0

06.02 Warnings against spiritual lethargy (Part I)

What is spiritual lethargy? If you would just do a check in the dictionary, you would find that the definition of lethargy or being lethargic is an attitude, or a state of laziness, sluggardness, tardiness. You feel very weak, as if you have no energy and no passion. Sometimes we would describe such a person as feeling dry, worn out, burnt out or weary. Then when we describe spiritual lethargy, we carry this attitude over to our spiritual life in terms of our relationship with God, our relationship with fellow men, in our service, in our own spiritual walk. There is this attitude of laziness, sluggardness, tardiness or slothfulness. A spiritually lethargic person is one who is spiritually dry, or spiritually weak. There is no passion and energy in our Christian life. This is what spiritual lethargy is.

Sometimes when we think of what is displeasing to God, or what God dislikes or what would cause God grief, we think of the things we would commit which would displease him. We know we have done so when we have committed and done sinful and wicked things like hating somebody, losing our temper or getting unreasonably angry with somebody. We know that God is displeased and disappointed with us. We know that these are wicked things and these are sinful things. If we have stolen something, have committed even adultery in our minds, have broken the Lord’s day, we know that we have done wicked things before the Lord. But somehow to many of us, as long as we do not do anything bad or wicked, and we do those things that are enough, God will be reasonably pleased with us. That is what we think.

As we have studied in Isa 43, you would realise that sin is not just something we do, but also not doing what we ought to do. This is also displeasing before the Lord. Spiritual lethargy is a state and an attitude where Christians do just enough (they think) to fulfill their responsibility as Christians but they do not do what they want to do in loving God and in loving others. They do not serve; they do not give of their lives; they do not consecrate themselves. They do just what is enough in order to do what they think is pleasing before the Lord. However we read in the Scriptures that spiritual lethargy is actually a very wicked thing. It is a thing which the Lord hates. It is a very sinful thing. It is a thing which displeases the Lord the most. In the Old Testament, Solomon gave a lot of warnings about it. In the book of Proverbs, he described the slothful and the sluggard. These are the lazy people. He said that they hide their hands, and that the slothful must learn from the ant. He described all these people in the Old Testament especially. And we know that the bible is a spiritual book so it could not be he was just describing physical or external laziness. Rather he was describing the laziness of a spiritual child of God. And when we go to the New Testament, we see a lot of warnings against spiritual lethargy. Remember the Lord Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. He told His disciples, “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation” (Matt 26:41). And then the Apostle Paul throughout his epistles exhorted the Christians to walk worthy of their vocation wherein they had been called. In the book of Romans chapter 13, he gave a strong declaration, telling Christians to awake out of sleep – “it is high time to awake out of sleep” (Rom 13:11).

So spiritual lethargy – this attitude of laziness and sluggardness – I believe, is an attitude which plagues many a Christian. And it’s so deadly because sometimes we have this state of laziness, tardiness, spiritual dryness and we do not even realise it. We feel so dry, yet so comfortable in the way we are – just going to church once a week, fulfilling our duties in going for fellowship group meetings and prayer meetings. This is just about it that constitutes our Christian life. But in the text we see this morning in Isa 43, spiritual lethargy is a most wicked and deadly thing. Why is this so? First of all, consider what we have read. In Isa 43, from verse 1 all the way to verse 21, Isaiah reminded the people of who God is. When we talk about spiritual lethargy, we are not just talking about laziness or tardiness before another person such as your school teachers. Maybe you are lazy at home where you do not do your dishes, you do not do your laundry, which causes your parents to say, “I have a very lazy child.” When you are lazy at home, you are doing wrong to your parents. When you are lazy in school, you are doing wrong perhaps just to your teachers and then later to your parents as well. That is just about it.

But when we are talking about spiritual laziness, we are not talking about doing wrong before another man. We are talking about the attitude of laziness before God. We all love Isaiah 43, isn’t it? This passage is much quoted in cards when you want to encourage another brethren. We often would quote v2 “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” Isaiah brought and carried the Israelites through the past, through history, reminding again of what God had done for them – how He delivered them from Egypt, how He delivered them when the Egyptians were chasing them and they went to a dead end. It seemed like a dead end – the Red Sea. Then the Lord parted the Red Sea so that they could cross over. They faced many enemies; they faced a lot of challenges but the Lord delivered them out of them all.  Then the Lord defeated all their enemies in the Promised Land. He defeated all the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Edomites and the Canaanites. He defeated all their enemies for them, and He gave them the Promised Land. Isaiah wanted the people to remember again what God had done for them in the past.

You may say that is all. Do not just think of God in what He has done, but also think of God for who He is. That is why in v11, Isaiah says that God declares this “I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour.”. You know, in your King James Bible, you notice that the ‘even’ and the ‘am’ here are in italics. So in the Hebrew bible, this verse can be read literally this way “I, I the Lord”. It is a declaration of who God is. God Himself says that He is the LORD. Who is the LORD? He is the covenant God – the covenant-keeping God; the one who has established and made a covenant with the nation of Israel. He had given His promise to the nation of Israel and He said that He would take upon Himself to fulfill all these promises to His people. He is the LORD. He is the self-sustaining God. He is the self-sufficient God. He is God eternal, He is God omnipotent – He is the LORD. Think upon who He is.

Then He says that the children of Israel were witnesses, and they were not just witnesses to what He had done but also witnesses to His glory. They would remember the time when the LORD appeared before Moses and the children of Israel in Mt Sinai, how they were fearful of Him because they had seen a semblance of just but His glory. Now I like us to think what we know of who our God is and what God has done for us. Christmas is over… is it? Yesterday was Christmas but the meaning of Christmas is not over. We know the meaning of Christmas – God giving us a Saviour. We have seen His greatest work in His redemptive plan for all of us sinners. We have tasted of it. You have tasted of it. You have seen how God had delivered you in time past when you  were in the miry clay, in the horrible pit. When we were burdened with the filth and weight of sin, feeling so dirty, so unholy, and so wicked because we know the sins we have committed in our lives God gives us a Saviour and He has saved us. Unworthy as we are, the Lord delivered us. We have experienced and tasted the glory of God Himself. Have we not? When we read of His works in Scripture, His workings in our lives, God’s providence in very little things in our lives, we experience His glory.. Sometimes when we pray, the Lord answers us – the Lord answers us immediately, sometimes maybe the Lord may take a few years working His wonderful plan, but we see everything unfolding before our eyes. We taste of His glory. We experience the sweetness of a close communion with God. We experience the sweetness of  fellowship in the Lord Jesus Christ. These are things which the Lord has done in our lives. As it were, as Job would say, our eyes are opened and we have seen the King. God has done all these things for us.

Yet do you know what the Lord said to the children of Israel? When we read of all these things, the Lord said ‘please, do not look at history, do not just look at the past, because I will do more for you…’ (to be continued)

(An excerpt from Pr. Joshua Yong’s message, the first in a series on ‘Warnings against spiritual lethargy’, preached during True Life 2012 YPF Camp)

Advertisements
0

05.03 Why did the angels sing?

Why did the angels sing? In the passage for our consideration today, we see a magnificent sight of the heavenly host singing a grand song of praise: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” What prompted the angels to proclaim these wonderful words of praise?

The last time we read of the angels rendering such songs of praises to God was when they witnessed God’s creative power manifested when He created the heavens and the earth (Job 38:7). The next time we would hear of the angels singing a grand song of praise is when they behold the Lamb of God sitting upon His throne, who is worthy to open the book sealed with seven seals (Rev 5:11-13). This event then recorded for us in Luke 2:8-14 must be a most glorious event that the angelic host would praise God in such a manner.

What is this event? The Bible declares that it is the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. What is so special about this birth? Thousands of babies are born every day; hundreds are born every minute all over the world, but the angels do not sing in those happy but ordinary occasions. So why do the angels sing here? Why did the angels declare: “glory to God in the highest?”

The Bible tells us it is because it is not the birth of an ordinary child, but it is the birth of the “Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (v.11). The Lord Jesus Christ is the anointed Messiah – the word “Christ” means the “anointed one.” He is the anointed Prophet, Priest and King being spoken of in the Old Testament as a sign to God’s people (Isa 7:14). He is the Saviour, for He came to save His people from their sins (Matt 1:21). He is the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. He is God incarnate; God was manifested in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16).

This greatest event that the Almighty Son of God, the one who created all things by the Word of His power, the one to whom all is subjected to, whether things in heaven or things in earth; the eternal Living Word, He became man. What a great and glorious thing.

But the question is, what is so glorious in Christ becoming man? It is great and glorious because it is God’s gift and because of His wonderful love for us. All man should die because of our sins – all we have transgressed God’s law, we have fallen short of His glory. But God has a plan of salvation for us all. This plan rests in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ as a man for us all. As a man, Christ can represent man; as a man, Christ can die for man; as a man, Christ when he rose again from the grave became the firstfruit of all who will rise again. Thus the angels have to sing at this great event.

The reason for the angels’ song is also found in the song itself. In the coming of Christ, the Anointed One, He brings true peace when by His life and death, He reconciles sinners to God. Christ the Prince of peace brings peace (Isa 9:6). Christ is also God’s gift of love towards man. Thus He is the expression of God’s good pleasure towards man (the word “good will” also means “good pleasure”).  There is no reason for God to be pleased with man, except through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Why did the angels sing? Because it was the birth of the Christ. Today, as you think of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, do you also rejoice? Do you rejoice in His marvelous work which He has done for you? This is why the angels sung. Will you also praise the Lord with this glorious song?

(Written by Pr. Joshua Yong)

0

04.02 Leadership in the YF

When we think of youth leaders leading in Youth Fellowship (YF) we first need to ask ourselves this question: what is the youth fellowship? The YF is a ministry of the local church; the YF is not in itself the church. Although it is not the church it does play a very important part in the ministering of the youths in the church. Youths are the future of the church, and how youths are guided and taught is very important; and this is especially so in light of the struggles youths would face in the world today. Thus the proper leading of the youths in the YF is extremely important. However, this is now a concern that I have for the YF. Every year we would appoint leaders who are spiritually matured and show good spiritual leadership qualities to lead the YF. There is nothing wrong in that, but the concern arises when these leaders place on themselves the burden to minister to the spiritual needs of the youths and thus, carry a burden they are not ready to carry.

Is it wise for youths to lead youths? When we consider youthfulness, we are not thinking about the age of a person per se. The more needful question to ask is whether it is God’s design to have youths to take full care of youths. In what I have experienced with the YF in Truth BPC thus far, the leaders, when appointed to take up leadership positions, are often overwhelmed by what they see as their responsibilities. Youth leaders would often have to encourage other youths to attend YF regularly; counsel them when they face problems in school or work; rebuke and correct when they fall into sin; teach them by conducting Bible Studies; determine the spiritual needs of the youths and think of how they can cater to these needs. Essentially, youth leaders are essentially playing the role of the pastor, except they do not preach, conduct the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Furthermore, sometimes we forget that these youth leaders are also youths themselves who may be the more spiritually matured than others in the YF at that point in time but may or may not be spiritually matured enough to guide other youths. This could be one reason why some youths are not keen to be part of the leadership of the YF (which is known as the Executive Committee) – they are overwhelmed by what is expected of them and what they think they have to do. When they think they cannot carry such a burden they decide not to serve in the Committee. It is therefore most important to remember that the YF is not the local church, and should not function like a church within a church; it is a ministry of the church.

Leaders of the YF should therefore always lead in this light. Since the YF is a ministry of the church, it is the church’s responsibility and duty to appoint leaders – leaders of the church whom God has appointed to lead the church – to lead the YF, which is a ministry of the church as well. Youths should not be given the responsibility to bear a burden they are not ready to bear. Do youths have the same level of spiritual maturity as the leaders of the church? The answer is no; if they do, they should be appointed as leaders of the church immediately. Thus, I believe that leaders of the church must be more involved in the spiritual leading and guiding of the YF. In this present set-up where a session member is involved, and together with someone who is trained and prepared for the full time ministry, that there may not be proper guidance from more mature Christians is not a concern. It is still important to remember though that the YF is not a church within a church and the youth leaders should not overwhelm themselves by thinking they have to deal with all the spiritual needs of the YF on their own. The church must be involved in the ministry of the YF.

Having said that, youths are often zealous and enthusiastic people. They are full of energy, and this energy can be channeled for the Lord’s use. Youths leaders are also important as they can identify with the other youths they are leading. This is why we also have youth leaders in the YF. Serving as leaders is an area of service. You want them to be nurtured for future ministry. At the same time, you do not want to have adult leaders always running everything in the YF until the youths become too dependent on them. Every youth must be active in service, and so this would mean that some youths should serve by leading in the YF. There must be a balance: while youth leaders should not overwhelm themselves with what they are not ready for, they should also use the gifts God has endowed upon them in the YF and for some this would include leading in the YF. What is then expected of the youth leaders? What is their role? They are primarily to be examples for other youths. The more matured Christian should always be helping the younger ones who need more guidance. What better way to do this than by first being an example to them? This would include sharing their own personal experience and struggles with others. Should youths therefore serve in the leading of the YF? Yes, they should, but they must understand that they are also learning and growing together with the rest of the fellowship group.

Youth leaders ought to be involved in the YF in many ways. They are responsible for the setting of the theme, invitation of speakers, the organising of activities and sometimes even leading in Bible studies. But the most important role they have to fulfill is to be an example of spiritual growth in the YF. While they have these roles in the fellowship, the other equally important role they have to fulfill is to learn how to lead from God’s appointed leaders of the Church. Leaders of the church must therefore be always involved in the ministry of the YF in an active and direct way.

I would close by encouraging youths to “Serve the LORD with gladness:…” (Psalm 100:2). In whatever role you play in the YF, serve the Lord, and do so joyfully.

(Written by Pr. Joshua Yong)

0

03.04 Congregational singing

SING ALL. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

SING LUSTILY, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you are half-dead or half-asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, than when you sing the songs of Satan.

SING MODESTLY. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation— that you may not destroy the harmony—but strive to unite your voices together so as to make one clear melodious sound.

SING IN TIME. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and more therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slowly. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing our tunes as quick as we did at first.

ABOVE ALL, SING SPIRITUALLY. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing  Him more than yourself or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward you when He cometh in the clouds of heaven.

(The Works of John Wesley, Vol. XIV (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House), pg 346. Quoted in Kenneth W. Osbeck, The Ministry of Music (Grand Rapids: Kregel Resources), pg 61.)

0

03.03 Guidelines on chairing and song leading

When we are called to serve as chairperson or song leaders, we must first of all remember that we are pointing others to worship God and not on ourselves. Our entire demeanor and countenance cannot distract people from God. As such, we have to prepare ourselves well and learn how to chair or lead songs in a proper and dignified manner.

  1. Have your own personal time with God as you prepare to chair/lead songs. Meditate upon Him, His works and His words (Psalm 104:24,34). Humble yourself before God—know who God is and how you stand before Him.
  2. Please be properly and smartly attired. It is not nice to wear T-shirts with distracting words on them, bermudas and slippers/sandals if you are standing in front of people. It shows forth a care-less attitude and in fact draws attention to yourself. Do not overdress too!
  3. If you are chairing, prepare to read a Scripture passage that calls the YFers to a time of worship. This will help to put away the distractions from their minds as they are to focus now on God. Choose an appropriate hymn that is a call to worship.
  4. If you are leading songs, find out the theme of the YF meeting. The songs you choose cannot be your favourite songs but songs that converge our thoughts to the message. Study the songbook/hymnbook; read the words of the songs/hymns; plan the progression of the songs to sing.
  5. You may want to explain the choice of a song or give a little commentary if it helps the people to sing with understanding. However, do let your words be few. It is not a time to tell your life story.
  6. Sing loudly, clearly and joyfully, whether chairperson or song leader! You are there to lead, not just to announce the song number. Lead the musician also. Be an example of how the youths should be singing unto God.
  7. Encourage them to sing better. Do not lash out at people even if you sense a lethargy in the singing.
  8. Lastly, give God the glory for the time of singing. Give praise to Him that we can use our voices to sing to Him, instead of praising the people for great harmonization, loudness etc.

Count it as a privilege to serve God as a chairperson or a song leader. Do not shy away from these two roles after reading these guidelines. We must learn and grow in how we worship and serve God.  Approach your group leader or any senior YFer if you need help to go through your chairing or song leading. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3:16-17,

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” 

0

03.02 Appreciating a hymn

Biblical Definition

The word ‘hymn’ is used only twice in the New Testament. They are found in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Though ‘hymns’ are linked together with ‘psalms’ and ‘spiritual songs’, it stands in its own category distinct from the other two. Psalms are basically what we find in the Old Testament Book of Psalms. Psalms are generally accompanied by instruments such as the lute and tambourine. They are primarily directed to God- to adore Him and to exalt Him. Spiritual songs encompass a wider variety of material that could not be classified under ‘psalms’ and ‘hymns’. Examples are short choruses, children’s songs and tribal (cultural) songs. Hymns are mainly testimonial-speaking to man about God’s acts and attributes. They also call for a response from any who listens and/or sings.

Historical Definition

In the 18th and 19th centuries, hymnals were small and pocket-sized so that church members could carry with them to church. Their hymnals were like collections of poetry-different from what we see today where the music and the words are printed together on the same page. The tunes which the hymns go by were simply name and be referred to in another separate book called the tunebook. One famous hymnal was known as the Olney Hymns, co-authored by John Newton and his best friend William Cowper (pronounced as ‘coo-per’; composer of God Moves in a Mysterious Way), who often took long walks together, talking about God and making poems. This little glimpse of history tells us that hymns are essentially poetry, not tunes.

Technical Definition

The hymn refers to the text, and so as a text, it shares similar characteristics with a poem. A hymn is equally divided into stanzas in a recurring pattern of rhyme and meter.

 

Rhyme is where the last sound of each line sound similar with a following line. Different types of rhyme patterns can be found in various hymns. The simplest type is the “a,a,a,a” scheme:

Dying with Jesus, by death reckoned mine—a

Living with Jesus, a new life divine—a

Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine—a

Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine—a

The chorus of this hymn presents another rhyming scheme— “a,a,b,b,”

Moment by moment I’m kept in His love—a

Moment by moment I’ve life from above—a

Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine—b

Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine—b

 

Meter is simply put, the number of syllables in a line, with regular accents . In the hymn above, each line consists of ten syllables each, and the accent is always on the second beat. Knowing the meter well will help to ensure that an appropriate tune be matched to the words.

 

Many poetical devices can also be found in hymns. Here are the simpler and more common ones— 

Paradox is a statement that seems to contradict itself but is actually true. It is an effective and dramatic way of presenting the paradoxical truths of the Christian doctrine.  Charles Wesley expressed beautifully how he found in Christ a sure refuge in the hymn Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose—

Jesus, my all in all Thou art,
My rest in toil, my ease in pain,
The healing of my broken heart,
In war my peace, in loss my gain,
My smile beneath the tyrant’s frown,
In shame my glory and my crown.

 

In want my plentiful supply,
In weakness my almighty power,
In bonds my perfect liberty,
My light in Satan’s darkest hour,
In grief my joy unspeakable,
My life in death, my Heaven in hell.

Hyperbole is the literary use of exaggeration. For instance: “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise” (Charles Wesley) and the last stanza of The Love of God—

Could we with ink the ocean fill

And were the skies of parchment made

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry;

Nor could the scroll contain the whole

Though stretched from sky to sky.

Metaphor is a figure of speech to connect an object or idea with another object in the same likeness. In Spirit of God Descend Upon My Heart, the writer expressed his desire to be wholly given to the Lord with the words “my heart an altar and Thy love the flame”.

As to how the entire hymn develops, hymn writers would employ styles such as the Dialogue—“Am I a soldier of the cross? A foll’wer of the Lamb?” (Issac Watts) or Itemization to show thematic unity. George Matheson wrote his hymn this way:

  1. “O Love that wilt not let me go,”
  2. “O Light that followest all my way,”
  3. “O Joy that seekest me through pain,”
  4. “O Cross that liftest up my head,

 

Despite the above technicalities, a hymn should not be thought of as mechanic and difficult. The hymn is essentially simple, sensuous and passionate (John Milton). It is simple that even a child could understand, even though it deals with profound Christian thoughts and experiences. Simplicity is the servant of clarity. It is sensuous in the sense that common folk are able to relate to it as it includes images and ideas from daily life. It is passionate because it stirs up the heart and mind. It lifts up the soul to worship God and challenges us to obedience and faith in the Lord.

Essentially, hymns express what Christians believed through the ages and are still true and reliable today. They have their foundations in Scriptures and aptly set forth the right Christian doctrine and theology. This is why hymns are superior to today’s contemporary ‘Christian’ songs. Hymns are said to be the poor man’s poetry and the ordinary person’s theology. Learning how to appreciate a hymn has a place in our worship and devotion.

(Written by Eileen Chee)