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. 

A New Challenge I Give To You: Follow...

If I were to ask you to complete this sentence: "I dare you to follow...", what would your choice of words be? Chances are if you are a millennial (aged 34 and below, according to Google) you may answer: "follow your heart; your dreams; your ambition; your passions etc." Our generation is constantly bombarded with platitudes like these, we have been urged to "find something you like doing and you will never have to work another day in your life" (because nobody is hiring in that area). 

This is probably spurred by our consumption of "feel-good-and-seemingly-wise" articles on Thought Catalog, Elite Daily and so forth. Maybe we even hear it in our churches occasionally: "God wants to fulfil your dreams!". We are a generation with so many options, more so than those before us. Some industries that exist today were unheard of 5-10 years ago. Yet amidst the myriad of options available to us, a generation has never ever felt so lost. 

We try to comfort ourselves a little by romanticising this: "not all who wonder are lost", yet the truth is many people feel disenchanted, paralysed by uncertainty and plagued by indecision. What should I study? Where should I go? How do I get a good job? Who should I be with? Why can't I be sure of anything? Compounding matters is this phenomenon called "Social Media". We compare our lives to the extremely curated profiles of people we admire, whose lives we dream of living. 

Now, it sounds like i have downed a big juice of pessimism for breakfast which has turned me into a Negative Nancy - but hear me out. There is nothing wrong with following your heart and dreams per se, but to you reading this: I issue you a greater challenge:

 

I dare you to follow Jesus.

 

That's right. 

Jesus.

Wholeheartedly. Without reservation. Consistently and persistently. 

Will there be fortune on the other side? Not really. Will I feel better about myself? Depends. Will all my dreams come through? Subjective. Is this venture "Instagrammable"? Probably not. Will it be easy peasy? Far from it. Geez! Why would anyone do this then? That is a good question, and it is logical to want to know what the benefit would be before actually doing something.

When you follow Jesus, you may not get all that you want. BUT... you will be guaranteed to have all that you need. 

When you follow Jesus, you will always find meaning in the mundane, significance in your struggles and purpose in your pain.

There are some very intriguing words by Jesus found in Matthew 7:13-14:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

If I were to rephrase that, it would sound like this: "The path to true contentment and purpose is not the obvious road. It is the one that looks the least likely to lead anywhere. It will barely make any sense when you first see it, therefore not many people will go that way. But those who actually do will find true life." 

John 10:10 (NIV)
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

When you truly give your all to follow Him, boy do things change! He transforms your mind, renews your perspective, heals your heart. You begin to see everything differently, you begin to understand, you are filled with HOPE. I now know why the Bible says that we are a "new creation" when you believe in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). I can barely begin to describe it. I can scarcely do it justice with my words. You have to experience it for yourself. 

If you are thinking: "sounds great, but how does this help me practically?" How do I get the answers, resources and opportunities I need? To which I will tell you of the promise of Jesus: "Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need." (Matthew 6:25-34)  This is the paradox of it all: if you try to make your life, you will end up breaking it. But if you lose yourself in Jesus, you will find yourself again. 

Sometimes the more we try to figure out things on our own the more we end up feeling lost. So here is my challenge to you: let go and let God. Cease all striving and simply start living. Don't dwell on the past or idealise the future, just live in the present - God's way. Be kind to those around you, forgive those who hurt you, help those in need, worship with all your heart, believe in what you read in the Bible, work hard, be grateful for what you have, cherish those around you. 

Why? Because here is the secret: "When you follow the ways of God you will always flow into the will of God." 

That is the greatest of all paradoxes and biggest of all challenges. It does not make any sense, but it absolutely works. Trust me. When you live by faith and not by sight (or feeling, or compulsion, or by ideas, or by anything else) - you will always see the other side of breakthrough. When you live by faith, doors that you knock on will be opened. Opportunities that you never imagined possible will suddenly become a reality. 

God rewards a lifestyle of faith (Hebrews 11:6): faith to live by the principles of God, faith to trust God for better, faith that God has a purpose in all things.

Following Jesus is neither an event nor a destination. It is a process, a journey. A daily affair. A step by step thing. That is the challenge. To live every single day so conscious of Him, so in step with Jesus, so inline with His Spirit. Don't confine a relationship with Jesus to the weekends. Make time for personal prayer and worship. Make room for those private moments where it is just Jesus and you. 

So whatever stage of life you are at now: a crossroads, figuring out your next step, confused and having no direction, worried and anxious, starting a new phase of life - a new challenge I give you: I dare you to follow Jesus 

Psalm 37:23 (NLT)
The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.

What Should We Make of "Pokemon Go"?

The international phenomenon known as "Pokemon Go" was officially release on the 6th of July earlier this year, and boy has it been stirring up a storm ever since. If I am not mistaken, this is probably one of the first games that incorporates both the virtual and physical world. The general concept of the game is players walk around in public hunting these "Pokemon". Different locations serve as different hotspots for "Pokemons", with some areas having more than others and the possibility of catching a rare Pokemon depends on location as well. Players can visit PokeStops (which are usually placed in places of worship, restaurants, monuments, parks etc) to get items and experience (to level up) for free and a player can pit their Pokemons against others at PokeGyms. 

Pokemon came to Malaysia a couple of days ago (August 6th I think) and to say that it is really catching on is... an understatement. I decided to give this game a try just to see what all the hype was about and I'll admit it can be VERY FUN making it REALLY ADDICTIVE! While I knew this game is a big hit, it did not prepare me for what I was about to see. I discovered the area I lived in had many PokeStops, so I ventured out to go get myself some free items. I thought it would pretty embarrassing to be seemingly wondering around aimlessly while staring at my phone but when I got there - there were PLENTY of people doing what I was doing! Some in groups, some alone... some were young children with their parents (the parents were playing too), some were in office attire etc. In fact, I noticed everyone (almost) is playing it everywhere (really)! 

The game is definitely fun, and you actually do not need to have any prior knowledge of Pokemon to enjoy it.  So the question that comes to mind then is... is Pokemon Go demonic, evil, dangerous, bad? Should Christians avoid playing Pokemon Go? Is this a tool of the devil to bring about the destruction and demise of people all around? 

 

IS THIS DEMONIC/OF THE DEVIL/EVIL? 

Some people have responded to the game's popularity by deeming it demonic. Firstly, because "Pokemon" literally means "Pocket Monster" in Japanese (where the game originated from). These "monsters" vary from cute to grotesque and unnatural - they surely must carry demonic symbolism! Let's address this first. Pokemon is a cartoon, and like many cartoons out there they contain elements of fantasy and imagination. Think of every cartoon that comes to mind, they each have different characters ranging from fantasy creatures, talking animals, to a mystical world etc. 

Now, unless we have substantial proof that Pokemon Go has diabolical subliminal messaging (that conflicts with the Christian worldview) and/or creators and writers who are outrightly anti-Christian, it would be unfair to pass judgement based on this but giving exceptions to other fictional content. Think of every movie that Disney and Pixar have produced: don't they all involve more or less the same things? In fact, if I were to use the same line of thought I would go so far to say VeggieTales, a popular Christian cartoon for children which features talking vegetables is "unnatural" as well and hence should be boycotted!

Some then bring up the fact that Pokemon has elements of evolution which is against Christian teaching... again not very solid reasoning. The key here is to distinguish between fantasy and reality. If we are able to draw clear boundaries on what is real and what is imaginary, this should not effect us. If we are to absolutely avoid everything that could potentially influence us in a negative manner or lead us astray... the solution will be to completely avoid all forms of entertainment altogether. 

Yet, that sounds silly doesn't it. Christians and churches that wage an all out war against culture may do really well in avoiding "contaminating" themselves but end up doing really poorly in reaching out to the world, which is a mandate for all Christians (Matthew 28:18-20). So on this note, I will say this: to me there is no substantial evidence that Pokemon Go is demonic unless proven otherwise. 

 

EDIT: A few people pointed out to me that there was an "interview" supposedly confirming that the creator of the original Pokemon series was motivated by his disdain towards his parents' Christian beliefs. That interview is a HOAX. Read the real interview here

 

IS IT BAD ENOUGH THAT WE SHOULD AVOID IT THOUGH?

However, I will say this: proceed with caution. The fact that it is really fun just means that the temptation to spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy (and even money) is real. This is like any other video/computer game: prolonged exposure to it can cause addiction, irritability, feelings of aggression and inability to concentrate on anything else. This is not just limited to Pokemon Go, but applies to social media, the internet, other online games, movies, series etc. 

The key here is moderation. While there is nothing outrightly sinister about Pokemon Go, it does come with its own risks and drawbacks. Just as the bible tells us: 

1 Corinthians 10:23 (NLT)
23 You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial.

The truth is, not many of us are disciplined enough to keep ourselves in check though. If you can, set a schedule for this game. Do not neglect your school, work, social, work and church responsibilities. If you have trouble setting boundaries, ask for help from your leaders, family members and friends. If you have been spending too much time on this game, allow other people to point it out to you without getting agitated. 

Take time to understand the risks and dangers that could potentially arise from this game. Search the internet for some safety tips, and parents read this for some helpful advice. 

 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Not every new thing that comes along should immediately be labelled as "demonic." I understand that people have concerns, but that does not warrant a knee-jerk reaction that many Christians have. The truth is, we are too quick to pass judgment on things that we do not understand or that does not suit our own preferences. This kind of attitude actually alienates us even more from a world that we are called to reach, and we should be looking to build bridges instead of more walls.

But I do acknowledge that there is a real enemy out there who is actively trying to lure people away from God (1 Peter 5:8). He is known as a deceiver, and he would often use either TEMPTATION or DISTRACTIONS (which is more effective in my opinion) to keep us away from the things of God. We must be aware of the spiritual world and battle that we are involved in as Christians, and must do our part to live wisely (Ephesians 6:10-18). 

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you play Pokemon Go:

  1. Does it cause me to neglect my studies/work?
  2. Does this game take away quality time from my friends and family?
  3. Do I find myself making decisions based on the game without taking into consideration of those around me?
  4. Do I find myself constantly thinking about the game which makes me unable to concentrate on anything else?
  5. Do I find myself feeling frustrated, agitated, annoyed, grumpy while/after playing this game?
  6.  Does this game actually make me not want to go to church, read my bible and/or pray? Do I find the quality and quantity of my time with God has reduced as a result of playing this game? 

If you answered YES to any of these questions, then take some time to evaluate with the help of a leader and/or parent whether it is wise to carry on playing this game. Think of Pokemon Go, and any other form of entertainment really, in "nutritional" terms. Physically, we need a balanced diet of protein, fibre, carbohydrates, vitamins etc which would ensure we are "healthy" in our bodies. The occasional indulgence in "bad foods" will not be detrimental to our health, but we cannot live on cake, chocolate, pizzas, potato chips and the likes alone. 

In the same way, our "spirits" need to be fed the right amount of things as well. We need time with God (church, bible reading and prayer) and time with our loved ones to ensure that we are "spiritually healthy." So by all means, play Pokemon Go if you like with a clear conscience - just remember that you are the one who owns the game and not be in place where the game owns you. 

 

For more practical information by Focus On The Family including a guide for families, a review, parental guides as well as a breakdown on Pokemon's worldview, click this link. 

 

 

Should I Stop Going To Church During Exams?

As you enter a stressful season of tests, assessments, exams and deadlines for assignments and projects it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the stress of expectations placed by teachers, parents and even ourselves. Most people would think then "OK - I better focus on doing my work and studying and cut down on other things during this time." 

Naturally, we would choose to minimise activities associated with leisure (Social Media, Movies, Games, Hobbies etc) - which may even include church. I can understand why - exams and finals can be extremely stressful (I often have nightmares of going into an exam hall being absolutely unprepared). The last thing I want to do is to guilt trip any one into coming to church, however I do feel that skipping church during exam season is not a good thing. Here are some thoughts:

1. Church is not just "any other thing" that we do. 

Going to church and being in a community of believers is part of our worship and relationship with God. By all means cut down on entertainment and distractions - but don't cut down on God! God can be our source of strength, comfort, peace and even discipline - we need more of God during times that are tough and when pressure is high, not less of Him! 

 

2. There is ALWAYS enough time.

I am of the firm belief that if God gave us 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week - there should be enough time for us to get what we need done. It is a matter of priorities, discipline and boundaries. Plan out your week efficiently, set aside time for what is important and here's a great tip: get off social media, put your phone away and even stay away from the Internet (if possible)! You will be amazed at how much time can be wasted on social media... get rid of distractions and get organised! Let's be honest - if you feel like you hardly ever have enough time, it isn't because you have lack of it; it just means you need to maximise your schedule or that you are taking on way too much.

 

3. Learn to praise with your problems and move with the mess.

I don't want to sound like a doomsayer, but as you get older life actually gets harder and most of the time pressures increase rather than decrease. I am not downplaying the effects exams can have of us, but if we do not develop a habit of putting God first in the midst of exams life is just going to give us more and more reasons not to in the future. Jobs, bills, kids all can contribute to "good reasons" why we cannot make it to church - hence all the more we should make a decision while we are a student to make God our first priority and not our last resort. 

 

Now, I am not trying to imply that we should rock up at church NO MATTER WHAT. I am sure there will be genuine emergencies or compulsory activities that would force us to miss church from time to time - but it is a conscious decision on our part not to make skipping worship and being in community a habit. 

Its not like God NEEDS us there. God will still be God even if we don't show up, and His power and presence is not dependant on us. 

Acts 17:24-25(NLT)
24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.

I may not be sure of many things in life, but one thing that I am absolutely certain of is this - those who choose to honour God will never lose out in life. 

Psalm 55:22 (NLT)
22 Give your burdens to the Lord,
and he will take care of you.
He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.

Here's a prayer for you to pray if you are going through exams and finals:

Dear Lord Jesus,

Please be with me during this season of exams. Lord I ask for your divine favour and blessing to be upon me, that you would give me your peace, wisdom and strength throughout this time. I pray that I will not be anxious, but help me look to You in all that I do. Protect my health and my mind as I prepare, and give me confidence when I am doing the papers. Thank you for being such a good God and Father, and help me to always put my trust in you and you alone. All this I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

The Way Of The World vs The Way of The Kingdom

This is the way of the world: we look at what others have that we don't, and are either filled with longing which leads to despair or a constant striving to get what we so desperately covet.. Or we develop a condescension based on a assurance that we are somehow better than those who lack the privileges we have.

This is the way of the kingdom: we look at what we have that others don't, and are filled with compassion which compels us to be the a vessel in which God can channel His blessing through us. We look to contribute to the needs of others. We understand that whatever that we have is a blessing and not a privilege, and we are simply stewards.

People of the world will always ask: "How can I be blessed? More of me me me me me."

People of the kingdom on the other hand: "How can I be a blessing? Less of me me me me and more of YOU."

The only time we ought to look down at someone is right before we reach to pick them up.

Is Christianity really A "Relationship" and Not A "Religion"?

"Christianity is a Relationship, not a Religion."

This is often used in Christian circles, while its intent is a noble one - but it can be misleading. What this saying is trying convey is that Christianity is more than just a bunch of "dos" and "don'ts", and following Jesus is not strictly bound up in rules and regulations. In essence it is more like having "a relationship" and not joining "a religion." Herein lies the problem: the relationship and religion aspect are not at odds: it is not one without being the other. Instead, it is more like two different sides of the same coin. 

You cannot quite say that Christianity is not a religion... because it is! You cannot deny that it is also a relationship: because we are dealing with a LIVING being: a Being that speaks, acts, has feelings, desires etc. Relationship, not just religion, actually have "rules" as well. Think about this: any romantic or plutonic relationships are based on mutual exchanges. This means that while in a relationship with someone, you have to take into consideration what actually pleases and displeases the other person. It is not all about our own preferences: you cannot want the benefits yet deny its implications.

There are many benefits of being in a romantic relationship, but the implication is we cannot do whatever we want. We cannot flirt with other people, we have to be somewhat accountable about our whereabouts, we have to be transparent with our partners. You cannot say "I want the companionship, but I still want the freedom to do whatever I want." Similarly, if you are friends with someone you will not intentionally keep doing something that makes them unhappy thinking that it is fine because after all it is a "relationship."

We are not responsible for how much God loves us, but we are in charge with how well please He is with us. God is not just our Santa Claus or fairy god mother (or worse, our ATM machine) where we only go to Him and expect Him to do whatever we want. A genuine relationship with God will not just seek the WORKS of God, but actually want to follow the WAYS of God as well. Loving God means obeying what He says (John 14:15, 23).

Loving God also means living the way Jesus wants, not doing whatever we want. God does not just want us to be happy, He actually wants us to be Holy. That is what the bible says! The bible actually has clear instruction on how we should live as Christians, and we would do well to be aware of that what that truly means. Read 1 Peter 1:13-25 and Ephesians 4:17-5:20. A real disciple on a true journey following Jesus does not need to have it all together - but must be willing to surrender it all. Jesus is either Lord of all, or not Lord at all. 

Some would contend: wait a minute! Is God not a God of Grace and Mercy? Has He not forgiven all our sins? Does not the Bible say that as long as we believe in our heart and confess with our mouths we are saved? (Romans 10:9) Yes that is all true, but read that scripture clearly: "we believe in our heart that Jesus was raised from the dead but we declare that Jesus is Lord." Declaring is not just paying lip-service, it is actually truly doing it. As they say - actions speak louder than words and you have to walk the talk.

Right believing leads to right living. Whenever a loving parent makes a decision for a child, he does it for the good of that child. There are times when a parent will give the child while he wants, there are times he will withhold. Sometimes he will comfort, other times he will discipline. Sometimes he will give liberty, but other times he sets boundaries. The parent knows why he is doing what he does, but the child has to believe that the parent knows better and has a heart to bless and not curse - and this in turns cause the child to live willingly by the parent's guidance.

We have to realise that we are limited in our own understanding, and how our sinful nature sometimes gets the better of us. We have to trust that God whose ways are higher than our ways, is more than just a mystical being who is aloof - He is in fact more like a personal parent who desires us to grow, mature and experience true blessing and fulfilment.

As Christians, we have to truly follow Jesus - and that means actually heeding the entire Bible, and not just the parts that we like. When you have truly experienced the transforming power and love of God in your life, I am confident that is enough motivation to want to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. A genuine relationship with Jesus will cause us to realise that His commandments are not a burden (1 John 5:2-3) but rather a pathway to a rewarding and fulfilling relationship with an Almighty God. 

If you struggle to accept or understand this, I would suggest you first examine yourself (2 Corinthians 13:5) - have you really embraced the Gospel in your life? Or maybe you need to open your heart and sincerely pray: "God, I want to truly know you, and not just know about you - reveal yourself to me." (Hebrews 11:6)

Grace is not a license to do whatever we want, it is the empowerment to live however Jesus wants