Since December 27th was the last Sunday of the year, Ps. Michael delivered a sermon at Straits Baptist Church, Melaka that challenged the congregation to look back at the way they were, and to determine if they wanted to remain that way. “As we come to the end of the year, I think it is good to do some form of self-evaluation of ourselves to see how we have been doing as a family of God,” he said.
“We are going to assess and honestly examine the spiritual health of our church and our individual lives in light of Scripture.” Ps. Michael drew parallels between our spiritual journeys here on earth with that of the physical journey the Israelites travelled from Egypt to the Promised Land.
“You will be surprised how we are very much like the Israelites whom God described as a stiff-necked people—meaning stubborn people,” Ps. Michael said. “Are we stubborn people?” he asked.
During their time in the wilderness, the Israelites complained that there was no water or meat for food. They kept talking about how much better off they would have been had they remained in Egypt.
Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
Many of us tend to remain comfortably set in our ways, but fail to realize that when we are continually stuck in our same old habits year after year without any effort to advance, we will begin to grow moldy—or in Hokkien, ‘sei kor.’
“We need a fresh start with renewed commitment, with a whole hearted devotion to the Lord,” Ps. Michael said. We need to pray that God will send us revival. Do you believe that God will give us revival? Start praying earnestly for it, and I believe God would give us a great spiritual awakening. I am praying that God will rekindle our passion and love, and set our hearts on fire for Him.
“How would you describe your church or spiritual life in one word? Moldy? I hope not! If the Lord Jesus were to visit us today, what do you think He would say? How would He describe our church? Would the Lord rebuke us as He rebuked the church of Ephesus for losing her first love? Or would He rebuke us for becoming dead like Church of Sardis or lukewarm like the Church of Laodicea?
“Or would the Lord commend us like the Churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna for keeping their faith in times of trails and difficulties? On a personal level, how is your walk with God? How is your soul? Have you lost your first love? Is there someone or something that you love more than Jesus. Or has your love grown lukewarm?
“We are living in challenging times with different kinds of trials, temptations, and persecution faced by the early church. I believe God has great plans for us as His people to fulfill His purposes. I see that the Lord has blessed us with great potential and spiritual gifts.
“The question is, how prepared are we for God to use us to our fullest potential as His agents of change? How well are we equipping ourselves to fulfill the Great Commission, and how well are we obeying the Great Commandment. How well do we love each other in the Church as well as those outside the Church?
“As God’s people, if we miss obeying and carrying out the Great Commission and Great Commandment, we have lost the purpose of our existence—no matter how powerful, wealthy, or popular we are. God is never impressed by wealth and popularity. We must not be tempted to preach any other gospel apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ that would corrupt the church.”
The apostle Paul used very strong words against those who preached other gospels other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
(Galatians 1: 8-9)
“The goal of our church is never to be popular. We are not called to be celebrities of Jesus Christ. We are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ. The Lord said, whoever wants to be my disciple must carry his cross and follow me. How fun is that? Is it any wonder that we are conforming to the prevailing culture instead of transforming it?
“We must stand against the cultures that will rock the Church. We must not be ignorant of the current events and culture we live in which are mostly anti-God. We must be relevant to our young people, as well as to the people around us. We must engage them with a compelling message of the Gospel that will turn the hearts of people to the Lord.
“To do that, we cannot continue to be ‘the way we were.’ Otherwise, we will become obsolete like Windows 95. Brothers and sisters, we must either change or become obsolete as well. We can change our methods of doing ministry without changing the Gospel message.
“It is not easy to make changes because we are so comfortable where we are. As a result we are resistant to change. We don’t like changes, but the more we remain the way we are, the more difficult it will be for us to change. If we continue to do what we are doing now, we will continue to be the same. We cannot expect a different result if we continue to do to the same thing year in, year out. Making a change is a choice. It is a deliberate action of the will.”
Ps. Michael then conducted a little exercise to demonstrate his point. He asked everyone to stand. Everyone stood. Then, he asked them to try to sit down. Some sat down immediately. Others tried to sit slowly, while others remained standing for a while. Eventually, everyone was seated back down.
“You see? You cannot try to sit down. Similarly, you cannot try to change. At the end of every year, we make resolutions like, ‘I will try to be a better husband, wife, father, or mother.’ We tell ourselves we will try to join a care group, try to be on time for church, try to read the bible, or try to pray. But it seldom happens, because after a week or so, we forget to try. So we just have to do it. The Lord Jesus said, ‘If you love me obey me.’ He did not say, ‘If you love me, try to obey me.’
“So we don’t try to be obedient. We obey and become obedient to the Lord Jesus. We are either obedient or disobedient. The challenge for us individually and as a church is this: Do we want to continue to be where we were, or are we willing and desiring that God would take us to greater heights and have greater encounters with Him in the coming years?
“As a church, we have gone through many crises, but I believe we have grown and come out stronger. Be assured that there will always be crises ahead of us. The important thing we must keep in mind is how we respond to the crises as God’s people. We must remember to look to God to be our guide and to seek His will and wisdom, because it is through crises that we mature in our faith and demonstrate our true spirituality.”
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
“Jesus said the gates of hell will not prevail against His church, His people. We are His people and His church. He has set His eyes upon us, and if God is for us, who can be against us? Therefore, let us take courage, reach forward, and press on from where we are, to a new start with a refreshed spirit and heart for the Lord.
“But first, we must earnestly ask God to refresh our spiritual life. When our spiritual life is dry, we have little or no desire to read the Bible. When we try reading it, we quickly get bored and tired. When we pray, we feel as if our prayers reach as high as the ceiling and then bounce back to us as empty words. We lose interest in the things of God and the things of the world excite us more than God. But the Word of God can transform our spiritual life to become one that is vibrant and alive.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
“So this is what we must do: We must water our spiritual life continuously with the Word of God. Like a pot of dry soil, when you water it the first time, the soil will just absorb the water. But as you continue watering it, the soil will soon be saturated with water. Likewise, we must continually water our soul with the Word of God daily, until our life is saturated with His Word.
“Then, the Word of God will become a delight to you. The words you speak to others as you encourage and affirm others will be edifying. The Lord desires for us to spur each other on in the faith, to help those who are weak, to encourage the downhearted, and also to rejoice and celebrate with others the goodness of God and His favor upon His people.
“If we do this, we will not be the way we were. Remember this quote: ‘Spirituality cannot be obtained in an hour of emergency, it is only proved then.’ Indeed, spirituality cannot be transferred or downloaded. True spirituality is the outward expression of an inward change that has taken place deep within the soul of one whose life is saturated with the Word and love of God.
“At the end of Joshua’s life, he said, ‘choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD’ (Joshua 24:15). Likewise, we too must choose who we want to serve and surrender our lives to. Whom we choose to serve will make a difference. If we choose to serve the Lord, we can never be the same, because we must reach forward and press on.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
“The Christian life is not a stagnant one. It is always moving from glory to glory. Remember, God is the author and finisher of our faith, and He is not done with you and I yet. All of us are still ‘under construction.’ In this passage, Paul is intentionally moving forward. He is not looking back or allowing anything to hold him back from his heavenly call, and he said we should also do the same.
Ps. Michael concluded by revisiting the account of the Israelites in the desert, who kept looking back to Egypt with a romanticized memory of it. “We need to let go of our Egypt. Otherwise, we will continue to be enslaved by it and thus remain the way we were. As a family of God, the way forward is to be courageous.
“Just as the Lord assured the Israelites not to be afraid and not to be discouraged but to take possession of the Promised Land, be assured that the good Lord has great plans and a great purpose for your life as an individual and for us together as a body of Christ. Therefore, let us prepare ourselves in body, spirit, and mind—firmly rooted in God’s Word and ways, and press on into the year 2016 full of courage in the Lord!”
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