Spiritual Weight Issues

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.

Underweight

Spiritual Weight IssuesAs 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.

Indigestion

stick-figure-pain-bad-43830486This 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.

Obesity

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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.

James 2:14-26

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.

Make Friends through Worldly Wealth

Make Friends Through Worldly Wealth

“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!

Secret to a Deep Foundation

Secret to A Deep Foundation

Secret to a Deep Foundation
The pots are sitting of the foundation of a house that were swept away by the Tsunami in Dec 2004, Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. Photo taken by Pauline Phoon in Feb 2005.

“”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.

Jacob – the Blessed Wrestling Schemer

JACOB-3For 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?

“His heart.”

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.

Defining The Tabernacle of David – Word Study

Defining The Tabernacle of David – Word Study
Born and bred in an urban city, tent is not a common sight for me. Since the topic is about the Tabernacle of David, I feel the need to understand tabernacle better. I am no Hebrew and Greek scholar but the lexicon is usually a good starting point.

I will start from the New Testament since there is only one verse with the mention of Tabernacle of David. The Greek word for Tabernacle in Acts 15:16 is Skene (σκηνη, Strong’s Number: 4633). Skene is defined as a “tent, tabernacle (made of green boughs, or skins or other materials)”, and also “the movable temple of God after the pattern of which the temple at Jerusalem was built”. In Acts 7:43-44, skene was the Tabernacle of Moses. In Rev 13:6; 15:5 and 21:3, skene is used in the context of after the judgments. There is no difference in words used for the Tabernacle of Moses and Tabernacle of David.

The Old Testament Hebrew has more vocabulary for tabernacle than Greek and English.

The word ‘ohel (אהל, Strong’s Number: 0168) is frequently used for the Tabernacle of Moses in Exodus. ‘ohel means a nomad’s tent, a dwelling, home and habitation. Even though it is nomadic and mobile, it functions as a long-term dwelling, a home. The Tabernacle of Moses withstood 40 years of wilderness wandering and entered the Promised Land! It was definitely highly durable and permanent.

A different Hebrew word is used for Tabernacle of David in Amos 9:11, which is the key Old Testament verse. The Hebrew word for tabernacle in Amos 9:11 is Cukkah (יככה Strong’s No: 05521). Cukkah is a booth, “a rude or temporary shelter”. The Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths (Lev 23:33-43) uses the same Hebrew word, Cukkah. The people of Israel are commended to build temporary booths or tabernacles and live under the Cukkah during the seven days of the feast. The Feast of Tabernacles is mentioned in Zec 14, which wrote about The Day of the Lord, which is commonly interpreted as the final Judgment Day. The passage of Zec 14:16-21 prophesied that the Feast of Tabernacles will be celebrated after the Day of the Lord. Even though Cukkah is temporary in its physical nature, God has a long-term purpose for Cukkah.

Here lies the paradox. The extremely durable Tabernacle of Moses was not required after Jesus established the New Covenant but the rude temporary Cukkah of David has a purpose beyond its durability. Interestingly, ‘ohel is used in Isa 16:5 for the Tabernacle of David in the context of final judgment by the One, referring to the Messiah.

Physically, the Cukkah being a temporary tent requires restoration over time, especially for the Day of the Lord. Yet, is the restoration just the physical tent? Since it is meant to be temporary, restoration of the physical tent will be challenging and replacing it might be a better solution. If the restoration work is not only referring to the physical tent, what does it then refer to? We can only restore what we know. The definition of the Tabernacle of David that is to be restored is not found in a word study. So a Biblical study is needed to understand this.

A side note: The Tabernacle built by Moses was not called the Tabernacle of Moses in the Bible but the Tabernacle of the Lord. I will use the Tabernacle of Moses as most of us understand this phrase but thought I will point out that only the Tabernacle of David was named after the builder in the Bible.

Tabernacle of David – Introduction

Picture from www.forerunnerhop.com
Picture from www.forerunnerhop.com

The phrase “restoring the Tabernacle of David” is a hot topic in some circles of believers. I had a lot of questions even though I have heard it being taught many times by excellent teachers of the Word. Somehow I was not able to get a hold of it. After each time I hear about the teaching on the Tabernacle of David, I cannot help but feel that I am not able to see the picture, not even the silhouette. The emphasis on the Restoration of the Tabernacle of David for the End Times increases my need to see the bigger picture. The importance of the Tabernacle of David cannot be put aside or ignored; yet my understanding seemed illusive.

My first hurdle was the emphasis on this phrase seems too heavy for its twice mention in the Old Testament, and one crossed reference in the New Testament.

“In mercy the throne will be established;
And One will sit on it in truth, in the tabernacle of David,
Judging and seeking justice and hastening righteousness.” – Isaiah 16:5 (NKJV)

 

““On that day I will raise up
The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down,
And repair its damages;
I will raise up its ruins,
And rebuild it as in the days of old;” – Amos 9:11 (NKJV)

 

“‘After this I will return
And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down;
I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will set it up;” – Acts 15:16 (NKJV)

 

A list of other questions arose. What did we lose that we must restore? Does restoring the Tabernacle of David mean restoring worship? What direct implications do the restoration of the Tabernacle of David have to do with the coming back of Jesus Christ? There seems to be many dots that are left unconnected, with gaps in between. Many referred to the Tabernacle of David as 24/7 worship and intercession that never stops, modeled by the worship David installed in Zion. I have been involved in the Houses of Prayer movement as a musician and worship leader. The hours and hours of uninterrupted worship in the presence of God are complete pleasure for me. As much as I enjoy ministering to the Lord with music in worship, I am not able to see the relationship in the emphasis on the restoration of the Tabernacle of David and the End Times even though I have heard and pondered the points that many teachers and preachers spoke of. As you can see, I am a kind of slow in catching up in my understanding but I participated regardless because worship is pleasing to God because He deserves it all!

I embarked on this study to find answers in the Bible over the years. It was not intensive full time study, but through readings and meditations of the Word over time that the Holy Spirit began to show me. I used very little references outside of the Bible to understand the Tabernacle of David. If the Tabernacle of David is crucial, especially in the End Times, God will not leave it unexplained in His Word, which is “the lamp to my feet and a light to my path” – Psalm 119:105. With the help of the Holy Spirit as the illuminator of God’s Word, I embarked on this journey to understand the Tabernacle of David.

I first put everything together my scattered study over several years in 2013 when I had to teach the Tabernacle of David in Hunan Bible Institute. It took 9-10 class hours. It was intense Bible study for the Bible school students. A Bible study even though it was a classroom setting because most of them had to re-read Bible passages that they are familiar with and dig into verses that they are not as familiar. Questions were asked as they plough through the Word together and we all learned as God taught us all during the 9-10 class hours. I witnessed a renewal and exponential increase in their passion for the Word, worship and most importantly God. In preparation for the class, my thoughts were in point form and I elaborated verbally. I was receiving fresh revelations while I teach too! I am currently putting this teaching into proper writing, which is very different from verbal teaching. In a classroom context, the students asked questions to clarify and I could read their facial expressions and body language. The interaction also sharpened my clarity in this subject matter. In written form, my choice of words and explanation needs to be more concise so that it will not confuse. As I put various parts of the teachings into writing, I will post them in this blog. I do not know what will be the frequency and regularity of my posting but I will work on it whenever I can. Engage me in discussions about what I have written as I am still learning for I believe what I have is only a piece of the bigger picture.

The study of worship through the Tabernacle of Moses is a lot easier as there is a lot of detailed documentation of it in the Old Testament and heavily supported by archaeological findings. The worship instructed by Moses is very systematic and details are clearly recorded. It is like an instruction manual. Do this and God is pleased, which means all is fine. For David’s form of worship, there is no instruction of step one to ten. There is no stipulated protocol, except the short period of time in its expression in the Temple that Solomon built. In fact, it seems spontaneous and not bound by any law or rule. We learn about the worship in the Tabernacle of David from the Biblical narratives and the Psalms, which are completely different from the instructional law in the Tabernacle of Moses. The art of storytelling and understanding the heart of stories are increasingly less emphasized and practiced now, at least in Singapore where I live. Many of us get very impatient, especially with the older generation, when they reply our requests for help with stories. Often times if we stop to ponder, we will find the answers in the stories. If we look deeper, the stories reveal the root of the problem. The stories do not only give superficial solution but the wisdom to prevent the problem from recurring. The reply is more than the answer that we are looking for, if we are ready to receive it. Jesus spoke in parables, simple stories with moral and spiritual lessons, but not all understand the heart of these narratives. Principles and lessons can be drawn about the Tabernacle of David through the narratives and prayers. Yet, what is in the heart of the Tabernacle of David? It is God who declares, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Sam 16:7 (NASB). The heart of David is an important key, but the crucial key is to understand the heart of God in the Tabernacle of David.

Ticketed Worship

An Offering of Worship

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.

2. Focus

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.

Changsha 2015

This year our Changsha trip is just before summer holidays rather than the usual before school reopens in Spring. Three of us, Nic, Wilson and myself set off on 2 July (Thu) while Ps Ronald & Howard (translator) set off on 7 July. It was very heart warming to see familiar faces of brothers and sisters in Christ who have the same love for our Lord Jesus!

The key and primary focus was the 4.5 days Praise and Worship Summer camp in Hunan Bible Institute on Sat, Mon-Thu. This was the first trip that we ministered in a church, Cheng Bei Tang as we arrived slightly earlier due to flight schedule of the airlines. Cheng Bei Tang is is more than a century old church, with more than 1000 members. Their worship ministers, inclusive of worship leaders, musicians, vocalists and choir members are almost 100, but those who were able to attend amounted to around 60.

It has been less than a year since I have been back and there are so many significant changes. The church that worships in Hunan Bible School building now has youths involved in their praise and worship. The youngest participant in our camp is 9 years old! Besides training the students in the Bible School who will be pastors and leaders of churches, it warms my heart that even the teens in church is rising up too!

Another unexpected event was the salvation of six people at a praise and worship service on Sunday night. The praise and worship service was not evangelistic in nature. Little did we know that our Sunday afternoon worship and fun time at the river will reap the soul of one into the Kingdom and also others.

Teaching basic keyboard within 3 afternoons to a class of students who has never played before is a crazy challenge! On Sat afternoon, there were quite a number of senior ladies who had zero concept of music what more than play. I took a long while to help them find the note C on the keyboard. I went on to teach basic chords in C major even though some of them were not able to play. I focused on getting them to understand so that they can practise. To my amazement, on Monday afternoon, the ladies came back and were able to play the C progressions and even do simple accompaniment! They practised hard on Sunday, this I am sure! By the end of the third day, they were able to play a full song in C major in very simple accompaniment!

I am also very glad to be present for the year 3 students’ graduation. I got to see most of them before they leave the Bible school back to their respective home towns or placement. Only a small percentage remains in Changsha city. This graduating batch has a good number of talents in praise and worship. I pray that God will use them mightily in the places that He has placed them.

It was also unknown to us that the Sunday we were in Changsha is the first service of Xing Sha Tang. a church plant in the Xing Sha area of Changsha. The church’s building is right across this temporary meeting space and its hall can sit up to 2500 people, not including the overflow room capacity! The Hunan Bible School will also be moving to the same compound when it is ready. We led worship for the first service and witness the goodness of God in bringing double the expected number of 20 people!

All I can say is that God is soooo good and I believe He has more things under His sleeves to bless Changsha city, Hunan Province and the whole of China!

JESUS’ PASSION WEEK DEVOTION – DAY 6/6 – The Resurrection

This week’s devotion of the Passion Week from Jesus’ Perspective. The devotions are written as first person, from Jesus’ perspective, like His personal journal of his thoughts and words gathered through Scriptures as the scenes of the Passion Week unfolds.

There are a number of references to the Song of Songs to get a peep into Jesus’ love for His people. As there are many symbolism used in Song of Songs, the list below helps to explain some of them that are found in the verses quotation in this week’s devotions.

  • Shulamite symbolizes Israel and the Church
  • The Beloved symbolizes Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom King
  • Spikenard symbolizes worship
  • Myrrh symbolizes death

This devotion emphasizes more on the heart and the spirit, rather than knowledge.

  • Take time to read the devotion slowly to allow the scriptures and events to go deep into you, beyond your mind.
  • It helps to read it several times, asking the Holy Spirit to bring you deeper.
  • Highlight the portions that jump out at you and write down your thoughts under “Personal Reflection” and also put into writing the response or even commitment that you want to make before God.

Day 6 – The Resurrection

Read Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1-25

The ladies come to my tomb early on Sunday morning. I have descended to the lowest and gained victory over death! This temple I have rebuilt in three days. Here is Mary Magdalene weeping, the least of the women that many looked down but the one who is forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). Mary! Now that you have recognised me, do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’ (John 20:17).

Who is she who looks forth as the morning,
Fair as the moon, clear as the sun,
Awesome as an army with banners?” – SOS 6:10

My disciples you have assembled behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. Your hearts are hardened and do not believe the testimonies of those who saw me at the tomb (Mark 16:14). I have to come to you this every night for I love you and you mistaken me as a spirit. Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts (Luke 24:38)? Peace be with you. You recognise my pierced hands and side. I eat a piece of broiled fish that you provide as a proof that I am not a spirit but body. You have seen the resurrection of Lazarus. I AM the way, the truth and the life. Blessed are they who do not see my resurrected body, and yet believe. Remember, PEACE be with you.

My breath is the Holy Spirit. Receive my breath of life. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. Your mind is now opened to understand the Scriptures. All things written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. I am the Christ. I will suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and this repentance for forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in my name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are my witnesses of these things.

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm;
For love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave;
Its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame.
– Song of Songs 8:6

It is time for me to return to my Abba, to sit on His right hand and intercede for you. I bless you my beloved and I will return for you. Wait, wait in the city of Jerusalem for the outpouring of power from heaven. I know you are going to be empowered to do greater things than me on earth.

JESUS’ PASSION WEEK DEVOTION – DAY 5/6 – The Cross

This week’s devotion of the Passion Week from Jesus’ Perspective. The devotions are written as first person, from Jesus’ perspective, like His personal journal of his thoughts and words gathered through Scriptures as the scenes of the Passion Week unfolds.

There are a number of references to the Song of Songs to get a peep into Jesus’ love for His people. As there are many symbolism used in Song of Songs, the list below helps to explain some of them that are found in the verses quotation in this week’s devotions.

  • Shulamite symbolizes Israel and the Church
  • The Beloved symbolizes Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom King
  • Spikenard symbolizes worship
  • Myrrh symbolizes death

This devotion emphasizes more on the heart and the spirit, rather than knowledge.

  • Take time to read the devotion slowly to allow the scriptures and events to go deep into you, beyond your mind.
  • It helps to read it several times, asking the Holy Spirit to bring you deeper.
  • Highlight the portions that jump out at you and write down your thoughts under “Personal Reflection” and also put into writing the response or even commitment that you want to make before God.

Day 5 – The Cross

Read Luke 22:54-23:56; John 18:12-19:37

The high priest and council of elders of Israel cannot find any false witnesses against me. Even the two false witnesses speak correctly that I am going to tear down the temple of God and rebuild it within three days. You do not believe me when I confess that I am Christ, the Son of God, the King of the Jews and call it blasphemy. I feel your spat on my face and the pain of you hitting me with your hands. I know each one of you for I created you. The trial has found me guiltless and you want me to take the place of Barabbas. Yes, I will take the place of Barabbas on the cross. I will take the place of you. It is for this reason that I have come.

O my love, you are as beautiful as Tirzah,
Lovely as Jerusalem,
Awesome as an army with banners! – Song of Songs 6:4

The cross is heavy for my broken body. Bless you Simon of Cyrene for carrying the cross and walking with me. O daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children for greater evil will fall upon them (Luke 23:28-31).

I can feel the nails going through my hands and feet. The weight of the world is felt on my physical shoulders when the weight of my body is on the nails as they hoist my cross up. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). All the reviling, the blasphemy and jeering I put aside for my mind is set on doing Abba’s will. Some women were crying and amongst them, Mary my mother. My beloved disciple John is with her. I know John will take good care of her. Each breath I take is filled with excruciating pain but I know the end of this. “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32). I have allowed this temple of my body to be destroyed in a day and I will rebuild it in three days. I will go down to the lowest place for the keys of hades and death so that they will have no hold over my people!

After three hours of darkness, the ninth hour has come. Darkness looms so heavily upon me. All that I need to do on earth is done. Now the weight of the world has come upon my spirit. “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?) Abba, into Your hands I commit my spirit.

It is finished.