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death is a full-stop.

How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

James 4:14 (New Living Translation)

All of us share one thing in common – we are going to die one day. Love it or hate it, it will come true. Every complete sentence contains a full-stop. Death truly is the ultimate statistic for one out of one dies. Incidentally, just over these couple of days, Singapore witnessed the sudden and completely unexpected passing of a 19-year-old Darren Ng at Downtown East. It saddens me greatly that such a tragedy has taken place and more so because the boy is so young and it was over such a trivial matter! Sigh… But it also reminds us all that the only sure thing about life is death.

James addressed these businessmen because they spoke with such certainty and presumptuousness. His reply in verse 14 is straightforward, honest and in-your-face – “You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow”. We have a tendency to believe that we are in control of our lives, but to that, James retorted, “Your life is almost like smoke – now you see it, now you don’t!”

Morning mist is never seen in the afternoon; we’re here now but we can be gone tomorrow. However, sometimes we live like we’re going to be here forever but the fact remains – we’re not. Are you living to die or dying to live? I believe that once you learn how to die, you learn how to live. Let’s live our lives knowing that death is sure to come but that we have no idea when it’s going to arrive.

It’s common to hear (young) people saying that they will serve God when they enter a freer period of their lives. Let’s face it – there will never be a season of life where you will be less busy than you are now. (Besides, you can’t even guarantee that you’ll enter that period.) After secondary school, you have tertiary education; and after that, you’ve got to build your career; then you have a family to start and raise… There’s no end to it. Are you going to wait until you’re dead before you serve God? If you want to do something for Jesus, whether it is in church or not, do it now. Don’t be presumptuous and think that you have tomorrow to serve God because tomorrow may never come!

I was only afraid of death once in my entire life. And that was when I learnt about the hell that was presented in Haw Par Villa; it was actually the catalyst for my conversion to Christianity from Taoism. However, I don’t think the biblical hell is actually like that – I think it’s worse. That excursion made me ponder about death and honestly, my initial motivation to be a Christian was simply to escape this place called hell. I heard John 3:16 and I wanted eternal life because I wanted a ticket out of hell. Nothing else mattered. It was only two years later that I started to be serious about my faith.

Whether you admit it or not, deep down inside you, you fear the idea of death. But I believer that it’s not death that we fear, but the judgment after death that we fear even more. Whether you’re a Christian or not, you instinctively know that you have to stand before a higher being (God) to account for your life.

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of judgment.

First, those who don’t know Jesus Christ will be cast out of the presence of God forever. They will go to a place devoid of God’s presence. And I think to be separated from God’s presence forever is a terrible, horrible and miserable thing. Every time I sin, I feel a temporal emptiness and I absolutely abhor it; I cannot imagine what life would be like if I didn’t have God’s presence. To me, an eternity like that is unimaginably painful.

But when you are faced with the fear of death, you must remember that Jesus Christ has won over death and through Him there is eternal life. Our Saviour has saved us from eternal death! It is my prayer that regardless of how far you have drifted away, you return to Jesus and fall in love with Him all over again.

The second judgment is for those who know Jesus; this is when you will meet God face to face and He will determine your heavenly reward based on what you have done for Christ. What would God say to you? Would He say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” or would He say something else?

You must remember that life is a question-mark and death is a full-stop. But I thank God that that’s not the end of it; this is where God’s grace enters the picture. He calls for us to constantly align ourselves to Him. In fact, that’s what James has resolved to tell us in the next three verses.

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sermon recap: attack and counterattack!

I’m back from a four-day planning getaway and for me, there’s nothing better than vision-casting and planning for the future. R-AGE @ GII, if you’re reading this, you ought to thank God for a team of dedicated shepherds who stayed up til 3am and spilled their dreams on an 18-month calendar. It’s gonna be a mind-blowing 2011 and we must certainly rise up to the challenge, to move from involvement to commitment. We’ve been working hard for you; we don’t ask for a lot, only that you can return the favour and pray hard along with us. Remember, revival will come not when we pursue programmes, but when our people pray.

I shall resume my writing by posting the key points of the sermon I preached last Sunday. (Do note that I omit illustrations and analogies in my sermon recaps.) A guest speaker will be speaking this weekend and I will return to the pulpit next weekend to tackle the next portion of James. Let’s continue to be conscientious in our own reading of the Word. (Anyway, I think my sermon recaps are getting longer and longer!)

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Don’t push the blame but take responsibility instead

  • You naturally know how to push the blame without actually being taught how to do it.
  • Trials are usually external situations that strengthen you while temptations are internal struggles that shatter you.
  • God tests you to bring out the best in you – He desires for you to grow spiritually; Satan tempts you to bring out the worst in you – to cause you to sin.
  • God wants you to grow up but Satan wants you to go down.
  • Temptation springs out of your own evil desires (v14). Hence, do not blame God (or Satan or Man) when you are tempted and when you sin; no one made you do it – you made you do it. Take responsibility for your own sin.
  • God doesn’t contradict His own character; if He is holy and hates sin, why would He tempt you?

The ATTACK – how temptations work

  • To deal with sin, understand how temptations work. Adam and Eve demonstrates this perfectly for they were, after all, the first perpetrators.
  • James 1:14a – It begins with a DESIRE. Satan knows your desire and what you are tempted by so he plants exactly that in your heart to entice you; temptations always begins on a small scale that is almost unnoticeable – that’s why it’s dangerous. Sin always begins with something as small and harmless as stealing $1.
  • Satan tempted Eve in Genesis 3:4-5 with, 1) “You will surely not die”, 2) “You will be like God” and 3) “You will know good and evil”.
  • James 1:14b – Desire spirals into DECEPTION. You probably have a tendency to convince yourself, rationalise your thoughts and justify your actions until it feels like whatever that you had intended to do is right. To be deceived, in Greek, literally means, “to be led down a wrong path”.
  • Eve convinced herself in Genesis 4:6a, that the tree was “good for food”, “a delight to the eyes” and could “make one wise”. God certainly didn’t describe the tree that way.
  • James 1:15a – Deception transits into a DECISION. This marks the beginning of sin; Eve lost the battle here as she decided to succumb to her desires.
  • In Genesis 3:6b, Eve saw the wrong thing, entertained the wrong thoughts and experienced the wrong desires. She went ahead to eat the fruit (and even gave it to Adam!).
  • James 1:15b – Decision leads to DEATH. The result of sin meant that Adam and Eve, as well as the rest of us before we knew Jesus, were eternally separated from God. That explains why the world is a messed-up place and needs a Saviour to redeem it from eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23).
  • Know how sin and temptation works if you want to overcome it – and the only way to overcome it is to depend on God to help you.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:13 – God’s real role in temptation is to help you get out of it. Temptation is a way you trap ourselves, but God provides us with a way out. Each time you are tempted, you are tempted within your ability. It is your job to find that way out of the temptation.

The COUNTERATTACK – how to overcome temptations

  • The problem isn’t in the temptation but in the desire that is within your heart; sin will always look good at the start for it appeals to pleasures but it always ends up as a disaster. Before yielding to temptation, count the cost of its destruction. Would you rather the blessings that God gives or the lies and hurt that Satan brings?
  • James 1:17a – TRUST GOD’S CHARACTER. When you trust the goodness of the Father, it will help you to remain unmoved by Satan’s temptations. You yield to Satan’s temptations because you cannot wait for God’s blessings; remember that it is God who blesses you with good things, not Satan.
  • Be wary of the microwave generation that demands immediacy and instant gratification. Sometimes, your impatience causes you to make your own miracles instead of waiting for the only Miracle Maker.
  • The battle with temptation boils down to a battle of faith. Who do you trust? God, Satan or ourselves? If you really submit to the Lord in all aspects of your life, then you will receive the ultimate protection against temptation; you can trust God because He is constant and never changes.
  • James describes God as one who doesn’t change like shifting shadows. God is like the sun – it doesn’t change, it doesn’t move. The “shifting shadows” don’t come from God but from you; you shift, but God doesn’t. This makes Him a trustworthy God and someone you can trust wholeheartedly.
  • James 1:18 – TAKE IN GOD’S WORD. Truth will set you free. Read the Word of God – understand, internalise and memorise it. Make it a part of you for you cannot be apart from it. Don’t just depend on pastors and leaders to teach you the Word – know the Word for yourself. To break out of the cycle of temptation, you need the truth to be recycled in you.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Corinthians 10:14 & 2 Timothy 2:22 – TAKE OFF AND FLEE. When you are tempted, don’t even try to deal with it – just run.
  • James 4:7b – TACKLE THE DEVIL. Don’t fight temptation and flee the devil, but flee temptation and fight the devil.
  • Remember biblical truths when you fight the devil. Do not be afraid of the devil for you are God’s dear child and that Christ, who is in you, is greater than the devil who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
  • The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war. Temptation is a battlefield and a war-zone in your head. During peace time, when you are not tempted, fill your head with truth, so that when the battle begins, you will emerge victorious and overcome the devil not by might or by power but by the spirit of God.
  • James 4:7a – TURN BACK TO GOD. Balance the pressure inside you and ensuring that it is equal and opposite to the pressure outside. Instead of just combating external pressure – which is to flee from temptation and fight the devil – you must also build internal pressure, which is to focus on God. Submit yourself to God first before you resist the devil – make that your goal.
  • Memorising the Word is biblical. Psalm 119:9-11 instructs young men to store God’s word and hide it in their hearts. The blood of Jesus cleans you from committed sin but the word of God keeps you from uncommitted sin. Hence, focus on God on the inside and fight the devil on the outside, while at the same time flee from temptations! So that when temptation comes, the Word of God will come. In order to overcome lies and deceit, be filled with truth. Scripture memory is not for impressing others but for insulating yourself.

Boast of your weakness and receive the power of Christ

  • While God is a holy God who doesn’t tolerate sin, He is also a loving God who wants to help you overcome sin. Only the grace of God can prevent the sin in your life from being “full-grown and gives birth to death”.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:9 – God gives you His grace, which is sufficient for you and through that, His power is made perfect by your weaknesses. Your response then, is to boast all the more gladly about your weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on you.
  • Hebrews 4:15-16 – Jesus understands what you go through because He has gone through it Himself; He sits on the throne of grace and He is able to give you undeserved favour; you know that you will fall and keep falling, week after week, so that’s why you need His grace again and again. You know that you will be unable to withstand the pressure of sin and temptation. You know that you cannot do this on your own.
  • Ask God for His strength to help you overcome temptations. Come before God and to confess your sins to Him. Confess it to a brother or sister whom you trust for James 5:6 encourages us to confess your sins to one another and to pray for each other.
  • Ask God for His grace to help you to trust His promises, memorise His word, run away from temptations, fight the devil and to fix your eyes on Him. Come to the point where you know that you can’t do it on your own and that you are sick of depending on yourself.
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