In a world that tells us to take charge, to create our own destinies, it is easy to think that we are the ones in control of our own lives. After all, “No one owes you a living. Life is what you make of it.” So, get out there, fight for what you want, believe in yourself, and live life as you intend it! (Interestingly, these days, even Christian messages have a tendency to sound like that.)
If you’re like me, every now and then, I buy into these inspirational pick-me-ups. Yeah! Go, go, go! Vroom, vroom! It’s nice. It’s motivational. But truth be told, it’s only one side of the coin.
For sure, I have a part to play, to do what I need to do. No one is going to live my life for me, make decisions for me or traverse the challenging seasons that I often find myself in. However, I don’t get to write the plot or determine how things finally pan out. As much as I am free to choose how I will live, there is a much larger picture that I have absolutely no control over.
Yes, that is the other side of the coin that we must not miss or ignore. Whilst this may frustrate or anger some, it is in this tension – the free will of man and the sovereignty of God – that I find comfort, rest and peace.
In the past three years, this has become even more real to me. Pioneering a new ministry is not easy. However, as much as I desire to be responsible, diligent and hardworking (and these traits are all well and good), I have come to realise that I simply cannot make things happen. Leadership courses will have you believe that if you plan, lead and execute well, you will get the results. Once again, nothing wrong with these leadership principles, but we forget that it is not what we plan but where and how we feature in God’s Plan.
As I closed and opened a new journal this morning, I was overwhelmed by how the Lord has led me, and especially in the more recent three years. As I sought to listen to His voice and to follow His lead, I decided and implemented initiatives as best as I knew how (often with a degree of uncertainty). Yet, as free as I was to do as I deemed fit, looking back, His guidance is clearly noticed. All those times I worried or fretted now seem so trivial and silly. God was always in control and He remains so. When I pushed myself too hard, thinking time and urgency were of the essence, God was never in a rush at all. Everything moved according to His perfect timing!
I looked at the blank page of my new journal, and I found it staring back at me. The psalmist wrote, “And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Psalm 139:16). How beautiful. How comforting. The dance has already been choreographed and the Lord invites me onto the dance floor of life with Him. Two left feet notwithstanding, my part is only to take the steps as He takes the lead. “A man’s heart plans his way. But the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9
More and more, may the journal entries be a record of the discoveries I make, the lessons I learn, and a testimony of His faithfulness, as I align to what the Author of Life has already written for me.
There’s not a day when my social media Newsfeed is not filled with quotations from well-known Christian authors and speakers. This becomes even more pronounced when a conference is ongoing, and for a few days after. Almost everyone, it seems, is wowing at the revelation of these one-liners. There seems to be so much wisdom and depth in these sayings that these must be shared with the rest of the world.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with sharing these ‘ah-ha’ moments. That’s what social media is all about, isn’t it? You come upon something good and you want everyone to know. Post. Share. Like. Repost. Comment: “Word! Truth!”
Sounds edifying enough. But of late, my concern is if we Christians may just be revering the words of these men and women of the hour so much that we altogether miss the words of Jesus, our Master and King. I began to notice that more and more preferred to quote anyone and everyone, except Jesus. Where congregations are concerned, it is not uncommon to hear the phrase, “My pastor says…” Again, it is not wrong to listen to pastors, the under-shepherds. But what about Jesus, the Good Shepherd?
Applying this to myself, I made a conscious effort to read through the gospels again, to see what Jesus said in those accounts, and to hear what He would say to me, and to us as His church. Each day, I would post a saying of Jesus (or two).
The exercise has been an interesting one. Perhaps, I do not possess a big enough ‘friend’ or ‘follower’ base, but unlike the clever and witty sayings of the big names, the sayings of Jesus, the Name above all names, usually do not attract too many ‘likes’ or ‘comments’. Once in a while, you get a few ‘amens’, but that’s about it. (Maybe, if I take the trouble to use a fancy font and insert a breath-taking background image, that might help.)
Personally, it’s been enriching to read and re-read the gospels, to hear my Master and King speak directly and precisely. Naturally, I prefer the verses that remind me of His love, grace and blessings. That said, I cannot skip the parts that appeal less to me, and Jesus, at times, says some rather hard stuff pointedly and without compromise! Whilst I like to hear (over and over again) of how special I am to Him, how highly favoured and richly blessed I am in Him, the truth is that it is really not about me at all! And if I am to be totally honest, the sayings of Jesus promptly reveal how I have missed Him and His kingdom in the way I understand Christianity and do church today! Have you heard what Jesus says about following Him, obedience, faithfulness and readiness?
Ouch! No wonder the writer of Hebrews says, “For the word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him, to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:12-13
I do not mean to dishonour, discount or discredit any teacher and preacher. As one myself, I am greatly encouraged when someone shares how he or she has been helped by the uncovering of a little nugget of truth through my teachings or messages. Yet, no matter how good, inspirational or motivational a communicator is, his or her words are never to supersede or replace that of Jesus.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, read the Word of God for yourself. Listen to His voice for yourself. Hear what Jesus says to you, and then obey Him. It is not just what apostle so-and-so says, or what prophet so-and-so says. It is what Jesus says that truly matter. If you need to quote anyone, quote Him who has both the first word, and also the final say.
Each year, Oxford Dictionaries will pick a word to describe the trend or sentiments of that year. And it has just been announced that the Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth, an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
The prefix post- used to refer to a time after a specified situation or era. However, in recent years, it has been modified to mean ‘unimportant’ or ‘irrelevant’. In other words, post-truth literally means that truth is no longer important; or worse yet, no longer relevant.
Although mostly associated with Brexit and the recently concluded American elections, one cannot help but wonder if this sentiment is applicable beyond the arena of politics? In community? In relationships?
What about the Church?
Noticeably, in the past decade, there has been a steady departure from the Word of God. This is not to say that preachers do not refer to the Bible for their messages. They still do. However, the focus and emphasis on sound doctrine is considerably much less. Theology is regarded as boring and too complicated, so let’s not waste too much time on such academic stuff. And so, messages today tend to major on addressing issues of self-esteem, positive thinking and personal pursuits of health, wealth and happiness. Simply, as long as it makes you feel good, then that’s fine. After all, God is a good God and He loves you very much. And since the truth hurts (and it does), let’s not dwell too much on that.
This type of thinking is so pervasive in the Church today that many are willing to disregard truth and discard doctrine. Feelings and emotions, although subjective, are considered more important and better indicators of a relationship with God, than that which is objective and true. Have we not heard this before: “I know it contradicts the Bible, but I have been so blessed by that person’s teaching and ministry.” Even if some of these fringe on being heretical, believers are willing to accept it on the basis of it-feels-right-so-it-must-be-right reasoning. Besides, if it’s wrong, the Holy Spirit will prompt me accordingly. True?
Anyone who has not experienced the same experience is deemed to be less spiritual, or spiritually dead. To not go with their flow is seen as not being led by the Spirit. What is worse is that any attempt to question is seen as legalistic, judgmental and Pharisaical! And soon, we’d have to add Bereanic to the list too because the searching of Scriptures is no longer relevant (Acts 17:11).
This does not mean that the Bible is no longer needed. Not at all. For sure, Bible apps are cool and will continue to be used. It’s easy to find verses and really good for creating image posts on Facebook and Instagram. Bible studies will continue to be well attended too. After all, that’s what Christians do – gather in groups, read a passage, and then give personal opinions of what it means to them. But to consider it absolute Truth, to live out the Word and be totally submitted to its authority? Does God require that at all? Surely not, since we are no longer under the law, right?
You may think I’m being a bit extreme here, over-reacting perhaps. I assure you, I am not. Truth be told, the Church is struggling to understand what it means to remain relevant in a society that is post-modern, post-Christian, and now, post-truth. To the post-modernist, truth was relativised and each decided what was true or not. In a post-Christian climate, Christian fundamentals were challenged and done away with. Alternative worldviews slowly but surely replaced the Christian worldview, both in the society and in the Church. In a post-truth world, anything goes. It no longer matters what is true or not, because truth is neither important nor relevant. Whatever works and produces the results, that’s cool. Yes, the end justifies the means.
As in the case of the recent elections, Christians were divided as Christianity became more politicised. It mattered not if the candidates told the truth or lied. Moral conduct was of no consequence. Truthiness, “the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true”, instead, was the order of the day. Why? Because truth is totally irrelevant in a post-truth era … as long as we get what we want and are allowed to continue to have church as usual.
But is it really church as usual? We have already seen denominations split over doctrinal disagreements. Some have embraced LGBT in the clergy and in key ministry positions. Others have endorsed same-sex marriages. In the name of grace and love, sins are glossed over. One day, a prominent minister confesses sexual misconduct, the very next day he is re-instated and no one bats an eyelid. Oh, I am sorry. Who am I to judge? And on what basis? Truth? What’s that?
But seriously. Church as usual? Let us not be so naive.
I suppose the Apostle Paul saw this day coming when he wrote to Timothy: “These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living, the pillar and ground of the truth.” 1 Tim 3:14-15 NKJV (emphasis mine)
Yes. The Church is to be the pillar and ground of the truth. Whatever the world says, whichever era we may be found to be in, we are people of the truth. However, more and more, we can expect that truth will be resisted and even rejected (2 Tim 3:8-9). There will even be those who regard themselves as Christians, who talk and sound Christian, but never come to a knowledge of what truth really is (2 Tim 3:7)!
As the pillar and the foundation of the truth, the Church is not there to just talk about truth, teach about truth, or have lofty philosophical discourses about what truth is or is not. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy was that the truth would be clearly demonstrated and seen through their conduct. Along the way, false apostles, prophets and teachers will appear. But the Church is never to compromise, holding steadily to the Word of Truth (2 Tim 3:16-17), paying careful attention to doctrine (1 Tim 4:16), led by the Spirit of truth, who guides us into all truth (John 16:13).
I am fully aware that come 2017, there will be another Word of the Year. But this does not mean that truth will necessarily be returned to its rightful place of importance or relevance. Our Lord Jesus Christ has already warned about the increase of deception in the last days, that many will be deceived. The post-truth era merely opened the door of deception even wider.
May all who profess to know Jesus – the Way, the Truth and the Life – continue to hold fast to Him and His Truth. And may we, His Church, also be found to “be diligent to present [ourselves] approved to God, [workers] who [do] not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Tim 2:15
If you are familiar with Christian-speak, then you would have heard of the term, CROSS OVER. Yes. It’s another one of those buzzwords we use in Christian circles.
Inspired by the biblical accounts of the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea under the leadership of Moses, or 40 years later, of them (a new generation) crossing the River Jordan, this time with Joshua, this term is filled with hope and optimism. Out of Egypt, the Israelites crossed over into freedom from slavery and a new beginning. Out of the wilderness, the nation crossed over into the promised land.
Little wonder then that we love this term and most look forward to a CROSS OVER of sorts in our own spiritual journeys. Chances are, you might have attended a camp with the theme, CROSS OVER. Or in a particular year, your church declared the theme, CROSS OVER. Or just before moving into a new building? CROSS OVER. Or you’ve been offered a new job? CROSS OVER. Or looking forward to a new year? Yes, you guessed it, CROSS OVER!
Indeed, there is nothing with CROSS OVERs. But may I suggest that we may have placed so much emphasis on this that we have missed a much larger picture, something of much greater importance?
As significant as a CROSS OVER may be, a cross over is over once the cross over is crossed over. However, what happens before, during and after that CROSS OVER is what we need to be aware of and learn how to navigate these well. This critical period of time that encompasses the CROSS OVER is called the TRANSITION. A CROSS OVER can be over in a moment but a TRANSITION may last for quite a while. And how we trek through such TRANSITIONs matter … a lot.
It is my opinion and observation that many don’t pay enough attention to TRANSITIONs and hence miss or veer from what the Lord has intended for them in and through the CROSS OVERs. To this end, these keep looking for CROSS OVERs because these have not learnt to TRANSITION well before and after the CROSS OVER.
I have encountered quite a few who have declared a CROSS OVER up ahead. As soon as they have crossed over, challenges come and things do not turn out as they had expected. Soon, they declare another CROSS OVER up ahead. Yes! It’s going to be okay because God has promised another CROSS OVER. After that, they experience problems again. So what do you think they are looking for again? That’s right … another CROSS OVER! That explains why Christians are constantly crossing over but never satisfied with where they have crossed over into.
Without doubt, CROSS OVERs are major milestones, and these are to be celebrated. However, it is through the TRANSITIONs that God works a deep work in us. The anticipation, apprehension and anxieties we experience before crossing over: Would we trust Him with what’s ahead? The many adjustments and alignments we have to go through after crossing over: Would we stay on track in this new phase and season? Or would we continue with what we have been used to. The battles to be fought after crossing over: How come no one talks about these? If a CROSS OVER is about new beginnings, would we be ready to let go of the old and embrace the new? TRANSITIONs will reveal all these, and more. And sadly, too many have not learnt that well.
I discovered this lesson when I made the CROSS OVER, almost three years ago, into a new phase of ministry. It was a big step to take as the date of 1 January 2014 drew closer. When I woke up that morning of the new year, the CROSS OVER was over! Just like that – I had crossed over, in my sleep! But what followed the CROSS OVER was the TRANSITION. And trust me, to stay true to what the Lord had assigned to me, I have learnt and have had to unlearn a lot of things over the past years, over this period of TRANSITION. There have been many instances of fear, doubt, anxiety, loneliness, pain as well as joy, satisfaction and hope! If the Lord had not made this distinction apparent to me, I might well have looked for another CROSS OVER each time I encountered a difficult patch. Or even worse, CROSS back OVER to where I first CROSSED OVER from, missing what might be just up ahead.
Where are you now, dear friend? Perhaps, the Lord has indeed indicated a CROSS OVER for you. That is exciting and definitely something to look forward to. But be aware of how you trek through the TRANSITION before, during and after the CROSS OVER. For sure, there may be key milestones of CROSS OVERs in our lives. But more realistically, life is made up of a series of TRANSITIONs that if we learn to trek through well, we will discover the Lord’s presence, power and purpose along this wonderful journey with Him.
It wasn’t a response I was used to. Honestly, I don’t remember being taught to pray or speak like that. Perhaps, that’s why the verse caught my attention as I was reading 1 Chronicles 19.
The Ammonites had engaged the help of the Syrians to fight against Israel on two fronts. When Joab realised that the enemy was both “before and behind”, he assigned Abishai to handle the Ammonites, and himself, the Syrians. After pledging to help each other out should either front proved too strong, Joab said:
“Be of good courage, and let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God. And may the LORD do what is good in His sight.” 2 Chr 19:13
Wait a minute! That didn’t sound like a prayer of faith, did it? Shouldn’t Joab have declared boldly that God has delivered the enemies into their hands? Or if that was too presumptuous, then at least that God would deliver the enemies into their hands. Should he not have proclaimed victory in the name of YHWH?
Given the faith teachings I have been exposed to, that’s what I would have done. Yes, victory in Jesus’ Name!!! Or at the very least, a good outcome – in my favour of course. After all, I am more than a conqueror, an overcomer! Yeah! Lemme at ’em! Grrrrrrrrr!
Well, Joab didn’t do any of that at all. In effect, what he said was, “Hey bro, let’s just do our part and leave the result to God. Whatever the outcome, it’d be cool. If we win, praise the Lord. If God decides it’s best to sacrifice a few pieces for the sake of His larger plan, and we lose and die, that’d be ok too. May the LORD do what is good in His sight.” In other words, whatever was good for God would have been good for Joab.
By our understanding these days, Joab would have been considered a doubter, one who is unsure hence choosing to leave it open-ended, just in case. But as I read and re-read the verse, I don’t see doubt at all, but faith. Here was a man who was willing to trust God, no matter what. He would still do his part – his very best – for God, for his king, and for his people. Given a choice, a good outcome would be to defeat the enemy and to win the battle. But ‘good’ was not for Joab to define. ‘Good’ was for God to determine. And whatever was good for God would have been good for Joab.
In no way am I suggesting that it is wrong to ask for favourable outcomes. There are enough examples in the Bible of such prayers. In fact, no one needs to teach us how to pray for good outcomes because we do that automatically. Going on a picnic, we ask for sunshine (not too hot). Sitting for an exam, we ask for good grades (easy questions). Playing against another team, we pray to win (because asking for the other team to lose just doesn’t sound right). Seldom, if ever, would we pray, “May the Lord do what is good in His sight.”
Joab’s response has really caused me to ponder if I would be willing to adopt that same posture in all situations? If I truly believe God is sovereign and in total control of all things, would I trust Him completely for and in all outcomes? If I declare that God is good and His mercy endures forever, would I accept that a negative or bad occurrence can still work for good because a good God has allowed it. And if He deems it good enough to be allowed, would I allow Him to show me the good in and through what has been allowed, even if it didn’t seem very good to me?
Through this reflection, I am reminded that faith is not only the ability to ask and believe what I have asked for, that I may receive. Faith is also the willingness to leave God to be God, to do as He pleases, however that may turn out in the end. And if it’s good for God, it’s good for me.
By the time I saw the front page of Saturday’s Straits Times, Joseph Schooling had already made history by winning Singapore’s very first Olympic gold medal in the 100m Men’s Butterfly at Rio2016.
Understandably, ‘Joseph Schooling’ is trending across all media platforms. It is also interesting to note how everyone is claiming to have featured in his journey – however small the part may be – all desiring to share in this victory. Well, it’s not everyday a little red dot gets an Olympic Gold. And as a Singaporean (and fellow ACSian), I too am proud to be associated with this awesome feat.
However, it is this headline ‘I WANT GOLD’ that says it all for me, really. It is now a well known fact that there was always an insatiable hunger in Schooling to win. Without this, no amount of funding, encouragement or coaching would have mattered. Every athlete wants gold. The question is, How badly do they want it?
Each time I watch the games, the words of Paul in 1 Cor 9:24 come to mind, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” (emphasis mine)
I am no athlete but I am a believer of Jesus Christ. And these words were written to Christians. Using the familiar picture of races, Paul is urging believers to “run in such a way” that we may obtain the prize. To be sure, salvation is not the prize, it’s a gift that cannot be earned. We are saved by grace through faith. But, a prize needs to be aimed for, trained for, worked for, fought for. That is why, in the next verses, Paul described his discipline and focus (1 Cor 9:25-27). He didn’t want to be disqualified, to miss out on the prize. As such, The Corinthian Times could have also featured Paul on the front page with the same headline, “I WANT GOLD”.
In my book, SAY TO ARCHIPPUS, I devoted one full chapter, “Running the Race” to explain what the biblical race refers to. Contrary to popular belief, I am personally convicted that “the biblical race refers to our assignment.” Yet sadly, “for many Christians, their race has not even begun.” (SAY TO ARCHIPPUS, p109) [Read: If You Haven’t Begun Running Your Race, Now’s The Time]
Whilst the spotlight is presently on Joseph Schooling, we can safely presume that every other swimmer that Schooling competed against would have wanted that gold as badly as he did. If they had all clocked 50:39sec, there would have been eight gold medallists, just as there were three silver medallists!
Thankfully, we don’t have to all clock the same timings in our kingdom assignments. The key lies in that phrase – run in such a way that you may obtain it.Yes, we are not all required to finish first, but to do our assignments as if we are all going for the gold. We are to do our best, the very best, in all that the Lord has assigned to us, knowing that there will be a reward, a prize, that awaits us who ‘run in such a way’.
Thanks, Joseph Schooling, for inspiring us all. May you continue to improve and excel in the years to come! I am certain there will be many more golds to add to your collection. Yet, more than these, may you one day “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). As your idol, Michael Phelps, has discovered, his purpose was never found in his medals, but in Jesus Christ.
As for me, watching that 50:39sec record breaking swim has prompted me to examine my own race. It has most certainly stirred up a renewed hunger in my spirit to remain faithful in my kingdom assignments.
Enable me, Lord. Empower me, Holy Spirit. I WANT GOLD.
When I set up One Day At A Time back in 2007, I felt it necessary to include a page where I shared “My Core Convictions“. For churches or para-church ministries, it would be a page detailing their Statements of Faith. But for a personal blog, it’s just a broad overview of what I believe in and what guides my spiritual walk.
Over the years, this list has not only served as good reminders, but also a great source of encouragement to me. It points me back to what I regarded as foundational (still do), and helps me in my own alignment check. And especially in trying and difficult seasons, these simple lines anchor and hold me steady through challenges.
Reviewing them again, I am thankful I made the effort to craft these ten statements then. I know that these pale in comparison with Jonathan Edwards’ 70 Resolutions. But then again, it was never meant to be too academic a piece or to sound overly theological. My Core Convictions simply detail what I believe about God, His Purpose, salvation, faith, obedience, the Word, provision, ministry, the Holy Spirit, God’s will and grace (supported by Scripture, of course).
What are your core convictions? Do you have core convictions? If not, I highly recommend that you take some time to ponder and to write them down. It is a worthy exercise as it will bring clarity to your walk with the Lord, strengthen your resolve as you serve Him, and also provide focus as you navigate through life’s many distractions and uncertainties.