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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

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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

my journey to Jesus Christ – a personal testimony.

I’ve always been grateful to God for His grace that has seen me through my growing-up years. For me to be serving Him full-time as a youth minister is a long shot from what was actually intended for me by default of my family’s heritage. Many of you would have heard this before so please bear with me as I share my conversion story again. After all, telling of God’s redemptive plan never gets old.

Caution: this is a long read – prepare the tidbits. (P/S: I’ve already kept it brief!)

I am the firstborn of my generation in a traditional Taoist family. When my parents divorced in 1991, I stayed with my grandmother and my father (for he had the legals rights to my custody). Our flat was a make-shift temple (but some of the devotees probably saw a temple in a make-shift flat, if you know what I mean). I vividly remember the day I counted with my index finger, statue by statue, the number of idols we worshipped – over 130. Yes, it’s a staggeringly scary number. Every August, my family would organise a festival to the celebrate the birthday of the main deity of our temple. Throngs of people would be in attendance and I was always actively involved. There were more people who came to my house to offer incense, ask for protection, consult mediums (yes, possessions took place at my home regularly) than to visit my grandmother, who is the custodian of the temple. Being the eldest grandchild, I was supposed to take over the temple from my uncle, who played the role of a general manager, of sorts. I was exposed to a lot of the operations; I knew and could recognise all the deities by their dialect salutations, chanted during rituals, played the “worship” music (of drums and cymbals) and of course, mixed with tattoo-clad gangster three times my age. They said I had so much “spiritual potential” that I was made the godson of two prominent deities and I was the youngest “layman” to be involved in all the activities. I certainly enjoyed the attention and favour everyone bestowed to me and I reveled in it.

Despite being in a missionary institution (Anglo-Chinese School), I only heard about Jesus Christ when I was in Primary Four, at an external Scripture Union Primary Age camp that my science teacher invited me to go along with her. It was then that my discovery of Christianity begun. I remember talking to my grandmother about the camp and how I may want to follow this “Jesus”. Needless to say, I received a huge dressing-down. A year later, after a school excursion to Haw Par Villa, where we took a boat into the “18 Levels of Hell”, I became tremendously afraid of dying – more specially of ending up in hell. I remember the night that I couldn’t sleep because I was mentally disturbed by all the different punishments I saw in “Hell”; liars had their tongues cut off, murderers were cruelly decapitated and thieves were violently amputated – I was guilty of all these sins and I didn’t want to end up as a mere lump of flesh forever. In tears, I walked out to the living room and had a Papa-I-don’t-want-to-die-and-go-to-hell conversation with my father. Two years later, after the Primary Six Leaving Examination (PSLE), I attended a Christian Fellowship camp organised by my school. I have no recollection how I even signed up for it. Nonetheless, it was at that camp that I gave my life to Jesus. My motivation was simple – I didn’t want to go to hell and John 3:16 was the deciding factor for my conversion. I’m being honest here; I didn’t really embrace the idea of suffering something worse than death itself for all of eternity. The person who led me in the sinner’s prayer was Brother Alan Lim. Here’s the excerpt of what I remember about my conversion conversation:

Alan Lim“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Me: You mean, I just need to believe?

AL: Yes, it’s as simple as that.

Me: You mean, I won’t go to hell and be tortured after I die?

AL: You will have eternal life with Jesus.

Me: You mean, it’s free?

AL: Yes, it is free.

Me: Okay then, I want to be a Christian.

AL: All right, I will lead you in a “sinner’s prayer” but do you know that once you say this, there’s no turning back?

Me: Yes, I know.

AL: Good, let’s pray then. Repeat after me, “Dear Jesus…”

That was it – I didn’t want to go to hell and this “Jesus” person offered me a way out of it. It was free and I didn’t need to do anything except to confess with my mouth and believe in my heart. I mean, it’s a no-brainer deal! Who wouldn’t accept this offer? I certainly wanted this “eternal life” and as a simple-minded Primary Six boy, I was completely sold by this salvation idea. I had to keep this conversion a secret for a good four years before I finally decided to declare it to my grandmother. It was a Sunday and I remember telling it to her while we were together in a taxi (and I still remember that conversation taking place when the cab was travelling along Lower Delta Road, turning left into the slip road that connected to Tiong Bahru Road, towards Redhill MRT station). Strangely enough, I can’t remember how I started the conversation. But she was aware that I have missed the August festival for four years running now.

Me: Ah Ma,你知道我现在是信耶稣了,每个星期天都会去教堂的。(Grandma, do you know that I believe in Jesus now and attend church every Sunday?)

Grandma: 我当然知道啦,我不管你要信什么,你变乖就好。(Of course I know. But I don’t care what you believe in, so long as you become obedient.)

You see, when I stayed with Ah Ma for those four years in that four-room Jalan Besar flat, I was a terrible and horrible kid to look after. I have stolen from my own grandmother, the neighbourhood convenience store and even the departmental store in a shopping centre. Everyday, I hung out with hooligans until midnight, gambled, accompanied them to extort money, threatened people and participated in activities that terrorised the neighbourhood; many times my grandmother had to personally search for me at 11pm. I spewed vulgarities (in dialect) like it was second-nature to me. I’ve changed tutors 11 times in three years and I constantly escaped from tuition and even made a couple of (lady) tutors cry. I basically had no regard for authority. Mind you, I had “achieved” all these as a primary school kid; that’s right – I was on my way to becoming “yellow chinese trash”, as I would affectionately call myself. I had “boys’ home”, “juvenile delinquent” and “no future” written on my forehead. I wasn’t an unintelligent boy, but my ill-discipline nearly caused me to be thrown to EM3 (the weakest academic band) during the Primary Four Streaming Examinations.

My close shave with EM3 was the last straw for my mother. She acted quickly, just like how she “saved” my sister from this destructive environment a couple of years ago. She took this opportunity to gain complete custody of me, and my sister and I were reunited after being separated from one another for a few years. I moved to peaceful Ghim Moh from turbulent Jalan Besar; it has been the three of us ever since 1995. By God’s grace(!), I made it through the PSLE with 4 A’s and I remember doing it without any additional tuition (as my mother could not afford it). It was a miracle now that I think about it, no matter how I look at it. I am certain that God was massively involved in redeeming me and I am certain that there must have been people who were interceding for me. I was the first amongst my immediate family to be saved, then my sister (although she attended church before me), then my mother. Again, by God’s grace, the five eldest grandchildren of my paternal family are all Christians now and they serve God actively in their respective churches. I was no longer that repulsive primary school boy that my grandmother used to look after and my significant turnaround was certainly obvious to her. No wonder she said it doesn’t matter what or who I believed in, so long as I became obedient.

(Okay, that sharing was a little longer than I had imagined… And I’ve really enjoyed writing all that… But) I shall come to my main point now.

A lot of people have told me, “Wow, Joey, you have such a good testimony! My testimony is so boring…”

But I beg to differ, for I merely have a dramatic testimony.

To me, a good testimony is this:

“I am obedient to my parents; I study hard in school; I attend church with my family every Sunday; I go for cell group every week; I am well-behaved and even-tempered; I read the Bible and memorise the Word of God; I spend time with God daily; I treat everyone with respect; I love my brothers and sisters-in-Christ; I pray for my friends and constantly encourage them; I serve God actively in church; I take care of those who are in need; I heed the advice of my pastors, mentors and leaders; I am faithful, available and teachable; I love God, love His Word and His people.”

I don’t know about you, but I think that a person who has that kind of story to tell is a remarkable individual for that life demonstrates years of obedience and courage to be different from everyone else; I opine that you don’t need to fall away from grace to experience God’s grace. Everyone has a story to tell and it is the element of a changed life by a great God that makes the testimony powerful and effective.

I may have a captivating story to tell of God’s grace, redemption and goodness in my life, and God has certainly used it to glorify Himself in the last 15 years. But that’s just me! For every one drug addict or ex-convict who turns his life to Jesus, there will be nine others who fall to the wayside. In Revelation 12:11, we know that we will overcome the evil one by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony; the Word of God doesn’t indicate that this testimony needs to be dramatic or good – but that we simply do our part to testify, which means that we ought to tell others about what God has done in our lives. Never, ever, underestimate your testimony simply because it’s a simple one.

The key here isn’t to compare your story with mine but to tell you my story, and for you to tell me yours, so that at the end of the day, God gets all the glory. May I urge you to always testify no matter where you are, who you’re with, or what you do, for you never know how God will use your testimony to display His awesome glory and amazing redemption. Let’s save some, by all means possible!

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.

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