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!

Behind That Smile

Smiles are often associated with positive outlooks and dispositions. Just check out the numerous quotations and sayings on smiles and you will see that the encouragement is to all to always wear a smile 🙂

When we meet someone, we automatically ask, ” How are you?” They quickly reply, with a smile of course, “Fine, thank you!” But what really goes on behind that smile? Is there something more that the person is going through? Could that smile be merely a facade of strength? I’ve come to realise that a smile may not be what it seems. Instead of revealing a spirit of joy and peace, it is often the opposite, concealing hurt, pain, sorrow and anxiety.

Behind that smile … a father’s heart is deeply broken by a prodigal son. He is concerned with the decisions his son has taken in haste, without much thought, without any regard to the consequences. The father’s hope and dreams for one who would bring him pride and joy, dashed for the moment. All these hidden from public view – behind a smile.

Behind that smile … a man weeps at the prospect of losing his wife to another man. His manly pride devastated at the discovery of an adulterous relationship, right under his nose. His desperate attempts to woo her back are repeatedly spurned by the one who once clung to him for love and support. What will he tell the children? Has he failed as a husband and a father? What else is there to do but pray? How can he face each day, but smile?

Behind that smile … a woman hides the pain of miscarriage, that all is well. Yet, deep inside, the sense of loss is very real. It’s not merely emotional or hormonal. There was a life and there is none now. The excitement, expectation and elation that is no more. Few can understand, not even her husband. Can she share with others? Should she share in the first place? Maybe it’s better to go through this alone, with a smile.

Behind that smile … a woman worries for her family’s survival. Her husband is out of a job and trying his best to earn his keep. She doesn’t know if their finances can last beyond the week. Her children are not aware of the situation and asks for things that children ask for. Her gentle “no” is challenged by an innocent “why?” So as not to give her man added pressure, she puts on a brave front, and smiles.

Behind that smile … a young lady wrestles with emotions for a man who pays her no attention. She waits but he never calls. She tells herself, “it’s ok, the right one will come along … soon.” As if her own questions are not enough, others ask insensitively, “you still not married?” What can she say? How should she answer? Just a plain “no, not yet”, accompanied by the sweetest of smiles.

So you see, a smile may look nice but it may not tell the full story. For many, it is largely cosmetic, hiding a much deeper issue. And yet, because we are all so busy these days, we just don’t have the time to get behind that smile! In fact, we may even be fearful to discover what really lies behind that smile, requiring us to give more time to this person. No, thank you! A smile is just fine!

But if we would be willing to scratch a little of that surface, we will discover that there is just so much pain in this fallen world. When that thin veneer of a smile comes off, we see people who need a listening ear, a compassionate heart, a shoulder to cry on, a directing of their souls back to Jesus. All it takes is sincerity to ask how this person truly is … “How are you, really?” You’ll be surprised how quickly the smile fades, making way for tears to fall and burdens to be shared.

As happy as the world presents itself, that is just what it is – a presentation. May we be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit to discern a smile that radiates with true joy, from one that is merely a front. Then, with His love, grace and enablement, get behind that smile, restore the real person within, that a real smile would finally emerge.

Where Are We Headed?

The Straits Times, Thurs 8 Dec 2011, A9.

Yesterday, I flipped our local newspapers, The Straits Times, to discover yet another sign of the times we live in.

In the name of human rights, US will lead the charge to boost gay rights around the world. To be sure, the world has been blessed by many good things from the USA. At the same time, the negative influences of the world’s most powerful nation have also made its way into many countries and cultures. And now, they are wanting to champion gay causes globally. Perhaps, this is to distract people from their ailing debt-ridden economy that they are shifting focus, or to buy more votes and support from a fast-increasing group of influential people. Who knows? Whatever the reasons or motivation, whether political or not, I won’t mince words to say that there is a spiritual, demonic force behind it.

What is happening to this nation that was once built on biblical foundations? Have they taken for granted their rise to success, that it was all due to their own hard work, talents and creativity? Has this great nation forgotten God?

It is indeed worrying that the highest powers of USA have stepped out with this rallying cry to accept and promote such lifestyles. It is as if there is no shame anymore, that society is now subtly pressured to normalise such behaviour. Years ago, this would not have happened. Back in my theatre days, I came across some who struggled with their attraction to same-sex relationships. How they struggled! When they finally resolved that tension, they would “come out of the closet”. Even so, it was not widely publicised. But today, even Singapore has taken to inviting the likes of Elton John and his partner, with their adopted son, to grace our stages and opening ceremonies! How sad, that USA, with her Christian Puritan roots should today lead the world in the coming out of the closet.

Is there any stopping such a move, and others like it? I think not. And that is not due to a lack of faith in my God who does the impossible. The Bible is very clear that in the last days, these activities would increase. There will be compromises at every level; even in the Church, and those who call themselves Christians.

The world is headed for disaster. On the one hand, the World Health Organisation is battling a potential global AIDS epidemic. Yet, on the other hand, governments like the Obama Administration is pushing for gay rights, which further promotes sexual promiscuity and encourages the spread of such fatal diseases. On a smaller, but no less alarming, scale, Singapore recognises the need to strengthen the family. Yet, we also face the increasing pressure to allow and accept gay initiatives, rationalising it as needful for any nation that has come of age. Where are we headed?

Still, God has not left the world alone to die without hope. He has already made the way open through His Son, Jesus Christ; and those who would repent and believe in Him will be saved! This invitation is for all mankind. God loves all gays and lesbians, and desires that they be saved too. This is not the place to debate whether gays are born that way. All I know is that we are all born in Adam, in sin. Hence, the need to be born again, of the Spirit, through faith in Jesus Christ. And, to be sure, repentance and salvation will result in a change of values and lifestyle, one that is holy and pleasing to God.

The world may be heading for disaster. I thank God that there is hope in Jesus Christ.

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.

God So-o-o-o Loves the World? Why So-o-o-o Much Suffering Then?

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

Quoting John 3:16, we Christians confidently declare that God loves the whole world entirely to bits. However, in response, many are duly stumped and silenced when asked by non-believers (and Christians too), “If God loves the world so-o-o-o much, why is there still so much suffering in the world?”  And all our attempts to pass it off as God’s will, sovereignty, judgment, etc appear totally weak against the bold statement that God so-o-o-o loves the world!

Thanks to a teaching by David Pawson, I discovered that this has been the result of an inaccurate translation, or more precisely, an inaccurate placement of the little word “so”.  In many English translations, John 3:16 reads as “For God so loved the world …”  In our present day use of the language, we automatically read and understand it as, “For God loves the world so-o-o very, very, very much …”  But is this the correct biblical interpretation?  Join me as we go deeper into the text …

The word “so”, from the Greek root houtos, means “in the same way”, or “similarly”.  With this understanding, the phrase now reads as, “For God, in the same way, loved the world …” or “For so God loved the world …”  That sure sounds totally  different from how we have heard it preached, does it not?  Naturally, the question pops up, “In what same way did God love?”  For this, we need to go to the preceding verses, John 3:14-15, for the proper context.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:14-15

Firstly, notice the repeated phrase in v15 and v16b: “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal/everlasting life.”  Next, notice the parallel of the Son of Man and the serpent being lifted up.  But don’t stop there!  Don’t miss the surrounding condition or situation that led to this act of salvation and deliverance by God.  As a teacher and leader of his day, Nicodemus would have known what Jesus was talking about.  He would have been totally familiar with the wilderness account in Numbers 21:4-9.

In this account, the children of Israel had sinned against God and brought upon themselves God’s judgment.  In case, you didn’t know, sin always brings the judgment of God and results in death (Rom 6:23a).  In this case, the judgment came in the form of fiery serpents which bit the people, killing them.  Moses mediates and cries out to God for salvation from this dreaded consequence and the solution God provided was somewhat odd.  Moses was to make a model of the serpent, stick it up on a pole and whoever looked at it would be saved!  Think about it.  If you were dying from cancer, and your doctor told you to look at an X-ray of the tumor in your body to be saved, how would that sound to you?!?  But that’s what the people were told to do, and that called for faith, to believe in something as foolish and as absurd as that (1 Cor 1:18).  The bible records that those who looked, lived!  I believe there were those who did not believe, hence did not look, and died.

Before you spiritualise this, notice something else in this account.  When the people cried out for salvation, God did not remove the fiery serpents.  Instead, He provided a way of salvation.  In the same way, the consequences of sin continue to this day in our world.  Left to our own devices, we will all die from the consequences of sin!  The sad thing is that no one wants to admit sin in their lives and in our world, choosing rather to blame it on something and someone else.  But in the same way, God has not removed the consequences of our sin but has provided a way of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. Hallelujah!

In the wilderness, God loved His people and acted in love to save them. In the same way, God loved the world He created and acted through His Son to save them.  When the people looked at the image of the serpent, they would be reminded of their sin and the judgment that ensued.  In the same way, Jesus who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21) and took upon Himself the judgment of God.  When we see Jesus lifted up on the Cross, we see both our sin and God’s judgment on Him!  The question is, “Do we believe?” for only those who believe will not perish but have everlasting life!  That’s why it’s called the Good News!

That said, whether we believe or not, are Christians or not, the same plight exists in our world.  The way of salvation has been provided in and through Jesus Christ.  In the meantime, there will still be sufferings, sicknesses, deaths, wars, tsunamis, earthquakes … “fiery serpents” that are consequences of fallen and sinful humanity.  All these are here to stay until God restores all of creation with a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1).  And make no mistake, only those who believe in Jesus will get to enjoy the fruits of everlasting life.

My dear friends, through this little hermeneutical exercise, I hope that I have not reduced the magnitude of God’s love for you.  That is an impossibility for God’s love is eternal and infinite.  With or without the word “so”, there is no measuring the width, length, height and depth of His love for us (Eph 3:17).  But with a right understanding of the word “so”, my prayer is that you will experience a greater and deeper extent of His love for you through Jesus Christ.  In the same way that God saved and delivered the Israelites in the wilderness, He will also save and deliver you if you put your faith in His Son.

Related Post: David Pawson: The True God and the True Gospel

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.

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