2020 may be drawing to an end. But we are still far from the end of the present crisis. I don’t know what new normals the new year will present. All I know is that we can expect more adjustments and adaptations ahead.
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel”, which is translated, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23
Although Christmas may be celebrated a little differently this year, the truth of Christmas remains the same. Jesus is still Immanuel. God is still with us. My prayer for you and yours is that you will experience this truth in the person of Jesus Christ even more powerfully and personally in and through these uncertain times.
The message of Christmas remains the same too. More than just a word of comfort, it is an offer of salvation.
“And she shall bring forth a Son and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21
The salvation we need is not from an external crisis of Covid-19 but an internal condition of sin. Theories may abound as to the origin of this dreaded virus. The truth is that the virus is a consequence of sin and sinful humanity. Even if one does not die from the virus, without Jesus, one will still die in his or her sins and forever be separated from God. For this reason, God sends His Son to save mankind from sin, and be reconciled to Him. All that is required is faith in Jesus Christ.
Perhaps, it is good that Christmas is not as festive this year. It allows time and space for reflection and response. If you are not a believer yet, would you accept the Christmas gift of salvation through Jesus? If you are already a Christian, with church and Christian activities drastically disrupted, ponder the true essentials of the Christ life.
From our family to yours, here’s wishing you a very, blessed Christmas. And may the new year present you with new opportunities to live for Jesus and His kingdom.
Henson & Serene with David, Sarah, Aaron, Esther, Ruth, Deborah Hope & Anna Joy
I’ve never been much of a runner. It was only in the past decade or so that I started running more regularly.
The motivation? It didn’t take me long to realise that ministry life can be quite sedentary. Read bible. Prepare message. Set up presentation. Repeat. Ok ok, very sedentary. And since the park was just one block away, I had no excuse not to get out for some fresh air and to work up some sweat. The runs were good for my own health and fitness. The fresh air out in the open also helped to clear my mind. More than once, I’ve received new ideas and prophetic insights.
The distance? Nothing impressive here. Since the objective was not to participate in marathons any time soon, I kept to the humble IPPT’s 2.4km. Once in a while, I’d push myself to 3km. If more ambitious (or just feeling masochistic), then 5km. Suffering for Jesus, y’know? Haha.
You’d think that my stamina would be really good. I wish. Another rude realisation is that stamina and pace do not necessarily correspond with age. Oh wait. There is a correlation. On the other side of 50, I could still push myself for a better timing. On this side of 50, whenever I try to do that, it will take me one week to recover before my next run. Sigh. Sadly, the correlation is a negative one. At least for me, as age goes up, pace comes down.
7km? Then this year, for some strange reason, I get added to a Facebook Group, called “Kingdom Runners”. As these run, they pray and then post to the group. The idea is much akin to prayer walking. Except that this is prayer running. (I know this sounds crazy, right? I’m just trying to survive, finish the run and get home alive.)
Well, two weeks ago, the leader of the group posted an invitation to participate in YOLO RUN’s first virtual race. I was all ready to swipe away but the distance of the race caught my eye. In most races, the categories are usually in multiples of 5 – 5km, 10km, 15km, etc. Oddly enough, the only category for this race is 7km. All I had to do was run 7km in a go, anytime within the window of 21-26 October 2020. I signed up.
Note: The race has been extended to 22 Nov 2020. Register with this code: KINGDOMRUNNER (all caps) and get 40% off. For the T-shirt, use the phrase “I run for JESUS”.
7 years ago, on 27 October 2013, the Lord gave me the Archippus Awakening message through the one verse of Colossians 4:17. Since then, I have been proclaiming this wake up call whenever the Lord provides the opportunity. The ministry has also grown and matured. More have come onboard and are now serving alongside me. God has been so faithful and gracious. As I thought of how to mark these 7 years, I sensed that a new season is just ahead. Then, the YOLORUN invitation popped up. It’s as if the Lord was challenging me: “Would you run 7km to mark 7yrs?”
And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord that you may fulfil it.”
What was I thinking? Signing up was the easy part. I still had to run the distance. Up until then, the farthest I’d ever pushed myself was 5km, usually ending with aches and pains for the next few days. You wouldn’t believe the kind of thoughts that flooded my mind: Are you sure or not? What if you injure yourself? Why is my knee suddenly hurting so much? Am I being responsible? Talk about spiritual attacks – haha!
Here we go! Well, the day of the run finally arrived. Coincidentally or not, the two days before were crazy days, tiring me out both mentally and physically. I am thankful that my daughter, Ruth, opted to register and run with me. That kept me accountable as I sought to honour her partnership and support.
This was how it went.
4:00pm Warm up and stretches.
4:10pm We prayed to dedicate the run to the glory of God, asking Him to keep us safe.
4:17pm Here we go! No prizes for guessing why I chose to start the run at this time. For those who are still clueless, here’s a hint: 7km to mark 7yrs since receiving the Archippus Awakening message through Colossians 4:17 (get it?).
The first half of the run went pretty well. Ruth took the lead and I trailed behind. I was very clear that I was not gunning for a great timing. I just wanted to run the whole distance without walking or stopping.
After the 3.5km mark, however, was the challenge. It seemed to take forever to get to the 5km mark. I was still pacing well. But somehow, the number on my tracking app didn’t move as quickly as the first few kilometres.
Thankfully, the 4.17km mark gave me the boost I needed. These words rang out in my mind, “This is what I am running for. I have to keep going for as long as the Lord wants this kingdom assignment to continue. I will keep preaching and proclaiming Colossians 4:17. Not only that, I am setting the pace for all Archippuses. To finish the race. To go for gold. This run is dedicated to all who desire to be awakened, aligned and assigned for Jesus. I cannot stop. I must keep going on.”
At 5km, the psychological battle kicked in. On one hand, it’s just 2km more. Yet, on the other hand, 5km was when I would stop in my previous runs. 2km more? You’re kidding me, right? Enough la. Surely, I can just walk the rest of the way and still register the 7km. Run, Henson, run!
Here again, I am thankful that Ruth ran with me. Or rather, that I ran with Ruth. By cheering her on – 2km more. 1km more. Last burst. C’mon! – I was actually cheering myself on. By running together, we were encouraging one another all the way. We were going to finish together and finish well.
5.01pm We made it! 7.02km in 44:31mins. Yay! Instagram poses and posts.
My running app congratulated me: “A New Personal Record! Longest Run.” Even better, the race app recorded me as the very first finisher of the virtual run (globally). This meant that I occupied the first spot on the leaderboard for a while (cheap thrill, I know).
Yes. Quite an achievement for this not-so-young athlete wannabe. It was fun. But more importantly, it was significant. 7km to mark 7yrs. If the Lord had not instructed me through Colossians 4:17, I would have no business awakening the saints toward their kingdom assignments. That I get to run this race of Archippus Awakening is entirely by His grace.
What keeps me running? It has not always been easy these 7yrs. Like the run, there have been many moments of doubts and discouragement. I am also ever ready to make excuses and give myself reasons why I shouldn’t, couldn’t or needn’t. Even so, I press on because ultimately I am running for Jesus on the purposes of His kingdom. At the same time, I am also running for Archippuses; that when these see me plodding on, they may be encouraged enough to do the same for the Lord.
Across these 7yrs, I am ever thankful for the many ‘Ruths’ whom the Lord has led to run with me. Above all, I give all thanks and praise to the Lord for His goodness and faithfulness, “who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me in the ministry” (1 Tim 1:12). Through these 7yrs, I have personally experienced that “the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 1:14).
A new season? As 8 comes after 7, so I brace myself for the new beginnings that are just ahead. Colossians 4:17 remains relevant and I believe a fresh anointing will be given for a new season. My part is simply to keep running. Whatever it takes.
“But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God”
8km to mark 8yrs? One day at a time. One step at a time.
We’ve heard of using verses out of context. What about rainbows?
Recently, the frequency of rainbows seem to have increased. Some attribute it to the cleaner air and clearer skies in view of reduced human activity owing to circuit breaker measures. Possibly. But is there more to it?
The moment a rainbow appears, social media will be flooded with pictures of these lovely arcs, accompanied by enthusiastic posts and positive comments. The Christian ones usually associate the rainbow with God’s promises and His faithfulness, taken to mean that God will fulfil the promises made to the individual or to a country.
These all sound good and right – very encouraging and uplifting. But how accurate are such interpretations and applications?
To ascertain this, we cannot rely on impressions or how we personally feel about this beautiful phenomenon in the skies. We have to go back to the source, to Scriptures.
The first rainbow
I believe we are all familiar with the biblical account of the flood in Genesis 6-9. Mankind had become corrupt and God decided to start over. God told Noah to build an ark, by which he and his family would be saved when the floodwaters covered the face of the earth. Noah obeyed. The rains came. And all of humanity, except Noah and his family, was destroyed. When it was all over, God gave fresh instructions to Noah and made a covenant with creation – with the rainbow as the sign of the covenant.
13 I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. 14 It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; 15 and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:13–17NKJV
This covenant made between God and creation is referred to as the Noahic Covenant. The sign of the covenant serves as a reminder to both parties of the covenant. In this case, whenever a rainbow appears, God, as the initiator of the covenant, will be reminded of what He had promised. As for creation, we can look at the rainbow and be thankful that a covenant keeping God will hold to His end of the deal. To this end, the rainbow is indeed associated with promise or covenant keeping and the faithfulness of God.
But what is the promise to be kept?
The answer is extremely straightforward and can be found in Genesis 9:15 – “the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
In recent years, there have been more and more floods that have caused much havoc around the world. We are told that this is largely due to rising sea levels as a result of climate change. As critical as the situation may be, we can be certain creation will never be wiped out by floodwaters. Nations and their leaders may make and break climate deals and accords but God will never break the Noahic Covenant.
Interestingly, rainbows are also mentioned with the glory of the Lord (Ezekiel 1:28) and around God’s throne (Revelation 4:3). This is not difficult to understand since we now know that rainbows are essentially the result of reflected, refracted and dispersed light. And since God Himself is full of light (and His angels too, Rev 10:1), it is not surprising that rainbows are found in His presence. How wonderful that God does not need to wait for a heavy downpour to be reminded of the Noahic Covenant. With a rainbow perpetually around His throne, He is constantly reminded of His promise not to destroy the world by flood.
Can we extend the sign of the rainbow to every other promise or wish?
I know it is tempting to do so and many have (as evidenced by social media posts). But honestly, that is a real s-t-r-e-t-c-h by all counts. The rainbow is only the sign of the Noahic Covenant and not of the other covenants in the bible. Sure, borrow it. Just don’t use it out of context.
Will earth never ever be destroyed again?
More critically, more than just be mesmerised by this beautiful sign, we must be mindful of what the covenant is about and what it is not. To be clear, God did not say that He will never ever destroy the earth again. What He promised was that the earth will never be destroyed by a flood again. That is a huge difference.
This is important because Scripture does speak of heaven and earth passing away (Matthew 5:18; Mark 13:31), that we can look forward to “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). There will be another destruction, just not by water as in the days of Noah. This time, it will be by fire (2 Peter 3:10-13).
10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:10–13NKJV
A reminder and a warning
Whilst we can look back to the first rainbow and be assured of God’s faithfulness to keep His word, we must also look forward to what will happen when God keeps His word concerning the destruction to come.
Seen in this context, the rainbow serves as both a reminder as well as a warning. I fear that we have emphasised only the former and have all but missed the latter. 2 Peter 3:7 provides the right balance: “But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.”
5 For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, 6 by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. 7 But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. 2 Peter 3:5–7NKJV
Is destruction reserved only for non-believers?
Lest we think this warning is only for non-Christians, we must read on for 2 Peter 3:10-13 was written as a warning to believers – “what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness”. Paul addressed believers too when he spoke of the same fire that will finally test the works of believers (1 Corinthians 3:13).
The rainbow is a sign of a covenant – specifically, the Noahic Covenant. For other covenants, there are other signs. In the Noahic Covenant, the promise that God will keep is that the earth will not be destroyed by water again. No, the rainbow is a not a promise fulfilment symbol for personal or national agendas.
Since the rainbow is closely associated with the issue of destruction, it then also serves as a reminder and warning of how God will eventually destroy both heaven and earth; not by water, but by fire. With hope, we look to new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells. With this knowledge, we are thus expected to respond by living godly, faithful and fruitful lives.
The next time you see a rainbow, go ahead – ooh and wow at it, snap photos of it, share it on your social media feed. Just remember not to take it out of context. Instead, remember the significance of this beautiful sign in the skies.
What about the increase of frequency of rainbows these days? With more sightings of double and triple rainbows? Honestly, I don’t think God needs more reminders. What if these are the Lord’s way of signalling to us that the time is short and the window is closing fast?
Especially in times of crisis, conspiracy theories abound. These are not new – they have always been around – but in uncertain times, the more certain these theories sound, somehow providing answers to why things are the way they are.
The most recent is that of QAnon, started by an anonymous post by ‘Q’ and has since taken on a life of its own. Of greater concern is how QAnon has attracted a very large Christian following, both in the USA and around the world. The narrative of good vs evil fits right into our kingdom psyche. So as people of righteousness, we must do our part to fight back and to warn others. Sounds right. But is it?
In the past weeks, more has been written about this movement. But hold on! Can we trust what is published in the mainstream media? More pastors have stepped up to warn their congregations about the dangers of QAnon. Oh wait. Maybe these pastors are part of the conspiracy, wolves in sheep’s clothing?! After all, anyone who speaks against QAnon speaks against Trump and hence cannot be trusted. In fact, anyone who votes against Trump contributes to the end of the Church. Really?
Chances are you have received one of such warnings or heard a few of such teachings from well meaning Christians. How are you processing these? Did you spam, er … share, these with your friends and pastors too?
I must confess that it is very enticing and tempting to feed on the QAnon offerings. It is like receiving some higher level information which normal people are not privy too. It makes one feel smarter, in the inner circle, and more spiritual. But is this how it is supposed to be? Is this what discernment looks like? Or is it quite the opposite?
Led by the Lord to read through Psalms and to post a verse each day with my own thoughts and reflections (#apsalmaday), today’s gleanings from Psalm 2 provide perspective as to how we should respond.
Reading this verse, I can’t help but think of the many conspiracy theories circulating these days. A new world order. A global government. A ruling elite. Population control. DNA-altering vaccine. Big Brother system. Whatever or however, these all go against the Lord and His Anointed.
Here’s the good news. God is not surprised or perturbed at all. In fact, He will have the last laugh (2:4). His Son, His Anointed, His Messiah – Jesus – will come to judge and to rule His kingdom in righteousness. How cool.
Don’t miss the hint in the final verses – be wise, be instructed.
No need to fear hidden agendas. Look instead to God’s plan that has been clearly made known to us.
No need to spread conspiracy theories or add to the rumours. Proclaim instead the gospel of the kingdom. Invite and remind all to “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.” 2:11
And remember: “Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.” 2:12 (not in conspiracy theories or whoever the next president is).
9 September 2020 #apsalmaday
This may or may not be satisfactory to you. But as for me, it brought me comfort and helped me focus.
To be sure, where conspiracy theories are concerned, there are way more questions than there are answers. Depending on which way you go, it will lead to confusion, distraction and fear on one end, or a radical almost maniacal vigilante Christian resistance movement on the other. I believe that either extreme is not what the Lord expects of matured believers.
Whilst we may not be entirely clear of how things will pan out, or what is actually true or false, I hope we can at least agree on the following:
Yes, the world is in a mess in need of salvation. No, we don’t need more conspiracy theories to confirm that. Yes, the Church needs to wake up and fulfil her assignment. No, the Church is not ending anytime soon, nor can her existence be determined by the outcome of an election. Yes, we must be aware of deception in the final days. No, we should not add to the deception by spreading more lies and rumours we cannot verify. Yes, the days ahead may get more challenging for followers of the Christ. No, we are not surprised because these have been foretold and we have been forewarned.
There are still many more assignments to be fulfilled. The Church must not be distracted. There are enough fakes around. Let’s not add to that by being flakes.
We are people of Truth. Know the Truth. Live out of that Truth. Proclaim the Truth. Not theories.
It doesn’t happen all the time. But this morning, it did.
I opened my Bible and the first verse my eyes fell on caught my attention, spoke to me:
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain.
1 Thessalonians 2:1
Paul’s words echoed a deep desire in my heart – that my kingdom work will never, ever, be in vain. Like Paul, I want to be able to say this with confidence. I uttered a quick prayer under my breath. “Lord, may there always be fruit, even if I may not know it or see it.”
To encourage me, the Lord answered almost immediately – through an article in the Tung Ling Bible School Newsletter that just arrived in the mail.
It was an Open Letter to TLBS from a recent graduate who signed off simply as “Archippus W.” In case you are wondering … no, there was no student named Archippus in that cohort. Which makes this even more meaningful for me. From the module that I teach at TLBS, “Knowing & Fulfilling Kingdom Assignments”, the name and significance of the “almost anonymous” Archippus made a difference in this person’s journey.
I know that this may not mean anything to anyone. And that’s ok. This one’s specially for me. Courtesy of my King.
I know that all I need to do is my part and then leave the rest to God. But I wonder often if what I do or say is getting through at all. I know that I am not to be too results-oriented or performance-driven. I know, I know. Yet, who wants his or her work to be done in vain?
Paul was never ashamed of using these two words “in vain” and I guess we should not be apologetic either. After all, Scriptures clearly exhorts us towards fruitfulness. And Jesus says that we are to be known by our fruit.
There’s only one little problem. Sometimes, I may never know or see the fruit of my labour.
This is why I am so thankful for the Lord’s gracious encouragement this morning. Just one small article with a little sign-off of an obscure, little known name – Archippus. It is as if my King was whispering to me, “Keep doing what you are doing. It is not in vain.” Thank you, Jesus.
Dear Archippus – whoever you are – thank you for penning this open letter, sharing your journey to encourage so many others. That one phrase“to be like the almost anonymous Archippus in Colossians 4:17” and your identification with this biblical character have given me new strength to continue to proclaim the message of Archippus Awakening, knowing that it has not been and will not be in vain.
I reached Deuteronomy 15 in my bible reading this morning. Once more, Deuteronomy 15:12-18 spoke to me. How timely, as I reflect and rejoice about 20 years of Following Jesus. We may think that this passage about bondservants is no longer relevant for New Testament Christians. However, we must be note that it was Paul’s preferred term whenever he introduced himself.
“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle,…” Romans 1:1
“Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ,…” Titus 1:1
In celebration of the honour and privilege of following and serving Jesus, allow me to share an extract from Say To Archippus, from Chapter Six: The Kingdom Keeps Advancing, pp74-77.
Awl for Jesus
When writing to the churches, Paul would introduce himself as a doulos first, before using the term, apostolos (apostle). Although different English translations have rendered the Greek word doulos as servant, slave or bondservant, it is clear that Paul considered himself as belonging to Jesus.
As a servant or slave of Jesus, he is firstly one who serves the Master before he is one who is sent by Him (an apostle literally means one who is sent). Unlike the other English versions, the translators of the NKJV and the NASB opted to render doulos as bondservant instead of servant or slave.
Appreciating the difference between the terms makes for an interesting observation as well as application.
Servitude and slavery may have been common and accepted in Bible times, but given the fallenness of humanity, there would have been the possibility of unjust and inhumane treatment of those in such categories and situations.
To address that, God, through the Mosaic Law (Exodus 21:1-6), made a provision for servants to be set free after serving six years, without having to pay anything. This was so that they could have a chance to start over.
“Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them: If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.”
Although freedom is due to him in the seventh year, the servant still has an option available for him to exercise. If he had been well taken care of and well treated by his master (or ex-master, more accurately), he could choose to forego his freedom and voluntarily serve this master.
Forego his freedom? Yes! His master had provided adequately for him and his family and even protected them from any eventuality. He has benefitted from the master’s fair dealings as well as his wise and prudent decisions and direction. He trusts and loves his master.
Freedom notwithstanding, there is absolutely no reason why he would want to risk facing the challenges and uncertainties of the world on his own. It is far better to stay and to continue to serve this good and loving master! His relationship with his master is worth far more than his own freedom!
By saying, “I love my master…I will not go out free,” he voluntarily and willingly offers himself back to the master. When the master pierces his ear with an awl, this freed servant becomes a bondservant who will serve the master, not just for another six years, but for life!
This is a beautiful picture of our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ! Like the servant, we too have been set free from slavery without having to pay anything. Instead, we have received every blessing in Christ and every promise is a ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ for us to start anew!
And yet, the freedom we have accounts for nothing if we don’t have Christ, the best Master there is. With freedom, we could serve ourselves and do whatever we wished but how could that even be compared with the protection, the provision and the purposes of the Master?
Truly, nothing compares to being in the centre of the Master’s will and plans. The best thing to do is to offer ourselves back to the Master, voluntarily and willingly, and to be His bondservant for life.
Being slaves of God and servants of Jesus is not to be taken as drudgery or a chore. It is true that we have been bought with a price and are no longer our own but a relationship with Jesus is never akin to forced labour or life imprisonment.
Not at all! Otherwise, it is no longer a relationship of love, for love cannot be forced upon a person nor can a person be coerced to love.
Jesus has every right to enforce His ownership over us but that is simply not in His nature or character. He loves us and thus saves and sets us free from the tyranny of sin. And so, we are His and in this, there is no choice. But we do get to choose how we respond to His love. We could just say ‘thank you very much’ and go about our own devices, or respond in love to stay and serve Him.
If you ask me, it’s really quite straightforward. If I could have made it on my own, He didn’t have to come and save me in the first place. The truth is, I am and have nothing in and of myself. The moment I walk away from Jesus, I walk right back to where and what I was saved from! For sure, sin is a terrible master and I am a lousy master of my own destiny.
There is only one Master who is worthy of love, praise and service: JESUS!
It is when we come to a revelation of this that we, like Paul and the apostles, readily choose to be bondservants, or love slaves, of Jesus.
Just like that. 20 years. At times, I still find it hard to believe. So much has happened. And yet, there is so much more to learn and experience.
In case you are wondering what this is about, on the morning of 8 July 2000, in my time of devotion, I heard the Lord invite me to follow Him wholeheartedly. No, it was not an audible voice but it came through loud and clear in my spirit.
Each year, I would take time to reflect and review so that I can remember and never forget that moment. This morning, I did the same. And since it is quite a milestone – 20 years! – I made a special effort to take out my old journal as well as the 40 Day booklet that the Lord spoke through.
Whilst I remember the passage more clearly (Mark 1:16-20), it was the commentary that caught my eye this year. Looking at my scribbles and notes, I realised once more how powerfully the words gripped me, causing me to respond the way I did:
Jesus’ mission takes precedence over the family business, and the family itself. In fact, over everything!
8 July 2000, 40 Day Fast
That morning, I resolved in my heart that nothing would stand in the way of loving and serving Jesus. Not the family business. Not the family (it was just Serene and two children then). In the same way that Jesus asked the young Galilean fishermen to follow Him, the invitation was extended to me too. And as immediately as the disciples responded, I too wanted to drop everything there and then.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, looking back, I stand amazed at how the Lord has led me, and still leading me. To say that it’s been quite an adventure would be a gross understatement. Reading my journal entries, I can’t help but smile at a much younger and less matured me, fumbling and struggling to make sense of my feelings and challenges as I sought to follow Jesus the best I knew how then.
This is not to say that I have got it all figured out 20 years later. Interestingly, the challenges are all still there, just in different forms and dimensions. I’d like to think that I have learned to navigate these a little better and with more wisdom.
To celebrate and mark this little milestone, I will host a Zoom meeting tonight (8 July 2020, Wednesday, 8pm) to share my journey of following Jesus over these 20 years. No preaching or teaching (if I can help it – haha!), just a casual chit chat, one disciple to another. I will try to answer questions with the hope of encouraging even more to follow Jesus. Join me if you. Sign up for Zoom link: TinyURL.com/followjesuswithhenson
“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry,”
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
Acts 1:1-3 (emphasis mine)
Today is Resurrection Sunday.
This year, because of the Covid-19 crisis, it is celebrated very differently – not in packed churches and auditoriums, but in homes. This morning, I enjoyed our church’s online service with my family in the comfort of our living room. I am sure it was the same for many others; not just in Singapore but around the world.
Although somewhat muted, its significance remains the same: Jesus is risen! He is alive! Death is defeated! We have victory in and through Him!
We know that now.
But for the disciples of Jesus then, it took some time for the reality of the resurrection to hit home. For this reason, Jesus “presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs”. Over the course of 40 days, He was seen by many of them.
40 days may seem a long time to us (think 28 days in circuit breaker mode and the possibility of an extension) but Jesus knew better. This window was all He had to convey what was important and critical – the essentials. Beyond the initial high-fives and hugs, Jesus spent every other moment “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Yes. Whether encountering the disciples in their homes or along the road to Emmaus, Jesus revealed the kingdom of God.
Similarly, beyond the celebration of the resurrection today, this is my prayer for the next 40 days – that there will be a fresh revelation of the kingdom of God to disciples of Jesus Christ.
Whether staying in our homes or jogging along exercise routes, I pray that King Jesus will break in to show us what we need to see and understand about “things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” When reading Scriptures, may the words of the King ring ever more clearly and powerfully, opening eyes, convicting hearts and renewing minds. More than just waiting to get back to church as usual, that we would wait – crave! – for the Spirit of the Christ to be outpoured again upon all believers. What a new normal that’d be!
40 days was all Jesus had and it was enough.
The disciples didn’t just celebrate Jesus’ resurrection but carried it in their hearts. It didn’t end with a stirring easter cantata or musical but resounded in and through their lives. As witnesses of His resurrection, Jesus wasn’t just alive for them; Jesus was alive in them! This revelation and reality enabled them to represent the King in all “things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” They knew full well that kingdom exploits may result in death for some. But because their King lives, even if they lost their lives, they too would live with Him.
The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed more than a few things in the Church, causing us to consider and examine the essentials and the non-essentials.
After His resurrection, for 40 days, Jesus didn’t speak of anything else except the essentials, “things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Over the next 40 days, in this divine pause, I believe the King will speak again to those who truly desire and are seeking His kingdom.
Each year, dictionaries will select a Word of the Year to describe the main trending issue of the year. For 2020, I am predicting that it might well be coronavirus, for obvious reasons.
More accurately, it is the novel coronavirus; or a new strain of a virus whose thorny crown-like spikes earned it the label corona or crown. It was later upgraded to a disease status, Covid-19, the COronaVIrus Disease which originated in 2019.
After the initial finger pointing, there is now a greater call for nations to co-operate. It is becoming clearer that no one nation can fight this battle on her own. The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted and disrupted everyone and everything on a global scale.
As noble and needed as this sounds, this is where conspiracy theories abound. Who exactly is WHO (the World Health Organisation) representing? Whose interests are being promoted? Is the new normal going to take us one step closer to the New World Order? Will we see a One World Government established in our lifetime?
In whatever form, the general consensus is that we must stand united against this thorny crown. For humanity to be saved, this coronavirus must die.
Another Thorny Crown
Being Good Friday, I revisited the trial and crucifixion of Jesus through the gospel accounts this morning. This year, what stood out for me was the mocking and ridiculing of Jesus. Whilst this piece of information is not new to me, the identification of the groups of people who mocked Him caught my attention.
Facing the Sanhedrin, Jesus was spat at, beaten, slapped and struck by His own people, the Jews (Matt 26:67). At the trial by Pilate, Jesus was scourged, beaten and mocked by the Roman soldiers, the Gentiles (Matt 27:27-31). As if to cover all bases, Scripture records another mocking where Jesus was treated with utter contempt – by Herod and his men of war (Luke 23:6-12). Herod, as we know from his family line, was a mix of both Jew and Gentile.
To top it all off, adding insult to injury, mocking Jesus’ kingship claim, a crown of thorns was wedged onto His head (Matt 27:29). It seemed that since Jesus was disrupting everyone and everything, He must be decisively dealt with and promptly put away. To restore normalcy, to save humanity, this thorny issue of Jesus must die.
To demonstrate the agreement of this decision on a ‘global’ scale, each and every people group (nation) was represented through the above mocking and rejection accounts – the Jews, the Gentiles, and even those in between. All stood as one against Jesus.
The Real Thorny Issue
In much the same way, we suppose that once humanity works together, we will win the battle against Covid-19 and other similar ills. Through this crisis, a new humanity will emerge – or so we are being told.
To the unsuspecting, this humanistic narrative is not new and has been declared in both obvious and not-as-obvious ways across the decades. The underlying message is simply: We are all the same, regardless of race or religion. It doesn’t matter which god you worship or what you believe. Let’s not fight but unite. At the end of the day, no one can save humanity except humanity itself.
However, the battle is not simply against the coronavirus. Hey, I am all for curbing and eradicating Covid-19, and soon. Yet, even when that happens, it will only be a matter of time before another issue surfaces.
What the world regards as the main issue is only the manifestation of the real thorny issue – sin.
Through this crisis, humanity hopes to come together as one. Even if that should take place, in whatever form, if sin is not dealt with, that unity will still be a sinful one of global proportions (eeks!). And the last time I read the Bible, sin only results in death (Rom 6:23).
The One with the Thorny Crown
The mocking and rejection of Jesus was foretold by the prophet, Isaiah. In describing the Messiah, the coming King and Saviour, he wrote,
“He is despised and rejected by men; A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”
In the next verses, we learn that the Messiah’s rejection was for a specific purpose:
Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
After the mocking came the crucifixion. On the Cross, Jesus took upon Himself “the iniquity of us all”; yes, all. The suffering and sacrifice of the Messiah (the Christ) were not just for the Jews. These were extended to the Gentiles and everyone else in between. Where the judgment for sin demanded death, Jesus died in place of everyone that whosoever would believe in Him will receive life.
Do not be deceived. Only Jesus can save from the devastation and destruction of sin and bring about a new humanity of eternal significance and promise. Any other attempt will fail. The world may seek to capitalise on the present crown-like virus for all to stand as one. But Christians know that it is only through faith in Jesus that we can all be truly one in Him.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
This Good Friday, though our hearts go out to the many who have suffered and are suffering in and through the Covid-19 pandemic, it is the vicarious suffering and death of Jesus Christ that we must not forget. As much as we are thankful for good government and practical measures in these times, our hope continues to be in God through the salvific work of Jesus upon the Cross.
Sure, read the news and be updated about the Covid-19 situation. But let us not allow this thorny crown-like virus to detract us from Jesus, the One who wore the thorny crown and bore the terrible Cross on our behalf.
Being Maundy Thursday, I took time to read about Jesus at Gethsemane.
Each time I reflect on this account, I am particularly encouraged by how Jesus was described as being sorrowful, troubled, deeply distressed, in agony and in anguish (Matt 26:37; Mark 14:33; Luke 22:44).
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a sadist, delighting in Jesus’ pain and suffering in the garden. No. I am encouraged because His experience gives me permission to acknowledge these emotions without feeling that I am of little faith, or that these are simply not allowed since Christians are only supposed to be strong, courageous and victorious. As such, we must always be happy and clappy, shouting hallelujahs and amens.
Thank God for Jesus. Although He was fully God, He was also fully human. On the night before His crucifixion, the Son of Man wrestled big time (Hebrews 5:7). Jesus was distressed and anxious. In fact, the agony or anguish that He experienced is likened to the fear or jitters an athlete feels before a major competition or fight.
Dear friends, it’s ok to express your God-given emotions authentically. To be sorrowful, anxious and distressed in a difficult situation is perfectly in order. That said, the story doesn’t end here.
Here’s a key we must not miss: Emotions are fine so long as we are not ruled by them or allow them to distract and detract us from the purposes of God and our kingdom assignments.
I know it may be difficult to accept this but Jesus experienced fear in Gethsemane. Jesus feared? Yes. But the good news is that He didn’t allow His emotions to keep Him from His kingdom assignment. Thank God for Jesus!
Read on to see what enabled Him to keep moving forward.
Even as Jesus wrestled and petitioned, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me;” He said, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matt 26:39).
I know this phrase well but this morning, one word gripped my heart – nevertheless. Although it can be substituted with however or yet, the Holy Spirit caused me to read it in a different way:
Never the less. Always the more.
Simply, God’s will must always mean more to me than my own desires and preferences. When faced with a decision between what I’d prefer and what the Lord says, His words will always weigh more and have the greater priority. Put another way,
God’s purposes must always have precedence over my preferences.
These days, it is all too easy to buy into a “God understands” theology. After all, since it’s all about grace, why sweat it? Doesn’t God want us to have a good time and a nice life? And when it comes to kingdom assignments, if you don’t like it or enjoy it, surely, it cannot be of the Lord. Really?
In Gethsemane, Jesus sweat blood as He braced Himself for His kingdom assignment – the Cross. It was not because it would be fun or that He would operate from His talents and giftings. He accepted the assignment because He considered the Father’s will always the more, never the less, than His own will and preferences.
Considering this, I have much to repent of. There is still much that I regard more and higher than the purposes of God. If I truly desire to be like Jesus, to grow and mature into His image, then I too want to be able to say in each and every decision – nevertheless.