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.
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.
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.
On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead; on the third day of this Retreat, my faith rose to another level. These are the thoughts of a man with little faith and was gently rebuked by God, for He has certainly proved His faithfulness to me, not that He needed to.
- To proclaim that the kingdom is at hand is to do the three things Jesus commonly did – to save, to heal and to do miracles.
- Biblically, there are three types of faith – desperate, believing and persistent; regardless of category, we ought to depend on God as a newborn babe would depend on his mother, for without faith we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).
- Faith is not about praying harder, longer or louder, and is not about begging or pleading with God, but focussing on God and how big He is, and not on our faith.
- Contrary to popular belief, faith isn’t based on feeling, emotion or circumstances, but on facts; didn’t Jesus rise from the dead? That’s a fact and that’s healthy faith; you can’t get saved without the Holy Spirit filling you.
- The mustard seed illustration is not about the size of our faith but the size of God, that we may see who He is and how circumstances yield to His power.
- Faith is to be exercised and activated, after it is taught and learnt; it is the currency in the kingdom of God and the absence of it renders you invalid.
- The Holy Spirit is the key to revelation and the grace of the Holy Spirit does the recalibration and reorientation. Conviction is not condemnation.
- Don’t try to get something you already have. Instead, we should keep the Spirit dripping like a tap intentionally left turned on slightly, so that whenever we require Him, He will be there, ready to flow.
- We’ll worry lesser about what others think of us when we realise how seldom they actually do. May this free my young people to relate with others.
- In my full-time calling, I should never worry about the money factor or even allow it to be a consideration because God will always make a way.
- Always pray in the Spirit, for when your body is out, your spirit is still praying. Praying in the Spirit means that you are always praying the will of God and hence you will always be on target. Lastly, praying in the Spirit is a decision – so make it, “I will decide to pray in my spirit”.
- The three primary purposes of speaking spiritual language is for praise, intercession and edification.
- After you learn to speak the language, you will learn to live the lifestyle; operating by the Spirit is to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh and hence it should naturally lead to a fruitful life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
In my time with God in the morning, He spoke to me through Psalm 126:3 and it’s a reminder of His steadfast grace, unmerited favour and unfailing love in my life. HY and I have picked out our top 20 choices but we have a feeling that we’ll end up with that particular unit that we set our eyes on from the start.
“The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.” God is good, He really is. Oh me of little faith. I should learn to step out of the boat!
“My son, you don’t need to prove anything to anyone because you are already fully-approved by Me and Me alone and that’s enough. Be secure in who I’ve created you to be and don’t get tangled in meeting the expectations of men.”
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.