Reflections after my mum’s passing on to glory about life and death.
The reading of the Word is a very important discipline in our spiritual growth – often referred to as feeding. Let me first established why the Word, i.e. the Bible, is referred to as spiritual food. In John 6:48, Jesus declared the second time after v.35, “I am the bread of life.” This life refers to the spiritual life. If we examine the context of the book of John, in John 1:14 the relationship between Jesus and the Word was established, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.“ So in summary:
Word –> Flesh (Jesus) –> Bread of Life (spiritual food)
Measure of Maturity
The analogy of a new believer as an infant taking milk, a softer spiritual diet can be found in 1 Cor 3:2 and 1 Pet 2:2. I find Heb 5:13-14 an interesting verse on the type of diet signifying the growth stage of the person, “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” What is the word of righteousness? Just like how we have length and height measurements for babies & children to chart their growth, the answer to this question is key to knowing how to gauge spiritual maturity. Righteousness is lived out in relation to others around us as it deals with how we treat others – our speech and actions. It is a practice, i.e. doing, with a constant choice of good and evil. So the measure of maturity is the outworking of the Word. Just like a child, it is not the measure the quantity of milk and food it takes to gauge healthy growth but the processing & assimilation of the intake to the body.
As the term underweight suggests, this condition means there is insufficient or no food intake. This describes the spiritual condition of a child of God who never or hardly feeds on the Word. I have friends who will take photos of mouth-watering food but never take a bite of it due to various reasons. The photo was for social media, i.e. to show others, and not for personal consumption. We can have food laid out before us, but if we do not put it into our mouths, chew and let it go into our body, the food has nothing to do with us. If I read the Bible out of obligation or sat through a church sermon glazed and dazed, without the Scriptures getting into my system, I am not feeding. As you can imagine, in such a situation, my spiritual weight will be like a stick figure, frail and weak. Perhaps so malnutrition for some that the stick man cannot even stand.
This is another extreme. It is not difficult to overeat in Singapore, both in the physical and perhaps in the spiritual too. There is no shortage of teachings, preachings, and testimonies, be it through churches, online resources, and/or seminar/conferences. Most of us have more books, CDs, MP3s then we can keep up. We keep stuffing ourselves thinking that this will help us grow. Yes, to a certain extent. Just like our physical bodies, any amount over and above what our body needs, overfeeding will first lead to indigestion. Bloatedness with gas with discomfort and the food that is supposed to be good for us becomes a burden to our system. I am reminded of Paul’s wisdom 1 Cor 8:1b “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” I love NKJV’s translation “Knowledge puffs up”. It gives the image of gas and air, putting up a false image of being well-fed and perhaps to growth but the person is still as skinny as a stick figure.
Continual stuffing eventually leads to a build up of excessive nutrients and fats causing obesity. You need a big quantity of food for each meal and will starve if the intake does not match up. Yet this hunger is not healthy. In fact, this is killing the body. Spiritually this can be true too. You are still feeding and having a larger appetite for the Word than ever before. Without an active lifestyle and workout, the excess food becomes fats weighing us down that we cannot even walk or run properly, as good as a dead person without the intended use of the body. While feeding can be a very fulfilling process, sweat and burn it off so that you can take more to keep a healthy spiritual weight, light enough to sprint and run a marathon but enough fuel to keep the body in good shape for the long haul. May we all develop good and strong spiritual muscles by doing the teachings of the Word!
I leave you with the wisdom from James.
14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
“And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. ” – Luke 16:9 NASB
This verse has always been a challenge in understanding the heart of what Jesus was trying to get at as it looks contradictory to many of His teachings. The image of the command to “make friends by means of wealth of unrighteousness is what the prodigal son did. It is only the last week that the Holy Spirit helped me to finally understand what Jesus was driving at. I believe unrighteous wealth refers to worldly wealth rather than wealth that is gained by scrupulous means. Worldly wealth is unrighteous as they are not of God and they will not exist in the eternal kingdom of God.
It is interesting to note that Jesus just before this command states one attribute that His followers do not match up to the world – shrewdness. “…for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” – Luke 16:8b NASB. These were teachings based on the parable of the Unjust Steward who used his shrewdness to safeguard his own future after he was caught mismanaging his master’s wealth. He safeguarded himself by giving favors to make friends through his position as the steward at the expense of his master.
I see a parallel that Jesus is drawing, the earth bound servant versus the sons of light, i.e. believers. A servant who is concerned about his worldly future makes use of his limited time to ensure a life he wanted ahead. We as sons of light have an eternal future to look forward to and there are ways to lay up treasures in heaven while here on earth. Eternity definitely is a stronger cause of action than the less than 100 years of earthly life. If it is so, it does not make sense that the sons of light are not making full use of their worldly wealth that are given to them to lay up heavenly treasures.
Jesus implies in verse 9 that the heavenly treasures in this context are the friends gained through worldly wealth. I have read many commentaries on this verse for the second part “they will receive you into the eternal dwellings” and somehow the understanding did not sit within me completely although I can see where they are coming from. In some Bible translations, a footnote is used to explain “they” means “you”, referring to the believer who will enter into heaven.
Here’s my understanding of verse 9 after a whole lot of re-reading of the chapter, meditation and asking the Lord. “They” refers to the friends gained through worldly wealth. These friends are able to welcome the believer into heaven because they become believers themselves. The worldly wealth was a bait for a greater purpose – the Great Commission. The bait is used with genuine love for these friends and not selfish gains. The treasures in heaven is not worldly wealth but people whom we love in this world. This reminds me of Apostle Paul’s declaration that “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22b NASB
A word of caution was given by Jesus after this statement ending with two distinct choices – God or mammon. World wealth is not our master but Lord Jesus Christ. Worldly wealth is a tool given by the Lord to further His kingdom through us. Jesus is not giving us a negative example or a model to learn shrewdness through the parable. Instead He wants us to see the poverty of our intentional living on earth as compared to one who has only earthly goals. A sobering thought to consider with a warning to have God as god and not the tool of worldly wealth.
“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” – Luke 16:1-13
I pray that all of us have a company of friends in heaven waiting for us and we in turn wait for many more to join us!
“”Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.””Luke 6:46-49 NASB
There is a desire and cry for many to go deep with the Lord. Most, if not all, will consider reading and knowing the Word as priority to growing deep. It is a great starting point but definitely not an end. Otherwise it is no different from studying in a college and graduating with a certification after exams to test the student’s understanding and knowledge of the topic.
Key in verse 47: “Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them”
This is a description of the person who has a deep foundation. There is no secret here as to how this person built his deep and firm foundation. There are three action words – Come, Hear and Act. In Greek, they are in present continuous tense and should be read as:
“Everyone who is coming to Me and is hearing My words and is acting on them…”
Step 1 – Coming to God
Knowing the Word of God is only one-third of the process of going deep if it can be mathematically apportioned. Before knowing the Word is an important step — drawing near to Jesus. Reading the autobiography or even cyber stalking a person is not equivalent to knowing the person. Simply reading the Bible is gaining knowledge about Him without knowing Him in person. Jesus has given each believer the entry into the presence of God through His blood. We can attend a dinner hosted by our nation’s president, but it is our decision to go up to introduce ourselves and get to know him on a personal level. The Word is the roadmap to finding God in person. It points us to Him and not an end to itself. There must be a relationship built where a two-way communication is possible. The going to God is the first step of initiating the relationship as all believers have access to His Presence.
Step 2 – Getting to Know
After expressing our desire to know God when we approach Him, we incline our ears to listen. Listening is an important aspect of getting to know a person. This is the time when we know the heart of God, and how we can please Him. Reading the Word is not just about the text and info, but through it to connect with God. In the stillness of God’s presence, we meditate on the Word, allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our thoughts and understanding towards our Beloved.
Step 3 – Walking with Him
The final part is the one that seals the first two steps. It is only when we walk life in obedience to His teachings and instructions that we truly know Him. It is when you work or live with a person that you truly know the person. It is the same spiritually that we work alongside with Him and get to know Him through the Holy Spirit living within!
These steps help me to demystify the process of growing deeper spiritually. They are simple and easy to understand but it is a continuous cycle that goes on in our entire life since it is impossible to know God 100% as He is infinite while we are finite.
TFor many years, I find it hard to reconcile Jacob’s blessings and his scheming ways. I am a firm believer that the end does not justify the means and the life of Jacob seems to suggest otherwise. The recent weeks, Jacob is once again brought into focus.
Jacob was grabbing hold of Esau’s heel at birth (Gen 25:26). This was why he was named Jacob, meaning “he catches by the heel, i.e. he supplants”. These twin brothers were already at war within the womb, causing their mother Rebekah much distress (Gen 25:22). The first round winner was Esau as he emerged firstborn of the womb, pushing himself out before Jacob. This is not surprising as Esau was possibly stronger physically, who grew up to be a hunter. The fight did not stopped there. Jacob still wanted to be the firstborn. He quickly bagged in the win for round two when he traded his bowl of red lentil soup for the birthright of Esau. The final victory was with the aid of his mother Rebekah. Jacob deceived his own father, Isaac, and received the firstborn blessing. Very unorthodox means of getting to the ends which are hard to accept as acts that lead to blessings.
God did not intervene in any of these sibling rivalry. Some people believed that it is already ordained for Jacob to be blessed so God chose not to intervene. If it is ordained, all the more there is no need for Jacob to do what he did as the prophecy will come to pass without him helping God in such manner. Surely there are consequences to sin, even King David lost a son because of his adultery and murder after his genuine repentance. Why is Jacob favoured despite his scrupulous actions?
This was from a still, soft voice within that I wanted to brush off as ridiculous. Yet there was a solid and deep truth that I cannot dismiss flippantly. Surely God looks at the heart and how can it be that a scheming man has a good heart? It was almost like a court room within me and I was a prosecutor of Jacob whom I never met! It is of course a losing battle in this court room and out of it, I learnt a precious lesson.
Jacob’s heart was fixed on eternal blessings and never swayed by the present. He knew what was valuable and precious – the birthright and firstborn blessings of his father. It was out of the deep longings of his heart that he took every opportunity to grab hold of them. This same longing of the heart was seen in how he was willing to work another 7 years for Rachel after being cheated to marry Rachel’s sister. The final fight was at Bethel. His fight for eternal blessings which only the Lord can offer. It left him with a limp but with a new name and locked him into his eternal blessed destiny. This encounter ended Jacob’s trail of scheming narratives as I believed his heart was finally filled to the brim by God. This was his destiny.
His trickery of both the birthright and firstborn blessings led to his exile from the house, a fugitive. He did not enjoy the blessings he schemed for during those years. A man who was described as “a peaceful man, living in tents” (Gen 25:27 NASB) now found himself cast into the “wild world” and in the open field to shepherd sheep even though he was still under the protection of his extended family. A modern day drastic career change will be from a computer guy to a construction worker overnight. The birthright to his father’s inheritance was with Esau since he was on the run. This does not look like the blessed life he fought for. Having to leave home is the consequence of his scheming ways.
Rather than seeing him as a cold-blooded man, Jacob was a hot-blooded man fixated on what his heart’s desires. He pursued hard and even prevailed against God. It is interesting that the Bible described him as peaceful and some versions use the word “complete” for a schemer. Peaceful perhaps meaning that he does not shed blood as compared to Esau who is a hunter. The description of Jacob was not negative. His name that describes him as a supplanter is not a negative word in military terms but one of strategy. Comparing Jacob’s heart attitude with how Esau despised his birthright, Jacob’s thirst made him the man whom God used to bless the nations.
Do I desire God’s blessings enough to contend with Him throughout the night, knowing that I would never prevail? I wish I can give a loud yes but in full honesty, my prayer would be “God give me the portion you have for me”. The thought of putting up a fight with the Lord for blessings would never crossed my mind. This sounds like a very submissive and obedient prayer but is this a true reflection of my heart? Maybe it is a coverup. Perhaps I dare not believe that God will give me the desires of my heart or that He has my interests covered. If it is so, then I am not honest with Him with my heart. Or I know that the desires of my heart are not aligned to his? Whichever is the case, the hypocrisy of my heart is revealed. Jacob, despite his immature and unorthodox ways, was true to his heart and to God, believed in it and walked it.
This is a repentance call for me. It is so easy for my heart to be distracted and won out, hiding behind the word “resignation to God’s will” when the tough gets going or I am swimming against the tide. The fear of failure holds me back from engaging the Lord in a wrestle for blessings. It is not about winning, but it is a matter of how desperate do I want it. Jacob set his heart on the blessings of God and this gave God the opening to correct his ways, repent and change. So the key is to set my heart towards God and with that, He can do His work within me so that His promised destiny for me can be fulfilled as He moulds and shapes me along the way.
Jesus could sleep in the storm because He was certain of His authority over it. On the flip side, the storm obeyed Jesus because it was unable to ruffle His feathers. In a way, Jesus had to sleep to calm the storm, demonstrating His complete restedness in God. Perhaps this is not a show to the storm but a lesson to us about the restedness in God despite circumstances.
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” – John 14:27 NASB
This peace is power in the Kingdom of God. Nothing can shake His people if we grab hold of this peace, not even in the strongest and most devastating storms. It is not just silence or absence of conflict. But one that is completely rested in God’s sovereignty over creation and the devil.
Peace I need. Peace I receive.
A moment whereby something connected while I was in the kitchen tonight.
Worship by nature requires sacrifice from the worshipper to the object of worship, who is God. Sacrifice means there is no expectation to get back what was given. What was given, was given. In exchange for the pleasure and favour of God.
Many times when I check my heart, what I offer to God is often with condition. When I give up my time to get work done, I expect God to “return” me my time in the way that I can finish it or have a time extension. Even money wise, there are time when putting money into the offering bag expecting God to bless many folds. Sounds very much like investment to me but I do catch myself in this mode at times.
Some may say I am too hard on myself as God promises that He will bless us. In His Word He did talk about many fold blessings. Yet when I look into the heart of these barter I make with God, the root of it is faithlessness. It is driven by fear and not faith. If I am resting on the promises of God completely, I do not even need to consider and calculate the value in which I will get in return before putting it in. When I am in complete rest and total trust in God, I can give everything without the barter bargain.
Faith, faith, faith.
I suspect this will not be a very popular post but I think it is time for me to put in writing a trend I noticed in Singapore and even Asia – ticketed worship concerts where people buy tickets (with top priced tickets as much as over $100) to be in concert of international worship bands. I guess many will say what is wrong with paying for the tickets as there is cost in putting up something of this scale. I do understand there is cost, perhaps better than a regular consumer as I was a show promoter (event organiser who specialises in putting up concerts) of commercial music shows in Asia Pacific and I definitely understand the amount of financial investment involved in putting up a big show. I have never ventured into ticketing worship concerts even though I have been in worship ministry since I was 17 years old, not including years served in youth ministry as musician and worship leader. I could have “married” the commercial show promoter job with worship and put up worship concerts simply based on the skill sets I have. In an attitude of prayer and submission to the Holy Spirit, I present to you my conviction after years of struggle in prayer and studying of the Word.
UNDERSTANDING OF BIBLICAL WORSHIP
I will start from the basis that worship is not music, although music can be an expression of worship. I am not doing a word play here. Mark 7:6-7 quoted the Old Testament.
“And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” – Mark 7:6-7
As you can see from this scripture passage, clearly worship has been offered through their mouth, which can be prayer or songs, but it is not acceptable worship to God. It is the heart that God is after, not the outward appearance or audible sound. Biblical worship is a heart attitude and not a genre of music. Not just in Christianity, but humanity understands worship as offering something of value to please a supreme being to gain favour.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” – Romans 12:1 (NASB)
The New Testament in Romans 12:1 gives an imagery of believers coming before God and presenting ourselves as sacrifices before God. The world’s understanding of worship is to offer God something to get something in return. Biblically it is the opposite. We offer God ourselves in worship because God first reached out to us and blessed us. Romans 11:33-36 gives the reason why Paul wrote 12:1. Biblical worship is a response to God when we catch a glimpse of His greatness and know in the depths of our hearts that He is worthy.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” – Romans 11:33-36
Worship is sacred. Sacred not as in religious sacred that is bound by religiosity but sacred as in one that is set apart and precious. Our accessibility to enter God’s presence to worship cost Jesus everything by becoming the sacrifice. The price to worship is fully paid in Christ. The value and significance of worship founded in this act is more than sufficient to consider worship sacred. If someone gives you a gift that saved your life while costing his own, you will consider that gift sacred, of a completely different standing from your other gifts and things. This gift in your heart is set apart, precious and cannot be compared with anything else. Same for the work of Christ on the cross. Worship is something that money cannot buy as someone has paid the price that I can never afford.
So how does ticketed worship concerts align with Biblical worship? I can see two major areas that provided sufficient conviction for me to not thread into this.
1. Heart Attitude
Ticketing worship is sale of worship. I understand that some Christian events, a nominal ticket fee is charged for commitment to attend to ease logistics and operations planning and is affordable to most, if not all. Here I am referring to ticket prices similar to a normal commercial concert ticket price, which then implies the decision of price is for profit as a commercial concert would. For ticket holders who paid commercial rates, it is no difference to a sale transaction as compared to a commercial concert. With the commercialisation of attending worship concerts, a mindset of consumerism is encouraged. Since I pay for it, I should get pleasure out of it. This heart attitude completely contradicts Biblical worship of coming to give to God rather than to receive. Of course there are individuals who attend worship concerts who genuinely wants to worship God and their heart attitude are to give to God. I am referring to a system that encourages and promotes a mindset of consumerism worship (if there is such a phrase as it is a complete oxymoron). Perhaps right now we do not see the effects, but 5-10 years down the road, Biblical worship will be further from the next generation than ever.
This part is directed to events organizers and spiritual leaders who are doing or want to do worship concerts. I completely understand and empathise the enormous financial investment in putting an event together similar to commercial shows where there is tremendous stress throughout the promotion until box office announces “sold out”. Even then, cost management is a huge priority. Biblically we teach people to tithe and give offering. Nowadays I hear worship concert organisers say that we need to educate people to pay for the worship concerts for you do not muzzle the ox that works for you. I truly believe that the sound and lights guys, and all the staff who are professionally putting in their time, effort and skills need to be paid. Yet worship is based on sacrifice and not a charge. Here we have a dilemma. This is where the Kingdom of God works differently from the system of the world! When the Lord graces His manifested presence to touch and minister to His people in a worship gathering, He will move the hearts of people to give sufficiently, and even more than expected, than what is needed to put the event together. This is the part where faith comes in and only through faith do we please God. The heart of David is such that he will not offer God anything that cost him nothing. As event organizers and spiritual leaders, may I challenge you that in your heart’s desire to bring the body of Christ together in worship, be the first to put that worship offering in front of the altar of God by trusting in His provision to pay for the sacrifice of worship that he has put in your heart, knowing that Jesus did it already? With this posture, the decision to do an event will be based on seeking God for His will and not based on popularity or financial viability.
A ticketed worship blurs the focus. My first question is who is the focus here, God or the worship band? The worship band may not have the intention of being worshipped and have their eyes on God, but the system has put the worship band right in the forefront to attract people to come for the event. The motivation to gather is not Jesus Christ, but the band. I believe the motivation says a lot about who is the focus of worship in a situation as such.
I heard testimonies of salvations from the concerts, and people have been more opened to Christianity. This openness is to the Christianity that was presented on stage in the glitz and blitz, but when they find out about the hard teachings of Jesus, will they still be open? Same for the salvations. It is no difference from a misrepresentation of the Gospel’s call to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. I, on the other hand, believe that God can turn their hearts around to genuine conversions as He is God who can turn everything and anything around. I rejoice in these salvations and God encounters during these events. Once again, hear my heart, I am pointing to a system that in itself distracts people’s attention from God and by no means downplaying what God can do.
I am going to reiterate that I do not discount the testimonies from worship concerts and I praise God for touching the lives of people. I am referring to a system that is counter Biblical worship and subconsciously instilling values and mindset that are not aligned to God’s. We may not see the effects now but we will see it in the next generation which might take a generation or more to be realigned.
Writing this on my blog is also a constant reminder to myself that I will keep worship sacred in my life and pray that this will be a checker lest I slip or deviate.