Him We Preach

At a personal retreat in December 2012, I had a very strong leading to read Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. What was later impressed upon my heart was that this would be the book I am to hold on to throughout 2013. I’m still not certain if it meant for me to teach a Bible Study on this book, or to preach expositorily through this book. All I know is that three words stood out from Col 1:28 which would determine the focus of my preaching: “Him we preach”. Yes, the Lord made it very clear that I must preach Jesus. Not that I have not been doing that, but I believe the instruction [and reminder] was for me to keep doing that, without compromise, and never veer from preaching Jesus at all, nor to preach ‘another Jesus’ (2 Cor 11:4).

That was last year. Now, maybe I’m being a little over-sensitive but I can’t help but wonder if the Lord is trying to get my attention to remind me once again through a few articles these few days.

Take for example, “Sex Symbols Who Speak In Tongues” by Michael Brown (Charisma Magazine). Brown makes a valid observation that there are many today who profess faith in Jesus Christ but do not live holy lives. This, he attributes to the gospel of “self”.  Brown’s word to preachers?: “It’s time to say to say goodbye to this watered-down, sin-excusing, so-called gospel that offers everything and calls for nothing. It’s time to get back to the cross and back to the truth. Otherwise, as America collapses in a heap of amoral ruin, the soft preachers of America will be largely to blame.” (emphasis mine) Have Christians in Singapore bought into the gospel of “self” too? Perhaps not to such an extent as in America but we are certainly headed in that direction.

I was reminded of another article I read some time back, entitled “The Curse of Motivational Speaking” by Conrad Mbewe. The author observes, and accurately too, “Sadly, motivational speaking has become the staple diet of many evangelical pulpits. The message being heard is, “God has put the potential in you and all you need to do is believe in yourself to unlock that potential. Have a grand vision and live out that vision. You must be a man or woman of destiny and the sky will be the limit for you. Don’t let your past failures get in your way of success. Look beyond them, as Jesus looked beyond the cross and thus overcame it. You are the head and not the tail.”” All these sound really good and biblical even; but is this what a relationship with God is all about? Mbewe’s “chief quarrel with motivational speaking is that it reduces God to a means rather than an end.” As much as I want to motivate and inspire others, I have to agree with Mbewe and pray I never resort to such a tactic to draw an audience. Mbewe’s challenge to preachers?:We need to return to the good old gospel that truly gives life to the dead and sets men and women free. Like Paul of old, every truly evangelical pulpit must sound out the clear message of ‘repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts 20:21). Let us get rid of this curse of motivational speaking!” (emphasis mine)

This evening, thanks to a dear sister, Lee Grady’s article “The Secret of Becoming a Prophetic Preacher” was shared on Facebook. I identified immediately with Grady when he wrote, “On many occasions after speaking in a church or conference, I would sulk. I battled constant discouragement and wondered if my words had hit the mark. Did I preach OK? Did the message sink in?” Yes, I struggle with this too, rationalising that it is just my desire to do my best for God, when in truth, it was my prideful heart seeking attention and affirmation. Drawing from the Jericho account in Joshua 6, Grady shares three parallels between preaching and the blowing of the ram’s horns (shofar). I won’t spoil the fun for you by revealing the three points so you can go read it for yourself. But for the preacher in me, the following statements resounded strongly:

  1. What we need in today’s pulpits is less scripted sparkle and more messy, raw, honest, tear-stained pleas from broken men and women who are aflame with the Holy Spirit.”
  2. “What God is looking for is not one big sensational sermon but a lifetime of faithful preaching. He wants consistency, not fireworks.”
  3. “Today we need preachers who are willing to faithfully speak God’s Word with no hope of fame or fortune. If you truly want all the credit to go to Jesus, you won’t worry about your performance or your applause. Just do your job.”

I am so privileged to be able to teach the Bible and to speak, as it were, the oracles of God. I never want to take this for granted nor to abuse this great honour the Lord has bestowed upon me by His grace. Sure, it’s nice to be complimented and encouraged when a good message is delivered. Sure, it’s nice to be invited to various congregations, and then to be invited back again. Sure, it’s nice to be looked up to, to be consulted, to be described as one who preaches with anointing and revelation. Question is, Would I compromise Jesus for all these?

Praying for Preachers
Covenant Vision Christian Church: Prayer Powerhouse 4 Feb 2013

Against this backdrop, I was so thankful two nights ago when the Prayer Leader called for the church to pray for preachers, that we would stay true to the Word and be bold to declare the Truth without compromise. As prayers were being lifted up for us and on our behalf, the only words I heard ringing within me were, “Preach Jesus! Preach Jesus! Preach Jesus!”

“Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Col 1:28

Related Article: Two Cross Words From My Wife

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Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

I know, I know … what kind of title is this for a blog post? I was trying to think of a more creative title but finally settled with one that is direct and to-the-point. And yet, I am sure some of you will still be wondering what Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ) is all about 🙂

It started some time earlier this year when I began experiencing tightness around my mouth, especially when teaching or preaching. I thought I was just tired and with rest, it would go away. That was not an inaccurate assessment, but rest was not what I did nor diligently pursued.

A few months later, I experienced difficulty eating. When I shared this with Serene, she was not thrilled, thinking I was being fussy and difficult, complaining about her cooking 😦 Well, over time, it got worse and I really couldn’t chew without my jaws aching.

Two weeks ago, in a visit to my dentist, I casually asked if it was a sign of ageing that I should be having problems eating and chewing. Based on what I shared, the dentist said it was not a dental problem but a muscular one. And so, I googled for some answers and came across this term, Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ). It sounded serious and I sure prayed and hoped it wouldn’t be what I am having. Unfortunately, a visit to the ENT Specialist confirmed it 😦

So yes, I have TMJ, but thankfully, it’s not at a serious stage – others experience severe headaches and locked jaws!!  That said, it’s quite uncomfortable and rather inconvenient. Mealtimes are especially tiring and I must be very careful what I eat. Anything too chewy and the aches will set in. Talking and smiling is also affected as the muscles are all strained and tight. This affects the times I have to teach or preach at long stretches. Maybe I have to stick to 15min sermons from now on – haha!

All said, I know the grace of God is upon me and He will see me through this. Since He has called me to preach and teach, this small impediment is not going to hold me back one bit! I have already repented of my irresponsibility in not resting and pushing myself too hard. I am visiting the physiotherapist for treatment but I must also do my part to slow down and to rest, both physically and in Him.

Last night, I felt led to read Jeremiah Chapter 1, to review the Lord’s call once again. How comforting it was when my eyes fell on verse 9: “Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth…” Yes, Lord, stretch forth Your hand and touch my mouth. Release the tightness in and around the mouth. Bring healing and restoration to the joints and to the muscles that I may not be hindered from preaching and declaring Your word!

Ho Chi Minh City Ministry Trip Report

It came as a surprise to me, the request to return a call to an invitation to speak in Ho Chi Minh City over the Easter Weekend. In my mind, it did not seem likely that I would be able to go, given our own programmes for Holy Week. And also, the invitation came a little close to the dates of travel (6-8 April) I felt. Still, it has always been my policy to remain open for one never knows how the Lord might lead. So I returned the call. As the country director shared more, I felt a certain drawing to go – it would be nice to visit Vietnam; and interestingly, what was previously scheduled for that Saturday had just been cancelled, thereby setting me free to go.

Hoa Hung Church, where International Christian Fellowship is located on the 3rd Floor.

Still, l had to settle a few details first. Firstly, I needed to seek the Lord if this was His bidding. Secondly, I would like Serene to be in agreement, seeing that I would leave her and the family for the weekend. Thirdly, my Senior Pastor would have to grant me leave from a major Church weekend. Although an answer was required rather promptly, I was graciously allowed to process the above without any pressure. It would be about a week and more later that I finally said “yes” to the invitation. When I shared it on Facebook, a sister immediately asked if she could tag-along. I said “ok” but she had to find another sister-in-Christ to go with her. And she did. With two sisters coming with me, I thought it’d be good if I had a brother with me. As I considered bringing my son, someone promptly offered to sponsor his air ticket. And so, that settled my two ‘tag-alongs’ and also one ‘dragged-along’ – haha!

Preaching at the 7pm Good Friday Service.

As expected, the days and weeks leading up to the trip were packed with teachings and activities. All too soon, it was time for us to head to Ho Chi Minh City. On Good Friday morning, the entire family accompanied David and I to the airport, and saw us off. A short 1.5hr flight and we landed in sunny and hot Ho Chi Minh City. We were met by a staff of International Christian Fellowship (ICF). Hopping into a taxi, we experienced our very first taste of Vietnamese driving in Vietnamese traffic, with numerous motorbikes weaving in and out. Arriving at Elios Hotel, we proceeded to lunch … yes, Vietnamese food. After lunch, we walked to the pastor’s office for a short briefing and meeting by this Singaporean businessman-cum-pastor who has been in Vietnam for the past 16 years. He explained that ICF is a church plant of Methodist Missions Society catering to expatriates working in Vietnam. Church licenses are difficult to come by in communist Vietnam so it is deed the Lord’s favour that the government approved MMS’ appplication and ICF was born 1.5 years ago.

That night, we assembled at the 3rd floor of the local Hoa Hung Church, where ICF meets. It was a small worship hall with a simple set-up. The leaders did not know how many would turn up as it was their very first Good Friday service. They had applied for permission to hold this special service and approval was given by the communist government. Being a work day, it would be a challenge for some to come for that service at 7pm. Well, praise the Lord, about 50 turned up that night – really encouraging.

The team, posing for a tourist pix in front of Notredame Cathedral.

The next day, Saturday, was a free day for us. We took the opportunity to be tourists and walked around the city, taking in the sights, culture and people. We soon got used to crossing the roads with confidence. That night, we met up with a sister who accepted Jesus as Saviour just a few weeks ago in Singapore at one of my Old Testament teaching sessions, for dinner. Yes, Vietnamese food again!

Motorcycles, motorcycles and more motorcycles!
Vietnamese dinner!

On Sunday, we gathered at ICF for the 10:30am Easter Sunday Outreach Service. This time, the congregation size was about 80 – 90. We celebrated through praise and worship, led by the ICF Worship Team. I preached “Made for Life”, challenging many to consider the resurrection power and life we have through Jesus Christ. The response was encouraging as hands were raised to indicate re-dedication and a desire to appropriate a life of meaning and purpose in Christ. At the call for salvation, one lady at the back raised her hand. I then invited her to step forward and together we prayed with her as she declared her faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord!

Easter Sunday Outreach Service at 10:30am
Enjoying Vietnamese Iced Coffee by the roadside.

It was a very short ministry trip – not too demanding, with even time for us to rest and fellowship over drinks and meals. That said, we knew that the Lord was with us and He is doing something exciting in Vietnam. Regardless constraints and restrictions, it is indeed a land with many opportunities for the gospel to be preached and the love of Jesus to be shared with the Vietnamese people. I am so thankful He gave me the privilege to visit Ho Chi Minh City and to speak to the expat community there. I believe this is just an exploratory trip that will open new doors for more to come. In the meantime, we will keep praying for the country and for God to prepare the ground for a mighty outpouring and move of His Holy Spirit!

Journey through the Old Testament with me

It’s going to be an exciting time for me, preparing to teach and preach through the Old Testament (OT) this year. Starting from 2 March, I will going through all 39 books of the OT in 20 sessions. That, as many will agree with me, is a very tall order. There is just so much to cover! How can I possibly manage everything in just 20 weeks?!

Well, for one, it’s not going to be an academic or theological discourse although I am praying it will stir many to think more deeply and even challenge one’s own theology. In one hour per session, I hope to provide a broad overview of the key themes contained within each book and move quickly and purposefully to how we are to learn from and apply these in our present-day Christian daily walk with the Lord.

Above all, I am praying that we will all see Jesus in the Old Testament and come to appreciate the awesomeness of our God, His power and sovereignty over all creation, over all nations, over all our lives!

So, make a date with me. The 20 sessions are not scheduled back to back, but deliberately packaged into four mini-series with breaks in between. To this end, we begin in March and will only end in November. Please share this with others so you can make a pact to come together.

  • Venue: Covenant Vision Centre, 154 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore 207567
  • Fridays, 8:00pm
  • 2,9,16,23,30 March
  • 27 Apr, 4,11,18,25 May
  • 3,10,17,24,31 August
  • 2,9,16,23,30 November

For those who are just unable to make it – especially my friends around the world – don’t fret. These teachings will be uploaded onto our Covenant Vision Media Centre so you won’t have to miss a session.

Please pray for me as I go through the materials. It’s wonderful to read the stories and accounts all over again, to encounter the Lord through the Scriptures. Pray that the Holy Spirit will bring each word alive in me and that I will have His wisdom to convert these into power-packed points to stir and touch even the coldest heart for Jesus!

A Prophet Is Not Without Honour

“… except in his own country and in his own house.” Matt 13:57

It’s amazing to note the truth in this phrase.  Of course, this was spoken by Jesus after He was rejected by the people in His hometown, Nazareth.  I am, in no way, comparing myself to Jesus.  I’m just marvelling at the accuracy of such a statement.

When I first started in ministry, I was an itinerant preacher, moving from church to church to minister as and when invited.  By the grace of God, I was very encouraged by the honour I received as the guest speaker.  After the teaching or preaching, I would receive even more attention as people stepped up to tell me how much they appreciated the teaching and the insights.  Words like “anointed”, “powerful”, “revelation”, “convicting” would be used.  Sometimes, certain individuals would even go as far as to comment that they never get to hear such truths from their own preachers, or that messages were not as anointed.  Not that I craved such remarks, but I must admit it did make me feel good, that I was doing something right.  Okay, okay, on days when I allowed some pride to get to my head, I did feel more called; more chosen even 🙂

Then … I became a pastor of our own little community.  I thought to myself: I’ll keep preaching without compromise.  Surely our people will be blessed by the deep truths that I share with them.  Well, not that the congregation did not appreciate the messages, but I began to notice something else.  Whenever we had guest speakers, I would hear the people rave about how good it was, and how fresh and insightful the points were!  But hey, I promptly remind them, I shared the some points two weeks ago!  To which, they remark, oh, is it?  This has happened quite a few times, by the way.  Or when they attend a conference and come back gushing about the truths they had discovered.  But hey (this time quietly in my heart), that’s what we’ve been trying to get across to you, week after week after week!

Extend that to the family and the same holds true too.  Many would agree with me that the toughest people to reach and teach are those closest to you.  If Jesus’ household could question Him and His integrity, a perfect sinless man, how much more challenging it is for us!?  My wife and children can smell the inconsistencies in my life a mile away.  Or perhaps, they have heard me speak so often that they are “deaf” to what I have to say.  But when they hear another speaker say the same points in a different way, they can’t stop talking about it.  But hey, haven’t you been listening to my messages?

It is definitely a very humbling exercise.  Not that I have anything to prove.  But I guess it’s always nice to be the one through whom God works to impact lives.  That said, no one has the monopoly where God’s power and glory is concerned.  God, and God alone, deserves all glory and honour.  We are but His servants and co-labourers with one another.  As He has allowed me the privilege to bless someone else in another congregation, the same will happen for visiting speakers at our church.  As one speaker rightly mentioned, God says the same things throughout the Bible, just in different ways.  And this is to cater to different people, at different points of their lives, at different stages of their spiritual walk and maturity.  It’s not about the instrument or person God uses, but the end result of a reconciled relationship with Him that matters most.

That said, it would also be good for me to take a step back and really challenge myself.  Have I become complacent in ministry, having acquired more experience?  Am I relying more on myself, my talents and abilities, than on God and His Holy Spirit?  Is my source of ministry still Jesus, the Vine; or am I just cruising along on my own strength?  These are important questions for me to ask over and over again.  The pulpit ministry is exciting but it also carries with it a tremendous responsibility.  And if I have fallen short in any of these aspects, I must repent and realign myself all over again.  But if I am on track, it is the Master’s voice of approval that I seek to hear, and not crave the accolades and praises of man.

So, I will keep preaching and teaching my very best for Him and to His people, knowing that I am enabled and empowered by His Spirit for a specific time and season, for specific hearts that would respond to His message of love and grace.  I praise and thank my Lord Jesus for this awesome privilege!!!

Two Cross Words From My Wife

It’s always nice to receive a message from my wife.  And one day, in an email simply entitled “Preach the Cross”, she sent me two Cross words from her Oswald Chambers devotional …

“If we get away from dwelling on the tragedy of God on the Cross in our preaching, our preaching produces nothing. It will not transmit the energy of God to man; it may be interesting, but it will have no power.”

“Never build your case for forgiveness on the idea that God is our Father and He will forgive us because He loves us. That contradicts the revealed truth of God in Jesus Christ. It makes the Cross unnecessary…God forgives sins only because of the death of Christ.”

In a day where shallow preaching abound, these words are so timely that the depth of our Christian faith can once again be centred and rooted in the work of the Cross.  For sure, many have moved away from the Cross, or have transformed the Cross into a symbol of blessing and prosperity to suit selfish wants and desires.  How scandalous!  And if I do not constantly hold before me the vision of the Cross, upon which Jesus suffered and died, I can also commit the same mistake.

What a wonderful reminder from a preacher’s wife!  What an encouragement too, to know that Serene desires that my preaching be as effective as it can be.  Not merely based on great communication skills, dramatic deliveries or humorous anecdotes, but firmly grounded upon the Cross of Jesus Christ!

Related Article: Him We Preach

A Provoking Two Hours With Paul Washer

Some weeks ago, a dear sister sent me a link to a message by Paul Washer.  Deep in my spirit, I had a notion that this would not be an ordinary message but one the Lord would have me listen to.  Being a two-hour message, I knew I had to have the time and space to fully concentrate on the contents.  Most certainly, I wouldn’t want to be flippant to gloss over a sermon entitled “Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church”.

This afternoon, the opportunity presented itself.  There was work to be done, but I didn’t have the mind nor heart to do anything.  This message came to mind so I retrieved the email, clicked on the link and listened to the entire two-hour discourse by Paul Washer.  I was deeply challenged and provoked by each of the ten indictments.  Without doubt, I have been guilty of many of the points Washer raised.  That said, I also found many answers to the issues I had been wrestling with; issues which many like myself have taken for granted having grown up in the church but no less clear about certain critical doctrines and beliefs.

I love the way Washer challenged with the statement, “It’s one thing to believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant, but another to believe it is sufficient.”  His declaration that Christians are totally ignorant of God and His attributes struck such a chord in my heart, for of late, I have been crying out to understand and grow “in the knowledge of God”.  And because there is no knowledge of who God is, there is no fear of Him.  How true!

I also fully agree that there is such a failure today to address the depravity of humanity and sin.  Washer states, and rightly, that without a true awareness of self, there can be no repentance and no desire to be saved.  We have treated sin superficially and blocked the work of the Holy Spirit who comes to convict the world of sin!

Washer went on to contend that we have misrepresented the gospel of Jesus Christ, replacing regeneration for decisionism!  Without a clear understanding of the doctrine of regeneration, we have reduced salvation to a decision rather than a sovereign work of God.  No wonder there is no evidence of the supernatural re-creative work of the Holy Spirit in lives!  What’s more, for many, the motive for salvation is to get to heaven where there are no more problems. That sounds like a great deal but is unbiblical.  As mentioned earlier, it is our recognition of our hopelessness and depravity that renders salvation necessary.

According to Washer, there is no remnant in the Church.  Instead, the Church is the remnant!  Depending on how we see regeneration and salvation, our definition of the Church will also be affected.  Following his argument, only those who are truly saved and regenerated are the Church.  These are the ones who truly love the Lord and are being changed into the image of His Son, and being prepared as His Bride.  Makes you think harder about the parables about the tares and the goats, doesn’t it?

At the same time, I thank God for affirming me in how I have been preaching and teaching.  Issues like church discipline, holiness and godliness are all topics I challenge myself and my students with.  It’s encouraging to hear someone else stand on the same points.  Yet, it is sad to also note that he also observes the same thing across churches – that church discipline is not administered, that holiness is something frowned upon and that godliness is not being pursued.

Finally, as a husband and a father, I really appreciated Washer’s challenge to Christian families.  Instead of standing on God’s principles, we have resorted to worldly advice and perspectives where marriages and families are concerned.  No wonder then that we are seeing so many problems in our relationships.  He issued the same challenge as I have been raising … that effort should be put into raising and teaching fathers and men!  Instead, we see the reverse in our churches.  More time, money and effort is being put into our Sunday School programmes than in the lives of our fathers and men.

What a provoking two hours.  But time well spent, I must say.  It’s been a long while since I heard strong and solid preaching.  Dear Lord, enable me by the power of Your Holy Spirit to respond in the way I must.  Forgive me for where I have also gone off-track.  That said, thank You for stirring in my heart, the same issues and convictions.  Draw me deeper and bring my closer in my walk with You.  Help me to preach and teach without compromise so that others too can enjoy the relationship I have with you.  Amen!