Word of the Year 2016: Post-Truth Christians Too?

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The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2016.
Each year, Oxford Dictionaries will pick a word to describe the trend or sentiments of that year. And it has just been announced that the Word of the Year 2016 is post-truthan adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

The prefix post- used to refer to a time after a specified situation or era. However, in recent years, it has been modified to mean ‘unimportant’ or ‘irrelevant’. In other words, post-truth literally means that truth is no longer important; or worse yet, no longer relevant.

Although mostly associated with Brexit and the recently concluded American elections, one cannot help but wonder if this sentiment is applicable beyond the arena of politics? In community? In relationships?

What about the Church?

Noticeably, in the past decade, there has been a steady departure from the Word of God. This is not to say that preachers do not refer to the Bible for their messages. They still do. However, the focus and emphasis on sound doctrine is considerably much less. Theology is regarded as boring and too complicated, so let’s not waste too much time on such academic stuff. And so, messages today tend to major on addressing issues of self-esteem, positive thinking and personal pursuits of health, wealth and happiness. Simply, as long as it makes you feel good, then that’s fine. After all, God is a good God and He loves you very much. And since the truth hurts (and it does), let’s not dwell too much on that.

This type of thinking is so pervasive in the Church today that many are willing to disregard truth and discard doctrine. Feelings and emotions, although subjective, are considered more important and better indicators of a relationship with God, than that which is objective and true. Have we not heard this before: “I know it contradicts the Bible, but I have been so blessed by that person’s teaching and ministry.” Even if some of these fringe on being heretical, believers are willing to accept it on the basis of it-feels-right-so-it-must-be-right reasoning. Besides, if it’s wrong, the Holy Spirit will prompt me accordingly. True?

Anyone who has not experienced the same experience is deemed to be less spiritual, or spiritually dead. To not go with their flow is seen as not being led by the Spirit. What is worse is that any attempt to question is seen as legalistic, judgmental and Pharisaical! And soon, we’d have to add Bereanic to the list too because the searching of Scriptures is no longer relevant (Acts 17:11).

This does not mean that the Bible is no longer needed. Not at all. For sure, Bible apps are cool and will continue to be used. It’s easy to find verses and really good for creating image posts on Facebook and Instagram. Bible studies will continue to be well attended too. After all, that’s what Christians do – gather in groups, read a passage, and then give personal opinions of what it means to them. But to consider it absolute Truth, to live out the Word and be totally submitted to its authority? Does God require that at all? Surely not, since we are no longer under the law, right?

You may think I’m being a bit extreme here, over-reacting perhaps. I assure you, I am not. Truth be told, the Church is struggling to understand what it means to remain relevant in a society that is post-modern, post-Christian, and now, post-truth. To the post-modernist, truth was relativised and each decided what was true or not. In a post-Christian climate, Christian fundamentals were challenged and done away with. Alternative worldviews slowly but surely replaced the Christian worldview, both in the society and in the Church. In a post-truth world, anything goes. It no longer matters what is true or not, because truth is neither important nor relevant. Whatever works and produces the results, that’s cool. Yes, the end justifies the means.

As in the case of the recent elections, Christians were divided as Christianity became more politicised. It mattered not if the candidates told the truth or lied. Moral conduct was of no consequence. Truthiness, “the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true”, instead, was the order of the day. Why? Because truth is totally irrelevant in a post-truth era … as long as we get what we want and are allowed to continue to have church as usual.

But is it really church as usual? We have already seen denominations split over doctrinal disagreements. Some have embraced LGBT in the clergy and in key ministry positions. Others have endorsed same-sex marriages. In the name of grace and love, sins are glossed over. One day, a prominent minister confesses sexual misconduct, the very next day he is re-instated and no one bats an eyelid. Oh, I am sorry. Who am I to judge? And on what basis? Truth? What’s that?

But seriously. Church as usual? Let us not be so naive.

I suppose the Apostle Paul saw this day coming when he wrote to Timothy: “These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living, the pillar and ground of the truth.” 1 Tim 3:14-15 NKJV (emphasis mine)

Yes. The Church is to be the pillar and ground of the truth. Whatever the world says, whichever era we may be found to be in, we are people of the truth. However, more and more, we can expect that truth will be resisted and even rejected (2 Tim 3:8-9). There will even be those who regard themselves as Christians, who talk and sound Christian, but never come to a knowledge of what truth really is (2 Tim 3:7)!

As the pillar and the foundation of the truth, the Church is not there to just talk about truth, teach about truth, or have lofty philosophical discourses about what truth is or is not. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy was that the truth would be clearly demonstrated and seen through their conduct. Along the way, false apostles, prophets and teachers will appear. But the Church is never to compromise, holding steadily to the Word of Truth (2 Tim 3:16-17), paying careful attention to doctrine (1 Tim 4:16), led by the Spirit of truth, who guides us into all truth (John 16:13).

I am fully aware that come 2017, there will be another Word of the Year. But this does not mean that truth will necessarily be returned to its rightful place of importance or relevance. Our Lord Jesus Christ has already warned about the increase of deception in the last days, that many will be deceived. The post-truth era merely opened the door of deception even wider.

May all who profess to know Jesus – the Way, the Truth and the Life – continue to hold fast to Him and His Truth. And may we, His Church, also be found to “be diligent to present [ourselves] approved to God, [workers] who [do] not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Tim 2:15

If The Apostles Had Posted Their Writings On Facebook

St Paul Writing Epistles

Over breakfast, I quipped, “If you want more visits to your website, just blog about hyper grace or simply point out an erroneous interpretation of the Word of God.” Really. Just try it. What have you got to lose? Just a few friends, perhaps (if these were even real friends in the first place).

That got me wondering a little: If the apostles had posted some of their writings on social media, what might be some of the responses they would receive from today’s postmodern, tolerant Christian?

Hmmm … (wavy daydream screen with harp arpeggio) …

Paul: For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.
@blessed2bits: How dare you touch the Lord’s anointed! No wonder you are cursed and have so many sufferings, trials and tribulations.

Peter: But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.
@sbjacktif: How can these be bad or wrong? I have learnt and grown so much from their teaching and ministry. I am not questioning your hermeneutical accuracy. So you shouldn’t question my experience.

Paul: For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
@lurveawww: All I know is that you are not very inclusive nor tolerant. Bigot!

James: Cleanse your hands, you sinners!
@saintifide: Who are you calling a sinner? My sins have all been forgiven – past, present and future!

John: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
@knowway: Way to go, John! Tell it to the gnostics! Small typo error you may like to correct … you wrote “we” but you actually meant “them”, right? And while you are at it, can you make it clearer which part of the letter is for “them” and which is for “us”?

Paul: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
@peaceman: Aw, c’mon, Paul! Stop pitting one man’s opinion against another. You are dividing the body of Christ. Don’t be so hung up about the truth. It’s more important to have peace and unity.

… (wavy daydream screen with harp arpeggio) …

I am, of course, just having some fun. But on a more serious note, as much as I would like this to be purely imaginative and make-believe, these are not entirely original for such comments have been posted in response to well meaning articles that seek to present and point out the truth. I will also not be surprised that some will find this tongue-in-cheek article offensive and ungracious. I can only appeal to Paul, the one who declared the gospel of grace, who, when needed, also employed sanctified sarcasm that his point might be pointedly made with full effect (cf 1 Cor 4:6-13).

Like it or not, this is the postmodern environment we operate in these days. Still, we are to preach the Word and to declare the Truth, with boldness and without compromise. The apostles did that in times past and were ready for all opposition and any eventuality. For the sake of Jesus, many lost much, including their lives. It’s ok to lose a few friends on Facebook.

Note: If the above statements by Paul, Peter, James and John look or sound familiar, it’s because they are direct quotations from the Bible: 2 Cor 11:13; 2 Peter 2:1-2; Eph 5:5; James 4:8; 1 John 1:8-9; 2 Tim 2:15. #justsaying #cantpresumeanythingthesedays

I Am Blessed of God and You Can’t Reverse That!

As a young boy growing up in a Chinese culture, I was taught to always reject any negative word spoken against me, supernatural or not, with the Cantonese words, “Choy! Choy! Choy!” Up until today, I don’t even know what it means at all. It didn’t even occur to me to wonder if Christians should resort to such pronouncements … hey, as long as I was not cursed 🙂

Many years later, as a growing Christian, I was told to say almost the same thing, except it sounded a lot more Christian … “I reject that in Jesus’ Name!” Not wanting to be cursed, I dutifully and diligently applied that teaching. For example, if someone would remark, “Don’t get caught in the rain. You will fall sick.”, I would immediately say, “I reject that in Jesus’ Name!” You may laugh at this silly example but I really believed I could be cursed with falling sick if I didn’t promptly and reject that in the name of Jesus.

Thankfully, my understanding, conviction and position have all changed.

Gal 3:29 tells me that if I am in Christ (and I am!), I am Abraham’s seed and an heir according to the promise God made to him in Gen 12:1-3.  In that promise, blessings and curses are clearly mentioned. God told Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you.” It doesn’t take a scholar to decipher what this means at all. Whoever curses Abraham will be cursed! God didn’t ask Abraham to reject anything, or declare anything at all. Instead, God will do everything on Abraham’s behalf! As a faith descendent of Abraham, this applies to me too. How cool is that?!

The clearest account of this in operation is found in Numbers 22-25. The children of Israel (Abraham’s physical seed) was on the move and Balak was terrified that Moab would be defeated next. And so, the leaders of Moab and Midian contract a prophet, Balaam, to curse Israel. Note what God says to Balaam in Num 22:12, “You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” Consequently, in Balaam’s first prophecy, he promptly declares in Num 23:8, “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?” In the second prophecy, he says in Num 23:10, “[God] has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.”

Israel didn’t even know what was going on! Balaam knew that he simply cannot reverse what God had already declared; he couldn’t undo God’s blessings! And if Balaam had cursed them, the Abrahamic Promise would kick in and he, and those whom he represented, would be cursed by God.

When I understood this spiritual dimension and promise, it was so very liberating. It didn’t matter what anyone said to me or about me anymore, whether in front of me or behind my back! In and through Jesus Christ, I have been blessed by God, an heir of the very same promise that God made to Abraham. I simply cannot be cursed by someone else! If anyone is crazy enough to try that, he brings a curse upon himself. If you don’t believe that, go ahead, try it and see if you are not cursed in return 🙂

Now, although there is no need for me to religiously (or superstitiously) reject a curse, I must be careful not to accept one. To accept a curse is to believe to a degree of conviction that what has been pronounced over you is true. For example, someone may say to you, “You are useless and will never amount to anything!” If you know who you are in Christ, let that remark pass. It means nothing at all for you know you are significant in Christ and will be used to God’s glory! God’s truth will prevail over the enemy’s lie. But if you consider it, agree with it, believe and receive it within your spirit, your faith in that declaration will yield its own negative fruit and consequence.

Now, this sounds really good, but I am also promptly reminded that I must watch what I say against another brother or sister in Christ or God’s chosen nation, Israel. The same principle applies. If I bless them, I am blessed. If I curse them, I am … yes, you guessed it … cursed. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will ear its fruit.” Indeed, what I sow, I shall also reap.

With this, we understand why Jesus teaches us to love and to bless no matter how ridiculous that sounds or how difficult it might be. Especially with those within the household of faith, we must always seek to bless and not curse, regardless how we have been hurt or disappointed by them. We must remember that we are all blessed by God and heirs of the promise of Abraham! This is so critical and yet often so lacking in Christian relationship; marriages, in particular. How sad and devastating it is when a husband curses his wife, and the wife in turn curses her husband. No wonder that marriage dies!

Today, I rest in the assurance that I am hidden in Christ, that if God is for me, there is none who can stand against me. It is more profitable for me to meditate upon and appropriate the blessedness of my state in Christ than for me to listen to the lies and condemnations of the enemy, through his agents, and believe, even for a moment, that I might be cursed. Indeed, I bask in the confidence of God’s blessings, cover and protection. I can just hear Him warn my enemies as He did Balaam in Num 22:12, “You shall not curse Henson, for he is blessed.”

A Positive Church Experience Is Nice But Not Enough

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This has become a concern as I interact more with various Christians facing challenges and difficulties in their situations and spiritual walk. In the course of our conversation, I would always ask them where they worshipped at. This would indicate at least three things to me: one, if they belonged to a local church; two, if they are regular in their attendance at this community; and, three, if they are actively involved in the life of this community.

Without prompting, these would proceed to describe their church experience, and it would usually sound like this: “Oh, I enjoy the fellowship. The worship (referring to the time of singing) is wonderful and touches my heart. The messages are really good and I am always blessed by the preaching of the Word. The pastor is very nice and friendly.” In other words, on the surface, everything sounds ok to me … you are blessed and having a great time in this church.

And so, I ask the next question, “Why aren’t you talking to your pastor or church community about this problem you are facing right now?” And almost always, the reasons given do not necessarily line up with the positive church experience described, ranging from “I don’t feel a connection or belonging,” to “I don’t think it would be right to discuss this with my church,” to “My church doesn’t teach us to handle such challenges.”

As I thought about this, I realised something about this rather common occurence: All these may have had a nice, positive church experience. But the main question that must be asked is, “Have these grown in the Lord at all?” Sadly, from what is shared and observed, I don’t think so. This may sound overly harsh, but it is the truth. The scary thing is that these can quite readily quote Scripture and spew Christian slogans as well as any other believer. But they go on living compromised lives, basking in the feel-good messages of God’s love and grace. They are deluded and deceived into thinking that as long as the church experience is positive, they are ok. NO, IT IS NOT!

I believe these are not isolated cases that I have come across in my limited sphere of ministry. Given today’s consumer culture that has crept into the Christian community, more and more are going to church for that feel-good factor. This explains the musical-church phenomenon that is so prevalent amongst believers as they scout for the best speaker, the message, the ambience, the experience, the goose bumps, the worship team, the children’s ministry, the youth ministry, and the menu for Sunday lunch. If they feel good about it, they stay. And if they don’t feel good, it’s time to be ‘led by the Spirit’ to look for another church.

In case anyone misunderstands me, or the point of this article (rant), I am not begrudging anyone of a great time in the community and fellowship of believers. As a pastor, I definitely do not wish for my congregation to be dragging their feet to church, or dreading another Sunday morning, or another sermon preached by yours truly (God forbid!). But more than just a positive church experience, my deepest desire is for each to grow and mature in Christ.

To this end, I am challenging and provoking us all to reflect and ponder more deeply what our faith is really about. Is it just about having a good time, being entertained and feeling good about ourselves? I think not! We have been saved from sin and judgment for a plan and a purpose! Hey, Jesus paid a high price for that! The spiritual journey is about growth and maturity towards the image of Christ. Along the way, we must be meaningfully engaged in the ministry and mission for the sake of Jesus and His Kingdom.

Don’t be fooled that everything is fine just because your church experience is fun and happy-clappy, or if bank accounts are full and life appears good. The Pharisees and the rich of Jesus’ day were all deceived into thinking they were the ones more favoured and blessed of God. We could as easily fall into the same trap.

All said, praise God if you are really enjoying church and Christian fellowship! But don’t stop there. Ponder the following questions, and allow the Holy Spirit to search deep to reveal what is truly in your heart …

  1. Is it primarily all about you, your emotions and your desires?
  2. Have you placed church experience above your relationship with God?
  3. Do you worship God for who He is, or only for what He can do for you?
  4. Is worship defined as a good song that brings tingles and tears, or a response to the awesomeness of God?
  5. Do you know and agree with the vision and mission of your church?
  6. Are you contributing, with God’s help, to the fulfilment of this vision and mission?
  7. Is it just between you and God, or are you connected with others who truly love Jesus?
  8. Are you willing to be held accountable, allowing others to speak the truth into your life?
  9. Is confession and repentance something you do regularly?
  10. Are you a taker or a giver?
  11. Do you ask “what’s in it for me?” or “who/what/where have you called me to serve, Lord?”
  12. Do you enjoy church only for yourself, or do you derive joy from serving God and others?
  13. Do you get upset and think of leaving when things don’t go your way in the church?
  14. Are you following the crowd, or truly being led by the Holy Spirit?
  15. Do you read your Bible? Do you know and abide in the Word?
  16. Are you a hearer and a doer of the Word? Are you applying all you are learning?
  17. Are you one who professes faith with no works to show for it?
  18. Do you only talk Christian but not live Christian?
  19. Are you growing and maturing spiritually?
  20. Are you pursuing a life of holiness by His grace, or presuming upon His grace with a life of compromises and excuses?
  21. Do you love Jesus as King and Lord of your life?
  22. Are you one of the multitude, or are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?
  23. Are you willing to surrender, to yield, to deny yourself, to take up your cross and to follow Jesus?

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!

Water from the Wells of Salvation

My impression of the book of Isaiah is that it is one l-o-n-g book of 66 chapters.  It surprised me this morning when I “stumbled” upon Isaiah 12.  My eyes fell on Isaiah 11 first and I began reading it, moving on to Isaiah 12.  I found myself drawn to the beautiful words of this “hymn of praise” (NKJV).

To my surprise, I discovered that there are only six verses in this chapter – the shortest chapter in the entire book!  And yet, it is packed with such wonderful truths and promises.  In these six short verses, you will find themes of praise, mercy, grace, comfort, strength, trust, salvation, joy, worship and exaltation!  What wonderful material for meditation!  What truths that bring joy, comfort and strength!

And in that day you will say:

“O LORD, I will praise You;
Though you were angry with me,
Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me.
Behold, God is my salvation,
I will trust and not be afraid;
‘For YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song;
He also has become my salvation.'”

Therefore with joy you will draw water
From the wells of salvation.

And in that day you will say:

“Praise the LORD, call upon His name;
Declare His deeds among the peoples,
Make mention that His name is exalted,
Sing to the LORD,
For He has done excellent things;
This is known in all the earth.
Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion,
For great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!”

My favourite line is found in verse 3 … “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  This is a promise for every child of God.  And yet, there are so many who are parched and dry.  These are either not aware of the wells, or have forgotten to draw daily from the rivers of living water.  I will be the first to admit that I often fall into the latter category.  In my busyness and hurriedness to do the work of the ministry, I find myself “dehydrated”.  My intentions may be good, desiring to serve the Lord and give my very best, but good intentions are not enough.  Over time, I dry up and burn out, even very possibly serving out of drudgery and not with joy and gladness.

Isaiah 12:3 is a reminder for me, as for many others I believe … “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  How refreshing!  How revitalising!  Verse 1 & 4 declare, “In that day you will say …”  That day can be today!  Lay hold of these six verses and the promises in them!

My brothers and sisters in Christ, and fellow ministers, may you be encouraged by this as you continue to serve the Holy One of Israel!

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

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

10 Keys to a Perfect Body

The number “10” always indicates a completion or a perfection in God’s divine time. How significant that I should be invited to speak on “Unity in the Church” on 10 October 2010 … 10.10.10! As I prepared, I entitled the message “The Perfect Man”, drawing 10 key points from Eph 4:7-16. But the night before, an idea popped into my head (definitely the Lord’s creative leading), and I promptly re-titled it, “10 Keys to a Perfect Body”.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would Jesus score? Quite obviously, the answer would be, “A perfect TEN!”, for He is the only One who is perfect. From Eph 2:15, we see that the Church is a new man in Christ. A man, as we know, has both a head and a body. And Jesus, our Lord, is the Head and we are His Body. Now, whilst the Head is perfect, we know that the Body is not exactly there yet. Yet, in Christ, the Personification of Perfection, the Body has been given the Potential of Perfection! Hallelujah! That all sounds great, but look at Church Unity (or disunity) and we quickly realise that we are still a long way off the mark. For reflection and examination, to church leaders and members alike, allow me to humbly present the following “10 Keys to a Perfect Body” …

1. Recognise the place of Grace wherever we are placed by His Grace

“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Eph 4:7

Each of us has been gifted and placed, not because we are good or deserving but entirely by His grace. As we make clear our place of calling, God graces us with a special favour to function well in that call. Some may be called to the frontlines and some to be in support of others. And to whom much is given, much is expected. According to the measure of Christ’s gift, grace is given that there may be no pressure on performance. Yet, this is no excuse for shoddy work, for in response to His grace, each will do the very best for the Master.

2. Understand and Utilise the Gifts

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, …” Eph 4:11

Even this one verse has drawn argument and contention within the Body. For sure, God has raised men and women who function strongly as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These are all nice titles, but may we remember that it is God who appoints and not individuals themselves. More critically, God gave these for the benefit and profit of the Body, and not for the advancement of personal ministries. Whilst not all may be called into these offices, all are called to be sent (apostolic), to declare His Word (prophetic), to bring good news (evangelistic), to shepherd and care (pastoral), and to teach, correct and direct! The Body is not about individualistic, spiritual superstars. Understanding and utilising these gifts require submission and co-operation within the Church.

3. Equip the Saints, Edify the Body

“ … for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, …” Eph 4:12

For the gifts to function and to be fully activated, the Body must be equipped accordingly. To equip means to make fully ready, to arrange, to set in order, to complete, to bring to perfection … that the work of the ministry may be done by all in the Body; not just a meagre 10% working with 90% criticising! Whilst a level of perfection is required for ministry, it is in and through ministry that the saints are further perfected. That’s how to Body is edified, strengthened and built up! It’s about the building of character and lives, not physical structures and programmes. Numbers are nice, but let’s be promptly reminded that they do not necessarily mean spiritual growth in the lives of the believers.

4. Focus on the Unity of the Faith

“… till we all come to the unity of the faith …” Eph 4:13a

If you haven’t already noticed, there is an attack on Christianity; not necessarily through physical persecution but through ideas, values and attitudes! Our faith is being shaped by consumer culture, the world has crept into the church, and pluralism has reduced Christianity into merely a system for moral living. Ask and interview Christians, and you will be sorely surprised by their lack of depth through shallow and superficial spiritual taglines! Whilst there is nothing wrong with personalising the faith, it has swung to an extreme of individualistic and self-centred faith. As such, there is no unity of the faith in the Body of Christ! Clearly, there is a strong need to go back to basics, to the fundamentals, to the “old ways” and the “ancient paths”. Our people must be taught again what the Church stands for and what she believes. Our pillars of the faith must be strengthened!

5. Strive for the Unity of the Knowledge of Jesus

“… and of the knowledge of the Son of God, …” Eph 4:13b

In the gospels, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” and more pointedly, “Who do you say that I am?” Similarly, there are many views about Jesus today. Interestingly, Jesus is not just everything to everyone, He’s anything to anyone! We all love and know Jesus as Saviour, Healer, Provider, Lover of my soul and Friend. But how about Lord and Master? The Church must strive for the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God, differentiating from just wanting to know what Jesus can do for me, to who He really is! We have to move on from mere intimacy in relationship to obedience to His mission and purpose! And to know Him is to be like Him. Like Paul, we too must strive for that perfection that is found only in Him.

6. Raise Spiritual Giants

“… to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, …” Eph 4:13c-14

Let us not be contented to stay spiritual infants but determine to grow into His fullness! Quite obviously, the enemy knows the problems he will have if every believer rises up as a spiritual giant. No wonder he keeps bringing deception, discouragement and distraction into the Body to keep us from growing and perfecting the Body. Which teaching is right? Which church trend is of the Lord? Should we embrace every spiritual move? Little children don’t know how to discern these, but will simply go with the flow and follow the crowd! Not that the churches are not filled with activity or offerings, but it is not about more head knowledge or more bible study programmes! The only safeguard against the wiles of the enemy is once again, the pursuit of the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of Jesus!

7. Speak Truth in Love

“… but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ…” Eph 4:15

While many Christians are all caught up with the “doing”, Paul shows us that our spiritual growth is best evidenced through the “speaking”. Is it not true that our speech often reveals or betrays us? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth shall speak! Our speech is a mark of Christian maturity (or the lack of). James 3:2 says, “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” Some are very quick to speak the truth but without love, bringing offence, hurt and bitterness. Conversely, some only want to speak love, but are totally unwilling to confront the situation with truth. Perfection in the Body is demonstrated through our ability to speak the truth in love!

8. Check the Joints

“… from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies,…” Eph 4:15b-16a

When Body is not aligned with the Head, it results in a lot of aches! But if we are to be aligned with Jesus, the Head, we must be aligned with His purposes and His mission. Yet often, there is a disconnect between our lives, the church and the Kingdom. Our agendas are simply not in alignment with God’s will and purposes for the Kingdom! No wonder we experience such discomfort and pain. To be aligned with Jesus also means to be aligned with His Word. Instead, we tend to learn Christian truths and concepts in parts, and then mix and match these according to how we desire, taking things out of context. More discomfort and pain! Then there is the misalignment between leadership and the congregation. If we are all truly aligned with Jesus and with one another, do we have the same heart and the same mind? Are we willing to put petty differences aside for the sake of the Body? Are we willing to give up personal ground and rights for the greater good of the Kingdom? Or do we harbour hurt and unforgiveness in the Body? Only when the above points are addressed and put back in place will the joints begin the hold the Body together and enable it to move with purpose and direction.

9. Work Effectively

“… according to the effective working …” Eph 4:16b

All said, there is work to be done but it is must be done effectively through the effective working of God’s power. In other words, it must not be working for working’s sake or doing ministry simply for the sake of serving in the church. These may be needful but not necessarily effective. Instead of relying on our own strength, we have to learn to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. This same power that raised Jesus from the dead will also bring life to our dead works. Only the Holy Spirit can empower the Word, bring new hope into situations, change and transform lives! Is it not scary that the reliance on ourselves, our methods, our know-how’s and our tradition can all render the Spirit’s power ineffective?

10. Make It Your Business to bring Growth

“… by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Eph 4:16c

Finally, we have come full circle to where we first began our journey. The first point challenges us to recognise how each of us has been called and placed by His amazing grace. And with the measure that has been given to us, we are now expected to do our share. If not, grace would have been given and received in vain. Clearly, it is pointless to go through these 10 keys and not do anything about it. It would just be another great concept and teaching, but nothing is going to happen! Everyone knows that you don’t get a perfect body by just sitting down, surfing the net or watching TV. It’s time get off, get up and get on with some solid spiritual workout! Growth, unity and perfection depend on each and every one of us to work out what God has already worked in. But remember, don’t go it alone. Instead, stand on the Word and rely on the Holy Spirit “by which every part does its share.” Don’t keep waiting for others. Make it your business to bring growth to the Body.

“Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” Heb 6:1-2 (emphasis mine)

Out With The Ten Commandments?

I can understand when a preacher cautions against an over zealousness in the keeping of the Law.  That tantamounts to an attainment of righteousness through works which can eventually end up either in self-righteousness or condemnation.  We are, after all, no longer under the law, but are now under grace (Rom 6:14 – a favourite verse of extreme gracers).  As such, “we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not the oldness of the letter (Rom 7:6)”, “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:6)”.  I have no problems with this and would readily say a loud “amen”.

BUT for the same preacher to openly declare that when churches teach the Ten Commandments as a pulpit series, they are in effect, killing their congregations across the weeks ……. now, that I’ve got a huge problem with?!?!  It just doesn’t sit well with me at all.  Let me add that in support of his stand that the Law must now be done away with, he convincingly paints a picture that the Law is bad and ugly.  That’s not what the Bible says!  On the contrary, we are told that the Law  is holy, just and good (Rom 7:12).

Yes, the Law does bring death, but that’s because it brings an awareness of sin; and the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).  Read in context, and with proper understanding, it is not the Law that kills, but sin.  Paul emphasises so clearly in Rom 7:7, “Is the law sin? Certainly not!”.  It is sin, taking advantage of the Law, that deceives me and by it kills me! (Rom 7:11)  Let’s get it straight once and for all … it is sin that is bad and ugly, and sin that kills.  Not the Law!

When Paul says that we have been delivered from the Law, what he means is that we have been delivered from the penalty of the Law.  This penalty or curse is operative when the righteous requirements of the Law are not completely and satisfactorily fulfilled.  Jesus came and died for that very purpose … to redeem us from the curse of the Law (Gal 3:13).

Does it mean I no longer need to keep the Law?  Well, yes, not in the Mosaic sense, on the outward according to the flesh.  But, no, for now, I need to keep another law – the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, according to the Spirit, one that is inward but manifests itself outward through love, for the law is fulfilled in and through love (Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10).

Sounds nice.  But how do I know if my understanding of love is biblically-defined and not Hollywood-influenced or societally-driven?

Simple.  I read the Bible and see God’s righteousness requirements in and through His commandments given to His chosen people … the Law*.  The key difference is that I now have the illumination and guidance of the Holy Spirit to teach and guide me into all this truth.  I don’t strive to keep the Law according to the flesh for I will fail time and time again.  Instead, I strive to live it according to the Spirit allowing Him to change me from the inside out, with the full assurance that when I do mess up (and that happens quite a lot), there is no condemnation in Christ for He has already paid the price for me at Calvary!  Not that I deserve it one bit, but because He has already made that provision … not just for me, but for everyone who would believe in His precious name.  That’s grace!

Let us recognise that the problem is not found in our contentions between law and grace.  Instead, it is found in our constant struggle between walking according to the Spirit and walking according to the flesh (that’s another topic for another article another time).

So, before anyone throws out the Ten Commandments and proceeds to rip out the entire Law from the Bible (since it’s no longer needed and makes for easier carrying to church and back), pause and think for a while.  Be a noble Berean (Acts 17:11); not just receiving the word (any word!) with all readiness, but to also check out the Scriptures for a consistent and an accurate understanding, allowing the Holy Spirit to bring revelation and conviction.

*Think about this … the essence of the Law of Moses and the Law of the Spirit are one and same … they are both from God … holy, just and good!