Pray For Those Who Are Teachers of the Word

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Yes, I am openly, boldly and unashamedly asking for your prayers.

Not that I am not aware of the immense responsibility that teachers bear but the weight and severity hit me this week as I prepared to preach a message entitled, “Keys of the Kingdom”. It dawned upon me afresh that teachers of the Word can actually make it or break it for believers.

Consider Jesus’ extremely strong words for the bible study leaders of His day. To these experts of the law, He said, “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.” (Luke 11:42) What we teach matters.

In this case, these teachers prevented people (God’s people, no less) from entering into all God has for them. That said, this does not mean that we simply leave the door wide open for anyone. Keys do not only open doors, they shut them too! Today’s messages of love, grace and freedom are indeed welcoming, even if these are taught at the expense of holiness, righteousness and faithfulness. If we would carefully observe the whole counsel of God through His Word, we would see many instances where believers are warned of being shut out and not being able to inherit the kingdom of God. But no one likes to teach these things! For one, it’s not easy to declare such truths; and for another, you won’t be very popular.

As I delivered the message last night, I kept reminding myself, “Stay close to the Word. Preach from the text. Refer to the words of Jesus.” It’s not about my opinion at all. I want to teach from the Word and allow the Holy Spirit to convict hearts. One might argue that it is a matter of interpretation and it’d be hard to fault that challenge. However, that does not solve anything at all. The question is still, “Which teacher has the interpretation that is closest to the heart of the King and His Kingdom?” Did I teach accurately or inaccurately? Did I represent my King and Master adequately, or not? Once again, what we teach matters; especially when it concerns matters of eternal significance.

So, please pray for me, and for all who teach the Word of God. It is an awesome privilege that carries with it a tremendous responsibility. Thank you.

“My brethren, let not many of you become teachers,
knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” James 3:1

 

What A Weekend of Expectation and Empowerment!

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When we closed our Encounter Weekend last year, I declared the number, “120!” Then, I didn’t know that that would be the theme for this year’s Encounter Weekend. As I sought the Lord, it became very clear to me that it would be “120: EXPECTATION & EMPOWERMENT”. In my heart, I asked the Lord for one hundred and twenty participants. Over this weekend of 29-30 March, with registrants and guests, we numbered 106. Thankfully, Acts 1:15 records that it was “about a hundred and twenty”. For sure, God is specific but it is not about specifics but the significance of what He would do when His people gather with expectation.

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The moment we started on Saturday morning, God began to move. After making some introductory comments, the Spirit led me on a different track and we broke out into song and into praying in tongues. After that, the Lord said that what we had just experienced was only a foretaste! And indeed, it was. Across the next sessions of praise, worship and teaching, His manifest presence was so strong. We’ve had great singing before but this time, it was very different. The voices rose up to the heavens as every person hungered and thirsted for more of God! And He readily obliged!

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DSC05949It was my turn to bring the Word on Saturday night. After another tremendous time of worship led by Ps Jun, I felt that we should continue singing and that’s what we did. I stayed on the keyboards and we sang love songs to Jesus! This really surprised me because I have never done anything like this before. It would another 20mins of spontaneous worship before I got up to share the Word. I taught about BIBLICAL HOPE and how that should encourage believers to grow towards perfection and to remain faithful in ministry regardless the pressures and challenges of this age. Our expectation is not based on wishful thinking but a Hope that is certain and fully assured according to God’s unchanging Word.

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When the people responded to the altar call, the Holy Spirit moved so powerfully! Many experienced God’s love and grace; some were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues for the very first time. Healing and restoration also took place. Words of prophecy and knowledge were released. And even as I report this, I must make it very clear that it was all God’s doing by the power of the Holy Spirit. I went on and on and on, and at times was physically tired, but there was such a liberty and joy as I ministered under the anointing. I have learnt not to force or push anyone to fall. Yet, it is extremely exciting when God moves! You know it is the Spirit when you lay hands and pray but nothing happens; and the moment you walk away from the person, he/she falls under the power! Awesome!!! It’s all about Jesus!

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I give thanks for the co-labour of the other speakers in Rev Francis, Ps Linda and Bro Jacob. I have always been amazed and remain amazed at how God leads us all separately and yet every message is connected. The times of worship led by Ps Jun, Bro George, Sis Trisha and SIs Linda, together with Ps Andrew who led the Morning Prayer, were simply electrifying. I believe the angels sang with us too. Praise God too for the intercessors who prayed for this weekend. For sure, all our prayers have been answered by the Lord!

When we ended yesterday, some participants stepped forward to testify. It was so encouraging to hear of how God ministered to each of them personally! God knows every person and every need. And in His presence, He addressed everything for them. Our God is so good and faithful! As each participant left yesterday, they brought back a fresh encounter with the Lord. I am praying that they will learn to keep it fresh in their hearts and allow the Lord to take them to the next level. As with all encounters, it does not signal an end but only a beginning.

What would the next Encounter Weekend hold for CVSOM, I wonder? I don’t really know but it will be the 8th Encounter Weekend; and 8 is always about “new beginnings”.

I didn’t just take my hands off the plough; I burnt it.

By now, it should be open knowledge that I have stepped down from being a pastor in a church. Although it has been exciting and I am looking forward to what’s ahead, this move has also caused me to ponder the words of Jesus in Luke 9:62; or more accurately, my impression of what He said. In stepping down, have I taken my hands off the plough? And if I have, am I thus considered unworthy of the kingdom?

To answer these questions, I need to consider if Jesus did really say what I think He said in the first place. Impressions of biblical passages are convenient but can be rather dangerous too. If I suppose that something was said but in fact was not, I will end up mis-interpreting and thereby mis-applying it for myself; or even worse, for someone else. The right thing to do as a student of the Word is to check the Scriptures to see what this verse actually says and if there is a truth I need to heed. That was precisely what I did and this is what I found:

But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62

To make His point of complete devotion and focus, Jesus used the Old Testament imagery of Elijah’s call of Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-21). The context of Luke 9:57-62 was discipleship or following Jesus; not the relinquishing or change of a position in ministry. There was no reference to the taking off of hands at all. Instead, the caution was that one should not look back when a decision has been made to follow Jesus and to serve Him. There it is: plain and simple, without any need to jump through hermeneutical hoops.

So, the more accurate question to ask is, “Have I looked back?” Humbly, my answer would be an emphatic “NO!” Since the Lord called me on 8 July 2000 to follow Him , there has been no turning back. When Elijah issued the call, Elisha “took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen’s equipment.” Elisha cooked the oxen over a BBQ pit made up of the yoke and plough. In our language today, Elisha gave up any notion of Plan B. Similarly, when I stepped out of the family business, which was subsequently closed and liquidated, I knew I made the decision to rely totally on my Lord and Master, Jesus, and to do His bidding.

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Nothing has changed. When I said that I would follow Jesus, I meant it. When He first called, Serene and I had only two children. When I finally stepped out, the number had grown to four. Today, we have seven children. We are still following and serving Him and not looking back at all. We have no plan B. In a sense, I did take my hands off the plough … of my own agenda. Not only did I take my hands off that plough, I burnt it.

Today, I plough for Jesus and His Kingdom, always remembering that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt 11:30). He determines which field I plough in and for how long. I am thankful for all I have experienced and learnt in the past ten years; and especially the lives I have been privileged to impact. Today, I am being moved to a different field to begin a new work. I will not and must not be distracted. I don’t look back but keep my eyes fixed on Him, the Author and Finisher of my faith.

So, does that make me fit or worthy for the Kingdom now? I don’t know. But that’s not for me to determine. The words of Luke 17:10 come to mind: “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” Indeed, my part is only to serve Him as faithfully as I can as enabled by His grace. Jesus has already given me His all. Can I give Him any less? How I shall stand before Him when we finally meet, only Jesus knows.

All said, I am thankful for this little episode because God uses every situation to teach me and to open my eyes to His truth that sets free. As it has been demonstrated – and I have been guilty of it too – we must be careful not to use the Word of God based on an impression. This is indeed a good reminder to always get back to His Word to ascertain if what is said, quoted or preached has been done so accurately and contextually. And when rightly handled, the Word of God must always have the last and final say in our lives and ministry as we seek to follow and serve Him wholeheartedly as His disciples and servants.

Amen?

The God Who Sees

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When I first discovered the power of doing word studies, I took great pains to check the meaning of each and every word in a verse, not wishing to miss anything that may be hidden in the Scriptures, waiting to be uncovered by a diligent student of the Word. I sought to be that diligent student and the discoveries have been more than satisfying and totally rewarding. Here is one such instance of my little gold dig around the Scriptures.

“The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.” Psalm 33:13-15 (emphasis mine)

I was reading Psalm 33 and noticed something in vv13-15. In the NKJV, there are two “looks”. Instinctively, led the Spirit I believe, I reached for my Strong’s Concordance and Hebrew Lexicon. In those days, I didn’t have the benefit of a bible software. Tracing the Hebrew root to have a better idea of the nuance of this word, the first “look” refers to a general look or a broad scan, albeit one with consideration and regard. The second “look”, with no apparent difference in English, denotes a gaze or a stare. It is a much longer and a more intense look, presumably to gain enough information that a purpose might be facilitated.

With this deeper understanding, I read the verse again and it literally blew my mind. Employing Hebrew poetic prose, the writer repeats his point but with greater emphasis and focus. From where He is, God looks and sees all. That is something we expect of a God who is all-knowing. But that general cursory glance across humanity doesn’t remain one that is impersonal, cold and detached. Not at all! As if adjusting His telescopic lens, He zooms in and goes for a close-up view of each and every individual. This is no longer a broad scan of what’s happening on Planet Earth. It is a loving, caring gaze that looks intently into each heart, situation and detail!

There is an account in the Bible about an Egyptian maid named Hagar. Her mistress Sarai became jealous of her, treated her harshly, causing her to flee into the wilderness. Hagar thought that no one would understand her plight because no one saw how wrongly she had been treated. She was wrong. Because God looked, and He looked, and He acted. God saw her in her broken-ness and confusion, ministered to her and blessed her. She didn’t really know who this God was but she gave Him a name, the very first name of God ever mentioned in the Bible: You-Are-The-God-Who-Sees (Gen 16:13). To mark that place of revelation, she named the well where she encountered God, Beer Lahai Roi which means “Well of the One Who lives and sees me” (Gen 16:14). This is really significant considering Hagar’s exposure to the many gods in Egypt. Unlike these that she had grown up with, this God is alive and sees!

Before there was ever anything close to Face Recognition Software, God was already identifying each person and knowing everyone by name. Yes, my friend. God is looking at you. He knows exactly where you are and how you are doing. He knows your every need and He sees your every tear. Yes, God looks and sees everything but He is not spying on you or to catch you out that He might knock you on the head the moment you veer from His ways. On the contrary, He loves you and desires that you get on the right path that leads to life eternal through Jesus Christ. He looks so He can find us in our loneliest moments. He looks so He can reach us and restore us. He looks so He can lead, guide and direct us. How awesome is that?

Psalm 135:15-17 says, “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; Eyes they have, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear; nor is there any breath in their mouths.” I am so glad I do not worship a god like that. Instead, I have a God who sees, who watches over me and looks upon me with love and care; and I wouldn’t trade that for anything else.

The Age of Itching Ears

If you have not read Charisma Magazine’s article, Is Joseph Princes Radical Grace Teaching Biblical?, you should.

As I read it, the first thought that came into my mind was, “I really should learn how to write like this.” The author was gracious both in his agreement as well as his disagreement with certain points. To address the points he took issue with, I felt that he laid it out very clearly, and biblically, encouraging the reader to consider what may have been left out in Prince’s teaching, whether intentionally or not.

That said, you should also read the comments at the end of the article. I glanced it yesterday and was very surprised at how some had responded. This prompted me to post on my Facebook wall, “I am totally convinced that you can be as hermeneutically accurate and people will still hear and believe what they want to hear and believe.”

This is really unfortunate given the great honour we have as God’s people to have the Holy Scriptures as our guide and standard. It is appalling to note how many totally disregard the authority of Scriptures whilst claiming to live by it. Certain doctrines are just so way out and yet no one seems to be bothered by that as long as “it works for me” or “I have been blessed”. And don’t even try to mention the four-letter word … HELL (what were you thinking of?). Anyway, I should not be at all surprised for this condition has already been prophesied in 2 Tim 4:3-4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”

Finally, as much as I appreciated the writer’s diplomacy, there is one point I am not in agreement with. Despite the challenges and inconsistencies pointed out, he suggests that “Destined to Reign” would be good for the new believer. I beg to differ. Simply, new believers are totally unable to discern what is right and what is not! They can’t tell what to take in and what to throw out. To this end, although it does contain certain foundational aspects, it can also contribute to a very weak foundation that will in turn affect the believer’s theological perspective and spiritual walk. And especially in the urgency of the times and the seasons, coupled with the environment and worldviews we have today, it would not be right to expose new believers to such teachings.

In conclusion, I am fully aware that no one person has the full revelation of Scriptures. This is why we must guard against spiritual pride and be humble and open to always learn from others. This does not mean we simply accept the parts the we like and discard those that do not sit well with us. Nor am I suggesting that we go all spiritual and irresponsibly use the highly-abused phrase “as the Spirit leads”. Instead, we must, as Paul exhorts young Timothy in 2 Tim 2:15, learn to rightly divide the word of truth that we may be found approved by God.

Preaching God’s Word: Fire and Hammer

Jeremiah VerseSometimes, one can get so busy in the ministry that it’s hard to discern if all you are doing is really what the Lord wants you to do. It is so easy for the many details that cry out for your attention to distract and deviate you from the call.

Last night (28 Feb 2013), I found myself asking, “Lord, am I doing what you have called me to do?” And immediately, the words He spoke to me years ago from the book of Jeremiah came to mind, “destroy and rebuild”. A while later, desiring to read the Word before retiring to bed, I picked up my Bible and it fell open to Jeremiah! And there it was, right before my very eyes …

“Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build up and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:9,10

To me, this is a very clear reminder from the Lord to keep doing what I have been doing. Over the years, He has shown me things from His Word. There are many wrong and inaccurate teachings circulating within the Body of Christ. The emphasis continues to be on the individual more than Jesus. Standards are lowered so that numbers can be maintained. The result is, sadly, mediocre Christianity.

And yet, it is not easy to teach the right thing. Many do not want to know it for they are happy in their comfort zones. And when they hear something tougher than they can bear, they either ignore it, reject it or justify it.

For sure, this call to preach the Word without compromise is a tough one! That said, how can one build up if wrong foundations are not pulled down first? And to do this, mindsets must be broken and torn down, that new foundations can be laid. No wonder the Lord said to Jeremiah “Is not My word like a fire? And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” Jer 23:29

“Yes, it is, Lord. But do I have to be the one to bring such fire-and-hammer messages?” I found myself protesting, “The people prefer prophetic declarations, faith proclamations, third heaven experiences and repeated assurances of how loving and gracious a God you are. These attract the biggest crowds and collect the biggest offerings.” Honestly, at times, it’s no fun being the bearer of tough news. Selfishly, I wanted people to like me for encouraging them through inspirational messages. Secretly, I desired to be a best-selling author with my face on the cover sporting a big toothy grin.

That may be my preferred mode of operation, but like Jeremiah, I find that “His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back but I could not.” (Jer 20:9) Each time I’ve tried to tone it down, to deliver a more pleasant message, I’ve found that I could not. It has been most frustrating, to say the least. Trust me, I’ve checked my heart for pride and self-righteousness over and over again for I sure have no intention to be the proverbial Pharisee!

And so, preach it, I must. As the saying goes, “I didn’t write the message, I’m only the mailman.” Obediently, I will be God’s arsonist and demolition man. Patiently, I will pour into lives that these may be raised up as true sons and daughters of God, built up as trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord!

Related posts: Him We Preach; Keep Preaching: I Am With You

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