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.
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.
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.
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.