My wife and I just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary last November. One afternoon a couple of weeks before that, I was pondering what I should do for my wife, when my inspiration came from an unlikely source: Mr Brown, Singapore’s blogfather. I was reading how he did an impromptu trip to Japan with his son after his son’s PSLE examinations. So I decided to do the same. I told God: 3 things needs to happen by this evening and I will take it that it’s Your will. 1. My parents would agree to take care of our children. 2. There would be plane tickets available. 3. There would be a room available to rent at OMF Japan guesthouse. All 3 were settled by that evening and we were heading to Japan. So, praise God, we have been married for 10 years by His grace.
I want to show you a short video of our wedding day.
My wife and I knew each other for 7 years before we got married. I want you to imagine our wedding day. We exchange our wedding vows, we exchange our wedding rings, the pastor pronounce us husband and wife, and we exit the church sanctuary… and then we turn to one another and say, “Well, that was nice. See you around some time.” Then we go our separate ways. You would say, “What? That’s nuts. What’s the point of getting married if you’re not going to stay together and grow even more in love than before?” Precisely.
And it’s exactly the same with God. What’s the point of Christianity? It’s NOT say some prayer, ask God into our lives, guarantee we’re going to heaven, then go and live our lives with no respect to God. Too many Christians live this lie. True Christianity is this: that surrendering our lives to God is just the start of our love relationship with God, one that will keep developing till we finally see God face-to-face in the new heavens and the new earth.
1. God’s love for us draws us to be near Him
If I were to summarise one key emphasis of the Old Testament in the form of a question, I would put it this way: “How can a holy God dwell with an unholy people?” Let me say it again. “How can a holy God dwell with an unholy people?”
From the beginning of the Bible in Genesis, where God expels Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden because of their sin and rebellion, to the time of Noah, where God decides to annihilate the whole of humanity because of their wickedness and evil. God recreates humanity through the family of Noah, and later calls one man, Abraham, and through the line of Abraham forms a nation, the nation of Israel.
In the book of Exodus, we read about the covenant God makes with His people. In Leviticus, we read the expansion of the ceremonial laws. In Deuteronomy, we have the reiteration of the law. And the main point of them all was the holiness of God and His people needed to be holy too. But throughout the history of the Israel, we read over and over again, the failure of God’s people to be holy. The pre-exilic prophets repeatedly warned Israel of the consequences of their persistent sinning against God.
Things get especially bad in the times of the kings: one king in particular, King Solomon. Because of his mixed worship of God along with other foreign gods, God judged the nation of Israel. There would be a breaking up of the kingdom. The northern kingdom would go into exile in Assyria and would be utterly destroyed. The southern kingdom, the tribe of Judah, would go into exile in Babylon. They alone would return from exile.
Even after the return from exile, it wasn’t as if Israel had changed. The post-exilic prophets also kept pleading with God’s people to return to God in genuine worship. In fact, the last word of the Old Testament in the book of Malachi reads like this in Malachi 4:5-6 5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
How can this holy God be with such an unholy people? All the temple sacrifices throughout the Old Testament was a reminder of the seriousness and consequences of sin, and the mercy of God that provided a way for sin to be forgiven. Of course, we know that the ultimate sacrifice for sin was not an animal sacrifice but Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, our sins.
So that answers the how question but not the why question. Why does this holy God want to be with such an unholy people? The answer to that is love. But what is love? We use it so casually these days, sometimes it loses the force of its intended meaning. “I love Ariana Grande’s music. I love the waffles at this latest coffee hang out place. I love my dog. I love my girlfriend.” Obviously they don’t all mean the same thing. I love my dog is not equals to I love my girlfriend. If not, I don’t know whether to feel sorry for your dog or your girlfriend.
When the Bible says God loves us, what does it mean? Now, I’m going to paint two scenarios. And I want you to tell me which one describes God’s love. First scenario, let’s imagine my wife asks me, “Why do you love me?” And I could say, “You’re so beautiful, you’re the most gorgeous woman I know. And you’re kind and loving. You’re so talented, in so many ways. Most of all, you love God.” And I could go on.
Second scenario, exactly the same thing… my wife asks me, “Why do you love me?” And this time, I reply, “To be honest, I find your looks revolting. You have pimples all over your face and your breath stinks. You often pick your nose in public and let out loud farts. And you’re very loud and obnoxious. But… in spite of all that, I love you.”
Now, I want to ask you a question: when God says He loves us… which one describes His love better? The first or second scenario. Second. Really? Romans 5:8 “… but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still enemies of God, while we were still separated from God, while we were still rebellious towards God, while we were still sinners… In our ugliness, in our wretchedness, God loved us, Christ died for us.
Not only do you see God’s love in the New Testament, you see it in the Old Testament as well. A lot of Christians think there’s this great difference between the God of the OT and the God of the NT; one is vengeful and full of wrath, and the other is compassionate and full of love. But my friends, they are one and the same God. Holy and Loving. Just and Merciful. Righteous and Compassionate. At the same time.
The love of God flows throughout the OT. Just think of how patient and merciful God is towards the people of Israel. When they sin against Him. When they rebel against Him. When they choose other gods besides the God who saved them, loved them and provided for them. And this happened over and over again. And God kept on loving them.
One of my favourite pictures of God’s love in the Old Testament come from the book of Hosea. Hosea was a prophet of God and he had a wife. Her name was Gomer. And Gomer would run away from Hosea, and give herself away as a prostitute. Now look, most women who sell themselves as prostitutes do so because of dire circumstances. They need to put food on the table. They need to pay off debts. Etc. But this was not the case for Gomer. She did it out of her own free choice.
I want you to imagine how utterly devastating and humiliating this is for Hosea. He is a prophet of God. Respected. Honoured in the community. Think of how it must have felt like. People may have talked behind his back. Gossiping. Speculating. Bad-mouthing. “What kind of man is this? Can’t even control his wife. How can he possibly be a prophet of God?” Or worse.
But here goes the hardest thing. God comes to Hosea and says to him, Hosea 3:1 “And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress…”” God was saying to Hosea, go to Gomer, take her back, love her. Why would God command Hosea to do something like that? Here’s the point, you read on in the same verse…
Hosea 3:1 “And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”
This, young people, is the love of God for His people. We are like Gomer. We constantly run away from God. We have other loves in our lives apart from God. We are unfaithful towards God. But God, like Hosea did, wants to take us back and love us. This is how much God loves you. It is a persistent love. It is a constant love. It is an unending love. And it is a love expressed throughout the pages of the Bible. How many of you feel distant from God? Haven’t experienced His love for you in a while? Well, have you been reading your Bible? Now, reading your Bible doesn’t guarantee you will experience God’s love always. But I can assure you if you don’t, you won’t. Young people, commit afresh to coming daily to the Scriptures. Not to find out your life direction. Not to find your life partner. Not simply to find the blessings and promises of God only. But simply to know your God.
2. Our love for God compels us to be transformed to be like Him
Any good love story is reciprocal. So we need to talk not only about God’s love for us but also our love for God. How do you spell ‘love’? L-O-V-E… duh. Here’s another way you spell love… O-B-E-Y. Obey. Jesus Himself said it in John 14:21 “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Keeping God’s commandments. Obedience demonstrates love.
Now, this word obey, or the idea of obedience has a bit of a bad reputation these days. Some Christians say obedience is legalism perhaps. And there is a very real danger of that we need to watch out for. Keeping God’s commandments without the heart. Jesus’s condemnation of the Pharisees was precisely due to this. Obeying the letter of the law and not the spirit. However, there is a better way of obedience. There are two things that would help us to love God by obeying Him.
- God calls us to obedience because He desires intimacy with us
The book of Deuteronomy is essentially a re-telling of the Law that God gave the Israelites at Mount Sinai. But to me, the most important phrase and a phrase that is repeated many, many times in Deuteronomy is these 4 words… “the Lord your God”. It is a term of relationship. The commandments are all in the context of having a relationship with God.
One of the first things you discover about me when you get to know me is that I love Japan. Ever since my first mission trip to Japan as a university student, I’ve been to Japan many times. Even my honeymoon was in Japan (and it’s awesome to have a wife who shares the same passion as I do. Which is also how we ended together again by the way, on a mission trip to Japan – story for another time). I love the country, the culture… food, music, Japanese drama shows.
I hardly watch TV. I hardly go to the movies. But I do watch Japanese dramas. There was a time as a young working adult, I was buying DVDs and watching them (sometimes I’d watch a series over and over again). Not good. So there was this morning I woke up and was about to do my quiet time. I was about to open my Bible when God spoke to me. “Throw away your Japanese DVDs.”
‘God, is that really You?’
Of course it was Him. I knew. I tried to ignore. I tried to rationalise. Finally, like all true blue Singaporeans, I tried to bargain with God.
‘God, I promise, I’ll watch less.’
‘Maybe I’ll fast from them for a month?’
‘How about I keep just two or three… my favourite ones? Full-time church worker very poor one… and I spent quite a sum of money already.’
Bo-pah-kay. I couldn’t do my quiet time. This thing had to be settled.
So, I did it. I took my entire collection of DVDs and threw them into the rubbish bin outside my house. Funny thing, that out of the way, I opened my Bible and God just spoke to me. I remember just basking in the presence of God and enjoying His fellowship. My obedience to God demonstrated my love for God and that opened the door to intimacy with Him. God already loves us with an everlasting love. As we respond to His love in obedience, we experience more of His love.
A well known and respected pastor in the United States, Timothy Keller once shared this. He said, whenever young people come to him and tell him they feel distant from God, he would always ask them this question. “So, who have you been sleeping with?” Strange question. But Pastor Keller says more often than not, the young person in front of him would blush in embarrassment. ‘How did you know?’ You see my friends, sin and disobedience will keep us from experiencing the presence of God. What has God been pin-pointing in your life? What has He been speaking to you about? Or perhaps you’ve been so far from Him that you don’t even know.
Whether it’s something seemingly trivial like Japanese drama, video games, TV shows or something more serious like lust or envy, or unforgiveness, if God speaks, please obey. And obey immediately. There is nothing to be gained in delayed obedience. And in your obedience, God draws near. He forgives your sin. He cleanses you from all unrighteousness. So that you may walk with Him. So that you may experience His presence, His nearness.
- God calls us to obedience because He loves us and longs for our best
The Psalmist speaks of God’s laws and commandments in a manner that may seem really foreign to us. Psalm 19:7-11 “7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
How many of you feel this way about God’s Word and His laws? I certainly don’t feel this way all the time. How do we get there. Let me illustrate. I have two children as I mentioned: Samantha and Samuel. When Samuel was 1 and a half years old, he still couldn’t speak very much, but the one thing that he could say very well was, “No!” Because that was a word he heard very often. “Samuel, no!” And he’ll go, “No!” At that age, he was able to walk around and he was very adventurous. He’d try to open the refrigerator. Once, he crawled into the clothes dryer, got himself stuck in there and had to be rescued. You see, we had to tell him, “No”, because we loved him and wanted to keep him from harm (playing with the electric fan for example). God’s laws are like that. They are not meant to restrict us and make our lives miserable. They are meant to protect us and lead us to life.
The reverse is also true. Samantha doesn’t like milk. From a very young age (6 months onwards), she just didn’t particularly like drinking milk. So there were times, especially when she was young, when we had to command her, “Samantha, finish your milk (and threaten her with a cane or something).” This was rare. But why did we do so? Because we cared for her growth. Because we cared for her development. God’s laws, again, operate in a similar manner. When God commands us to do something, it is for our good.
Young people, do not miss the heart of God in His laws. Whether He forbids us from something (don’t have sex before marriage), or He commands us towards something (love your enemies, pray for them… honour your father and mother… etc.), it always flows from the Father’s heart of love towards His children, you and I. We may not always understand why things are so. But we can trust our God, our Father, has our best interests at heart. Always.
3. We need God, the Holy Spirit, for both
Many years ago, there was a news article in the Associated Press that told of a gentleman in Glasgow by the name of Leslie Puckett. One morning, after struggling to start his car, he lifted the hood and discovered that someone had stolen the motor. Too many Christians are living their Christian life without the motor, without the Holy Spirit. Young people, Christianity is not a religion of “do-better, try-harder”. It is not self-effort. Christianity is a supernatural life, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Christianity is not a religion of “do-better, try-harder”. It is not self-effort. Christianity is a supernatural life, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
I would consider myself, and I think it would be fair to consider Calvary Chapel, fairly conservative, traditional evangelicals. We do have a weakness. There is a missing Person in our Trinity, the 3rd Person of the God-head. The Holy Spirit. We need to discover for the first time, or rediscover the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit in our Christianity.
Now I’m not talking about speaking in tongues or the gift of prophecy or the gift of healing (although if God gives these gifts, praise God for them, use them to edify the church.) I’m talking about the Spirit illumining our minds as we read the Bible, to show us the beauty of Christ. I’m talking about the Spirit supernaturally enabling us to obey God’s Word.
I want you to turn to one of the most important passages in the Old Testament in Ezekiel 36:26-27 “26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Have you read the vision of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones? Ezekiel saw this valley of dry bones. God commanded him to prophecy to the bones, and a miracle happened. Flesh formed on the bones, but there was no life. Only when the breath of God, the Spirit descended that they arose a mighty army.
This precious promise was given in the Old Testament and was fulfilled in the New Testament on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given en masse to believers. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars movie my family watched together at the cinema. But my friends, the force is not the most powerful thing in the universe (of course, it’s fictional too!) It is the power of God living and working in the lives of His people and it’s a real power!
Several years ago, I was entering church with my wife. It was the first Sunday of the new year. We were early and we were settling down to prepare our hearts for the worship service to start. As we did so, I felt God speak to me, “Aaron, I’m giving you a new name.” And I was like, “What? What does that even mean?” Then, the worship team took the stage, so I told God, “God, I don’t know what that means, but if it’s really You, please send someone to confirm this message.” And we began to sing in worship.
After we finished singing, the lead pastor for the morning, Pastor Kai, went up on stage and the very first words out of his mouth to the congregation, “God is giving you a new name this year.” I was blown away. Ok, God, You have spoken. And Pastor Kai went on to explain. You see, often in the Bible, God would change peoples names, and that was related to the destiny He had for His people. From Abram to Abraham. From Jacob to Israel. And so on. What God intended to do was to change us to become His instruments for His destiny.
To be honest, I didn’t really think much about this encounter. But it all came back to me towards the end of the year. I remember, we were on our way to a friend’s place for a Christmas party. I had borrowed my dad’s car and I was driving along with my wife and my daughter in the back seats. All of a sudden, I heard this ominous phrase from my wife, “Aaron, you have changed.” And I was like, “Oh no.” But she went on to say that through the year, she had seen me become more patient and loving towards her and Samantha. As she said that, I immediately thought about what God said He would do in my life at the start of the year.
My heart was thankful. I had seen God work in my life, through the power of the Holy Spirit. I really confess I cannot change myself. I cannot change my character. But God can and He did and He still is.
4. ALL THESE HAPPEN IN THE CONTEXT OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
We not only need the Holy Spirit, we also need the local church! There are no spiritual lone rangers in the kingdom of God. There is an old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Well, I submit to you a spiritual equivalent, “It takes a church to make a disciple”. You cannot do it alone. Think about Pentecost; when God poured out His Spirit upon the disciples. What was the context? What were the disciples doing?
Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
They were all together in one place. Look at how much is packed in that one place and the emphasis in this phrase. They were all. All of them. Each and every one of them. All. Together in one place. Isn’t that redundant? It is a double emphasis. (cf. Hebrews 10:19-25). God repeatedly emphasises the importance of body-life. The Church as the body of Christ: every single individual has a role to play in this body. You cannot do without the support of your brother and sister in Christ. And, vice-versa! Sure, you can read your bibles, pray, worship individually. And you should!
Yet, it is in the gathering that God delights to show up. Something special happens when you gather: in church, in small groups.
– In the together-ness, God matures His people.
I heard of this true story of a preacher who preached on the subject of heaven one morning. At the end of the service, this elderly lady approached him and asked him a question, “How big is heaven?” And he answered, “Big.” “How big?” “Big! Big, big, BIG! Very big.” But the preacher caught himself. “Why do you want to know?” “O, there’s this lady in church I can’t stand. I don’t want to meet her in heaven.”
We laugh. But this is really no joking matter. The bible says, Prov. 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. God uses our disagreements and even our conflicts to smooth out the edges in our character and form within us the image of Lord Jesus Christ. There are many Christians who change church or even leave church because of clashes in personality. My friends, don’t. These are not obstacles. These are opportunities. Don’t run away from church. Stay in church. Work through the conflicts. Grow as disciples of Christ. And serve.
– In the together-ness, God saves souls.
Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
The coming together for body life, for church is not only for ourselves. It is not a holy huddle. We don’t come together just to meet each other’s needs and feel good about ourselves. We come together in order to prepare ourselves for God’s mission for the world. It is in the expression of church life, body life, that the world outside sees and experiences the love of God. The church is God’s hands and feet and heart to the world; and when functioning properly, the church reflects the tangible presence of God here on earth.
As we draw to a close this evening, that’s what God is inviting us to. Growing in our love for God through obedience to Him is a Spirit-empowered pursuit. It’s the most important and also the most satisfying pursuit of our lives. To open our hearts to His love. To surrender our lives to Him in obedience. To receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit afresh to empower our walk with Him and to be changed to be more like Him. To be involved in the life of your church and be on His mission to the world.