Sunday 28 June 2015

Confessions of a church musician (Psalm 73)

What is the biggest challenge playing on the music team?

Is it playing new and unfamiliar songs? Or playing the same songs again and again?

Or maybe it’s playing in front of other people (especially at combined services with the aunties and uncles from the Chinese congregation)?

For me, the biggest adjustment was playing in a group, playing with other musicians who were real pros. That was stressful!

What about you? What has been the biggest challenge since joining the church music team? Keep that question in mind as we turn to Psalm 73, which is a song written by a musician named Asaph.

In fact, we know from 1 Chronicles 16, that Asaph was appointed by King David to be in charge of all the musicians. He was the the worship leader, in charge of all the priests, to worship God before the ark of the covenant (built during the time of Moses). And you will notice that Psalm 73, together with Psalm 74, 75… all the way to Psalm 83 was written by Asaph, meaning, he was a songwriter, too.

Here, in Psalm 73, he says.

Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped,
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant,
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

I call Psalm 73 “Confessions of a Church Musician.” Why? Because, in verse 2, he confesses, “My feet had almost slipped.” He’s not talking about playing the wrong chord or reading the wrong verse. No, he is confessing - honestly admitting - that he doesn’t feel like worshipping God today.

How can you say that Asaph? You are the worship leader!


Notice, verse 1: “Surely, God is good to Israel.” And that expression - Surely - happens three times in the passage. It’s like “Crikey!” (if you British) or “Wah!” (if you are Chinese) or “Aigoo” (if you are Korean).

Asaph says, “Surely!” three times (in verses 1, 13 and 18) to give us three honest confessions; he gives us three honest reflections as a church musician. He tells us (1) what he knows, (2) what he feels and (3) what is true. That’s what we are looking at today. What he knows, what he feels and what is true.

1. What he knows

Firstly, what he knows. Right from the beginning, Asaph knows that God is good. Asaph knows that God deserves our worshipped. But when he looks at this world, what Asaph knows and what Asaph sees are two different things.

I know that God blesses his people. But when I look at the world (verse 4), “they have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.”

I know that God loves the pure in heart. But (verse 7) “from their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.”

I know that God will judge on the wicked, but (verse 8) “They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression.”

What Asaph knows doesn’t line up with what Asaph sees. But here’s the confession: Asaph is tempted to worship what he sees, not what he knows about God. Even though it’s wrong, Asaph is tempted to follow wicked men rather than worship a good God.

Verse 2: “But as for me, my feet at almost slipped… for I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” You might say, “How can you let such a person be the worship leader?”

But friends, Asaph knows what worship means. Do you? Worship means giving to God what he is worth. Literally: “Worth-ship” - it’s talking about worth and value. It’s a price tag. There are some restaurants where you go in and the menu has no prices. Instead, you order the food and at the end you pay what you think that chicken or that salad was worth. Our worship to God is a direct reflection of what God is worth in our lives.

Meaning: Worship is not about singing or giving money. It’s much more than that. Christians believe that God is worth our whole lives and therefore our worship is 24/7. Paul says in Romans 12: “Offer up your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.” It means you can worship God in church and at work, while you are eating your breakfast or taking the bus to school. Your whole life belongs to God and therefore everything you do, say and think is about being thankful to God and giving him all the glory he is due. At least, that is what Christians are called to do in their worship.

But when Asaph looks at the world, they think they owe God nothing. They think God is worth nothing. Instead, they live to worship their wealth, their health and their status. Verse 4: Their bodies are healthy and strong (meaning they go to the gym). Verse 6: Pride is their necklace (They dress to impress).

And he confesses, honestly, “I was tempted.” Why? Because in verse 9, Asaph sees a different kind of worship leader - one who is popular - but one who leads people away from God.

Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.
Verses 9-10

When it says, “their people turn to them,” it could be talking about how popular these worship leaders are in the world. It might also mean God’s people are turning to them. And that’s worrying, because in verse 11, they say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?” Who cares about God? He’s not going to do anything about it.

Finally, Asaph concludes:

This is what the wicked are like -
always carefree, they increase in wealth.
Verse 12

What was Asaph tempted to do? To do evil? No. To be wicked? No. But to be comfortable. To be popular. You see, the world offers us another way to worship, one that is attractive. One that really works. Friends, it’s saying that it’s possible to love worship but hate God. It is possible to do evil but look good.

When you turn on the TV. When you check Facebook. This world is worshipping 24/7. The question is whether we are worshipping God - with our lives, our time, our money. Or are we worshipping money, our time, our lives as our God. Asaph says, “Honestly, I was tempted to do the latter.”

That’s what he knows. But next, he tells us what he feels. And in verse 13, what he feels like doing is giving up.

2. What he feels

Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure;
in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been plagued;
I have been punished every morning.
Verses 13-14

Have you ever had one of those bad days when all you want to do is stay at home, watch Netflix and eat junk food? Not a bad thing, in and of itself. But what if you are a worship leader and you are supposed get up and lead worship that morning? What if you are the pastor and you are supposed to preach?

Asaph doesn’t feel like going to church today. He feels guilty about it (“All day long, I’ve been plagued”). But most of all, he feels like giving up. “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure.”

But then he says, Verse 15:

If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed your children.
Verse 15

He’s saying, “When you step up to the mic, people are listening.” You need to be responsible as a worship leader. What you say reflects not just who you are but who God is.

Now I don’t think Asaph is saying you must be dishonest, otherwise, he wouldn’t have written Psalm 73, confessing all his struggles as a church musician. Psalm 73 is actually a song, meaning, they would have sung these words in church.

But he is saying that the times when you are depressed are tempted to say things that are hurtful and untrue about God. “I would have betrayed your children,” he says. Be extra careful about saying things on behalf of God that God isn’t saying in his Word. Eg. God isn’t good. God doesn’t care. That’s not true - and you know that it’s not true. And as leaders of God’s people, we must be careful about speaking words and singing words that go against the truth of God’s Word.

Yet at the same time, Asaph is conflicted. He is burdened with guilt. What does he do?

When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.
Verses 16-17

He tried figuring it out on his own - “I tried to understand all this” - but it just got worse! Has that ever happened to you? You are stressed out about playing on Sunday. You are stressed out about your presentation. So you stay up all night practising and working - which is a great thing to do, don’t get me wrong - but at the end of all that hard work, you end up getting more stressed!!

Serving God is not something you can do with your own strength. The more you try, the more stressed out, the more frustrated you will get. Even an experienced worship leader like Asaph forgot this. He tried to figure it out on his own when only one thing could ever change things.

“Until I entered the sanctuary of God, then I understood their final destiny.” It is so obvious, yet we forget this. Only God can help us when we have a problem with God. It is so obvious!

And yet, most of us, when you have a problem with God, stay away. When things get tough in a ministry, we stop serving. When things get tough in church, we stay at home, thinking, “I’ll try to figure this out on my own.” It always - always - gets worse. Why? Because when your problem is God, you can’t solve it without God.

Let me put this another way. There are times when you will not feel like worshipping God. What should you do? Worship God. There are times when you will not feel like being with God’s people, when you feel like taking a break from church. What should you do? Come to church?

And you say, “What? That’s crazy?” No, that’s what Asaph is saying to us. It won’t work trying to sort out a problem you have with God by being by yourself. You cannot fix a relationship by breaking a relationship. Asaph is saying, “It’s not just about you.” Your worship before God affects your relationship with others (especially if you are responsible for them as a leader). And, at the heart of it, your worship of God flows from your own relationship with God.

So, when you do don’t feel like worshipping God, worship God anyway. You can say to him, as Asaph does in this psalm, “My feet are slipping. It doesn’t make sense. I am tempted to follow the world, not your Word.” Come near to God and the promise is: He will come near to you (James 4:8).

Which brings us to the final point - the final “Surely” in verse 18.

3. What is true

Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
Verses 18-19

What is your favourite love song? (The guys will say, “I don’t listen to love songs!”)

For some, it’s Ed Sheeren’s “Thinking out loud” - “Darling, I’ll be loving you till we’re seventy.” For others, it’s a classic like Whitney Houston’s, “Eyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee will always lo-ove you.” Do you notice how so many love songs have words like “eternal” and “forever”? Everyone wants a love that lasts forever. That’s eternal. But here in this last section, Asaph says they are nothing but fantasies.

As a dream when one awakes,
so when you arise, O Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies.
Verse 20

These love songs are beautiful, yes, and they are wonderful. But they are untrue. You can sing them till you are blue in your face but they are nothing but fantasies.

But the songs we were singing today were all based on God’s truth. “Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.” It’s talking about Jesus who was cleft - who was cut; who was killed - for me. And we’re saying, “Let me hide myself in you, Jesus.” His death opens up the way for me receive his life.

That is the kind of truth that speaks of eternity, not just wishful thinking. Therefore, when we long for the world’s fantasies, which will one day fade away, which God will one day judge and completely wipe away, we are being short-sighted. We are being foolish.

When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
Verses 21-22

Previously, Asaph was so focussed on the world - “They have no struggles; they are free from burdens; Their mouths lay claim to heaven.” Then he was focussed on himself - “I have been plagued, I tried to understand this, it was oppressive to me.” But it’s only when he started looking to God, that he realises: It’s not about me. It’s about you, Lord.

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterwards you will take me into glory.
Verses 23-24

Here’s the thing: God allows us to go through this process to realise just how much he loves us. The difficulties, the doubts are part of God’s plan - to do what? To strip away everything else from our lives so that only He is left in our sight. The bad things as well as the good things, one by one, God allows them to be stripped away, until we realise that the only permanent thing we have is Him.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion for ever.
Verses 25-26

It’s like fasting. Muslims all over the world began fasting this week as part of Ramadhan, abstaining from food and drink. But Christians fast not because of Ramadhan. And we do not fast because we are trying to cut down on carbs and chocolate.

Rather, when we fast as Christians, we are putting aside things which are good, food and water which we need to survive (we would die without food and water) and we are saying to God, “You are more important to me than food. You are more precious to me than my life.”

Asaph says to God, “Nothing in heaven and nothing on earth is more important to me than you.” How can he say that honestly and truly? Because his heart is failing him. Because his flesh is failing him. Verse 26 can and probably should be read in the present tense. “My flesh and my heart is failing.” Meaning: Right now, my body is breaking down. I am physically restrained. Right now, my depression is acting up.

“But God is the strength of my heart.” The only thing that’s keeping me going is You.

As a church musician, as a servant of God, that brings glory to God. When others look at you and they do not see your gifts, they do not praise you for playing so skillfully on the piano this morning, but they say to you, “I clearly see that God is working through you.” Our weakness makes God’s strength easier to see in our lives. By all means, worship God with your gifts. But never forget, you can also worship God with your grief. You can worship God with your weakness.

Conclusion: I will tell of all your deeds

Asaph knows that God is good. He has known this all his life - from Sunday School, from church. He knows this.

And yet, Asaph feels like giving up. “My feet had almost slipped. In vain, I have kept my heart pure.” His heart is failing him. He feels like giving up.

But in the end, God reminds Asaph of what is true and eternal. He holds him by his right hand. He guides him with his counsel. He strengthens him in his weakness.

Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.
Verses 27-28

The only difference between the music team and the congregation; the only difference between the song leader and the song-led, is this: The privilege to tell of all His deeds. You are leading God’s people to praise God for who He is and for all that He has done.

He is the only true and eternal God. He is holy. He hates evil. And one day, He will judge the world in righteousness and truth through Jesus Christ, destroying all who are far from him and unfaithful to him.

He has sent his Son to die for your sins. Taking it upon himself, bearing our judgement on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day conquering sin, death and the Devil. All who trust in him receive full forgiveness and new life that is indestructible and conformed to the image of the Son of God.

These are truths about God that are eternal, that are revealed fully in his Word to us, that we as musicians, as song leaders, as Sunday School teachers, as pastors and bible study leaders have a great privilege to speak and teach and remind one another here in the Chinese Church.

Know this truth. Love this truth. And with all your heart, sing this truth with faithfulness and boldness to glory of our Saviour and God, Jesus Christ.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Praying for power (Ephesians 1:18-22)

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the age to come.
Ephesians 1:18-21

  1. The context is prayer. Paul prays for three things for the Ephesians - that they might know the (1) hope of God, (2) the love of God (the “riches of his inheritance” is the measure of their worth in God’s sight, ie. they are precious to Him) and (3) the power of God.
  2. From verses 19 onwards, we can understand God’s power in three way - in terms of strength, authority and endurance.
  3. Firstly, strength: “This power is like the working of his mighty strength”. Imagine God flexing his muscles.
  4. What is the most powerful thing that God, the most powerful being in the entire universe, could do?
  5. It is not creation. Neither is it displays of miracles. Verse 19 says there is something infinitely more difficult and powerful that God did in history.
  6. God demonstrated the full extent of his power in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” The picture is of God reaching down to the depths of death to raise Jesus to everlasting life. That is the true measure of the full extent of God’s power.
  7. Secondly, power is synonymous with God’s authority. “He raised in from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion.”
  8. God hands over all his authority, all of his executive power to Jesus. At his resurrection, God raises him from death and brings up to the top management floor, and essentially makes Jesus CEO of the universe.
  9. Verse 22 reads, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” Meaning: Jesus’ rule over creation is presently seen in the church’s submission to him as Lord. It is a preview of his Kingdom that is to come.
  10. Finally, power is seen in the believer’s endurance. Paul prays the we might know God’s power “for us who believe.”
  11. Paul wants the Ephesians to know that God is sustaining them in their walk with Jesus. We were dead in our sin. We were enslaved by the world and the devil. But God raised us up with Jesus and seated us with him in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 2:1-6)
  12. In other words, the same power that worked in Christ works in us right now.
  13. It is God’s power that enabled us to trust in Jesus. It is God’s power that enables us to continue on trusting in Jesus. It is God’s power that makes it possible for us to say no sin and to say yes to his commands.
  14. A believer who continues to walking in obedience, humility and submission to Christ displays the full extent of God’s power and authority that nothing else can in our individual lives. Paul wants us to see that, to know that and to live that out for God’s glory.
  15. In summary, Paul prays that we might see God’s power - (1) most powerfully displayed in the resurrection of Christ, (2) clearly and presently seen in the submission of the church to the Lordship of Christ and (3) internally and individually experienced through our sustained walk with Christ.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

Saturday 20 June 2015

Don't trifle, don't trifle

When at last Henry Martyn’s portrait, painted in Calcutta, reached Charles Simeon in Cambridge, it was hung over the fireplace, and Simeon would say to his friends, ‘There! See that blessed man! No one looks at me as he does. He never takes his eyes off me and seems always to be saying, “Be serious, be earnest; don’t trifle, don’t trifle”.’

Then, smiling at the picture and gently bowing, Simeon would add, ‘And I won’t trifle, I won’t trifle’.

Excerpt from Evangelical Times

Friday 19 June 2015

Commencement (2 Timothy 4:1-8)

Finishing well

“Never be discouraged. Never hold back. Give everything you’ve got.”
Denzel Washington, UPenn, 2011.

“I can’t wait to see everything you can achieve in the years ahead.”
Michelle Obama, King’s College Prep High School, Chicago, 2015.

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
Steve Jobs, Stanford, 2005.

Words that prepare us; words that inspire us to face the challenges ahead; to pursue our true potential. That’s what we expect from commencement speeches by pop stars and prime ministers. Words that we can live by.

We get something quite different from the Apostle Paul. There is no podium. No crowds. Instead we get words written by a man condemned to die.

In his commencement speech, the Apostle Paul says:

I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7

You see, Paul does not focus on how we start but on how we finish. His words help us to end well.

Three points for tonight. What, Why and How. As you are packing your suitcase one last time and trying to fit three years of stuff into thirty kilograms to bring on that flight home, you might pick up each item and ask: What is this thing? Why am I lugging it all the way home? And how is it going to of any use back in Malaysia/Singapore/Hong Kong?

Tonight, I offer you one extra thing to squeeze into your spiritual suitcase to lug home. It is Paul’s reminder to keep the faith. What we are doing tonight is asking these three questions - What is it? Why should we make space for it? And how will it make a difference in the days to come.

1. What

Firstly, what does it mean to end well; to keep the faith? It’s means living to speak the gospel. It means giving your life to speak the gospel.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word.
2 Timothy 4:1-2a

Here is a command for pastors. When a new minister is ordained, you read this text; you give this command: Preach the Word. At which point, most of us are thinking, “I’m glad I’m not a pastor!”

The reason why Paul begins so seriously with, “In the presence of God,” is because the guy he is speaking to is thinking, “I will never be a pastor like Paul.”

Timothy is less experienced and less respected than Paul. And yet, here at the end of the apostle’s life, Paul hands the reins over to this young man. Not to Peter. Not to Apollos nor Barnabas. But to young Timothy.

And what Paul does is remind him of the power and presence of God’s Word. “From infancy,” he says in Chapter 3, verse 15, “you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God”  - so that you - “may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Timothy, this Word is powerful! It is powerful to save you. It is powerful to prepare you. So, preach this Word.

All of his life, others have spoken God’s Word to him. Now, it’s Timothy’s turn to speak God’s Word to others.

What about you?

Three years of CF, of attending CG. On top of this, the crazy ones went for FOCUS, Friday afternoon talks, CICCU Central, student lunches; not to mention Houseparty and Word Alive.

What has God been doing these three years? He has been pouring his Word into you to save you and prepare you. Not to be the next Apostle Paul (or the next John Piper, or whoever!). But to be just as faithful as Paul; just as focussed on the gospel.

For some of us, it might mean full-time ministry - teaching God’s word full-on; full-time. But for all of us, it simply means being prepared. As Paul puts it, “in season and out of season.” God may not call you to be a pastor but I promise you that He will call you speak the gospel at a time that will be neither convenient nor comfortable.

And being prepared simply means saying, “Yes, Lord,” when that happens.

“In season and out of season.” It means, not restricting God’s word to Sunday mornings or Friday evenings at bible study. It means you are ready to respond with the gospel on the plane journey back home. Not putting it off (“Maybe another day”) or passing the buck (“I’ll get my pastor to talk to him”) But, at times, simply saying, “I will try.”

So firstly, what does it mean to keep the faith? It’s more than believing the gospel. It means living to speak the gospel. Taking every opportunity to speak about Jesus.

2. Why?

Secondly, why bother? Or, why should this concern you? Paul gives us a negative and a positive answer.

The negative is found in verse 3.

For the time will when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
2 Timothy 4:3

The number one question I get from students returning home is: Which church do I join? Answer: A church that loves Jesus and loves the bible. Not an easy thing but an obvious thing. It is obvious when a church loves Jesus. In the same way, it is obvious when a Christian loves Jesus and is constantly speaking about Christ. Find a church that loves Jesus and loves talking about Jesus.

But there is an even more important question that verse 3 tries to answer: What if this ideal church stops being ideal? What is their love starts to wane?

The church in Ephesus was planted by Paul and now pastored by Timothy. It was home to Apollos, a famous preacher (the Don Carson of his day). The Apostle John was there as well, another big name. And in the book of Revelation, the risen Christ addresses the church in Ephesus as the first of the seven churches in Chapters 2 and 3. In other words, this was a church with a reputation. “Come to my church, our pastor, Paul, wrote most of the bible!”

But things had changed. There was false teaching. Members were arguing and gossipping and fighting with one another. And what does Paul tell Timothy to do? Stay. “Stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer.” (1 Timothy 1:3)

Stay. Not jump ship. Not start another church down the road. But stay and remind them of the gospel. Stay and teach them to love the gospel.

That’s the negative reason. Things are going to get tough but that’s why you need to stay put. Maybe the reason why God has put you in that less than ideal church situation so that you can be loving when others are unloving, so that you can be faithful when others have been unfaithful. So that, in time they will learn to love Jesus again.

That is an important to keep in mind, if you are serving as a bible study leader, as a Sunday School teacher, as a pastor in your church: Don’t serve God for man’s applause. You will have to “tan koo koo,” (Hokkien: Wait Long Long).

“They will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” False teachers will always be popular. They will always be in demand. They will not thank you for preaching the gospel, Timothy. But keep on keeping on.

That’s the negative reason. But there is a positive, and that’s verse 8; what Paul calls “the crown of righteousness.”

Now, there is in store for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:8

Paul is saying, there is another graduation, another degree that he is looking forward to. One that Jesus will award to him with honours. Not only to him, but to all who look forward to Jesus’ return.

Paul was a smart guy. Back in the day, he had the qualifications, the charisma to really make it in life; to be the top Pharisee in his community. Yet his uni friends would be looking at Paul right now, and saying, “What happened to that guy? He’s in prison. He has no money.”

“What a waste.”

Paul would answer with the words of Philippians 3:

But whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.
Philippians 3:7-8

Christ is my treasure. Now, when I have forsaken all other treasures - career and comfort. Yet there will come a day, when even my most critical opponents will not be able to deny: God is no one’s debtor. He will grant me the crown of righteousness. He will make all my sacrifices seem like a nothing.

Not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing. What are you living for? Live for Him. If Christ is King, he holds all the crowns. If Christ is Lord, his approval is the only one we need. Live for Him and for His glory alone.

3. How

Finally, how: How do we apply this when we back home in a new place, new job, new church? How do we keep the faith?

But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:5

Be steady. Get the job done. Not revolutionary. Not rocket science. Kinda boring. Keep calm and get the job done.

Now, Paul actually says this a couple of times in 2 Timothy. He says: The world around you is going to lose control but you need to stay in control. Everyone else will go crazy; but you? Keep calm.

We see this at the beginning of Chapter 3 where Paul says:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
2 Timothy 3:1-4

Things will go from bad to worse.

While evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
2 Timothy 3:13

But as for you, Timothy…

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.
2 Timothy 3:14

Paul compares and contrasts: What the world will do; and how Timothy should respond. The world will lose control, You, Timothy, must keep calm. So, there must be a difference. But what is this difference?

We tend to think, the difference is bad behaviour and good behaviour. In some senses, that is true. “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, arrogant,” while Timothy is urged to pursue “righteousness, faith, love and peace” (2 Timothy 2:22). But that’s not the biggest difference. It’s not simply that they will do evil while you should try to do good.

No, the biggest difference is that they will move further and further away from the truth, but you must remain in the truth. You see, after Paul lists that long string of evil thoughts and actions at the beginning of Chapter 3 - without love, unforgiving, ungrateful, treacherous, slanderous, brutal and so on - he sums it up in in verse 5 with this description:

Having a form of godliness but denying its power.
2 Timothy 3:5

Despite all their evil thoughts and actions, they appear godly. They have a form of godliness. What do you call this? It is looking good while doing evil. In this day and age, we have become experts at looking good while getting away with all kinds of evil.

Furthermore, Paul describes them in verse 7, as:

Always learning, but never able to acknowledge the truth.
2 Timothy 3:7

They turn up for bible study but they have never turned to God in repentance. They come to CF. But they have never come to Jesus. It’s scary. Because Paul is saying, evil men don’t look evil. They might look quite good.

No, friends the biggest difference is not simply that they do evil and we need to do good things. The biggest difference is they deny the truth, they wander away from the truth (2 Timothy 2:17), they deny the truth (2 Timothy 3:7) and they oppose the truth (2 Timothy 3:8).

But you, Timothy, need to keep trusting in the truth of the gospel.

Last year, my bible study group did a Skype call to a brother in South Korea. He did his PhD and went home, got involved with his church and even started a new ministry among students on his campus. Everyone wanted to know, “What’s your secret?” and he was confused. Specifically, he was asked, “How are things different now that you have left Cambridge and gone home?” His honest answer was, “Nothing.”

He wasn’t being humble or dismissive. Rather, he was merely doing the very same things he did as a student in Cambridge. He went to bible study. He served in church. And now that he was back home, he continued doing the exact same things.

Paul says, “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.” The gospel you have heard and put your trust in here in Cambridge is the same gospel you need to hold on to and keep trusting in back in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. It is the gospel that has saved you in Jesus. It is the gospel that has prepared you to serve Him wherever he leads you.

Some of you are not Christians and you have been joining us at CF and hearing this message again and again. And God has been repeating this same message again and again. Jesus really is the King. He died on the cross, taking all your sin upon himself. He rose so that you might have new life in Him. There are no hidden extras for you to find out. What you have never done is actually respond to this message you have heard again and again. Perhaps God is saying to you tonight, “Don’t put it off. What else do you need to know except what you have heard in the message of the gospel?” Jesus is Lord. I am sinful. Please forgive me, change me and give me new life.

Conclusion: Nostalgia and amnesia

The message is the same for the Christians here tonight. God has given us everything we need in the gospel to be faithful and to be holy - not to be happy and successful - but to be faithful to him and to live for his glory. Don’t leave the gospel behind. Make sure it is with you wherever you go in every season of your life.

I met a former CF-er just a couple of weeks ago at a baptism. It is a great encouragement to me personally to see a brother still continuing on trusting in Jesus, still continuing on serving Jesus, years after leaving Cambridge. He reminded me of a talk I had given once and I’d like to share the conclusion with you tonight.

It’s about nostalgia. The memories we make here in Cambridge are special and the moments are significant. We rightly want to hold on to them and treasure these memories we have shared with our brothers and sisters in CF.

Inevitably, many CF-er’s do come back to visit to relive those memories. They want to go punting. They want to visit their old church. They even want to see Henry Martyn’s picture again hanging at the back of the hall. And they say to me, “How good was it back in the day! Ten, fifteen years ago, we really heard God’s voice. Ten, fifteen years ago, we were on fire for Jesus!”

When I hear that - I know what they mean; they mean that God was so gracious in using the CF, using StAG and Eden, using the friends they made here to impact the gospel on their lives. Yet, a part of me goes, “Really? The last time you heard God’s voice truly and most clearly was ten, fifteen years ago?” Friends, God is the same God, here or in Malaysia or in Singapore and he speaks to us clearest in the message of his Son, whether it is preached here or in Malaysia or in Singapore. If you told me, after ten years, that the best sermon you ever heard was here in Cambridge, or even here in CF, it would break my heart.

Don’t let spiritual nostalgia turn into spiritual amnesia.

The Apostle Paul wants us not simply to start well but to finish well. To be able to one day say, with honesty and confidence, that we have fought the good fight, that we have finished the race. That we have kept the faith.

It is more than believing the gospel, it is living every day ready to speak the gospel to others.

It is motivated not by human reward - applause, money, respect - but by our heavenly Judge who will judge the living and the dead, who, one day will say to us, “Good and faithful servant.”

God has given us everything we need to be faithful and to be holy in this life for Jesus’ glory. Keep trusting in Jesus. And never stop speaking about Jesus for his glory and his kingdom.