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the price of grace is the prize of grace.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” — Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

My trip to Perth in October was my third visit there. However, it was the first time I was stopped by the customs officer for a bag check. Australian customs are a lot stricter than Singapore’s and there was a platoon of inspection officers even though my flight touched down at midnight. The following is my account of what happened.

According to the customs officer who stopped me and requested to check my luggage for contraband items, a bag check is performed every 30 minutes on a random individual. And since I had nothing to hide, I decided to make conversation with him. I told him that it’s a great thing that the customs procedure was so strict because not every airport is so vigilant.

As I interacted with him, I observed that he’s professional and proficient in what he does; he knew by heart the contents of the declaration card and was familiar with the bags inspection procedures. He asked for my name and went to retrieve my declaration card, then he verified if I had filled up the card and packed the luggage myself.

I offered to help him as he opened my luggage, but he insisted on doing it himself. He was meticulous and checked every single corner of every available space (without messing up my belongings). He conducted the search under my supervision and as he rummaged through my things, he articulated everything that he was doing.

Once again, he asked if I had read the rules and regulations in the declarations before I signed on it. I nodded. Then he brought out the card and pointed to the section where it read that dairy and wood were banned. I nodded. Of course I knew that those were prohibited items.

But what I didn’t realise was that there was milk powder in the 3-in-1 coffee sachets I brought over and there was wood in Liang Zhi’s Gibson Les Paul electric guitar (7.8kg of wood – duh!) that I had helped him lug over.

I was caught off-guard at my negligence; I took these things for granted because they didn’t look dangerous or like a prohibited item. At least, that was what I had assumed.

Thankfully, the customs officer perceived that I had made a genuine mistake and that I didn’t do it on purpose. He asked what I did for a living and I think my occupation did help to prove my credibility and honesty.

Well, I readied myself to pay taxes for the guitar (and perhaps charge it to Liang Zhi later), as well as to have the eight sachets of coffee confiscated and discarded. I even said to him in jest, “Oh well, there goes my morning coffee for the next week…”

He flashed a wry smile, then he described the penalty of my error. The severity of my oversight hit me hard and I gulped at the seriousness of the offence. So I asked him what would happen from here and what would happen to me (and these items).

For some strange reason (read: grace of God), he decided not to pursue the matter.

“I’m going to let you pass this time but this check will be recorded. If you make such a mistake again, I can’t guarantee that you’d be let off the hook”, he asserted.

I was surprised by his demonstration of grace but I sincerely thanked him for dropping the case.

***

As I pushed my trolley out of the airport, I thought about the grace of God in this scenario.

All Bible-reading believers would know that the wages of sin is death – it’s spelt out clearly for everyone in Romans 6:23. And any responsible evangelist would have explained its severity – eternity without God. (I know reading “eternity without God” doesn’t sound as scary, but if you think about it, it’s a rather petrifying thought!)

Yet we take no heed to it, be it through taking God’s grace for granted or being negligent about our salvation. And when we get into trouble, all we can do is to plead innocence. But how innocent are we, really? A good number of us are callous and careless about abusing the grace of God.

Yes, I believe God will be like the customs officer – “This time, I’ll let you off…” But more importantly, what is our response towards His grace? I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve repented repeatedly about abusing the grace of God – I’m guilty as charged.

For me, I will take extra caution to ensure that I do not make the same mistake again when it comes to packing dairy or wood (or any other contraband items) without declaring it. I learnt, from my first-hand experience, that the grace of God shouldn’t cause us to sin some more, but to sin no more. What a timely reminder.

Innocent until proven guilty.

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sermon recap: must master my mouth man!

Please keep me in prayer as October will be a gruelling month. Above and beyond the commitments of a full-time job, I have a 30% assignment to submit on the 7th, a 30% written test to prepare for on the 19th, and a 40% group presentation to work towards on the 29th. (Yes, I can forget about having a decent birthday celebration this year.) Regardless, I desire to be excellent in all I do, nothing less, for the glory of God.

Oh Lord, I need Your grace more than ever. I need to put first things first. What matters most should never be at the mercy of what matters least; give me Your strength to sustain my walk with You and may I never fall into a performance trap! Help me to never compromise my time with You!

***

I’d like to post a recap of what I’ve shared over the pulpit last weekend. The most challenging (and exciting) part about preaching is to find the message in a passage. And this prophetic burden is best laid upon one’s heart through intercession. Yes, may the Lord reign, always, in all my sermons.

I titled my sermon “Must Master My Mouth Man!” and preached from James 3:1-12. I won’t be able to show my slides this time because I used Prezi; I’m thankful I tried something new because it halved my slides preparation time! I believe I will continue using Prezi.

It’s impossible to be perfect in speech

  • Every once in a while we will say the wrong things, say things wrongly, and also say unnecessary things.
  • A number of us would have hurt and been hurt by words; we tend to sin with our tongues so easily because we’re innately sinful.
  • James doesn’t provide a solution since it’s impossible to be perfect; instead, he gives three pictorial analogies to help us understand the power of our tongues.

Power to DIRECT – picture of a bit and rudder

  • Just as these relatively tiny objects actually determine the destinies of what they control, our speech has great influence over our lives.
  • A 500kg-heavy, 170cm-tall horse is directed by a 12cm by 8cm bit; a 330m-long, 18,000sqm-big aircraft carrier is directed by a 6.7m by 8.8m rudder.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a bit, a rudder, or your tongue.
  • Illustration: scolding people in Huangshan. Lesson learnt: words are indeed infinitely influential.
  • Have you been a good testimony online or have you been careless with what you write on Facebook, Twitter or on your blogs?
  • Whether you choose to speak life or talk nonsense, your words have the power to influence the way other people look at Jesus Christ.
  • As long as it’s published for all to see, it’s no longer about you but about Him.

Power to DESTROY – picture of a forest fire and untamed animals

  • If you leave your tongue on its own, it has the natural ability to destroy and injure people.
  • Left on its own, a forest fire will destroy everything in its path; similarly, an untamed animal left on its own will attack anything in its path.
  • Our words have the potential for construction or destruction; our speech can single-handedly destroy us and other people.
  • Illustration: angry boy who hammered nails into the fence. Lesson learnt: let’s not leave scars and holes in people’s lives with the words that we use.
  • Damaging words rob people of their potential and destroys their self-esteem. See Proverbs 11:9 and Proverbs 12:18.
  • Do we pierce people with our word or with the Word of God?
  • Destructive rumours are detrimental to the church; gossip is the number one killer of the church and Christians have a tendency to talk too much.
  • When we participate in gossip, we become Satan’s instrument to destroy another person. Gossip kills but prayer heals. Let’s prevent Satan from getting access to our church.
  • See Proverbs 26:20. If you are not happy with someone, resolve it with him face to face. When you agree to gossip, you add wood to the fire. Small things become big and big things become fatal.
  • If all of us are sinners saved by grace then what gives us the right to speak ill of one another?
  • It takes a good character not to gossip but it takes a great character not to listen to gossip.
  • When gossipers have no audience, they will stop. Let’s make R-AGE a safe place where gossip or gossipers are not allowed to surface.
  • Discontinue gossip. Choose to be a peacemaker instead and offer to help resolve the conflict between the parties involved.
  • If you know someone who gossips all the time, avoid him, for you become who you hang out with. See Proverbs 20:19.
  • Similarly, if you hang out with people who have control over their tongues, you will also be like them; choose your friends carefully.
  • Learn to hold your tongue. See Proverbs 10:19. If what you say doesn’t build up someone, then learn not to say it; let’s be careful of passing unnecessary remarks on matters that do not concern us.
  • If someone tells you to stop gossiping, don’t judge him; at the same time, don’t be afraid of being judged for doing what is right. No one can fault you if you keep doing what’s right.

Power to DISCOVER – picture of water and fruit

  • The tongue has an uncovering quality; it investigates your character and inspects who you really are inside.
  • Don’t expect seawater to be fresh and don’t expect freshwater to be salty; and if you plant an apple tree, don’t expect durians, and vice-versa.
  • It just doesn’t make sense – it is ridiculous that we use our tongues for such different purposes – to praise God and curse men.
  • The problem doesn’t lie with the control of the tongue but with the condition of the heart. See Matthew 12:34.
  • Illustration: “I love sex!” declaration in an all boys’ school. Lesson learnt: let’s get real with each other – what you say is who you are.
  • Your speech exposes who you are on the inside. Don’t bluff yourself. You are what you say. You can’t hide it.
  • Your speech shows us what is brewing within you; the words you use, the jokes you laugh at, and the things you talk about reveal what’s in your heart.
  • Whatever spills out of your heart comes out from your mouth.

Heart surgery and hurt surrender

  • The Word of God is a mirror and judges the thoughts and intentions of our hearts; judgment is a good thing, for it brings us back to God.
  • But do not despair, God doesn’t leave us in our wretchedness. See Ezekiel 36:26 – “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
  • If your speech reveals that you need a heart change on top of a change of heart, know that Lord has already done that through your salvation.
  • God’s grace is bigger than the condition of our hearts.
  • The challenge isn’t just to choose our words carefully but to change our hearts completely.
  • There’s no shame in wanting a heart that’s changed and renewed, and there’s no shame in surrendering your hurts to God and trusting Him to heal you completely.

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

***

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!

***

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.

***

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.

***

Next post: The Grandeur of the Creation of Man

these are the two compulsory conditions for change.

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!)

imparting a passion to the next generation.

I think it’s fair to say that I’m not just a passionate individual but also a person with many passions. And something that I’m exceptionately passionate about is the Word of God. This keenness was originally infused into my spiritual bloodstream by JH, when I was much younger; I saw the fire in his eyes whenever we discussed about the Word of God or when we pursued truth. I also have to thank Him for introducing me to JP, who is undoubtedly one of my greatest influences in this area, even though I’ve not met him yet. It was JH’s gift – Pierced by the Word – that got me into JP’s solid teaching.

And it’s not surprising, a decade on, that I discuss the Word of God with the same fire in my eyes. One of the most satisfying things in life has to be reading familiar scripture and to have the Holy Spirit breathing into you new perspectives. I revel in those kinda revelations – don’t you? And so I find myself asking myself, “What then have I done to impart this passion through my lifestyle and how can I continue to perpetuate that?” I scrutinised my actions and I am inclined to believe that I have done my part.

  • I am a keen student and an even keener teacher of the Word. I enjoy preparing lessons and thrive in teaching them – it rejuvenates me when I exercise my gift.
  • I prepare sermons with excellence and will never preach something I do not understand fully; the last thing I want to do is to undermine or shortchange the pulpit.
  • I memorise scripture in my own time and I encourage everyone within my sphere of influence to do likewise.
  • I attempt to give scripture-based advice whenever I have the opportunity to dispense counsel, instead of just depending on my wisdom and experience.
  • I base my ministry objectives and vision on the Word of God; the daily themes of PIERCE were lifted from Hebrews 4:12 and the three primary roles of my GII Shepherds were derived from John 21:15-17.
  • I invest money into purchasing knowledge and fill my mind with the right things, instead of overspending on things that have little eternal value.
  • I make time to attend additional teaching seminars and conferences instead of just depending on the Sunday pulpit for my Word input and whenever possible, I will encourage my leaders to sign up and go together with me.
  • I have progressively added audio sermons into my iPod and listen to sound preaching (pun intended) more than I listen to music. In fact, I’ve done this so much there’s nothing but sermons and teachings in my 8GB MP3 player.
  • I subscribe to snail-mailers and online feeds and whenever there is new material, I’ll feast my mind on them so that I am able to generate new thoughts.
  • I am actually more enthusiastic to shop in bookshops (or online book stores) than in shopping centres or departmental stores.
  • I attempt to pray scripturally so that my prayers are theologically accurate and always be aligned to/with God’s divine will.
  • Lastly, I try to spend some time each day to meditate on at least one portion of scripture (but I could really do with some improvement here!).

But why do I tell you all this? To boast? (Oh heaven forbid me from that!) I am deliberately detailed in proving my passion for the Word because it has been a journey for me and I wish to encourage you to ask God to expand your capacity to love His Word. You see, I was never so into it right from the beginning. I certainly did not expect myself to end up at this point and I most certainly do not expect myself to stagnate here too – it’s one reason why I am massively looking forward to my theological education in 2012. I concur with what EC said at last year’s IDMC, that while theological credentials are beneficial, theological competence is essential.

But this is the hardest of them all for it is a daily death of self-denial and an utter dependence on the Spirit to enable me to do so – while I make a sincere and genuine attempt to put into practice what I have learnt, more often than not, I fail at achieving this and for that I am the chief of sinners despite all the “accomplishments” listed above. They’re really just merely accomplishments and nothing else. I will never be able to attain godliness (and holiness) by my own doing; I’m constantly a long-shot away from being Christlike and how I long to fare better in this arena. The Word of God repeatedly reveals my carnal nature and humbles me greatly for it exposes my sin and shortcomings. I don’t know about you (actually I do, I’m just writing rhetorically), but no matter how much I profess to love the Word, the most crucial thing is that I live (and do) the Word. In fact, the more I love the Word, the more I discover my sinful desires and the more I realise my need for the grace of God, the counsel of the Spirit and the redemption of Jesus Christ to see me through each moment.

Amazing grace,
how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.

All right, I have no idea how I ended up there but I guess what I really want to say is that, if I could only choose one passion to impart to the next generation, it would be the passion to pursue the Word of God. I pray that it becomes your primary passion too, especially if you are an influential leader in youth ministry.

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