sermon recap: stephen the formidable forgiver.
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.
we should always keep it fresh.
Tonight I watched the Mayday DNA concert at the National Stadium; this was my fifth time watching them, but the first time that the tickets were free, thanks to TT’s involvement with Youth Olympic Games. The last time I saw them was last Spring in Shanghai, about a year ago, and I paid S$150 for a seat 30 rows from the stage. This might just be the final time I’ll watch them… Unless I receive complimentary tickets again.
I declare this to be the final time because I know just about every single showmanship trick, stage line and musical arrangement that they have up their sleeves. I wasn’t impressed anymore – I didn’t clap or wave my hands or dance and I didn’t get high anymore. I was entertained, but that was it. Yeah, there were new elements – a huge robot, a children’s choir, an impressive mini orchestra as well as a new song. But I told HY that I wouldn’t have gone tonight if it wasn’t because a free show. She concurred.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a excellent concert; anyone attending it for the first time would have left the stadium impressed (although for the ideal experience, you’d have to sit at the more expensive seats directly in front of the stage). Mayday still remains one of my all-time favourite bands and I will continue to hum their music and be inspired by Ashin’s song-writing prowess, but there’s nothing new about them under the sun anymore. It was a great concert yet I was bored.
On my way back after sending TT, NY and HY home, I thought about what I was going to write about today and I was reminded of Mark 6:4 (NLT).
Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”
I haven’t done my homework on this verse yet but I offer my quick thoughts anyway. I’m no longer impressed with Mayday because I could predict my concert experience. This got me thinking about why people decide to leave church or change services for somewhere or someone better, not because the new place or preacher is actually good (or better), but because they probably could predict all the antics of their regular service and sermon. Whenever Grace Retreat approaches, there’s an air of anticipation for the fresh word in season that the speaker would bring; I don’t deny that anticipation, but I think that our regular preachers are just as solid – the only difference is that we are familiar with them, too familiar sometimes.
I remember telling myself to attempt to treat every service like it’s the first time I’m attending it, or as if it’s a special retreat or conference service, or as if it’s the first time I’m hearing the preacher – all this to keep the experience fresh and to keep it new. I get a better understanding of why Jesus said the above-mentioned after tonight’s concert. The Mayday concert was spectacular, no doubt, but it was also boring because I was already used to it. The miracles Jesus performed were still miracles (there’s nothing unspectacular about healing illnesses!), but He wasn’t as effective in His hometown because I’m guessing the locals already knew what was coming up next in the list of Jesus’ to-do’s.
Tonight, as I remind myself to keep my own service experience fresh, I remind you to do likewise. You’ll be surprised at how much more receptive and expectant you might just be at your next service.
sermon recall: barnabas the epic encourager.
It was a whirlwind weekend for me – preparing the Barnabas sermon was more challenging than the Mary Magdalene one. Nonetheless, it’s over and I thank God for all of it. Honestly, I thought my delivery at the G2 youth service was not up to scratch.. Sometimes I don’t know what disappoints me more – a lack of congregational response or failing to meet my high personal standards. But God is good; while I felt that the preaching at G2 was one of my poorest to date, I was surprised by the response at the altar call and received rather positive feedback in both quantity and quality from people I didn’t expect. For that, I’m encouraged and thankful, for God worked through my weaknesses (2 Cor 12:9) and still brought Himself glory despite my shortcomings. Form may be temporary and class may be permanent, but the Holy Spirit is forever – I’ll choose the Spirit’s help over form or class, anytime.
After a post-sermon debrief with RY, some melancholy moments and an evening of personal reflection and self-critique, I refreshed the sermon contents and preached a significantly different sermon at G1 – new illustrations, analogies, activities, focus points as well as more internalising and tightening up of contents. (I’m actually slightly saddened by this phenomenon because G1 would almost always receive the more polished sermon while G2 would receive the raw one; my optimism, however, rephrases raw as original. Oh, euphemisms…) And this was the first instance I’ve reviewed my contents so many times; so I reviewed it again this afternoon and here are the key points in my sermon as well as my own lessons learnt, in no particular order of importance:
- Let us become the “Encouragement Safety Net” and the “Pedestal Platform” for each other.
- What does it take to be a “good man, full of the Spirit and of faith”? Answer: Encouragement! (It works both ways, get it?)
- If we want to be like the Spirit, then we must do what the Spirit does – to encourage!
- Barnabas was called the “Son of Encouragement”; if your friends were to rename you today, what would your new name be? What would you be a son or a daughter of?
- What the Holy Spirit does for us on the inside, we should do for others on the outside.
- The key to creating a culture of encouragement is hoping and praying to be encouraged by others (passive), while making every effort to encourage others (active).
- Encouragement is beneficial for both the encourager and the encouraged.
- Not everyone can be a Paul but everyone can be a Barnabas; not everyone can be a leader but everyone can be a supporter.
- Encouraging others is not about you or how well or badly you do it, but about what the Spirit can do through you.
- Our common ground is how broken and wretched we are – hence we certainly can emphathise with everyone regardless of age or life experiences.
- Everyone needs a person to believe in him, a “no-matter-what” person – through valleys, mountains, victories and defeats.
- The ministry of encouragement has a long-term effect in the lives of young people; so we should be patient with one another as God is patient with us, for if we wait long enough, they might surprise us with something good one day.
- Encouragement influences us in whether we finish pathetically or emphatically – it is the extra strength that we can give to and find from other people.
- You can encourage people you don’t know by affirming them on what they did and not who they are.
- You cannot stop someone from falling – that is inevitable – but you can stop them from crashing.
I look ahead and anticipate the preparation of the next New Testament character. Watch this space!
leading by example – whose example?
The past 48 hours have been extremely tiring and I covet your prayers for one more sermon. I’m determined to rest by midnight but I still want to maintain the momentum of writing daily.
For the last month or so, I’ve been thinking about what it means to lead “by example”. The question is, whose example? If it’s by our example, we are surely doomed for failure considering our wretched nature; if it’s by Christ’s example, then we might never attain it (or spend the rest of our lives trying to); I mean, how could we measure traits like “loving”, “gentle”, “merciful” and similar adjectives when they have no quantifiable end point? We could only be more [insert adjective] but never the most [insert adjective]. So, how then can we find an achievable standard that we could realistically use as a yardstick to track and evaluate our progress as leaders?
I found the answer in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and it’s a massive calling. I’m not a big fan of The Message Bible, but I think this time, its description of a church leader is relevant and easy to understand. I’ve taken the liberty to numerically list the 15 conditions.
Leadership in the Church
If anyone wants to provide leadership in the church, good! But there are preconditions: A leader must be 1) well-thought-of, 2) committed to his wife, 3) cool and collected, 4) accessible, and 5) hospitable. He must 6) know what he’s talking about, 7) not be overfond of wine, 8) not pushy but gentle, 9) not thin-skinned, 10) not money-hungry. He must 11) handle his own affairs well, 12) attentive to his own children and 13) having their respect. For if someone is unable to handle his own affairs, how can he take care of God’s church? He must 14) not be a new believer, lest the position go to his head and the Devil trip him up. 15) Outsiders must think well of him, or else the Devil will figure out a way to lure him into his trap.
There aren’t many but these are high standards to meet. I don’t even dare to declare how many conditions I’ve met; surely, this list keeps me humble. However, the way I look at it, these are practical habits and values that any leader should subscribe to if they desire to “provide leadership” for the church (come to think of it, the desire to become a leader indicates another leadership attribute – initiative).
Thus, the gauntlet is firmly laid down for all of us – existing and potential leaders. May this be our periodical checklist for godly church leadership. May we depend on the Spirit to become Spirit-filled, Christ-like and godly leaders like Barnabas.
How many of your primary school friends do you still keep in touch with? And how about those from your secondary school, polytechnic, junior colleague, university, army or from your previous work place? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a single digit number. And like it or not, that number will slowly but very surely decrease as you age. As I turn 21 for the seventh time this year, I think I’ve learnt a fair bit about friendships – and how most of it takes places in phases.
All right, let’s get technical; when I talk about keeping in touch, I define it simply by the frequency of meeting up. Let’s just put a yardstick of at least once per quarter – that’s four times annually. (I actually believe that if friends can do it twice a year, it’s already an accomplishment. The younger readers of this blog may struggle to understand this, but mark my words on this. When you get to my age, remember you first heard it from me.)
By that definition, with the exception of those who are attending the same church as I am, I keep in touch with a grand total of zero from primary school, one from secondary school (who happens to be my best friend), none from polytechnic, army or from my Shanghai stint. Be it DL from ACJS, CC from ACS(B), JC from NP, ML from BMT, JG from SOA, JH and JQ from 40SAR, LT from OCS, or KS and TS from Shanghai; mind you, when I was in whichever phase, these buddies and I went through some significant moments of life together. We were convinced that we’d be more than just good friends for that period of time.
So I’ve learnt this – enjoy the friendships forged wherever you are at. Milk and remember it for all it’s worth. And know that these friendships are strong and that these friends are important, but at the end of that phase, remember that they are all but permanent friendships, albeit at that point closer than your closest church friends. This is a cynical and very un-sanguine, un-Joey, pessimistic way of looking at things, and I know may protest against this statement, but you heard it from me first – these friendships will not last.
The ones that will last, whether you like it or not, whether you stick around long enough or not, are the ones whom you see in church every weekend. At least that applies to me. These aren’t your seasonal friends – these are your friends for a lifetime. I remember mentioning this at the R-AGE DNA sermon I preached at the beginning of this year – that church friends, fortunately or unfortunately, unlike your friends from outside, are here to stay. You can always change a clique and hang out with a different bunch of school or work friends when you get sick of the current ones. But face it – you can’t get rid of your church friends and they’ve got to face it too – they can’t get rid of you. It’s just like how we cannot change our family members; we’ve simply got to stick to them and find a way to make it work.
And when I look back at the brothers and sisters that God has put in my life in this church, I’m filled with a deep sense of gratitude, because I know that I’m going to be growing old with them and my kids are going to marry their kids (whether they like it or not). The question that I leave with you is – look around you, look at your friends and look deep into their eyes, and look into your heart… How many true friends do you have? How many friends are you true to? After all, true friends attract true friends.
sermon recall – mary magdalene.
If a picture paints a thousand words then my slideshow paints 25,000. Enjoy the recapitulation of the first of four in the “Facebook with the Newbies” series! As you look forward to the next newbie, keep me in much needed prayer as I prepare the next sermon. For now, I’ll keep the character a mystery (but it’s between S, B or J… No… It’s not standing board jump). Watch this space!
the makings of a great boss.
My relatively short working life of six years has seen me through three organisations, one each in the government, private and charitable sectors, both local and overseas. And I’ve had the opportunity to work with and under the leadership of six bosses, so I am able to differentiate a good boss from a great boss. (No, I will not write about the bad ones.) And without over-spiritualising my thoughts, for I know who my real Boss is, I’d like to share my thoughts on the current one – RY – a man whom I admire greatly and one whom I model after.
First and foremost, I consider it a great blessing to be working with my friend and mentor – someone who has seen me through the ups and downs of my life for nearly a decade. He knows me inside out – my strengths and weaknesses – and knows how to challenge and correct me at the same time. RY has been there for me from the day I developed a desire for full-time ministry to the day God confirmed the calling for me to enter. He was with me at the interview with Grace before I left for Shanghai (yes, I nearly joined Grace in 2007). And he was there with me at the interview last October.
The great gifts that a boss could give to his subordinate is to first believe in and sponsor opportunities for him, protect and fight for him, groom and guide him, listen to and let him share his dreams, and whenever necessary, rebuke and humble him. RY has been an excellent boss because he does all that and a little bit more. I know that he looks out for me from behind the scenes but never announces it. I also know that he wisely refrains from telling me what I need not know because he has my best interests at heart. We don’t give enough credit given for these understated attributes, but it certainly affirms my loyalty to him and gives me the drive to work harder for a boss like that. More importantly, it makes me want to trust him and entrust myself to his captaincy.
Something that I greatly respect RY for was how he deliberately chose not to tell me about his ministry plans for me when I nearly joined in 2007. He understood me well enough and knew that if he had let the cat out of the bag, I’d have jumped onboard on impulse, wanting to take on the exciting challenge. Instead, he patiently waited for God to deal with me and for me to make a decision to enter full-time ministry with my motivations fixated on pleasing God alone. Throughout this time, he continued to pray for me and waited two years before I was available to make that decision again.
To be honest, a great pull factor for me in coming into full-time work with Grace, is that I’d be able to work with and learn from RY on a day-to-day basis and on an intimate and intense capacity. It is rare that anyone can find a boss who is able to completely understand the professional and personal struggles that you are dealing with because he has gone through all of it himself. For that, I have the blessing to learn from his journey of both faith and frustration. While I may learn mentoring principles from books and other speakers, I experience mentoring principles lived out firsthand from RY’s God-led handling of me. There have been more times than one that when I mull over ministry decisions, I find myself asking, “Now, what would Ronald do in this situation?” – That’s the extent of RY’s influence in my life.
As he debriefed me today in the office after I delivered the sermon (which I really enjoyed!), I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude for a good and godly boss who leads by example and who takes the effort to work with me on the details. He doesn’t need to go the extra miles for me, but he chooses to. At the end of the feedback session, before we entered the lift, I patted him on the back and thanked him, from the bottom of my heart, for taking care of me. For all the years that I will continue to work with him, I’m penning this moment down because I’ll always want to remember that RY is the best boss that I’ve had, yet. I confidently know that Jesus must have been a great boss because I see His greatness in my life through RY. Thank you Lord, for sending RY into my life.
And thank you, Pastor Ronald, I love you.