Not Just Another Book Review . . .

This week I would like to review a book which gave me great encouragement and much inspiration for the last six or so months. Strictly speaking, this is not a review in its proper sense, but some of my personal reflections from the book I began to cherish so much for its richness in theology and wisdom: the Book of Psalms.

Many people today are much more attracted to a casual reading with lots of fanciful audio-visual aids than a serious reading. Christians are no exception to this tendency. Many Christians prefer something ‘light’ to brighten up the day with a simple devotional thought. We enjoy reading great testimony stories happening in our midst, such as miracle healing stories, people’s business success stories and so on. Someone has referred to this as a shallow Christianity. It is true that sometimes other people’s testimonies give us encouragements and allow us to experience our living God in an indirect way. Testimonies are, however, somewhat subjective. Our heavenly Father does not deal with his children always in the same way, placing us in similar situations. There are other ‘side-effects’ too. People tend to focus more on the blessings and the miracles themselves than on how God is dealing with that person’s life. Instead of getting a better appreciation of who our God is, we tend to see the final outcome of the story. This is a quite serious side-effect! Our heavenly Father does not deal with his children always in similar ways. While the ‘how’ may be different, He loves each one of us with the same intensity and leads us into his best ‘option’, not ours! 

In the book of Psalms we find many testimonies written by people like us who had experienced the same God in the past. They were going through similar situations you and I went or are currently going through. This gives us great consolation and encouragement.

A few days after my operation I received a note from an Elder and ex-classmate: Together with . . . [our] children . . . we remember Aquila, Priscilla & Abraham in our family prayer time. May Psalm 91 will be source of strength and assurance to my 1996 classmate Aquila & Priscilla. With much affection at this time.

Even though the note was a great encouragement to me, I had no enough energy at that time to read the psalm. So I did it about one month later. What struck me most when I read the psalm was the fact that he gave me the most appropriate passage to encourage my faith in the Lord. How encouraging this psalm is to someone who has just gone through a major operation and is on his way to recovery!

However, when I meditated on Psalm 91 a fresh insight came to me. Verse 14 says Because he loves me,” says the Lord, I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. The psalmist is saying that God told him that God will rescue him and protect him because he loves Him and he acknowledges His name. But is that really true? was my immediate reaction. Can the psalmist say that he loved and acknowledged God passionately enough to receive such a commendation from God?

On a personal note, despite having to go through a major operation such as a liver transplant, my walk with the Lord was neither deep nor close enough to say that I really loved God and I acknowledged His name in my life. I was extremely exhausted both physically and spiritually. I just had a vague feeling that God should be in charge of all the process and carry it through. I only wished that God would use this critical moment to open my heart and let me personally experience Him again as I did before. However, the most amazing thing was that my Lord God did not waste His opportunity and poured out the same blessings that the psalmist himself proclaims to have experienced in his psalm. In light of Psalm 91 and my own experience, I can clearly testify that our God is ready to accept us and bless us, even if we are not perfect in our faith and love to Him. When we read statements like v.14, we often say, That is only possible for those pious who have reached the highest level of spirituality! However, we should not forget that our heavenly Father (yours and mine) is truly a good God who is willing to give the best. I found this gospel of grace which runs through the New Testament right in the middle of the Old Testament!

Moving on to another psalm, I found a small piece of an answer to a big question about the presence of pain and suffering in our lives in the 34th psalm. Most people are afraid of having to go through sufferings and trials. This equally applies to Christians. None of us indeed welcomes sufferings into our midst.

In Psalm 34:19 the psalmist says “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all” (NRSV). This poetic expression does not mean that the righteous will suffer more than the others. Neither does it mean that the righteous will always come out of the afflictions unhurt or without damage. Rather, the psalmist is saying that the righteous will certainly find God and experience His presence in the midst of the suffering and tribulation. We human beings encounter God in the midst of sufferings. Or rather, God meets us in sufferings. We sometimes think that the best option for us is to get out of our sufferings as quickly as possible. Our psalmist, however, tells us that we see God’s presence and experience His helping hand when we humble ourselves before Him in our sufferings.

What our God really wants is for us to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit (v.18) so that we can experience His presence in our lives. Those who possess these qualities are the righteous in God’s eyes (cf. the Beatitudes in Matthew 5). Verse 17 says, “When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.”

We need to be thankful for not having been exempt from suffering. Such a view of suffering is very different from what Job’s friends had envisaged. Rather than being afraid of going through suffering, we need to be vigilant that we will not lose our broken heart and contrite spirit before the Lord.

I hope this ‘review’ will be an encouragement to those of you who are currently going through a period of pain and suffering. This is also my little tribute to those who have sacrificed many evenings with their loved ones in order to understand and apply the richness of the Psalms into our lives (I’m referring to those who are currently taking OT214/CH370 “Psalms through the History of the Church” by Prof. James Houston). May God help us to read the Psalms and to pray them in our daily life with the same conviction and with the same intensity as our forefathers did more than two millennia ago! (AL)

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Chapel Notes

Chapel on April 4, 2007

Rev Peter Chng spoke from Phil. 2:1-4 on “The unity of the church”. His talk was exegetically insightful and delivered with much conviction, supported by his own experience in church ministry.

Chapel speaker on April 18 will be Mr Immanuel Moses.

News Bits 

  1. New Admission. Grad. Dip.CS
    Mr Dev Christophe Menon is a member of Zion Bible Presbyterian. He holds a BSc from University College, London (BSc) and MRes from Imperial College, London. He is now pursuing a PhD degree at the Imperial College and is actively involved in student ministry at All Souls, London.  
     

  2. Courses commencing next week.

¨      Hosea & Amos (OT366, 1.5 credits) by Dr Philip Satterthwaite will commence on April 17 (Tue), Time: 7.30-9.45pm.

¨      Better Speech for Leadership & Ministry (AT231, 1.5 credits) by Rev Ng Seng Chuan will commence on April 18 (Wed), Time: 7.30-10.00pm.

Classes will be held at 31 Tg Pagar Rd. Registration is still open for both courses.  

  1. The course on “Reading the Bible in the Asian Context” (HE210) has been rescheduled and will be be announced at a later date.  
     

  2. Our heartiest congratulations to alumnus Albert Cheng (Grad DipCS, Year 2000) and his wife Aileen on the arrival of their firstborn, Aaron Octavius Cheng Hsian Yeow, born on 22 February 2007. For those who wish to send a greeting to them, you may write to AlbertCheng@sz.slr.com  
     

  3. Congratulations also to Edward and Lee Pin Jacob on the birth of their second child, Jonathan Edwards, on 2 April 2007. Lee Pin will be on maternity leave till 27 May.  
     

  4. Our deepest condolences to the family of the late Mrs Margaret Ng who went home to be with the Lord on 10 April 2007.  
     

  5. Garage Sale. In preparation for the BGST Open House, we are clearing a wide range of items previously donated to us. Come and take what you like just for a small token. All items must go by 17 April. Thank you and looking forward for your support.

 A Blessed Birthday to…

Mr Alan Tay  10/4

Mr Peter Wong  10/4

Mr Jimmy Boh  10/4

Ms Tan Khai Nee  10/4

Mrs Pauline Kwek  11/4

Mr Daniel Lau  11/4

Ms Grace Chng  12/4

Mr Samuel Soong  12/4

Ms Goh Li-Ern  13/4

Rev Joseph Dakhum  14/4

Mr Yong Teck Meng  14/4

Mdm Grace Yap  14/4

Mr Ng Beng Hong  14/4

Ms Lim Keng Hee  15/4

Ms Chew Chee Kuan 16/4

Ms Low Wai Leng  16/4

Mrs Reine Teo  16/4

Mr Leong Che Yeong  16/4

Mr Paul Seah  16/4

Ms Therma Cheung  17/4

Ms Chan Hsiao Yun  17/4

Mr David Chan  18/4

Mr Kang Cheng Guan  18/4

Rev Goh Yong Kuang  18/4

Mr Chew Soon Lee  19/4

Dr Lee Soon Tai  19/4

Mr Gregory Ng  21/4

Dr Peter Wang  22/4

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