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. 

It's OK To Be Unsure Of What To Do.

Uncertainty, it comes in all shapes and sizes. Some are minuscule: “What should I eat?”, “Should I buy that?”, “Will that place be nice?”. Others are substantial: “What course should I take?”, “Do I go or stay?”, “Who should I marry?”, “Will it ever be ok?”. The minor ones are vexing at the most, the major ones can be paralysing at its worst.

Life is full of uncertainties, it cannot be avoided. We often find ourselves placed in the crossroads of different options to take - and it is all very confusing and frightening. We are afraid to choose wrongly, we are confused by the variety, we are frustrated that we have to choose … it is safe to conclude that the only thing that we can be certain of is that almost nothing is certain.

Of course, this goes against our primal instinct as human beings. We hate uncertainty. Why? Because to a certain extent we all want to be fully in control. You can only be in control when you are certain. Like driving a car: you are in control because you know how the car works (generally) and you know where you want to go and you know the way to get there.

If only life is that straightforward: I know what I should be doing, where I should be going, when things will happen, how it will all turn out and who will be there along the way. But it isn’t.

And it is OK.

In my last piece, I mentioned Genesis 32:22-31 and the defining phrase of the story: “I will not let you go unless you bless me (Genesis 32:26) as well as the intriguing response of the Divine: “You have wrestled with both God and men and won (Genesis 32:28)” The part about wrestling with men - perhaps sometimes our biggest opponent is not necessarily other people but ourselves. The original meaning of the translated Hebrew word here simply means “(a) mortal person”, us included.

Our struggle with ourselves is not just in the area of wanting to do good and not being able to, but also knowing that we shouldn’t be so obsessed about being in control over everything and yet we can’t help ourselves. The problem is: we are limited. There is only so much we know, and there is only so much we can do. We can’t predict or see beyond … hence the uncertainty.

Yet, with God this is actually a perfect position to be in. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that without faith it is not possible to please God and also promises a reward to those who fully trust Him. Get this: uncertainty creates the necessity for faith, and faith is a pathway to blessing. Without uncertainty, there will be no need for faith and hence no opportunity for blessing.

I am convinced that God leaves a gaps in our lives that fuel uncertainty because it would only mean an increase dependability on Him. Let’s be honest, the times when we forget God the most are the times where things are clear and going well - and the times we are often closest to Him are when we are at an absolute lost of what to do.

Sometimes you don’t realise God is all you need until God is all that you have.

Our faith is not blind nor futile - in fact it is built on the only thing that is certain - Jesus. He is never changing and ever faithful. He is the one we ought to relinquish control to. We may think we know better, but God always knows the best.

Therein lies the key to true peace and blessing: to be contented to be caught between Who we know and what we cannot yet see. To be comfortably uncomfortable in the intermedium of who God is and what He says He will do. The struggle/wrestle of holding on tightly to the force driving us forward even though our strength is waning and we are tempted to just let go.

If you are faced with many uncertainties today, good news: you are exactly where you need to be - in God’s safe hands.

Let him have the wheel. Allow him to take control.

You on the other hand: sit back and enjoy the ride - as well as the presence of the One who is taking you on this journey.

While you are on that journey of discovery, ask the tough questions; wrestle with the issues; press into prayer. You will find what you are looking for. But once you get there you will realise you haven’t quite arrived. There will be more destinations to go to, more questions to be answered.

Just remember: It is OK - and keep on going.

ps: Don’t worry, there is a Part II: “What To Do When You Are Unsure Of What To Do.”

FIGHT For Your Blessing

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Recently, God has been stirring something in my spirit. Something that the Holy Spirit spoke to me personally, and I hope that this encourages you as well.

FIGHT FOR YOUR BLESSING.

“If it is meant to be, God will make it happen anyway.” How often do we think this to ourselves, whether consciously or sub-consciously. We rarely want to toil in prayer, or push for a breakthrough or endure heartbreak and hardship for what we are believing to get because a part of us is resigned to the fact that perhaps if it’s God’s will then it will happen and if it isn’t then there is no point.

However, as I have been seeking God through prayer and scripture, another perspective comes to mind.

In Genesis 32:22-31, there is the story of Jacob wrestling with what seems like an angel, but later on revealed to be God Himself. Jacob wrestles to the point of having his hip dislocated, but in the midst of such a dire scenario he exclaims: “I WILL NOT LET YOU GO UNTIL YOU BLESS ME.” Now Jacob’s life up to this point to say the very least, was far from smooth: His name literally means “deceiver” (he was born grasping the heel of his twin brother Esau), he tricked and took advantage of his brother Esau TWICE, he laboured for 7 years for Laban to marry one of his daughters but at the end of it managed to MARRY THE WRONG DAUGHTER and laboured 7 years more to get the right one (Laban only had 2 daughters, so thankfully another mistake was improbable) and in the end got into Laban’s bad books as well because he tried to trick him.

A colourful and eventful past, yet Jacob found himself in wrestling with the angel of God. Upon proclaiming that audacious line, the reply Jacob received from God was: “…. you have fought with both God and men and have won.” Other versions use the word “prevailed.” That line struck me. Here was Jacob, a broken, imperfect, scheming man - yet he fought with God and won?

What does it mean to fight with God? I believe is not so much as fighting with God, but fighting in God. Here are the defining moment of his life, Jacob was wrestling with God himself. How does this apply to us? The Bible tells us to always be praying (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Philippians 4:6 , Ephesians 6:18), and not just the kind of prayer that you know. We often like to pray it safe: “God, if it is your will …” but let me challenge you this:

Instead of just praying “God have your way”, declare “God make a way!”


Don’t pray it safe. Go all out on your belief. Get dangerous with your faith. Demand the impossible. Fight for your blessing. Never once did Jesus teach us to pray “small” and “safe” prayers. Have a look at Luke 11:1-13, where Jesus compares prayer to a man having “shameless persistence”, and in Luke 18:1-8 Jesus likens prayer to a woman who persistently demands for justice even when she knows the judge is unjust - shameless persistence - and he even exclaims at the end “Will the son of man returns will He find such faith?”

It’s plain, it’s simple, it’s spelt out to us - but why do we not pray like this? I think we forget that the God we are asking from is unlike any other. This is the God that invites us to ask audaciously, to dream big, to demand for more - because He has already given us His best, He will not withhold anything less from us. Where did I get that from?

Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?”
- Romans 8:32

A normal person will chide us for dare asking for more after they have gone above and beyond for us - but our God is no regular joe.

Ask first, determine later. Let God do the deciding on what should or should not be, you just ask for what you need and what you know He has placed in your heart. Ask for your healing, ask for your breakthrough, ask for your promotion, ask for His favour, ask for His deliverance, ask for His provision, ask for His clarity, ask for His peace - just ask! Don’t work it out in your mind on whether He will reply or if it His will - remember: ask first, determine later. The worse that could happen is you just get a no - even then rejection from God is redirection by Him to something better.

What does it mean to "fight with men” then? It does not mean to get into a physical altercation with them, or to go on an offensive. We of the kingdom don’t fight like the world, we fight differently. Forgive those who wronged you. Forget those who do no good to you. Submit to authority. Always be the bigger person in all situations. Stick to what you believe but don’t try to justify yourself. Don’t gossip. Don’t backstab. Keep your head down but your spirit up. Serve even when it goes unnoticed. (Ephesians 4:32, Luke 6:27, 1 Corinthians 15:33, Hebrews 13:17, Romans 12:17-21, Proverbs 10:18, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Colossians 3:23-24)

Make no mistake about it, all of this is going to be a fight - it is always a fight to do the right thing. To live by faith and not feelings. To go by conviction and not convenience. To honour God instead of indulging ourselves.

In Genesis 32:28, just as Jacob was proclaimed to have wrestled with both God and man, he also had a name change - from Jacob to Israel. His identity went from “deceiver” to “God prevails.” A fight for your blessing will not leave you the same - it will shape you significantly. You will know what you are truly made of, and you will know who God truly is.

Jacob may have ended up with a limp, but he was still standing. He no longer had his own support, but he had come face to face with God. In our fight for our blessing, we will lose certain things - but what we stand to gain is far greater than what we could possibly lose out on.

What are you believing for?

Fight for your blessing.


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.