The first group of exiled Jews were back in the holy land and they have started to continue the work of rebuilding the temple (which they have stopped for 15 years) after God sent prophet Haggai and Zechariah to declare God’s Word to them. It has been roughly 2 months since the Word of the Lord came by Haggai (Haggai 2:7,10): then came the Word of the Lord in the midst of their rebuilding. The purpose is twofold. One is to correct some wrong notions the people have about the work of the Lord, and the second is to plead with the people to turn back to God.

The Word of the Lord started off with 2 questions—“If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy?” (Haggai 2:12) The priests answered no. “If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean?” (Haggai 2:13)? The priests answered it shall be unclean. Thus, it is so with the work they are doing. The returnees have a wrong notion that by doing holy work, they can be holy (first question), but in actual fact they are only defiling the work more and more (second question). Their work before the Lord was unclean (Haggai 2:14). We must beware of having this wrong notion that serving in the Church, doing God’s work enables us to be holy. It is more likely that we defile God’s work and hinder the advancement of God’s kingdom if not for the grace and enabling power of God.

What’s the reason God said they are defiling the work? Didn’t they also have God’s grace and enabling (recall how they are able to return to the land and restart the work)? The reason is they turned not to God (Haggai 2:17). Even when they cannot receive as much as they wanted (Haggai 2:16), even when they are chastised by God (Haggai 2:17a), they turned not to God. They have wrong notion of serving God and depended on their own strength; they turned not to God, so that’s why God deems their work to be unclean. We must be careful that we turn not away from God even in the midst of all our activities at Church or while doing things in the name of God.

Despite of all these, their past failures (stopping after laying down the foundations, Ezra 4), their wrong notion about serving God and their failure to turn to God, God says “from this day will I bless you” (Haggai 2:19). Oh what mercy, grace and love! While they are yet considering their failures and pondering upon the period of which they discontinued the building of the temple (Haggai 2:18), God says “yet the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, hath not brought forth: from this day will I bless you”. Won’t the Jews’ hearts be touched and won’t this cause them to turn to God? Won’t our hearts too be touched that despite our past failures and wrong concepts about God and about how to serve Him, God will still bless us? Let us respond to God’s calling and turn back to Him, to continue to do God’s work.

Amazed by God’s patience and love,
Deacon Nick

L is for Liddell’s Life

With Youth Olympics Games (YOG 2010) looming large in Singapore, you might be interested to know of a Christian who took part in 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. If you’ve seen the show Chariots of Fire, you may be thrilled at Eric Liddell’s unwavering Christian convictions and stand for principle. It almost cost him his chance at Olympic gold because the 100m was his best race. He dropped out of that event, however, rather than run on Sunday.

Instead, he spoke in a Paris church on the day he might have run. The starting guns popped in the stadium without him. Nevertheless, Eric captured an unexpected bronze in the 200m and worked his way through the qualifying heats for the 400m. His trial times were not spectacular. It did not seem he could beat the other fine contenders.

World Record in His Worst Event—The gun cracked. Eric was out of his crouch and running, head tilted back, arms flailing. If this had been a sprint, he could not have flown faster. When the finish tape drew taut across his chest, he was 5m ahead of his nearest rival. Eric had won the gold in a record 47.6 seconds for 400m! His performance in Paris remained a world record for four years, and a European record for 12 years.

All of Life Is a Race—For Eric Liddell, however, this was not the ultimate race. He was born in China on January 16, 1902, to Scottish missionary parents. As a member of a close-knit Scottish protestant missionary family, Eric and his brother Rob grew up in boarding schools while his parents served in China. On his parents’ and younger siblings’ infrequent furloughs, the family would gather joyfully in Edinburgh.

Liddell saw his whole life as a race: a race for the kingdom of heaven. That is why, two years after taking the Olympic gold, he sailed to China, to become a missionary himself. Having seen the Chinese need for science education, he had devoted himself to science studies at Edinburgh. In China he became a teacher at the Anglo-Chinese school at Tientsin. When WWII broke out, Liddell was interned at the Weihsien Internment Camp with the members of the China Inland Mission in 1943. He died there on 21 February 1945.

In 2008, it was revealed by the Chinese authorities that Liddell had given up an opportunity to leave the camp and instead gave his place to a pregnant woman. Apparently, during the war, the Japanese did a deal with the British, with Churchill’s approval, for prisoner exchange. Therefore, because Eric was a famous athlete he was one of the chosen as part of the prisoner exchange. However, he gave his place to another. This information was released near the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics by the Chinese government. The news of this great act of sacrifice came as a surprise even to his family members.

56 years after the 1924 Paris Olympics, Scotsman Allan Wells won the 100m sprint at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. When asked after the victory if he had run the race for Harold Abrahams, the last 100m Olympic winner from Britain (in 1924), Wells replied, “No, this one was for Eric Liddell.”

Defeat or victory, let’s learn something from Eric Liddell’s life when he told the crowds who came to hear him speak on the Lord’s Day morning when he could be running that he did not ever question what God chose to do. “I don’t need explanations from God. I simply believe him and accept whatever comes my way.”