I would have missed marking this milestone if the host had not mentioned it as she introduced me last Saturday. Credit to her, she did a little research and discovered that it was on 8 July 2000 that I received the Lord’s call to full-time ministry. “In two more days, that would make it 19 years!” she remarked. (Thanks, Tiffany, for the reminder!)
I then went up and preached from Matthew 16:13-19 (for both Saturday and Sunday services). The message was entitled “Who Do You Say That I Am?”, drawn from my book, Alignment Check, about Peter’s revelation and confession of Jesus as the Christ.
As if written specially for me, the passage for today’s Love Singapore 40.Day Devotional is Matthew 16:15-17!
“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (emphasis mine)
I know that this may mean nothing to anyone, and that’s fine. Over the years, I have learnt that God speaks to each of us personally and intimately in ways that we understand. More than a few times, He has used these little divine ‘coincidences’ to encourage and affirm me.
These are His gentle whispers in my ear, telling me, “Keep going, Henson, you’re on the right track. I know it is not always easy, but you’re doing fine. Keep going.”
This is why I make it a point to reflect and write about the day He called me. As the years roll by, I cannot rely too much on my memory anymore. Thank God that He sends people (like Tiffany) to remind me, and that I have past posts to refer to:
Thank You, Jesus. You’re not just a saviour, redeemer, restorer, deliverer, coach, healer, counsellor, teacher or friend. You are the CHRIST, the Messiah, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Thank You for saving me and for inviting me to participate in the advancement of Your kingdom. May I always have a fresh revelation of who and all that You are. Please continue to enable and encourage me to keep keeping on for You! Amen.
But what are traditional Christmas symbols? Well, it all depends who you talk to, isn’t it?
As reported in Orchard Road Light-up: Is it Christmas or Disneyland?, a certain Ms D’Silva “feels it would be more appropriate if the decorations used motifs associated with Yuletide cheer, such as Santa Claus, reindeer, colours like red, green, gold, or beautifully wrapped presents.” In other words, to many, Christmas is identified by Santa Claus and the accompanying paraphernalia.
Commenting from a marketing perspective, NUS Business School Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon feels that the Disney theme is perfectly fine – not an “overkill” – but “could be made tighter by associating each Disney character with a Christmas icon, say for example, a Disney princess with Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer or Mickey Mouse carrying Christmas gifts.” Once again, we see how closely Christmas is tied to Santa (Rudolph is Santa’s lead reindeer and Christmas gifts are all courtesy of Santa and his company of elves).
As Christmas has largely become a secular affair celebrated by everyone of all faith orientations, religious or otherwise, the above responses are not surprising at all.
That said, it was appropriate that the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) should have issued a statement to express its disappointment, “saying that its exclusive focus on Disney characters buries the original meaning of the festival.” To this end, it “has no meaningful connection to Christmas, which commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ.”
In response, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) explained that “the Orchard Road Christmas light-up was just ‘one of several components’ of the Christmas on a Great Street event, which also features pop-up booths along Orchard Road, including one run by Celebrate Christmas in Singapore, an associate member of NCCS.”
[Hmmm … reading between the lines, might the underlying message be, “Hey, you knew about this all along – that your Christian pop-up booth would be a part of the larger Disney-themed light-up. Why are you making a fuss now?” Taking it a little further … I can’t remember past light-ups in recent years but I believe there were no biblical symbols either. Why was that not an issue to be raised then?]
Whilst I appreciate that a statement has been made by the body that officially represents the Christian community in Singapore, my personal opinion is that Orchard Road is not the actual battleground for Christmas. If we want STB (and others) to regard and respect Christmas as Christian, I believe we must start by looking at how we Christians celebrate Christmas in our churches, events, families and homes.
Think about this: if we ourselves are sending mixed signals to the world, how can we expect others to protect the sanctity of the season for us?
Although we proclaim that Jesus is the reason for the season, we must also admit that many are all too ready to include Santa and other Christmas symbols in our celebrations. Like the responses above, these have become Christmas defaults. Like the stores and malls, the moment we get into the Christmas season (or Advent, in church-speak), churches somehow feel the need to create the Christmas spirit. Before we know it, Santa hats, snowflakes and candy canes begin to appear alongside nativity scenes. Hang on! If it’s about the birth of Jesus, why do we need Santa-ccesories? So, is it Jesus or Santa? Can we please make up our minds?
And we wonder why, of the more than 260 entries in the children’s art competition “What Christmas Means To Me” (recently organised by The Treasure Box), “only about 15% featured the birth of Jesus or something otherwise related to the story of Christmas (e.g. Wise Men, Angels, Shepherds etc). The rest were a cornucopia of everything and anything but – plenty of Santas, reindeer, Christmas trees, candy canes, presents, families eating Christmas food and so on.” It must be noted that many of these submissions were by children “from churches and faith-based kindergartens” (Why we should care about the commercialisation of Christmas by Elvin Foong). Then again, should we even be surprised by the children’s authentic expressions when Christian adults have no problem having these symbols in their supposedly Christian Christmas celebrations?
My point is simply this: how can we expect others to take us seriously if we are all mixed up ourselves? As far as STB and the world are concerned, the Church seems to be okay with everything. If Jesus and Santa can co-exist, then why not Mickey Mouse, Woody or Elsa? Perhaps, next year, Christians would be appeased if Mickey donned a Santa hat. Or have Kristoff of Frozen as the main character since his name sounds closest to Kris-mas and his best friend is a reindeer. (Who knows? Sven and Rudolf may even be related!) Or better still, feature Toy Story characters gathered around the manger.
Personally, whilst I am not thrilled with the commercialisation of Christmas, I am not too concerned what they put up along Orchard Road, whether Disney characters or Marvel superheroes. And even if the entire retail stretch should be decked out with baby Jesus, choirs of angels, shepherds and wise men on camels, does it necessarily mean we would have scored a victory? I think not.
If Christians sincerely desire to recover Christmas, we don’t start with the lights and decorations along Orchard Road. We must begin with ourselves.
– Stop hoping and depending on the world to help us declare our King. The values of the world will always run counter to the things of the kingdom (have we not learnt that already?). Why are we so happy just to have a pop-up booth as only one of the many features of the Great Christmas Village when Jesus should be the main and only attraction? (Well, better to be represented than not at all, I guess.) Why do we need Orchard Road when we have more than 700 churches around the island to accurately proclaim the true meaning of Christmas?
– If it is truly about Jesus, then stop embracing Santa iconology and other commercial Christmas paraphernalia. You can still go carolling or have your cell group Christmas parties without Santa hats and reindeer hairbands. Really! Stop sending mixed signals, compromising and confusing ourselves and others. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why our children are drawing Santas and reindeer when asked what Christmas means to them. They are just following our example.
– Dispense with this Christmas spirit thingy; there is no need to compete with the retail malls (or other churches)! For all we know, the so-called Christmas ‘spirit’ is none other than the spirit of mammon in disguise. For sure, the only spirit we need is the Holy Spirit and we are to be led by Him not just in December but every day of our lives.
– Be a generous and cheerful giver throughout the year, not just at Christmas. Fox News just reported that “this holiday season, $16B will be wasted on unwanted gifts“. I wonder if this includes the Christmas gift exchanges so many are forced (er, encouraged) to participate in, just for fun, in the spirit of giving? (There’s that ‘spirit’ again.) Not exactly good stewardship, is it?
– The birth of Jesus is most accurately declared and demonstrated when He is truly birthed in our hearts and through our lives. No point being Christmassy for a season only to be considered as hypocrites for the rest of the year. To this end, it is His death and resurrection that we must fully embrace on a daily basis; not just celebrate His birth once a year. (Did Jesus Ever Celebrate His Birthday?)
I assure you that I am no party-pooper, and I know how to have a great time celebrating Jesus. In fact, I do that all year around.
Lighten up. Go enjoy the Orchard Road light-up without reading too much into it. All said, that’s all it is – a light-up to draw tourists and rake in more retail dollars. In a few weeks, the lights will be all gone; but not your love, worship and testimony of the True Light, Jesus. The way your face lights up each time you mention and share Jesus will mean lots more than what Mickey and his friends can ever hope to achieve.
Here’s wishing one and all a very merry and blessed Christmas!
I snapped this shot whilst on a short family break five years ago. As I looked over the horizon, the way forward extended into nothingness.
Having been instructed by the Lord to drop everything without even knowing the next assignment, this picture sure described my situation so accurately. And yet, I knew I had been told to cross over; and that cross over must begin with a very first step of obedience by faith.
It would be 10 days later, on 27 Oct 2013, that the Lord would reveal the next assignment to me – Archippus Awakening. Five years and many steps later, what a journey it has been! Even so, I still don’t know what lies ahead. All I know is that my King and Master, JESUS, is more than faithful and He will lead me forward as I determine to fulfil all He has assigned to me entirely by His grace.
Today, I face a new horizon and another crossing over. After five years, is it not odd that the next step still feels like a first step all over again? The principle remains: every step must be taken with obedience and faith. Truly, it is not where we have been, but where we will continue to go with the One who deserves all worship, praise, glory and honour.
And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord that you may fulfil it.” Col 4:17
Hands up, those of you who struggle with perfectionism.
I see your hand…I see your hand…I see your hand. Welcome to the club!
My name is Henson, and I am a perfectionist too. There you go. I’ve confessed. And that is good for the soul, right? Nice. The problem is I still struggle with this dreaded perfectionistic tendency each time I get down to work. I find it hard to settle down until I deliver the ‘perfect’ piece of work.
There’s another word that doesn’t sound so bad – excellence. Yes, I want to be excellent in all I do because I desire to give no less than my best to the Lord. Isn’t that what Colossians 3:17 means when Paul wrote, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”? Amen!
And yet, time and again, I fail to discern between excellence and perfectionism. As a result, I end up striving and stressing, relying on my own expectations of how things should or could be, instead of resting in the Lord and trusting Him for the final outcome.
This morning, I made a conscious effort to cast every care and concern over to Him. (That’s biblical too.) After my long list of petitions and requests, this thought popped into my head:
“God does not require a perfect work to work perfectly.”
Boom! No, there was no thunder or lightning, but BOOM! That silent thought reverberated so loudly that I knew it had to be the still, small voice of the Lord. It was firm, yet gentle. This was not a rebuke, but a reminder.
God is not upset when we strive to give our best to Him. However, it is not His desire that we end up fretting and worrying, taking it out on ourselves and others. In spite of our imperfections, God is still able to bring about His perfect work!
Mind you, this is not permission for us to cut corners or be shoddy in our work. The way we work must still be an extension and expression of our worship of God. That said, no matter how hard we try, or how well we do, it still falls far short of what He truly deserves. Yet, our less-than-perfect sacrifices are accepted because of His grace, because of the perfect work of Jesus Christ.
Without a doubt, I will continue to be excellent for Jesus. Thank God that His perfect work is not dependent on how perfectly I do mine. May I always be reminded to just do my best, and leave God to do the rest.
I would have missed it … if not for Facebook’s prompter: “You have memories … to look back on today.”
How could I forget such a significant day!?
Well, to be fair, the past weeks have not exactly been easy. And this week has also been a packed series of meetings, teaching and preaching engagements too. As if that is not challenging enough, my mind has already raced ahead to next week’s commitments!
For all the bad press the social media giant has received recently, I am thankful to have been reminded by Facebook of this special day.
On the morning of 8 July 2000, two words would change the entire course of my life: Follow Me. In the weeks and months that followed, I responded to the Lord’s invitation to follow and serve Him. It has been 18 years! What a journey it has been, and continues to be.
Each year, I make it a point to pause that I may reflect and never forget the significance of that encounter, and the decisions that were made because of that encounter. But as mentioned above, I almost missed it this year!
This afternoon, as I worshipped with the Filipino congregation of Full Gospel Assembly, the presence and goodness of the Lord overwhelmed me. When the worship leader led the song, “I need You more“, tears filled my eyes as memories of God’s faithfulness over the past 18 years flooded my mind and heart.
These two lines were especially meaningful to me:
I need You more More than yesterday
Yes, it has been 18 years. That said, it has only been 18 years. If I needed Him yesterday, I need Him today and tomorrow too! If I needed His grace and enablement for the past 18 years, I sure need a lot more of that to fulfil all He has assigned to me.
Later, I brought the family out for a meal to mark this special day. Over dinner, I took the opportunity to tell the children what actually happened 18 years ago (when we had just two children then), how the Lord led, and how that has brought us to where we are now.
From just a young couple with two children, to leaving the family business, to living by faith, to bible college, to running a school of ministry, to becoming a family of nine, to pastoring a local church, to birthing a new ministry in Archippus Awakening – every step of the way, the Lord has shown Himself more than faithful!
Follow Me. Two words that pierced my heart that morning 18 years ago. The Lord invited, I accepted, and the rest, as they say, is history. These two words changed the entire course of my life! I’ve experienced and learnt so much, and I know there is so much more that the Lord has in store for me.
Each year, dictionaries will monitor the different political and socio-economic trends of the past year to determine the word of the year. For 2016, the words were post-truth (Oxford), Brexit (Collins), surreal (Merriam Webster) and xenophobia (dictionary.com). The words for 2017 have just been announced and they are youthquake (Oxford), fake news (Collins), feminism (Merriam Webster) and complicit (dictionary.com).
What is the word of the year for you? Would the word be a result of what you have gone through? Or how you hope the next year will be? Or would the word be that which holds you steady no matter what you have to go through?
If you asked the Apostle John for his input, he would tell you that there is only one Word for him: Jesus. And that would remain the same. Not just for one year. But for every year to come.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” John 1:1-3 ESV
In introducing Jesus as the Word, John opens his gospel with “In the beginning was the Word…”, paralleling Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God…”. He deliberately replaces ‘God’ with ‘the Word’. John cannot make it any clearer: the Word is God, Jesusis God.
The Jews would not be unfamiliar with the phrase the word of the Lord in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Genesis 15:1, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision. In 1 Samuel 3:21, God revealed Himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord. I used to read these verses and imagined a bunch of words flashing and appearing before these men in cool, animated computer graphics, no less. How wrong I was. It is only many years later that I would learn that the Word of the Lord is God Himself. More than just spoken oracles, prophecies or the recorded Law (or the Bible as we know it), the Word is the very Person of God, revealed in the person of Jesus.
But what about the Gentiles who had no idea of the Hebrew Scriptures? Here comes the ingenuity of John, as led by the Holy Spirit.
To the Hellenistic mind, the Word – logos – is a power that created the entire world, the cosmos. More than just a linguistic device to illustrate something, or a string of descriptives to communicate a thought, the Greeks understood logos as a reasoning, a principle, a wisdom. It is this logos that created the world and holds all things together. John was declaring to the Greeks that this Word is not just a power or a force, not just a concept or a good idea, but a person, the very Person of God Himself, Jesus. Everything can be explained because creation is the result of the logos, of divine logic.
But that is not all …
“In him (the Word) was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5 ESV
There is life in the Word. If He created the world which we live in, then He also created humanity that lives in this world. That’s us! We exist because of the Word. But we were not created merely to exist in our short span of life on earth. The Apostle will reveal in John 10:10 that the Word came not just to give us existential life but that in Him, we might also have abundant life! And in believing, receiving and knowing the Word who is eternal (John 17:3), we also enter into the promise of eternal life.
Consequently, it is in appropriating this life that is in the Word that results in a light that shines, that overcomes darkness! Put another way, you can’t hope to shine any light of truth, righteousness or revelation without first experiencing the life that is found only in the Word and the True Light, Jesus. The world operates by a flawed logic and by fake lights. Don’t be fooled or distracted by these that appear bright and attractive. The logic of the kingdom of God often runs contrary to the logic and ways of the world. The ways of the kingdom will almost always seem illogical to one who does not know the Word for himself.
This should not be a surprise at all for the kingdom of God is upside-down and counter-cultural. And yet, it is the King of this everlasting kingdom who will have both the first and the final word. And rightly so, for Jesus is, after all, the Word, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last , ((Rev 1:8,11,17; 21:6; 22:13). Long after all the words of the years have come and gone, the Word remains. There is no other Word, because there is no other God.
At the end of 2018, another set of words will be announced as the words of the year. As descriptive as these may be, they only record the plight of a world that is lost in darkness, in need of the True Light. These only paint a picture of humanity trying desperately to make sense of its own logic, as if the coining of new words and expressions will help us gain a better understanding of ourselves. Truly, apart from the Word, apart from Jesus, our attempts of reasonings and wisdom all fall apart, for it is only He who holds all things together.
What is your word of the year? More accurately, Who is your word of the year, and the years to come? Don’t wait for another year to go by before deciding. At the same time, there is no need to chase for yet another prophetic word for the year to come.
As for me, I’m going with the beloved apostle who beheld the glory of the Word that became flesh (John 1:14), who personally experienced the Word of life (1 John 1:1). Like John, Jesus is my Word of the year, and for every year He graces me with breath and abundance on earth. And even when my time is done, He remains the timeless Word for me, for all eternity.
Make Jesus your Word, your God, your Life, your True Light, your Wisdom.