Instant Family: Reflections on Adoption

Instant Family (2018) — The Movie Database (TMDb)In the movie Instant Family (2018), a couple decides to adopt 3 foster kids and it describes their tumultuous journey of adoption. One of the hardest task is to convince the foster kids, who often move around different homes, that they’re really loved. In one of the key scenes, the couple are deliberating whether to give up their foster kids. The man’s mother walks in and offers life wisdom that leads them to change their minds on adoption:

“She doesn’t hate you, she just thinks you don’t love her. You get reminded what a sack of sh-t you are five times a day, after a while, you can’t believe anyone could ever love you.”

-Sandy Wagner (Instant Family)

Children need a proper loving stable home with one male father and one female mother. If you’re interested in adoption or foster care you can check out their website. If you’re in Singapore, check out Home For Good SG.

Adoption is a wonderful theme in the Bible. We learn to address God as our Father (abba is an Aramaic term that is can translated by papa or daddy). We learn to see fellow believers as brothers and sisters in Christ. We join a new family of God. Just check out these few verses:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”

Romans 8:15

…and…

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.

John 1:12

These are only a small sampling of the grace that God has given us by adopting us as his children, as his family. A close friend of mine who recently adopted a baby boy said to me, “One of the greatest revelations I had was that Jesus himself was adopted.” He’s absolutely right. Jesus’ father Joseph had no part to play in the virgin birth and was like an adopted father to Jesus.

Are you are part of God’s family yet? Are you adopted as his child? Do you realise the blessing of being God’s son or daughter? You can return to him if you’ve strayed away because he’s waiting for you. He loves you like his flesh and blood. God the Father sent Jesus to die for you so that you can become his family.

Why? Because you’re worth it.

1917: Reflections on Evangelism

In the epic World War I movie “1917” (2019), two soldiers are tasked with sending a message to another battalion to stop them from attacking the Germans. Why? Based on army intelligence, it was a trap and the British soldiers would be massacred. There lies the tension – Would the two young soldiers survive the dangerous journey across the war field? And even if they did survive, would they reach in time to inform their comrades? It’s a nail-biting movie and I won’t give any spoilers!

But it hit me that the theme of “1917” relates directly to evangelism. Evangelism is telling others about Jesus and turning them away from death and destruction. See the connection with the movie? All of us as Christians are given the mandate in the Great Commission (Matt 28) to tell others about Jesus and to turn them from their sins before it’s too late.

The first element is danger. Just like the two soldiers who braved perils along the way, we too must brave dangers. Some may be in the form of ridicule, rejection and for missionaries, even death. Are we willing to bring this message of hope to dying people? God gives Ezekiel a responsibility to be a watchman to warn people to turn from their sins:

Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me. If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. But if you warn them to repent and they don’t repent, they will die in their sins, but you will have saved yourself.

Ezekiel 33:7-9 (NLT)

The second element is time. In “1917” the message had to be delivered by dawn the next day. There wasn’t time for chit-chat or giving up. Time was of the essence. If they were too slow, people would die. Similarly, people need to hear about Jesus before they end this life. Now ever more so in this Covid-19 situation where life is so unpredictable. But nothing can stop us from telling others about Jesus whether in person or through technology (Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, blogs). The time is now. As Paul says:

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.

Colossians 4:5-6 (NLT)

Will you brave the dangers to tell others about Jesus?

Will you sense the urgency and grab every chance to tell others about Jesus?

If two soldiers would risk their lives to save people from physical death, would we risk all to save people from eternal death?

Loving the Foreigners in our Midst

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“Send them back to China or wherever they came from!”

“That’s what you get for eating bats and all those weird animals!”

These are some of the racist comments that emerged because of the novel coronavirus. It showed an ugly side of us Singaporeans. There’s probably many other ugly sides that are creeping to the surface, for example, panic buying of food items. But for now, we address the xenophobic comments that are prejudiced against people from other countries. These comments certainly are not helpful and instead provoke more rage and discrimination.

What does the Bible say to us about foreigners in our midst? Leviticus makes it clear:

Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:33-34

This laws were given to the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt. When we read God’s laws we understand his character. We see that God has a soft spot for the downtrodden, the oppressed, the defenseless. He has compassion on those that are weak and helpless.

So God reminds the Israelites not to abuse the foreigners in their midst. God knew it would be a problem. He knew that foreigners would be taken advantaged of and treated as lower-class citizens. The amazing thing is God’s love for them. He commanded Israelites to “love them as you love yourself”. That’s where we get Jesus’ greatest commandment in the Gospels (Mark 12:30-31). We are to love the foreigners just like we love ourselves. It can be tough. Really tough. When someone from a different culture looks different, smells different, talks different, behaves different. But God’s command still stands – love them as you love yourself.

God then gives the reason behind the command – “you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt.” It was a terrible time living in Egypt, being oppressed and stepped on. Because you once faced such terrible oppression, you know how a foreigner would feel like being oppressed by you. Sometimes, hard times can drive us to be more cruel to others or to be more compassionate to others. God, in his grace and mercy, rescued the Israelites from cruel slavery and brought them to wonderful promised land of enjoyment. He wanted them to be good masters who loved others in their midst, even the foreigners. It was a difficult lesson to absorb for the Jewish race. No wonder the Teacher of the Law could not believe that loving his neighbour included loving a Samaritan (Luke 10).

God wants us to love the foreigners in our midst because we once were foreigners ourselves. My great-grandparents were from China too before settling in Singapore. I wonder how they felt when they first came. If you can’t identify with being a foreigner, think about the first time you entered a new school or workplace and you know no one. Or another country where you can’t speak the language. It’s a terrible feeling to be harshly treated by others just because we’re new or different. And often we forget that initial feeling when a new person comes along.

Can we love the foreigner in our midst with God’s love? Jesus died for the sins of this world, even that foreigner, to bring us to God. All of us were in the same boat, headed for death and hell. But Jesus died to rescue us from eternal punishment. If Jesus died for everyone, it means all have worth in his sight. We are to love them as ourselves.

The Power of a Quarter-Life Crisis

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The Quarter-life crisis is real.

Recently, a few of my Christian friends in their twenties had quit their stable job in order to seek out God’s plan for their life. It seems crazy considering the bad shape of the job market right now. But they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Wikipedia defines the Quarter-life crisis as:

…a crisis “involving anxiety over the direction and quality of one’s life” which is most commonly experienced in a period ranging from a person’s twenties up to their mid-thirties.

I like the words “direction and quality of one’s life”. Some holy discontent was stirring in their hearts. Is that all life is about? Even for me, I chose to enter bible school in my late twenties. What’s happening?

My parent’s generation faced the mid-life crisis (in Bob Buford’s book – Half Time). Now it’s getting earlier. My parents could work at a job for 20 to 30 years till retirement. It’s no longer true for the millennials.

We want more.

It’s really encouraging to see young people stepping out of their comfort zone for God. To give up lucrative careers. To leave cozy homes. It’s not about that anymore.

Jesus was right when he said:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Matthew 16:24-26

That’s the paradox of Christianity. We only find life in full Technicolor when we die to the world. It may seem so foolish to the world, but to Jesus, it’s the best decision you could ever make. Because the way of the cross is the way of death.

Death to your ambitions.

Death to your desires.

Death to your self.

Jesus died at the age of 33. It was a short life.

But can we measure the impact of life by its length? Of course not. It’s about a life well lived for Jesus and His kingdom.

Young people today are looking for meaning. Is there something stirring in your heart? That there’s more to life than what you’re doing now? A holy discontent with where your life is headed? If that’s you, it’s not too late to change your life’s direction.

Book Summary: Love Like That (Dr Les Parrott)

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Love Like That: Relationship Secrets from Jesus (Dr Les Parrott, 2018)

There are five concrete ways to help us love more like Jesus:

1. Be mindful – not indifferent – by seeing what others don’t.

2. Be approachable – not exclusive – by moving out of your comfort zone.

3. Be grace-full – not judgmental – by not limiting your love to people who deserve it.

4. Be bold – not fearful – by speaking truthfully and risking rejection.

5. Be self-giving – not self-serving – by emptying yourself for empathy.

We cannot love like Jesus without the Holy Spirit’s help. There are five ways to walk in the Spirit of Christ.

1. We need to open our eyes to become mindful of the Spirit in our lives. We need to pray: “Help me recognise you and learn your voice. I want to see you, moment by moment, in my life.”

2. We need to open our arms and invite the Spirit to live within us. We need to pray: “I welcome you into my life, even when I feel weary, and into this moment right now to show me how to love as you do.”

3. We need to open our hearts to accept how the Spirit is counseling us. We need to pray: “Guide me even when I don’t know what to say or do in this moment. I want to hear your truthful teaching even if it’s tough to hear.”

4. We need to open our mouths to boldly ask for the Spirit’s power within and through us. We need to pray: “Work wonders through me in this moment for this person I’m trying to love. Give me the power I don’t have to love this person the way you do.”

5. We need to open our selves by giving our lives over to the Spirit each day. We need to pray: “I want to surrender to my will to yours and depend on you to fill me with your desires and your motivations in loving others. I am dependent on you for loving others at the highest levels. I can’t do it without you.”

Connect with the Spirit daily through reading the Bible daily and praying. It gradually changes our lives and slowly shapes our heart. God is everywhere, even in the most common of places, when we quiet our minds enough to notice.

So Close and Yet So Far Away

Image result for pharisee and jesus“So close, so close and yet so far…”

Thus goes Frankie Valli’s hit song, “My Eyes Adored You”. I think God also sang that song about the Pharisees in Jesus’ days. They seemed to be doing all the right stuff, praying the right words, but their hearts were far away from God. Jesus said about them:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’”

Matt 15:8-9

The Pharisees’ problem is just as fresh today. One of the greatest dangers of pastoral ministry is to believe that serving God means you’re right with God. Just because you’re leading the worship or preaching sermons doesn’t mean that your heart is right with God. Christianity is not a performance-based religion. It’s a relationship with God.

Jesus quoted from Isaiah the Prophet (Isaiah 29:13). It was not a new problem. It was centuries old. Priests were serving God, offering right sacrifices but hearts were not right with God. God wasn’t pleased. Their worship was “vain”. What does “vain” mean? Useless. Futile. Pointless. Worthless.

This really scares me. I can be so zealous to lead Bible studies, to sing worship songs, to tithe faithfully but totally missing the mark. No wonder  Joel said:

“Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

Joel 2:13

God is not merely interested in outward actions. He’s looking at your heart. Our actions must flow from inside-out. If our heart is not right with God, Joel says: Return to the Lord your God. I love that. God is compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. He wants you more than anything else in the world. He doesn’t want your words, your money. He wants your heart. Whole-hearted devotion.

Let’s not get caught up with the same issue that the Pharisees had. They focused on the outside rather than the inside. If you’re serving God yet feel so far away spiritually, it’s time to reflect. It’s time to return to Him.

He’s waiting.

He’s close and not so far away.

Jesus Doesn’t Need Your Fish!

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When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

John 21:9-10

The disciples were restless. Jesus had just died on the cross and reappeared alive in the flesh to them. Then he disappeared again like a magician. It was a visionless time for them. What were they to do now?

Peter went back to what he knew – fishing. He was supposed to be a Fisher of men not a fisherman. But in times of aimlessness, he went back to his old job. He went back into his comfort zone. So they laboured hard through the night but caught nothing. But in the early morning light, a stranger called out from the shore.

In the misty morning fog, they couldn’t recognise who it was at first. Just instructions to let down the net on the other side. We read:  

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

John 21:6

John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, recognised the stranger as Jesus. How did he know? Because it was a miracle déjà vu. Just when Jesus first called Peter and a few others with a miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5), he reminded them again of that original call. Sometimes we lose sight of our original call. We get tired of ministry because it’s so difficult. So unrewarding. So thankless. It isn’t worth the effort or heartache. We go back to our own ways. Maybe even considering calling it quits.

But Jesus gently renews our call. He shows Peter that he can do nothing without him. Toiling all night yielded nothing. Your experience in the past doesn’t guarantee success in the present. Till he gave a simple instruction to cast the net on the other side of the boat. Jesus reminded Peter that he could not achieve anything without his help. Similarly, we cannot achieve anything without God’s help. No matter how hard we may work. No matter how experienced we are (Peter was an experienced fisherman). Do you believe that without Jesus you cannot do anything? I mean, literally, anything with Jesus? That’s a humbling thought.

There’s Peter’s miraculous catch. But we may miss Jesus’s miraculous catch too. When they reach the shore, Jesus had already started grilling his own fishes. Where on earth did he get them from? It teaches us an important lesson in ministry: Jesus doesn’t need your fish. Let that sink in for a moment. He can do the work just as well with or without you. But as co-partners, co-labourers in this wonderful redemptive ministry, Jesus gives us the privilege to join in (1 Cor 3:9).

Jesus tells Peter, “Bring some of the fish you caught.” Though He can work without us, he wants to work with us. That’s the ultimate rest knowing that we don’t need to produce results. But when we obey Jesus and his methods, there will be fruit. Fishes will be caught. Nets will refuse to break even under immense weight. Miracles will appear. When we co-labour with Jesus, we rest in the fact that Jesus doesn’t need our fish but he wants it.

Love is a One-Way Street

Image result for hosea redeems gomerWould you love someone that keeps on cheating on you? Keeps on betraying you? It’s really tough even painful. Once bitten, twice shy as they say. But Hosea the prophet was asked by God to redeem his adulterous wife Gomer from sexual slavery. He was asked to love her again. Could you do that if you were Hosea? We read:

The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.’

So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, ‘You are to live with me for many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.’

Hosea 3:1-3

Hosea’s love for Gomer is a picture of God’s love for Israel though they have been unfaithful. Though they rejected God’s love. Though they ran after other gods. I’m not sure how Hosea would have felt. I would have asked God, “Are you serious? She’s hurt me too many times. I’m done with her.” But God asks him to love again. It’s a costly love too – Hosea had to pay to get his won wife back. That’s a beautiful picture of redemption.

On one level, it teaches us how to love others. Especially people that aren’t easy to love or grateful or willing to change. We don’t know how Gomer lived or if she changed her sinful ways. Hosea’s love teaches us how to truly love others.

There are so many aspects of this love. Love is risky. Love is a choice. Love is costly. Love takes courage. Love is long-suffering. Love is a one-way street. It doesn’t take but gives – again and again, in the hope that the other person changes. It opens you up to be hurt again. In spite of all that, Hosea still loves. You have the power to love someone else. No one can take that away.

God loves us with this kind of love when he sent Jesus to die for us.

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

Romans 5:8

Jesus didn’t redeem us with money or barley like Hosea did, but with his blood. He died on the cross to redeem us from slavery to sin. He didn’t wait for us to clean up our act before he would die for us. He died for us so that we could clean up our act. It was a great risk. We could reject his gift of salvation. But love gives first. It’s a one-way street. It’s a choice to make the first move.

How would you respond? Would you give up your sinful ways and accept Jesus as your Saviour? He loves you so much that he gave his life for you. No one is too far from God. No one is too bad for God to save. Would you show love to someone that doesn’t deserve it? Though that person has failed you time and time again? When we love, we are most like God.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:10-12

Sermon: The Three Marks of a True Disciple

Sermon I delivered at Yishun Methodist Mission on 30 June 2019 based on Luke 9:57-62.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:57-62

1. A New Lifestyle of Sacrificing for Jesus
2. A New Priority of Submitting to Jesus
3. A New Commitment to be Steadfast on Jesus

“The Son of Man came to Seek and Save the Lost.”

We all know someone in our church or youth group that we rather avoid. We feel they don’t fit. They don’t match up to our standards. It could be a dubious background. Worse, maybe he drinks and smokes. Or someone sporting tattoos or dyed green hair. Even though we often say that the church is welcoming to all, in reality it is far from true. We are willing to say hello but not willing to invite them out for a meal. We keep our distance from people who seem to be a bad influence to our kids. In our hearts, we just wish that this person might consider joining another church. Do you know what Jesus would do? The Bible tells us in Luke 19.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

Luke 19:1-4

Zacchaeus wasn’t a good guy. Tax collectors were seen as traitors of the Jews and much hated. When Jesus came into town, Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was but nobody was going to let him through. Do you ever stop people from coming to see Jesus by the way you treat them? How many people have left the church without ever seeing Jesus! Back to the story. Zacchaeus was a short man, maybe like me, who has difficulty looking over crowds. So he climbed a tree to see Jesus. The amazing thing was this: Zacchaeus wasn’t only looking for Jesus. Jesus was looking for him. Who would expect that Jesus, a holy man of God, would look for this scumbag?

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

Luke 19:5-6

Jesus prophetically knew Zacchaeus’s name. Of course. Jesus was looking for him. He wasn’t just passing through. Can you imagine if you jostle with the crowd to snap a photo of your favourite celebrity and she suddenly turns to you and calls you by name? I would be stunned and honoured at the same time. So was Zacchaeus. Jesus not only called his name, but insisted on going to his house. Out of all the people in Jericho, definitely there were some “better” people to spend time with. Why with this great sinner? That’s the heart of Jesus.

Even in churches, who should you choose to spend time with? We often shut sinners out when they don’t behave. We say they are a bad influence to others. But Jesus purposely spent time with sinners without asking them to change their behaviour first. He showed them respect and love. That’s how we reach lost sinners. We intentionally spend time and love them first without condemning them. Even if they somehow change, it is external only. For permanent change, they need a heart change from the inside out.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Luke 19:7-8

After Zacchaeus received Jesus, he repented of his wrong ways. When sinners receive Jesus, then they will reform their ways. They need Jesus to change their hearts. Jesus sums up his ministry when he said:

“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Luke 19:9-10

We need to be like Jesus by seeking and saving the lost. He sought them on their turf, not his. He went to where they were. Likewise, we should go to them. Go to the malls. Go to their houses. Go to the bars. Go to the coffee shops. Go to the club houses. Go overseas on mission trips. Jesus’ heart is to seek and save the lost. What about yours?