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day four – i am what i think.

HY and I had to miss the final evening service of the Retreat for an important task (more on that in a separate post) but the morning service was such an amazing spiritual buffet that it was more than enough food. These thoughts fed my mind on day four of Grace Retreat 2010 (and I feel so full).

  • God may not empower you to choose but He will empower your choices; you need to quit waiting on God to prod you into action.
  • It’s not what we consume that defiles us but what leaves our mouth that does; the mind is not godless, it’s what we do with the mind that makes us godless.
  • The pleasures of sin don’t last forever, and the Devil knows that we’ve given our hearts to Jesus, so that’s why he is after our mind; hence the manner in which we deploy our mind is of paramount importance.
  • Proverbs 23:7, paraphrased – “I am becoming what I’m thinking”. Life follows thoughts – that is why we need a resurrected mind, for attitude influences behaviour and thoughts determine future. Therefore, we ought to keep our brain strong for it controls the heart.
  • Psalm 26:2 – “Test my mind” – to test is to examine so as to purge or clean out; you go to a doctor to find out what’s wrong (to fix it) and not what’s right: I’ve always believed that “judgment” is a neutral and necessary word, for evaluation.
  • The mind is naturally set on the flesh which leads to death, so you should set your mind on the Spirit, which gives life and peace.
  • Psalm 1:1-2 – Exercising the mind is like training the body – it takes effort! And so we should remember that memory work comes before revelation; if Jesus memorised the Word and practised spiritual disciplines, then there’s no reason why we shouldn’t or are exempted from it.
  • My destiny is not heaven – that’s my destination – my destiny is to fulfill my purpose on this earth. I don’t wanna miss the whole point of life on earth!
  • What am I feeding myself? All that we intake are seeds, and one day these seeds will bear fruit; my fruit will be and is determined by my seed.
  • Philippians 4:8 – We should train our brain by conditioning it to think about the right things; rubbish in, rubbish out.
  • 1 Peter 1:13 – We are instructed to “gird up” our minds for action, so we must nourish and feed it. As a result, the training of our thinking should lead to our acting. How? By thinking through things, memorising and meditating, as well as dwelling and pondering on Scripture.
  • Digging deep into God’s Word is like a dog devouring a bone; it never relents until it goes deep enough to get all the remaining flesh, oil and the best bits of the bone; almost as if to “suck the marrow out of life”.
  • Romans 8:6 – Revelation is most powerfully experienced when it speaks to your mind, moves to your heart and flows through your life.

To my surprise, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed ZA’s and JA’s preaching. They were, for a lack of a better way to phrase it, typical pentacostal preachers, but their teaching is biblically sound and to a certain extent, Word-based. Not the expository style of EC, BH or JP that I’ve always preferred, but still solid preaching. One thing I prayed and asked God for during this Retreat is to make me both a Word-based teacher and a Spirit-filled preacher.

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what exactly is good?

The highlight of this long and tiring day would be the feet-washing session that took place in the early evening. I didn’t expect myself to respond so emotionally to an event that I had initially approached in a casual manner. I will only publish what I’ve written for the last hour when it’s ready – a tardy article does not do justice to a moment in my life as poignant as this, and more specifically between PL and I – I was truly humbled today.

So as the clock reveals 1:30am, and when I have little else to write about or expand, I have decided to reuse and republish old material. I hope I need not do this too often, because my writing style has evolved over the years and the only incentive that I get from reading a former entry is to see my progress and growth as a writer and thinker.

*** This following was inked on 19th March 2006. ***

I’ve always pondered on what good is. Can anyone define good or goodness? No, it is cognitively impossible because our yardstick of good has been marred by imperfection and by the sin that exists in our flesh. Therefore, I come to the conclusion that the only way to define good is by way of God – only God is good – and everything else that is not of God is not good. Ponder upon that and you may realise the truth beneath it.

The absence of good permits the presence of evil. When creation took place, everything was good until God allowed the serpent, and subsequently Man, to contaminate the world, thereby allowing sin to make its debut, under the permissive boundaries of God. I opine that God allowed this to happen for He could have simply prevented Satan from doing so. At least that’s how I perceive it.

This dichotomy of good and evil can only bring to light one issue – that God has bestowed Man with choice. If I were to paraphrase Genesis 2:16-17, it’d read something like, “Adam, your destiny is in your hands”. Now, God allows evil to still exist because He is in absolute control of the situation. A lot of people have this terrible misconception that Satan rules hell. No! God rules it and hell was created for Satan to reside in it. Eventually, Satan, his fallen angels and all the unsaved souls will perish in the eternal flame!

Therefore, with opposing forces aggressively working against each other, the struggle between good and evil becomes a perpetual and daily battle for Man until he leaves his body (i.e. he physically dies). There is evil in this world because of Man(‘s choice), but the redeeming love of God draws Man back to Him; the death and resurrection power of Jesus Christ actually makes redemption a reality and gives Man access to God once again.

God will remove evil eventually – that’s for sure – and He will do a perfect job. He even created six different hells for sin (and evil) and its partakers. I shall trust God and do what I humanly can in the spiritual realm (irony alert), by the grace of God, to find my way to heaven. There is a difference – finding your way to heaven and getting out of hell.

So, like darkness is the absence of light and cold is the absence of heat, allow me once again reiterate that evil is the absence of good, or in this case, God, since only God is good. In conclusion, God the Creator is good, and He will remove evil ultimately, but perhaps not now, for He permits it to exist in this world for His own reason.

please don’t say it if you don’t mean it.

I’ve always opined that one hallmark of a responsible youth speaker (i.e. a person who speaks to young people) is to be authentic. KK, RY and AY are good examples who exhibit this crucial quality. You should never tell a young person something for the mere sake of saying it because it inspires them; I think that motivational speakers should avoid telling their audience something that is beyond their reach or is statistically almost impossible for them to attain. That’s not inspiring – that’s just bluffing.

Recently, I heard a youth speaker’s sharing with a group of young people and the contents of his sharing really caused me to raise both my eyebrows at him. First and foremost, there are only a handful of us who are musically or athletically gifted enough to make a living out of it; and even so, it takes years of dedication and that one good break. I think it’s all well and good if such a person has found success with his skill and talent but honestly and realistically, the odds of that happening are extremely low. While speakers should encourage and inspire, I think they also need to be socially responsible by not raising young people to a pedestal that they’ll struggle to get on. At the day’s end, hopes are unrealistically raised and cruelly dashed, and this results in a disillusioned youth.

After his talk was over, I saw his autograph and note to one of the girls. He wrote something like, “I believe in you – that you will be successful in life – I need you to believe in yourself.” He also openly declared that he loved the young people there but come on! Did he really mean it? I know I’m quick to judge here, but there was nothing that felt right in my spirit that night. I mean, what do all the words really mean to these youths if it comes from a stranger who doesn’t even know them! I was disgusted.

He then proceeded to share his five figure salary with everyone and stopped short of saying that he made it without completing his ‘O’ levels. What a dangerously reckless thing to declare! I believe he had a good intention to inspire them and his lesson also had two words dear to my heart – passion and desire – but pragmatically speaking, one would struggle make a living out with just these two qualities alone. There must be commitment and discipline to complement your passion and desire.

I was scheduled to speak after him and initially I had only wanted to share a short anecdote about the choices I’ve made when I was 13 years old but I felt the Spirit prompting me to balance and mediate what he shared to present a clearer picture. Hence I proceeded to talk about choices, perspective and attitude instead. I don’t deny it – he was a charismatic speaker with excellent oration skills but I wasn’t comfortable at all with the contents and attitude of his lesson; it was good but it was severely inadequate. And I will even go as far to say that it was irresponsible teaching.

Let us never tell someone that we believe in them if we do not know who they are, where they’ve come from and what they can do. Let us never tell someone that we love them if we’re unable to follow it up with action, for love is a verb; I think that it was impetuous for him to come into a session, where he’d probably meet the group for the first and last time, and to tell them that he loves and believes in them. This doesn’t sit well with me. We are all different – everyone had a different past, have a different present and will have a different future. The question then, is, are you happy? My answer – I’ve probably said it a million times – I could always be happier but I am situationally contented.

The reason why I dare to say I believe in young people isn’t that I think they have the ability to fulfil their potential but that I believe in what God can and will do through them. Before I say those potentially empowering or devastating words, I would deliberate for a long time and ask God to first give me a heart for them.

“Oh Lord, give me the contentment to accept what I have and the peace to accept what I do not have. I pray that the Lord will do damage control in the hearts of these young people whose ears these words fell on. Their future is in Your hands alone so may I learn to trust in You alone – the beginning and the end. Deal with me. I love You, Lord.”

sermon recap: stephen the formidable forgiver.

I think my face is finally showing signs of aging and I do not relish losing my youth. While it has been thoroughly satisfying so far, I must be honest and say that it has also fatiguing to preach the last three consecutive weeks (so I salute RY who has been doing that week-in, week-out for the last decade). Preparing a sermon excellently is indeed a labourious challenge; I spend 15-20 hours on average with each one. The bigger challenge however, is to wait upon the Lord as I allow the Word to saturate my heart and mind – I try not to write a sermon academically; the biggest challenge is to hear from the Lord the word in season for my congregation. I find it easy to deliver a generic sermon, so it is vastly gratifying when I preach a sermon that speaks specifically to my people. I always pray that the Holy Spirit will do His work of revelation in my youths’ hearts as they receive the Word.

I am thankful to God for the generous encouragement and plentiful affirmation that I’ve received over the last three weeks; I never take any for granted – these pats-on-my-back spur me on to preach even sharper and deeper sermons! As I conclude Part III of Facebook with the Newbies, I embark on the preparation of the final installation. I pray that this series won’t just end on a climax, but it’d end in a manner that the Spirit leads. In the meantime, do check out the slideshow below to refresh yourself on the two main themes that Stephen leaves with us – managing anger and overcoming unforgiveness.

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Part One – Managing Anger

  • The main difference between the angry Jewish leaders who couldn’t control themselves, and Stephen who clearly was in control of his emotions, was that the latter had the Holy Spirit while the former didn’t; in short, the Jewish leaders had the presence of anger and the absence of the Spirit.
  • The greatest obstacle to forgiveness is anger – for anger kills. It gives birth to murderous intent, which is different from incidental or accidental manslaughter. The Jewish leaders didn’t kill Stephen unexpectedly – they had planned to do it.
  • Hate is a choice and the judgment of hate is murder in your heart (1 John 3:15).
  • The Jewish leaders’ answer to Stephen’s inspiring and riveting sermon in Acts 7 revealed a three-step progression of anger.
  • The first stage of anger is when you realise it with your senses, through your eyes and ears“When they heard this”. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to be your filter, to separate and sieve away the things that make you angry.
  • The second stage of anger is when you respond to it with your emotions, in your mind and heart – “They were furious“. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to help us to choose the right response in any situation.
  • The third stage of angeris when you react to it with your actions, by your hands and mouth“And gnashed their teeth”. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to help you do the right thing that doesn’t cause you to sin.
  • Ephesians 4:6 states that we should not sin when we are angry, but it doesn’t say that it is a sin to be angry; what we do when we are angry makes all the difference.
  • Anger is an extreme emotion that can sometimes be damaging and destructive; it is always a decision made in our thoughts and feelings, and it never happens by chance. Remember that anger is an emotion, not an action.
  • We cannot control what happens externally (situations and circumstances) but we can ask the Spirit to help us to control what happens internally (emotion and cognition).
  • The biblical remedy to managing anger is to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us – that’s why Stephen was known to be a man full of the Holy Spirit.

Part Two – Overcoming Unforgiveness

  • While Stephen’s answer to the Jewish leaders was completely different from the way they treated him, his reply to them in the face of being stoned was actually quite similar to the way Jesus Christ in the way that He was crucified.
  • Stephen had an absence of anger and a presence of the Spirit; he demonstrated for us three possible approaches to overcoming apparent unforgiveness.
  • The first approach is to be filled with the Holy Spirit (“But being full of the Holy Spirit”) by exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Actively deal with unforgiveness and not passively avoid it.
  • The second approach is to look to God’s love intently (“He gazed intently into heaven”) and remember our God is One who is ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Nehemiah 9:17)!
  • The third approach to know Jesus’ mission wholeheartedly (“Do not hold this sin against them”) for when we understand that the mission of Jesus is to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), we’ll understand how to honour and give Him glory in our most trying situations.
  • The glory of God is evidently distinguished and displayed when we compare manmadestructures to GodmadeWonders (pun intended); hence we should fix our eyes on something bigger than ourselves, better than our situations and more glorious. We should put on heavenly spectacles.
  • Those who are full of the Spirit are game for anything in life, be it good or bad – because they are willing to do His work and to suffer for Him.
  • Forgiving others is a natural cause of action when we are being forgiven by God.
  • When evil does its worst, God does His best; Stephen’s martyrdom indirectly resulted in Paul’s conversion. Paul became a legendary missionary and author of half of the New Testament.
  • God desires for us to be reconciled to Him first, before we are reconciled to others (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). We experience freedom to relate to others when we are liberated in how we relate to God.

I sincerely hope that was helpful for you. With that, I conclude Stephen’s chapter and look forward to the last character in this series, as well as some much-needed rest at the start of the week.

insulting God.

I just ended a Skype interview with DL and it brings me to the mid-point of 15 one-hour interviews with the potential REAL candidates. One question asked during the session was, “Are you currently struggling with any addictions or sins?”

Through the interview sessions, everyone shared about different sins and struggles and it got me thinking about why we actually choose to sin. (Being caught in a bondage is different in that you actually do not realise that you’re in sin.) More often than not, sin is a choice. It was a choice for Eve, Adam, Cain, David, everyone else in between, and us, of course.

I’ve sinned plenty in my life, some with more dire consequences than others. Some sin hurt me, some hurt others but all sin hurts God. I believe that we sin because we seek its apparent fleshly pleasures which brings apparent (and short-lived) gratification to our carnal self.

Hence, I conclude that we choose to sin because we do not believe that the pleasures of God are better than the pleasures of our flesh. Our innate hedonistic nature prevents us from being contented and our ‘human’ nature drives us to seek satisfaction in physical/worldly pleasures.

That epiphany isn’t the scary bit. What frightens me more is that by choosing to derive pleasure from sin, we are indirectly mocking God – that He’s not good and/or able enough to satisfy our hearts’ desire. The next scary bit is – what then does our heart desire? More often than not, if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll actually realise that we prefer the pleasures of sin to the pleasures of God.

Oh God, how we need Your holiness to sanctify us!
How we need Your grace and mercy to overcome sin!
How we need Your love and forgiveness to cleanse us of all unrighteousness!

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