt greatly drawn to the mystery of divine revelation which unfolded in this little village. Micah’s prophecy announced in advance that this little place would welcome a great king. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.” (Micah 5:2 NLT)

What makes Bethlehem special and significant in God’s economy? To this little village, a Moabite widow named Ruth came seeking a new home and family. She was a foreigner, poor and marginalized. But in Bethlehem, she found love and a sense of belonging. To this little village, the prophet Samuel came searching for the new king of Israel. God chose a shepherd named David, the youngest son of Jesse. To this little village, Joseph and Mary came seeking a place to stay. There was no room in the inn, so Mary brought forth her first-born son in a manger. This son was the promised ruler of Israel, the Messiah King.

Bethlehem was considered an insignificant little village, overlooked and undervalued. Yet in God’s economy, He chooses the “lowly and despised” (1 Corinthians 1:28). God reveals the mystery of His love by coming into our world in human form. The incarnate Son of God confounds the powerful and the wise of this world. Bethlehem, Ruth, David, Mary are no longer ordinary. They were all endowed with purpose and splendor because God chose them. They became exceptional and extraordinary because God desired to bless them.

Perhaps you feel like a Bethlehem—small, insignificant, overlooked, ordinary. But in God’s sovereign plan, He has a special purpose for you. God can accomplish great things through you even as He used humble Bethlehem to host the glorious birth of Jesus Christ.

I wish to share an ancient hymn written by Aurelius Prudentius in the 5th century that expresses a deep faith in the Father’s primal love for Christ Jesus, and for all of creation. Out of love, the Saviour was begotten. Out of love, the long expected Redeemer enters our world. Out of love, the grace and glory of God revealed.

Of The Father’s Love Begotten (Corde Natus Ex Parentis)

Of the Fathers love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,

He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,

Of the things that are, that have been,

And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

 

At His Word the worlds were framed; He commanded; it was done:

Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;

All that grows beneath the shining

Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

 

O that birth forever blessed, when the virgin, full of grace,

By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Saviour of our race;

And the Babe, the worlds Redeemer,

First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

 

This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;

Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;

Now He shines, the long expected,

Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!

 

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;

Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!

Let no tongue on earth be silent,

Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

 

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,

Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:

Honour, glory, and dominion,

And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

From the original Latin of Aurelius Prudentius (5th C.) translated by John M. Neale & Henry W. Baker (19th C.)

Advent season is upon us. We now enter a season of the Christian calendar which anticipates the unfolding story of Christmas. As we learn to inhabit the amazing story of God, our hearts are filled with wonder and awe. The ancient promise of a child who will be the Chosen Messiah and who will dwell in our midst to establish peace, joy and love captures our imagination and hope. When will this happen? Where will this take place? Who will witness his arrival? How will the people receive this event?

The prophets of Israel have foretold the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah, Zephaniah, Micah and Malachi presented their messianic visions through eloquent poetry and oracles.  The Gospels record the fulfillment of the prophecies with exciting detail. Even without the broadcasting tools of modern communications, the news about the coming of Jesus spread swiftly across the land. From the rulers to the shepherds in the fields, many heard and enquired about the Christ Child.

Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation. We long for the coming of Jesus. Living in between the first and second advent, we are waiting for the unfolding story to lead us to the climactic conclusion when Jesus will return in glory, power and judgment. Nevertheless, we learn to wait. We watch for the seasons and watch for the signs of his presence. We pray and long for God to change our darkness into light; to turn our hardship into celebration; to transform our weary hearts into joy and hope; to overcome evil with love. In our waiting, we are stretched in faith and formed in character. In our waiting, God makes our soul yearn for justice, truth, and goodness. As the story of God dwells in our lives, we are inspired to live intentionally and fully for Him.

What are you waiting for? What do you long for? Do you sense God doing something new in your life? Are you anticipating a season of growth and change? Will you discern God’s future for your life? What makes the work of waiting paradoxical? I believe the stories of Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist and certainly Mary can help us wait expectantly. Perhaps, we can listen to their words and pray their prayers. Over the next four weeks leading to Christmas, we can attune our hearts to the joyous mystery of Christ’s incarnation. We can go back to Bethlehem and relive the story of Christ’s first coming. By so doing, we deepen our longing and hope for Christ’s return.

“In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’” Isaiah 5:2-3 NIV

In the OT, David is fondly remembered as the great king of Israel who was strong in courage and sensitive in heart. Apart from kingly work, David was inspired to compose music and psalms in praise of God. His gifts and talents were used of God to shape the worship experience of Israel. The Book of Psalms, which includes 73 attributed to David, have historically served as the prayerbook and hymnal for the People of God. We read, pray and worship with the Psalms.

When the Samaritan woman at the well enquired about worship, Jesus assured her that a new era had dawned when God’s People would freely worship in diverse places. In reality, Jesus promised: “But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24 NLT)

True worship is not defined by culture, tradition, rituals or location. Jesus directs our attention to the Father who initiates worship by seeking out true worshippers who engage in spirit and in truth. By the Spirit of God and by the Word of God, worship is an act of submission and devotion to the Father. We are invited to worship with our whole being and with our whole life. Therefore, true worship exalts the Triune God and edifies the People of God. True worship is deeply personal and spiritual. But it is also communal and sacramental.

As we reflect on our current experience of worship, perhaps it is timely to review our practices and expectations. What affects your personal engagement in worship? Are you sensitive to the style and genre of music? Are you inspired by the beauty of the sanctuary? Are you edified by the preaching? Are you able to focus on who God is and what He is communicating to you? Are you encouraged to pray and to praise God? Do you contemplate the presence of God and remain open to His Spirit at work in your life? Do you come prepared to worship and to offer your gifts to the Lord with a grateful heart? Do you sense the joy, unity and celebration of faith in the company of God’s people? Do you feel energized to live the rest of the week as an act of worship to God?

Jesus emphasizes the priority and significance of worship. We need to realize that the Father is looking for true worshippers. Therefore the question is not “Do you enjoy corporate worship at WVBC?” but “Is the Father pleased with our worship?” The former question is prompted by a consumer mindset while the latter is guided by a heart of devotion and discipline.

The Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 28:18-20 begins with the declaration of Jesus’ power and authority to send forth his disciples into the world:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We are empowered to make disciples of all people, to baptize them and to teach them the Gospel according to Jesus. Our mission is premised upon obedience to Jesus in the way we make disciples which includes baptism and apprenticeship with Jesus. We are called to baptize believers in the name of the Triune God. We are also called to train and to equip believers in living the Jesus life.

Growing up in a Christian family, I received instruction in the Bible, participated in the local church and engaged in spiritual practices. I was baptized as an infant by my grandfather who was a Presbyterian minister in Singapore. At the age of 13, I made a personal commitment to give my life to Jesus and was confirmed in the local Presbyterian church. After many years of ministry and service, I was invited to undergo baptism by immersion. I am grateful for the exemplary faith of my parents and grandparents. But I also felt a strong desire as an adult believer to submit to water baptism. My journey of faith in Jesus has been blessed with many sacred companions who guided me and encouraged me through the years. When I received baptism by immersion as an adult in 2001, it was a declaration of my personal faith in Jesus and a renewal of my heart’s commitment to give my life to Jesus. Unlike my infant baptism, it was a personal decision acted out in faith and in conscious obedience to Jesus.

Let us recognize the importance of Jesus’ commission and the privilege of water baptism for believers. Jesus has given us the authority to make disciples and to baptize each believer in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are called to teach this command of Jesus and to ensure that every believer in our congregation understands the meaning and significance of water baptism.