Watching young people turn over a new leaf never gets old – it’s always a joy to see youths rededicate their lives to Jesus or give their hearts to Jesus for the first time. If we on earth rejoice greatly at a conversion, imagine the ruckus in the heavenlies! Hence I’ve always considered it an immense honour and privilege for me to gain access into a young person’s life, when he or she honestly share his or her problems with me in vulnerability, in hopes that I’d be able to dispense an ounce of godly counsel. It’s actually exciting when I come to think about it, because I know that a transformation is at hand! I could practically hold their faces in my hands, look them in the eye and tell them, from the bottom of my heart, to hang on for they are this close to a breakthrough and a change.
In my observations, I reckon that two conditions must be in place before a person can change (for the better). I speak, of course, in the context of a Christian.
First and foremost, and most crucially, they must have a genuine encounter with the Lord; this is where my life verse, John 15:5, comes alive:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Christians must realise that they cannot make it on their own – they must have the grace of God for it empowers us to do what the truth demands. I’ve said this time and again – a lot of Christians try to sort themselves out first, in a bid to clean themselves up, before going to Jesus; don’t put on this unbiblical mindset! On the contrary, we actually need Christ to sort us out first – He is the only one who can make us pure, blameless and presentable before God. The sooner we realise we cannot do it on our own, the sooner we’ll stop depending on ourselves to make it. Therefore, unless a person is rooted and connected in Christ, no inspirational leader or wise mentor would be able to change him for good. This person will at best make temporary changes – out of fear or respect for the person who’s guiding him – but will struggle to keep the change because he’s not fully submitted to the Lordship of Christ. After all, if He’s not Lord of all, He’s not Lord at all.
Secondly, they must be surrounded by a group of people who love and want the best for them. There’s lots of scripture that stress its importance – here are two:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness… (Galatians 6:1a)
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25)
Christians must realise that they cannot make it by themselves. These are the people who will not hesitate to tell you the truth that hurts, rather than the lie that kills; these are your Christian brothers and sisters – those who are in your cell group and ministries – who, I hope, will go out of their way to point out your blind spots; these bona-fide friends aren’t afraid to become unpopular with you or afraid they might, out of their own insecurity, lose their friendship with you; these are the friends – the best-in-your-face-til-the-end-friends – whom you must keep, for they are God-sent people.
At the end of the day, you must not, for even one second, think that you can make it on your own or make it by yourself – get the distinction? You need someone far greater (than you are) working inside you to initiate the change, and you need to surround yourself with loving people who are working around you to insist (or maintain) the change. And yes, it works both ways. In this manner, you will realise that when change does takes place, you will receive none of the credit – which then keeps you humble, for you know that it was purely by the grace of God that saw you through. And you know what? God will then get all the glory for He truly deserves it. (And you and I will get none. YEAH!)
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.
Over the last 15 years as a young person, I’ve learnt many things, both as a youth and as a youth leader. One of the things that PC taught me is that with people, you need to be patient, for one day they will surprise you with their goodness. I think this is particularly relevant for anyone dealing with a teenager, and especially for parents whose children are in their (painful and excruciating) juvenile years.
Mothers and fathers need to bear in mind that they may see very little (and often disheartening) results that may not be worth celebrating over especially in the younger years of their kids’ teenagehood. This also applies to all youth leaders. I encourage you to manage your expectations when working with adolescent (and often rebellious) youths. They will always think that they are right and they will always want to prove you wrong. This sounds cruel, but really, let them be, let them fall and let them learn. Don’t expect them to make good decisions at 14 years old and change the world at 16 years old when you only started to mature and wise up at 17 years old. I reiterate this to almost every young person under my leadership – that one of things I expect from them (pardon the lack of a better way to phrase it), is to screw up. And this immediately sets them at ease.
As a parent, mentor or youth leader, you must always remember that being with young people is often a thankless and behind-the-scenes job. Of course, there will be pockets of them who know how to appreciate you. Oh, I am so grateful for these because their appreciation of your investment in them is often so genuine and heartfelt. But I do not live or thrive on these boosts. Their encouragement is a bonus, not a necessity; I’d love to receive it, but I do not need it to do what I am called to do. A mature youth leader needs to sort this out in his head and heart. For if a leader is motivated by recognition and appreciation, he is sure to be left disappointed and disillusioned at some point.
To be frank, sometimes it can be tough (and tiring) working with youths, especially those who do not listen; I was one of them, so I know. You put in the hard work, sweat and toil with them, but when they succeed, they get all the credit and you simply get forgotten. When they are in trouble, you offer advice and genuinely want to help them, but when they mess it up, you sometimes get the blame and even need to pick them up. So today, I encourage you to look further and beyond all these seemingly disparaging signs.
Always remember that you are here to plant seeds, and most times you will not be the one to reap what you have sown – not immediately at least. JH was amongst the first to plant seeds in my life, and as I develop fruits, I can honestly tell you that he did not benefit from it directly – but it doesn’t stop him from planting it anyway. So I’m here to remind us all, that whenever we work with young people, that it is our job is to plant seeds, not pluck fruits. Let’s be committed to do our jobs well and to trust God to nurture and eventually complete what we have started. After all, we do the planting, He does the growing.
For those who are much younger and not in a leadership position yet, I’d urge you to encourage, appreciate and honour those who have planted and are still planting seeds in your life. Let them know, in whatever way you know how to, that you are thankful for their investment of time, emotions and resources in you. You’ll make their day.
Do remember that the bible-giveaway competition is still ongoing. Please make my job as the jury a little harder! Come on!? :P At the same time, I’d encourage you to consider subscribing to my blog (fill in your email at the top right of the page) so that you’d receive and read my daily posts in the convenience of your mailbox at the time of publication. Also, just want to mention that the readership response for the last entry on my journey into full-time ministry was extremely encouraging – I hope you were blessed by my sharing. Blogging daily has become a think-time that I look forward to. (:
The Facebook with the Newbies sermon series comes to a close today with John the Baptist the Jesus Freak. I have bittersweet feelings about it; while I may enjoy the mental (and physical) break of not having to think about and prepare the sermon, I will miss not being able to preach to a youth crowd. My next preaching assignment would be at the Pre-Teens service on 8-9 May and the next time I will preach at R-AGE services would only be in July. (Actually, I might just have to preach four times in June though…)
While there are many ways to approach the study of John, I’ve decided to streamline our focus to just two of John’s main ministries – Repentance and Reflection. Here’s a summary of my main points.
John’s first ministry – Repentance
- In the Gospel of Matthew, the first recorded word of John (Matthew 3:2) and the first word in Jesus’ pulpit ministry (Matthew 4:17) was “Repent” – that’s “Metanoeo” in Greek. And it can simply be defined as a change of one’s mind or to change one’s ways with hatred of one’s past sins. Either way, it’s always for the better.
- Observe then, the two steps involved in repentance – renewing our minds and renewing our methods. Phrased alternatively, it is to transform the way we think (Romans 12:2) with the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12) and to change the way we live so that we can show the fruit(s) of our repentance (Matthew 3:8).
- Repentance is not just responding emotionally or intellectually – that’s remorse. The fruit of repentance must observable and obvious. Thorough repentance is naturally proven by action, and in more than just one area of our lives.
- A great intention forever remains a great thought until it is followed-up with action; a repentance done in our heads and hearts must be followed-up with a repentance done with our hand and in our habits. Repentance should alter your direction, methods and perspective.
- God wants us to come to Him in repentance, but He calls us to Him by His grace. We can only repent if we ask God to help us, not by our effort. God’s grace operates this way – you don’t sort yourself out before you go to God, but you go to God to get sorted out.
- When we have a changed heart, a changed life will naturally follow. That is why God honors a changed heart and doesn’t despise a repentant heart (Psalm 51:17)!
John’s second ministry – Reflection
- John constantly pointed others back to Jesus – that’s what we are also called to do. John knew his divine mandate and mission in life (John 1:6-8) and it was seen in his every response and answer. His mission in life was to witness about Jesus.
- Imagine Jesus to be like the Sun and John to be like the moon. Without the sun as the source of light, we will never see the moon, because the moon can only be seen when it reflects the greater light of the sun.
- Witnesses can only testify what they saw and heard. Usually they have nothing to do with the victim or the accused, or even the actual event. Yet they are crucial to solving the case.
- Remember that we can do nothing to save our friends. The reason for evangelism should be birthed from a desire to want to tell others about the love of Christ that we have experienced. Turn up as a witness and bear the right witness for your case of Christianity.
- Thank the Lord for your salvation, as well as that of your family and friends; take care of the new converts; tell everyone else about Jesus.
- John knew the grand mission of his life – he was to be a mirror for Jesus Christ. Is Jesus in your reflection? As Christians, our mission is clearly stated (Matthew 28:19-20); Jesus gave us the The Great Commission, not the Great Suggestion.
- The way to repent and reflect is to depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit. For when breakthrough comes, the glory belongs to God alone. We face the daily battle to deny ourselves and to take on the suffering of Christ, for true life follows as a result (Luke 9:23-24).