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.

God Wants to Dwell With Us

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There is a wonderful theme that weaves throughout Scripture – God wants to dwell with us. It is a fine thread that lets us understand God’s heart for mankind much better. We shall now take an excursion from Genesis to Revelation as I unpack this glorious truth.

1. The Garden of Eden

In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve so that he could dwell with them. Remember God walking in the garden in the cool of the day? (Gen 3:8) He was looking for his creations. Sadly, they had sinned and hid themselves from God. God, in his holiness, banished them from the garden. The communion was broken. God and man were separated. But God still wants to dwell with man.

2. The Tabernacle

After God redeemed Israel from bondage in Egypt, he led them to Mount Sinai where the Ten Commandments and other laws were given. Moses was given instructions on how to build the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle. This tabernacle in Hebrew means “residence” or “dwelling place.” It was place where God dwelled with his people.

Exodus 25:8

Then let them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.

God dwelt in the sanctuary (Most Holy Place/Holy of Holies) where the Ark was. God’s heart was to be with his people. Moses had specific instructions to build the tabernacle where God met them. Why? God is holy and he would knew how he wanted his “house” to be like. God gave his stamp of approval when he filled the tabernacle with his Shekinah glory cloud.

Exodus 40:34-35

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

An interesting fact is that the High Priest could only enter into the Most Holy Place once a year for the atonement of sins. The priest had to pass through a thick curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the other parts of the tabernacle. Though God dwells with his people, there is still a barrier.

3. The Temple

The tabernacle was movable as Israel traveled through the wilderness. Later on, King David desired to build a permanent temple for the Ark of the Covenant. However, God told him that his son Solomon would do it. During King Solomon’s reign, there was rest from all enemies. He took seven years to build a glorious temple that mostly followed the layout of the tabernacle. God gave his stamp of approval again when the glory cloud filled the temple.

1 Kings 8:10-13

When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.

Then Solomon said, ‘The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud; I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell for ever.’

God was pleased with his new “house”! Solomon wanted God to “dwell forever” with Israel. However, it wasn’t to be. Due to Israel’s sin, the temple was destroyed by Babylon in the 6th century BC. A second temple was erected years later when the exiles returned from captivity (Zerubabbel, Ezra, Nehemiah). The second temple paled in comparison to Solomon’s one. The older people wept in sorrow while the young people cheered. What a confusing sight!

Ezra 3:11b-12

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.

The second temple was around in Jesus’ day but was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Since then, there has been no temple in Israel. The Muslims have built the Dome of the Rock on the exact site of the temple. All the Israelites have now is the Western “wailing” wall. Does the destruction of the temple mean that God no longer dwells with us anymore? No. God came to us on Christmas day two thousand years ago.

4. The Birth of Jesus

Jesus was named Emmanuel meaning “God with us.” God dwells with us! He took on human form and became one of us. There is a wonderful verse in the Gospel of John.

John 1:14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. …

“The Word” refers to Jesus who made his dwelling among us. The word “dwelling” can be translated as “tabernacle”. Jesus “tabernacled” among us! Eugene Peterson in The Message paraphrases it as , “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Finally, God dwells with us. He came into this world because he loves us so much, wants to be with us so much. But our sins have blocked the way. Jesus came to die for our sin.

5. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

Jesus’ death for our sins opened the way to a relationship with God. Remember the curtain that blocks the entrance to the Most Holy Place? It’s a barrier that only the High Priest can enter once a year. Something happened to it when Jesus died on the cross.

Matt 27:50-51a

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

Jesus ripped the barrier wide open! The curtain was torn, note this, from top to bottom, not bottom to top. Only God could have torn it miraculously. Jesus, through his blood that was shed, opened a way into the Most Holy Place. He becomes our High Priest. The author of Hebrews says:

Hebrews 9:12

[Jesus] did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, so obtaining eternal redemption.

Amazing! Jesus redeems us permanently by his blood. Once for all time. The author continues later:

Hebrews 10:19-20

…we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and…have a great priest over the house of God…

Jesus’ body has become the new curtain to access God. By believing in Jesus’ work, we can confidently approach God in faith. God dwells with us. But that is not all.

6. The Holy Spirit

When Jesus ascended, he asked the Father to give believers the Holy Spirit to be with us. This Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus.

John 14:16-18

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

God is now dwelling with us through the Holy Spirit. We are now the living temple where God resides. He will continue living with us till the Last Days when the New Heaven and Earth will be introduced. Then, we shall be with God forever and ever. We read these glorious verses in Revelation.

Revelation 21:1-3

Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

God will dwell with us for all eternity from that point onwards. That’s what God always wanted to do since the beginning when he created Adam and Eve. The problem is our sins that separates us from God’s holiness. It is remedied through believing in Jesus’ finished work on the cross. There is a final point about the temple a few verses later.

Revelation 21:22

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

There is no longer a need for a temple because God dwells with us now. The temple was a temporary construct on earth because of our sins. When we reach the new heaven and earth, God is the temple that we worship.

God wants to dwell with you. Are you willing to accept Jesus into your life so that you can be with God forever?

“You are not to go back that way again.”

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Deuteronomy 17:16

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.’

Moses gives warning for Israel’s future king not to return to Egypt to acquire horses. This was prophetic as he gave it long before Saul became king. Moses knew that Israel would want to be like other nations having a king. But he specifically warns the future king not to return to Egypt and its ways. Since they were redeemed from Egypt, they must forget about the riches and lifestyles in Egypt. Some may have physically left Egypt, but mentally and emotionally haven’t checked out.

Several Israelites in the wilderness grumbled that their life in Egypt was so much better (Exod 16:3; Num 14:2). God did provide for them but they continued their complaints in spite of God’s grace. God disciplined them harshly. Why? It was an insult to God. God brought them out of suffering and slavery but he receives nothing but ungratefulness. It’s as if a prostitute is saved from her pimp but she later complains she had much more money to spend in the past and wishes to return to it!

How does this relate to us today? I believe God is still sending us the same message: “You are not to go back that way again.” What is your Egypt? For some of us, God saved us from terrible bondages and addictions. Saved from our futile lifestyles. Are we grateful to God or are we like the Israelites who yearn to return to our former ways? Have we forgotten that God brought us out of sin to become his children?

Let’s not go back the way we came any longer. God has made us new people with new ways. Let’s keep journeying with God and not look back in regret. You are not to go back the way you came.

My First Year in Theology School

Before you know it, one year has passed. I previously wrote my first month review here. This second half was not a lot harder but much busier with more school commitments. Let me share some new lessons that impacted me greatly.

1. Own Your Theology

I’m not talking about making up your own theology but that you need time to wrestle with theological issues. There are a plethora of views for each doctrine, verse, and even word. Scholars can’t come to a mutual agreement so what is the student to do? For one, don’t accept blindly what you are taught. You got to go back to the source (ad fontes) the Word of God to find the answer. If you struggle reaching a proper conclusion that your conscience allows, struggle some more. Struggling shapes your critical thinking in ways that will help you later.

Until you have struggled sufficiently, you have not owned it.  Until you’ve owned it, you cannot live it. Until you’ve lived it, you cannot teach it. Like the Bereans, they checked whether what Paul taught was in line with the Scriptures. Imagine that! They even checked the Apostle Paul. We must have the same attitude.

Acts 17:11

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

2. Don’t Bury Yourself in Books

It’s important to be reading books. There are tons of reading material assigned for each module and it’s hard to keep up sometimes. It’s tempting to skip a chapel, a coffee, a family group or a gym workout just to study. Well, don’t! There must be a balance in your lifestyle. Seminary is not all about studying and cramming as much information into your brain. Building relationships, having fun, and praying are all important to a holistic spiritual formation.

I often hang out for a drink in a nearby shop with a few classmates just to talk about reports, relationships, or just pray. I believe head knowledge is insufficient to survive in ministry. You need heart knowledge too. Having good relationships might even trump knowledge in the ministry. How do you relate to others? Do you see classmates as rivals, as irritants, or as family? Will you help a weaker classmate?

When I look at Jesus, a certain event touches me greatly. He wanted to bring his disciples to an isolated place to rest and relax. However, the crowds caught wind of it and followed him all the way there. But Jesus wasn’t angry for interrupting his rest. His compassion drove him to teach them and later on, feed them with two loaves and five fishes. Jesus was the ultimate source of knowledge. But he also was the ultimate source of love. He never turned anyone away. He made time for them. We need to keep this balance too.

3. Learn to Serve

Serving is one of the ways to grow. This half of the semester, I joined the Community Living committee and we’ve planned a few events so far. I believed it has helped me to grow by working with others and seeing the events foster unity in the community. It has also taught me new skills such as planning and budgeting. Thankfully, I work with two great brothers who help complement my weaknesses in many ways!

Serving in student council is an exposure to future appointments we might take up in the future. It allows others to observe our skills, abilities and weaknesses. All these help us to grow if we have a humble attitude to learn. Without serving, students are dangerously close to becoming armchair practitioners who know a lot about things “in theory”. My advice is to serve!

Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Earth

A prayer for our earth

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All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

Pope Francis, Laudato si, 2015.

Dancing with Great Abandon

For a long time, I felt great restraint in church. I was taught to be a good boy, sitting quietly through sermons or singing mildly during worship. Hands were clasped behind my back like a soldier or in front like a footballer protecting their crotch during a free kick. That was all part of the Christian act.

Of course, I wasn’t an emotionless robot. Outside church, I screamed and yelled while watching basketballs passing through hoops. I danced to the gyrating rhythms of rock music in my bedroom. It was a different place, you understand, worshipping God was different.

Or is it just me? King David shows the way to behave in a church.

It was reported to King David that God had prospered Obed-Edom and his entire household because of the Chest of God. So David thought, “I’ll get that blessing for myself,” and went and brought up the Chest of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David, celebrating extravagantly all the way, with frequent sacrifices of choice bulls. David, ceremonially dressed in priest’s linen, danced with great abandon before God. The whole country was with him as he accompanied the Chest of God with shouts and trumpet blasts. But as the Chest of God came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, happened to be looking out a window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before God, her heart filled with scorn.

2 Samuel 6:14-16 (The Message)

David had great cause for celebration – the Ark of the Covenant (along with God’s blessing) was coming into town! Note how Eugene Peterson describes the celebration.

Even David, dressed in priestly robe, danced. I love how he danced: “danced with great abandon before God.” He didn’t care who was watching. He didn’t care if it cost him his reputation. All he knew was he was filled with so much joy that he had to dance. Not dancing would have betrayed the joy he felt inside.

David might have been kicked out of my church for dancing like that. His wife, Michal, was disgusted and embarrassed by the way he danced. Why? Some commentators think that by dancing wildly in a priestly gown, David exposed his private part in public. Whatever the case, her heart was filled with scorn instead of joy. Instead of focusing on the ark and the glory of God, she focussed on their reputation and image. Some people are like Michal too – they scorn worshippers who lift their hands, dance, jump or cry. God judged Michal with barrenness, a terrible curse for a woman in those days. David did not care. Check it out here:

David returned home to bless his family. Michal, Saul’s daughter, came out to greet him: “How wonderfully the king has distinguished himself today–exposing himself to the eyes of the servants’ maids like some burlesque street dancer!” David replied to Michal, “In GOD’s presence I’ll dance all I want! He chose me over your father and the rest of our family and made me prince over GOD’s people, over Israel. Oh yes, I’ll dance to GOD’s glory –more recklessly even than this. And as far as I’m concerned…I’ll gladly look like a fool…but among these maids you’re so worried about, I’ll be honored no end.” Michal, Saul’s daughter, was barren the rest of her life.

2 Samuel 6:20-23

I recently attended a Palm Sunday service where we were given palm branches to wave. I waved it excitedly, not bothering what others would say. I would have waved it wider if it wasn’t so cramp in the hall. Others weren’t so keen though. Youths were standing dazed and bored during worship. Some scrolled through their phones mindlessly, waiting for a notification.

I wonder if we have lost the excitement for Jesus and what he did for us. Shouldn’t his coming to earth, death and resurrection cause us to celebrate wildly (not mildly)? Shouldn’t we dance with great abandon before God like David did? Shouldn’t we ignore the Michals who scorn us for celebrating?

May God open your eyes to see his glory and greatness so that you be filled with joy. Leave your reputation and image at the door. Worship isn’t about you. It’s about God. Celebrate what He has done for you. Dance with great abandon before God. And when you’re done dancing, live with great abandon before God.

​Where Do You Find Your Strength?

David and his men had just returned to Ziglak and found that their camp had been raided by the Amalekites. It was razed to the ground. All their women and children were taken away.

1 Samuel 30:4

So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.

Their first response was to weep in sorrow. It was so painful that they wept till no more strength remained. Even David’s wives were taken away. It’s okay to cry. After the sadness came anger. They blamed David their leader for this calamity. Some considered stoning him.

1 Samuel 30:6

David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the LORD his God.

David was stressed beyond limits. He was responsible for the lives in his camp. He might have just given up hope of ever seeing his family again. Thankfully, he didn’t. It’s in the word “but”.

But David found strength in the God. He didn’t look to positive psychology or chugging alcohol to drown his sorrows. He looked for the only source of strength – God.

What do you do when you’re running on empty? Turn to God just like David did. And when he found his strength in God’s love and faithfulness, he took action. He was not paralysed in depression, whining “Poor me, why me?”

1 Samuel 30:7a

Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelek, “Bring me the ephod.”

David sought God’s direction on how to resolve this issue. God promised him success. So his men hunted down and destroyed the Amalekites. Everyone got back his loved one intact.

1 Samuel 30:18-19

David recovered everything the Amalekites had taken, including his two wives. Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken. David brought everything back.

What can we learn from how David handled stress?

1. Find your strength in God.

2. Ask God how to resolve the issue.

3. Obey God and reap success.