Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Small Sacrifice

When I was asked by the editor of a local Christian magazine to write something about my own personal sacrifices in obeying God’s call to full-time ministry, there was a hesitation on my end whether I can write such an article. I will be entering my 25th year of work as a career pastor. I have now the advantage of hindsight wisdom and perspective, which would be dramatically different from the earlier years. I hesitated because I have to ask myself, having experienced what I had in the last 24 years, were there any “real” sacrifices that I had made? Our church DUMC's tagline to “Love God, Serve People and Make Disciples” reminds us that loving and serving, whether towards God or people, is synonymous. Sacrifices on our part is presumed.

Maybe these are the thoughts of a man entering the senior years. Just unravelling life lessons from Song of Songs, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, tells you of a man who had seasoned through the ups and downs of life to conclude that at the end of the day, nothing on earth will ever satisfy except to find our purpose and significance in God. The journey of Solomon, vacillating from wisdom, vanity and satisfaction, reminds us how unpredictable our hearts are. No wonder Jeremiah lamented in Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” He goes on to say in verse 10 “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” Hence my struggle with saying with a straight face sacrifices that I had made in serving Him because He knows my heart.

The Call
The call to serve Him was a call to obedience in my university years in Melbourne during a mission conference in the local church I was attending. I committed myself to be willing to obey whatever He was calling me to, whether to serve in my professional calling in the corporate world or to full-time Christian ministry. Interestingly, my future wife also responded to the same altar call although at that time we were not in a relationship yet. I was trained as an engineer and for nine years after graduation and the eventual marriage, my wife and I lived a lifestyle in such a way that if God should call me, our financial commitment would allow us to do that.

In 1994, when I joined DUMC, I was 34 then, with a 4-year-old son. My wife and I had a desire to have maybe two or three more children (we have 3 sons eventually) and our dreams for a family were no different from anyone else. Primarily to be able to provide adequately for our children in terms of their education and some of life’s little luxuries. In discussing my employment financial package with the elders, the church then with a small congregation of 200, could only pay us the amount that was the bare minimum that would allow us to pay our bills and expenses each month that our combined salaries could afford, without any savings at the end of the month. I needed to take a 70% pay cut from what I was getting as an engineer. But I was glad I could take a 70% pay cut, suggesting a lifestyle we had adopted in preparation. Some Christians had lived beyond their means of a pay cut when the calling came. This would be my advice to those contemplating a call from God to full-time Christian work.

So, it was a step of faith with questions that bothers me as a father and husband. What about the future of our children? Their education? Will they end up disappointed with our financial position of not being able to live and enjoy the privileges like their peers? Thank God for a wife who too understand the calling of God and we both plunged into this uncertain yet exciting journey of faith and ministry. My wife continued to work in her corporate job and the Lord blessed her over the years.
Serving with open hands

What sacrifice?
Twenty-four years later, the only conclusion we can make is this: that God is no man’s debtor. Jesus clearly reminded us (Matt 6:25-34) to look at the birds of the air and the flowers of the field and not to worry about our life, what we will eat or drink, or about our body, what we will wear. It was time then to put what we know from our head into our hearts. It had been an incredible journey of seeing the growth of the church, the provision of God for my family and the spiritual journey of maturity for all of us as a family. What we needed to be clear about is not what we wanted or desired for ourselves. Rather it is about finding out what God desires of our lives. King David was called as man after God’s heart not so much because of what he did for God, but rather at every turn of event in the battles of his life, he inquired of the Lord. It suggests an intimacy with God such that he can genuinely say “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;” (Ps 84:10) When we begin to recognize the depth of God’s love for us and the sacrifices He had made, any sacrifice we make pales in comparison. It is no longer a sacrifice on our end to serve Him, but a privilege to serve this Living God. There are just no sacrifices too big compared to what He had done.

Hence, I find it awkward to start listing down the sacrifices I had made in this journey. Were there sacrifices I had to made in matters of dying to my fleshly dreams and desires? Yes of course. But I would not exchange them for what I had experienced up to this point of my life.

I had used the Wesley Covenant Prayer as a renewal prayer in our Watchnight services. This is a prayer used in the Methodist liturgy for the Covenant Renewal Service. This prayer reflects the words of Apostle Paul: 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Co 6:19–20).

I leave this prayer with you for your perusal, that in considering a life time of service to God, it is about obedience, wherever He calls you to, be faithful.

Wesley Covenant Prayer
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Be With Jesus

We have often heard the adage that we must be before we do. What we do does not determine who we are in God. Meaning God loves us not on the basis of what we do for Him. But rather, He loves us for the worth He sees in us despite our fallen nature. We are made in His image and intrinsically we carry something of His nature. The understanding of who we are is the foundation to our life on earth as we answer His call to serve Him.

Doing defines us. Or putting it another way, we do because we are. One of the amazing privileges we have as His children is to serve God and people. We are created to do good works. (Eph 2:10) Once we discover who we are, created to bear fruit in every good work (Col 1:10), we live out that calling. I am challenged by John Wesley: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” We don’t serve to gain favour. We serve because that’s who we are.

As we do that faithfully, there is a tendency over time to serve not out of our being, but our doing. We get weary and burdened, eventually leading to burnout. “We cannot make up for failure in our devotional life by redoubling energy in service. We shall never take people beyond our own spiritual attainment.” (William Griffith Thomas)

One of the keys to a consistent and life-long effective ministry is to discover what the apostles were doing in their spiritual lives. I am intrigued by a verse in the book of Acts on one such key. Peter, who was with John, was instrumental in the healing of a lame beggar in Acts 3. Crowds were attracted to this incredible miracle of this lame man “walking and jumping, and praising God.” (Acts 3:8) In Acts 4, Peter preached to the onlookers about the Messiah, which greatly disturbed the priests, captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees. They seized Peter and John and put them in jail until the next day. They were brought before the Sanhedrin, which is the supreme judicial and ecclesiastical council of ancient Jerusalem. In that exchange, here’s what the priests said. “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

How did they know that Peter and John had been with Jesus? I wish Luke had spelt out the criteria of that observation. Would people around say the same about us who are too disciples of Jesus? Not so much about what we have done, but that we have been with Jesus. They were trained from the onset of their calling by Jesus in that way. “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons.” (Mark 3:13-15)

What does it mean to be with Him? It is a relational call of making time for the One who is our Friend, Brother, Saviour and God. We cannot have any meaningful relationship without making time for each other. To be with Him is to make regular time to read His Word and have a two-way conversation. It is not about putting a tick on our daily to-do list for our devotions and prayer time of presenting our request list. It is not merely functional. At the heart of it is relational. The hazard of the modern urban life is that we have no time. Yet everyone has 24 hours, no more and no less. We say time is money and we need to be efficient and effective in all that we do so that we don’t waste time. Yet, have you ever thought that we can and should “waste time” with God? We don’t understand the principle that when we hear God clearly of His will for our lives, we actually save time and even from heartaches and disappointments. There is something about being with Jesus that we begin to center our lives around His agenda and not ours, which could be dramatically out of sync with God’s because we are carnal by nature.

To be with Him is the highest calling for the child of God. Apostle Paul understood that when He said “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Philippians 1:23-24). Here’s that key again. He knew and long for that intimacy with Christ.

Often I hear Christians asking: “What else do we do in heaven?” That is the wrong question. One day in the new heaven and the new earth, doing is not the heart of existence. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3) God will BE with us and He will live amongst us. What makes heaven “heaven” then? It's about who we will BE with. With Him and with His people. Heaven is all about relationships. What we will do thereafter for eternity will be unimaginable creativity and joy being in existence.

Therefore, learning to be with Him on earth is a practice run! In the light of all that is happening around us in our nation, with all the uncertainties, challenges and threats, what gives us hope and clarity is the certainty of God’s Presence in our lives. We are not to be paralysed by the fear of the unknown but as in the example set forth by the apostles, if and when the time comes, we will be known as people who had been with Jesus.

Discipleship towards Christlikeness is a call to know Jesus and to be with Him. It is simply helping another person be with Jesus as you continue to make time to be with Jesus. When we learn to do that, we don’t struggle too much in answering this question: “What is the Holy Spirit saying to you?” To be with Him then is the highest calling!

Monday, January 30, 2017

What Will You Leave Behind?

Every Christian leaves something behind when he or she is finally called home to be with the Lord someday. Leaving a legacy or a heritage is not an option. The question is, “What type of legacy do you leave behind?” This could be one of the most profound question that may change the way you live your life.

You see, your family pass on a legacy to you – good or bad – because that is what they have. And you will pass on a legacy to your children by which they will live by. It would be reasonable to say that all parents would love to leave something good for their children to the best of their abilities. But what is the thing of greatest value that we can leave behind for them? The things of greatest value would be reflected by what we put our time to. Excellence in academic pursuits and extracurricular activities are something we Malaysian parents take pride in. Hence the constant shuttle between one tuition to another after school and on top of that, all kinds of classes from swimming to music. There is a mad race to chase after the things that we think will get our children ahead of the pack. But are they really things of greatest worth?

An added challenge would be that we are not only to pass these on just to the next generation, but beyond that. “A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children” (Proverbs 13: 22) Generational blessings are to be a norm in God’s plan for our families. “One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works.” (Psalm 145:4–5)

Martin Luther, a seminal figure in the Protestant Movement, was asked what he would do if he knew he were going to die tomorrow. His simple reply was "I would go out and plant a tree." He would, in other words, leave behind a legacy of life that would grow on and on into the future. This brings into questions the focus of many in their quests to leave behind wealth, possessions and good academic qualifications. These things, while good to have, will not be the things that are essential for a lasting Godly legacy.

In the studies of the book of Joshua, in particular chapter one, when Moses passed on his leadership baton to Joshua, there was a clarity about three things that Joshua received from God as he prepared to enter the Promised Land. First, there was a clarity of God’s call. “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. “Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west.” (Joshua 1:3-4) God gave precise detail of what he needed Joshua to follow through. Otherwise he will be wandering aimlessly through the region and never arriving, typical of many who are living their lives chasing after the wind, blindfolded. Our children can be climbing the corporate ladder and to realise when they finally reached the top, it is leaning on the wrong wall! Learning to live in accordance to God’s commandments will save us a lot time and heartaches in the latter years. How do we discern God’s will? By reading His word and hearing His voice. Jesus said “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) Knowing the Bible well will ensure that the voices we hear, if they are conflicting, will be filtered accordingly because He will never instruct us on something contrary to His Word. Hence, the first principle is this: teach your children to hear the voice of God and to discern His will.

Second, there is a clarity about God’s Presence. “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5) The stories of Joshua in chapters 2 to 12, crossing of the Jordan river (Chapter 3), the defeat of Jericho and Ai (Chapter 6 and 8), battles with the 31 kings and the day the sun stood still for a whole day (Chapter 10), are powerful stories of God’s faithfulness and deliverance in the lives of the Israelites. These stories are told from one generation to another and immortalized in the Bible. Testimonies like these build faith. The question is, what stories do you leave behind of God’s faithfulness? DUMC is a story of faith that will be passed on to our next generation. Our ministries to people and mission to the world are powerful stories of life’s transformations. It is about raising up home and workplace ministers as salt of the earth and light of the world. The Church is present through you and your children in the world. Powerful legacies are always about transformed lives. The second principle evolves around teaching your children to experience the Presence of God. Leave behind powerful stories of how God dealt with you.

Third, there is a clarity of God’s enabling. “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” (Joshua 1:6) The call to be strong and courageous was a divine call and encouragement made by God to Joshua three times. Hence we recognise that God often allows challenges and difficulties in our lives to grow and mature us. Don’t be too quick therefore to wish away challenges and problems. Problems and challenges build faith. The bigger the problem the bigger the building of our faith because we have a BIG God. The third principle would then be to teach your children to experience God’s enabling. Challenge them to serve their Almighty God and they will experience His enabling in powerful ways. Teach and show them to step out in faith and do not be too quick to bail them out of difficult situations because that would jolly well be the best learning experiences they can go through as they cry out to God.

My challenge therefore to all of us would be to build DUMC not just for ourselves with our own preferences, but to build it for our children and their children. We find too many young people leaving the church they grew up in because they no longer find it relevant. The generation after Joshua turned away from God. Let’s not be found making the same mistake. The most important legacy is a life of faith in God that leads to eternal life. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Mt 16:26, ESV). Often we are concern about our children’s physical provision. Have we thought about their spiritual provision, helping them to move from second-hand to a first-hand faith?

In my personal reflection, the book of Joshua was a practical outworking of the promises of God. Simply stated, God is saying in the battle field of life, “Follow me, you win. Leave me, you lose.”  Obedience brings blessings and disobedience brings curses. I succinctly summed up the whole series in these words: “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.” Joshua not only emphasized the faithfulness of God but also the responsibility of Israel. This is the mystery of faith. Although God could do it all on His own yet He gave us a choice to serve Him because He wants to work through us! If Joshua and the people of Israel had not co-operated with God, their entry into the Promised Land would not have happened, and yet without God and without His interventions, they could not possibly have done it. This I believe will be the most powerful legacy we can leave behind.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Thanksgiving as a Spiritual Weapon

Slightly over a year ago on 1 Dec 2014, my wife and I were having dinner with a Korean missionary couple and the subject of Thanksgiving came up as the Americans had just celebrated it. He said his church in America had encouraged him to make it personal by listing down the things that he is thankful for at the end of each year. He encouraged me to do likewise and to make it a habit.
So armed with my Evernote, I started ambitiously by having a goal of listing down 500 things I am thankful for in 2014. It was hard going at some points but for the next 30 days, I started writing. By the time 31 Dec 2014 arrived, I had completed my list of 500. I was amazed that I did have 500 things that I am thankful for!

At the end of 2015 last year, I decide to slow down a little by targeting 100. I would like to chew on each item a little longer so that I can savour and linger on the blessing and grace of God over the last twelve months. What have I learnt from these exercises?

The psalmist exhorts us to “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;” (Psalm 100:4a) Being thankful and contented is a virtue. Thankfulness is reflected throughout all of Paul’s letters. Despite being a man who had borne the brunt of persecutions, sufferings, hardship, dangers, poverty, rejections and even when he wasn’t healed of a lifelong ailment, he remained in a state of thankfulness. His assurance from God was “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:7-8).

This heart of thanksgiving is encapsulated in this exhortation: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes. 5:16-18) It is easy to give thanks when things are good. We see that all the time on social media. Rarely have I seen someone who gives thanks when things are going wrong. Except one in the recent weeks where a brother gave thanks to God for his wife who had just gone home to be with the Lord due to cancer. His facebook post: “It has been 11 days since my beloved went to be with the Lord. She is walking and leaping and praising God and I am so happy for her. It still leaves me in a place of loneliness and aching heart but I am OK because my God is supplying all that I need.”

It is not always easy to give thanks in ALL circumstances, but this is precisely the thing we must do to experience God’s grace in our lives. Two things happen when we inculcate a heart of thanksgiving. First, it breaks the power of the enemy over us. It is a powerful weapon of spiritual warfare. When we are thankful we invite God’s pleasure over us and the enemy no longer has any ability to hold or manipulate us in our discouragement, despair or anger. We begin to learn to ask not so much of the WHY-is-this-happening in our circumstances but the WHAT-can-we-learn. We may never know or control the whys but we can certainly decide to learn from the whats.

Second, thanksgiving brings contentment. Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy was “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Tim. 6:6) He reminded the young man that they came into the world with nothing and will take nothing out. As long as they have food and clothing, they ought to be contented. Elisabeth Elliot who faced the tragedy of losing a husband in the mission field was quoted as saying “Discontent dries up the soul.” She wrote "To love God is to love His will. It is to wait quietly for life to be measured by one who knows us through and through. It is to be content with His timing and His wise apportionment.”

Another obstacle to contentment is that we tend to compare upwards. We look at what we don’t have rather than what we have. One of the easiest ways to die to that is get involved with people who are less fortunate than us. Some of the finest people I know are people who are serving the poor and the less fortunate. The poor have a way of reminding us how blessed and fortunate we are. Never wish we could be someone else or compare ourselves with them. Be happy with or learn to accept who you are because you cannot change that.

Therefore here’s a practical way to start you going, by writing your thanksgiving list before year end. What a great way to end the year by re-aligning our attitude and start with hope. By all means, list down the blessings, but avoid the temptation to ignore the failures, losses, missteps or defeats. Pause when you need to for some items. Often the journey may be more important than the destination as it is God’s way of moulding us for what He is preparing us for.

The Lord reminded me that we can go one step further. We can be instrumental in helping someone be thankful. Last week at a shopping mall, as I was waiting for my turn to pay at the parking token machine, I notice this elderly Malay gentleman hesitating in front of me in the queue. He was holding a RM 100 bill and he said he had no smaller bills. He didn’t know whether the machine will accept it. I told him to give it a go.  The machine displayed RM6 as the amount owing and upon inserting his RM100 bill and it was rejected. Instinctively, I took out a RM10 bill from my wallet, inserted it into the machine and gave him the paid token. He didn’t have time to react but I could see his concerned face break into a smile and insisting on paying me at least with the other one ringgit bill he had. I walked away saying “No need, it’s my pleasure.” The phrase “It is more blessed to give than receive.” (Acts 20:35) flashed in my mind. No doubt it is something small and probably insignificant. But if that man was to write a thanksgiving list, he may write about the stranger who helped him pay RM6 in that time of his need. The Lord reminded me to be listed on someone else’s thanksgiving list.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Is there a perfect husband or wife out there?

Last Friday night at my cell group meeting, we celebrated the 22nd wedding anniversary of a dear couple by putting them on a hot seat for the young adults to glean life lessons from on a marriage with a combined total of 44 years of marriage experience and three children later. I have often said to young people that wisdom is about asking the right questions. Our education system, and even the way our church celebrations or services are structured, they are often more than not monologues. Jesus' style of discipling was usually done by sitting around in a circle, facing one another and mutually asking good and provoking questions. You see that often in their dialogues found in the Gospels, whether in a room, in the field, in their journeys, or literally any and everywhere. Sometimes Jesus would answer their questions with another question. 

Google has introduced a whole new culture of information overload. The wisdom of google is not in the answers that can be found there. There are tons and tons of answers and information. It is in asking the right question that Google is at its best. Let me qualify by saying too that the answers may not necessarily be correct or truthful. A great amount of discernment and wisdom is needed to filter them correctly

Good questions were asked of this couple. How do you know you are right for one another? Is it about compatibility? Is it about communications? What roles do parents play for their children in matters of a life partner? How do you maintain the sizzle or passion in your marriage? How do you keep going with all the challenges? How does having children alter your relationship? 

One thing this couple can attest to is the importance of pre-marital counselling which is vital to prepare the couple for what's ahead. I have realized too that generally speaking there is no such thing as a compatible couple. The moment you think you are, you will be in for a big surprise because living together in the same house is a whole new ball game altogether with both coming from completely different family background and culture. Before marriage, when they have a disagreement, they can go home and not see each other for a while until things cool down. When they are married, they do not have such a luxury. There is no "going home" because they are at home. They sleep on the same bed in tension. They just need to work things out eventually and conflict resolution is an important skill of learning to listen, negotiate and compromise. I would call that the skill of adapting. Therefore the issue is not about compatibility, but adaptability. Learning to adapt is a posture of love. It is not about what we can get out of a relationship only, but how we can give to it. In fact, "agape" love is unconditional. Meaning, we love not because of, but in spite of. That's the vow couples made to one another at the wedding altar.

For better for worse,
For richer for poorer,
In sickness and in health,
To love and to cherish,
Till death do us part,
And hereto I pledge you my faith.

Hence marriage is laboratory of relationship of learning how to love unconditionally. Only when love is worked out this way can we find deep fulfilling relationship knowing that we are genuinely loved. How often people get into marriage to get, and when they cannot find what they are looking for, they opt out. Where can we learn how love to love like this? We can only learn that from Someone who had loved like this.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8) 

One last tip I gave was to observe the person how he (or she) treats people above him, next to him and below him. Watch how he respects authority, whether it is to his parents, bosses, pastors or leaders. Watch how he treats his friends, colleagues and cell group members. Then most importantly, watch how he treats people "below" him, his subordinates, the underprivileged, disabled, or poor, and most interestingly, watch how he treats children. It will give you a clue what kind of person you will be living with and the culture of relationship with whom you will forge together for your family.

So, no, there is no perfect husband or wife out there. If you find one, don’t marry that person because you will make him or her imperfect! Worse still, you will be terribly disappointed and disillusioned over a broken dream because there is no such perfection. Happy “hunting!”

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Power of a Men's Community

Men Alive recently was featured in Christianity Malaysia. Click the link below for an encouraging report.

Click here or on the image for the link.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Creating Great Habits for the Year

I have always known that having good habits in life is important. Just that I didn’t know exactly why except for the fact I don’t have to think much about my habitual actions as I go about my daily life. By virtue of its definition, a habit is simply a process by which our brains convert a sequence of actions or tasks into an automatic routine. Examples of that are instances when we comb our hair, brush our teeth, drive our cars and put on our socks! Interestingly, a lot of my creative ideas materialize when I am in my daily shower! I thought to myself maybe I am one of those odd ones until I hear others talking about it as well. We don’t think much about our actions there because we do them automatically. Turn on the tap, wet and shampoo our hair, soap our body, rinse away the soapsuds, wash our face with cleanser, towel dry our hair and body and out we go.

Normal stuff each day, right? Until I began to observe a pattern over the years that many of my creative ideas, insights and thoughts come from that habit. There were times, after my showers, I would quickly write my thoughts down on my notepad before I forget them. I notice the same when I drive. My smartphone with a voice recording feature is a great tool to have in place of the notepad, especially when my hands are on the wheel!

I learnt recently that habits are simply the wonders of our brains designed by God in such a way that they drive us to be more productive and efficient. When tasks and behaviours are automated, meaning we do them without much thinking and effort, we free our brains for other creative work. We don’t usually think about them until something disrupts that pattern. Even my habit of going to the gym is programmed into my brain with the ultimate reward of an endorphin rush that my body looks forward to. This is a good habit to have in order to push me towards greater body fitness. When I skip my gym sessions, there is that uneasy and discontented feeling. Pianists understand this principle in their daily disciple of practicing their scales. This fundamental habit and skill must be in them before they can be great musicians because it frees up their brains to be musically creative and expressive without worrying about hitting the right notes.

But what about spiritual habits? Working on the same principle, if we can inculcate some great spiritual habits with automatic routines, our minds can be freed up to be spiritually creative and receptive in our life. Some great spiritual habits are our daily quiet time with the Lord which allows us to learn intimacy with Him. Cultivating a habitual heart of thanksgiving removes the complaining spirit in us. Regular church and cell group attendance encourage accountability and growth. Consistent service in ministry increases our capacity in our spiritual gifting and call.

Often I see Christians struggle in these basic habits. Much of their energy is spent on pushing themselves to do them. For e.g. in something as simple as attending the regular church celebration, they struggle to make time knowing that it is the right thing to do yet not discipline enough to make it regular. Even if they end up going, much of their energy is expended by the time they get to church and the whole exercise becomes an obligation rather than a time of anticipation and intimacy with God. No wonder the Christian life is so burdensome. Multiply that into the various Christian disciplines of daily devotion, tithes and offerings, cell group, ministry, etc., no wonder so many are ineffective for God because their minds are not freed up to be creative in the way they can grow in intimacy with God and love for others.

In many sense, good and bad spiritual habits are well illustrated in Romans 7:7-25: the colossal struggle between the spirit and the flesh. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) Good habits feed the spirit and bad habits conversely feed the flesh. In the simplest of terms, in our daily lives, if we are not feeding the spirit through good habits, then we are feeding the flesh through bad ones. Victorious Christian living is premised upon having a stronger spirit that will force the flesh to succumb to what the Spirit desires for us. This is the fruit of the Spirit, especially in self-control. Fleshly desires are what the Bible calls carnal, worldly or unspiritual. Many are not aware that their spiritual growth is stunted as a result of bad spiritual habits inculcated over the years.

Systemic cultures grow out of the keystone habits in every organization. By encouraging healthy habits, an organization grows strong. Good habits of every member are foundational to the life of the church. Can I encourage you to spend some time to reflect your past year on this matter? If you can be brutally honest and examine all your habits to see what feed your spirit and flesh and determine whether to keep, drop, enhance or even add a new one, you will be working towards a more fruitful year. Remember, habits take time to form and do persevere until you know it is almost automatic. We have often been told we are creatures of habit and it is so true. The most basic of all spiritual habits must include our daily devotion and prayer, our weekly celebration and cell group, our tithe and offering, and most of all our time with our loved ones. These habits free us with an inadvertently greater energy to be creative, productive and fruitful in many other areas of our life because the important and vital basics are covered.

This is a great book to read if you want to develop this further.

Monday, November 10, 2014

What does God say about SUCCESS?

Success is a great goal. There are many promises of God that reminds us that our Heavenly Father loves to see His children do well.

The promise to Joshua as he takes on the new role of a leader to lead God's people into the Promised Land is an often quoted passage:

(Joshua 1:7-8) 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

But interestingly, when I do a search in all 33 different Bibles available in my computer software, the word "success" appears only in the Old Testament and none in the New Testament. In the NIV(1984), it appeared 36 times in the OT, and like I say, none in the NT.

Instead the NT (NIV1984) has a lot to say about these few words:
Fruit (or fruitful) - 54 times
Faith (or faithfulness, faithful) - 302 times
Humble (or other variations) - 28 times
Win - 12 times (11x in the context of evangelism - winning people, and 1x "win" about the prize in the context of heaven.)

God seems to ignore the word "success" and redefine it in the context of our life in fruitfulness, faithfulness and humility. In our success crazy world, successes are defined within our self-centred intention of personal goals for our benefits and recognition. In some sense we are reminded that we came with nothing and we will go off with nothing. 1 Tim 6:7 "For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it." The only prize we will carry with us from our earthly life are the souls of people we have influenced and everything we do "successfully" is always for the sake of the Gospel and the prize of heaven, and never just for ourselves. That's why we are stewards of the things we have and we never really own them.

1 Cor 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 
Col 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 
Col 3:23-24 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Therefore we need to put "successes" within the context of the Lordship of Christ in our lives. Martyn Llyod-Jones put it aptly on his comments about Apostle Paul's "thorn in his flesh."

“It is very DIFFICULT to be HUMBLE if you are always SUCCESSFUL, so GOD CHASTISES us with FAILURE (so to speak) at times in order to HUMBLE us, to keep us in a STATE of HUMILITY.” 

In that sense, God said very little about "success!" He is more concern about other things, especially our inner life, character and service to others.

2 Cor 12:7-10
7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Blessed Birthday to My Wife!

Today is my wife's birthday and I have always felt that I am the most blessed man on earth to be married to her. I am bias of course, and what husband would not be if he feels he is truly blessed!

Proverbs 18:22 He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD. 

So today, I have the privilege to declare one more time my undying love (until the day I die that is!) for her and if I have to go back in time, I would still make the same decision to marry her and I hope she feels the same. :) I love her as my wife and best friend, as the mother of my three boys and most of all a beloved child of our Heavenly Father.

Once, while preparing for a sermon about impactful living and the life skills that we need to have, I asked her how she would preach it. She said it is all about relating to others and she would preach her 3-point sermon this way.

1. The person you are talking to is not you. (People don’t think like you.)
2. There’s always two sides to a coin. - (Listen. Don't be too quick to talk.)
3. Love your neighbor as yourself. – (Treat others the way you would have them treat you.)

What wisdom that comes out from someone ad lib. It is just part of her life and that's why I am blessed!

I thought the best tribute, of the many messages she received today, is this one from a fellow cell member of the same name:

Happy Birthday Aunty Stella! Thanks for showing us that a woman can be authoritative yet gentle, to be admired instead of feared, respectable yet approachable. Thanks for showing with your life the wisdom of submission and how beautiful that makes of a woman and her family. May God continue to shine through your deeds and bless your family. Have a blast!

I rest my case! Blessed Birthday My Dear!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Why God Gives Us Families

Families form the basic building blocks of any society. For that matter, the Christian families are basic building blocks of the Church. Sociological research had affirmed the direct correlation on the positive impact made by healthy families to society and to the nation. In an interesting interview, Lee Kuan Yew, a former prime minister of Singapore, argued that after thousands of years of dynastic upheaval, the family is the only institution left to sustain Chinese culture. It embodies a set of virtues—“learning and scholarship and hard work and thrift and deferment of present enjoyment for future gain”—which, he said, underpins Asia's economic success. He feared that the collapse of the family, if it ever happened, would be the main threat to Singapore's success. (The Economist Aug 2011)

This is where the tacit influence of the Church can often come through building godly families and extending the love of Christ to our communities and nation. The importance of this cannot be underrated because these blocks set the forth the ultimate health conditions of our society and nation. Much of the problems of societies today can be traced directly to this basic building block.

So why did God create the institution of marriage and family? One thing we know for certain is that God loves people and His command was to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). We are then to take charge and be responsible over the earth. This requires us to exercise creative stewardship of God’s creation, caring for and building up what God has created. This also means we need responsible people from one generation to another who understand this mandate.

So each family within a clan, a tribe and a race, under the rule of God, should be reproducing godly offspring, fulfilling this mandate for generations to come. Who then are the primary educators of the family? Interestingly as we go back in history, the families, vis-à-vis the parents, or more precisely the fathers, have always played that role, and not any governmental or non-governmental institution. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 sets forth a template how that can be done in a family.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Dt 6:4–9)

Before the industrial revolution of the 18th century, fathers passed on their trade skills to their adolescent sons, guiding them through apprenticeship into manhood. Whatever that needs to be taught and modelled happened primarily in the home. The industrial revolution created a need for classrooms and schools due to the demands for manpower in the industry for both parents. Kids left at home were also eventually picked up by Christians concerned about their spiritual well-being thus creating the first Sunday School. Over time, the primary role of educating was relegated to governments and churches.

In a nutshell, the role of families is to produce godly offspring. It is a self-replicating system with God and His Word as the absolute standard. The family provides a consistent and safe environment for nurture, discipline, training and instruction of the Lord to take place (Ephesians 6:4). The family trains us to be loving and caring unconditionally. “Blood is thicker than water” is an apt saying in a sense that family should be the last bastion for refuge in a world gone wrong. Even in the worst of situations, home will always be home. Discipleship takes place first at home before anything else. No wonder Apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 3:5 “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” The proof of the pudding is in the home, of a man’s leadership capacity for the church. This is an interesting insight to suggest that the family is the starting point. 

Ravi Zachariah, a noted apologist said “Marriage and family is a base for ministry to one another, not self-indulgence, but a greater platform for good. If marriage doesn’t make you a better person, don’t get married.” It is within the family that we learn not to be self-centered. All our life before marriage was about me, myself and I. I have often said in jest that if you think you are a kind, wonderful and patient person, try getting married and it will prove you wrong. If you still think you are after marriage, try being a parent. It’s a humbling experience. That I conclude is why God gives us children, to teach us to be more Christlike.

We learn love and forgiveness in the midst of our individual flaws among family members. As spouses and parents, we train ourselves at home to be responsible for others and not just be self-serving or narcissistic. As children, we learn to obey and honour our parents, rightly projecting the idea of honour to those in authority when we grow up.

Fathers play a crucial role in the life of their sons as they are the representation of God in their relationship with Him. They build their confidence, prepare them spiritually and socially for the real world and give them insights into the world of men. Sons learn about what it means to be a responsible man, husband and father. Adolescent daughters also need their fathers’ affirmation that they are beautiful and loved. Their choice of future partners and satisfaction in marriage often hinges on their relationship with their fathers.

These are modelled day in and out. When one is trained and instructed well in the home, it is not difficult to guess the kind of people walking into the community who are positive influencers. As Christians, they bring the love of Christ into the broken world. The starting point is the home which provides a daily training ground for about two decades.