I’m Surrounded!

Have you ever felt totally and utterly overwhelmed before? You try to keep your head above the water but your mind is just cramped full of details and questions. Try as you might to escape these thoughts, there just seems to be no way out. You are crying out for answers and all you experience is this oppressive sense of the entire room closing in on you! All too soon, you are surrounded and hemmed in by fear and anxiety.

That must have been how Gehazi, felt too when he went for a morning walk with Elisha, only to see the city entirely surrounded by the Syrian army! Immediately, he says to Elisha, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” It must have been a scary sight! They were totally surrounded by horses and chariots. And it would only be a matter of time before the army closed in on them. However, whilst Gehazi saw and reacted in the natural, Elisha saw something else in the spiritual, and coolly replied, Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 2 Kings 6:16

Gehazi must have wondered, “Hello?! It’s just the two of us. Who else is with us? If we don’t start running, we are dead ducks!” At the request of Elisha, the Lord opened Gehazi’s spiritual eyes and the young man couldn’t believe what he saw … he was still surrounded, but this time, by a far greater number of the Lord’s army, horses and chariots blazing with fire! (2 Kings 6:17)

Whether you are an executive braving the corporate jungle, or a homemaker trying your best to keep your house and children in order, you know what I am talking about. There are just those days when you feel totally surrounded and overwhelmed by the ridiculous demands and pressures of life. You look at the “Syrian army” around you and are so tempted to say, “It’s no use! I’m totally surrounded. I might as well give up!” DON’T!

The enemy wants to keep you in the natural, but you need to understand that the battle is in the spiritual. If your eyes are continually fixed on the problem, it will appear larger and larger until it consumes you! Do you not see that this is the ploy of the enemy? He wants to surround you, to besiege you, to starve you, to weaken you and finally, to kill you.

“‘For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” Isaiah 54:10

Instead, ask the Lord to open your eyes that you may see! Ask Him to reveal the truth of His presence and protection over and around you. In Psalm 125:1&2, the psalmist declares, “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.” (emphasis mine) In Zech 2:5, God Himself declares, “I will be a wall of fire all around [Jerusalem], and I will be the glory in her midst.” YES, people of God, YOU ARE SURROUNDED … not by the enemy … but by the power, by the presence, by the abundance, by the grace, by the love of God!

I know it’s not easy when you are in the midst of a trying time and everything seems to be closing in on you. In the narrowness of that moment, call on the LORD and ask Him to open your eyes that you may have the right perspective to be strong in Him. Learn from the psalmist who said, “I called on the LORD in distress; the LORD answered me and set me in a broad place. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6&7, italics mine.)

Indeed, if God is for you, who can be against you (Rom 8:31)? Do you not know that the battle is not yours to fight, but the Lord’s? Do you not know that the heavens have been opened over you, that every spiritual resource has now been made available to you in Christ? Do you not know that whatever the enemy throws at you, absolutely nothing can separate you from the love of God? If not, then ask the Lord to open your eyes that you may see!

As God’s children, the safest and most secure place is in the Father’s arms, where we are constantly surrounded by His everlasting love.

My dear friend, no matter how tough a situation (or a person) may be, nothing is too difficult for the one who places his trust in God. Pray for the Lord to open your spiritual eyes to see Him for who He truly is and that you, being wrapped in Christ and His righteousness, are totally safe in His arms because He surrounds you completely. And then, walk in the freedom and victory He has already secured for you by the precious blood and through the completed work of Jesus Christ upon the cross!

A Song Just For Me

I know it’s not about me at all.  And yet, when it happened that Saturday morning at the Young Adults Conference in Davao, I felt that it was specially arranged by my Abba Father … just for me 🙂

I was informed by Ptr Joel that there would be a song item before my teaching session.  Not a problem at all.  I’m used to song items.  And then, Bro Nor Rai Rai was introduced and he appeared with no arms!  He shared a little and then took his place at the keyboards where he would sing the song … The Warrior is a Child!!!  Of all the songs in the world, it had to be this song, a personal favourite of mine through which the Lord always ministers, reminding me that however hard I work for the Kingdom of God, I am still His child.

That morning, the Lord showed me how He could work through someone like Bro Nor, a disabled person made whole and complete by Jesus.  It really is not about who we are or what we can do.  It is only in and through Jesus that we can be more than conquerors!  By the way, Bro Nor is part of the band, Ezra, which made it to the finals of Filipino Got Talent.

As I watched him play and listened to the words of the song through his smooth voice, tears just flowed that morning.  It picked me up and strengthened me to walk that extra mile, to minister once more in the strength of the Lord.  I know others at the Conference were also truly and richly blessed by that item.  But, deep within me, I knew it was my heavenly Father’s way of surprising me, of telling me that He knows how I am feeling and how much I need His love and affirmation that morning.  And He prepared this song just for me 🙂

Thank you, Bro Nor, for reminding me of God’s strength and His love.  Thank you, Ptr Zaldie Massin, for recording and uploading the video.

Above all, thank you, Abba Father, for Your unfailing love and faithfulness.

Count It All Joy

We’ve heard it before, haven’t we? Whenever we hit a rough patch, or encounter some difficult people, a well-meaning brother or sister in Christ would proclaim, “Count it all joy!” Without doubt, this is totally biblical and a great reminder. However, it has also become yet another Christian slogan which everyone knows but few understand. And when glibly and insensitively dished out, it can be more of an irritation than an encouragement. That said, we all know to count it all joy, but do we know how to count it all joy? For sure, it is not some positive-thinking mantra that we are to chant, or a phrase that brings us into denying the severity of the moment or situation.

Firstly, what we want is the Joy of the Lord which gives us strength (Neh 8:10). Of course, we should have His joy all the time. But it becomes even more critical when we go through a trial for that is when our weakness becomes extremely apparent. It is the strength derived from the fullness of His joy found in His presence (Psalm 16:11) that sustains us, that enables us to bear through the challenge. This sounds good but don’t wait until you hit a bad patch before you learn how to practise the presence of God. By the same token, it would do you well to understand that getting into the presence of God does not just mean Quiet Time or daily devotions, important and useful as these are to help us draw near to Him. Determine, instead, to know how you can carry His presence with you and be in His presence wherever you are, whenever you need to.

Secondly, with a right perspective of trials, we can then understand the Joy of Participation. Let me remind you: if you are determined to live a godly life that counts for Jesus, you will face persecutions and tough times (2 Tim 3:12). If you consider yourself a child of God and a co-heir with Jesus, you enter into the fellowship of His sufferings (Rom 8:16,17). In other words, you should expect many opportunities to “count it all joy”. In Acts 5, Peter and the other apostles were arrested and beaten for preaching in the name of Jesus and performing great signs and wonders! When the authorities had no other reason to detain them, they were released. Acts 5:41 records that they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus! This joy of participation keeps us going, knowing that all that we do for Him will never be in vain.

Thirdly, lest you have a wrong picture from the above two points that Christians must always be laughing and joking, we need to understand the Joy of Expectation. The joy of the Lord will strengthen you through the most trying times. The joy of participation will keep you in the right perspective as you trudge through the trenches. But truth be told, it is still really tough. You need something to look to, and the joy of expectation will keep you going until you finally overcome. Think about this … did Jesus have the joy of the Lord and the joy of participating in the Father’s work? Of course He did. But did He go skipping and dancing along the Via Dolorosa? Did He display great mirth when He was nailed to the Cross? I think not. For sure, the obedience of Jesus to the mission kept Him going forward. But the writer of Hebrews provides another detail … that Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despised its shame and overcame (Heb 12:2). We can and must have that same expectation of joy set before us that we will hold on and not give up, however dire the situation may be. As we suffer with Him, so we shall be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17). Jesus says “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Rev 3:21 What great expectation! What great joy!

The next time you need to “count it all joy”, I hope that these three points would serve you well and keep you in good stead. Indeed, in the context of James 1:2-4, we are to consider it all joy because our faith is being perfected. My firm conviction is that it is only as we grow in spiritual maturity that we can more fully appreciate and appropriate the joy of the Lord, the joy of participation and the joy of expectation.

A Little That Goes A Long Way

It was an eye opener for me.

Over the weekend in Batam, I was brought by the house-masters to view the dormitary of bible school students.  I must admit I was not prepared to see what I saw.  Making my way up the dimly lit stairway, I reached the first level which housed the male students.  First, the smell of footwear strewn all over hit me.  Walking on, a more powerful stench of unwashed clothes overwhelmed me.  The narrow corridor made it very difficult to have any proper ventilation.  On the next level, where the girls stayed, it was not as bad; but not any much better either.  I had a peek into the small rooms shared by two students … very low lighting, small shelf crammed with personal belongings and two mattresses leaning against the wall, only to be lowered when it was time for bed.  On each level, the students shared one washroom, a multi-purpose area for toilet, bathing and laundry needs.

“How could anyone live like that?” I thought to myself.  And yet, these have answered the call to be trained for the Lord, for the work of the ministry, and have left their families to come to Batam to study.  They are all on scholarship, so studies are free.  But to live under such conditions?  I must admit that it was difficult for a Singaporean like me to fully comprehend.

Dinner for the students - rice with a piece of beancurd.

I was also informed that funds have been hard to come by for the bible school.  Donations received are channelled to meet other more pressing needs.  There was a time when the 43 students had to go without water and electricity because bills were not paid in time!  Sometimes, they don’t get to eat.  It is not uncommon for them to only have rice and nothing else.  A side dish, if at all, would be a luxury.  Another complication is that there is no proper accounting system to provide figures to potential donors or supporters.  This made accountability and reporting difficult, and organisations are not as willing to give.

Before leaving Batam, the Lord impressed upon my heart to give something to the house-masters.  I didn’t have much in my wallet and so I gave what I could at that time.  The next day, they SMSed me … “Thanks so much, bro. We’d just enjoyed our break fasting food – chicken – with all the students, something they have not tasted for two months. Thanks for blessing us.”

It was a privilege for me to be a blessing to these students.  The little I gave became an encouragement to them.  But I sure learned a lot more about contentment, endurance, obedience and discipleship through this one exposure.

Holding On

I didn’t intend to write a song that afternoon.  It was just me with my guitar, strumming and worshipping on my own.  Then, without realising it, I began singing a line, “You see me, in a quiet place, crying out to You.”  Then I went on, “You see me, tears upon my face, crying out to You.”  Before I forgot the tune, I whipped out my phone and recorded these lines.  From that day on, the melody and the words haunted me.  Over the next weeks, in between extremely heavy and demanding family and ministry schedules, this song was written, with Isaiah 40:8 as the key verse, “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”

Yesterday, on 11 Sept 2011, I had the opportunity to share it with our congregation at Covenant Vision Christian Church.  How apt to share it on a day when the world remembers the tragic bombing of the twin towers in New York 10 years ago.  Truly, especially when we don’t understand why things happen as they do, we can only hold on to Jesus.  Special thanks to the CVCC Worship Team who helped me bring the song to life.

No matter how dire a situation may be, how tough a challenge you are going through, how alone you may be feeling, remember to always hold on to Jesus and His Word, right to the very end.  May you be blessed and encouraged as you listen to this song.

You see me, in a quiet place
Crying out to You
You see me, tears upon my face
Crying out to You
Pain in a heart that is broken
Yet to the words You have spoken

Chorus:
I am holding on, I’ll cling;
I am never letting go
I will worship and I’ll sing;
Deep inside me this I know
The flowers will fade, the world pass away
Your Word, Your truth, Your love remains
I am holding on to You, Jesus
Right to the very end

You see me, when I’m on my own
Crying out to You
You see me, lost and all alone
Crying out to You
Still in my heart, I am certain
You’re always with me, I’m not forsaken

Bridge:
Yesterday, today, forever; Jesus, You’re the same
Send Your Word that brings salvation; Healing in Your Name

The Other Glory School

It been quite a few years now where “glory” has been mentioned by various visiting speakers.  Quite a few books have also been written on this topic.  And it seems everyone now wants to get on the “glory” bandwagon.  No longer is it sufficient to just know Jesus, to be in God’s presence, or to be baptised with the Holy Spirit; these are all considered old buzzwords.  Today, you have to visit third heaven, to move in the glory realm.

Hey, I’m all for the glory of God.  But more recently, in my preparations for a sermon series, I came across a few passages which also spoke of the glory, just not in the way these “glory” people have been teaching.  The emphasis is totally different and I can fully understand why not many like to talk about this aspect of the glory.  Consider the following passages and you will see why …

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Cor 3:18

From this verse (and you should read the passage for context), we see that the glory is not merely something for us to experience, but a destination for us to move towards.  This is the glory of the image of the Lord, and we can only be changed towards this image by the Holy Spirit.

And how is this done and achieved?  By merely asking for His glory or moving in the glory realm?  Read on and we shall find Paul’s answer in the next chapter.

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Cor 4:17–18

Afflictions?!  Trials and tribulations?!  Difficult and challenging times?!  For a better idea of what Paul was referring to, he makes mention of these in 2 Cor 6:4-10 and with even more detail in 2 Cor 11:23-27.  For sure, not for the faint-hearted.  Yet, these are the tools that work deep in us to produce the glory!  Hey, these are not my words, but Paul’s!  Note that Peter says the same thing albeit with different words.

“If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.” 1 Peter 4:14

There it is again … if you are reproached for the name of Christ … the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  Who changes us from glory to glory? The Spirit of glory.  How does He change us?  Through trials and sufferings, through difficult times, through afflictions, for the sake of Jesus.  In 1 Peter 1:6&7, we understand that trials reveal the genuineness of our faith.  Through these tests, our faith is refined and purified like gold.  Can you see the brightness of the purity of the gold?  That’s the glory of the genuineness of our faith, much more precious than gold, revealed through the fire of trials!

As we grow from faith to faith, we move toward maturity in the image of the Son with whom we are co-heirs when we are glorified together with Him … if indeed we suffer with Him (Rom 8:17).  And Paul writes in the next verse:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Rom 8:18

Not exactly the kind of glory school one would readily enrol for, is it?  What happened to the promise of basking and soaking in the glory?  What happened to the claims of the manifestation of the glory through gold dust and precious gems?  None of that at all!  Just plain, good ol’ suffering for Jesus.

Well, just in case you think I am all raring to go, to get into some wonderful trials and tribulations, I assure you I am not!  But if it is the image and character of the Lord that I am after, if I desire to be conformed to none other than the Son of God, I need to know how to embrace and accept this other school of glory.

Caught this shot at Bishan Swimming Complex. Don't miss the dark cloud on the right as it makes way for the glorious cloud!

Just the other day, a brother asked me, “How do you stay sharp?  What keeps you sharp?”  It was at the tip of my tongue to say the predictable things like fast, pray, read the Word, be in God’s presence.  But somehow, in my spirit, I couldn’t bring myself to say it.  Instead, I said, “Trials.”  Even I was surprised with what came out of my mouth.  But it’s so true!  I can study and know much about God and the ministry.  However, it is through trials and tests that what I know is tested and proven.  Is it just intellectual head knowledge? Or is it real faith that will hold on regardless the situation or the outcome.  Is it all about declarations and claims?  Or is it an acknowledgement of weakness through which His strength is made perfect?

The other glory school.  Register now!  Any takers?

Discipleship Auditions?

Was just chatting with one of my church members who is a violinist. She has just graduated with a Music degree and is presently involved in nightly rehearsals for an upcoming concert. From what I hear, it’s really tough and gruelling. But she is willing to press on, to suffer, for the sake of playing amongst the best and learning all she can learn. Amidst all these, she will be auditioning to go under another violin teacher. But wait?! I thought she had already graduated! Why another audition and another teacher? Why more lessons? More practising? More stress? I can only conclude that she wants to hone her skills, to learn even more, and to really excel.

As she shared this with me, a thought crossed my mind … what if Christians were just as serious in their walk with Jesus, in discipleship? These would never be satisfied with just a weekly dose of nice-sounding sermons. They would attend classes to learn more – and not just learn but would also be willing to practise, practise and practise. My friend has shared with me of how her fingers would cramp up and her back would ache due to the many hours of practice and training. At times, even standing or walking would prove difficult. But she presses on, for the sake of her craft! Oh, if Christians would be willing to suffer the same and more for the sake of their own spiritual growth, not to mention for Jesus, their Lord and for the sake of His gospel.

These would be willing to be directed by the conductor, as he pleased. If the conductor passed a negative, stinging remark, the musician’s day is ruined. But if he said, “Well done!”, what joy and satisfaction! Oh, if only the believer would regard the words of Jesus as seriously and passionately. Afterall, is He not the Maestro of all maestros? Is He not the Conductor of one’s life, if we would allow Him to direct us as He pleases?

These would not stop at having attended a seminar or a conference every now and then. Instead, like my musician sister, they would be prepared to audition for the next level of training. Much like the people of Jesus’ days who sought rabbis to teach them and to help them attain a deeper understanding of Scriptures, these would constantly be on a look out for one who would mentor and disciple them. These would place themselves under accountability and supervision so that they are kept on the straight and narrow path that leads to life. Are Christians as hungry, I wonder? Sadly, no. After a course of study, few are willing to go on. They need a break, they say … and they never come back. I suppose they consider what they have learnt as enough, as sufficient. And to be discipled and held accountable? No, thank you!

Interesting thought that crossed my mind 🙂 What if all Christians were as serious as the best professional musicians in the world? Can you just imagine how awesome God’s orchestra of disciples would sound? Can you hear the music and the harmony? Would the Church of Jesus Christ not move hearts and rock mountains? Would the world not stop to listen?