If it’s Good For God, it’s Good For Me

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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.

The Dangers of Biblical Illiteracy: Inspiration or Interpretation?

I had just posted January 2016 Newsletter about the critical need to get back to basics. Almost immediately, a post appeared on Facebook to demonstrate and affirm this. Hence, I am writing this article to make an even clearer point about examining our foundations; and in particular, our knowledge and understanding of Scripture, or lack of.

Here is the Facebook post from Lakewood Church, with Pastor Joel Osteen’s ‘exhortation’ based on James 4:3…

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In case you are unable to make out the text, it reads, “The scripture says in James 4:3, “You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss…” When we ask to merely survive, to get by, to just endure, that’s a weak prayer. That’s asking amiss. God is saying, “I created the whole universe, I own it all. don’t come to me with a weak prayer asking me to help you live in mediocrity, endure the trouble, survive another month. No when you come to, ask big, knowing that I’m a more than enough God. Ask me for your dreams, ask me to do what looks impossible, ask me to heal you from that disease, ask me to accelerate your goals, ask me to show out in your life.” From Pastor Joel Osteen at Lakewood Church today.”

Let’s process this together.

At first glance, it sounds right, doesn’t it? Do we have a big God? YES! Can He do the impossible? AMEN! Does He want me to believe Him for more than just enough? INDEED! No wonder, this post attracted 10,829 likes and prompted 2,387 shares (as at the time of the screen shot)!

According to Pastor Joel, to ask amiss is to pray a wrong prayer or to pray beneath what God is able to do. And what Pastor Joel teaches must be right, right? After all, he is the leader of a mega church with an accompanying mega smile, not to mention the author of best-selling books. Even if he is a little off, let’s not split hairs because this is just so encouraging and uplifting, and it helps me trust God for all He has for me!

But wait! Is this what James 4:3 really means? To answer this question, the entire verse needs to be quoted and read in its context. We cannot infer anything from a verse in isolation, much less a truncated one! So, what does James 4:3 say? Here it is…

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” James 4:3

Hmmmm, I don’t know about you but it sure sounds different, doesn’t it? – and you don’t even need to have attended a course on Hermeneutics to determine this. With due respect to Pastor Joel, what is amiss here is not our prayers but his interpretation of this verse! Clearly, to ask amiss is not to pray wrongly, weakly or conservatively but to pray with the wrong attitude or motive, as stated in the missing portion of the verse, “that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

As appealing and as inspirational as it sounds, Osteen’s misinterpretation is exactly what this verse warns against! Check out the next verse, James 4:4, where James rebukes (yes, rebukes!) believers, labelling them as adulterers and adulteresses because of their worldliness! That’s the difference between a true pastor-preacher and a motivational speaker.

I hope I have made a clear enough point through this exercise and illustration. There is a dire and critical need to get back to basics, and especially back to the Word of God. Biblical illiteracy does not only refer to Christians who do not know the Word. It also includes Christians who think they know the Word but actually don’t. In fact, these are most prone to deception because of a false sense of security! And if you are one who only underlines or highlights the nice stuff in the Bible, do yourself a big favour. By all means, love the blessings, but make sure you also heed the warnings!

Be careful, dear brother or sister. Be very aware of the dangers of not being able to rightly divide the word (2 Tim 2:15). Biblical illiteracy is easily satisfied with what sounds biblical and inspirational, but often at the expense of sound biblical interpretation. Get back to basics. Return to the Word.

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Tim 2:15

Ministry Trip to Kidapawan City: Alone and Yet Not Alone

Last week, I experienced another ‘first’ on my ministry trip to Kidapawan City, Mindanao, Philippines: it was the first time that I would travel on an overseas mission, 21-27 October 2014, on my own. I know that this would mean nothing to veteran ministers but for me, it was a milestone – haha!

IMG_9948The trip started with a glorious send-off by my family and parents early Tuesday morning, 21 Oct. After a short half hour delay, my SilkAir flight MI566 departed and I arrived safely in sunny Davao City. I was met by my host and friend, Ptr Joel Acaso. We spent some time catching up over coffee and then proceeded to fill up over buffet dinner at Vikings before embarking on a 2.5hr drive to Kidapawan City, arriving at 10:30pm. After a full day’s travel, I was all too ready to hit the sack. Unfortunately, my beauty sleep was rudely  interrupted at 4am when the neighbour’s cock started crowing (every 5mins!) … all the way to my scheduled alarm time of 6am. Talk about an awakening – haha!

The next three days were spent ministering at the Prayer & Leadership Conference, organised by Kidapawan City Assembly of God Church (of which Ptr Joel is the Lead Pastor). We had a tremendous time in the Lord’s presence and the response to the message of Archippus Awakening was very encouraging! Read more about this Awakening Event on Archippus Awakening’s Website.

After the conference, on Saturday morning 25 Oct, we drove about 1hr to President Roxas in Kamarahan Barangay. I had the opportunity to speak at a Thanksgiving Service of Temple of Praise Assembly of God Church. This church is set in the midst of a farming community and the service was for the purpose of giving thanks to the Lord for a bountiful harvest. For a city dweller like myself, it was quite an experience as we tend to give thanks for our material possessions rather than an actual agricultural harvest. A celebration lunch followed and we feasted on Filipino fare; yes, there was lechon baboy (roasted pig), of course!

On Sunday morning 26 Oct, I preached at Kidapawan City AG Church, encouraging the leaders and congregation with the message, “Trekking Through Transitions”, drawing from my own journey and experience, especially in this past year of personal and ministry transition. It was significant when I called out the leaders and prayed for them, exhorting them to be strong and of courage as the church navigates and treks through transitions towards all the Lord has called them to.

By this time, I was all ready to head home, missing my wife and children dearly (and my good ol’ kopitiam kopi-O). It had been a full but very productive week of ministry. The message of Archippus Awakening was declared and many seeds of the kingdom were planted in hearts made ready by the Lord. I also made many new friends and I believe, new kingdom connections too. I may not know every name but that’s ok because to me, they are all Archippuses awakened for Jesus and His kingdom 🙂 It was also a meaningful time of re-connecting and fellowshipping with Ptr Joel Acaso, a very passionate minister of the Lord. We spent much time sharing and exchanging ideas; and eating too.

After saying goodbye to Ptr Joel, I made my own way into the airport to check-in. By myself once again, I waited in the lounge and later boarded SilkAir MI566 bound for Singapore via Cebu. How significant, I thought to myself, that I should be travelling overseas alone for the very first time since I stepped into full-time ministry. I suspect this would not be the last time I do that. That said, in my heart, my desire is always to bring others along, not just for company but for the purpose of discipleship and raising even more Archippuses along the way. I know the Lord will honour and arrange that.

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Even so, although I spent much time alone on this trip, I knew that I was never alone. The Lord was always with me, watching over me and enabling me for the work of the ministry. He said that He will never leave me nor forsake me. I can be strong and of good courage because the Lord God is with me wherever I go. The Lord affirmed this for me as I looked out the aircraft window and beheld a beautiful rainbow in the distance! Significantly, in my last trip to Davao in 2011, the Lord also encouraged us with rainbows over Davao City.

I also know that a team of prayer warriors upheld me in prayer for the entire trip. These brothers and sister might have not made the trip with me physically, but in the Spirit, they interceded and stood with me as I preached and ministered in the name of Jesus. To these, I am truly appreciative of their love and co-labour through the ministry of prayer!

My entire family, Serene and the children, was also with me, supporting me and praying for me. It is not easy for Serene to manage the household all by herself; but because she understands and acknowledges the higher purpose of the kingdom, she stands squarely behind me as I minister. And as the Lord was with me in Philippines, I know that He was also with her and the children back in Singapore.

What a good and faithful God we serve! Where He sends us, He never sends us there alone. The Lord Himself goes before us and journeys with us every step of the way! All praise and glory be unto Him!!!

Dry Spells and Bush Fires

Last Saturday 22 Feb, I was invited to a small breakfast fellowship involving pastors and ministers. It was a very casual affair as we each arrived, took our seats, introduced ourselves and tucked into the breakfast buffet … with coffee, of course 🙂 After about an hour, we adjourned to a room to pray. We stood in a circle and each shared our heart’s request and/or burden. Soon after, getting on our knees, we started to pray.

It was a very meaningful time and I know the presence of the Lord was there with us. As each prayer was uttered, I could sense the passion and desperation. It was a cry for the Lord to move mightily and sovereignly.

Throughout that time of prayer, all that was on my mind was the Church – not any local church in particular – just the Church, the Body of Jesus Christ. As that thought captivated me, I found myself weeping and then sobbing. I couldn’t understand why but I sensed such a deep burden for the Church, brothers and sisters in Christ, supposedly the people of God.

The Straits Times, Tuesday, 25 February 2014.

Yesterday, Tuesday 25 Feb, the lead story in The Straits Times reportedly an unusually long dry spell that we are experiencing in Singapore and around the region. There is no telling when it would end. Almost instinctively, I thought, “We are experiencing the same dryness in the Church. Who knows for how long? Lord, send Your rain!”

Please don’t read this as a critical judgment on anyone or any local church. As always, I will begin with myself and evaluate my own spiritual state. But if you agree with me that there is generally a dry spell in the hearts of believers, please pray along with me and others who are crying for the Lord to revive His Church once more.

Interestingly, in prolonged dry spells, many bush fires begin to break out all over the place. Could these be the starting fires of revival that God is generating in the hearts of certain individuals? Might the Lord be getting our attention the way He got Moses’? May we discern and respond before we put these fires out all too quickly.

When You P.R.A.Y.

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Many things have been said and written about prayer. But this morning, as I laid in my bed, the following points popped into my heart and I thought it’d be good to pen it down as a reminder to myself and as an encouragement to others. Not surprisingly, it comes in the form of the acronym, P.R.A.Y.

PRESENT Yourself Before prayer is petition, it is really a posture of presentation. Admit it. Have you not struggled with finding time or energy to pray? There is always something else that appears more important where you feel your presence or attention is critically needed. That is why the very first aspect of prayer is presentation, the conscious act of disengaging ourselves from the 1,001 things that distract us that we may present ourselves before God. This could mean physically walking to the side of the bed and kneeling down, or simply closing our eyes and tuning out the cares of the world. This posture of presentation enables us to focus on God, acknowledging our great and desperate need for Him.

REST in Him Before you rattle off your prayer list (or your version of God’s to-do list), take a moment to rest in His presence. I guarantee you that this will make a world of difference. Pause for a moment, even if those two or three seconds of quiet might seem like eternity to you. But it’s important as it allows perspective to move from yours to His. Strangely, amidst the anxiety and flurry of your thoughts and concerns, you will experience a peace that surpasses your comprehension. Enjoy the rest. You need it. You may not have said anything yet, but your time of prayer has already begun.

ASK Boldly I hear you say, “Finally.” Yes, go ahead. Ask, petition, question, complain, weep, cry. Table your needs, present your case, ask the toughest of questions. Why don’t we do this first? Once again, posture and perspective. It is one thing to ask and demand like a spoilt brat, fussing and kicking his legs all over the place; and yet totally another to come as a son and a servant who trusts and rests in his Father and Master. The former’s boldness is misplaced whilst the latter’s, rightly positioned and presented.

YIELD to His Will If you have noticed the prayers of the saints and psalmists in the Bible, they always leave room for God to have the last word. Well, the truth is, He has the last word, whether you acknowledge it or not. Prayer is not so much getting our way as it is aligning to His. This may not be what you want to hear, but it just is. However God chooses to answer — whether yes, no or wait — it requires a yielding to His sovereign will. A prayer that closes with this understanding positions the saint for a much deeper work in his life because he is ready to surrender and submit to a situation that may not result in the way he expected. And yet, because he knows that God is in control, he is able to keep on serving faithfully from a position of rested-ness, trusting wholly in the One who holds everything in His hands.

So, the next time you P.R.A.Y., keep these four simple points in mind. May this encourage and enable you to enjoy your times with the Lord. And all who agree say, “AMEN!”

Serene’s Testimony at CVCC

This morning, at Covenant Vision Christian Church, Serene shared her testimony of God’s healing. In her own words, she struggled with whether it was the right time since her skin is still not fully cleared of eczema and she still has itchy bouts once in a while. But after reviewing the photos she had taken along the way, and seeing how her skin was then and how it is now, she felt convicted to share A Story in Pictures of God’s goodness and healing mercies so that Jesus would receive all glory and honour!

After her sharing, Rev Francis and Rev Wilfred prayed for her. It was a bold step of faith for Serene to share the photos and her journey thus far. I believe her faith will position her to receive complete and total healing and restoration for her condition to the glory of God!

To all who have prayed for Serene (and still praying for her), thank you!!! We deeply appreciate your standing in agreement with us.

A Personal Response to the City Harvest Case

“Ever since sharing the following pointers to a closed group at an Archippus Awakening KINGDOM101 meeting on 21 Oct 2015, this post has garnered quite a few views and its fair share of comments. I feel it necessary to point out and remind all readers that this post was written more than three years ago, posted on 27 Jun 2012. Even so, these personal – and I stress, personal – convictions remain the same and the points, relevant. This post is not a commentary of what has taken place nor does it seek to provide my views, opinion or evaluation of the verdict, or the persons involved. As clearly expressed, the social media is not the place for such discourses. To this end, whilst I welcome and respect everyone’s inputs and comments, in the spirit of what has been shared, contributions will be accordingly moderated. Thank you and may you be blessed and encouraged as you read this post and others on One Day At A Time.” Henson, 23 Oct 2015

This is not the first blog post about what has happened to Pastor Kong Hee and the leaders of City Harvest Church and it definitely will not be the last. In this day and age of the internet, everyone can share their opinion over cyberspace and I suppose that is also what I am doing here. Even so, I am mindful that I cannot control who reads this and how they will respond. As such, I will endeavour to be as careful and as responsible as I possibly can, so help me God 🙂

Also, I am fully aware that I am writing as one in fulltime ministry, as a dean of a school of ministry and as a pastor of a local congregation. In these capacities, I have already received questions from those I lead and I hope this post will provide a consistent response. My desire is thus to share my personal perspective and the lessons I am learning; that through this, others who are in agreement may know how to respond accordingly.

And should anyone choose to share this on Facebook or Twitter, my prayer is that it does not contribute to any controversy, but that it offers help and clarity to those trying to make some sense of the situation. There is definitely no intention on my part to speak ill of Pastor Kong Hee or any CHC leader for I do not know them personally nor is it my place to do so at all. To this end, the general observations presented hereunder apply to anyone who serves in ministry and any case that involves such a one who might have walked in error.

So here goes…

1. I am exercising restraint in my thoughts and my words. At this point, it is very easy to be caught up with what is right or wrong, whether the use or misuse of funds is justified, if it was to support a personal ambition or was it truly a ministry to reach the lost for Jesus. Tempting as it is to be drawn into such discussions, I keep reminding myself to hold back, even in my own thoughts and imaginations. No, I am not in denial at all and I most certainly have a point of view. I am merely exercising restraint, knowing how quickly I too can end up being self-righteous, prideful and judgmental. Without conscious restraint, I could be like some on the social media, openly airing my views and feelings. We are all entitled to say something and it has been interesting to read some of the comments posted so far. But I question the necessity of some, however scriptural it may sound.

2. I am hurting because the Body of Christ has been hurt. Without doubt, I am deeply saddened and troubled by what has taken place. But say what you like, these arrested and charged, and those belonging to CHC, are all brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s not “them” and “us” but we all belong to one body. What they are going through now is pain, anxiety and very possibly confusion. And when one part of the body hurts, the rest of the body is affected. I don’t really want to think about it, but I can’t help it. Since reading the first posting yesterday, the matter has not ceased to be on my mind and in my heart. And it has been painful for me as it is also for every believer who understands what community is all about.

3. I am thankful that the power of the Word of God is not constrained by the weakness of Man. I have heard many good things about Pastor Kong Hee and how he preached hard and without compromise. I believe the Word of God has gone forth and has blessed and built many at CHC. These all love and serve Jesus from the bottom of their hearts. That’s because biblical truths and principles still stand, even if the one who brings the message falls. God works through and is not at all constrained by Man’s imperfections. The power is in His Word not in Man. That is why, always, God receives all glory!

4. I am challenged to always check out the teaching of the Word. Understandably, some may be concerned and are questioning if they should listen to CHC messages anymore, especially those about money, tithing and giving. That is a valid concern, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. By this, I am not advocating that we accept every teaching blindly. Instead, we are to always check and test out the teaching of the Word. Do we accept the teaching because it appeals to our sinful nature? Oddly, the good news is good news because it offends our sinful nature that we may be convicted to give these up for what truly matters in the Kingdom of God!

5. I am duly cautioned that we are all one step away from falling. How did it happen? When did it start? These are just some of the questions on everyone’s minds. I don’t have the answers, nor should I even hazard a guess. All I know is that no one is exempt from the lures and temptations of this world. And the more I am blessed with, the easier it is for me to rationalize and justify why I do what I do. I could be fervent and zealous for the Lord, but I am just one step from compromising and falling. It happened to King David, a man after God’s own heart, and it could happen to any one of us.

6. I am convinced God is bigger than the situation and He does not need us to defend Him. Some years back, when charities first came into the spotlight and certain churches’ policies were being investigated, the prayer leader asked a believer to pray for the situation. This person prayed in the following manner … “Lord, please blind the eyes of the authorities to anything that is not right so that Your Name will not be tarnished.” Do we need to ask God to cover our wrongdoings so that He won’t look bad? The last I read in my Bible, God covers sin so He won’t have to strike us dead! In all other instances, God is in the business of exposing sin. Truly, God is not afraid of revealing weakness in His people. He has done that with Israel and He will do it with the Church. In that, He displays His righteousness and His holiness even as He demands the same in our lives.

7. I am certain many will be shaken through this episode and it’s ok. In fact, we are to brace ourselves for even more to come as the Bible warns that there will be a great falling away. Those who have a right relationship with God and His people, who are growing and maturing spiritually, will be further strengthened through such difficult and uncomfortable incidents. On the contrary, those who have put their trust and faith in man-made systems and structures will be sorely disappointed and disillusioned. Yes, God is shaking, but God is also building up His Church.

8. I am standing for the restoration of all affected. Our God is all for restoration. And by His grace, we know there will be another chance for those who might have erred in their weakness. Yes, we are to hold to His truth for we are called to be the pillar and the ground of truth. But as His people, and agents of His amazing grace, the Church is to provide an environment where restoration is possible. Not that we overlook the sins committed, but that we help one another overcome through love, through fellowship and in mutual accountability.

Indeed, there is much to be learnt from all that is happening. Over the next days and weeks, months perhaps, there will be a lot more talk and a lot more details that will be presented. We could join in the fray and contribute to the chatter. Or we could join our hearts in prayer … not just for Pastor Kong Hee and City Harvest Church, but for the entire household of faith in Singapore. On a personal note, I will be guided by what I have shared in this post. May the Lord Jesus lead and enable us by His Holy Spirit to stand as one that the world may know that we are truly His disciples.