Category Archives: Theocentric Orientation

The Word of God is living and active, and beckons us to discover its revelations through intentional exegeses.

Introducing Judah Tan // 陈毅…

On 20 June 2017, just before 5pm, I received another incredible gift from God—my beloved son. Praise the Lord! We are thankful to Him for Huiyi’s relatively easy pregnancy and quick labour, but most of all we are grateful for another arrow added to our quiver. With him, I am well pleased, indeed.

Some of our friends might already know that my wife and I take selecting names for our children seriously; we are meticulous, intentional and prayerful about it. Click here to check out how we decided on our firstborn’s English and Chinese names. And in keeping with tradition, I will journal on how we came up with our son’s names.

For starters, we avoided names that were too common, and we also wanted a name that appears in the Bible. We preferred a name that was derived from a biblical location, just like Eden. Thus, we thought of “Israel”, a nation that is special to God, but it didn’t go well with “Tan” and we didn’t want him to explain that he’s a Singaporean, and not an Israeli, for his entire lifetime. Haha.

But because we had considered Israel, we inevitably considered “Judah” as well.

In the Bible, Judah (pronounced as “joo-duh”, not “joo-dah”) made his debut as Jacob’s fourth son (Ge 29:35). It is a Hebrew expression that means “the praised one” and “thanksgiving”, for Judah’s biblical parents shared that sentiment when he was born. Judah then became one of the 12 tribes of Israel (Ge 49)—and the only tribe that remained loyal to King David’s family line (1Ki 12:20). When the Davidic kingdom split, the Northern kingdom was called Israel, and the Southern kingdom, Judah. What’s special about the Southern kingdom was that Jesus eventually descended from it (He 7:14).

Of course, Judah is not to be mistaken with “Judas” (Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus). I’ll teach my son to lovingly educate anyone who mistakens his name with Judas with, “Perhaps it’s time you read the Bible…” Hehe.

Well, we like Judah because of his actions in the Bible. In Ge 37:26, Judah intervened for Joseph’s life to be spared; that demonstrated leadership initiative. By being responsible for the family despite not being the eldest (Ge 43:1-18), Judah prevailed above circumstances and beyond limitations. I also love how courageous Judah was especially in Ge 43:9 and 44:18, as he took charge of the situation by boldly speaking his mind. And throughout the rest of Judah’s biblical narrative, he influenced the proceedings in his household and played a principal role in leading his family to redemption.

And of course, anyone who’s described as a “Lion” (of Judah, Re 5:5) gives the impression of an imposing figure. All in all, Judah just seemed like a young man who would lead the battle from the front. I love that imagery, which is probably influenced by my training as a tank officer. #oncearmouralwaysarmour

But perhaps the most significant thing about Judah was that he was the first to receive full blessings (from his father), without any curses (like some of his brothers). In Ge 49:8-10 (NLT), it reads,

“Judah, your brothers will praise you.
You will grasp your enemies by the neck.
All your relatives will bow before you.
Judah, my son, is a young lion
that has finished eating its prey.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down;
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
the one whom all nations will honour.”

As for his Chinese name, it was slightly more difficult because of the criterions we had set. Firstly, we wanted it simple, so like his sister, Judah’s Chinese name would be a single character (单名). It had to be unchanged from traditional (繁体字) to simplified (简体字) Chinese, so that no meaning is lost. It had to be in the fourth sound (第四声), so that it would sound unyielding as well as pleasant with my surname (陈). But most of all, it had to carry the meaning of “faith”, or along the lines of it, like “persevering”, “enduring” or “steadfastness”. Finding a single character that encapsulated all that was a tall order because I’m an #ACS boy and my alma-mater is (in)famously #anglominuschineseschool.

So the first person we turned to was Charles, a friend who has a PhD (!) in Chinese history (!!). He is the same church friend who gave our firstborn her exceptional Chinese name (晏). His first recommendation was 信. We liked it because it fulfilled all our conditions, but we were also open to other options. (As an aside, it would have been pretty cool to call my son 阿信 too, considering how much I liked 五月天. Ha!)

But since we were considering alternatives, I decided to consult Ps Walter, my superbly bilingual colleague and interpreter extraordinaire, for more suggestions. And after looking through two to three of his choices, we found one that was (close to) perfect. This new suggestion received rave reviews from Charles too. It carried the meanings of “perseverance”, “insistence”, “resolute”, “decisive”, “staunch”, “strong”, “firm”, “brave”, “fearless”, “urgency”, “determination” and “fighting against evil”, which are just about all we would want in our son, as a man, and as a future leader. (Yes, I’ve clearly done my research on its etymology.)

So, Judah’s Chinese name is 陈毅 (pronounced as “Chén Yì”). It is also a clever wordplay on 诚意 (“sincerity”, “good faith” and “frankness”). Well, 毅 has a few more strokes than we would have preferred, but a future ACSian could do with a bit more practice in Chinese! Haha! Incidentally, the English and Chinese names have similar meanings.

For Huiyi and I, the English name we pick calls forth the child’s destiny and the Chinese name describes the pregnancy journey. The lesson that God had been teaching us (especially my wife) in the year leading up to his birth, is to have faith in Him. (We’ll leave the details for a private sharing…)

We’ve always wanted to name our offspring after the fruit of the Spirit. So now we’ve got love (חֵן, “Chen”, 陈), joy (Eden), peace (晏), and now goodness (Judah, well sorta…) and faithfulness (毅). So I guess there’s still space for more! Ha-HA!

In conclusion, and on a serious note, my prayer and aspiration for my son is taken from 2Ti 2:1-2 (NASB),

“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Hence, it becomes our prayer that our little lion will grow up to become a humble but bold individual who will lead others to praise God and give thanks to Him through his persevering character.

Judah Tah

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Lent 01: lend me Your strength // Psalm 119:25-32.

I struggle to pray, not just today, but everyday.

It is impossible to stay on the path of holiness unless I have the enabling grace of God; and yet so often I depend on my strength to become strong in God – what a tragic paradox. Perhaps my carnality compels me to do that instinctively because I do not understand the grace of God intimately and experientially.

The psalmist beckons me to depend on God to:

  1. Give me life
  2. Teach me His statutes
  3. Make me understand
  4. Strengthen me
  5. Put false ways far from me
  6. Teach me His law
  7. Let me not be put to shame, and
  8. Enlarge my heart

Perhaps this is only possible if I:

  1. Tell Him my ways
  2. Meditate on His works
  3. Choose the way of faithfulness
  4. Set His rules before me
  5. Cling to His testimonies
  6. Run in the way of His commandments

Holy Spirit, please help me to quicken my spiritual senses; I need You to help me pray unceasingly. I desire to seek the Lord before I embark on every task so that I can regularly reorientate my focus. I boldly ask You to help me by reminding me, so that I may respond by remembering to pray, and eventually relying on You becomes a required routine of my life.

***

No Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? No problem. No Football Manager? No problem. No unedifying words? No problem. No air-conditioning? No problem. No meat, sugar, snacks and tidbits? No problem. But no morning coffee? Oh I felt its absence as early as the second hour into the lecture.

I have three lists: start doing, stop doing and still doing. It’s easy to stop, hard to start but hardest to be consistent.

I know it’s only the first day, but I’m ultra-Sanguine about what I want to achieve and I need the Lord to still my heart in pacing myself. Am I disappointed because I failed to do what I had set out to do today? Perhaps. But what I want to be disappointed about is that I didn’t, couldn’t and haven’t met Christ today. I am reminded that it’s not about accomplishments for Christ but about alignment to Christ.

God is faithful – what I had contemplated upon this past week was confirmed in the first lecture on spiritual direction; I am certain that my maiden Quadregesima will alter my spiritual life forever. I go to bed tonight with a plethora of expectations soaked in optimism but littered with potentially prideful intentions. Oh may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing unto You, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.

Jesus, I’m here to meet with You, won’t You come and meet with me? I want to taste a morsel of Paul’s experience when he said, “For me to live is Christ!” May You be centralised in my life all over again.

conversing with God // week two.

I am constantly amazed at how much the Holy Spirit is willing to teach me when my heart is open to God’s Word. In case you’re wondering, I do not use any devotional materials (since 2008 anyway). In my daily time with Jesus, I’m accompanied by an NLT Bible, a black Staedtler pen, a yellow Staedler highlight and a trusty ol’ journal. I use a variety of methods to get deeper into the Word: including mechanical breakdown, SOAP (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer), word studies and of course unstructured incoherent scribblings. And since these observations are birthed from my journalling, they obviously make more sense to me than you.

When you feed your roots, you grow your fruits. (:

7 Jan // Mark 4:1-20

My observation is that a farmer (aka preacher/teacher of the Word) has a seven-fold responsibility:

  1. Firstly, he must faithfully plant (seeds). If he doesn’t scatter them, there is zero chance of plants growing.
  2. He must pray that birds don’t prey on his efforts of scattering seeds and eat up those that fell on the footpath.
  3. He must (re)position the plants growing on rocky soil to fertile soil, so that their shallow roots will grow deep.
  4. He must purge out the thorns and weeds in his farm that prevent the plants from producing fruit.
  5. He must prune the plants that are not growing too well, and this painful process usually involves patiently taking one step back (but two steps forward later).
  6. He must persist with the plants that fell on fertile soil by cultivating the ground and not getting complacent.
  7. Finally, he must press (in) and entrust the growth of the plants to God, and patiently wait for them to produce fruit in season in multiple folds, and then be ready to harvest them.

Thankfully, these roles actually have many limitations. It teaches me to be rested in the Lord who grows people and not get restless in wanting to grow them by my (enthusiastic but unnecessary) over-exertions. When I am rooted and rested, my life will be radical (back to basics).

8 Jan // Mark 4:21-34

“Secret” is a neutral word. I’m inclined to link it our sense of security. And those with nasty secrets live in fear; either it haunts them from time to time, or the fear of it coming to light makes them live defensively.

“Exposure” too, is a neutral word. And those who live righteously have nothing to fear. On the contrary, the good things executed and the bad things endured in secret receive commendation and vindication respectively.

That’s why the ideal but toughest part of your life to surrender God and let Him dwell in is your heart. No one but the Holy Spirit knows what’s truly meditating in the deep recesses of your heart; after all, who can hide from God?

The call to live out the kingdom of God isn’t just an outward show for men but an inward submission to the Master. If you allow the Word of God to purge you and the Holy Spirit to purify you, “secrets” and “exposure” might just become your allies.

Lord, grow the Word planted in me in secret and at the right time by Your loving grace, have the Holy Spirit expose to me my known and unknown sins so that I may become more like Jesus. In my secret time alone with You, reveal to me Your kingdom and help me to pay close attention to what You are saying so that I will understand You and receive even more from You.

9 Jan // Mark 4:35-41

Of course Jesus knew what He was doing when He sailed out to sea with his disciples after dusk. Of course He was “sleeping” in the middle of a fierce storm. Of course He knew that His disciples were oh-so-full-of-faith after teaching about faith the entire day.

In the midst of a storm in your life, is your first response to Jesus about how bad your situation is and why He would let you to go through it?

But despite our immaturity, Jesus is still faithful; He first sorts out your storm, then He gently confronts you with two key questions: “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

In life’s struggles, let’s learn to have faith in Him who doesn’t just control the situations but personally leads us in and out of them. And let’s remember that He is more concerned about us knowing “Who is this man?” than simply delivering us from shipwrecks.

Don’t put your faith in the practice of faith, but in the person of Jesus.

10 Jan // Mark 5

To “Legion” who possessed the man, Jesus represented the end, but to the suffering man, Jesus represented the beginning.

Jairus and the bleeding woman shows us that knowing Jesus requires both faith and fear. Both Jairus and the woman fell at the feet of Jesus; one overcame his reputation, the other overcame her reservations. Would you overcome these to know Jesus?

The woman foreshadowed the positive kind of faith that Jairus should have – drawing us towards Jesus. But the people at Gerasenes who chased Jesus away featured a negative kind of fear that drives us away from Jesus – what a contrast!

To Jesus, having faith is everything. Maybe that’s why He chased away those who laughed at Him when He said Jairus’ daughter was asleep – not because He was embarrassed, but that He didn’t want these mockers to douse the faith of Jairus, his wife and His three disciples.

No wonder He said to Jairus (and perhaps to us all today), “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”

Our response to Jesus determines our knowledge of Him. Indeed, without faith, it is impossible to please God.

11 Jan // Mark 6:1-29

You can choose to be amazed by Jesus, or you can choose to amaze Him. If you want to amaze Him, start by scoffing Him, then by taking deep offence with Him. It’ll naturally lead you to a refusal to believe who He is and what He can do.

Holy Spirit, please guard my heart and mind against unbelief.

12 Jan // Psalm 42

Lord, make my heart how it used to be. In taking care of young people, enable me to love as a father could, intercede as a mother would and help as a brother should. For I desire to lead Your people to shout for joy and sing Your praise. May my hope in You alone anchor my soul in tumultuous days of disappointment.

13 Jan // Mark 6:30-42

Do I depend on the power of the Master or the proficiency of man when I preach God’s Word, pursue God’s ways and perform God’s will? It baffles me constantly that Jesus would choose to use human agency to showcase the Kingdom of God; that the power of Christ is made manifest through the potential of Christians. Technically, Jesus wasn’t the one who fed the 5,000. His disciples were the ones who brought that miracle to pass. Jesus could have asked the Father to rain manna from heaven to feed the masses, but He chose to involve His disciples in this logistically astonishing mission. What a blessing it is for us to be used by God to bring Him glory!

to establish a FAT and Hungry culture (part IV) – hungry.

FAH-II

Photo credits: Caleb Kay

The final session with my leaders was the shortest one. There was no way they could have tanked (I’m learning youth lingo…) another trademark long sermon from me after being turned out at 4am to clean the entire church. I trust that the structured experience would be etched into their hearts for a long time. And if I can find the piece of paper that I scribbled down my debrief pointers (“Leadership lessons to be learnt”), I’d post in another entry.

At around 6:30am, we dismissed everyone. Most of them returned to their bunks and a handful became all-terrain sleepers; the GI Chapel morphed into a huge dormitory. At 10:30am, we assembled them in service for the last time, and I began my sharing by stating that we ought to be hungry for two things: God’s whereabouts (His presence) and God’s will (His plans and purposes).

However, what prevents us from getting hungry is when we are already being filled and have no more space in our lives.

I thought Kenneth Yeo brought out this lesson superbly at Minus One (an initiation of sorts involving the new leaders just before Leaders’ Retreat commenced). He split the leaders into a few groups, lined them up and got them to transfer water from a bottle at the start of the line into a bag at the end of the line by passing it from one person to another other via sponges. Then he introduced a twist by pouring a little Ribena syrup into each sponge, and challenged them to do the same thing without any trace of Ribena in the bag. The leaders instinctively used half the sponge to execute this task and ended up transferring less than half the original amount.

If you have too much of worldly things cluttering up our lives, how are you able to stay hungry for the things of God? Your appetite is directly proportionate to how full you are. Try eating an expensive dinner immediately after a cheap lunch – the thought of food would repulse you! If you want to be hungry for God, then you have to learn to de-clutter and de-accumulate. The scary but ironic thing is when ministry and church work clogs up your life and takes away your hunger – that would be a travesty.

In John 4:34, “Jesus said to them (his disciples), ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.'” I believe Jesus revealed to us the secret to being filled with the things of God. But to do the Father’s will, we must first know His will. Only then are we able to accomplish the Father’s work. That is why the Grace AG theme for 2013 resonates with my soul; paraphrasing what my senior pastor (Ps Calvin Lee) said, in order for us to effectively live life missionally, we must first be deeper in the Word.

Ezra understood that well. In Ezra 7:10, we learn that “Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the LORD and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.” Through this, I derived a four-step approach to God’s Word that I will share over the pulpit in greater detail in the last week of January. Grasping this, I believe with all my heart, has the potential to change the way we live as well as to change the world that we live in. If we are not changing the culture, we’re not changing anything. But if we, like Ezra, are determined to SORT out our approach to God’s Word, I’m sure we will constantly remain hungry for God’s presence and His will.

  • Study: read, remember and reflect upon His Word.
  • Obey: apply what we have learnt.
  • Reap: the benefits of applying God’s Word.
  • Teach: pass on these benefits to others.

In addition to that, I also shared Ps Edmund Chan’s PDA Lifestyle with my leaders (which I will also teach in greater detail over the pulpit):

  • Personal revival: experience revival everyday by getting deeper into God’s Word.
  • Divine appointments: sense the Holy Spirit leading you into a divine appointment.
  • Active obedience: learn to obey what the Spirit put upon your heart to do or say.

I believe that once you catch this method of evangelising, of loving people in the name of Jesus, you will never look at preaching the Gospel in the same way ever again. My desire for my (spiritual) household and I is to practise the PDA lifestyle and to leave the results to God. Sometimes, it doesn’t necessarily have to culminate in a dramatic conversion. Sometimes, all that’s needed at the moment is a simple spiritual conversation. All you need is to faithfully do your part, and learn to trust God for the outcome.

If you want to live from the inside-out, then your perspective must change; God didn’t call us to be a student, a teacher, a pastor, but to be a witness! Live your life in the Word and let the Gospel be seen in your life. We have to preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words. If anything at all, I think the X-factor of a believer is authenticity, and not perfection. I’d rather be real and flawed and to appear perfect. After all, if Jesus can love me even though I’m like that, then Jesus must really love me – that’s what the pre-believers should see in your life!

In summary, a hungry Christian is a growing Christian, and his appetite for learning and doing God’s will should never diminish regardless of his age or education level. If you call yourself a hungry and growing Christian, then I’d expect you to always seek the better way; choose the way of wisdom and apply it into your situations. The moment you stop learning is the moment you stop growing.

It is my prayer that I’d always display an appetite for growth and an active pursuit for opportunities to mature in Christ.

conversing with God // week one.

If I can keep this up, I’ll try to consolidate my daily devotional reflections at the end of every week.

If I can…

// 1 Jan | Mark 1

In preaching the Gospel and doing God’s will, Jesus must be to me three things: the motivation, the means and the message. For without which, I’d have no purpose, no power and no point.

// 2 Jan | Mark 2

Continuous conversations with and a downright dependence on God remind us that salvation is for those who know they are sinners, not those who think they are righteous.

// 3 Jan | Mark 3

Discipleship 101 according to Jesus:

  1. Separate the serious from the curious.
  2. Invite those you want to go with you.
  3. Wait for willing ones to respond and come to you.
  4. Appoint them formally and call them your disciples.
  5. Allow them to follow and accompany you in ministry.
  6. Enable, empower and send them out to preach the Gospel.
  7. (Show them where your authority comes from and) provide opportunities for them to exercise their spiritual authority by faith to help others and set them free.

Strangely and stupidly enough, some of us desire to be accelerated to #7 before we accomplish #1 to #3.

For me, #3 is the most important step in discipleship because that’s the trigger point where a congregational believer grows into a committed one by being willing to die to himself and take up the Cross – the marks of a true disciple. #3 is also the only step where discipleship is not determined by the intentionality of the discipler but the initiative of the disciple.

Let us not be too hasty to do God’s work before we even surrender ourselves to His will and way.

// 4 Jan | 1 Peter 4

God-fearing Christians should EXPECT suffering, for God’s purpose in it is to help us IDENTIFY with Christ, and to enjoy the VICTORY that He has already won. Doing GOOD in the face of suffering, especially responding in LOVE to both friends and foes, creates a powerful OPPORTUNITY to share our faith. When we undergo fiery trials knowing that God is both SOVEREIGN and FAITHFUL, we will be RESTED not restless, for He is in CONTROL! God, I entrust my soul to You!!!

// 5 Jan | 1 Peter 4:1-9

On top of expecting suffering as a Christian, I want to EMBRACE suffering for it identifies me with Christ (since He suffered in the physical). But more than that, it allows me to experience the victory over the power of sin that He won on the cross. That is why my internal attitude towards suffering trumps my external ability to withstand it; an attitude of love displays my relationship with Christ, covers my own sin and causes my sins to be forgiven. Lord, help me to embrace suffering with an attitude of love!

// 6 Jan | 1 Peter 4:10-19

The Master has entrusted each of you with at least one spiritual gift (out of a minimum of 19 varieties) to use and manage well for two purposes: 1) serve each other and 2) bring glory to God. So the question isn’t whether you have a spiritual gift or not (because you do), but whether you are using it for its intended purposes, or to serve and bring glory to yourself. Serving with your God-given gift is a privilege; it isn’t something you have to do, but something you get to do.

to establish a FAT and Hungry culture (part III) – teachable.

FAH-Logo-Draft-II

Photo credits: Caleb Kay

In my 12 years of learning to be a leader and leading leaders, I’ve found that there are two groups of people who are a joy to be with: those who are enthusiastic learners and those who are easier to teach. Both groups had this in common – a teachable spirit – and that is indeed one of the key considerations when I select potential leaders.

I’ve always believed that a good leader knows how to feed himself, be it through books, mentors, sermons, journalling or in times of solitude. Leaders must see that it is their personal responsibility to learn. My friend, Ps Chua Seng Lee, once told me not to depend on anyone in the organisation for my personal training and development. He said that if I didn’t take charge of my learning pilgrimage, nobody will. I agree with him. After all, one can only be spoon-fed and hand-held for so long.

One of the common “complaints” of a believer, regardless of which church or ministry he belongs to, is that the “sermon is not deep enough” for him. I’ve had peers tell me that when they want to switch to another church. I’ve also had youths tell me that when they want to leave the youth service. Granted, some assert that because they are genuinely seeking something more, but some conveniently say that because they do not realise that the onus of learning is on the student, not the teacher.

In Mark 4:1-20, Jesus made the exception of explaining a parable. He hardly did this so it must have been a lesson he did not want his disciples to miss. He went on to explain the different metaphors used in the parable:

  • The seed represents God’s Word. (And I think the farmer represents anyone who’s teaching you the Word of God – it could be a teacher, pastor, preacher, mentor, leader or parent.)
  • The footpath represents Christians who are deceived by the Devil and are quickly scattered.
  • The shallow soil represents believers who are  joyful and enthusiastic at the start but are not rooted in the Word. As a pastor in a pentecostal church, I believe this is especially true of pentecostal believers who seek the experience more than the truth. They say that they “can’t feel God anymore” and soon after begin backsliding.
  • The thorns represent Christians who are easily distracted and tempted by the world.
  • And the fertile soil (the only positive example) represents what I believe to be teachable Christians who hear God’s Word and accept it into their heart.

With that parable as a backdrop, what then, is your posture in learning from the preacher, your leaders, the cell kits and your daily devotions? Do you approach it with a “Let’s see what he has to say” or with a “Let’s see how I can learn from him” attitude? Choose the latter for it is better! If a person think he already knows, then he can’t be taught; a person who carries an attitude that they already know as much as the teacher won’t receive anything from him. In my short journey of meeting youth leaders around the Asia, I have met some who think they already know all they need to know about the Word or youth ministry – it’s difficult and almost repulsive to converse with these people. I know, because I’m like that sometimes. (:

Truth be told, in my last three years as a youth minister, with the exception of sitting at the feet of outstanding bible teachers and expositors like Ps Benny Ho or Ps Edmund Chan, most of the growth I’ve made were through preparing and listening to sermons, reading books, reflecting during times of solitude (though fewer than desired – sigh!) and walking with the Lord. I grew because I took on the responsibility to learn and then God caused the growth!

I’ve sat into many youth services and to be honest, youth ministry sermon content doesn’t differ too much due to the limitations of preaching to a teenage crowd. So instead of scrutinising theological content when I sit into a youth service (or any other kind of service), what I do is to try to catch the preacher’s heart. You see, you can’t teach a love for the Word, a passion for discipleship, an urgency for evangelism or a desire for mentoring the next generation; these things are more caught than taught. I always remind myself to catch the teacher’s heart more than the stuff in his head.

Here’s what I’ve learnt: if you can’t learn from teachers, you will struggle to learn from God. Some believers have the mentality that since they are able to download directly from God, they won’t require a man to teach them the Word. Of course, there is truth in this (that the Holy Spirit can illuminate truth from the Word), but that alone is inadequate. Think about it, if that was so, then why did God give teachers to the church? In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul writes that teachers were given to us “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (KJV).

Therefore, I believe that there is wisdom in having a teachable spirit. The way a leader receives instruction from teachers gives me a glimpse of his character. His posture as a student eventually determines his destiny as a learner. In sailing, the setting of the sail on a sailboat is also called the “attitude” of the sail. Wind is the irreplaceable yet uncontrollable component in sailing and the same wind visits both good and bad sailors. Depending on the attitude of the sail, wind would cause the sailboat to be steered into different directions. Two believers can receive the same teaching, but have completely different responses and takeaways. At the end of the day, it is the attitude of a teachable spirit that will enable us to travel in the right direction.

7 Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return. Anyone who corrects the wicked will get hurt.
8 So don’t bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you. But correct the wise, and they will love you.
9 Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more.
10 Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.
11 Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life.
12 If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.

— Proverbs 9:7-12 (NLT)

And in Proverbs 15:10, “Whoever abandons the right path will be severely disciplined; whoever hates correction will die.” That’s pretty extreme! So if you want to be a wise man, have a teachable spirit. If not, the one who eventually loses out is you!

There are four good examples of teachable men in the Bible:

  1. Moses shows us that a teachable man is a meek man. He was also hungry to learn from and lean on the Lord’s guidance.
  2. David shows us that a teachable man seeks to to God’s will. He demonstrates in many Psalms that he wants to receive instruction from God because he wants to follow Him.
  3. Jesus shows us that a teachable man knows the Father is the ultimate teacher. Try accomplishing the immense mission Jesus was tasked to do – no wonder He stayed so close to His father and did only what He saw the Father doing.
  4. The disciples show us that teachable men are led by the Holy Spirit. They demonstrate how the Holy Spirit not only empowered, but also instructed them in the way they should go. May we be wise, for it is tempting to try doing God’s will in our own wisdom and strength.

In application, being teachable means to:

  • Receive instruction from the Word and the Holy Spirit.
  • Receive correction from parents, pastors, leaders and mentors.
  • Humbly learn from others regardless of age or experience.
  • Bring compliments, criticisms and crises before God and godly counsel.
  • Review moral standards in: alcoholism, dressing, academia, relationships and worldly vices.
  • Be open, honest and humble about your lack of knowledge, skills, and character.
  • Desire challenges that will stretch you but help you reach your goals.
  • 
Be willing to let go of your own way of dealing with things and your own ideas to learn and develop new convictions.
  • (And this I picked up from my mentor, Ps Edmund Chan,) have the “Double L” plate hung on your front and back, so that those who follow you see a LEADER, and when you look at yourself in the mirror, you always see a LEARNER.

God could use the disciples to such great effect not just because they were faithful and available, but that they were also teachable. Think about it, this was an uneducated and underwhelming motley crew of unknowns who had to depend on the Jesus to teach them everything they needed to know about their newfound faith! If they can and needed to be taught, surely we too should follow suit.

The difference between modern-day and Jesus-day Christians is that the former has two things the latter doesn’t: the Holy Spirit (sent after Jesus ascended to heave) and the complete Bible (written years after the early church was formed). Therefore, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to guide us on how we should conduct ourselves, and how we should approach God’s Word with a willing heart and a teachable spirit. If there’s one thing we ought to determine ourselves to do, it is to remain teachable in all circumstances.

My mentor in Perth, Bro Au Chin Seng, once told me, “No matter how high you climb, there will always be areas you’ll need growth in.” I’ve learnt from him that the day might come when I may no longer have anyone above me in a hierarchical setting, except for God Himself. This is when the greatest test of humility and teachability takes place. He mentioned that the two most poisonous words of a confident, mature and experienced man is, “I Know”. That single-handedly puts people off in correcting me and giving me feedback. He reminded me to always adopt an attitude of learning regardless of how old, wise or mature I am, in any situation, for the moment I stop learning is the moment I stop living.

[Credits: teaching materials adapted from Arlo Moehlenpah and Pierre Eade.]

to establish a FAT and Hungry culture (part II) – available.

FAH Mono Standalone

Photo credits: Caleb Kay

One of the best prayers we could whisper to God everyday is, “Lord, I’m available”.

With that introduction, I preached the second installment of FAT & Hungry at the R-AGE Leaders’ Retreat.

Neal Maxwell once said, “God does not begin by asking our ability, only our availability, and if we prove our dependability, He will increase our capability.” We’ve heard it time and again that God isn’t looking for our ability but our availability. But what does it mean to be available?

I believe that a practical way to see availability in ministry is to have a “can do” attitude. After all, according to Philippians 4:13, it’s not a far-fetched idea to assert that a “can do” attitude is actually biblical. However, the “cannot” attitude has infiltrated the church and perhaps has even become her anthem.

If we were to examine 1 Samuel 17, we can pick out five ways to develop a can do attitude through the life of the shepherd boy David.

1. Know who you are (vv45-47).

David could wipe out Goliath with one stone because he knew who he was in God. With God, all things are possible – this should make Christians the most positive people on earth. Others thought Goliath was so big that they can’t beat him, but David thought Goliath was so big that he can’t miss him. David’s winning attitude came from it all being about God and not about him or Goliath.

2. Say what you know (vv34-36).

David focussed his attention on what he knew. Having battled with a lion and bear in his shepherding duties, he chose to look at the positives rather than the negatives. And with that, he bravely offered himself to battle Goliath. When uncertain moments come, do we focus on what we know or do not know? Sometimes, we are not as helpless as we think, so let’s stop declaring a negative self-fulfilling prophecy upon ourselves.

3. Start where you are (vv17-22).

David got involved in this battle because he was simply carrying out his father’s instructions to bring bread and cheese to the battlefield. He bloomed where he was planted and didn’t complain about where he was or what he was doing. Sometimes, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. You can’t have a “can do” attitude until you embrace where you are. Mother Theresa’s words to those who wanted to join her cause was, “Find your own Calcutta.”

4. Use what you have (v40).

Saul offered David first-class armour and weapons but David chose to use what he had and could find around him instead, namely one sling and five stones. What do you have in your hands that God could use? Let’s stop lamenting about what others have and what you don’t. Instead, let’s ask ourselves about the talents that God has deposited within us and the resources that we have. If God can use David’s humble elementary weapons, God can use whatever we have in our hands.

5. Do what you can (vv48-51).

David did what he knew and what he could – running onto the battlefield and confronting Goliath with his slingshot. Let us learn to do what we can with what we have. Johnson and Johnson started with sterilised dressings to help prevent infection from airborne germs. Bill Hewlett and William Packard started with a simple audio equipment in their garage. If God has called me to do something, it can be done for God will use what you have to bring glory to Himself.

To add on to these five ways, there are four strategies that we can apply to develop a “can do” attitude.

  • Pause and redirect: Resist the “cannot” mentality and redirect it into positive actions.
  • Divide and conquer: Take big goals and break it down into bite-size short term goals.
  • Stop and evaluate: Take stock of progress and proceed with lessons learnt in wisdom.
  • Rejoice and celebrate: Take time out to recognise and celebrate what God has done.What you don’t recognise, you don’t celebrate. What you don’t celebrate, you don’t enjoy. What you don’t enjoy won’t last.

Then I shared four practical areas that we could demonstrate our availability in:

  • Pre-occupation: If you are consumed by your work or studies, then you aren’t of any use to the ministry. If something is important to you, make time for it.
  • Priorities: If you can’t be available for majority of events, it shows that ministry is not a high priority for you.
  • Presence: A leader who is available leads a flock to being faithful. Learn to be available for your sheep when they need you. And learn to give people access into your lives – upwards with your leaders and mentors, downwards with your sheep and sidewards with your peers.
  • Posture: Simply put become someone the ministry can count on when help is need. If you keep telling people that you’re busy, sooner or later they’ll stop approaching you.

When many people each do a little, great feats for God can be accomplished. Remember always that we are not here to be served but to serve others – let’s lead by serving and serve by leading. I’ve always considered it a privilege to lead and serve. And because I consider it a privilege to be a part of what God is doing in His church, I will make myself available for Him to use.

Sometimes it’s not about being the best, but being available.

[Credits: teaching materials adapted from Benny Ho and Scott Martin.]

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