The Other Glory School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other glory school.  Register now!  Any takers?

Trials Keep Me Real & Humble

After a while in the ministry, I guess it’s easy to always have the right things to say.  After all, I’ve already built up quite a library of Christian cliches and slogans … do not fear, God is with you, you can go all things through Christ, God will supply your every need, trust in Him, wait upon the Lord, count it all joy, let go let God … and the list goes on.  Soon, I may even need a catalog card system for these phrases!

I suppose that’s why God allows challenges and difficult patches to somehow sneak into my life at the right times.  Ok, I don’t think there is ever a right time to go through a tough situation – but you see, that’s another Christian cliche that just rolled off my fingers all too easily and naturally.  But seriously, God knows when I need one of these sobering moments.

It’s one thing to preach and teach about trials.  It’s yet another thing go through one myself, and then preach about it.  Suddenly, those cute little slogans don’t look or sound so cute anymore!  Admittedly, it sounded really good when it first popped into my mind – so clever and so witty.  It even has a ring and a rhyme to it.  Hey!  These could be lyrics to my next song!  But when I hit a really bad patch myself, I am forced to come to terms with each and every one of these lines – however biblically or theologically right they may be.  And it’s not easy.  No, not at all!

Like everything else, I cannot preach it if I have not first lived it myself.  I may not like this truth, but I can’t run away from it.  I wish I could, but that wouldn’t make the messages very real, would it?  Without experiencing it and wrestling with the issues of faith, trust and hope, I can preach the most well prepared message and it would just be another collection of Christian rhetoric.  I can quote all the right verses, share the most moving illustrations and it’d still fall flat.  Not that the people will not be encouraged, but I believe something would still be missing.  Yes, trials enable me to be real, to be really in touch with a world that is suffering and broken from the ravages of sin.  In that realness, I can better identify with those who are hurting and lost.  I can better understand their tears and struggles in the midst of their darkness and confusion.  When they get angry or upset with God, I will not coldly attribute it to spiritual immaturity.  When they shake in their faith, I will not judge or criticise for I too have shaken in those trying moments, shaken my fists at God and asked “WHY?????” more than a few thousand times.

Trials and challenges keep me humble too.  I am quickly and promptly reminded that I don’t know everything.  Honestly, after spewing sermon after sermon, week after week, it is so easy to presume otherwise.  Like everyone else, I have my doubts and my weak points.  I just conceal these better when I hide behind the pulpit.  When others come to me for advice, I am expected to have the right answers.  As such, I can deceive myself into thinking I have all the answers.  No wonder, the Lord allows these trials to come my way.  They sure cut me down to size really quick!  I realise, again and again and again, how imperfect I am, as a man, a husband, a father, a pastor, a mentor, etc.  How could I have become so proud and so arrogant in the way I think and speak, and how I look and judge others?  How dare I even think of myself as being better, more matured, more spiritual, more faithful?!  What right do I have at all?  Oh, how the fire of these trials so quickly reveal and surface the immaturity, impatience and selfishness in me.

Trials keep me real and humble.  And that’s good for me.  People tend to assume that I have it all together, that I am managing really well in my ministry, marriage and family.  That can cause me to always keep a front and an image that they have constructed of me.  Over time, it’s very tiring because that’s not the real me at all.  But I continue in that because I like to be perceived as such.  But the real me wants to just be that child who can run into his Daddy’s arms all over again, to snuggle in His love, to weep and cry, to rest.  Trials force me to be real and totally honest with God.  I don’t have to act with Him for He knows me through and through … I am weak, broken and desperately in need of His love, grace and strength.

Ah yes, trials.  We don’t exactly love them nor ask for them, but we must accept that they definitely to have a place and purpose in our lives.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love.  Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy imexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:7,8

God Is In Control

A couple of evenings ago, I went to the kitchen to fix myself a drink.  I reached for my trusty, old coffee mug and noticed something odd about it … the handle had fallen off! I couldn’t help but notice the powerful message that was right there in my hands.  I couldn’t resist taking a shot of it.  As I’ve often remarked, God is a great communicator and sure has a wonderful sense of humour.  If our spirits would be open to hear His voice, He desires to speak to us through symbols and pictures.

Through this beautiful object lesson, I was reminded (yet again) that God is in control regardless the brokenness, the pain, and the seeming hopelessness we may experience in life.  No matter what we go through, God is in control.  We may not fully understand the reasons and it’s ok to question.  But in the end, it’s not in circumstances or feelings that we put our trust, but in God and His unchanging Word.  We must stand resolved and convicted that nothing escapes our God and nothing surprises Him.  His allowing of a certain challenging (even devastating) situation does not mean He is no longer there, or that He no longer cares.  The handle of my mug may be broken, but it does not mean that it cannot be filled anymore. Remember, our brokenness is no indication of our capacity to receive!  Because Jesus came that I might have life to its fullest (John 10:10b), my cup can and will still run over (Psalm 23:5)!

May this little message encourage you … whoever you are, whatever you are going through, however you are feeling at the moment.

“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labour of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls — Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.  The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” Habakkuk 3:17-19

Keep the Pace

“… exercise yourself towards godliness.” 1 Tim 4:7b

In “Run the Race”, I clarified three common misunderstandings prevalent in the Church.  However, before we dash out with enthusiasm and new resolve, we need to be reminded that this race is not a sprint but a marathon.  It is not how you begin, but how you finish that matters.  Every serious marathoner knows that the most gruelling part of the marathon is in the middle.  You put one foot in front of the other.  You plod on with endurance.  You don’t really want to do this, but you just keep the pace.

We may know this in theory but few understand that keeping the pace is not merely holding on with the gritting of our teeth whatever happens.  If you attempt a marathon with that thinking, you can collapse and die!  To keep the pace requires stamina and that comes with proper exercise and training.

This principle also applies to our race towards the goal of godliness.  Using an athletic image, the Apostle Paul told Timothy to “exercise yourself towards godliness.”  The word “exercise” comes from the Greek “gumnazo” from which we have our modern day equivalent of “gymnasium”.  Surely, one does not go to the gym to sip a latte nor to lounge on a deck chair.  Instead, one expects to work out and anyone who has done that knows it is hard work!  And yet, Christians expect to breeze through their spiritual journey with no spiritual exercise.  How to finish the race if we can’t even keep the pace?

How then does one train spiritually?  By observing the athlete in the natural, we can apply the same in the spiritual.

Spiritual Disciplines:  An athlete is very disciplined, from his personal habits to his schedules and regimes.  Likewise, a Christian is to practise the Spiritual Disciplines of prayer, fasting, meditation, study, worship, solitude, silence, etc.  Sadly, this has been lost through the centuries, but thankfully, it is being re-discovered once again.  This strengthens the spirit for the spiritual race.

Spiritual Diet:  An athlete watches his intake to ensure only the best are given to his body.  Certainly no junk food.  Christians are to watch their spiritual intake through the gates of the eyes and ears.  What are we watching in the movies, magazines and the internet?  What are we listening to over the radio and in our music selection?  Without realising it, we are taking in the messages of the world that feed our flesh rather than the Word of God that nourishes and gives life to our spirits.

Spiritual Workout:  An athlete does not simply read a book on “How to Run a Race” and hopes to be able to fare well.  He has to get out there and run!  Similarly, our faith needs to be worked out.  It needs to be stretched that it may be corrected, grown and matured.  How many Christians have you come across who appear well-versed in the Word of God but have never put any biblical principle into practice?  I have seen too many falter and stumble when crises come their way.  In the same way muscles are stretched and built up, our faith too needs to be matured in this way.

Spiritual Trials: An athlete will test himself periodically in time trials where he pushes his body to the limit to meet or even better the timing.  We too have trials in our spiritual walk and these all serve to shape us into better “athletes”.  These will separate the proverbial “men from the boys”, revealing who gives up and who presses on to the finish line.

I’ve often commented that the Christian walk is no certainly walk in the park.  It’s easy to become a Christian.  But to be a Christian?  Now, that’s a totally different story.  In 1 Cor 9:27, Paul said, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”  Wow!  This is a sobering thought!  If Paul could be concerned about the possibility of disqualification, what about us?  Jesus Himself warned of the distractions in the last days that would “pull” many out of the race and said, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” Matt 24:13

Clearly, it’s not how we begin the race, but how we keep the pace that we might finish the race.  May we continue to encourage one another when we feel like giving up – keep the pace, keep the pace, keep the pace!