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the mother lode of faith: lessons from Mary and Elizabeth.

Unity is important because Christianity is not meant to be done alone, but with the your immediate family, your church family and spiritual family of other believers worldwide. I believe this meeting in Luke 1, between a teenager and geriatric, is one of the most important in the Bible and teaches us a lot about unity.

1. Unity requires being humble in spirit (Luke 1:26-38)

With the Messiah in her belly, Mary could have behaved arrogantly and acted like she knew everything, but the she demonstrated her humble spirit in the way she followed the instructions of Gabriel to a T – carefully, diligently and quickly. Her statement of faith was also astounding; she barely knew what she was in for and yet she said to Gabriel, in effect, “Use me anyway you want, even in the lowliest manner because I believe in God!”

Elizabeth, however, who was also miraculously pregnant with one of the most important characters in Jewish history no less, was just as humble in spirit. I think it takes a ton of humility for a reputable old lady like Elizabeth to acknowledge a teenager without any reputation and that the baby in her to be greater than her own.

When we humble ourselves before each other and relate without needing to prove anything, there’s a sense of identity and camaraderie. Talking to each other about what Jesus is doing in our lives builds our faith and deepens our fellowship.

2. Unity requires making things happen (Luke 1:39-41)

Since Mary had no clue what Elizabeth had experienced, she took two steps of faith that day: to believe that she was going to be pregnant without sexual intercourse and that an old woman was six months pregnant. Her steps of faith (pun unintended) to travel around 160km from Nazareth in Galilee to Hebron in Judea shows us her willingness to make things happen. I wondered what she must have pondered over as she made that journey, since she couldn’t confirm that Elizabeth was pregnant until she saw her for herself.

Elizabeth had no idea that she was going to receive a visitor that day, or that the visitor was Mary, or that Mary would be pregnant with the Saviour of the world! So for Elizabeth to greet Mary so spontaneously, she must have received a revelation and acted upon it. With her act of faith, she brought the both revelations to a full circle. She went on, in effect, to repeat what Mary said to Gabriel, “You are blessed because you believed the Lord would do what He said.”

Mary greeted Elizabeth in faith and Elizabeth responded to Mary in faith. Extraordinary revelations require extraordinary faith and obedience, and produces extraordinary results.

3. Unity requires honouring others above yourself (Luke 1:42-45)

Elizabeth congratulated Mary (“God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed”), condescended herself before Mary (“Why am I so honoured, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?”), confirmed Mary’s encounter with Gabriel (“When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy”) and commended Mary (“You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said”). All that must have levelled up Mary’s faith!

Elizabeth could say all that Mary because six months ago, she did the same thing in faith. If we do not deserve the favour that God shows us, we shouldn’t envy those the Lord has given more favour. Moreover, those who have personally experienced God’s faithfulness would naturally encourage others to put their faith in God.

4. Unity requires hanging on until it comes to pass (Luke 1:56)

Mary didn’t leave after that encounter but stayed with Elizabeth for three months before she returned home. I think she wasn’t there just to help a relative through the crucial months of pregnancy but perhaps to see through God’s promises surrounding both of them. I’m not sure if she witnessed the birth of John the Baptist but I know she definitely saw enough to know that Elizabeth was ready to go into labour.

Being a part of Elizabeth’s life in the first three months of her own pregnancy must have given her courage when she eventually returned to Nazareth to ready herself for the next six months of a gossip-filled, doubt-inducing, fear-instilling and awe-inspiring pregnancy. She was probably visibly pregnant but she was definitely convinced, comforted and convicted of the miracle that was about to take place through her. Through Mary’s care-giving with Elizabeth, God must have done some faith-strengthening with Mary.

What does unity look like and what stops us?

Unity is when all of us worshipping God with abandon; so don’t worship Him with arrogance, thinking you know better. Unity is when all of us are acting out our faith with obedience; so don’t respond with indifference, waiting for someone else to do what God has called you to do. Unity is when all of us are serving each other with selflessness; so don’t let your ego get in the way, putting your needs first.

I believe that the sole purpose of these two unbelievable pregnancies is found in Luke 1:37. To prove that nothing is impossible with God and that no man should take the credit for a miracle of God. If a virgin like Mary and a geriatric like Elizabeth can give birth, then surely God can bring revival to R-AGE, for nothing will be impossible with God.

It’s a lofty dream but I know one day, by faith, it will come to pass. I believe with all my heart that when revival comes to R-AGE, it won’t be through a large corporate fire, but through the small fires that we fan daily. I believe it with all my heart and I will hang on to it until it comes to pass or until God tells me I won’t see it in my time as a youth pastor.

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God is my space.

What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you will be boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.

James 4:15-16 (New Living Translation)

If life is uncertain and death is certain then how in the world are we supposed to negotiate our journey in this lifetime? What on earth are we doing for heaven’s sake? James proposed his resolution in verse 15, which calls for us to tweak our alignment.

It’s not about the planning but about the perspective, not the pursuit but the priority. If life is truly punctuated by question-marks and death completed by full-stops, then I’m grateful that God is my space – the punctuation most-often used in every sentence; every word is preceded and followed by a space. I thank God that His grace is laced in space!

James instructed us to renew our mind. We naturally speak with presumptuousness so he wants us to think differently and speak with renewed positioning. He’s blatant enough to say, “What you ought to say is”, which signifies a deliberate change in speech; speaking like that won’t come naturally, that is precisely why we have to intentionally train ourselves.

So how exactly does James want us to change in our speech? First and foremost, we must acknowledge God’s will in our lives. Everything counts for nothing if God is not in it. That explains why he began his sentence with, “If the Lord wills”. Then he says, “We will live”, meaning that we should check if we are even alive, for it is pointless talking about plans if we are not alive to carry it out. Finally, James says this last, “And do this or that”. Once we have committed our plans to God (and asked Him for His purposes in our lives), and ascertained that we are alive to carry it out, we can consider implementing our plans.

Of course, James knows we’re hardly so obedient; he correctly diagnosed the problem by identifying the opposite of seeking God’s will, that is, to boast about our own plans. This evil boasting is rooted in human pride, where we think we are in control. In Greek, “evil” is an active verb, which means that if we boast of our own plans, we are continuously doing evil.

I didn’t plan to return to Singapore last July. I thought I’d be in Shanghai for a few more years. But everything changed within a week. In a nutshell, I was caught in the middle of a senior management dispute and had to make a decision. I sought the Lord and I made the decision to return home. I had His peace reigning in my heart. Everyone around me was shocked – my mother, sister, colleagues, business associates and even Huiyi’s family – because I was doing well in Shanghai. In fact, I left in the same month of a promotion and significant pay increment.

But a still small voice in my heart assured me that it was all right to come home. I knew that the Lord was going to take care of me, so I obeyed. That was simply it. I had no idea that it would lead to what I am doing now with R-AGE; I didn’t expect myself to be a full-time youth minister so quickly but God knows His timing and I trust Him for it – that’s the beauty of life.

When we understand that this life doesn’t belong to us but to God, we will realise that all we need to do is to obey. Obedience is the highest expression of stewardship; the best way to see the mark of obedience to God in your life is to observe how you have stewarded your life according to what God has revealed in your heart. I do not look forward to the day when God puts His arm around my shoulders to commend me on all the good things I have done for Him only to sound a tad bit disappointed because I missed out on the only thing He wanted me to do; it is important for us to be faithful to our calling.

People say that change is the only constant but I beg to differ for God is the only constant. And if God is the only constant, then wouldn’t it be wise for us to bank on Him to see us through this uncertain life leading up to a certain death? We must remember that life does not revolve around what we want but what God wills. Our lives ought to be a declaration of the true sovereignty of God and never about the imagined control of Man.

If I am an investor and someone told me about a stock that would eventually be good for me, I would buy it in a heartbeat. The stock will fluctuate, but because I know that it will eventually be good for me, I will hang on to it no matter what. The Bible tells us in Romans 8:28 that we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them. Our job becomes really simple then; all we need to do is to love God and live out His purposes in our lives.

one more and one step toward one will.

This convoluted post is a result of my thoughts flying everywhere tonight.

My heart leaped with joy when I saw the prayer request of one of my leaders. I truly believe that an absolute surrender to the will of God is more liberating than you think it is; for when there is total surrender, there is total protection! I am reaching a point in my life where I see nothing better than to do His will, although I must declare that it’s still early days for me to declare something as presumptuous as that. But that is indeed my heart’s cry!

God established His covenant with us, and it was a covenant that was meant to last forever. He kept His Word and sent Jesus Christ to seal the deal. We on the other hand, can’t even keep to our side of the agreement. So I really thank God for Jesus Christ! The grace of God is shown repeatedly in the Bible and each time I read about it, I can’t help but to think of how undeserving I am of His awesome favour upon me as an unworthy person.

Time is the true litmus test of faithfulness and is best seen at the end of a journey, not at the beginning. I desire to be a righteous man who has faith to believe in God’s promises for my life. My greatest fear and possible hindrance? I fear most for myself of myself, for in my natural state, I am capable of exceeding wickedness and ungodliness – so may the Lord shield me from me for the sake of me!

Let’s not read the Word for information but let’s read the Word for transformation! Now, that’s when the Word will come alive in our lives.

Eternal God of the everlasting covenant, may You alone sustain me in my quest to know You more daily and please You more through active obedience. I need Your grace more than ever to do Your will. Help me. I desire to honour You by being Christlike, for Your glory alone.

originality through imitation (part three) – the commandment and the trump card.

Previous post: The Grandeur of the Creation of Man

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Earlier, I have communicated that everything God created was perfect until sin crept into His scheme of creation. I will now examine the ramifications of the introduction of sin.

The Double-edged Commandment

It’s interesting to note that the first commandment to Man was to be fruitful and multiply. Of all the things God could command Man to do, He chose to authorise Man to reproduce. Why? I think it’s because immediately after God made Man, He was so pleased with Man that He wanted Man to propagate this perfection over all the earth and from generations to generations.

However, as we all know it, sin ruined it all – it not only plundered perfection but it also pillaged the intimacy that Man was actually created and destined to share with God. That’s why instead of spawning perfection, we’re propagating imperfection and iniquity instead, over all the earth and from generations to generations. How sadly ruined God’s original plan of perfection has become!

And with time, Man messed up again and again; after Genesis 2, you will read about how Cain killed Abel… And it seemed to get worse and worse as the story unfolded throughout the rest of the Bible until Jesus Christ came to set the record straight.

Jesus Christ the Trump Card

Now, I think this is where God used His trump card, Jesus Christ, to redeem all Man’s mistakes and to restore the fellowship into its intended intimacy.

Only Jesus Christ is the expressed image of God Himself (read Hebrews 1:1-4 and Philippians 2:6-11). That’s the sole reason we must be Christlike and follow His example. It’s not a suggestion or recommendation but a commandment and instruction! To a great extent, Christlikeness is the only route to Man’s final glory.

The grace of God was evident from Creation – God pardoned Man and allowed him to receive a punishment that was lesser than expected. The theatre of redemption reaches its crescendo at the crucifixion; the grace of God was even more evident at the Cross – where Jesus took on a punishment that was more than expected. He bore the entire weight of the world’s sin on His shoulders.

Now, if we juxtapose Genesis 3’s “The Fall of Man” and Matthew 4’s “The Temptation of Jesus”, we will realise that where Man has failed (in sinning against God), Christ has succeeded – this is pivotal to Christianity! Satan successfully ruined creation the first time and attempted to ruin redemption in his second try but Jesus overcame Satan’s overtures and secured the victory over sin and death on behalf of Man; that’s why we must imitate Christ!

We don’t imitate Christ just because we were taught to do that in Sunday School or because our pastors tell us to do that over the pulpit; we imitate Christ because the Bible has clearly stated His overwhelming triumph over the evil one! In all sense of the expression – Jesus Christ FTW!

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Next post: Conclusion – The Quest for Imitation

originality through imitation (part one) – the quest for originality.

Over the next few days I will post a series of my reflections (and study notes) from one of my morning devotions last week. I shared it with the GII Shepherds on Tuesday night and I was encouraged to hear their “check-out” (it’s something I get them to do at the end of my teaching sessions). In my preparation, I expanded my half-page handwritten reflections into a four-page lesson; hence I’ll take HY’s advice and separate this sharing into a four-part series instead of dumping the entire lesson into one entry, for better consumption and digestion.

On a side note, I remember telling HY and EL that I’m starting to think and write as if everything that I communicate or compose is a sermon. Is this an occupational hazard of a(n aspiring) preacher? I mean, it’s so weaved into my cognition process that I do that even in my devotional and prayer journaling! And the crazy thing is that I actually enjoy thinking, writing and speaking like that because this discipline forces me to streamline my thoughts and increase the efficiency in my choice of words. You may realise this if you’ve been reading my blog for a while.

But I digress. Here’s the first of four parts, which will bring us through to Sunday.

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Originality Through Imitation
Quiet Time Reflections on Genesis 1-2
By Joey Asher Tan

Introduction – The Quest for Originality

This is my umpteenth attempt at re-reading the Bible from the beginning. However, unlike the earlier efforts, I have a new zeal for the Word of God and I’ve determined within myself to find a revelation of Jesus Christ in every sitting.

So, in an all-too-familiar restart, I read the first two chapters of Genesis a little differently; I read Genesis 1 telescopically and Genesis 2 microscopically and I urge you to do likewise. You will then realise that Genesis 2 is actually an in-depth look at the sixth day of God’s cosmic creation.

By God’s impeccable design, Man was created by God to bear His image and to be the master of all life on earth. The making of Man concluded God’s creation process and with that He declared everything to be excellent in every way; Man was the icing on His cake and the cherry on His pie!

It was truly a privilege for Man to be come alive by the breath of God (nothing else in creation has that invocation!) and to be given the free will to make his own decisions. That to me, along with Man’s purpose to be God’s image-bearer, was the grace of God.

Creation then reveals the centrality of Christ in this manner – Jesus came to redeem and restore us (more on redemption and restoration later) to the original requirements of intimate fellowship with God. At this point in time, I asked God two questions: “What has creation got to do with Me? How is creation even relevant to my daily living?”

There is only one point which I will attempt to prove through this sharing.

I humbly opine that the best creation is the original creation. And that is in the image of God. I think this is why we are constantly called to imitate Christ, for Christlikeness is the expressed image of God (or the closest you could get!). We must realise that when we are Christlike, we are actually being original in its truest form. That in effect is saying, the more we are like Jesus, the more original we are! No wonder Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

In a day and age where the clichés of being true to yourself and being original has become an over-emphasised and highly overrated aspiration, the Word of God interrupts us with a counter-culture challenge. Think about it – what’s so good about wanting to be who you’ve always wanted to be? According to what I have read, I see zero benefits; at this point of my life, I’d rather be more like Jesus than to be more like Joey. The older I get, the more I know my(wretched)self the more I conclude that there’s no glory in wanting to be myself.

So we arrive at a point of application. Throughout our lives, there’s always someone we look up to and desire to model after; he or she could be a parent, pastor, peer or even an onscreen personality. Everyone has heroes in their lives. I was instantly challenged to cultivate a solitary desire to mimic Jesus above and beyond any of my mentors. I’m not called to be Jesus, but to be like Jesus. And I think this universal truth applies to all serious believers who desire to showcase God’s glory through their lives.

Do me a favour, will you? Read Genesis 1-2 again and rediscover that, in light of our fallen nature, the best creation is truly the original creation.

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Next post: The Grandeur of the Creation of Man

top ten new maxims to growing deeper in God.

I have so much on my mind but I only have limited time so I shall cut to the chase. I hope to retain some activity here while I pursue God in a more intentional and intensive manner. Here are some of the new maxims brewing in my head since the conclusion of IDMC 2010. I’ve been thinking about how to translate my desire to growing deeper in God into the various arenas of my life and so to accomplish that, here are some rules I will implement with immediate effect:

  1. No Holy Book, no Macbook.
  2. No Word of God, no WordPress.
  3. No intercession, no interaction.
  4. No questions, no answers.
  5. No application of truth, no announcement of truth.
  6. No depth of life, no breadth of ministry.
  7. No early shutdown, no early startup.
  8. No heavenly conversation, no earthly chitchat.
  9. No communication interference, no connection interruptions.
  10. No sin, no struggle.

Most of it won’t make sense to you, but it doesn’t need to. I can’t wait to drill these maxims into my life. In the meantime, I’ll try to write as often as I can.

IDMC 2010: an intermission.

Probably the most annoying GIF in the world. (Source: Very Demotivational)

I’m halfway through my second IDMC and I’ve learned many new lessons as well as have been reminded of some old lessons. IDMC will always be a special conference for me because it was on the second night (that’s tonight!) that I made my decision to step into full-time ministry. What’s inspired me most so far though, isn’t what EC has been teaching but what he’s been living. Through EC’s example, I’m convinced that one of the top priorities of a preacher is to spend an abundance of time dwelling and delighting in the Word of God. I echo his sentiments in my heart for I think that’ll be one of the best things a pastor could do for his congregation. It’s time for me to dig even deeper into the Holy Bible!

Once my thoughts are organised in the right places, I’d be better placed to write something worth reading. For now, I’m excited that a good number of youth leaders in Grace AG has signed up for IDMC 2011 – the numbers stand at 19 at last count but I’m expecting the final number to swell to 25 when I register everyone tomorrow morning. On a side note, I’ve been impressed by the Covenanters’ commitment to their own conference – it’s obvious that they own it and are tremendously proud of IDMC; you could see this pride hung on the faces of all the volunteers – well, if I was one of them, I’d be proud too. It’s been a thoroughly pleasing experience for me as a delegate to be treated to their genuine hospitality. Needless to say, this is something that I’d want R-AGE youths to pick up – be it during Rhema Conferences, events, services or cells. Covenanters make me want to return to their church because of how welcoming they are – can our guests say the same thing about us? I have confidence that we will attain an excellent standard of hosting with the right training.

In the meantime, I hope you haven’t spent too much time looking at this GIF. It’s been rolling ever since I started composing this post and it still hasn’t ended. Epic GIF, no less. I couldn’t help but to post it. For now, I look forward to the third installment of IDMC 2010.

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