Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Sign of Jonah

Will we be satisfied if we are only given the sign of Jonah today? The people of Jesus’ time were asking for miracles and signs to prove that Jesus is the Son of God. But Jesus was not willing to do so. He was not afraid that He would lose His popularity if He didn’t. He was even prepared that some of His disciples would leave Him. Why is this so?
Jesus was looking for disciples who would build their faith on Him and Him alone! This faith must be hinged on the death and the resurrection of Jesus. This is the only sign of Jonah that Jesus revealed. We may be going in and out of the church every week, but what is our faith hinged on?
Some build their faith on miracles and signs. While God still performs miracles today, it is not the basis of our faith. Will we still be zealous for God if we do not see signs and wonders? God need not choose to work through miracles and signs every time. He can be silently working in other inconspicuous ways.
Some build their faith on biblical numerology and symbology. There are people who get so excited when the preacher talks about numerology and symbology in the Bible. Sometimes I doubt if there are elements of superstition in this. While numbers and symbols play an important part in the Bible, their interpretations must never be over-emphasized. There is always a chance of subjectivity in them. These interpretations can encourage us about the reliability of the Bible and the character of God, but they should not become the tenets of our faith.
Some build their faith on answered prayers. Do we always expect God to say yes to our prayers? What if God answers our prayers in another way? Will we be disappointed? There’s a saying that prayers change things. But I tend to think that prayers change us even more. Through prayers, God is aligning our thoughts to His, before He grants us the desires of our hearts. Just imagine what would happen if God answers all our prayers according to our wilful wishes. Therefore, never build our faith on answered prayers according to our wishes, God is faithful no matter how He answers our prayers.
Some build their faith on prophecies. People get very excited when the so-called prophets prophesied about the revival of their lands. Churches organise lots of revival meetings to hype-up their churches. People get so busy and so excited but yet the irony is that many end up not spending personal quiet time with God. They can end up building a shallow spiritual life based on excitement and activities generated by prophecies. The strange thing about some of these prophecies is that they were not even coupled with repentance. In God’s message of revival, there is always a message of repentance before revival comes. But we often only hear the good news without the bad news in these prophecies. This is worrying, especially when a huge number of people flock to respond and proclaim Jesus as their Saviour. While I am glad to see people coming to know Jesus, I wonder if we are building some kind of pseudo-Christianity. Acceptance of Jesus must always come with repentance. It is not just about receiving Jesus as Saviour but also as Lord.
Some build their faith on prosperity. Some people receive Jesus because of the good things they can receive from God, particularly wealth. This group of people believe that if we believe in God, God would also bless us with the riches of the world. They believe that they are poor because they have too little faith. But the truth is that both poor and rich can become Christians and not every Christian would become rich. I do not think we can say that Jesus or His disciples were rich. In fact, they were poor. Their riches were not of this world but of the world to come! They are blessed because they would inherit the kingdom of God. If we are poor, it is all right. It does not mean that we are more sinful or lacking in faith, it is the boundary the Lord portions for us. 
Some build their faith on their leaders. Leaders can become the objects of our faith if we are not careful, especially prominent or charismatic leaders. While many of these may be great leaders, they can become the idols of the church. Some leaders are very charismatic and have the tendency to draw people through their inspirational talks. Believers can end up following blindly what the leaders say and do. They end up taking the leaders’ words as gospel truths, usually without checking and examining them with the teachings of God. Perhaps the leaders are just so good convincing the people using the words of God. No one can detect how they have misused the words of God. May God grant us the discernment. While leaders are appointed by God, they are not God!
Some build their faith on friends. Most of us come to know Jesus through our friends. We also tend to stay in our church because of our friends. But what if our friends are all gone? Will we still believe in God and worship Him every Sunday? While friends are very important to help us build a sense of belonging, our faith cannot be built on them. Each of us has to build our own faith on God while living in a community as a family of God. There can be no substitute.
Jesus is the Rock. All believers are called to build our faith on Him. While we may be worshipping God, we need to examine ourselves if we are just going after the emotional hype. We may become self-centred and self-serving individuals as a result. Idols within us are often more scary than those without because they are unseen enemies hidden in us. They might be left undiscovered if we do not spend time to examine ourselves. We might end up deceiving ourselves thinking that we are holy and growing in the Lord. Never just look at the external, look deep within and build that inner being God has called us to be. Be satisfied if we have no other signs but just the sign of Jonah alone. That is enough to save us.

Change While Young

We are all called to transform into the image of God. However, how fast we change depends very much on our response to God. It depends on whether we are humble enough to learn. As we age, rightfully we should be more attuned to God and sensitive to our sins. Our transformation process should also speed up. But this is usually not the case, the process actually slows down instead for many of us. Why is this so?
We change what is easy to change first. We usually experience the greatest change in the initial days of our faith. There are many areas we need to change and they are easy to change. But after some time, we are stuck with those stubborn habits and sins. It becomes more difficult to forgo and change as a result.
We may have more knowledge and experience as a Christian. As we grow older, we become wiser. We learn from our experience and pick up new knowledge too. These knowledge and experience should help us, but they could also stumble us. It all depends on our attitude. There are many occasions when people become prideful. They become too confident of themselves because of their knowledge and past experiences. They think that they are always right based on their judgment. As such, they become less mouldable by God. This is an area that church leaders have to beware. We can become too confident of our strategies, our management techniques and our biblical knowledge that we squeeze God out of our picture. In the end, we end up building an anthropocentric church.
We have entrenched beliefs and practices about God. Over the years, we form what we think is right about God. There might also be certain practices that are peculiar to us. Well, if we have a strong theology, getting all these beliefs and practices firmed up is good. But more often, we have a syncretic worldview. We mix our current beliefs with our old beliefs. We apply some of our old practices, and even superstitions into our current practices. Due to the fact that they are entrenched in our belief system, it is difficult to change even if we attend church or Sunday school every week. We see this very often among the elderly who come to know the Lord at an old age. We can also see this among some church leaders. When I was attending the seminary, many pastors just argue for their own position and were not willing to consider or accept other views. I think we should always keep our minds open to learn more about theology, especially in a seminary. There are still many things we do not know about God and we should learn from one another.
Dear family, let us should seek to be transformed by God when we are young. Learn to respond to God and do not always react defensively toward Him. Do not let our knowledge and experiences become a stumbling block. Always reevaluate, renew and review. As we get older, stay open and humble. There are things we can learn from the younger ones and be discipled by them. Do not see yourself as someone who has attained something. Learn to appreciate the grace of God in your lives. 

Lost in Meritocracy

Singapore is a city that is built upon meritocracy. As the name implies, if we gain merits for the company or organization and we would be rewarded accordingly. This is the law of cause and effect. This is what the Bible says about us reaping what we sow.
But there is a flaw with meritocracy. It does not address the need for character. While meritocracy causes us to strive to become better, perform better, it also causes people to be driven and competitive. It causes us to be ‘kiasu’ (afraid of losing out) in the strife for more productivity and efficiency. As such, people can become over concerned about what they want to get rather than what kind of person they are becoming. As a result, the end can become more important than the means. The social cost is therefore the loss of character. We become people who are self-centred and individualistic.
We can become a First World country within the shortest time, but we may also have lost ourselves in this fast-paced society. We must be careful lest we become numbed, indifferent individuals. Let us build meritocracy on character.

Living As Aliens

Recently there has been much debate about foreign workers in Singapore. Many Singaporeans are worried that foreign workers would take their jobs resulting in stiffer competition in the job market. They also complain about foreign workers having bad manners and behaviour. Their conclusion is to have more domestic helpers and professional workers but less unskilled labourers.
These perceptions disturbed me. Firstly, these foreign workers are taking up jobs that Singaporeans are not willing to do. Usually these jobs are strenuous and require the workers to be under the hot sun for long hours. These jobs are also considered ‘dirty’ or ‘low-class’ to Singaporeans. Without the foreign workers, Singaporeans would not take up these jobs anyway. But without these workers we would be in deep trouble. Not only would Singapore become a dirtier place, many companies would also have to shut down due to lack of unskilled workers. Our overall economy would be affected ultimately. I just do not understand why we think that these labourers are taking up our jobs when they are doing things we do not want to do.
With regards to manners and behaviour, it is not only their problem. In fact, I see many Singaporeans who have worse behaviour than them. We need to understand that they come from another culture and they are really very tired from their work that is usually 7 days a week, more than 12 hours a day. I think some of us have become less accommodating. Did Singapore not start from a nation of immigrants? But yet we are able to develop to what we are today and now we do not feel that we were former immigrants before. Does this not say something about how people can be transformed and inculturated if they were to stay here for a longer time? I feel that some foreign workers are even more ‘Singaporean’ than us today.
There is still a deeper issue for Christians. We have forgotten that we are aliens on earth. We have become so comfortable and have earned so much for ourselves that we think that this earth is our home. We have become so possessive of the things we earn that we are not willing to let go. We think that we deserve to have them because it is our right. But the Bible tells us that though we are in this world, we are not of this world. This world is only a temporary place. Nothing here belongs to us. We are just stewards. We only have privileges not rights. We are to live as aliens here. We are just passersby. Do not hold on to this world so tightly. As aliens on earth ourselves, we should learn to treat the aliens in this land rightfully. Many of them have the chance to know God because they came here to work. Let us humble ourselves to love and accept these foreign workers in this land. Remember that they too, are loved by God.

Engaging the Pulpit

We hear sermons every week. But how much of them get into us? Can we remember them? Have we applied them and let the word of God transform our lives? In the first place, were we listening to the sermons? Or did we let the word of God fall onto the ground without allowing it to impact our lives? Were we busy checking and replying our emails on our mobile phones? Or thinking of places to have a sumptuous lunch after service? Were we renewed by the sermon because God spoke to our hearts or refreshed by the sermon time because we had taken a “power” nap while the sermon was delivered? Don’t waste the time while the sermon is being preached, let us engage the pulpit.
How do we engage the pulpit? There are people who like to take a lot of notes during sermons. Personally, I find it not too helpful. We lose our retention power when we focus too much on writing. Furthermore, it gives us a false assurance that we have the sermon notes with us. We think that we could always refer to it later. But in actual case, how many of us will make the effort to go through those notes again? We may “safekeep” them forever. It is better to fully concentrate on listening the sermon. I suggest that we just take down the main points of the sermon. It is even better if we can formulate our own learning points from the sermon we hear. Jot down the key principles and values that God is speaking to us. Then try to recall these points later during lunch. It would be easier to internalize the sermon this way.
A point has to be remembered while we are listening to a sermon. It is not wise to take in everything that was preached. The Bible tells us to examine the Scriptures and test every spirit. With false preaching so prevalent, we need to be careful about what we hear too. Listening to preachers with big names do not necessarily mean that their preaching is correct. There are people who preach the prosperity gospel or a gospel that advocates grace without repentance. There are also those that proof text or preach out of context. There are also those who are better at telling jokes and conduct inspiration talks than preaching the Word of God. All these things are happening and we must beware. The Bible tells us that the days will come when people would preach what our itching ears want to hear. As such, we must listen with the help of the Holy Spirit so that we will be able to discern what is right or wrong. Our hearts and our minds must be constantly engaged with the preaching. We must learn to think critically and internalize the truths. At the same time, we need to filter those that are not biblical. Being a good workman of God is not just the responsibility of the preacher, the listeners must play a part too.

Name and Title

There was a well-known preacher who was great in exposition and preaching. People around the region would invite him to speak very often. But he did not believe in one thing: there is no need for ordination. He believed that he had the mandate from God and anointed by God. To be ordained or not is just a matter of title. But his view changed one day when he went to the States. When he went to the States, he realized that the church leaders were looking down on him because he was just a preacher and not a Reverend. He was upset that the church of Jesus Christ was so concerned about the title. So after his trip, he decided to get ordained and not only so, he also ordained as many pastors as possible so that they also have Reverend as their title.
We may laugh at this story but this is how the church is operating today. They go by name, title and denomination. They will see if you have some big name and any Reverend attached to your title. They will see what denomination you are from and whether you are a member if the church. If you are a Reverend in one denomination and you decided to cross over to another, well, you may even get your title erased and start as a preacher again. The independent churches are more accepting perhaps.
We must be careful not to emphasize too much on our name, title, denomination and church membership. It can bring division in the body of Christ. We are all one body and we share the same baptism and Lord. Our name, title, denomination and membership just tells us the authority, responsibility and history that we are entrusted with. There is nothing to be boastful about that we should feel that we are superior to others. Let all churches unite in Christ’s name.

Responsibility As Reward

When we are faithful to the Lord, He would often bless us with more. We would often expect these blessings to come in terms of more wealth or more smooth sailing life. But usually we do not get what we expect. What we find ourselves in is more work and responsibilities. Some people get disappointed as a result.
Perhaps we have the wrong expectations from God. The blessings of God do not necessarily come in terms of the world’s riches. This may be what we expect but this may not happen all the time. But it does happen especially when we are faithful in the workplace (but even promotion comes with more work). When we are serving God in the kingdom, the reward is often more responsibilities. When God rewards us with another five talents for our faithfulness in investing the five talents we have, He is rewarding us greater stewardship. Those who are faithful with little would be faithful with much. God would also entrust them with more. But here is the problem, we want more riches as reward but not responsibilities. We are fearful in fact because it would mean that we would have more work. We have more people to lead and more resources to manage. We also have less time for ourselves and our family. We see all these as “costs” rather than rewards. Some of us have to endure the criticisms of others even. This is where wrong expectations lead to disappointment. The rewards from God have become costs and burdens to us.
The truth is this: when we are faithful in the Lord, we would play a greater role in the kingdom of God. This means greater responsibilities. Rather than seeing it as a cost or something to fear, why not take it as a honour? Perhaps, it is time we change our perspective. Stop thinking blessings in terms of monetary terms only, this is incomplete. There’s greater blessings when God entrusts His kingdom to us. Many people also fear this because of the fear of being responsible for lives. They know that following up on those lives is hard work. But take heart, God will help us. If faithful people are not taking charge of their lives, is it not more worrying to hand them over to someone who is unfaithful?
Like it or not, God is in the transforming business. He wants us to be part of this work. Receive the reward with honour rather than running away. A faithful worker will be a leader someday. This is a natural law in the kingdom of God.