Children’s Choir @ Church Centenary Banquet

The Sunday School team is planning for the children to sing at the banquet that will be held on the evening of Sunday, 17th September. To help us organize, we would appreciate if parents let us know if you are planning to attend – either to , or .

Thank you.

FOUND FAITHFUL

I Cor. 4:1-2

Bob Weniger

There is something that all of us have, no matter our age or nationality or gender. We all brought it with us this morning when we entered the sanctuary. In fact, it is with us all the time. While we all have this particular thing, it is unique to each one of us; no two are the same. Mine is different than yours, and yours is different than your parent’s or children’s. There is a sense in which you earn it, but you cannot buy it, nor can you exchange it for someone else’s. What am I talking about? It’s your reputation. It’s the way you are viewed by others, how others regard you.

Ideally, our reputation is based on truth; people regard us a particular way because that is the way we truly are. Sometimes a person has an undeserved reputation; for whatever reason others think of them as being better or worse or at least different than they actually are. But for the most part, our reputation will be based in truth. Those who know us and observe us see certain qualities, attitudes, and behaviors in us, and together those form our reputation, what we are known for.

All of which brings up an interesting question: What kind of reputation would you like to have? How do you desire others to think of you? Perhaps some of us would like to have the reputation of being a successful business person, or a visionary leader. Others of us may desire to have a reputation of being a caring person or a trusted friend. Maybe you would like to have the reputation of being someone who courageously stands for your convictions or for being a fair-minded person.

When we think about the kind of reputation we would like to have, what we are really doing is identifying certain qualities that we value, qualities we think are good, right, and important, and so we want those qualities to be associated with us. When people think of us, we hope what comes to mind for them are these qualities that we value and cherish.

In our Scripture passage for today, the apostle Paul speaks about his reputation – or at least, what he wants his reputation to be. Actually, he speaks on behalf of both himself and his colleague in ministry Apollos.

A little background information is helpful. Paul is writing to the church at Corinth. At this time, there was a lot of division among the Corinthian believers. Some of this division centered on spiritual gifts. Certain ones of them thought the spiritual gifts they had received we better than others, and thus they were more important to the church.

Some of this division also had to do with favoritism, i.e., they had their favorite leaders they identified with. It was Paul who planted the church in Corinth, and so some of the believers were saying, “I follow Paul.” That was a way of enhancing their status, because they were associating themselves with this great apostle. Others claimed to be followers of Apollos, who nurtured, discipled, and helped the church in Corinth grow after Paul left. To them, that was more important – to be associated with Apollos.

We do the same today. If we follow a particular sports team, we like to publicize that, especially if our team is winning, for in identifying with a winner it kind of boosts our own self-esteem. We’re on the winning side. We feel good about ourselves and the world when our team wins, and we brag about that to those whose team is not doing so well. Some people may brag about following a certain celebrity on twitter. Even thought that celebrity doesn’t know them, it somehow makes them feel good to be associated with that celebrity.

Now, the natural human tendency in the situation Paul was addressing in Corinth where people were following different leaders would be for Paul to try to draw attention to his outstanding credentials so more people would be inclined to follow him. He could have reminded the Corinthians of his keen intellect and first-rate academic preparation, or how the risen Christ appeared to him dramatically on the road to Damascus and appointed him as an apostle to help plant and establish the church in the Gentile world, and how God granted him a unique vision of the heavenly realms that no one else had been allowed to see, and so forth. In short, he could have tried to impress the Corinthian believers with his gifts, calling, and accomplishments so more would want to identify with him and follow him.

But that is not the way Paul responded. In I Cor. 4:1-2 read, “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”

Paul could have dazzled the Corinthians with his qualifications, but instead, speaking on behalf of himself and other church leaders, he declared that people ought to regard them simply as servants of Christ. In the context of a divided church as the members were choosing which leader they thought was the most impressive and thus the one they wanted to identify with, Paul wanted to be known simply a servant of Christ.

The word in the original Greek that he used for servant referred to those who rowed a ship. This was not like leisurely rowing a boat across a lake on a beautiful summer day. This was a big ship where those rowing were well below the main deck where they could not see out and it was hot and smelly. This was the work of slaves – hard work, unseen by others. This was how Paul wanted others to regard him – doing the work Christ had called him to do for the sake of the church and for the glory of God.

That’s the kind of reputation we should desire as well, that the way others would regard us would be first and foremost servants of Christ, people who have surrendered to Christ so He can transform our character, and as those who willingly do whatever Christ calls us to do, regardless the task.

That’s hard, isn’t it, to be a servant and to be regarded first and foremost as a servant? As you know, this weekend we are celebrating the Chinese New Year. We’ve probably all done lots of feasting. One traditional food, of course, is Yue Sang, for which ingredient symbolizes something. We had this at a restaurant the other night. As the waiter added the various ingredients, he said what each represented. He said, “The fish stands for abundance; may this be a year in which you experience great abundance. The salt and pepper represent prosperity; may you be prosperous this year. The nuts and sesame seeds symbolize gold, silver, and diamonds; may you gain more of these this year.” The whole Yue Sang represents prosperity and abundance.

This is my fifth Chinese New Year, so I have had Yue Sang numerous times. I have yet to hear someone say, “This ingredient represents servanthood. May this be a year in which you grow as a servant.” Being a servant is simply not valued. Perhaps we kind of gloss over that word when we read Scripture and prefer not to think about it too deeply. For a servant in essence has no rights. A servant is totally subject to the will of his or her master. Whatever the master says, that is what the servant does – and not just when it is convenient for the servant to do so. A servant is about as low on the social ladder as one can go – perhaps not the reputation we would desire. Certainly the world doesn’t value it.

That’s rather harsh. But it is true. When we come to Christ, we need to be clear that we are coming to the One who is Lord. He freely gives us eternal life, but in response we must give our lives to Him. He is free to direct us however He chooses so that our lives fit in with His purpose for us and for the world. Our lives are His and we are His servants.

But three things help us keep this tough reality in perspective. First of all, we are servants of the One who in His love for us came as our servant. In Mk. 10:43-45, Jesus told His disciples, and us as well, that in following Him we are called to be servants. He framed it like this: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus has already served us in the most costly way possible – He died for our sins. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves; He won our salvation. No matter what God calls us to do, it won’t be as costly as what He did for us.

Second, this One who is our Master also has our best interest in mind. Jesus proved it when He died for us on the cross. This master loves us and wants us to experience life in all its fullness. So while this Master will sometimes ask us to do things that are difficult, risky, and even costly, we can follow His instructions with joy and confidence knowing that He loves us and will be with us in whatever He calls us to do. God is committed to us.

Third, we must see that being a servant of Christ really enhances our sense of worth. Typically we would view a servant as someone being pretty low on the social ladder. But not so for servants of Christ. To be a servant of Christ enhances our sense of worth. For in being His servant, what Christ is really saying to us is: “I have a purpose for you. I want to entrust a task, a very important task to you.” Imagine if after coming to Christ, He were to say to you, “Well, you don’t have much to offer. I guess I don’t have much use for you!” That would be pretty shattering, wouldn’t it? But as it is, by making us His servants He raises our status. The God of all creation has a purpose unique to each one of us.

So we are His servants. As followers of Jesus we must be clear about that.

Then, related to the fact that being servants of Christ raises our status, we are also stewards, writes Paul. Different translations of the Bible render this somewhat differently. In this case, the Bibles we use here, the New International Version, renders it “as those entrusted with the secret things of God.” The phrase “as those entrusted” actually means those who are stewards.

The word in the Greek (oikonomous) literally refers to a person who managed the household on behalf of the owner of the house. This person took care of all the day-to-day details of running the household. This person would have a great deal of power and authority, and would have all the resources of the owner at his disposal. But he had to use that power and authority and manage those resources in keeping with the desires of the owner. The steward must take what the owner has put in his care and use it in the best way possible to fulfill the desires of the owner.

Obviously, in this context it is Christ who is the owner of the house. He puts us in charge of various aspects of His household and He gives us the resources we need to do the job. But we always remain accountable to Him for what we do and we must work under His supervision.

In short this is who we are as Christians, as disciples of Jesus. This is the kind of reputation we should desire. We are servants, men and women to whom God has given a responsibility and to whom God has also given the resources to carry out that responsibility. Just what the responsibility is will vary for each according to the gifts God has given us as well as by our personalities, our experiences, and so forth.

And then, as servants of Christ and stewards entrusted with a task, what does God expect of us? Paul wrote, “it is required that those who have been given a trust (stewards) must prove faithful. It is required of stewards that one be found faithful.

That is wonderful news for us. What God expects of us is that we be faithful to Him, faithful in carrying out the responsibility He has given to us. God has given all of us gifts to use in His service, and He has given all of us various responsibilities to carry out. To be faithful simply means that by the grace and power of God, we do our best to carry out those responsibilities.

If God has given us the gift of teaching, we want to be sure that we are taking advantage of the opportunities God gives us to use that gift, to teach others in the faith, and to build up His church. It also means we keep growing as a teacher, learning all we can so we can be most effective.

If God has given us the gift of hospitality, we use that gift intentionally in showing love to others, welcoming them and sharing with them.

If God has given us the gift of administration, we seek ways to use that gift, organizing activities and ministries so the work of the church functions smoothly.

In addition to using our gifts faithfully, we seek to fulfill God’s purpose for us in the various roles we have. If we are a husband or wife, a mother or father, a mentor or friend, we strive to carry out those responsibilities as God would have us.

As I said, that God calls us to be faithful is wonderful news. The reason this is wonderful news is that this is something we all can achieve. For God doesn’t call us to be successful, but only faithful, doing our best to do what God has called us to do in the power of His Spirit.

As you know, we live in a world that is consumed by success – that is, by the world’s own definition of success. And success is limited to who makes it to the top. Whatever your field – business, entertainment, sports, you are only considered successful if you are #1.

A week from today the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons will play in the Super Bowl. For those of you who do not follow American football, the Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event in the United States as the top two American football teams battle it out to be the champion. There are 32 teams in the National Football League. New England and Atlanta beat out the other 30 teams to go to the Super Bowl.

Of course, only one of them will win, and they will be the ones with the successful season. The team that loses will not be remembered as the team that beat out 30 of the other 31 teams in the league, although that really is quite an achievement; it puts them in the 97th percentile. But no, they will be remembered as the team that lost in the Super Bowl. Their season will not be seen as a success. Isn’t it great that in a society that places so much stress on success, on making it to the top and beating out everyone else, we don’t have to live under the burden of becoming successful in the eyes of the world. We don’t have to be seen by others as being the best; God doesn’t call us to that. God only calls us to be faithful.

The fact is, often we cannot control the circumstances that would lead to success in the eyes of the world. We can do our best at something, but we cannot guarantee a positive outcome. Paul alluded to this in the previous chapter, I Cor. 3:6-7. Speaking of himself as the one who planted the church in Corinth, and Apollos as the one who then nurtured the church, Paul wrote: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” Both Paul and Apollos faithfully did the work God called them to do, but the results were in God’s hands. God calls us to be faithful, not successful, and that is good news because we all can be faithful.

Someone who knew all about being faithful was Clarence Jordan.

Clarence Jordan was a very unique man. He was intellectually brilliant and a man of unwavering conviction. He earned his university degree in agriculture, and then went on to seminary where he earned several degrees, including a Ph.D. in New Testament Greek. He was offered positions teaching at Baptist Universities and pastoring prestigious churches. Instead, he chose a different path, one of serving the poor in a multi-racial setting.

In 1942, he founded a farm in Americus, Georgia, and called it Koinonia Farm. That name was chosen intentionally as a statement of their purpose, for koinonia, as you may know, is the word in the Greek New Testament for fellowship, or a close mutual relationship. It was a community for poor people, both whites and blacks. The purpose of Koinonia Farm was not only to provide a means of support for those who lived and worked there, but also to live out the Scriptural injunction, that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but we are all one in Christ.

This was in the deep south of the United States, where there was still much discrimination and segregation, so you can imagine that this racially integrated endeavor did not go over well with the surrounding white community. In fact, they did all they could to bring a halt to Koinonia Farm. They boycotted farm’s products, refusing to buy them. They slashed the workers’ tires when they came to town. For fourteen years, they did all they could to stop Clarence Jordan.

Finally, the white supremacist group called the Ku Klux Klan decided things had gone too far, so they determined to get rid of Clarence Jordan and his farm once and for all. One night they came with guns and torches. They set every building on Koinonia Farm on fire – except for Clarence’s home, which they shot full of bullets. All the families fled but one black family that refused to leave.

The Ku Klux Klansmen had their faces covered with hoods, but Clarence recognized the voices of the Klansmen, some of whom were church people. Another was a local newspaper reporter. The next day, the reporter came out to see what remained of the farm. The rubble was smoldering, but he found Clarence in the field, hoeing and planting. Instead of packing up and leaving, Clarence was planting.

Somewhat cynically he said to Clarence Jordan, “I heard the awful news, and I came out to do a story on the tragedy of your farm closing.” Clarence just kept on hoeing and planting. The reporter kept at it, trying to get this quietly determined man to get angry. Finally, the reporter said in a haughty voice, “Well, Dr. Jordan, you got two of them Ph.D.s and you’ve got fourteen years into this farm, and there’s nothing left of it at all. Just how successful do you think you’ve been?”

Clarence stopped hoeing, turned toward the reporter with his penetrating blue eyes, and said quietly but firmly, “About as successful as the cross. Sir, I don’t think you understand us. What we are about is not success but faithfulness. We’re staying. Good day.” And so Clarence and his companions rebuilt Koinonia Farm, and it was out of that ministry that Habitat for Humanity was born. (Tim Hansel, Holy Sweat, p. 188-189)

As disciples of Jesus we are His servants, available and obedient to whatever He asks us to do. As with Clarence Jordan, sometimes that comes with a price. But because of his faithfulness in being a servant of Christ, not only did Koinonia Farm continue as a compelling witness for the Gospel, but it led to Habitat for Humanity and decent housing for now over one million families around the world. We can be sure that when we are faithful, even when it is costly, God will accomplish wonderful things in us and through us.

Likewise, we are stewards of God, having been entrusted by God with a calling unique to each of us, a calling that accomplishes some aspect of His work in this world. What a privilege that God would entrust the work of His Kingdom to us.

And so the one thing God requires of us as servants and stewards is that we be faithful, even as God is faithful to us. We don’t have to be the best; we just have to give our best in whatever God calls us to do. That is something we can all do – but we can only do it with God’s help.

So may we all determine to live in such a way that our reputation would that we are as servants of Christ; that is how people would rightfully regard us. That may seem lowly, but there is no higher position than that.

Letter from Pastor Bob

Dear Friends,
The time is flying by and in less than a month I will be back in KL.  My first Sunday back will be April 5, which is Easter Sunday, so I look forward to celebrating the resurrection of our Lord with you.
My time with my family has been very rich and rewarding.  After being away from our children for three years, other than brief times of vacation, to spend these months together has been a real gift.  Maddie and Chris are both looking forward to their upcoming graduation, after which Maddie will begin her career in nursing and Chris will start his seminary training.
I stay very busy with my work.  I have been doing an in-depth study of the Book of Romans and have prepared a number of messages that I will be sharing with you in the future.  I’ve also had a number of opportunities to speak to various groups about what the Lord is doing in Malaysia and specifically at SAPC.  People here are always so encouraged to hear this.
Daniela is having a wonderful time managing our household.  She graciously takes care of things on the home front so I can be free to do my work.
We keep all of you in our prayers and trust that God is doing a great work at SAPC and in your individual lives.  See you soon!
The grace and peace of our Lord be with you,
Pastor Bob

The Marvelous stories of Christmas Carols

 

Angels From the Realms of Glory by James Montgomery (1771-1854)

James Montgomery was the son of Missionaries who went to the West Indies and left their son in a boarding school when he was only 6 years old. While his devout parents shared the gospel, their son was shuttled from home to home. He failed at school. He failed as a baker’s apprentice. But, he could write poetry. In time, he worked for The Sheffield Register, a radical newspaper which he later bought out and renamed, The Iris. Because of addressing sensitive political issues in his paper, twice Mr. Montgomery was fined and imprisoned.

On Christmas Eve, 1816, at the age of 45, James published his poem, “Angels from the realms of glory,” in his paper.

The stirring tune, Regent Square came from the pen of the blind musician composer, Henry Smart who was born in 1813 and lived until 1879. The name Regent Square was taken from the most prominent Presbyterian Church in London. Montgomery produced more than 400 hymns, surpassed only by Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts in the number of hymns now in general use throughout Christendom.

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Angel we have heard on High
The French carol “Les anges dans nos campagnes,” now known as “Angels We Have Heard on High,” is completely anonymous. It has always been printed with no known lyricist or composer. However, the carol seems to be of eighteenth-century origin, since it was known in England by 1816. At about the time James Montgomery wrote his carol “Angels From the Realms of Glory”

The beautiful carol tells the story of Christ’s birth, when the angel choir told the good news to nearby shepherds. The chorus, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” reflects the chorus of the angel choir that long-ago Christmas night.

Many years ago shepherds in the hills of southern France had a Christmas Eve custom of calling to one another, singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” each from his own hillside. The traditional tune that the shepherds used may have been from a late Medieval Latin chorale. It became the magnificent chorus of “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

“Angels We Have Heard on High” was first published in France in 1855. The English translation came seven years later, in Henri Frederick’s Crown of Jesus Music. This 1862 translation differed from the form we use now. The version we use today was first printed in a 1916 American carol collection entitled Carols Old and Carols New.

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Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a Christmas carol that first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems, having been written by Charles Wesley. This is not the version widely known today. Wesley’s original, written as a Christmas Day hymn and is made up of ten four-line verses, rather than the longer eight-line verses with refrain which we have now and received slow and solemn music for his lyrics, not the joyful tune we now expect. It is interesting to note that in the original version of Wesley’s opening couplet is “Hark! how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of Kings”.
The popular version is the result of alterations by various hands, notably George Whitefield, Wesley’s co-worker, who changed the opening couplet to the familiar one, and Felix Mendelssohn. A hundred years after the publication of Hymns and Sacred Poems, in 1840, Mendelssohn composed a cantata to commemorate Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, and it is music from this cantata, adapted by the English musician William H. Cummings to fit the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, that propels the carol we know today.
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O Little Town of Bethlehem
Phillips Brooks was born in 1835. He began serving Holy Trinity Church in the City of Brotherly Love, at the age of 24. He was an Episcopalian Priest. In 1865, he went on a trip to the Holy Lands – visiting Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, riding there on horseback. As he prepared his Christmas service for 1868, Phillips recalled his trip three years earlier and penned a 5 stanza poem which we know as O Little Town of Bethlehem. The poem was written especially with the children of the parish in mind.

The day after he wrote this poem, Phillips handed it to Mr. Lewis Redner, the Church Organist and Sunday School Superintendent and requested him to write the music for it. Rev. Brooks said, “If it is a good tune, I will name it “St. Lewis’ after you.” Thirty six children first sang this song on December 27, 1868.

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Silent Night
Many interesting fables abound for the origins of “Silent Night.” Most of them are fanciful and untrue. Many of these anecdotal stories claim that Pastor Joseph Mohr of St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Germany, wrote the words on Dec. 24, 1818 in order to provide a guitar-accompanied carol for Midnight Mass. They claim the church organ did not work because mice ate the bellows.

In fact the church organ worked just fine. And the words – well Pastor Mohr had written them in the form of a poem two years earlier while serving at the pilgrim church in Mariapfarr. The truth is that on Christmas Eve of 1818 Pastor Mohr decided that it might be nice to have a new carol for the coming service. And he thought that his poem could be set to music. He hurried off to see his friend, Franz Gruber, who was a school teacher and also served as the church’s organist and choir master. Maybe he could help. And he did. In a few short hours Franz came up with the hauntingly beautiful melody that is so loved and revered to this day. At the request of Joseph, who had a special love for his guitar, Franz composed the music for guitar accompaniment. Just short hours later, Franz stood with his friend the pastor, Joseph, in front of the altar in St. Nicholas church and introduced “Stille Nacht” to the congregation.

That night, a song was born which has become an anchor for Christmas celebrations everywhere. Silent Night” has been translated into nearly 300 languages and dialects. Its lullaby-like melody and simple message of heavenly peace can be heard from small town street corners in mid-America to magnificent cathedrals in Europe and from outdoor candlelight concerts in Australia to palm-thatched huts in northern Peru.

The English version we sing comes from the 1863 translation by the Rev. John Freeman Young. Rev. Young was elected Bishop of the Episcopalian Church in Florida in 1867.

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Joy to the World by Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

When Isaac Watts was 18 years of age, he criticized the hymns of the church. His father said, “If you don’t like the hymns we sing, then write a better one!” To that Isaac replied, “I have.” One of his hymns was shared with the church they attended and they asked the young man to write more. For 222 Sundays, Isaac Watts prepared a new hymn for each Sunday, and single-handedly revolutionized the congregational singing habits of the English Churches. In 1705, Watts published his first volume of original hymns and sacred poems. More followed. In 1719, he published his monumental work, “The Psalms of David, Imitated.” In preparing this work, he focused on Psalm 98, especially verses 4, 6, 8 & 9, when he wrote his hymn which we know as Joy to the World.

For many years, only Psalms were sung throughout the Presbyterian Churches. The first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States convened at the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in May of 1789. The Rev. Adam Rankin rode horseback from his Kentucky parish to the seat of the Assembly to plead with his fellow Presbyterians, to reject the use of Watts hymns. He cautioned the Assembly Commissioners “to refuse to allow the great and pernicious error of adoption the use of Watt’s hymns in public worship in preference to Rouse’s versifications of the Psalms of David.”

Set to a musical theme adapted by Dr. Lowell Mason (1792-1872), from “The Messiah” by George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), “Joy to the Lord” is, as its first word suggests, one of the most joyous hymns of the Christmas Season.

SPORTS NEWS

For those who are interested, please contact Kid Chan (012 215 9933) for Badminton, Dr. CJ Lim (012 225 1155) for Squash.

SATURDAY YOUTH FELLOWSHIP

YF meets on Saturdays at 4.00pm @ Room 5.
Many exciting programs have been planned for the year.
Parents are encouraged to support the ministry by sending their youth to YF.
For any inquiry on YF please call Youth Pastor Greg Lim @ 012-2113711

International Carol Evening

Every year, St. Andrew’s church holds an International Carol Evening on the first Sunday of Advent. This year, the International Carol Evening will be held on the 27th of November at 6.30pm.  All nationalities in the congregation are asked to present Christmas carols from their own countries during this evening. There will also be congregational singing of familiar carols and Christmas tunes. Please contact Lisa Ho (lisa_ho@rocketmail.com) to participate in this event.

Entering the kingdom

Pastor Ron Woodward’s sermon on May 15, 2011, – John 3:3

This morning is the last message in this series on the Kingdom of God. A couple months ago we looked at “The Good News of the Kingdom,” and the last couple weeks we’ve considered “The Mystery of the Kingdom,” and “The Kingdom’s King.”

 

Now in case you’ve ever noticed, Jesus refers both to “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God.” Most scholars believe there’s no difference in meaning between them at all; in other words, the two terms can be used interchangeably. Some Dispensational theologians profoundly disagree, but personally, I don’t think they have a case.

 

One other point to remember, in review, is that the kingdom is both present and future. Jesus announced that the kingdom of God had arrived with his coming, and he was referring to the rule of God in the hearts of men and women, boys and girls. The Apostle Paul recognized that the kingdom was present right now when he wrote to the Colossians with great excitement, declaring that

 

“God has,” and I quote, “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of his dear Son”—and that’s now, not future.

 

But of course, often when we think of the kingdom of God, we’re thinking future—heaven, or perhaps the Millenium, the 1000 year rule of Christ on earth described in the Book of Revelation.

 

So, when you’re reading the Bible and you find a reference to the “kingdom of God” or the “kingdom of heaven,” you need to look at the context, and discern whether the writer is talking about the present kingdom or the future one.

 

If you have your Bible, turn with me to Matthew 5:20. This, of course, is from the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus tells the crowds,

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”—neither the here-and-now-kingdom, nor the future eternal kingdom.

 

So, from the springboard of this verse, my sermon this morning is on “Entering the Kingdom.” It’s a fascinating study to go through the Bible and look for all the references to entering the kingdom.

 

  1. Let’s start with the negativeWhat prevents people from entering the Kingdom?

 

Chapter 23 of Matthew, verse 13: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

  1. These are the religious insiders Jesus is talking about. They think they have it made with God because they’re so religious. But Jesus said that they will not enter the kingdom because of pride, self-sufficiency and works-righteousness.

These religious leaders were so sure they were in the in-group; they were God’s chosen ones. After all, they were Jews, “sons of Abraham.” They had all the answers, plus they were so religious—in terms of keeping the Mosaic Law. But Jesus said that in all their legalism they were “straining out gnats” and swallowing camels. (Don’t you love the wild metaphor?)

Can’t you see a Pharisee so concerned over choking on a tiny gnat that lands in his soup that he gets a strainer to remove it, but then thinks nothing of swallowing a camel whole!

 

You see, the Pharisees were getting caught up in stuff that really doesn’t matter very much while turning their backs on love, justice and mercy—the stuff that’s really important to God.

 

When I was growing up this attitude was fairly common among many Evangelicals in the U.S., folks who, like the Pharisees, got caught up in legalism. Their religion was a religion of “don’ts,” things you don’t do if you’re a Christian: Don’t smoke. Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t play cards. Don’t go to dances. Don’t go to movies, etc. Unfortunately, if they observed this long list of “don’ts,” they felt sure that they were insiders with God. They had earned the right to heaven.

  1. A second group who won’t enter the kingdom, according to Ephesians 5, are the immoral, the impure and the greedy. These are people who break God’s moral laws with abandon, and do so as a way of life. In some ways, they’re the direct opposite of the first group.

Galatians 5:19: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you,” says Paul, “that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

 

  1. A third group at high risk are the wealthy who put money first—people who make a god out of money and materialism. Jesus shocked his disciples by saying that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

 

Of course he didn’t mean that wealth is evil—simply that it’s a huge temptation; it puts one at high risk in terms of who or what is actually their god.

 

 

  1. Okay then, if these are the kinds of people who won’t enter the kingdom, who will? How does one enter the kingdom?

 

  1. First and foremost, Jesus says, one enters the kingdom through a change of heart.

 

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

 

Nicodemus: What’s required is a heart transplant—a whole inner change of heart and attitude. And, what’s the essential requirement for this to happen?  Humility (Mt. 18:3)

 

Holding a little child in front of him, Jesus said, “… unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

 

Again, it’s pride that easily gets in the way and bars the door to the kingdom. “Unless you’re born again, you won’t enter the kingdom.”

 

  1. Jesus also seemed to say that one must enter the kingdom through a forceful, decisive decision to do so! If you have a Bible, you might want to turn with me to a very difficult verse to interpret: Matthew 11:12. Here’s how it reads in the NIV:

 

“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men [and women] lay hold of it.” The original Greek lends itself to several possible meanings, so the translation varies widely from version to version, but if the NIV made the right choice, then,

 

… the idea is kind of like a fast-moving train that only stops at the station for 30 seconds, and if you don’t jump on board right away, you’ll be left behind.

 

Several years ago I was reading Billy Graham’s autobiography, Just as I Am, and he gave a fascinating description to his very first large revival meeting in a huge tent in Los Angeles in 1949. This was when the media first took notice of Billy Graham.

 

Anyway, he was telling how God was moving in the hearts of people; celebrities were getting saved; the meetings had been scheduled for 3 weeks and had been extended to 8. A pastor from a little church way out in the California desert had gotten a leave of absence from his church just so he could be a night watchman at the revival tent—and once in the middle of the night he heard someone rattling the chain at the entrance gate. “Who goes there?” he called out. “Just me,” came the reply. “What do you want?”  “I want to find Jesus.”  So the pastor not only let him in the gate, but led him to Jesus in the wee hours of the morning.

 

So, here was a guy who couldn’t wait until the next night to go forward at the invitation. He came in the middle of the night determined to have peace with God right then and there. He didn’t want to miss the train! Maybe that’s what Jesus meant by forceful men and women laying hold of the kingdom!

(Incidentally, this was the same Billy Graham crusade that led to the conversion of Louis Zamperini about whom I spoke two weeks ago.)

 

  1. Finally, Paul says in the book of Acts that we enter the kingdom through steadfastness. Once we’re born again, we finally enter God’s eternal kingdom by “hangin’ in there” through trials and difficulties in this life.

 

Acts 14:22: It was in the cities of Asia Minor where Paul and Barnabas were strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith when Paul said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” [And of course he was referring to the eternal kingdom.]

 

One of my personal sorrows is that several young men with whom I attended a Christian college in Indiana way back in the 1950’s … several of these guys have since “bailed out” on the faith. They didn’t follow through with steadfastness. They’ve given up on Christ as Lord in favor of what C.S. Lewis called “Christianity-and-water,” i.e. – a watered-down version of the Gospel, mixed in with a little Buddhism here, a little something else there, so what’s left is no longer the gospel.

 

Jesus said it in Matthew 24—and it’s so clear in the Book of Revelation:

 

“He who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

 

So, the Bible teaches that one enters the kingdom:

–        Through a change of heart,

–        Through a forceful decision to “get on board,” and

–        Through steadfastness—“hangin’ in there” with Jesus.

 

Right now I want to ask Jenn Yong to tell you how she entered the kingdom.

 

Jenn Yong:

I came from a Buddhist family with my mom religiously carrying out all the rituals for the various festivals, i.e. – Chinese New Year, etc. I remember asking my mom the reason behind why we do all the things we did and her answer was, “That was what your grandma did.” I wasn’t satisfied with the answer but my mom did not encourage further discussions on this. You just accept it. We even visited Haw Par Villa in Singapore & there were depictions of hell such as having your tongue cut off, put in boiling oil, etc. I felt fear but at the same time there was this feeling in me even at that age that this cannot be. There has to be some mistake & though I behaved after that experience, it was not because I knew it was the right thing to do but just to avoid the punishment of not behaving. This feeling of wanting to know if there was another way, allowed or rather led me to pursue God when I first learned about Him.

 

In secondary school, I was in a convent school in Singapore & being exposed to God for the 1st time. It was packaged along with Mary & Jesus & I attended mass in school for the very first time. The priest would give a sermon then serve Holy Communion. I was intrigued by it, eating his body & drinking his blood? Wow!! Who is this Jesus? I attended a Methodist Church on Sundays with friends & liked it so I would go regularly but would leave quickly after service, not getting involved in any of the church activities. This was mainly due to me attending without parents as I was staying in a hostel & did not feel that I should be there. The songs in mass at school & at church on Sundays touched me & I felt a huge sense of peace within me despite the problems I was experiencing.

 

Throughout college the only times I attended church was Christmas. After graduating and returning to KL, I started work but had to resign to go back to JB to help my parents & I resented it. My mom had been attending the local church, though she was not yet baptized. She introduced me to the young adults & encouraged me to attend the YA bible study. I was selfish & had huge arguments with my mom as I was not willing to compromise on the way I did things & would not listen to the advice of my parents who had more wisdom. I eventually left home to return to KL to work. I hardly spoke to my mom. After a while, I started looking in KL for a church to attend & visited a few until finally settling on SAPC. I started the baptism class with my husband but he dropped out after the 1st class but I continued on. The things that I learned in the class helped me to give my life to Christ. After giving my life to Christ, I was able to see that I had been wrong in the past & so took steps to mend my relationship with my mom who had moved to KL. She had attended the Alpha course in JB before moving to KL during the time we were not speaking & had decided to get baptized. However being a very proud woman, she could not admit to forgiving me because I was sorry & used my newborn baby boy as the excuse to mend things with me. As we started talking, we slowly healed until there was true forgiveness. My mom came through for us many times after that. I don’t know how I would have managed without my parents’ support in my son’s early years.

 

After baptism, my gift was identified to be in children’s ministry. I helped in Sunday school & eventually progressed to teaching. However, my husband was not baptized & rarely came to church with me. My parents helped me to instill God’s word in my son in his early years. My husband could not understand why I insisted on attending church every Sunday & bible study on a weekday evening after a long day’s work. Instead of arguing with him, I would work out a way for me to bring my son to church then rush back to PJ to pick up my husband & go out for lunch. I would arrange for my parents to keep my son until after bible study & pick him up then. I kept praying for God to work in my husband & surrendered that into God’s hands despite criticism from my in-laws who wanted me to force him to be baptized.

 

I knew in my heart that he needed to want to give his life over to God in order to be truly transformed & to be born again. God had His timing & knew best. In 2008, when my son was 5 years old, my husband came to Christ & took over as the spiritual head of our family. God had given me the strength to persevere in my spiritual walk & through changing me in terms of attitude & behavior, I was able to bring my husband to Christ. Now we are stronger spiritually as we encourage, pray & support each other in areas of our ministry work, career, parenting & spiritual walk. In my relationship with my parents, my husband, son, co-workers & fellow Christians, I try to use Christ as the example. How would Christ handle these situations & though I don’t always succeed in being Christlike, I know that God knows I am trying & The Holy Spirit is working in me to improve on that. A life lived in Christ gives me joy & peace despite whatever problems & issues I face.

 

 

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