Sunday, March 29, 2009

Depression and the Christian Life

Depression and the Christian Life

Sermon Statement
It is a myth that Christians do not suffer from depression. The community of faith must be prepared to help those suffering from depression.

The pencil sketch shown is a picture of a depressed man. This drawing has the power to evoke strong feelings of depression in us. Makes us feel depressed just by looking at it. It is drawn by Vincent Wan Gogh. (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) was a Dutch Post-Impressionist artist. Van Gogh spent his early adult life working for a firm of art dealers. After a brief spell as a teacher, he became a missionary worker in a very poor mining region. He did not embark upon a career as an artist until 1880. He produced a large body of great impressionist art. However he struggled with depression his whole life. Van Gogh's depression deepened, and on 27 July 1890, at the age of 37, he walked into the fields and shot himself in the chest with a revolver.

Examples of Depression in the Bible

(1) Prophet Elijah
a. The duel with 450 Baal prophets (1 King 18:20-39)
1KI 18:20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him."
But the people said nothing.

1KI 18:22 Then Elijah said to them, "I am the only one of the LORD's prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire--he is God."
Then all the people said, "What you say is good."

1KI 18:25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire." 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. "O Baal, answer us!" they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

1KI 18:27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

1KI 18:30 Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come here to me." They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, "Your name shall be Israel." 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, "Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood."

1KI 18:34 "Do it again," he said, and they did it again.
"Do it a third time," he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

1KI 18:36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again."

1KI 18:38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

1KI 18:39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD--he is God! The LORD--he is God!"

"The LORD--he is God! The LORD--he is God!"

b. The prediction of rain (1 King 18: 41-45)
1KI 18:41 And Elijah said to Ahab, "Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain." 42 So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

1KI 18:43 "Go and look toward the sea," he told his servant. And he went up and looked.
"There is nothing there," he said.
Seven times Elijah said, "Go back."

1KI 18:44 The seventh time the servant reported, "A cloud as small as a man's hand is rising from the sea."
So Elijah said, "Go and tell Ahab, `Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.' "

1KI 18:45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel.
After three and a half year of draught as foretold by God the rain came.

“the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came”

c. Depression (1 King 19: 3-4)
1KI 19:3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors."

"Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors."

d. God’s response
i. Ministering angels (1 King 19: 5-8)
5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat." 6 He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

1KI 19:7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God

The angel of the LORD came

ii. God’s presence (1 King 19:9-18)

9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
And the word of the LORD came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

1KI 19:10 He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."

1KI 19:11 The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

1KI 19:14 He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."

1KI 19:15 The LORD said to him, "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him."

I am here and you are not alone.

(2) Prophet Jonah

Jonah is one of the misunderstood prophet in the Old Testament. We are all taught that he ran away from God. We are also taught that he ran away because he was disobedient. He was disobedient not because he do not know God but because he knew God very well. He know God is a forgiving God. Jonah himself is not forgiving. He is not going to bring God’s compassion to his people’s enemies. Nineveh is the capital of Assyria. And it was a big fish, not a whale!

a. God’s instruction (Jonah 3:4-10)
4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

JNH 3:6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:

"By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish."

JNH 3:10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

He had compassion

Jonah followed God’s instruction and the one of the greatest revival in history occurred. The whole city (>120,000) and the king repented. This is exactly what Jonah expected and feared.

b. Depression (Jonah 4: 3, 8c)
3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."
v.8c "It would be better for me to die than to live."

"It would be better for me to die than to live."

Jonah became depressed.

c. God’s response (Jonah 4: 10-11)
JNH 4:10 But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"
Should I not be concerned about that great city?

Important points
• Comes after service for God
• Even prophets get depressed
• God helps
• Depression improves in response to God

What is Depression?

There are two groups of depression
(1) Reactive depression (figure 1)
(2) Major Depression (figure 2)

Reactive Depression
Reactive depression occurs when something unpleasant occurs to us and we are temporary unable to cope with it. We are robbed of our happiness and describe it as ‘feeling down’ or ‘under the weather.’

Features are
• It is temporary
• Disappear with distraction
• Do not interferes with normal functioning of life

Major Depression

The American Psychiatric Association offers the following diagnostic criteria:
Major depression is diagnosed when an adult exhibits one or both of two core symptoms
• depressed mood
• lack of interest
along with four or more of the following symptoms, for at least two weeks:
• feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
• diminished ability to concentrate or make decisions
• fatigue
• psychomotor agitation (cannot sit still) or retardation (just sitting around);
• insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
• significant decrease or increase in weight or appetite
• recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation.

Deep depression is embodied emotional suffering.

In the United States, 5 to 10 percent of adults currently experience the symptoms of major depression (as previously defined), and up to 25 percent meet the diagnostic criteria during their lifetime, making it one of the most common conditions treated by primary care physicians. At any given time, around 15 percent of American adults are taking antidepressant medications.

What are the Causes of Depression?
(1) Personal factor

Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning coined the term noogenic neurosis which is depression arising from “the pointlessness and meaninglessness of life”. Failure of the human drive to find meaning in life can lead to depression.

(2) Psychological factors
a. Unresolved conflicts (includes childhood)
b. Stress
c. Life events
d. Personality

(3) Biological factors
a. Lack of a neurotransmitter, serotonin.
b. Diseases

(4) Spiritual Warfare
a. Demonisation

Note: Need to differentiate depression and dark night of the soul.

Can Christians suffer from Depression?
It is one of the many cruel myths in the church that Christians cannot be suffering from depression. The impression given is that Christians are the happiest people on earth. Christians are excluded from ill health, poverty and all unfavorable circumstances. In our drive for conversion decisions, we often market “Jesus Saves” to “Jesus Saves you from anything bad.”

Jesus does saves. He saves us from eternal damnation by God. However he does not promise that he will save us from suffering. In fact, he said that if we are to follow him, we will suffer more.

We need to differentiate happiness and joy. Happiness is often a superficial emotion dependent on our external circumstances. We are happy when we received a fat bonus, a new contract for our company, not retrenched from our jobs or a good medical report. This good feeling evaporates when there is no fat bonus, no contract, retrenchment and sickness. Joy is a deeper emotion. It comes from being right with God. Therefore it is not dependent on external circumstances. Joy is still present when happiness is absent.

Christians may be unhappy yet joyful. Christians may suffer from depression yet retain the joy in their heart.

Studies of religious groups, from Orthodox Jews to evangelical Christians, reveal no evidence that the frequency of depression varies across religious groups or between those who attend religious services and those who do not. So in a typical congregation of 200 adults, 50 attendees will experience depression at some point, and at least 30 are currently taking antidepressants.

Martin Luther, the great leader of the Reformation struggled with depression. Charles Spurgeon, considered by some to be one of the greatest preacher of all times was unable to preach two to three months out of a year because of depression.

How can the Church Help?
(1) Rest

One of the causes of reactive depression is stress. This is especially active in people who are chronic caregivers: people to have to give care constantly like mothers or people nursing bed-ridden elderly or chronically ill people. It will be helpful if someone offer to lend a hand so that the caregiver may take a few hours off. Our bodies need rest and it is not built to function continuously under stress. Something will break. Even the Ever-Ready Bunny runs out of power.

(2) Personal choice

We can choose to be happy or sad. As persons, we are much affected by our surroundings and our inner life and beliefs. Dr. Willaim Backus identifies 3 misbeliefs in depression in his book, Telling The Truth to Troubled People :

Misbelief #1 : “I’m no good” The belief in personal worthlessness is found in several variations.”I’m a failure.” “I haven’t got what it takes”. The changes on the theme of self-devaluation are endless.

Misbelief #2 : “My daily life is no good”. The belief that nothing is really rewarding, that life is not worth the effort is another theme in those who are depressed.

Misbelief #3 : “My future is hopeless”. Most depressive believes that they will not recover.

We are influenced by our perspective of God. And it is from our perspective of God that we derive our perspective of ourselves. Unresolved sin needs to be deal with. As we seek the Lord through prayer and personal bible study, the Holy Spirit will transform us to the following truths.

Truth #1: “You are a creature of infinite worth and value.” The fact that God created you in His image and sent His Son to give His Life a ransom for your freedom establishes that you have worth and value.

Truth #2: “Even a depressed person can find meaning and reinforcement in activity.” One of the keys to treatment is to get the depressed person activated and doing things. Nearly always, the depressed person finds that the doing of the activity is very rewarding. The daily life of the Christian comes from the hand of God and is lived by God’s call. It has worth because of that.

Truth #3 : “God’s Word says that the future is not hopeless.” The future is not hopeless because “we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”(1 Peter 1:3 RSV).

This is where the teaching of the church comes in. Teaching in the church must always be helping us to discover what it is to be the sons and daughters of the living Go and what it means to be a people after his own heart.

(3) Talk to a friend
The church is a community and we must always look after one another. That is why everyone must belong to a cell or small group. In a small group, you can know everybody. In a church, very few people know everybody. People may be absent for long periods without anyone noticing. If they have migrated to another state or church, that is their choice. However people who are depressed will avoid people and not turn up. In a small group their absence will be noticed. In a large church setting, it may not be. Unfortunately, it is such people who fall through the gaps. The next thing we hear is that they have committed suicide! This shows how we have failed as a church.

(4) Group support
There is a tendency for people to form cliques. This is natural as people like to be with people who they are comfortable with. However, any church must intentionally form a support group for people who are depressed. These people may be receiving counseling from someone e.g. a pastor or counselor but they also need a group to belong to. The group will consist of other people who suffer from depression. It is really very helpful to know that you are a not alone.

John Ortberg is a popular preacher and author. Aside from a M.Div., Ortberg also earned a Ph.D. in psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary—and has penned two books on depression. He is the senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California? In an interview with Christianity Today (March 2009), he said:

“One of the most appreciated ministries in our church is our HELP ["Hope, Encouragement, Love, Prayer"] ministry for people who are suffering from mental or emotional health issues. It has evolved into a support group for them and their families. These people will say that the single most important thing for them is to be a part of a community where other people share the same struggles, speak the same language, and are able to bear each other's burdens..”

(5) Discernment and Prayer
Another area the church may help is in the area of prayer and discernment. Prayer is important as prayer changes people and circumstances. Discernment is important as it reveals whether the cause of the depression is spiritual or emotional.

(6) Counseling
Counseling is an important ministry of the church. Often counseling falls to the pastor because it is assumed that he or she will be trained to counsel. Unfortunately counseling is only a small part of the training of the pastors. I believe that God will provide in the faith communities people who are gifted to counsel. These people may not even be in leadership of the church. It is important for the church to recognize and affirm these people.

(7) Medication
Anyone who is doing counseling must recognize their limitations. They must know when to refer to some other professionals such as psychiatrist or clinical psychologists. This is not an admission of their failure or inadequacy. Psychiatrist will to able to augment their counseling with medication such as Prozac or Zoloft. These are powerful anti-depressants who can make a world of difference to people suffering from major depression.

Christians may suffer from depression. Being a Christian does not exclude us from ailments of the body and of the mind. It is unfortunate that depression in Christians are often not acknowledged or recognized. The number of people (including Christians) suffering from depression continues to increase. The church must be ready to help such people.

Soli Deo Gloria

Boy's Brigade Enrolment Service 2009

Sermon on Discipline
Text: 2 Tim. 2: 3-7

Boy’s Brigade Enrolment Service 2009
29 March 2009
Holy Light Church, Johor Bharu

Welcome to the Boy’s Brigade (BB). You are now member of a proud organization. It was estimated in 2003 that there are 500,000 BB members in the world.

One of the purposes of the Boys Brigade (BB) is to build character, to make you a better person. That is what all your officers and church members here are teaching you. All the activities: marching, Christian education classes, badge work and camping are to help you build character.

There are four pillars to build character:
(1) obedience
(2) reverence
(3) self-respect
(4) discipline

William Alexander Smith, the founder of the BB was born in Thurso, Scotland in 1854. He moved to Glasgow in his teens and became involved in church activities. William was also a lieutenant in the 1st Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers in 1883 while he was teaching in the North Woodside Mission Sunday School. While working with the children in church, he discovered the need for wholesome activities for children outside school hours. William Smith shared his ideas with his two friends, which later invited boys from North Woodside Mission Sabbath School and formed the first company of The Boys' Brigade, 1st Glasgow Company on 4th of October 1883.

William Alexander Smith is a Christian and he loved to study the Bible. That is why he took the motto of the BB from the Bible. The motto of the BB is SURE & STEDFAST (taken from Hebrews 6:19). "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." The original Old English (King James Version) spelling of "Stedfast" has been retained. The BB’s purpose was the advancement of Christ's Kingdom among members and the promotion of habits of Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, Self-Respect and all that tends towards a true Christian Character.

Apostle Paul’s teaching on discipline

Paul was writing to his student, Timothy as recorded in 2 Tim. 2: 3-7
3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs--he wants to please his commanding officer. 5 Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. 7 Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.

Here he uses three examples:
(1) Soldier
(2) Athlete
(3) Farmer
What do these three persons have in common? Discipline or self-control.
A soldier will not be a soldier if he or she has no discipline. Without discipline the soldier will not be useful to his army and country. To be a soldier, he must first learn how to obey orders, how to fight, how to use his weapons and how to work together with his team members. This does not come naturally. A soldier does not become a soldier overnight. It takes years and years of training.

An athlete also needs discipline. For example, a footballer, a basketball player and a table tennis player needs years and years of training. Though they may have natural talents, they still need the discipline to rain their bodies and home their skills. A professional golfers need to hit 1,000 golf balls a day.

Does a farmer needs discipline? Yes, he does. A farmer needs to know when to plant his seed, when to fertilize his soil and when to harvest his crops. If a farmer has no discipline, he will not have a good harvest.

Lessons on Discipline

(1) Do what you promise
Promise to attend BB activities
May have to sacrifice hanging out with your friends at the mall
Preparing your Christian education studies
Return your friend’s manga
Go home on time
Keep your word

(2) Make friends with the right people
· Right type of friends will make you better
· Bad type will destroy you

(3) Study hard
· Why are you in school?
· You can be anything you want

(4) Avoid taking drugs (dadah)
· All types of drugs and smoking
· Destroy your health
· Destroy your life


An enrolment service is for you to welcome and affirm new members. For those who are already members, this service to for you to reconfirm or rededicate yourself to the ideals of the Boy’s Brigade.

Soli Deo Gloria

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Look Up, Look Up

Look Up, Look Up

Text: Numbers 21:4-9

Numbers 21: 4-9 (NIV)

NU 21:4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!"

NU 21:6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.

NU 21:8 The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

Sermon Statement

Only by looking up at Christ on the Cross do we receive the grace to be saved, strengthened, comforted and healed.


A few years ago, I was privileged to be invited to speak at a conference organised by the Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES). The conference was themed “Professionals of Tomorrow” (POTs) and attended by medical, law and teaching students from universities from around the country. Medical students which included those studying in healthcare disciplines are called “Healthcarers of Tomorrow” (HOTs), law students (LOTs) and teachers (TOTs).

In the sessions we deal with the state of the various disciplines and conditions in Malaysia and the students were very vocal in their complaints. I was actually quite surprised because I thought students were only concerned with passing exams and their playstations. I was wrong. They are very concerned with the country they are living in. Initially the atmosphere was subdued as they were given more and more room to voice their concern. Then suddenly the atmosphere changed at about the third day when they realise that the answer to their complaints has already being given. The conference ended with a rousing recommitment to their task ahead.

In this sermon I will like to deal with complaints and what to do about it.

Text Exposition (Num 21: 4-9)

1. Avoiding Edom (v. 4a)

NU 21:4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom.

People have to turn south from Mt. Hor ( Num 20: 20-21), avoiding Edom because the Edomites refused allow them to pass through their territory. Why did the Edomites refuse them passage? Possible explanations include;

(a) they do not trust them to allow them into their territories

(b) Edomites are the descendent of Esau and there has always been enmity between Esau and Jacob and now their descendents. The other eastern neighbours of ancient Israel are the Amalek (descended from a son of Esau), Moab and Ammon (both descended from sons of Lot).

2. Complaints (v. 4b-5)

But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!"

The word qāsar means that the lost heart or impatient. The people are becoming discouraged because they have to make a detour and they complained.

The complaints are similar to others (Ex. 14:11-12; 17:3; Num. 11: 4-35; 14: 2-4; 16: 13-14; 20: 4-5):

(a) the objects of their complaints are Yahweh and Moses

(b) the cause of their complaints are food and water

a. lack of water

b. acceptable food. If the complaint is against the manna, it is a direct rejection of God’s providence.

c. Compare. Wishing for the good old days.

3. The Desert Snakes (v. 6)

NU 21:6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.

Unlike similar episodes of complaints in the past, there is no verbal response from Yahweh or Moses, just action


4. The People’s Repentance (v. 7)

7 The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.

(a) confession

(b) request for intercession

(c) record of intercession

5. Yahweh’s Response (v. 8-9)

NU 21:8 The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

Both God’s command (v.8) and its fulfillments (v.9) demands an obedience i.e. look up at the object. The words used for the two verses are different. It is not simply to take a glance but to gaze one’s eyes upon the bronze snake.

This is not the beginning of a bronze snake cult nor does the bronze snake have magical powers. Unfortunately there is a tendency for people to turn everything into a magical cure. Hence in 2 Kings 18: 4

4 He (King Hezekiah) removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan. )

The association of desert snakes with bronze is an attempt to relate desert objects with the temple.

Lessons for us

1. Life is change

a. A flowing stream

Heraclitus, an Ephesian who lived out his life in his native town, was in his prime between the years 504 and 501 B.C. He is famous for his quotation "You cannot step twice into the same river; for fresh waters are continually flowing on." (Fr. 91,12). Such is the constantly changing world we live in. Globalisation has flatted the world. Not only is the world changing every second, we ourselves are also changing constantly.

b. We cannot resist change

The recent economic crisis shows us how rapidly the world is changing and just how unstable the world is at any moment in time.

In Malaysia, the euphoria of neo-politics of March 2008 has evaporated and now in the state of Perak, we have a state assembly meeting under a rain tree because its members are barred from entering the State Assembly building. There are at present, two Menteri Besars (Chief Minister), two State Assemblies and two of everything in the state, each one claiming legitimacy.

Changes come to us personally in terms of

  • Children growing up and leaving home
  • New births
  • Deaths
  • Diseases
  • Ageing
  • Economic insecurities
  • Rising crime rates
  • Forced to live a less lavish lifestyle

2. How to complain

It is okay to complain. Just do it right. The Bible is full of people’s complaints. Read the Psalms, lamentations and the prophets and you will get the idea. Job said

JOB 7:11 "Therefore I will not keep silent;

I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit,

I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.

Just be careful that you are complaining about the situation and not against God. The ancient Israelite in Numbers made the mistake of complaining against God and was punished for their complaints. When they refer to the manna from Yahweh as ‘miserable’ food, they are in trouble.

In our relationship with God, in our prayers it is okay to complain as David and others did in the Psalms. We need to be open about our feelings. However we need to be clear about our reasons for complaining.

a. The squeaky wheel gets the grease

Some people complain because they know the louder is their complaint, the quicker you get a response.

  • Patients who complained loudly in the waiting room get to be seen earlier.
  • Patients who has been hospitalised who complain knows that they will get a discount.
  • Passengers who complain during the flight either get an upgrade or a voucher.

The service paradigm of “the customer is always right” has made complaining into a fine art.

Complain as an action to stimulate the right action. Then do it loudly.

b. Complain but don’t enjoy it too much

The problem with many of us is that we love to complain. It is enjoyable to voice out that the whole does not revolve around us. It is a social activity where we can all sit around and spend out time complaining loudly to each other about how unjust the world is.

Lamentations is written when the Israelites are in exile. If anyone has reasons to complain, they have. Thousands of miles from home, exiled, homesick, terrified, their national identity and the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. Yet one of the writers of Lamentations wrote,

LA 3:38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High

that both calamities and good things come?

LA 3:39 Why should any living man complain

when punished for his sins?

LA 3:40 Let us examine our ways and test them,

and let us return to the LORD.

Complain if you have legitimate reasons to but do not indulge in self-pity

c. Don’t play the “what if” game

Playing the “what if “ games will give us lots of reasons to complain. It is always easy to know and judge everything with hindsight.

What if …

· I have married A instead of B

· I have listened to my father’s advice

· C has been nicer to me

· D is not such a donkey

And it goes on and on.

Playing the ‘what if ‘ game never solves anything. It just create more discontent and create reasons for complaints.

d. Don’t live in the Good Old Days

Living in the past is not helpful. The older folks love to say, “In my days…” as if the past is the Good Old Days or Golden Age. Actually the past in the same as today. There was also a Great Depression in the past. It just happens that our minds selectively remembers the good times and continently forget the bad. So the past looks good. It is not. By comparing your present situation the ‘rosy’ past will only make you more unhappy and generate more complaints.

Live in the present and not the past. Let the past remain in the past.

How to complain? You complain by looking up.

3. Look up, look up

a. You must be down to look up

Moses was instructed to raise the bronze snake high on a pole. The people have to look up to see it.

In order for us to look up, we must be down. Sometimes we may be lying on the ground. Suffering is part of human life, whether we like it or not. I am not a big fan of suffering and I try to avoid it if I can. However suffering may be redemptive and helps us to know God. Paul notes in Rom 5: 3-5

3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

So the circumstances of our lives knock us down. So what do we do? We complain. Maybe we should look up.

b. It’s all about grace

The apostle John explains the significance of the bronze snake,

John 3: 14-15

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

John 8: 27-29

JN 8:27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him."

This is all about Jesus dying on the cross. It is about the finished work of Christ on the cross. All that has been accomplished 2000 years ago. By dying on the cross, Jesus has paid for our sins with his suffering and his body. He has atoned for our sign. By his atonement, we have been made righteous with God. By his atonement, God justice has been satisfied. We have been justified.

We do not have to do anything. Everything has been done for us. This is grace.

c. Let go and let God

But like the ancient Israelites, we have to look up. We have to look at the source of our salvation. The ancient Israelites receive bodily healing. As we know, they eventually all die. The book of Numbers may be divided into three main sections:

(1) Preparing the Old Generation (1:1 -10:10)

(2) Postponement for Unbelief (10:11-25: 18)

(3) Preparing the New Generation (26-36)

For us, we only have to look up to Christ on the cross. Actually we are looking at an empty cross because Christ has ascended. Christ is the author and finisher of our faith. Not only has he gone ahead to prepare a place for us, he has sent us the Holy Spirit who will help us here on earth.

Complain if you have to but do not sin against God in your complaining.

  • Remember what God has done for you in the past
  • Remember God loves you and will care for you in the past, present and future
  • Remember God will look after you
  • Trust


Just before you complain, remember what Jesus says,

Matt 6: 25-34

MT 6:25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

MT 6:28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Soli Deo Gloria