“God, Can You Call Back Later?”

God sure knows how to pick the worst timing to call.

Jesus called a few fishermen to become his disciples. They had their fishing business and hired men working for them. Fishermen weren’t illiterate people as we often think. In all likelihood, they had literacy skills. That’s how they wrote the gospels.

One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”

Mark 1:16 -17 NLT

Jesus met them at their workplace one day. They were hard at work fishing or mending their nets when he called them to follow him. The Gospels record that there were multiple times that Jesus called them. Can you imagine a pastor showing up at your office one day and calling you to follow him at once for a healing rally? What would you do? If you’re like me, a million thoughts course through your mind – “I’m working can’t you see? My boss will fire me! Can you call back me at 5 pm when I’m off work?”

That’s the thing about Jesus. Jesus doesn’t call people when they’re most free. He calls them when they’re most occupied. He doesn’t call people when they’ve nothing to lose. He calls people when they’ve everything to lose. You see, God often calls at the worst time to see whether we would step out in faith in spite of the challenges. That’s true faith.

The fishermen had to choose their business or Jesus. Apparently, they weren’t too serious at first. Just following Jesus for kicks. Seeing his miracles firsthand were pretty amazing. But Jesus, wanted more from them. He wanted them to give up fishing fish totally.

And they left their nets at once and followed him. A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.

Mark 1:18-20 NLT

You have a choice to make. Will you give up your job, your family, your business, your security to follow Jesus? Maybe the sacrifice seems too great. Even Peter felt that way after following Jesus for awhile.

Then Peter said to [Jesus], “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?”

Matthew 19:27 NLT

Jesus’ answer is comforting to us all.

And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest.
Matthew 19:29-30 NLT

A hundred times return! You will not be shortchanged by God. He is the best boss and master to work for. Though you may seem to be last by this world’s standards, you’re rich in God’s eyes. Are you willing to respond in faith to God’s call even in the midst of uncertainty?

Is the Church Doomed to Fail?

“The church is doomed to fail,” a church young adult told me dismally over lunch one Sunday. He had seen all the politics, all the fighting, all the poor ways of running the church – and lost faith. Many others have also lost faith in this institution called Church. Is it really true? If so, we might as well close down churches all over the world. We might realise that no one batted an eyelid. How are we to address this in light of Scripture? Jesus gives us an encouraging picture for us who might have lost faith.

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Matthew 16:18 (ESV)

Jesus’ statement comes after Peter’s revelation that He was the Messiah. In the midst of revelation of who Jesus is, Jesus highlights two key points.

1. I will build my church

Firstly, the church is owned by Jesus. Not by your pastor or elders or committees. He has promised to build His own church, which in many other parts of Scripture is called the Bride of Christ. No matter how damaged or dysfunctional a church may look like, bring it to Jesus to fix it. He is a original founder and boss. He will build His church to thrive and succeed. The problem is when we think the church’s future depends solely in our hands. That’s when we put impossible burden on ourselves and others. Only Jesus can build His church. If your church is struggling, get down on your knees and transfer ownership back to Jesus.

2. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it

Secondly, Jesus says that the church is waging war against hell. There is an unseen spiritual battle going on in a different realm. But who’s winning? According to Jesus, the church is on the offensive, bringing the fight to hell’s gates. Gates are meant for defence and was the most important structure. But sooner or later, the gate will break down. It may not seem so right now, especially with the mess that the world’s in. But one day, Jesus’ church will prevail. Hell’s gate will be broken down completely. Churches are meant to be active, not passive in the war against evil. We are to snatch people from the fire of hell and combat the ills of society. Jesus has promised that the church will prevail. Victory is guaranteed.

Is the church doomed to fail? Our church may fail, but Jesus’ church will not fail. Transfer ownership back to Him. Is your church taking the offensive? You should, because the devil is stuck on the defence, knowing that it is only a matter of time before his kingdom is plundered.

​Reflection on 2016 : Fantastic Adventure In Trusting Him (Faith)

After I terminated my PhD last year, I felt lost. We know that when God closes a door, He opens another door. It’s a nice cliché. What people don’t tell you is that there’s a lag time between. A time for waiting on God.

That lag time is critical for faith to be built. God often reveals only the next step. As Psalms 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” In the old days, an oil lamp could only illuminate a few feet ahead. Just enough for the next step and then more light for the next. (If you play computer games, it’s called ‘fog of war’)!

As we take the first step, God leads us to the next. The journey seems long and even endless. Where is the door? Where am I going? Even when we can’t see ahead, faith leads us in full assurance that God knows what He’s doing.

God led me this year to join a seminary, Trinity Theological College. I had other plans but God closed the doors. I realised that we have to keep moving and not stand still. It’s hard to move a stationary vehicle in another direction. But if a vehicle is already in motion, it can be easily redirected. With faith, we move forward but must hold on to the wheel gently to allow God to turn us if necessary. He may have seen the dangerous cliff edge just beyond our vision.

That is faith. A fantastic adventure in trusting Him. Even when life seems headed nowhere, we trust that God holds the future. No song captures it as beautifully as the old gospel hymn “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow”. It was written in 1950 by Ira Stanfill after his wife divorced him. He could not understand why as he served God faithfully. The second stanza declares:

I don’t worry o’er the future,
For I know what Jesus said.
And today I’ll walk beside Him,
For He knows what is ahead.

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

A Guide on Prayer (Watchman Nee)

I’ve found an extremely profound and useful sharing on prayer by Watchman Nee in his book, A Living Sacrifice (Basic Lessons Vol. 1). I’ll like to crystallise some of his insights to enhance your prayer lives.

Conditions for Answered Prayer

1.  Ask

Christians should learn how to pray specifically, not generally. (Jas. 4:2; Lk. 11:9-10)

2. Do not ask amiss

Men may ask God for their needs, but they are not supposed to ask unreasonably or beyond their measure. Ask God to supply your needs, not your wants or lusts. (Jas. 4:3)

3. Sin must be dealt with

If anyone has a known sin in his heart and his heart clings to it, his prayer will not be heard by God. (Ps. 66:18) You must confess your sin first (Prov. 28:13).

Pray: “Here is a sin which my heart does regard and finds hard to give up, but now I ask for your forgiveness. I am willing to forsake it; I ask you to deliver me from it that it may not remain with me. I do not want it and I resist it.”

4. Must Believe

One must believe when he is praying, because if he believes then he shall receive. What is faith? Faith is believing that he receives what he prays for. (Mk. 11:12-24)

We have a wrong concept of faith. We pray in faith so we “shall receive” rather than believing we “have receive”. Watchman relates an incident where a woman was praying for healing. She prayed in faith that God “will heal” rather than praying that God “has healed” her. This is not faith, it is hope. She tried to get out of bed in order that God would heal her and Watchman urgently warned her against it because: “First faith, then work. Such work is living. If work precedes faith, it is dead. This is a basic principle. If you believe that you are healed, then your getting out of bed is living; otherwise it is dead.”

The next day, she died.

Faith is when you are brought to the place whereby you can claim God has already heard your prayer. Somehow you know that God has heard you and more prayer is not necessary.

Prayer is divided into two parts: In the first part, praying till promise is given. In the second part, praising God till the realisation of the promise. The diagram below illustrates this concept:

Watchman describes it in another way. Normal prayer has two focal points: Praying for something and then receiving it. However, true prayer has three focal points that lies in between both: Faith, this confidence that you’ve received what you prayed for already in the Spirit.
Thus it can be illustrated as 1) No Faith to Faith, 2) Praising from Faith to actual possession. It is crucial that we praise in the second part and not pray. Watchman solemnly warns that further prayer could destroy faith.

How can one maintain faith? By praising the Lord: “O Lord, I praise You, for You have heard my prayer. You heard me a month ago.”

5. Keep on Praying

He cites the parable of the persistent widow who wore out the judge to give in to her requests as our example (Lk. 18:1). We must keep praying till faith comes, as it were, troubling God till he has to hear you.

Get a Prayer Book

This is crucial to record what you’ve prayed for and how God has answered you. Over the years, this forms a confidence that God is faithful to answer. If our prayers are not heard, something is wrong. I love this quote by him:

Unless the way to God is clear, the way to men is blocked. He who is powerless before God is powerless before men. Men ought to seek to have power in prayer before God; otherwise they will be useless persons.

Make a book as such:

What should you pray for? He lists 4 items:
a. Pray that all people of the world to be saved

b. Pray for the full restoration of Israel.

c. Pray for God to give grace, gifts, light and life to the church.

d. Pray for your country that Christians may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity (1 Tim 2:2).

Prayer Has Two Ends

Prayer has two ends: one end is in the person who prays and the other end is the thing or person prayed for. Oftentimes the first end needs to undergo transformation before the other end can be changed. Ask the Lord if you need to be changed first. Deal with your sins.

The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas

Recently, I was touched by the stories of martyrdom in my church history classes. Of note is the account of Perpetua and her servant Felicitas during the 3rd century AD.

Perpetua was a young mother while Felicitas was 8 months pregnant. They were both persecuted for being Christians. Despite the pleadings of Perpetua’s father, she refused to recant the faith. Thus, she is condemned to a brutal death.

Indeed, Perpetua’s story of courage in the face of death is an encouragement to us all. God was as real to her then as He is now.

 

Elements of Salvation: Person and Grace

In my previous post, I mentioned that salvation has 3 elements.

  1. Salvation is always by blood
  2. Salvation is always through a person
  3. Salvation is always by grace

I talked about salvation is always by blood. Now I shall cover the last two.

Salvation is always through a person.

Jonah 2:9

I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’

Salvation only comes from the Lord and no one else. It cannot come from:

  • Education
  • Church membership
  • Baptism
  • Good works
  • Keeping the law
  • Sincerity

As Jesus said clearly,

John 14:6

 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Salvation is found only in Jesus. If there was any other way for man to be saved, Jesus would have died for nothing.

The third point about salvation is that:

Salvation is always by grace.

Ephesians 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

In this verse, Paul contrasted grace and works. The opposite of grace is works. What is the difference? Grace is undeserved and free while works is deserved and a result of our self-effort.

Man always believes that he is capable of determining his destiny and able to save themselves. That religion is a crutch for the weak. Unfortunately, the Bible says otherwise. Man cannot reach God through his works. We are sinful and can do nothing good. God desires perfection from us. And perfection can only be found in Jesus’ work on the cross.

Jesus has finished the work. All we need is to believe in the finished work. That’s the only work you can do – believe. You say it sounds too good to be true! Indeed it is. That’s what grace is all about. Jesus became a man so that He could die for your sins. Not because we deserve to be saved but because He loves you and wants a relationship with you.

Romans 5:8

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

No other bargain in the world can compare to what God has offered us. Jesus offers to take away your sins so that you can receive His righteousness for free. Have you accepted this free gift?

Relying on God

image

When I was in the Army, I remembered filling up a form. It was to check that you’re mentally sound and not going to go Rambo with an M16 rifle. So the officer gave out these blue forms with different questions to a group of us and we were supposed to answer it on a scale of  one to ten, how much I agreed with the statement. I wasn’t thinking very much until I reached the question. ‘You can rely on yourself to accomplish your tasks and future plans?’ Honestly, I wasn’t sure. Should I have confidence in myself or God?

I’m not alone on this. If I asked you that question, how would you answer? When you face a task, do you rely on yourself, or on God? Motivational speakers tell us that we are captain of our destinies. That we can go anywhere we have set our eyes and hearts on. Believe in yourself! Isn’t that what self-esteem is? Does God say anything about reliance? Indeed the Bible has the answer, and it is this: Reliance on God is not a sign of weakness but strength.

Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 1:9, where Paul writes:

Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

Paul relied totally on God, not himself! Paul used the phrase ‘this happened’, indicating that the sentence of death was from God to teach him a precious lesson. To rely fully on God. Can we say the same?

Later on in the same book, Paul writes:

2 Corinthians 4:7
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

This power within us is Jesus Christ. There is nothing fantastic about us outwardly. We are just jars of clay. But inside, there is a great treasure, a great power. Which is more important? The jar or what is in the jar? Obviously, the power in the jar! Similarly, we are just vessels or conduits of God’s power and no attention should be focussed on how great we are. Only God is great.

There is no shame in admitting that we are weak without God. For when we are weak, God’s strength is made perfect. Don’t be afraid to rely on God, even for the most mundane, simplest of tasks that you do today. Ask God for His power to be demonstrated in you, a jar of clay.

If you’re wondering how I filled up the form for that question, I put a one showing I had no confidence in myself. My friends with me were confused but this world cannot understand the paradox of God. Think about it: Jesus, the God of the universe, came down in weak human flesh, made Himself nothing and died on a cruel cross so that we all can become strong in Him. How can we not rely on a Man like that?