Sermon: Set Your Minds on Heavenly Things

Photo by Guilherme Stecanella on Unsplash

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Colossians 3:1-14

We are to set our minds on things above and not on earthly things. 

What does it mean? 

I used to think that it meant that I had to stop studying and live in church 24 hours, 7 days a week to sing worship songs and listen to sermons reruns all the time! Or attend more church services and programs to make me more spiritual. I thought I needed to read my Bible or pray more. 

But this text shows us what it really means to set our minds on heavenly things.

Let us look at this passage briefly.

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Col 3:1-4

Set Your Minds on Things Above… (WHY)

  1. Because you have died and been raised with Christ (v1-3)
  2. Because you will appear with Him (v4)

What does it look like? (WHAT)

  1. Put off Evil (v5-11)
  2. Put on Love (v12-14)

 “Setting your minds on things above” means to live out of your identity in Jesus Christ. Verses 1 and 3 tells us the reason why we are to set our minds on things above – that you have “died and raised with Christ and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” And one day we will appear with Jesus in glory. That’s all about knowing your identity as a Christian. 

When you believe in Jesus, you’re not just watching what Jesus did but also experiencing the same things that He went through. Jesus died, you died. Jesus rose from the dead, you rose from the dead. Jesus will come again in glory, you will appear in glory with him one day.

So the key to setting your mind on heavenly things is not doing more “Christian” things but knowing your identity in Jesus and living it out. When you truly know your identity, then you will realise that your life needs to change.

The next part of the passage tells us what it looks like when we grow into our identity as Christians. The word “therefore” in verses 5 and 12 shows that there are two parts that result from our identity of dying and rising with Jesus.

The first part tells us to PUT OFF EVIL while the second part tells PUT ON LOVE. 

1. PUT OFF EVIL

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

Col 3:5-8

Paul uses the imagery of changing clothes. Taking off the dirty clothes and putting on new clothes in line with your new identity with Jesus. 

When you play sports and your clothes get dirty and sweaty, what do you do? Do you just go and lie down on your bed to sleep? Yucks! Or do you take a bath…then wear back the dirty, sweaty clothes? Of course not! You take a bath and wear new clothes right? 

 When we accept Jesus in our lives, it’s like taking a bath. We are made clean in our hearts and become a new person in Jesus. But we need to consciously set our minds on things above by intentionally putting off evil (old clothes) and putting on love (new clothes).

To “PUT OFF EVIL” is to put to death the sinful deeds in your life. Paul gives a whole list of sinful, wrong things we are to KILL, not just suppress or control but to KILL! 

  • Sexual immorality
  • Impurity
  • Lust
  • Evil desires
  • Greed
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Malice
  • Slander
  • Filthy language
  • Lying

These are “dirty, sweaty clothes” that we are to put to death because it doesn’t fit our new identity in Jesus. If we keep doing these things, we are setting our minds on earthly things which means doing sinful stuff! 

The first part to set your mind on heaven is to PUT OFF EVIL.

2. PUT ON LOVE

The second step is to PUT ON LOVE starting in verse 12. 

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Col 3:12-14

These are the new clothes that suit your identity in Jesus and show that you have set your minds on heavenly things. Your identity has already changed. But have you removed the dirty clothes and put on the new clothes?

Paul again lists positive traits that contrast from the earlier list.

  • Compassion
  • Kindness
  • Humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Bear with each other
  • Forgive one another 
  • Love

We are to put on new clothes because of our new identity in Jesus. 

What is the determining trait of a Christian? Love! 

He tells us in verse 14: “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” 

Love is the glue that holds all these attributes together. 

Do you notice something interesting? 

It’s all about our relationship with one another.

Setting your minds on heavenly things is shown by the way we treat others. Just as all the previous sins are things that would destroy our relationships, these are ways we build relationships.

We can’t do this by ourselves. Thankfully, Jesus died on the cross and destroyed the power of sin over our lives so that we can choose not to sin and to choose to do the right thing. Paul reminds us that we are a new creation in Jesus:

9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 

Col 3:9-10

When you know God better, you display more of His image in your life. You will look increasingly like God, hating evil and loving good. That’s what setting your mind on heavenly things is all about. 

God’s goal for each of us is to display His image perfectly in our lives.

I’ll end with a story.

There was an eagle who was raised as a chicken. 

The baby eagle ate worms like a chicken, jumped like a chicken, behaved like a chicken. That’s all it knew how to do. The baby eagle knew it was different from the rest of the chicken but didn’t know what to do with it. Its wings were bigger but it never flew before. Chickens don’t fly in the sky.

But one day, this eagle saw a majestic bird in the sky flying and swooping in the wind. 

And it realised, that’s an eagle, like me! And something stirred in this baby eagle and for the first time, it inspired him to stretch his wings and fly into the sky. At that moment, he realised he was created to live as an eagle, not a chicken.

Just like the eagle, when we know who we are in Jesus, we will change the way we live. The eagle was meant to thrive in the skies above and not dig for worms in the ground. 

When you set your mind on heavenly things, you identify yourself with Jesus’ life and out of that new identity you choose to put off evil and you put on love.

Set your minds on Heavenly things, not earthly things.

Let’s bow our heads.

If you’ve never accepted Jesus as your Saviour, would you choose to start 2022 with God? If you would like Jesus to live in your heart, would you pray this prayer after me?

“Dear Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for my sins. Thank you for dying on the cross for me and rising from the dead. Please forgive me and be my Saviour. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.”

Let us pray. 

“Lord, as we start this new year 2022, will you help us to know who we are in Jesus? Will you reveal to us our true identity as a child of God? Help us to know you more and to display your life in us. Help us to take off sinful evil ways and to put on love. Help us even as we live on earth to set our minds on heavenly things. In Jesus’ name I pray AMEN.” 

Sermon: Not The End (Acts Conclusion)

For in him we live, and move, and have our being...": 2017-06-2516 When we arrived in Rome, Paul was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier. 17 Three days after Paul’s arrival, he called together the local Jewish leaders. He said to them, “Brothers, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Roman government, even though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors. 18 The Romans tried me and wanted to release me, because they found no cause for the death sentence. 19 But when the Jewish leaders protested the decision, I felt it necessary to appeal to Caesar, even though I had no desire to press charges against my own people. 20 I asked you to come here today so we could get acquainted and so I could explain to you that I am bound with this chain because I believe that the hope of Israel—the Messiah—has already come.”

23 So a time was set, and on that day a large number of people came to Paul’s lodging. He explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening. 24 Some were persuaded by the things he said, but others did not believe. 

… 

30 For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, 31 boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.

Acts 28:16-20, 23-24, 30-31

In the final sermon on Acts, let’s recap a bit. What is the key verse for Acts is?

It’s Acts 1:8.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Acts 1:8

Let’s watch this video from the Bible Project to see how the book ends.

The book of Acts summarises the story of Jesus’ disciples going out to preach and proclaim the good news of Jesus. It started in Jerusalem but they stayed there too long! Instead of going out to other places, they kept in their comfort zone. Only when persecution rocked the church then Christians started spreading out. Jesus’ original intention for them is to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. It is amazing that in 10 short years, the early Christians brought the Gospel to the ends of the earth (Rome at that time).

How was that possible? Firstly, there were good travel lanes between cities (vaccinated!) and roads that connected the Roman empire making it easy to move about. Secondly, the Roman empire also had a strong military to prevent crimes. Thirdly, they had a common language, Greek, making it easy to talk to anyone. In fact, the New Testament was written in a common marketplace Greek, not classic scholarly Greek. Within 10 years, Paul had spread the Gospel to all the major cities and established churches in the Roman empire. In the letter to the Roman Christians, Paul said this: 

23 But now I have finished my work in these regions, and after all these long years of waiting, I am eager to visit you. 24 I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome.

Romans 15:23-24

Paul said that he “finished his work”! Can you imagine that? Maybe you don’t realise how impressive this statement is. In the era without airplanes, emails, handphones, WhatsApp, social media, internet, Zoom, Paul managed to spread the Gospel and start churches in every large city of the Roman empire! And I think it is rather embarrassing that we, with all the technology today, are still far behind in evangelising the world. I really do believe if we take the book of Acts and the life of the early Christians seriously, we will turn this world upside-down.

It all starts with how Jesus changes our lives and empowers us with the Holy Spirit. What are three ways the Holy Spirit empowers us just like He did for the first Christians? The Holy Spirit empowers us to… 

  • Suffer (v16-20)
  • Speak (v21-24)
  • Share (v30-31)

Let me go through each point.

  1. Suffer (v16-20)

16 When we arrived in Rome, Paul was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier. 17 Three days after Paul’s arrival, he called together the local Jewish leaders. He said to them, “Brothers, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Roman government, even though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors. 18 The Romans tried me and wanted to release me, because they found no cause for the death sentence. 19 But when the Jewish leaders protested the decision, I felt it necessary to appeal to Caesar, even though I had no desire to press charges against my own people. 20 I asked you to come here today so we could get acquainted and so I could explain to you that I am bound with this chain because I believe that the hope of Israel—the Messiah—has already come.”

Acts 28:16-20

Paul was taken as prisoner to Rome waiting for his trial before the Roman Emperor, Caesar. He was loosely chained to a Roman guard and kept under watch all the time. But he was still given some amount of freedom to meet people who visited and to stay in his own private lodging. 

As usual, when he reached a city, he would preach to the Jews first. But often, his own people would reject his message that Jesus was the Messiah or Saviour. Some would grow violent and try to stop him from spreading this life changing message.

In the process, Paul suffered greatly for the gospel as God already told him when he first became a Christian. Remember how Paul persecuted Christians and sent them to their deaths (stoning of Stephen)? God told Paul that he would show him how much he would suffer for God now. In the letter to the Corinthian Christians, Paul was defending his claim to be an apostle of God through how much he suffered. There were many other so-called “apostles” who lived a life of comfort and avoided all suffering.

We read of Paul’s sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-28):

  • Imprisoned
  • Flogged
  • Whipped
  • Beaten
  • Stoned
  • Shipwrecked
  • Constant danger
  • Sleepless
  • Hungry
  • Naked

Paul suffered greatly for the Gospel and I believe it was only his faith in Jesus that could keep him from throwing in the towel. Christian traditions tell us that Paul was beheaded in Rome by the mad Emperor Nero who hated Christians. Nero falsely blamed the Christians for starting a fire in Rome and punished them by burning them, crucifying them and sending them to the Colosseums to be killed by fierce animals. 

The early Christians suffered for Jesus because they knew that Jesus was real. Because Jesus died and suffered for them, they knew that he was with them in suffering. 

What about you? Are you afraid to suffer for Jesus? Are you scared to tell others about your faith? I remember one time where a non-Christian friend said the Bible is just a fairy tale but to my shame, I was too scared to say anything fearing rejection.

Are we willing to suffer like Paul and the early Christians did, following the example of Jesus who died on the cross for our sins?

Not only were the early Christians empowered to suffer, they were empowered to speak.

  1. Speak (v21-24)

21 They replied, “We have had no letters from Judea or reports against you from anyone who has come here. 22 But we want to hear what you believe, for the only thing we know about this movement is that it is denounced everywhere.” 23 So a time was set, and on that day a large number of people came to Paul’s lodging. He explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening. 

Acts 28:21-23

The people were genuinely curious about what this Christian movement was all about. And Paul tried to persuade them that Jesus is the chosen one to save them from their sins. Note that Paul “testified about the Kingdom of God”.

What is the Kingdom of God

Simply put, the Kingdom of God refers to the rule of God as King over our lives. His main act is sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins and rising from the dead to save us. So that when we believe in Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we can have a restored relationship with Him. 

We become the children of the King. We live under his reign and his rule which is vastly different from living according to the ways of the world. The world says keep, God says give. The world says live for yourself, God says die to self. The world says follow your heart, God says your heart is deceitful.

Paul used the Old Testament (law and prophets) to explain about Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God. You may think “Jesus” doesn’t appear in the OT though! Interestingly, the Old Testament contains the promise of Jesus. The New Testament is Jesus revealed. If we truly understand the whole Bible, we will know that it is a complete and cohesive storyline about God’s grace and saving power, ultimately revealed in Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection. When we get this simple truth, we can be a witness to others.

Do you remember what is important about being a witness? Honesty. In a court case, we are to say what has really happened and not create a false story (e.g. current Singapore political case today!). 

You just need to say what you have witnessed. How has God changed your life? What has Jesus done for you and can do for them? Maybe you say, I don’t feel my life has changed or is any different from others. Then you need to experience God for yourself – love, forgiveness. Then you will automatically witness to others of how God changed your life.

I grew up in a Christian family, went to church and attended a Methodist Secondary School. But it was all just head knowledge. It didn’t reach my heart. I wasn’t a nice person. Only in Secondary 2 after a normal chapel session, I truly understood God’s love for me and why he came to die on the cross for me. After that, I had a hunger to read God’s word and know him. I joined the Christian Fellowship and was keen to speak with others about Jesus.

And when you speak, don’t be discouraged even when others don’t believe in Jesus. Paul, the great missionary, also had some who didn’t believe. Verse 24 tells us:

Some were persuaded by the things he said, but others did not believe.

Acts 28:24

Some also didn’t believe it! Even in Jesus’ ministry, many did not believe what he said. Often it is a gradual process of sowing the seed in their heart. It is God who works in their heart and draws them to him. Our role is to be a witness by speaking about God and…God’s role is to convict them of their sins.

Not only were the early Christians empowered to suffer and speak, lastly, they were empowered to share.

  1. Share (v30-31)

30 For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, 31 boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.

Acts 28:30-31

Paul was given a certain amount of freedom even in jail. He paid for his own needs. He welcomed whoever came to him. Even though imprisoned, he continued this life on life connection with people and by sending letters to churches and individuals.

Similarly, we need to be connected to one another and to welcome one another into our lives. Not just our usual friends but beyond our usual circle. Only by reaching out can we Christians have an impact on the society around us. If all we do is our church, we will have little impact on our families, schools, and nation.

An example.

In Roman culture, it was common to throw away babies in the street to die. Some were picked up and used for prostitution. However, Christians were the ones to take these abandoned babies and give them a home and a life. When Christianity became the state religion of the entire Roman Empire, this practice was stopped. Unwanted babies were given to the Church instead.

It was Christians who started Sunday school (initially to educate kids) and hospitals to help the sick as an expression of their love for Jesus. As Joseph Chean from YWAM has said, “The Gospel is not just to save their souls but to transform their lives.”

We need to reach out to others by welcoming them, often at our own expense (sacrifice our money, time, energy) to impact people outside church.

Who can you love and welcome today? 

To summarise, Jesus has empowered us through the Holy Spirit to suffer, to speak and to share. 

The book of Acts ends abruptly but it is not the end. Now, it is our turn. Our response. The ball is in your court. What are you going to do about God’s mission? Will it be a lifestyle? Will Acts remain a nice story in the Bible or will you continue his work in 2022, writing a new chapter about God’s work to reach this world for Jesus?

Will you let him use you to be his witness to suffer, speak and share?

Conclusion

Let us pray.

The experiences of the early Christians can be yours too. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. If you would like to experience Jesus, you can receive Him into your life. Pray this prayer after me:

Dear God, I’m sorry for my sins. Thank you Jesus for dying on the cross for me and rising from the dead. Please come into my life and be my Saviour. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Let us pray: 

“Dear God, thank you for the lives of the Christians in the book of Acts. Empower us to suffer, speak and share. Help us to truly experience you and transform us to be your witnesses wherever we are placed. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.”

 

Discussion Qn:

  • Do you think the experiences of the Christians in Acts are a model for us today?
  • What is an area you can ask God to help you grow in (suffer, speak, share)? Why?
  • What is one thing you can apply this week?

Sermon: No Failure (Life of John Mark)

The Apostles: John Mark ⋆ Diana Leagh Matthews in 2021 | Barnabas, Paul's  missionary journeys, Antioch

Introduction

Have you ever taken a test in school and thought, this one I think I’d surely fail?

I remember the first time I went for my driving test. I was 20 years old and feeling very nervous. My palms were sweaty and the driving tester’s face didn’t help. He looked angry with a perpetual scowl and it added to the pressure. So I started the car and followed his instructions as best as I could, trying not to get too many demerit points.

It was going fantastic till the tester told me to make a U-turn but you know what happened? I was so nervous that I just went straight! It’s like my mind received it but my body didn’t react. So embarrassing.

The tester asked me, “Have you ever driven this road before on your practice trips?”

I said, “No.”

He asked me, “Then why didn’t you U-turn?”

I had no reply. So when I drove back to the driving school, it was no surprise that I…failed! 

I was pretty discouraged and went back for more driving lessons before my next test. This time, the instructor went through all the different scenarios of parking, U-turning etc. He paused halfway.

And I would never forget what he said to me, “Seth, you have all the skills needed to pass the test but what you lack is confidence. Just believe that you can do it and you will pass!”

I felt my spirit immediately lifted by this encouraging word and guess what – I passed my driving test the second time.

Failure.

Doesn’t the mention of that very word make us discouraged?

When we fail to do well in our studies, when we fail to get into a club that we like, when we fail to control our sinful habits, when we fail to meet people’s expectations of us?

When we fail, don’t we feel like giving up? We think it’s hopeless. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Today, we are going to look at John Mark, a young person who failed and how God restored and redeemed him from failure.

My main point is this: Our failure is not the end, because God restores and redeems us.

Because God restores and redeems us, I have three encouragements for you today.

  1. Get Up
  2. Get Help 
  3. Get Back

But before we get into that, let’s take a look at who John Mark was and how he came into the story.

It was Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. They decided to take John Mark along with them.

We read:

When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission to Jerusalem, they returned, taking John Mark with them.

Acts 12:25

Who is Mark? Colossians tells us that Mark is the cousin of Barnabas and that the early Christians would meet in Mark’s family home for prayer meetings and church gatherings. This tells us that Mark probably came from a wealthy family and a good Christian upbringing.

Maybe Barnabas saw great potential in this young man who had been exposed to the apostle’s teaching directly. Just like how Barnabas took Paul under his wing and discipled him when he first became a believer, maybe Barnabas now wanted to disciple Mark also by bringing him along on the mission trip.

So, probably, Mark was excited to join these spiritual giants on this mission trip and off they went from Jerusalem by boat to the island of Cyprus.

There, in the town of Salamis, they went to the Jewish synagogues and preached the word of God. John Mark went with them as their assistant.

Acts 13:5

It was an amazing time preaching God’s word in the synagogues. Traveling from town to town the missionary team even met with a Jewish sorcerer who was against them. Seems great isn’t it? But then something happened.

13 Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. 14 But Paul and Barnabas traveled inland to Antioch of Pisidia.

Acts 13:13-14

John Mark decided to leave and returned home to Jerusalem! It’s unusual that the Bible doesn’t tell us why. We can only guess why Mark left.

Was he homesick?

Was he afraid of the tough and dangerous travel?

Was he unhappy with the leadership transition from his cousin Barnabas to Paul and didn’t like his working style?

We are not sure and we only know that Mark went home early on in the journey. He bailed out, quit, threw in the towel. Paul felt that he deserted them.

Mark might have felt like a failure for quitting the mission trip. And it’s possible that he might have just gone home to chill on Netflix and munch on chips, and forget about serving God anymore.

What can you do when you feel you’ve failed?

  1. Get Up

Failure is nothing new.

There were many people in the bible who failed – Adam disobeyed God, David committed adultery and murder, Abraham lied about his wife, Jonah ran away, Peter denied Jesus. The Bible is a book that doesn’t hide the bad and only tells the good side. No, the Bible is about real people with real failures redeemed by a real God.

I’m not saying that it’s ok to sin and kill someone as an excuse because we all fail. In fact, as Christians, we are given a new life in Jesus to overcome the power and temptation of sin. He redeems us from sin and gives us another chance at life.

However, within each of us still resides a “resident evil” that wants to rebel against God. Sometimes we fail. We fail to do our devotions and instead sleep in. We fail to rein in our lustful desires and look at something we shouldn’t see. We fail to listen to our parents’ instructions because we think it’s restrictive. I’ve been there myself. 

You need Jesus to deal with the resident evil in your hearts. It’s not about trying harder. Without Jesus, there is no way that you can break free of the evil in our lives. But that’s why he came to this earth. By dying on the cross, he defeated the devil, sin and death.

It doesn’t mean that we’ll never fall again. Everyone falls and fails at some point in their life. It’s not how many times you fall, but how many times you decide to get up. And we can choose to get up if we have Jesus in our lives.

I like the scene from Batman when Bruce Wayne’s family home was set on fire by his enemy Ra’s al Ghul and he felt that had lost everything even though he tried to do something good for the people of Gotham. Bruce Wayne was feeling very down but his butler Alfred Pennyworth said, “Why do we fall sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.” Bruce Wayne needed to hear the encouragement that someone believed in him and would never give up on him.

Bruce chose to get up and fulfill his mission as Batman to protect Gotham city. David chose to get up when he confessed his sin to God. Peter chose to get up when he reaffirmed his love for Jesus and to reach out to those outside the Jewish race. Jonah chose to get up and preach the message. 

Get Up from your failure.

My next encouragement is Get Help.

  1. Get Help

Some time after the first mission trip, Paul decided to go on a second mission trip. Barnabas would not give up on Mark and wanted to bring him along again. But Paul did not want to. 

Let’s look at the tense scene here.

36 After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” 37 Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. 39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. 41 Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.

Acts 15:36-41

Barnabas wanted to take Mark along but Paul remembered how Mark had deserted them and thus wasn’t someone to rely on. The verbs are interesting – “wanted” shows that Barnabas repeatedly insisted to take Mark along while Paul “disagreed”, repeatedly insisting not to take Mark.

What happens when two cars collide at max speed?

An accident! 

I feel torn between both sides. Paul would be thinking “What if Mark took off again? Wouldn’t it be wiser to find a more reliable, less flaky kind of team member to bring along?” In Paul’s mind, he may have written Mark off already as a failure who would only jeopardise their mission.

But Barnabas was an encourager who believed in others and sought to grow potential leaders in the church by giving them a second chance. He wasn’t just all about accomplishing a mission but to develop people.

However, the Bible doesn’t tell us who was right or wrong. Was Paul right in rejecting Mark or Barnabas in bringing Mark? The disagreement was so heated and both refused to budge, causing the team to split. Barnabas took Mark and headed to the island of Cyprus while Paul took Silas to another location.

I’m glad for Mark that Barnabas didn’t give up on him. That someone believed in him and continued to give him opportunities to grow.

Don’t we all need someone like Barnabas in our lives when we fail? Just like my driving instructor who gave me confidence to pass the test, you would need help also.

There was one time, when Jesus was given a test by the Pharisees to pass judgement on a woman caught in adultery, He forgave her sin and said, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) Jesus is encouraging you gently today too – “Go and sin no more.”

You may be fortunate to have someone like Barnabas to look out for you and to walk with you in your struggles. Or you may need to reach out to get help to overcome your failures. Don’t be ashamed to get help. Why? Because the Christian life is a process of growth. We are all a work in progress to become more and more like Jesus.

For some, it may mean looking to an older person who is a few life stages ahead of you in their studies, in their relationships, in their personal walk with God.

Share your struggles and ask them for help. Ask “How do you deal with your parents? How do you manage their time and priorities well? How do you stay close to God? How do you keep yourself pure in your thought life?” There’s a gold mine of wisdom all around you if only you would stop, look and ask.

Even if you start asking for help, be patient with yourself. The process of growth is always incremental. Carol Dweck in her book, Mindset: The Psychology of Success, talks about the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset.

A fixed mindset believes that their intelligence is fixed and cannot change. A growth mindset believes that intelligence and talents can be improved through effort and learning. A fixed mindset gives up easily and views temporary setbacks as permanent failure. A growth mindset sees failures as temporary setbacks and persists to achieve the goals. A fixed mindset is not open to feedback and improvements while a growth mindsets seeks to grow constantly. As Christians, we need a Growth Mindset.

It will take humility to admit that you need help. But I know when you approach others with a spirit of teachability and eagerness to learn, people are willing to help you. I’ve had many mentors and teachers along the way. Parents, pastors, friends and books.

The worst scenario is to give up and not look for help. I pray that God will bring into your life people like Barnabas who would encourage you and help you overcome your struggles. Mark needed one and so do you.

On the flip side, you can be like Barnabas to others too. Galatians 6:1 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path.”

Is there a friend who has stopped coming to church and needs you to check in on them? Can you speak a word of encouragement to them not to give up because Jesus has not given up on them?

Get Up.

Get Help.

The third encouragement is to get back. 

  1. Get Back

Get back to God’s purpose for your life!

If you fail, learn from it and others and with God’s help, get back to God’s plan for your life. Keep trying and growing, don’t give up. Ask God to help you overcome the challenges. You will grow into the person that God wants you to be.

As John Mark went back to doing God’s work, what happened to him? We don’t actually read anything more about Barnabas and Mark! It’s like they disappeared from the story. Later on, in Paul’s letters to the churches, roughly 10 years later, we find out about Mark again.

Let’s read these few verses from Paul’s letters: 

Aristarchus, who is in prison with me, sends you his greetings, and so does Mark, Barnabas’s cousin. As you were instructed before, make Mark welcome if he comes your way. 

Col 4:10

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. 24 So do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my co-workers.

Philemon 1:23-24

Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry.

2 Tim 4:11

Many years later, Mark is working alongside Paul, the person who refused to take him on the mission trip! In fact, now Paul was writing to request Mark to join him where he was to help him in his work. Mark “will be helpful to me”. 

Wow! 

Someone who was previously written off by Paul was now being requested to join in the work even while others had deserted Paul. And later on, Mark even wrote one of the Gospels of Jesus’ life. How amazing is that?

That’s the good news from John Mark’s life: Our failure is not the end, because God restores and redeems us. He helps us to get up, get help and get back to His purposes for our lives.

Some reflection questions for you before I end.

What’s your mindset towards failure? Do you feel like you blew it like Mark, Peter or Jonah? God is the God of the second chance. With Jesus there’s always hope. Will you trust in His redeeming power to turn your life around?

Do you need a “Barnabas” to walk with you, to encourage you, to guide you? It’s never too late to ask for help. Or maybe you can be like “Barnabas” to “John Mark”. Is there someone that you can mentor, guide or encourage? Don’t underestimate the power of a timely word.

Lastly, is there any failure that you need to overcome? Maybe you want to keep consistent devotional life, to get right with God, to overcome a sin that you always give in to every time? God wants to restore and redeem your failure today and to fulfill His purpose for your life. Will you come to him?

Let us pray.

Maybe you have been trying to overcome a certain failure by your own strength and it isn’t working. You need Jesus’ help. He is the one who turned John Mark’s life around and he can turn yours around too. He came to this earth as a man, died on the cross for your sins and mine so that we can have this new life in him. If you like to receive Jesus into your life, pray this simple prayer after me:

“Dear God, I’m sorry for my sins. Thank you Jesus for dying on the cross for my sins and rising from the dead. Please come into my life and be my Saviour. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

Let me close in prayer. 

“Dear God, thank you for teaching us how you restored and redeemed John Mark’s failure. Lord, we are all on this journey of growth and becoming like Jesus. Help us to get up after our failure, to get help from others and to get back to your purposes for our life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

 

Discussion questions:

  • Which is more important – starting well or ending well?
  • Who is someone you can send a word of encouragement today? Even maybe someone who hasn’t been coming to church for a while?
  • Is there any failure in your life that you want Jesus to restore and redeem? Pray for each other. 

Sermon: No Turning Back

They took off their coats and put them at the feet of a man called Saul. Then they started hurling large stones at Stephen. – Slide 15
Freebibleimages.org

Introduction

There’s a touching story behind the song: “I have decided to follow Jesus”.

About 150 years ago, missionaries came to India, Assam, to spread the Gospel. The Assam region was made up of hundreds of tribes who were primitive and aggressive head-hunters.

One missionary succeeded in converting a man, his wife, and two children. By this man’s faith many villagers began to accept Christianity. 

The village chief was angry and summoned all the villagers. He then called the family who had first converted to renounce their faith in public or face execution. Moved by the Holy Spirit, the man said:

“I have decided to follow Jesus.”

Enraged by the man’s response, the chief ordered his archers to shoot down the two children. As both boys lay dying on the floor, the chief asked, “Will you deny your faith? You have lost both your children. You will lose your wife too.”

But the man replied:

“Though none go with me, still I will follow.”

The chief was even more angry and ordered his wife to be shot down. In a moment she joined her two children in death. Now he asked for the last time, “I will give you one more opportunity to deny your faith and live.” In the face of death the man said the final memorable lines:

“The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back.”

He was shot dead like the rest of his family. But with their deaths, a miracle took place. The chief who had ordered the killings was moved by the faith of the man. He wondered, “Why should this man, his wife and two children die for a Man who lived in a far-away land on another continent some 2,000 years ago? There must be some remarkable power behind the family’s faith, and I too want to taste that faith.”

Though we may not be in such dangerous situations, opposition against Christianity is real. This is because Satan is the prince of this world until Jesus returns. He will do anything to make sure people do not turn to Jesus and if possible, to destroy all Christians.

In today’s passage, we read of Stephen, the first Christian to die for the faith.

The question we want to address today is this: How do we respond to others hostile to our faith? Two things. By Speaking about God and Submitting to God.

Firstly, we respond to others hostile to our faith by Speaking about God.

1. Speaking About God

8 Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. 9 But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. 10 None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.

Acts 6:8-10

Stephen was one of the deacons who was appointed by the early Church to distribute food to the widows. He wasn’t just a Grab food delivery guy but he was a strong Christian, full of faith. He even performed miracles and signs, debating with the Jewish people and winning every debate. This shows that his knowledge of Scripture was very good and when you look through chapter 7, he gives one long sermon that covers the whole breadth of the Old Testament! 

How ready are you to speak about God to the world? If a friend asks you questions about the Christian faith – “Who is God? Why do you believe in God? What is the meaning of life? Who is Jesus?” Can you answer them?

The apostle Peter said: 

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.

1 Peter 3:15

Before you can be ready to explain it, you need to know it well first! You need to read the Bible, study the Bible, listen to sermons, fill your mind with God’s Word. Your mind is like a sponge – if you soak it in muddy water, and you squeeze it, what comes out? Mud water.

If you soak it in orange juice and you squeeze it, what comes out? Orange juice.

If you soak your mind in garbage, and you squeeze it, guess what comes out? Garbage.

If you soak your mind with God’s word, and you squeeze it, guess what comes out? God’s word.

Stephen must have soaked his mind on God’s word, meditating on it, practicing it. That’s why when pressure comes to squeeze him, guess what comes out? God’s word.

Stephen wasn’t afraid to speak the truth. He explained about how Jesus replaced many of the Jewish customs and laws, even the temple, their place of worship. Let me summarise the key ideas for you and I’ll point out why his sermon was so offensive to the Jewish religious leaders.

Stephen said that:

  • Jesus was greater than Moses (blasphemous words against Moses).
  • Jesus was God (blasphemous words against… God).
  • Jesus was greater than the temple (blasphemous words against this holy place).
  • Jesus was the fulfillment of the law (blasphemous words against …the law).
  • Jesus was greater than their religious customs and traditions (Jesus will destroy this place and change customs).

No wonder the religious leaders were angry! But because of his faith in Jesus, his whole worldview was changed and he could not stop from speaking the truth! I believe even for us, we need to go deeper into the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We may have many wrong beliefs from our family, culture or the world we live in and these false ideas must be replaced by truth.

Stephen wasn’t afraid to speak the truth even though it would make others angry. Anger is a defence mechanism because darkness doesn’t like the light. Evil does not like good. Liars do not like the truth. We read what Stephen said:

51 “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! 52 Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. 53 You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”

Acts 6:51-53

Stephen didn’t mince his words. He told them that they were sinners who murdered Jesus and rejected God’s law, following the terrible example of their ancestors.

For you and me, are we willing to speak the truth like Stephen?

Are we willing to lift our voices to interrupt wrong ideas?

Are we willing to add a comment on an Instagram/Facebook post to speak the truth?

Not only do we respond to others hostile to our faith by speaking about God, we respond by submitting to God.

2. Submitting To God

We submit to God the outcome of speaking the truth. In the case of Stephen, they lied about him and condemned him to death.

  • Lied about him

11 So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God.” 12 This roused the people, the elders, and the teachers of religious law. So they arrested Stephen and brought him before the high council.

13 The lying witnesses said, “This man is always speaking against the holy Temple and against the law of Moses. 14 We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

Acts 6:11-14

They twisted his words and took it out of context without a desire to really understand what Stephen was talking about. Some people don’t want to understand your point of view. They just want you to agree with their views! And if you don’t they get mad. They spin lies about you, they quote you out of context. They cancel you and can even cause you to lose your reputation for speaking the truth. We need to be ready for the pushback from others who do not know God. Satan has blinded them and they can’t see the truth. 

Paul said:

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.

2 Corinthians 4:4

We must pray for them that God will open their spiritual eyes to the truth.

Not only did they lie about Stephen, they condemned him to death.

  • Condemned him to death

Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Acts 7:57-58

They became this crazy mob with the sole intent to shut Stephen up for good. They used the Old Testament law of stoning to kill him for blasphemy (speaking offensively against god). The person was pushed to the ground and people dropped huge stones to kill him.

I want you to note the person named Saul in the text. He was the one looking after their clothes and giving approval to Stephen’s death. He probably had a high standing in the Jewish religious council too. In a few week’s time, we’ll hear about Saul’s amazing conversion from being a persecutor of Christians to becoming one of the most passionate Christians who wrote 30% of the NT!

Stephen submitted the outcome to God. They lied about him and condemned him to death. It was terrible but Stephen trusted that God was still in control and so must we. We trust that God knows what is best (even though we may not understand). 

This may involve suffering like in the case of Stephen.

The Christian life doesn’t mean that we will never suffer. Paul tells Timothy that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Tim 3:12) Because of the presence of sin and evil in this world, God allows bad things to happen to good people. The only thing we can control is our response. I’m amazed at Stephen’s response during suffering. We read:

59 As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.

Acts 7:59-60

Even in death, Stephen did two things that Jesus did when he was hanging on the cross. He asked God to forgive them of their sins and to receive his spirit.

There is something powerful when we hear Stephen asking God to receive his spirit and to forgive his attackers especially when he was suffering so badly. It would be natural to scream curses at your attacker. But Stephen spoke forgiveness. It speaks of love, forgiveness and grace shown towards those who have hurt you. It’s radically counter cultural!

Someone once said “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine.”

I believe Stephen’s life had an impact on Saul’s life (the one who approved his death). Saul must have heard Stephen’s prayer of forgiveness for his enemies whether he understood it or not. God heard Stephen’s prayer not to hold this sin against Saul. One day, Saul himself became a Christian and suffered for the Gospel too.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ teaching us to love those who hurt us. He said:

But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Luke 6:27-28

It is difficult and we need Jesus to help us. But I want to encourage you even while we’re suffering. Jesus knows. He is looking on. And he’s cheering you on not to give up! Don’t believe me? Check it out.

54 The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

Acts 7:54-56

Usually, Jesus is sitting. But he is standing! If you’re going through a tough time because of your faith, be comforted that Jesus sees your struggles and suffers alongside you. Like in Stephen’s story, Jesus is standing, not sitting and cheering you on. 

Why? Because Jesus suffered too. He was betrayed, accused, beaten and crucified on the cross for our sins. He spoke the truth but the people rejected him. He submitted to the Father’s will and died on the cross for us so that when we believe in Him, we will have eternal life. Jesus’ suffering had an everlasting impact on the rest of the world.

Conclusion 

Jim Elliot’s story really fleshed out these truths. 

January 2, 1956 was the day that 29-year-old Jim Elliot and four other missionaries went to evangelise the Aucas, known now as the Waodani in the Ecuador jungle. The Aucas had killed all outsiders ever caught in their area. Even though it was dangerous, Jim Elliot had no doubt God wanted him to tell the Aucas about Jesus.

The missionaries spotted a beach that looked long enough to land the plane on. They flew in and dropped off on the Auca beach. After four days, an Auca man and two women appeared. It was not easy for them to understand each other since the missionaries only knew a few Auca phrases. They shared a meal with them, and even took the man up for a flight in the plane. Then the villagers left. Great first experience.

For the next two days, the missionaries waited for other Aucas to return. Finally, on day six, two Auca women walked out of the jungle. Jim and Pete excitedly jumped in the river and waded over to them. As they got closer, these women did not appear friendly. Jim and Pete almost immediately heard a terrifying cry behind them. As they turned they saw a group of Auca warriors with their spears raised, ready to throw. Get this. They had guns. They had to decide instantly if they should use it. 

But Jim Elliot chose not to. They had promised they would not kill an Auca who did not know Jesus. Within seconds, the Auca warriors threw their spears, killing all the missionaries: Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Nate Saint, Pete Fleming and Jim Elliot.

These five men died trying to share the Gospel with a hostile tribe. 

But…it didn’t end with his death.

In less than two years, Jim’s wife Elisabeth Elliot, her daughter, and one of the sisters of the killed missionaries moved to the Auca village. Can you imagine that? They moved to live with the very ones who murdered their family. Through their love and forgiveness, many Aucas became Christians. Even in death, Jim Elliot’s death was not in vain. Check out the movie (End of a Spear)!

How do we respond to others hostile to our faith?

Speaking About God. Submitting To God.

Let us pray. 

If you’ve been against Christianity or Christians, know that we love and forgive you. In fact, Jesus died for your sins while you were a sinner. When you place your trust in Him, He will forgive you of all the wrong things you have done. If you desire to trust in Jesus, would you pray this prayer with me?

“Dear Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for my sins. Thank you for dying on the cross for me and rising from the dead. Please come into my life and be my Saviour. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Let me close in prayer.

“Dear God, thank you for Stephen’s, Jesus’ and Jim Elliot’s life. Thank you for their willingness to speak the truth and to submit their lives to you even in the midst of suffering and death. Help each of us to follow their example as we interact with those who do not know you yet. Give us the boldness and perseverance through difficult times. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.”

Discussion Questions: 

  • Jim Elliot chose not to use a gun to protect himself when attacked by the Aucas. Why? What would you have done and why?
  • Stephen prayed to forgive the people who attacked him. Would you think you could have done the same thing?
  • What is ONE way you can follow Stephen’s example in your daily life?

Sermon: How to Present Jesus to Others

person showing brown gift box
Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

1 Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. 2 As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money.

4 Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. 6 But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”

7 Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. 8 He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.

9 All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God. 10 When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded! 11 They all rushed out in amazement to Solomon’s Colonnade, where the man was holding tightly to Peter and John.

12 Peter saw his opportunity and addressed the crowd. “People of Israel,” he said, “what is so surprising about this? And why stare at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or godliness? 13 For it is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of all our ancestors—who has brought glory to his servant Jesus by doing this. This is the same Jesus whom you handed over and rejected before Pilate, despite Pilate’s decision to release him. 14 You rejected this holy, righteous one and instead demanded the release of a murderer. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!

16 “Through faith in the name of Jesus, this man was healed—and you know how crippled he was before. Faith in Jesus’ name has healed him before your very eyes.”

Acts 3:1-16 (NLT)

Introduction

I’m anxious when a friend’s birthday comes around. Especially when it’s a friend who is close but not that close. I feel it’s so hard to select a birthday gift that my friend would like. There’s so many things to consider. What does my friend like? Or secretly like but I don’t know? Is it something they want or what they need? And what if my friend rejects it and sells it on Carousell? Sometimes it can be too mind-boggling on what to get. Finally, I just give them a gift voucher and let them buy what they like.

Sometimes we feel that same way when we want to share Jesus with others but don’t know where to start. We know that Jesus is the most wonderful gift we can give to someone but we fear that we may mess up and destroy any chance that they’ll ever accept Jesus. Or you may fear you have nothing much to give. So, I want to share with you today how you can effectively present Jesus to others. I believe that if you have Jesus, you have everything you need already.

My two points today are: we present Jesus by performing his work and proclaiming his word.

1. By Performing His Work (v1-10)

Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money.

Acts 3:1-3

This happened after the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost and 3000 people were added into the church. The first Christians had close relationships and it highlighted the importance of being together with other believers. Immediately after that passage, it tells about how the first Christians reached out to the community around them.

Peter and John, two disciples of Jesus, were as usual going to the temple to pray. They came to the Beautiful Gate that was made of fine brass, seventy-five feet high with huge double doors. But at this beautiful gate laid an ugly sight – a lame man begging for money.

A lame man was considered unclean and could not be brought into the temple to worship but had to remain outside. He seemed stuck in this condition but his life was about to be changed radically.

Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”

Acts 3:4-6

Peter and John did not pass by this opportunity. They realised that it was not a coincidence that they met this lame man. The beggar thought they were going to give him some money but Peter gave him something way better. He gave him Jesus!

Even when you feel like you have nothing to give others, remember that you have the Holy Spirit living within you. If you have Jesus, you have everything! Jesus has the power to change lives. To heal sicknesses. To set people free from bondage.

The name of Jesus is so powerful. It’s not a magical word that we use so that God will do what we say. But using Jesus’ name refers to his authority and power to heal. This power is not from us but from Jesus. That’s why we can use the name of Jesus when we boldly pray for others. 

But I have to warn you. You must have a relationship with Jesus first before you can use his name. There is a funny story in Acts 19 about some people who tried to use Jesus’ name without having a relationship to him.

A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.

The story of what happened spread quickly all through Ephesus, to Jews and Greeks alike. A solemn fear descended on the city, and the name of the Lord Jesus was greatly honored.

Acts 19:13-17

If you do not belong to God, you have no right and no power to use Jesus’ name. And as these Sons of Sceva found out, it could have terrible consequences.

Peter used Jesus’ name to heal him. But he saw beyond his physical healing. He saw he had a deeper need – to be made whole so he could worship God in the temple. 

Check this out carefully:

Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them. All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God. When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded!

Acts 3:7-10

This lame man who never walked a day in his life, instantly jumped up, walked and could even leap! He didn’t need to go for 6 months of physiotherapy before he could walk properly but it was immediate. The lame man got what he truly needed – a healing of his body and his soul. He was saved physically and spiritually. That’s the power of God. I believe this power to do his work is still present today. He is still healing, he is still restoring broken lives.

The lame man only wanted money, but God gave him what he needed. Isn’t that how we are like too? People may think they know what they want – good grades, athletic body, fame, beauty, cool friends but only God knows what they need. 

I love this poem that I read many years ago that I must share with you:

I Asked God…

I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong

I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve

I asked for prosperity and God gave me brawn and brain to work

I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome

I asked for patience God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait

I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to help

I asked for favors and God gave me opportunities

I received nothing I wanted. I received everything I needed.

Will you ask God to help you present Jesus to others by performing his work? May God lead you to pray for others using the mighty name of Jesus.

Not only do we present Jesus by performing his work, the second way is by proclaiming his word.

2. By Proclaiming His Word (v11-16)

They all rushed out in amazement to Solomon’s Colonnade, where the man was holding tightly to Peter and John. Peter saw his opportunity and addressed the crowd. “People of Israel,” he said, “what is so surprising about this? And why stare at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or godliness?

Acts 3:11-12

Peter took the opportunity after the healing to share about Jesus. He did not take any credit for the miraculous healing but directed it to Jesus. He mentioned that the healing was not because of their “power or godliness”. What did he mean? 

It means that the power to heal comes from God, not from him. We are just channels from the power source. We are like wires that conduct electricity from the power plug to the computer. This is why we cannot take pride in any miracle because we have no power. 

Peter also said that it’s not healing was not based on how godly he was. Healing is all about God’s grace. We cannot force God to do anything just because we did ONE hour devotions everyday or gave our whole Saturday to God so He must bless us! You know why? If God chooses to do a miracle because of our good lives, then the credit would go to us!

Friends, the amazing thing about God’s salvation is that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. It’s not about what we can do, but what Jesus has done for us on the cross. We are unable to do anything good and that’s why God’s grace for sinners like us is terrific news! 

Peter gave all the glory back to God and reminded them that Jesus was the founder and giver of all life.

For it is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of all our ancestors—who has brought glory to his servant Jesus by doing this. This is the same Jesus whom you handed over and rejected before Pilate, despite Pilate’s decision to release him. You rejected this holy, righteous one and instead demanded the release of a murderer. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact! Through faith in the name of Jesus, this man was healed—and you know how crippled he was before. Faith in Jesus’ name has healed him before your very eyes.

Acts 3:13-16

 Peter did not just heal the man and walk off. There’s a sad truth – You can receive a miracle and still end up in hell! Have you ever been in a tight spot and asked God to help you through an exam or task and you promise to do your devotions, pray more, attend church more, be a missionary in Africa, whatever it may be? Then after God gave you what you wanted, you thought: “It must be because I spotted the right questions, or the rest must have done worse than me” rather than give glory to God? God can work in your life and you don’t even acknowledge it!

Remember what I said in the Acts Overview? Miracles are a signpost to God. We must tell others about what Jesus did for them – his death on the cross, his resurrection and the hope of eternal life when we trust in Him.

We need to recognise the grace of God in our lives and to give him the glory. We need to help others recognise that it’s not because of our power. Not because of our godliness. But it’s purely the grace of God working in our lives.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this story of Peter and John tells us how to partner together to present Jesus to others. Firstly, we present Jesus by performing his work and use Jesus’ name as we pray for God’s breakthrough in their lives. Secondly, we present Jesus by proclaiming his word, telling others the life changing message of the gospel. 

Once as I was doing Street Evangelism, I came across a lady who sold tissue paper. My leader said she was always unfriendly, angry and grouchy. We gave it another shot and talked to her. Near the end of our conversation, she told me, “I’ll know if you’re real Christian if you celebrate my birthday in April.”

I wasn’t sure if she created a date just to test us or not but we arranged a special birthday celebration just for her. That night, we almost couldn’t recognise her! She dressed up and put makeup and all.

We celebrated her birthday, bought her dinner and prayed for her. She even prayed for me to have a good girlfriend the next time I met her!

Sadly, I never saw her again. But I believe God used us to reach out to her even though it may seem like a random encounter.

I believe if you have Jesus, you have everything you need to present Jesus to others. You may fumble through the words, you may fumble through the prayer, but God can still work in spite of your weaknesses. Why? Because he wants all the glory to go to him. Will you take bold steps to pray for others in the name of Jesus and to share the good news of Jesus?

Let us pray.

Is there anyone you know who is suffering in mind or body (even yourself)? Ask God in the name of Jesus to heal injuries, heal sickness, heal trauma, heal mental health, heal broken emotions, break addictions. Trust that he is able to do so? If you’re praying for someone, let them know that you’ve prayed for them. Maybe a miracle has already happened the moment you asked God. That’s the time to tell them about who the healer, Jesus is! 

I want to pray for you and for everyone you’ve been praying for.

“Dear God, help us to reclaim this awe of your name. I pray for everyone who may be suffering in mind or body that you’ll come and heal them this moment in the name of Jesus! Break addictions, break strongholds, heal broken emotions and relationships. I pray for you to come and break through in whatever life situation they may be in. Nothing is impossible for you. I ask for boldness to share the message of the gospel (not about our cleverness or how godly we are), use us as your instruments to the people around us. In Jesus name, I pray. AMEN.”

Discussion questions:

  • Would you rather a friend give you what you need rather than what you want?
  • Have you ever felt inadequate to share Jesus with others?
  • What do you think “the name of Jesus” represents? Is it like a magic phrase or more than that?
  • Do you believe that miracles still happen today?

Why We Must Not Idolise Pastors

Here's the lowdown on Justin Bieber's 5 celebrity pastors | Opinion |  Premier ChristianityWe see many celebrity pastors today with millions of followers on Instagram. They are idolised by Christians not only in their church but worldwide through YouTube and Instagram. If we are not careful, we may fall into the trap of elevating them higher than they ought to be. We may fall into the trap of thinking we are lesser by comparison. We may fall into the trap of “idol worship” rather than worshipping Jesus only.

The Corinthians faced the same issue of idolising different pastors in their church. Paul’s letter to them was a response to a report from Chloe’s household of different faction supporters in the church. We read:

11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

1 Corinthians 1:11-12

It is reminiscent of Christians today saying they follow this pastor or preacher only, rejecting all else.

  • “I only attend when this pastor is preaching!”
  • “This man’s books are better than anyone else!”
  • “I only want this pastor to visit me.”

Paul addressed it head on calling this behaviour “worldly”. We read:

When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world?

1 Corinthians 3:4

The Corinthian Christians were followers of different leaders in the church – Paul, Apollos, Peter and some even Jesus Christ. We know that Apollos was a learned and eloquent speaker who excelled in preaching and apologetics (Acts 18:24-28) and he was pastoring there for awhile.

But Paul reminded them of the absurdity of elevating leaders in the church.

After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:4-8

From this verses, we can see 3 reasons why we must not idolise our church leaders or pastors:

1. Leaders are only servants of God

After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us.

1 Corinthians 3:4

However high a view you may have of your leaders or pastors, ultimately, he or she is merely a servant of God. One person’s role is not greater than the other. Why? Because they are just doing “the work the Lord gave” them to do.

They are just fulfilling their role in God’s Kingdom, in a particularly prominent position. Who can say that being a pastor is more important than being a cell leader or usher. If that is the work God has called you to do, then serve with joy. It is a privilege to serve God in whatever capacity he has called you.

Remember, no matter how prominent a person is, he or she is still a servant of God, just like you.

2. Only God can give spiritual growth, not leaders

 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.

1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Secondly, any spiritual growth is from God, not your leaders. Paul used the imagery of farming where he and Apollos were farmers who were plowing a field (the church). It is a rich imagery that Jesus used in the Parable of the Sower where the seed represented the Word of God.

Indeed, Paul reminds us that no matter how well the farmer planted the seed or watered the ground, it cannot guarantee growth. Growth comes only from God. Likewise, no matter how well a pastor preaches, counsels or leads, only God can give the spiritual growth.

What does that mean? It means that the pastor or leader cannot claim credit for the results (since it comes from God) but only for the way he served. It’s humbling isn’t it? But at the same time, it is a freeing thought. I do my best and let God do the rest. My role is to be faithful, leaving the results to God.

3. Jesus Christ is the only foundation

Paul ends this section with a reminder that Jesus is the only foundation of the church.

10 Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11

A leader must be careful not to lay any other foundation other than Jesus. If we fall into the trap of idolising a pastor, if that pastor leaves or quits, we may tend to leave that church too. Then the question is: Who is the foundation of your church? Your pastor that you idolised or Jesus Christ?

Every pastor must be careful to only lay on the foundation of Jesus Christ and not place himself as the church’s foundation. Only Jesus Christ was the God who came to earth as a man to die for our sins on the cross and rose from the dead.

May we not forget these truths never to idolise our pastors or leaders.

Sermon: Book of Acts (Overview)

The Purpose of Pentecost — Peter Wade, Bible teacher

1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:1-8

Introduction

The gospel of Luke was about embracing Jesus to understand his heart for the lost and the poor. Luke also wrote the Acts as a two volume work (like part 2 of a movie series).

The book of Luke ends with Jesus’ ascension to heaven and giving his disciples the task to reach out to the world. Likewise, we are given the task to evangelise the whole world.

I want to share with you a 4.5 min video on the current status on how much of our world has been reached with the Gospel.

There are 2 billion people who have not heard the Gospel yet! It may seem mind boggling and impossible to accomplish. But God has not left us alone to complete it by ourselves.

Let us take a look at the key verse – Acts 1:8. 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

Interestingly, Jesus does not tell his disciples to go out immediately to preach the good news that he died and rose to life. Instead, he asks them to wait for the Holy Spirit to empower them to be his witnesses. The word “witness” forms the backbone of the book of Acts.

What is a witness?

A witness in a courtroom tells the judge what he or she has seen or heard of a crime committed. Or in school, you tell your teacher who started the fight, who stole the wallet. And as a witness what’s the most important thing?

Honesty.

As a witness you tell the truth and nothing but the truth. 

There’s something else interesting about the word “witness”. In the original language, the word “witness” is “martyres”. Note the word – “martyr” in there? Someone who is willing to die for the truth. Usually in movies, the bad guys who are going to be judged for their crimes send a killer to kill the witness. That’s what the Devil does – he wants to kill God’s witnesses. That’s what being a witness is like in some countries. Christians die for telling the truth and not bending their belief in Jesus Christ. We see this in the book of Acts where many disciples of Jesus suffer and even die for being a faithful witness.

Let’s dive into the structure of the book of Acts and answer the question: How can we be a witness for Jesus? Powered to witness and Placed to witness.

1) Powered to Witness

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…”

We note that they received the Holy Spirit’s power before they went out to witness for Jesus. Why was this so important? I’ve always wondered – why can’t they just have gone out and preached at once? 

I believe without God’s power, nothing would have been accomplished. Even the best plans without God’s power will fall flat. The word “power” comes from the root word “dynamite, dynamo, dynamic” and it is often referred to when Jesus did his miracles. This power is from God and is not based on our own abilities. 

A person may be a good speaker but without the Spirit’s power working, nothing would be accomplished. It is a spiritual power that fuels each one of us daily to be a witness for Jesus.

There are a few areas that the Spirit’s power enabled them to do. 

  • Powered to Speak (Acts 4:8, 13)

After the disciples had received the Holy Spirit’s power, they were bold in sharing the word of God and performing miracles in Jesus’ name. Not only that, I believe words were given to them by the Spirit (Matt 10:18-20). There was great effectiveness in their ministry and many believed in Jesus through their preaching.

  • Powered to Endure (Acts 5:41, 6)

We note that the disciples all deserted Jesus when he was arrested. Peter, who confidently told Jesus that he would never deny him and even die for him, failed miserably. But now, in the midst of persecution they continued to endure even to death.

  • Powered to Love (Acts 2:42-47)

Also, they were powered to witness through their love for one another. Tertullian said about the early Christians, “See how they love one another!” The love in the early community was what drew others to Christianity. It’s not something they could engineer themselves. We are all naturally selfish and only God’s sacrificial love can change our hearts to truly love others. We love because God loved us first. The hallmark of the early church is the love they showed for one another.

Even today, God’s Spirit helps us to speak, endure and love. After we have received the Holy Spirit’s power to witness, now the question is where are we to witness? We turn to the second half of the verse for the answer.

2) Placed to Witness

…and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

After they received the power of the Holy Spirit, they are now placed to witness. We see this unfolding in the whole book of Acts.

  • Witnesses in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7)

Firstly, they were witnesses in Jerusalem.

It can be remembered by the acronym A.C.T.S

Ascension – In chp 1, Jesus ascended to heaven and asked them to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. Don’t do anything till you are given power from heaven! For us, we too need the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Jesus.

Church – In chp 2, the Church was born on the day of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit descended upon them in tongues of fire and they began speaking in foreign languages. This was a miraculous sign of the Spirit’s indwelling. As a result, 3000 people were converted and baptised that day. Next week, we’ll be exploring this significant event in greater detail.

Testing – There was External testing in the form of persecution from the religious leaders who didn’t want the disciples to be witnesses of Jesus. When Peter and John began to perform miraculous signs and to preach the Gospel, they were arrested and put into jail. But this had little effect. Instead, 5000 people became Christians! Not only was there External testing, there was Internal testing. Some church members (Ananias and Sapphira) lied to the leaders about the amount of money they donated and were struck dead by God on the spot! Even as God’s witnesses, it is important we live a righteous life.

Stephen – Lastly in this first section was the selection of seven deacons to serve the early church. Of these, Stephen was the most prominent deacon and because of his witness, he became the first Christian to die for his faith in Jesus.

  • Witnesses in Judea and Samaria (Acts 8-12)

Next is witnessing in Judea and Samaria. With the death of Stephen, great persecution broke out against the Church and the Christians were forced to leave Jerusalem and scatter throughout the land of Judea and Samaria (8:1). We read:

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.

Acts 8:1

If you note Jesus’ command to them at the start of Acts, the disciples were supposed to preach the Gospel beyond Jerusalem. But what did they do? They remained in Jerusalem and did not go beyond their hometown. Only with persecution did they leave to preach the gospel. We note:

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

Acts 8:4

Like them, we can be so comfortable doing our own ministry and forget that God gave us a mission to reach out to others. 

Who can you reach out to? Based on Acts 1:8, think of the regions in expanding concentric circles.

  • Jerusalem: Your family. Your closest connections.
  • Judea: Your neighbourhood, or school/workplace. 
  • Samaria: Ancient enemies of the Jews. Are you reaching out to those who you may not like, those who don’t like you? Even crossing barriers of race.
  • Ends of the earth: May involve reaching out to people overseas. Can you use digital technology to reach out overseas? Even if you can’t travel, think of the foreigners (school/work mates) right here at home. Can you reach out to them so that when they return home, they become witnesses to their home (reverse missions).

Remember, we are not to reach out to them in sequential order (then) but all at the same time! If we wait for our “Jerusalem” to be fully evangelised, we would fail our God-given task of world evangelisation.

  • Witnesses to the End of the Earth (Acts 13-28)

The final section is about the four journeys that Paul made to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth (at that time). It starts in chapter 13.

The first 3 journeys of Paul are called his missionary journeys. His fourth journey was not a missionary journey because he was transported to Rome as a prisoner to stand trial for his faith.

During his journeys, Paul wrote letters to churches that he planted which are named by the area they came from. (E.g. Letter to the Corinthians were written to the Christians who lived in Corinth. Romans written to the Christians who lived in Rome.)

The key lesson of Acts is also clearly seen in Paul’s journeys. The method he used to bring the Good News to the whole world was by being a witness to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Some say the book “Acts of the Apostles” should be rightly called “Acts of Holy Spirit”. We need the Spirit’s help for us to be witnesses of Jesus, witnesses for Jesus.

God’s power through the Holy Spirit can be seen when we share the Gospel with others, through miracles of healing or speaking in foregin languages. But we must not lose sight of the purpose of miracles. They are only a signpost to God.

Signs are to be used, not admired. Signs do not point to themselves but to a certain destination. Do you look at a signboard and wonder how beautiful it is and forget to go to the destination? That’s ridiculous! Similarly, miracles must point to Jesus, not us. If we spend too much time focused on miracles, we may lose our focus which is to lead others to put their faith in Jesus!

How can we summarise the book of Acts into a sentence? If you forget everything, remember this: 

Be witnesses of Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, to the whole wide world.

That was the same method for those who witnessed for Jesus in the past and it is the same today. You cannot witness without Jesus’ power in your life. As we begin this series “Encompass”, may God help each one of us to connect to the power source to live for him wherever he has placed you.

Bow your heads in prayer. 

Conclusion

Now I’m going to address two groups. First group is those who need Jesus.

You may be wondering about who is the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of God and he comes to live inside your heart when you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour. He strengthens you daily and frees you from the power of sin. If you would like to trust in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit into your life, would you pray this prayer with me?

“Dear Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for my sins. Thank you Jesus for dying for my sins and rising from the dead. Please come into my life and be my Lord and Saviour. In Jesus’ name I pray.”

Second group I’d like to pray for are those who want to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Jesus.

What is your Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, ends of the earth? Are there family, friends, classmates local or overseas you can reach out to? Your role is to be a witness. To tell them about the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ – how he came to earth, died on the cross for sins and rose to life again. Leave the results to God – that’s his role. Your role is to tell others.

Think of one person that you want to share the Gospel with and tell God. Ask him for opportunities to share the gospel, ask for boldness to share, ask for God to work in this person’s heart to accept Jesus. Keep pressing in for this person’s soul. Praying does work miracles!

Let me pray for you.

“Lord, help us to be witnesses for you. Help us to be bold to share the Gospel with others, even those from other races or places. Come Holy Spirit and fill us with your power to be your witnesses and to live out this changed life in JYM and in our day to day life. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.” 

Discussion Questions:

  • What are the important qualities of being a witness? (e.g. crime scene etc.)
  • Were you surprised by the fact that 2 billion people have not heard the Gospel? How can you play a part to share the Gospel?
  • What barriers can you think of that stops us from sharing the Gospel? Pray for the Holy Spirit to empower you to be his witnesses.

    Ideas were adapted from Sabin Huang’s book N.T. Made Simple.

Purchase My First E-Book Published: “Dancing With Great Abandon”

Hi all, GREAT NEWS today!

I’m super excited to share with you that my very first E-book has been published on Amazon! Woohoo!

What is it about? I’m glad you asked.

This is the blurb:

Do you desire to truly live for God? Do you want to make your life count for eternity? If yes, this book is written especially for you!

With personal anecdotes, Christian biographies and Bible characters, I unpack precious lessons on how you can live for God in your daily lives.

A phrase from the Message paraphrase inspired me to write this short book.

It read that David “danced with great abandon” before God. What a wonderful phrase! He wasn’t afraid to live out God’s plan and calling for his life even when others disdained him. I believe any Christian can truly live for God just like David did. You don’t need to be a “super Christian” but rather one that is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve God’s plan for your life. Thus, this book may be the next step of discipleship for you.

My sincere prayer is that the Bible truths and stories will stir a passion in your heart to go all in for God just like David, who “served God’s purpose for his generation”.

I’m pricing it at the lowest price possible of USD$0.99 to put it into the hands of as many people. I believe this book will inspire you to live for God even more.

Do support me by purchasing this book.

If you found the book a blessing, feel free to share this with your friends or gift one for them.

God bless!

Book Summary: Decision Making & Problem Solving Strategies

Decision Making and Problem Solving Strategies: Learn Key Problem Solving Strategies; Sharpen Your Creative Thinking Skills; Make Effective Decisions by John AdairDecision Making & Problem Solving Strategies (John Adair, 1997)

 

  1. Your Mind at Work
  • We are called homo sapiens on account of our minds. The human capacity to exercise the mind – is truly remarkable. Yet few of us use our minds to anything near their full capacity.
  • Thinking is to regard or examine in the mind, to reflect or to ponder. As we experience it, thinking is a single stream of consciousness. But we can discern three interweaving currents in thinking to some purpose: analysing, synthesising and valuing.
  • Analysing, the first function, tends to be highly developed by Western education. It is the mental ability to take things – material and non-material – to bits, to separate them into their component parts. It is related, but not identical, to logical or step-by-step thinking.
  • Synthesising is the reverse process of putting things to form a whole. When the resultant whole is formed from parts previously thought to be unconnected, when it looks new and has real value, then synthesising has become creative.
  • Valuing, the third main function in purposive thinking, is self-explanatory. Even in the strictest schools of science or logic, it is impossible to exclude value. We are all valuing creatures; our actual values are largely shaped by our cultural experience. Of course, by helping us to escape out of the cultural box of our particular lives we encounter more universal values: goodness, truth and beauty.
  • These functions can do their work at the unconscious level I have called the Depth Mind. Indeed, where complex decisions have to be made, problems solved or truly creative products involved, the Depth Mind is a vital dimension in the effective use of your mind.
  1. The Art of Effective Decision Making
  • Sometimes it is useful for the mind to have a framework for approaching potentially difficult tasks. In decision making there is such a simple framework of five steps or phases. Think of it more as a spiralling process, like this:

Define objective

Collect information

Develop options

Evaluate and decide

Implement

Monitor consequences

Sense effects

  • Defining the objective is invariably important in decision making. One useful tip is to write it down, for seeing it in writing often helps you to attain the necessary clarity of mind.
  • Collecting relevant information involves both surveying the available information and then taking steps to acquire the missing but relevant information to the matter in hand.
  • For generating feasible options, remember the lobster pot model (Many options to one)! You should be able to move systematically from a host of possibilities – some of them maybe the results of imaginative thinking – to a diminishing set of feasible options, the courses of action that are actually practicable given the resources available.
  • In making the decision your chosen success criteria (the product of the valuing function of the mind) come into play. It is useful to grade these yardsticks into the criteria that the proposed course of action MUST, SHOULD and MIGHT meet. You will also need to assess the risks involved: what are the manifest and the possible latent consequences of the decision in view?
  • Implementing and evaluating the decision should be seen as part of the overall process. You may hardly notice the actual point of decision, just as passengers on a ship may be asleep when their ship crosses the equator line. The ‘cut off’ point, be it conscious or unconscious, is when thinking ends – your mind is made up – and you move in to the action or implementation phase. But you are still evaluating the decision, and up to the Point of No Return (PNR), you can always turn back if the early signs dictate.
  • If you have all the required information, the mind goes through the point of decision effortlessly – indeed, do you really have to take a decision? Thus it has been said that ‘a decision is the action an executive must take when he has the information so incomplete that the answer does not suggest itself’.
  1. Decision Making and Problems Solving Strategies
  • Thinking is both solitary and social. We need to think for ourselves – and make time to do so. But we also need to talk with and listen to others, for stimulus and encouragement, fresh perspectives and new ideas. Conversation at its best is a form of mutual thinking.
  • The role of a leader is defined by the three circles of need – task, team and individual – and the responding set of functions. Communication and decision making are complementary dimensions. A key issue for all leaders is how far they should share decisions with their team or colleagues.
  • The more you share decisions the higher the quality of the decision is likely to be. Moreover, the more that people share decisions which directly affect their working life, the more they tend to be motivated to implement them. Yet the urgency of the situation – shortage of time and the crisis factor – sometimes restricts the scope for sharing. And you also have to remember that the more you share a decision the less control you have over the resulting decision’s quality and direction. So you need judgement here.
  • When the decision-making process is over, you still have to take the decision.
  • Outside the confines of the making of a particular decision you should always be open to the ideas, suggestions and information that people offer you. The more you show interest, the more that people will tell you. Ten per cent of their ideas are lined with gold.
  1. Key problem-solving strategies
  • Problems come in two main forms: problems that are really obstacles that appear across your chosen path, and systems problems.
  • The broad approach to both families of problems and to decision making is the same. It can be compared to building a bridge across a river on three pillars:

Defining the problem

Generating feasible options

Choosing the optimum course/solution

  • A key thinking skill for an effective problem-solver is asking the right questions to oneself initially but also to others. Questions are the spanners that unlock the problem in the mind, or at least the gates that bar entry to it. ‘To act is easy,’ said Goethe, ‘to think is hard.’
  • Systems problems are best approached by regarding them as deviations from an expected norm. Diagnosis includes identifying and establishing the exact nature of that deviation and what caused it. The solution if one is possible is to remove the cause the problem. A second strategy for a problem solver where ‘cure’ isn’t possible is to mitigate the effects of the problem o the performance of the system as a whole.
  • People who are good with hammers see every problem as a nail.

One should never impose one’s views on a problem; one should rather study it, and in time a solution will reveal itself. – Albert Einstein.

  1. How to Generate Ideas
  • Being creative involves the use of the imagination or original ideas in order to create something. Creative thinking is that part of it which produces the new ideas.
  • “It is the function of creative people,” writes the poet William Ploner, “to perceive the relations between thoughts, or things, or forms of expression that may seem utterly different, and to be able to combine them into some new forms – the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.”
  • Brainstorming is a useful technique, for generating ideas, whether you practise it on your own or in a team context. The essence of it is to make a temporary wall in the mind between the analysing/synthesising functions on the one side, and the (critical) valuing function on the other side.
  • Ideas rarely arrive in this world fully-formed and gift-wrapped. With a little practice you can learn to build on ideas, to take the germs of success in someone else’s half-baked idea and to develop it towards fruition. By the same warrant, allow others to build on your ideas for the common good. Only God owns the intellectual property rights to truth.
  • “I start where the last man left off,” said the inventor Thomas Edison.
  • Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom, while discouragement often nips it in the bud. Any of us will put out more and better ideas if our efforts are appreciated.
  1. Thinking Outside the Box
  • One of the most valuable principles for improving your creative approach to work and life is to learn to think outside the box. Essentially that means be willing to challenge the assumptions often unconscious that put an invisible cage around the bird of thought.
  • One form of thinking outside the box is to think sideways -lateral thinking. For sometimes the solution to a problem lies in a field adjacent to one’s own but quite distinct from it.
  • There is a danger in formalising any aspect of the creative process. It is a delicate balance between following a conscious process or framework and being guided by the mind’s natural inclinations. But it is worth bearing in mind the commonsense sequence:
  • Preparation, Incubation, Insight, Validation
  • Incubation – sitting on the eggs until the young birds of ideas emerge is a metaphor for the Depth Mind’s work. We all have a purposive and helpful Depth Mind. We differ as to the use we make of it.
  • In the creative state, a person is taken out of himself. He lets down as it were a bucket into his sub consciousness, and draws up something which is normally beyond his reach. He mixes this thing with his normal experience and out of the mixture something new emerges.
  1. Develop your thinking skills
  • Knowledge is only a rumour until it is in the muscle. Think of your mind as a muscle or a set of muscles. This book tells you an introductory way how to develop those muscles, but it is you who have to put in the effort. Are you keen to do so?
  • Don’t’ think of thinking as being hard, painful or laborious – if you do that you certainly won’t apply yourself to shaping and sharpening your thinking skills. Thinking is fun, even when or especially when we are faced with apparently insurmountable difficulties.
  • You are more likely to be effective as a practical thinker if you succeed in finding your vocation, your right niche in the world of work. The guide here is to choose a function and field or work that is optimum for your interests, aptitudes and temperament.
  • ‘I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him. Prize especially those people you meet in person or in books who can teach you things in how to think.
  • Practical wisdom should be your aim as a thinker, especially in the applied domain of decision making. Practical wisdom is a mixture of intelligence, experience and goodness.

Book Summary: Stand and Deliver

Stand and Deliver: How to Become a Masterful Communicator and Public Speaker (Dale Carnegie, 2011)

 

  1. Keys to High Impact Delivery
  • Create an illusion that speech is one-on-one conversation
  • Know what you’re talking about (40 times more than needed)
  • Keep yourself out of your speech as much as possible but on the subject
  • Content
    • Prepare by writing at least 50 questions for non-stop 20 mins
    • Answer questions, type in PC. Use internet later etc.
    • Choose some important points to present. Not all!
  • Structure
    • No need to memorise speech. Just rehearse in head and with friend.
    • Rule of 3 X 3 parts then split each into 3 etc.
    • Opening (What and why), Middle, Close (quote, statistics)
  • Delivery
    • People expect an intimate conversation with force
    • Emphasis, Pitch, Speed (fast then slow when important)
  1. Listener and Speaker Should Know This
  • Know yourself. Look at similar speakers to yourself.
  • People’s favourite subject is always themselves
  • Don’t apologize à Show that you deserve to be there
  • Make it the MOST interesting speech. Know your audience, bring in local topics that connects you and them.
  • Appreciate your audience. Thank them for invite.
  • Eye contact
  • Use notes as prop. Rest in between points.
  • Good suitable physical appearance
  • Moving around. From podium, choose 2 other spots. Only use these 3.
  • When walking up to stage, look at the host introducing you, shake hands, smile, arrange notes, talk.
  1. Overcoming Stage Fright
  • Strong and persistent desire to speak and connect to audience
  • Thorough knowledge of subject
  • Use a prop to help : Write a word on board, move table, open window
  • Act as if you’re brave
  • Practise to speak.
  • Thoughts to yourself:
    • Tel yourself you’ve prepared your best
    • Promise not to judge your talk during it. Intend to Action
    • Don’t let people’s reaction bother you. Be in a giving, not receiving mode.
    • Before start, think of one aspect. Stand tall, speck clearly etc.
    • Don’t be discouraged if you fail. It’s self-pity. Failure is opportunity to grow. If you fail, so what?!
  1. Using Humor Effectively
  • Appropriate and also must be funny to you. Best is to joke on yourself.
  • Try it out with friends, small group. Might need to work on delivery.
  • Humor must relate to content of speech, tie in with key theme
  • Don’t let humor dominate. You’re a speaker, not a comedian
  1. Stories and Self-Revelation: Win Attention and Respect
  • Clearly communicate the message
  • Stories about people OTHER than yourself. Elicit a wide range of emotions if possible. Laugh and cry.
  • Stories about yourself.
    • Reveal yourself and challenges
    • Relate your story back to the audience
    • Share something related to topic. If talk on money, tell about credit card.
    • Spin every story in a positive direction at the end
  • Talk as if to only ONE person, sitting over dinner. Make up a person from audience and connect with that person, it’ll make you warm and inviting
  • Use visual aids, hand gestures
  • Word choice à Fewest number of words (vary on repeats), Simplest possible words
  • Watch ums, ahs.
  1. Motivating Your Listeners to Action
  • Sincerity (What you really feel, not what you should feel)
  • Proper introductions (tell host what to say about you)
  • Earnestness to win skeptics
  • Be thoroughly prepared for all questions/objections
  • Use people’s desire: 1) Personal gain. Show the consequence of their actions today. 2) Fear of loss 3) Wish to be admired e.g stop smoking today to get more dates from girls
  1. Winning the First Minute
  • Mistakes : Starting with humor or by apologizing
  • Starting with curiosity. Ask questions, interesting story, quote
  • Work on their interest. E.g Money, improve life. Ask questions related to audience
  • Start with effect then later tell the cause/ how to get it
  • Show something physical to look at, body language, pauses after intro before body
  • Always tell them how your topic benefits them first to catch attention
  • Relax, confident, control the floor
  1. The Power of Persuasion I
  • Appeal to Reason, Emotion, Character
  • Ask questions ‘What do you think this research shows’? The show impact.
  • Five building blocks:
    • Invention – ‘What’ to say to ‘common man’ etc. What do you want people to think of you?
    • Arrangement – Show you are well organized with sections
    • Style – ‘how’ you say. To farmer or a president?
    • Memory – Note important point/quotes to mention
    • Delivery – Practise
  • Every speech is unique. Strategies:
    • Think combination – link ideas
    • Think adaptation – Use ideas that may not be in original context
    • Think substitution – Use ideas from great speeches, sub into yours
    • Think big – Use words like million, billion
  • Powerpoint is good for images, not text. If possible, scrap it.
  1. Power of Persuasion II
  • People will believe an idea given if there is no contradictory data
  • Write goals for public speaking. Write down 20 ideas everyday.
  • How to put ideas to people?
    • Sincerity, enthusiasm is contagious. Persuade yourself first.
    • Repetition – say it again in different ways
    • Association – Something familiar (airplane, watch, train)
    • Contrast – Show differences, it’s easier to perceive (Show old vs new rather than new alone)
    • Activity – Use a prop then remove it once it serves its purpose
    • Use vivid words and images. Paint a real picture
    • Proximity – Walk closer to them, name an audience or event related (familiar) Extra facts about a known person
    • Suspense – Ask a question, give answer later. Must be important fact!
    • Conflict – Say X is fighting with Y. e.g. Freedom vs fear
  • Prepare your audience: Forecasting (First I’ll do this, then…) or use good transitions (Here’s the second point…)
  1. Creativity and the Magic Formula
  • Creativity
    • Keep pencil and pad handy. Widen circle of friends. Increase knowledge.
    • Problems are challenges. To solve a problem:
      • Define it
      • Write down everything you know
      • Decide whom to see
      • Brainstorming
      • Rate ideas for Effectiveness, Easiness, Time, Cost
      • Take action: Start and end date, who to do, how to do
    • Magic Formula
      • For short talks. Starting must hook them and end to motivate actions
      • Start with end in mind, work backwards.
  1. Share a vivid personal experience that’s relevant to action
    1. Law of extension (people learn through similar incident)
    2. Law of Effect ( powerful single event to change their conduct)
    3. Make your story clear, intense, dramatic
    4. Talk naturally, fireplace chat. Talk to the dullest person.
    5. Ask yourself questions and answer it. More interesting,
    6. Put your heart in your words. Stories about people.
    7. This is the longest part of talk
  2. Tell them a single, well-defined action to take
    1. Microscopic action. Pick up pen, put ink to paper
    2. Easy to do action. Just ONE. (Brief, positive)
    3. Let them make the connection between action and your story
  3. Say one benefit that they’ll gain by taking that action
    1. Make benefit broad e.g. you’ll be admired, you’ll enter university.
  • Other things to take note
    • Night before talk, practice again at mirror or visualize people
    • Tour the room. Backup your PC files
    • Ask for time alone in the room to prepare ~ 15 mins.
    • Stand close and not behind lectern. Don’t read from handout
    • Speak to audience. Walk around.
    • Finish early is better than overrun.
  1. Dealing with Questions and Answers
  • Set a time limit. 15 mins or say ‘A few minutes’
  • Mistakes to watch out for:
    • Interrupting
      • Let them finish
      • If they ramble, ask ‘So are you asking’
    • Not looking at the speaker
      • Look, listen, pause for thought
      • You can paraphrase question to check. When you answer qn, address the entire audience. Stay in a neutral position of stage.
    • Rushing questions or giving too long answers
    • Answering leaded, loaded, digressive questions
      • Best to disagree and then explain
      • Reduce hostility. Answer question indirectly, an issue.
      • Talk about it after Q and A
      • Ask ‘What is your question’ if the person keeps talking
      • If vague, ask them to explain
    • No one asks anything
      • Pose and answer two questions then to get ball rolling. Then end it.
    • Use Q n A to repeat important phrases and ideas of talk again
    • Don’t evaluate question or say ‘That’s a good qn’. Just say thanks.
    • Good to answer qn with new information.
    • Keep your voice even and keep temper under control when your words may be angry.
    • A positive, confident speaker (firm, forceful, be open when you don’t know, noncombative) creates confidence in questioners
    • Ask if your response is sufficient
    • During Q n A, display PPT slide with best info or impact.
    • You can do Q n A before your conclusion. Help you control time.
  1. How to Conclude a Presentation
  • Prepare exact words for conclusion and practice it. Use note pointers.
  • To close, use quote, phrase, motivate, humor is good
  • Tie your ideas for opening and closing. Inclusive of focus, Conclusive
  • If short on time, don’t cut off conclusion
  • Use phrases ‘In conclusion/summary’ and you should end soon.
  • Don’t use ‘Thank you’ as substitute. Don’t apologize.
  • Summarise them make an appeal ‘As fellow Christians/ For the sake of Christ…’
  • Challenge them to act for their interests, not ‘I want you to…’
  • You can end with a benefit ‘Your income will sharply increase’

Success:

  • People set goals, dreams, visions. What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve
  • Success is the journey to the goal
  • Concentrate on a single goal long enough to reach it first
  • Speak on topics you feel passionately truthful
  • Sincere eye contact. 3 seconds each person
  • When practicing, use timer for each section