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.

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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?

The Secret Things Belong to the Lord

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I’ve been to churches where the congregation attendance shoots up when a prophet is visiting. Usually, at the end of the sermon, the speaker gives an altar call for people to come up for a personal word from the Lord. Many people love to hear these “secret” truths from God.

Additionally, some speakers also give seminars on the end times including the recent Blood Moon event. Again, many flock to hear them much for its originality and “secret” knowledge.

Instead of rushing to obtain the “secret” things of the Lord, many neglect the “revealed” things of the Lord. Moses tells the people about the blessings and curses of obeying the Law. After that he adds:

Deuteronomy 29:29

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

Rather than focusing on discovering the “secret” things, Moses tells them that the “revealed” things belong to them. What are the revealed things for? The words of the Law reveals Israel’s guiding path.

Similarly, the Bible is the revealed truth for us. This is the question to ask: Are we following the commands revealed in the Bible? Many seek to know the deep secrets of God but neglect the explicit commands already given. Moses adds that some things can never be known. These “secrets” belong to the Lord. Some mysteries are better left alone and ascribed as “Only God Knows”. God in his wisdom chose what to reveal to us. Obeying that is enough. Though it is not wrong to seek more knowledge, don’t be distracted from the given teachings.

What If We Ran a Church as a Company

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I know that a church is different from a company. We cannot run them in the same way but increasingly, we see terms overlapping. For example, “servant leadership” has gained traction in companies. However, I sense little of leadership and management theory crossing over to the church. If all principles are God’s principles, can’t we learn something from them too?

In my Methodist conference, there is form of tenure for pastors as they are ordained from Deacon to Elder. Once they reach Elder, their job is pretty much secure. Some view reaching Elder as the pinnacle to strive for and once it has been attained, lose all motivation to shepherd the church well.

Think about a company. No one is safe from being fired regardless of how high your position is. Once you slack off, the boss’s eyes are on you. Once results are low, your job hangs in the balance. If you continue to under perform, you’d probably get fired. Someone with higher drive and potential takes your place. In the business world, they don’t mess around with poor performers. It keeps you on your toes.

I wished this also be applied in the churches. If a pastor is slacking off, ill-disciplined and lost the heart of service, the conference should just sack him. A pastor has lots of influence, good and bad, over his flock. Imagine the amount of lives that can be destroyed by a pastor! It would be better to get rid of him. Being an Elder should not be a permanent or safe zone. Some pastors have been black marked and no church wants them. I suggest we just fire these pastors rather than forcing them to a church. The church must then continue paying their salaries (some hefty due to seniority) while not being fed spiritually.

In the corporate world, there is much motivation to improve your skills. The world is constantly evolving and you need to adapt or die. Workers have to keep learning and improving to stay ahead in the business. If you don’t learn, you become obsolete. And probably out of a job.

I see few pastors who constantly improve themselves. They don’t attend bible studies or learn new skill sets. I suspect that they fear their congregation’s dismay that they lack in some area. Admittedly, we all are a work-in-progress and need to constantly learn new things. Pastors are no exception. In fact, they may show an example to their flock that one never stops learning. Pastors must learn to be humble and learn from others. No wonder some don’t know how to lead, run meetings, counsel or disciple others. They have stagnated and have nothing new to give the flock. The flock then leaves the church for greener pastures.

We need an overhaul. God will call us to account for the way we have ordained leaders over His flock.

The Christian Tourist (A Parable)

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Charlie died and went to heaven. When he reached the pearly gates, St. Peter was standing at the entrance with a large book. He said, “Please wait while I check your name Charlie.”

Charlie knew this was the book of life. He knew his name was inside. Peter frowned and shrugged. “I’m sorry your name is not inside.”

Charlie gasped in horror. “There must be a mistake. I have a church membership for the last forty years! I served on the board of elders and went on many mission trips.”

Peter rubbed his beard and flipped through the huge book again. He sighed. “Your name isn’t here. Are you a citizen of the kingdom of God?”

Now Charlie was furious. He stamped his foot angrily and said, “I demand to see your manager.”

“My manager?” Peter asked. “You mean King Jesus? Are you sure?”

“Yes. I pray to him everyday. He knows me.”

Peter whispered to an towering angel beside him and a few seconds later, the pearly gate opened. A bright light caused Charlie to cringe in fear and trembling. A glowing figure appeared and in a thunderous voice said, “You have been a tourist in my kingdom, not a citizen.”

Charlie was still cowering in  fear, his strength all gone in the awesome presence of Jesus. He mumbled softly, “A tourist?”

“A tourist looks only to be entertained. He does not want to leave his old country to become a citizen of my kingdom. He wants to enjoy my gifts but retain his life in the old country. Every Sunday you come to church, but the rest of the week, you forgot me.”

“The old country? What country?” Charlie asked, shading his eyes from the glory.

“You remain a citizen of the kingdom of hell. You were merely a tourist in my lands. Though you claim to know me, I never knew you. Take him away!” Jesus commanded the angels to bring him away where there was everlasting torment, weeping and gnashing of teeth.