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. 

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

 

 

How To Survive A Long Distance Relationship

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Long distance relationships (LDR) are getting more common in this day and age. People move abroad for studies, work and so forth and this opens doors to new experiences and even new people, with whom some we eventually fall in love with. But it is also normal for people to not settle in a place permanently and after some time move on to another location This can be tricky when we are leaving someone behind (or are left behind), but sometimes it can be beyond our control: visa runs out and we have to leave, we go to further our studies, we get transferred for work etc. 

I for one can speak from experience. I met my wife while I was studying in Australia; she had been in Australia since her teens with her entire family. At that point of time I had little to almost no thought of coming back to Malaysia till I felt the call of God to return to serve. This led to us having to be in a long distance relationship for 3 years (we have been dating for 7 years) up till the point we got married. Below are some of the things I believe can make a LDR work. 

 

1. HAVE A STRONG FOUNDATION

Building a relationship and trust takes time. My wife and I were dating for 4 years before I had to go - so we had time to get to know one another. When I was in college I got into a LDR too, but we were only friends for a month or two and together for a month before she had to go off. Sometimes, it may be wiser to not get into any serious commitment if one party has to go somewhere soon. This is not to say that it will not succeed, but it does make things harder.

 

2. HAVE AN END GOAL

Ultimately, nobody wants to be in limbo in their relationship forever. You would want to be together eventually and having an idea of when that would happen helps A LOT. This goes without saying that obviously both of you have to agree on a same place (which sometimes requires one party to compromise). Having a clear timeline and an agreed location is something that can get you by during the hard times and a goal to work towards to. 

 

3. HAVE YOUR OWN LIFE

This is quite important, as you really do not want your life to be centred around Skype calls and FaceTime sessions (especially if you live in opposite ends of the Timezone). Keeping busy not only takes your mind off missing your partner, but it is a good opportunity to pursue your own interests. 

 

4. GIVE EACH OTHER SPACE

This is related to (3.) and trust has to play a big part in it. Being in a LDR naturally means that you cannot keep track of your partner's whereabouts or activities; and being extremely suspicious and investigative would not help your relationship. Having said that, if you struggle with being secure about your relationship, a LDR is definitely not for you. By all means make plans to stay in touch via Skype and FaceTime - but apart from that let them (and yourself) live!

 

5. PLAN VISITS

This is probably more of a "good to have" rather than a "need to have." Visits are always good, and flights are a lot more affordable than they have ever been. Frequent visits are not always possible as I understand budget and schedule constraints, but I do advise planning once or twice a year. 

 

LDRs are never the best thing in the world, but I have survived it and now that I am married to her I can say I have succeeded at it! Hope you got something of this article and if you are in a LDR I pray you guys will make it. :) 

Signs That You Should Let A Friendship Go (Part I)

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Having friends is an integral part of life, after all we are made to be in relationships. While some people enjoy being alone, nobody wants to feel lonely. However, having the RIGHT sort of friends is important as well. There comes a point in life where we have to let certain people go from our lives - and that is OK. How do we know that a friendship has already run its course? I suggest these signs:

1. THEY DO NOT RESPECT YOU OR YOUR BELIEFS  

Whether you are a Christian or not, your friends should always respect your values and principles. If you do not want to indulge in smoking/vaping, drinking, clubbing, gossiping, swearing (or anything really) but yet you have a friend or friend(s) constantly berating, mocking or making fun of your beliefs or even pressuring you to conform - it's a no go. 

Jokes and name-calling are quite common amongst friends - but there should be some boundaries. If you have a friend that frequently looks down on you (whether subtly or openly) via snide remarks, sarcastic comments, undermining statements - it's time to let go. 

2. THEY ARE INCONSISTENT

Is your friend unreliable? Does he/she struggle with punctuality or consistently breaks plans at the last minute for no good reason? Speak to them openly about it, but if nothing changes you are better off being friends with someone who would actually respect your time. 

Do you find it very hard to get in touch with them? Do they not return your messages (SMS, Whatsapp, FB message, Emails etc) or calls? Do they give you promises of meeting up but no appointments or contact are made? Granted, sometimes people have busy schedules and we should not expect instant replies. But someone who values you will eventually get back to you and not leave you hanging all the time. 

3. THEY ARE EMOTIONALLY HIGH MAINTENANCE

Friends who fall into this category come in various packaging. There is the friend who is extremely sensitive: he/she is always picking on things that you do or do not do, or stuff you say or do not say. You feel like you are walking on egg shells whenever you are around them, and you have to watch your every move lest you upset them. They may even have a habit of constantly reading into things that are not necessarily there... how tiring!

Then there is the drama king/queen. Yes, it is healthy to talk about our problems and struggles. But there are some people who continuously moan and groan about their life and yet do not seem to be taking any positive steps in improving it; in fact they may even ignore sound advice that is given to them. They are perfectly happy to have you as their shoulder to cry on...forever. 

Then there are those who are EXTRA clingy. They want to know what you are doing, where you are at, who you are with... they get very jealous or offended when you are hanging out with other people and are hurt when you do not reply their text in under 30 seconds. Basically, they are not willing to give you your personal space. 

4. THEY ARE NOT A POSITIVE INFLUENCE

Proverbs 13:20 (NLT)

20 Walk with the wise and become wise;
associate with fools and get in trouble.
1 Corinthians 15:33 (NIV)

33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

 

Do your friends seem to be divert you away from what you actually want to achieve? Maybe you want to focus on your studies, but your friends want you to fill your time up with computer games. Maybe you want to draw closer to God but your friend tells you church is a waste of time. Maybe you want to get fit but your friend is not willing to accommodate your preferences. Basically the friend that is keeping you from making positive changes is more of a harm than a help. 

Are your friends supportive of your choices and dreams? Friends should have the liberty to give us sound advice and correct us when needed - but it is entirely different when they spend every waking moment trying to discourage everything we want to do just because they have a pessimistic outlook on life. 

The people you surround yourself with will have a significant impact on your life. Even Jesus who had a heart for the masses spent most of his time with his select 12, and within that select 12 he had his inner circle (Peter, Andrew, John and James). 

 

You assimilate that which you associate with.

 

Something to think about... part II will come later.

Growing A Youth Ministry

What does it take to build a strong youth ministry? Some say it's all about the program: vibrant worship, relevant preaching, cool giveaways, epic games and so forth. The content of your program does matter of course, but it is not the be all and end all. I would suggest that one component is extremely important: Relationship.

Let's put it this way: imagine you were invited to a party in which you had to put up with bad food, poor choice of music and maybe some lame attempts at getting a game going. All these things you will forget and forgive eventually when the party fades into memory, but one thing that might stick longer is: if nobody talked to you at the party.

The horror! Imagine yourself standing in a corner trying to look like you are meant to be there or getting introduced to a bunch of people who do not really seem keen to hang out with you... how awkward! I'm not sure if we realised this, but this often happens to a lot of people who come through our programs and churches. 

Having a cranking program but no follow up can be counterproductive, and the most effective way of making someone come back is to make them feel welcomed. This to be honest, takes a lot of intentionality. When I first took on the youth ministry I am in, the one thing I had to do was drill into my leaders that they needed to break out of their cliques and to start looking out for people. 

So apart from just focusing on getting the worship, the games and the preaching right; make sure you (and your leaders) put extra effort into befriending and connecting with both existing and new people.

One problem that many ministries face is that they can become so comfortable and familiar with the usual regulars that newcomers find it hard to fit in. This too takes intentionality to overcome (I actually forbid my leaders to hang out with their friends during youth, they can do that on their own time). 

We have to remember that people matter more than the programs, and discipleship is most effective when done via relationships. Build a culture in your ministry where people are cherished and celebrated; where everybody who walks through the door feel like they belong - then your ministry will definitely grow!