THOUGHTS

Some of my thoughts and musings on faith, life and ministry. All that is posted here are of my own opinions and do not necessarily represent any organisation, church or ministry that I am a part of/affiliated with. 

Why Are People Hostile To Christianity?

 Photo by  Ben White  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

As Christians, we know we should be sharing the Gospel and inviting people to church. In the course of doing so, facing rejection is normal and most people do so with relative tact and gentleness - kind of like politely turning down those salespeople at the mall. 

But, we do run into instances where there are people who are openly hostile to Christianity (and some, any form of religion) whether you have extended an invitation to them or not. Celebrities, politicians, friends, family, colleagues ... sometimes even in media, cartoons, books, the internet etc. They let their contempt be known by sarcasm, harsh criticism, generalisation, mockery - you'll know it when you see/hear it. 

Why are some people like that? I offer a few reasons below. I must say beforehand though, that I am writing this to help us to come to a better understanding and how we should approach these situations. Remember, Jesus did pray to God over those people who crucified him: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34) 

 

1. They Do Not Really Understand It

People have many interesting ways on how they react to what they do not understand. A prime example would be math. A person who is not really good at math, or struggles to comprehend it will have a very dismissive attitude towards math. Those who are proficient in it (me not included) would know the importance of math and its contribution to development and will have a more "serious" attitude towards it. 

Many have misconceptions about Christianity. They think that Christianity is outdated, irrelevant or worse still - oppressive, bigoted and promotes discrimination. Some even think that most churches still meet in stained glass buildings, sing songs from the 1800s and sit on uncomfortable wooden pews (I admit, even I wouldn't want to go to that!) To those of us who have walked with Jesus we know this far from the truth - but many out there don't know what we know. 

 

2. They Do Not See The Value Of It

Related to point 1, people won't know the true value of something if they do not fully understand it. I see this somewhat in certain people who are apprehensive and resistant to technology. Have you ever met a person who complains how troublesome it is to learn to use an iPhone? (We usually see this sort of behaviour in older folks - no disrespect intended). They gripe about how a phone should just be needed to make calls and all the other complicated functions are not needed. 

That precisely highlights my point: such a person does not know how much value a smart phone can actually bring to your life when used correctly - it requires education and familiarisation. That's why in Christianity we have sermons (to educate) and we do discipleship (to familiarise). 

Many of us have been transformed by the revelation of God's love and grace in our lives - but people may not see it visibly. A person may have great skin with stunning complexion, but he/she could have certain habits or products in which they rely on - nobody will know unless he/she discloses it. 

 

3. They Are Not Really - You Just Think That They Are! 

While they are some who are hostile to the Gospel, but I find that there are far more people who are actually open to it than we realise. Meeting new people is always an interesting exercise for me, especially when they ask me: "What do you do?". My answer is usually followed by further questions like "what exactly are your responsibilities? why did you choose this field of work?" - it gives me an opportunity not just to tell them about my job but also my Jesus. 

What holds us back from sharing and inviting more often than not is the fear of rejection. It is a real fear, but one that can easily be overcome when we put things into perspective. When people reject your sharing of the Gospel or invitation to church, don't take it personally. They are rejecting God - and He is more than able to handle it. Jesus himself was rejected even after performing numerous miracles. I am sure many of us will not claim to have the same miracle working anointing that He did ... so how much more we are susceptible to rejection! 

But, there are people who need to hear the message - and perhaps maybe God has appointed you to be the messenger. 

 

Know the way, Go the way, Show the way

Jesus spoke of being "the way, the truth and the life." (John 14:6) Our telling of the Gospel and inviting people to church is to eventually lead people into a knowledge and relationship with Him. To do that, we must first know Him - not just know about Him. What we believe about God cannot just be from what our pastors or leaders say, it has to be internalised - revelation and not just information. 

Next, we must also "go the way." This simply means we must walk the talk. There is very little use in attending church or being able to recite scripture when it has not changed anything in our lives. The reason many people do not see the value of Christianity is because our lives are exactly the same as theirs! It is not that being a Christian will give us a pain-free life, but being a Christian should give us a purpose-filled one. It is our values and mindsets that should set us apart from the rest of the world. Our hearts and minds must be aligned to God and what His word says. 

Lastly, we must also "show the way." Showing the way by how we live (Matthew 5:16), the way we speak (Colossians 4:6) and the way we behave (2 Peter 1:5-8). On top of that, we must also be ready to give a reason and explanation for all that we believe and live (1 Peter 3:15-16). Trust me, most of the time speaking about Jesus will not cause us to be branded a freak - as long as we do it gentleness and respect. 

There is a saying "Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words." There is an element of truth in that, however I will add that doing that is like "playing charades but without telling the answer." Preaching the gospel requires both actions and words - they are both different sides of the same coin. 

Bonus point**:

Never, ever get into a online debate with keyboard warriors when it comes to Christianity. It is often counter-productive and unfruitful. The Kingdom of God is spread through the context of relationship. Before you reach someone you first have to build a bridge to get to them. 

 

Questions To Reflect On: 

  1. Do I truly understand the Gospel enough to be able to explain it to someone else? 

  2. Is the way I am living, speaking, behaving, thinking consistent with the principles of God?

  3.  Am I actively looking around me be it at work, college, school, at the shops etc. for people who may need to hear the message of Christ? 

  4. How will I look to build relationships with people who are hostile to the gospel? What are some of the extra miles that I must go and what are some things perhaps I should not say at first? 

  5. What are areas that I need the leading and strengthening of the Holy Spirit even more? Pray to Him and ask for His help! 

 

 

 

So I Went To A Mosque ...

 International Islamic University of Malaysia 

International Islamic University of Malaysia 

Yes, you read that right. Yes, for the very first time too. More context and insight is necessary of course. Carry on reading if you are interested ...

If you're wondering how did it happen, it's not much of a story really. We've been having a little course called the "Young Pastors' Academy" (YPA) at my church and we got an opportunity to visit the International Islamic University of Malaysia via a contact of the person in charge of the YPA program. What I learnt from the trip though, is something worth telling. 

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The biggest thing the trip did was break misconceptions. The first thing that I was proven wrong on was the nature of the institution itself. I had in mind that this would be a seminary or Bible college equivalent, but it is a full fledge university with programs in Engineering, Medicine, Computer Science as well as Theology/Divinity. The facilities were fairly up to date and well maintained, and there were a host of nationalities represented amongst the student ranks. I didn't just meet and see Malay Malaysians, but people from China, Yemen, Syria, Iran etc. 

I will be honest, when I came to the university I thought I would find a place riddled with conservatives (and even fundamentalists) but instead I discovered the students and lecturers here were not only progressive in their thinking, but warm and friendly people as well. (I regret my ignorance!) Everywhere I walked I wasn't met with suspicious looks but greeted with friendly nods and smiles. I saw flyers on Interfaith Dialogues pinned to walls, a lawn occupied by students running a International/Intercultural event and a cafe playing RnB music. 

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Things became even more enlightening when I got the opportunity to attend one of the classes by the hosting lecturer. Both the YPA contingent and the students took turns introducing ourselves. When it came to my turn, I boldly declared "My name is Jon, from SIBKL - and we come in peace." This was on a dare by my colleagues who were lacking courage - and of course a joke. My little wisecrack was met with a fitting reply by our host: "And you will not leave in pieces." The ensuing chuckles all across the room set the tone for a friendly get-to-know-you-session. 

We asked questions of each other. Questions ranging from religion to politics. We clarified that when Christians prayed "Let Your kingdom come" we do not mean a literal takeover by Jesus or Christians over the physical government - why one would without any biblical knowledge would think that is understandable. We explained what pastors do, they told us how Mosques operate in Malaysia. We asked them what their political stance was, they said they were against corruption and oppression. We enquired about their hopes; they told us they wanted equality for all - the freedom to express one's religion no matter what that is. 

While it has been portrayed that there are many things that separate us, what I saw and felt was a great desire to build bridges and tear down walls. 

We have more in common that we are led to believe. We didn't compare our differences, we looked for our similarities. We hold to different faiths, but we have the same belief - we are not just Chinese, Indian, Malay, Muslim, Christian, Hindu - we are Malaysians. On that, we should stand united. 

Our visit concluded with a meal with our host lecturer as well as an academic dean (who was a former politician with the current ruling party). Our conversations reinforced what I have come to know is true - change is not just possible, it is already here. We talked openly about what has been going wrong in our nation and agreed for the future of our children certain things need to be done ... and mindsets have to be changed. 

At this time of writing, the 14th General Election of Malaysia is a mere 17 days away. Sentiments and emotions are high, and many are desperate for a change. There is almost a certain sense of "it is now or never for Malaysia". Leading up to my visit here, I found myself caught in this wave of thinking too. Yet, God does indeed work in mysterious ways. It was in the place of a different faith that the Holy Spirit spoke gently to me: "regardless of what happens on Election Day, there is hope." 

 Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Mosque

Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Mosque

I stand in the hall of a Mosque that has a capacity of 9000, and I wonder what is the capacity of our hearts? Can we reach out, understand each other and establish relationship? It is easy to judge something and someone we do not fully know, but assumptions and misconceptions can only be dispelled through an understanding formed through relationship. 

We are called to be witnesses, not judges.

Is not just about what happens on Election Day, but rather what happens after. The future, contrary to popular belief, is not only in the hands of the government - but ours. What will we do with people are who are different than us but living in the same country? What will we speak of them? To our children, to our congregation, to our students, to our communities? Let us continue building bridges and tear down walls - for a better Malaysia. 

Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

 

 

Back Again

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After a long absence from this space, I am glad to say I am back again - and this time I will try to keep the frequency of my non-appearances to a minimal. My hiatus was more circumstantial than intentional, a lot has happened since I last posted. Let me get you up to speed: 

1. I went through an extended period of crisis in my family life last year: 

- My mom had severe depression from January up to June. 

- My dad was extremely sick from December 2016 up to his eventual passing in September 2017. It was a difficult period with a lot of drama attached to it, but by the grace of God I pulled through. You can hear of how Jesus helped me through this all here. 

2. I have been handed the responsibility of leading SIBKL's Worship team. Depending on who you ask, this is considered a "promotion" or a "punishment." On top of leading NarrowStreet and looking into building a strong culture amongst the church staff - my plate is pretty full (but I am pretty fulfilled!)

3. I found out earlier this year that my wife is pregnant and we are expecting our first child this coming September! It was hard for me to believe at first, and I was only fully convinced of it when I saw the tiny blob from the ultrasound - even after 3 positive results from home pregnancy kits.

I am grateful to God for this miraculous gift, and the only regret I have is that my dad would not be able to meet the little one. He loved children very much, I remember him showing a lot of affection to any child he meets - he would have been thrilled to have a grandchild of his own. 

What a ride it has been with so many ups and downs! But I have learnt much throughout this time. 

If God can take away something you’ve never expect losing, He can replace it with something you’ve never imagined having.

I really did not want to lose my dad, but out of all that I have gained much as well:

  • I realised I am loved and supported by many. The amount of people that showed me support and rallied together when I needed it greatly touched me. Community is key - we can't do life on our own nor should we even try. 
  • I am stronger than I realise. The crisis around me revealed the Christ within me - it was only truly by the grace of God that I could stand up taller and stronger. 
  • I am highly favoured and deeply loved by God. When you have faith in spite of your circumstances and feelings, God not only never fails to come through but He brings about something even GREATER than before. 
  • God has always, is still, and will forever be "Jehovah Jireh": The LORD Our Provider.
  • When you leave everything in the hands of God, you will see God's hand in everything. 
There is purpose in pain, but also pain in purpose. Ultimately, it is the purposes of God that prevails.

I thank God that the promises of tomorrow overshadows the problems of yesterday, and I am expectant for even greater things ahead. 

Whatever good that has happened for me, can happen for you. There is no exclusivity when it comes to blessing - God has more than enough to go around! As you read this, I want to encourage you to believe again, trust once more, and to keep the faith going - you will surely see the goodness and mercy of God. (Psalm 23)

More updates to come, keep a lookout here. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leadership Lessons - Part I

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One of the things that I am very passionate about (apart from Jesus, my wife, motorcycles, Manchester United and coffee) is leadership. While I don't consider myself a guru in this area, but having been involved in different areas of leadership for almost 10 years - I'd like to think I know a thing or two about it. My leadership journey consists of different levels: leading small groups of 10 people to eventually multiplying after hitting 30 members, growing a ministry from 100-120 to 250-300 with 60 volunteer leaders and to now being in a staff development committee for approximately 60 full time employees. 

Some of these principles I am sharing will be more applicable in a Church/Ministry setting, but most of them are relevant to any form of leadership/management context.  Leadership, after all is a spiritual gift (Romans 12:8) exercised by many characters in the bible (including Jesus Himself) and I would even argue that some of the best leaders in the world are in the Church - because they have the challenge of mobilising unpaid volunteers! 

I've got a lot to say about leadership, and I will do so over a few parts. I wanted to put it all down in just this one article but realised I have too much to say... but hey it is my space - so if you're interested here is part one:

 

Personality, Gifting And Talent IMPRESSES People But Only Character, Integrity And Authenticity Can Truly IMPACT Them.

If you truly want to leave a positive, lasting impression on people as a leader - it is going to take more than just showing how good you are (although you do still need to develop certain skills to gain credibility). But that's the good news: anyone can learn new skills, but it takes a lot of intentionality to work on our character (which not many people do) and vulnerability to be authentic with those whom we lead. Character is not your personality (shy or outgoing, loud or not); it is what determines the choices you make everyday: your work ethic, the way you treat others, the way you handle challenges, how you speak to people etc. 

Authenticity I would classify as genuinely being passionate about what you do and the people that you lead. Believe in what you do, find the significance in it. If you are in a school/university club or department in a company/business see it as an opportunity to impact people. The saying goes: people don't care about how much you know until they know how much you care. Leadership is messy. Get your hands dirty. Get close to those you lead. Don't just see those as tools to be used but as people to be developed. Share your failures and struggles - sometimes it goes a longer way than blowing your own trumpet. Here's another thing: if you made a mistake, admit it and apologise to them. Trust me, they won't respect you less for it but rather MORE because of you did! 

People "buy into" persons more than plans, vision, systems or organisations. Show those around you that you are worth following and you will get their support. 

 

Be Personal, But Don't Take It Personally

Oh get this one right, and you would be miles ahead of so many other people! What do I mean by this? Be personal in all your interactions with people. Show warmth, display good manners, always try to extend grace. Make people feel valued, like you are genuinely interested in them (and not just what they can do for you). Encourage and appreciate them, get into their world whenever possible - all these little things go a long way. 

But if people do not respond the way you expect them to ... don't take it personally! Don't take things to heart - it will quickly cause you to lose steam as a leader. People are complex. They are not like mathematics, where if I apply a certain formula to a certain equation I should get a certain result. We do not always get the outcome we expect with people and it is very normal. Everybody has their own battles to fight, and sometimes we don't really know what is really going on with them. Sometimes people need time, so be patient with them. 

If people criticise you or disagree with you... don't take it personally and be personal in the way you respond to them! Nothing causes a leader to lose "buy-in" faster than reacting extremely insecurely to criticism or someone disagreeing with them. 

 

If You Want To Go Fast, Go Alone. If You Want To Go Far, Go With A Team

You know what I used to really hate back when I was still a student? Group projects. It is difficult to get an assignment done when you got so many people involved, particularly if you got non-contributing or absentee members (and then only one or two ends up doing all the work)! Doing things solo is definitely less complicated but a good leader knows the power of a team. 

A team is only effective when it has a good leader. So what must a good leader do? You must trust your team. Trust that they can get the job done. This is first and foremost. If you do not have faith in your team it will show in the way you treat them - and they will know it too. If they need guidance - give it to them, but don't over micromanage. It is very frustrating for both them and you. If they can get the job done but not in the way you expected - it's ok! If they found an even better way to do it than you originally proposed - applaud them! 

Learn conflict management - this will minimise politics and gossip, which can develop into a toxic culture and kill morale and productivity. Learn how to work with and manage different personalities - recognise that different people have different personalities and work with their strengths. Only address character issues, don't try to change personalities. 

When the right time comes, don't just delegate tasks - delegate authourity. In that way, you are not just producing doers but more leaders. If you just produce doers, you can keep your thing running. But if you produce more leaders... what you are doing will naturally grow. 

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This is simply the first part, and I have more to share. I love discussing leadership and would love to help any who would want it - send me an email or tweet me! 

JESUS: "Why Do You Fear?"

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2016 will undoubtedly be remembered as the year of the "unexpecteds". Nobody expected Donald Trump to become the 45th President of the United States. That alone deserves an article on its own - but I won't. Brexit happened.  Leicester City Football Club were crowned the English Premier League Champions of the 2015/2016 season. Worth mentioning because the odds of this happening was 5000/1. In fact some pundits pegged Simon Cowell had a high chance of becoming the British PM at 500/1. (source)  

But I digress.

If you are from Malaysia and are reading this, well you would know things aren't going well for us and it does not seem like it will pick up. Our currency, the Ringgit, is the worst performing currency in Asia (and has been for a while) amidst the 1MDB scandal and the continuous reports of corruption, abuses of power and lack of transparency in the current government. Top it all off with the dire state of the world's economy  - to say that there is much to be worried about would be an understatement. 

Yet...

When I think upon these things, I sense a gentle but firm tugging in my heart. I could almost hear Jesus saying: "Why do you fear?"

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 (NLT)

Take a look at these words of Jesus. He PROMISES us that we will have problems here on earth! Newsflash! Reality check! Being a follower of Jesus does not mean the absence of trouble - but it does mean the presence of the One who overcomes in our trials. There's both bad and good news in what Jesus says here. I get why Jesus often said "He who has ears let him hear..." which could be translated to "you are hearing, but you are not listening"

We are reading the words in the Bible but we are not believing.

That is why we fear. 

As Christians, we are told that faith is the number 1 absolute thing we need to have. Yet, as human beings we are often quick to react in fear instead of responding with faith when faced with issues. However, fear and faith cannot coexist. In fact, they are the antithesis of each other. Faith mobilises, fear paralyses. 

Faith moves mountains, fear creates them.

Yes, there is much to worry about and much to fear. But this is where the rubber hits the road: the sermons we have heard, the songs about God that we sing - are they simply rhetoric? Just theory? Just information? This is when we truly know whether the Word of God is simply occupying our mind or it has already taken root in our heart. Remarkably, much of the promises found in the New Testament was written under difficult and trying circumstances. Yet the authours knew who their God was - and so can we. 

So maybe you have much to fear at this point: the uncertainty of the economy, the lack of direction of the future, the turbulent time your family is enduring, the disarray in your relationships... can I invite you to take heart, and have faith. 

Fear will paralyse us: it cripples us, it causes us to become stuck, it makes us expect the worse (even though the worse hasn't even come, kinda like reverse faith), but the choice of faith will mobilise us to: 

 Pray

Philippians 4:6 (NIV)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

There can never be enough sermons, messages, articles and books about prayer. We know the importance of it, but sadly we don't do enough of it (kinda like exercise). OK lets pick up the thought on exercise. Once you get into the habit of doing it you realise how beneficial it is and you reap the rewards: you look great in outfits, you feel much more energetic and stairs don't make you feel like cleaving your lungs out. What's the toughest part of working out? Getting started. But once you find the motivation - the habit of it will keep you going.

Just like prayer. Starting will be tough. But once you get the hang of it - it becomes second nature. 

A personal prayer life is essential when following Jesus. A Christian who does not pray is like a car without fuel - it goes nowhere! I can speak from personal experience: I don't consider myself an expert at praying, but I make it a point to spend time with God and I feel the difference. Trust me when I say this: something always changes when you pray. God either changes the situation, or He changes you to face it. 

When your faith moves you to pray, you begin to gain a heavenly perspective. This beats an earthy one - which is often marked by fear, uncertainty, doubt, speculation, dread, distress etc. Even been on a plane? My favourite part is when the plane is taking off. I love looking out of the window to what's below. The buildings and vehicles almost seem like toys. I love it when I recognise a familiar building and I go "OH! So that's how it looks like from above" or how it is interesting to see places in relation to one another. You know what that is? Perspective! 

Life wouldn't be so difficult and scary if we prayed more - kinda like how a flight of stairs will be like a walk in the park if you exercised. 

 

Proclaim

Proverbs 18:21 (NLT)
21 The tongue can bring death or life;
those who love to talk will reap the consequences.

Did you know what your words will form your worlds? This is an important Kingdom principle: words have power! When God created the world He didn't mould it with His hands; He SPOKE it into existence! (Check it if you don't believe me) Let me give you some practical examples: Have you ever been around people who are so negative all the time? They only know how to point out what is wrong, complain and whinge - after a while you feel a wave of negativity creeping into yourself as well. Someone could have said something that hurt you whether on purpose or by accident and it sticks to you for a really really long time. 

You know that saying: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words cannot harm me?" I think if we were really honest, we would agree that this statement is not really true.

Now, I am not advocating a "name it and claim it" philosophy or an "airy fairy" kind of attitude where we don't face facts. But the truth is, speaking and spreading negativity rarely brings about any solutions. The modern day equivalent for this would be how we use social media. People just love sharing bad news or posting all their emotional spew online - that's why you feel kinda icky after spending a long time on social media. 

As believers of Jesus, I would spur you to start proclaiming the promises of God more - both online and offline. I want to be led by the promises of God and not be pushed by the problems of this world. I want to speak life where ever I go! Whether it is over our nation, our cities, our friends, our families, our people. If all of us caught onto this, how different things would be!

Words (whether in person or online) have the power to shape atmospheres, and the most amazing part is words are free - it is how we use them that may cost us. Our proclamation determines the posture of those around us - let us spur people onto faith! 

 

Partner

Faith will also mobilise us to partner with the one who we have our faith in: God. Often times we feel a sense of hopelessness because we feel powerless, or we feel that there is no one who could help us in our troubles.

Divine intervention begins where mortal reliance ends.

Political parties, currencies, education, properties etc all these things can come and go and if we find ourselves looking for security in these things we will always be left wanting. Trust in the sovereignty of God. That He has a reason for every season, a purpose for every pain and a plan for every problem. 

I have learnt (and I am still learning) to trust God in spite of any circumstance - and He has never ever let me down. Jesus is real! I don't follow Him just because - I do it with the utmost conviction that He is alive and is still at work today. 

You will not get a better partner than Him, and the best part is He often leads the way - and makes a way even where there is none. 

 

In all things, always choose to respond in faith - and not react in fear.