“I sat where they sat”

Last week, I accompanied my pastor as he conducted a funeral and cremation service. I was caught by surprise and only had a white T-shirt dotted with cartoon dogs. Unfortunately I had to wear it. Mental note: Keep a black collar shirt at all times ready.

The funeral service was rather short and we travelled to the crematorium. There was a Committal service conducted and that’s when the family started crying. Somehow, reality hit them hard at that moment when they realised their family member was really gone.

But it puzzled me.

They are all Christians. They know that the one who believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life. They know that death has lost its sting. Has it really lost its sting? Then why do they cry so much?

Well, love hurts. Crying is good, even necessary for healing. My pastor said that it takes roughly two years for grief closure. They often need counseling after the funeral to deal with their grief.

In ministry, we need to walk with those who are experiencing loss. I am struck by Ezekiel’s reaction when he came to his people in captivity.

Ezekiel 3:15

Then I came to the captives at Tel Abib, who dwelt by the River Chebar; and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.

The phrase “I sat where they sat” is so powerful. That is often all we can do – meeting them where they are. Ezekiel sat with them seven days. I’m not sure if he said much but his presence spoke louder than words. So too as we bring the presence of God into people’s brokeness.

God understands grief. The Father experienced his son’s death. Jesus suffered a cruel painful death on the cross. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isa 53:3). We need to usher those who are hurting into the arms of One who truly identifies with them.

As I left that service, I realised it’s okay to be sad. Jesus wept for Lazarus even though he knew he would be raised from the dead. Why? He “sat where we sat”.

Hair for Hope 2017

I went bald today. It’s the first time I’ve participated in Hair For Hope 2017. HFH aims to raise awareness and funds for children suffering with cancer. These kids often need to undergo chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells but as a side-effect lose their hair. Another side-effect is getting weird stares and being ostracised by “normal” kids.

By shaving bald, I can hope in some small way to emphathise with these kids. If you would like to support this worthy cause (especially if you can’t bear to lose your hair), do click on this link HERE and support me. It doesn’t need to be a big amount. The thought counts! I am so encouraged that many friends came to support us today.

There is a special type of cancer that resides in us all. The cancer of “sin”. Sin are the wrong things we do that separate us from God. Sin stays within us and unless treated, we will die. Not just physically but spiritually!

But there is a remedy. The Bible says that while we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for us. He died and rose again to life so that this sin cancer will be eradicated. By believing in Jesus, your sin cancer will be eradicated. Don’t you want to be cured of this disease that we were born with? If so, pray this prayer:

The Christian Atheist

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My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

Ezekiel 33:31-32 (NIV)

In this passage, God tells Ezekiel that people aren’t going to listen to his messages of rebuke and repentance. They are eager to listen to the message though. They even speak of love for God but nothing affects their hearts. Their hearts are still “greedy for unjust gain”. Their lives are still a mess but they aren’t bothered to put any of God’s words into practice. Ezekiel’s message is likened to a good singer belting out a beautiful tune that brings tears to the audience’s eyes. But they walk away unchanged.

Today, this problem still occurs. I call them the Christian atheist. Let me define it. An atheist is one who doesn’t believe in God and lives as if God wasn’t present. But a Christian atheist is one who believes in God but lives as if God wasn’t present. There is a disconnect between the mind and the heart.

Much like Ezekiel’s audience, Christian atheists go to church, they sing praises to God with unbridled emotions, they say “I love you God” but their lives are no better than a non-Christian. You can recognise them by their fruits. A bad tree bears bad fruit. Some examples:

  • Randy leads a youth Bible group study in the day but delves in pornography at night.
  • Sandra sings on the worship team but sleeps with her boyfriend on weekends.
  • Lionel gives tithes generously to church but doesn’t give a needy relative a cent.
  • Marie is hospitable to newcomers in church but abuses her maid at home.
  • Victor says he surrenders his whole life to God, but doesn’t dare to give his job to go into full-time ministry.

See the disconnect? We can confess the Apostle Creed or Nicene Creed without displaying God’s character. The only way is to put what we hear into practice. That is the key to growing in our faith. Just like Jesus’s parable on the Wise and Foolish builders, the secret to weathering the storms of life is to build it on the word of God. The next time we hear a sermon, ask God to show you ONE thing to put into practice that week. If we just faithfully do ONE thing consistently, our life can be transformed.

Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ (Madame Guyon)

Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ was written in 1685 by a French mystic Madame Guyon. She teaches how one can seek and experience God through prayer. It is not meant to be theoretical but practical. The first steps that form the backbone are outlined below. Once these two methoda are practised for a considerable time, higher levels of prayer are available. Lectio divina reading has similarities to her method.

Method 1: Praying the Scriptures

– Choose a Scripture passage that is fairly simple and practical.

– Come to the Lord humbly and quietly.

– Read a small passage slowly, tasting it.

– Stay with it until you sense the heart of the passage.

– Take what touches you and turn it into a prayer.

– Once you feel you have grasped the passage, slowly move on to the next portion of the passage.

A beautiful quote from her book:

“Praying the Scripture” is not judged by how much you read but by the way in which you read. If you read quickly, it will benefit you little. You will be like a bee that merely skims the surface of a flower. Instead, in this new way of reading with prayer, you must become as the bee who penetrates into the depths of the flower. You plunge deeply within to remove its deepest nectar. (p. 16)

Method 2: Beholding/Waiting on the Lord

Making use of Scripture to quiet your mind.

– Set a time to spend with the Lord.

– Come quietly in faith, believing that you have come into God’s presence.

– Begin to read a portion of Scripture.

– As you read, gently pause.

– During the pause, set your mind inwardly on Christ.

– If your mind wanders, return the focus on Christ.

– After quieting your heart, you will sense an impression of his presence.

– Keep your mind rested in God and savour his presence.

Reflections: Methodist Young Leaders’ Conference 2017

Being a first time attendee and mentor, I wasn’t sure what to expect at MYLC 2017: Amazing Grace. I was worried that I could not connect with my group of 12 brilliant young leaders. Here was an opportunity to speak into their lives and I didn’t want to waste it. At first, the interactions were awkward as we barely knew each other. However, through the meal times and games, our group discussions improved. Before we knew it, the camp was over and we parted ways.

Although it was a short camp, I thank God that a few of these youths encountered God. Some encountered God’s amazing grace in Jesus Christ, while others felt the call to full-time ministry. Allow me to share a few takeaways from MYLC:

1. Ministry is tough. We need to rely on God and not ourselves. Allow God’s mighty power to shine through us so all may glorify God (2 Cor 4:7-9). As Warren Wiersbe says, if you can explain it, God didn’t do it!

2. Ministry problems aren’t unique. When we share problems, we learn from each other. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett says, “It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes.” My group members were comforted when they realised they weren’t alone in their troubles. Elijah thought he was the only one left who was fervent for God. God told him how wrong he was – 7000 others hadn’t bowed their knee to worship Baal yet.

3. Ministry takes time. Being faithful is more important than getting results. Growth is in God’s hands, not ours. We only help to plant and water the seed.

I pray that these young leaders will continue to support and encourage each other for the years to come. There is no retirement from the Lord’s service! Two verses that encapsulate my sentiments are:

Hebrews 10:24-25

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

and

2 Timothy 2:22

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

Staying within God’s Sphere of Protection

Image result for umbrella rain

Protection is important. I can think of several examples:

  • An umbrella protects us from being drenched and possibly catching a cold.
  • A SPF 100 Suntan lotion prevents us from getting skin cancer.
  • A well-dug trench protects a soldier from getting shot by enemy guns. If you’ve played any shooter games, you know the importance of taking cover.

We often forget that God protects us from many dangers. Many blessings that we enjoy in life are because of God’s hand. Don’t take it for granted. King Solomon was the richest and wisest man who ever lived but he made some of the silliest mistakes. God’s coverings of protection were removed as a result.  I want to help you stay within God’s sphere of protection.

When did King Solomon slide into decline? He broke the three rules that Moses wrote about in the law. Solomon imported horses from Egypt, acquired many wives and accumulated an insane amount of wealth (cf. 1 Kgs 10:23-29; 11:1-6 Vs Deut 17:14-20). To the world, Solomon looked like he made it to the highest echelon of success. But to God, he was a law-breaker. Similarly, we may look successful in the eyes of the world (buying your third Porsche, owning a mansion by the sea, becoming partner of a prestigious firm). But we can’t fool God. God is only impressed by obedience. Once we think that no matter what we do we can still be successful, our protection is starting to crumble.

What happened to Solomon as a result? In 1 Kings 11:9-13, God promised to “tear the kingdom away” (v.11) from him and give it to another. (God’s promises are not always nice to hear!) As God is the giver of good things, he has the right to take it away anytime. There was a school boy who was addicted to computer games. As a result of playing so much, his grades plummeted rapidly. So his mother had to do something. Whenever she left the house, she took the keyboard also! God can also take away our “keyboard”. Are we obeying God fully? God’s grace cannot be taken for granted. He can take away all you have to teach you to depend only on Him. Corrie Ten Boom, a holocaust survivor, said, “You don’t realize Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”

Solomon’s disobedience had several repercussions. The kingdom was divided into Northern and Southern. God raised up three enemies against Solomon (Hadad, Rezon, Jeroboam). Peace and rest was gone. God no longer protected Solomon from danger. Unfortunately, Solomon didn’t repent. In 1 Kgs 11:40-43, he wanted to kill Jeroboam as a threat to his throne.

When we sin, God may cause us problems (failure, sicknesses, relationship problems) so that we come back to him. He wants us to realise that all the blessings we had earlier is because of his grace to us. When we disobey, we are no longer under God’s protection anymore. We have rebelled and are now exposed to enemy attack. Will you repent of your sins and return to God’s sphere of protection?

相思河畔 (Riverbank of Yearning)

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This is another old Chinese love song from my father’s era. It speaks of painful separation from a loved one. My previous entry is Nanping Evening Bells.
相思河畔
自从相思河畔见了你
就象那春风吹进心窝里
我要轻轻地告诉你
不要把我忘记。
自从相思河畔别了你
无限的痛苦埋在心窝里
我要轻轻的告诉你
不要把我忘记。
秋风无情 为什么吹落了丹枫
青春尚在 为什么会褪了残红
啊 人生本是梦。
Riverbank of Yearning
Since I saw you at the Riverbank of Yearning
It was like the spring breeze blowing into my heart
I want to gently tell you,
“Don’t forget me”.
Since I left you at the Riverbank of Yearning
Inexpressible pain has buried into my heart
I want to gently tell you,
“Don’t forget me”.
Ruthless autumn wind, why do you blow off the red leaves?
Green blossoms that remain, why do you fade to red?
Oh, life is but a dream.

Excellence in the Hidden Life

Image result for practicing basketball alone

Sport personalities captivate us. They seem to reach the top of their field almost effortlessly. That’s what we see. But what we don’t see is the grueling hours of practice when no one is watching. Whether it is soccer, basketball, golf or swimming, every athlete needs to pay the cost to be the best they can be.

It is no different in our spiritual life. Do we assume that reading the Bible for five minutes or shooting off a thoughtless prayer makes us spiritual giants? I don’t think so. In our instant coffee/cup noodle society, we want things fast. But spirituality takes time. We see a successful pastor, speaker, leader and attempt to copy his skills and fall flat on our faces. Why? It’s not about the outside. It’s the hidden life that they have been working on constantly.

We learn this principle from how Solomon built the temple of God. Seriously, the temple? Stick with me. You’ll see. We read:

1 Kings 5:17
At the king’s command they removed from the quarry large blocks of high-grade stone to provide a foundation of dressed stone for the temple.

Building 101 – The foundation of the temple formed the base. Everything else built on top of it. Meaning, you don’t see the base anymore once the temple was built. Solomon spares no effort to get “high-grade stone” for the unseen base. Why? The quality of the base affects the rest of the building. A building collapsed in Taiwan, killing hundreds of people and rescuers found tin cans were apparently used as filler inside some of the concrete beams! No wonder it collapsed eventually.

We may look good on the outside for a while. I guarantee you that if your spiritual foundation isn’t strong, you’ll never succeed in the long run. It’s gonna come crashing down like the house built on sand (Matt 7:24-27).

Another important point to note about the temple construction was that blocks were cut and prepared at the quarry. The quarry was really noisy. But the temple was quiet as the blocks were assembled. We read:

1 Kings 6:7
In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.

In other words, the hard work of cutting and shaping our spiritual lives happens between Monday to Saturday. Sunday is the presentation of the result. We need to be disciplined in our prayer, Bible reading and habits outside church to build a strong foundation. We need to pay the cost to be the best we can be.

 

Saying Grace Before a Spiritual Meal

Image result for saying grace before a meal

Saying grace before a meal can become dry, routine, mechanical and automatic. We rumble off at motor speed while our stomachs rumble even louder. It was interesting that as I opened my Bible to read, I rumbled off a short prayer. Automatically, I prayed, “Thank you Lord for the food you’ve given me, bless it to our bodies…” Woah, woah, stop there!

I stopped halfway when I realised it was not the meal time yet. Really? Think about it. Aren’t I fed from the word of God too? Shouldn’t I thank God for the spiritual food he gives us in his Word daily? Saying grace before the spiritual food makes complete sense too.

Hebrews 5:14

But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

The Word helps Christians to make better decisions. Paul also refers to the Word of God as milk (basic teachings) and solid food (advanced teaching):

1 Cor 3:2-3

I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?

Food nourishes us. Feeding on the Word of God nourishes us. I suspect many Christians are impoverished due to a lack of intake of Spiritual food daily! While we wouldn’t think of missing lunch or dinner, we often miss the feeding on God’s Word.

We need food to grow as Christians. To the Christians in Corinth, Paul was saying, “You all are still babies! You need milk to grow up first.” We can’t grow up properly without food. Parents go the extra mile to buy the expensive baby milk powder that has tons of helpful chemicals and vitamins. May we ask God to give us a hunger for his Word and to feed daily from it for our growth and nourishment.

“Thank you Lord for the food from your Word today. As we feed on it, may you nourish our spiritual lives.

Amen.”

The Life of Pastor Harry (A parable)

Image result for mansion of heaven

Pastor Harry died and went to heaven. Upon entering, he saw Jim, a successful businessman and leader of his church. They hugged warmly. Behind Jim was a dilapidated shack.

Jim said, “On earth, I lived in a mansion by the beach. Now, I live in this small house.”

“How is that possible?” Pastor Harry scratched his head. “You did so many good things while on earth.”

“The Man at the pearly gates said they were out of wrong motives,” Jim said. “It all came out from pride, even in the church. My works were futile.”

Pastor Harry wondered what his house would be like. He rubbed his hands in glee. He’d given up everything for God’s work and expected a great reward. He walked down the Golden Street and saw a huge mansion. He saw a familiar face emerging from it. It was David, another congregation member like Jim. But Pastor Harry never really talked to David much while on earth. David was only a poor man and didn’t hold any high position in church.

David waved to the pastor, a bright smile on his face. “Great to see you here pastor.”

Pastor Harry was at a loss for words and at last blurted out, “Your house is huge!”

David smiled. “It’s the Lord’s grace. I never expected this.”

The pastor never knew David was a spiritual giant. David went on mission trips at his own expense and that’s about it. An angel appeared and ushered the shocked pastor away.

They walked for some ways into a side lane and stopped at a small rundown shack. “That’s my house? You got to be kidding!” The pastor said. “It’s even worse than Jim’s house.”

The angel said, “As a shepherd of God’s flock, more is expected of you. Doesn’t James say that teachers are judged more sternly?”

James 3:1

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

“Of course I know my Bible.” Pastor Harry was red like a lobster.

“Then you should know the previous chapter too.” The angel waved his hand and the words appeared in the sky:

James 2:1-4

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

“Remember how you treated Jim and David? You put Jim into high positions because he bought you good lunches and dinners. You listened to his opinions during board meetings to curry favour.”

The pastor wiped the sweat off his fat face. The angel continued:

“You ignored David who was a much more spiritual person. You chose not to talk to him since he had nothing to offer you. You ignored it when he wrote you an email to give you good advice on your sermons. Your sin is favouritism!”

As guilt ripped into Pator Harry, a verse flashed in his mind:

James 2:5

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?