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During the past six weeks, I have spoken on the following:

  • “Dealing with pain & suffering – understanding the theology of suffering” (A men’s group)
  • “The Wounded Man” (Another men’s group)
  • “More than conquerors over your past” (Sermon)

I didn’t volunteer to speak on these topics; I was invited to do so. It just so happened that the talks were so close to each other. A friend remarked that this was my focus for this season.

In these talks, I revisited my past, especially a period I call my ten black years. I talked about my failures as a husband and a father. I talked about my experience of widowhood, divorce, loss of ministry and reputation, and my sojourn through clinical depression.

I don’t find it easy to revisit these parts of my life. After every talk I am wiped out emotionally and physically. But if asked, if I think it will do some good, I will make these parts of my life available to others. For the longest time, I wished I could go back in time and do things better, make better choices, be a better man. But I can’t go back in time. Now, I seek to redeem my past by sharing whatever lessons I learnt from those dark times, with others. The most important lesson is this — God is bigger than our failures.

How I wish I had made better choices in my life, but I didn’t, perhaps I couldn’t. I came to terms with the fact that life is not predicated on me making perfect life choices, but on the fact that our God is a God of grace and He is able to work all things for good, for His people (Romans 8:28). This is divine alchemy that only God can do. He brings good out of bad. Of course it helps if we cooperate with His work, to be like Peter and return to God, with confession and repentance if need be, and not be like Judas who turns away from God in his failure.

I need to be reminded that our God is able to bring good out of bad. I need to hang on to this aspect of His nature and power, even as the echoes of the explosions in Manchester and Jakarta ring in my ear.

Wishful thinking? I remember Good Friday, when God used the greatest evil to accomplish the greatest good. I remember Easter, when life defeated death. So I continue to live. I continue to serve. And I continue to share.

I have come to see that my life is a story, and that God is the author. He is able to weave together all the strands of my life, both the good and the bad, into a coherent redemptive narrative. My story will end well as I continue to trust in Him. And if telling my story helps others, I will continue to do so.

Graceworks organized its first Young Adult Ministry forum in November, 2014. Since then the Lord has confirmed our calling to minister to this age group. This article was published in February 2015. Two years on, it is a good reminder of our call to empower and equip these emerging adults.

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Graceworks primary call remains the same: “Promoting spiritual friendship as part of God’s agenda of making disciples for the Kingdom.” We will seek to do this for all age groups but will give special attention to young adults. But who are the young adults? We can give some numbers. Graceworks defines young adults as those between 18 to 31. But young adults are more a chapter in life than a chronological age range.

In their book, Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults, Richard R. Dunn and Jana L. Sundene join Jeffrey Jensen Arnett and others in preferring the term “emerging adults”. They write:

We agree with Arnett that the term “emerging adult” seems appropriate to describe the challenge for this generation in becoming fully functional adults. In his recent book Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, Christian Smith also embraces this term because ‘rather than viewing these years as simply the last hurrah of adolescence or an early stage of real adulthood, it recognizes the very unique characteristics of this new and peculiar phase of life.’ . . . For our purposes, however, we will use the terms “young adult” and “emerging adult” interchangeably to refer to adults ranging from ages nineteen to thirty five. (Richard R. Dunn and Jana L. Sundene, Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012], 17)

We must give people in this life stage the attention they need. It is a key transition stage in life. I see this life stage as a gestation period that gives birth to the adult. We need to do what we can to ensure that the adult that emerges from this period will be one that is healthy. Gordon T. Smith puts it this way:

The first transition, and probably the most critical, is the move into adulthood from adolescence. This transition occurs at or around age twenty. For some it happens in their late teens. For others it does not come until they are well into their twenties. Regardless of when it happens, the critical issue is this: it must happen. Personal congruence and vocational integrity require that we take adult responsibility for ourselves, and as adults, we must ask and then courageously answer the question “What is God calling me to be and to do?” (Gordon T. Smith, Courage & Calling, 2nd edition [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011], 79.)

Graceworks commits itself to a mission of helping our young adult friends answer this question and helping them live out the answers. We want to be their servants in this birth process.

What are some issues that emerging adults live with? They include:

  1. Identity— Who am I as defined by God and not just as defined by my parents/society/government/institutional church, etc.
  2. Vocation— What am I called to do? This is a critical question as I begin my work life.
  3. Community— How do I relate to my family of origin and my church at this stage of life? Who will I walk through life with? Who are my friends now?
  4. Sexuality— What does it mean to be a sexual being?
  5. Stewardship— As an adult I now have much more say in how I use my time and money but I am overwhelmed by the many demands on my resources.
  6. Why should I be a Christian?— Am I a believer just because I happened to be born into a Christian family? Isn’t it arrogant to claim that only Christianity is true when there are so many faith systems out there? And can Christianity stand the hard scrutiny of science?

The above list of issues is by no means exhaustive. Indeed, the first step in young adults ministry is to listen. We insult our young adults when we give them pre-packaged answers and pre-packaged programmes without first listening to them. It is fair to say though that whatever the issues they struggle with, young adults need what disciples of every age group need — truth and love.

We are confident that the Scriptures have answers to the most fundamental issues of life and we need to help young adults build bridges between the story of the Bible and their stories. But above all, young adults need true older friends, mentors, disciplers, older brothers and sisters in the faith who will walk with them as they journey from adolescence to adulthood. Which is why it makes a lot of sense that a ministry committed to spiritual friendship, Graceworks, should also be a ministry that focuses on young adults.

I like the guiding question that Dunn and Sundene have crafted for their ministry with emerging adults:

What can we do in this generation to empower and equip emerging young adults to reach their God-designed potential for spiritual transformation? (Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults, 17.)

It will also be a question that we will be trying to answer.

Download slides: Resilience in Life and Ministry

In her book, The Power of Meaning, Emily Esfahani Smith writes:

As much as we might wish, none of us will be able to go through life without some kind of suffering. (Emily Esfahani Smith, The Power of Meaning, New York, NY: Crown, 2017, 185.)

Smith does not write from a Christian perspective but her book contains much truth, including the above statement that comes in a section on resilience. At age 62, and with all I have gone through, I fully concur with Smith and wonder why nobody told me this much earlier in life. Which is why Graceworks was glad to be able to organise a talk on “Resilience in Life and Ministry” in partnership with our friends, the Bethesda Frankel Estate Church, two nights ago (9th May 2017). We had the privilege of having Tony Horsfall address us.

Listening to Tony, I felt again that teaching on resilience should be compulsory teaching in Life 101 for Christian and non-Christian alike. Growing up in a (lower) middle-class family in a middle-class church, it was assumed that if you did all the right things, trusted God, worked hard, etc., you would be spared the worst pains of life. This is a lie, as I discovered when my first wife died of cancer. Indeed, “none of us will be able to go through life without some kind of suffering”. Therefore we need to develop resilience.

Tony gave us some key points on how we could develop resilience. In the context of a lecture, all he could do was to give us an overview. We look forward to a book and a seminar he intends to do later. A number of things he said echoed my own convictions.

He reminded us “resilient people have a sense of meaning and purpose, and a theology of suffering”. The night before we discovered that my first wife had cancer, I was doing my quiet time in the book of Job. I had read Job many times before but that night the Lord seemed to personalise the book for me in a way that had never happened before. It was a book that was to provide a framework for the dark days that were to follow. From Job, I learnt, among other things:

  1. To faithfully follow God is no guarantee that we will not suffer tragedy this side of heaven.
  1. God has a reason for all He does though He may not always tell us the reason.
  1. God is sovereign and nothing happens without His permission.
  1. God is all knowing and all wise and I must trust Him in my pain, including times when I do not understand the “whys” of my pain.
  1. God will make all things right in the end. (For this we need to go beyond Job and look at Revelation, chapters 21 and 22.)

These were hard and inconvenient truths that did not soften the blows I received but they provided a framework for me to carry on. It is so vital then that followers of Jesus have a healthy biblical worldview of life, for life.

Another thing that Tony said was “resilient people nurture supportive friendships and receive help from others”. I look back at my life and see all the key friends the Lord brought into my life. They were His “angels”, His messengers of grace who helped me stave off despair and who helped me to press on and not give up. The importance of friends is now a key platform of my life and ministry, and a matter of deep concern as I look at the loneliness of modern society, including many who are followers of Jesus.

We look forward to the new heavens and the new earth, a time and place where there will be: “no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” (Revelation 21:4b NIV). Till then, let us help each other finish our race. Let us help each other develop the resilience we all need to survive, and indeed thrive if possible, in the realities of life this side of heaven.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12: 4 – 8 NIV)

In Romans 12:4-8 Paul reminds the Christians in Rome that they belonged to each other. The Christian life is communal. He then goes on to remind them that one consequence of communal life is that every member has to play their part in the life of the church and they have been given different spiritual gifts to enable them to do so. Paul goes on to mention seven spiritual gifts. Did you notice that he put the gift of leadership second last? Most of us would have put leadership as gift number one. But Paul puts it second last because he wants to make a point. It’s not that leaders are less important. Importance in the body of Christ is not a zero sum game. Leaders are important, but so is everybody else. The point is the church, the body of Christ functions when all her members function.

I tried to make this point at a retreat I took recently with the audio-visual tech team of a major church. They named themselves “The Invisibles” and I can understand why. Think of your typical Sunday service. The eyes of the congregation are on the speaker and the worship team. The audio-visual (AV) team is somewhere behind. Nobody thinks of them. They are invisible. Yet their ministry enables the ministry in front to happen. Nobody thinks of the AV team — unless something goes wrong. When a wrong slide is shown or a mike doesn’t work, a groan goes up and people begin to look around. They turn their eyes to the AV control room. When things work, few notice the AV team or thank them. But when there is some technical glitch, people hold them responsible.

It gave me great joy to tell this great bunch of people what God thinks of them. They may be invisible to people, but they are not invisible to God. The Lord is aware of their sacrificial faithful service and He is pleased with them. When we all stand before the Lord one day, the critical importance of their contribution will be made clear.

We live in a world where some groups of people are considered more important than other groups. It is different in the Kingdom of God. No second class citizens here. We should take pains to remind each other to intentionally affirm all in the body of Christ, and appreciate their contributions whatever that might be. Thank God for the “invisibles” in our church!

There is a song that goes:

Open our eyes, Lord
We want to see Jesus
To reach out and touch Him
And say that we love Him
Open our ears, Lord
And help us to listen
Open our eyes, Lord
We want to see Jesus
(Robert Cull, 1976)

I understand the sentiment behind the song. The heart of the Christian faith is a relationship with God in Christ. We hunger for a closer walk with Him. But often, when Christians sing this, they are seeking some personalised mystical encounter with Jesus. But Jesus is not playing hide and seek with us. He has already told us how we can encounter Him. In the Emmaus Road passage (Luke 24:13–35), we see two ways that enable us to “see” Jesus.

First, we encounter Jesus in the Word.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27 NIV)

The two disciples were kept from recognising Jesus (v.16). I believe Jesus was preparing them for the day when He would be taken up to heaven and would no longer be available to the disciples in the flesh. Where then will they go to meet Him? In the Word.

Next, we encounter Jesus in community.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. (Luke 24:30–31 NIV)

Many see this incident as a symbol of the Lord’s Supper. Of course we encounter Christ at the Lord’s Table. But I think, in the first instance, this is a description of a regular evening meal. In the context of community, when the disciples ate together with their guest, they recognised the presence of Jesus among them. Indeed, it was when the two disciples were walking together that Christ came and walked with them.

We want to see Jesus? Seek Him in the Word. The Living Word speaks to us through the Written Word. And since disciples of Jesus are being made into His image (Romans 8:29) we also see Jesus in our brothers and sisters. I am not saying that our brothers and sisters actually become Christ, but they teach us, albeit imperfectly, what Christ looks like.

So, by all means express your hunger for Christ in the songs you sing, but if one is serious about wanting to see Jesus, study the Bible and walk together with other believers in authentic community.

This Wednesday, 26th April, Graceworks will be launching one of my books, Walking With The Risen Christ. Writing does not come easy to me. I am energised when I am preach, teach, or have conversations one-on-one or in small groups. But when I write, I don’t have that face-to-face encounter. Writing is a lonely activity; it’s just me, God, and the computer. I find that very difficult. So the very fact that one of my books is now birthed is a matter of great joy and great relief.

Because I find writing so difficult, I have to be selective about what I write on. Often, I write on topics that support the primary mission of Graceworks — seeing lives transformed through spiritual friendship. My previous book, 3-2-1: Following Jesus in Threes (Singapore: Graceworks, 2013), laid out the theology of spiritual friendship and proposed a simple model of how we can actually do it. The model was a form of intimate spiritual friendship and 3-2-1 suggests that three friends meet for two hours once a month over a meal. The book has helped many embark on their journey of following Jesus in the company of friends.

I realised, however, that for any number of reasons, not everyone was ready for the intensity of intimate spiritual friendship. However, most Christians were in some form of church/parachurch small groups. Therefore, I wanted to explore how we could help small groups become more intentional in how they helped their members connect with each other, so that they could help them grow in Christlikeness.

As I researched and meditated on how we could help Christian small groups be healthier, I began to see that the most important factor in helping small groups thrive and grow is not methods or materials, though these are important. The most important factor in helping small groups mature is the recognition of the presence of the risen Christ in their midst. Hence the title of the book, Walking With The Risen Christ.

It is a short book, but hopefully one that will have a big impact. Our hope is that all small group leaders, and indeed all who are part of any Christian small group, will get a copy. I was delighted when a friend bought the book for his cell group and said they were going to go through it, chapter by chapter, at their cell group retreat.

We are also delighted that we can launch the book in partnership with Community of Praise Baptist Church. They are a church that has relationships at the heart of their DNA, while giving of themselves in sacrificial service to the community. Truly a church after our own heart. We are grateful that we can have the launch at their facility and that their senior pastor, Rev George Butron, will also be speaking.

We hope you will come join us for the launch. Please RSVP here.

Date: April 26 (Wednesday)
Time: 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM

Venue: Community of Praise Baptist Church,
18 Boon Lay Way #04-127,
TradeHub 21,
609966 Singapore

At Graceworks, we say that we are not in the book business. We are in the life changing business, but we publish books because we know that books are key tools in the hands of God for changing lives. So please pray for us. Do buy our books, for yourselves and for others. May the Lord see fit to use this book to start a revival in our small groups, may we see lives transformed by Him and for Him.

Source: David Yan

Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession. (Exodus 21:16 NIV)

Clearly kidnapping is abhorrent to God. Douglas K. Stuart tells us why.

Kidnapping is a capital crime. God regards taking someone away from home and family by force for relocation elsewhere (usually to be sold into slavery) as sufficiently horrendous that he requires kidnappers or slave traders to be put to death when apprehended. People’s freedom from such oppression is important to God. (Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus Vol. 2 [Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2006], 488.)

The recent spate of kidnapping/disappearance of pastors and social activists in Malaysia should be a matter of great concern for all Malaysians. It should be a matter of great concern for the church. Looking at the growing list of people disappearing makes me think of the situation in some countries in Latin America in the ’70s and the ’80s. Here is a summary of this phenomenon of “forced disappearances” on Telesur.

Latin America’s Disappeared
August 30 marks the International Day of Enforced Disappearances. The day was inaugurated to commemorate all of the victims of forced disappearances and was created following a U.N. Resolution approved in 2010.

 

Latin America
The term enforced disappearances refers to victims forcefully abducted as a strategy to intimidate and spread fear throughout a population. Although most of the victims are actually killed, others were tortured or smuggled to another country, making it very difficult to determine their whereabouts. Some reported as disappeared might never be found and their bodies never recovered.

The proposal for commemorating the day of enforced disappearances was brought forward by the Latin American Federation of the Detained-Disappeared, a regional organization which unites all of the human rights bodies struggling to find out the truth.

 

 In Latin America, Tens of Thousands Were Disappeared
The forced disappearances of people became an issue of global concern during the right-wing military dictatorships which governed most of Latin America throughout the 1970s and 1980s. All of them resorted to this technique as a means of limiting opposition to their regimes.

Without dead bodies, these governments could deny knowledge of people’s whereabouts and any accusations that they had been killed. As Argentinian Dictator General Jorge Rafael Videla explained in an infamous press conference, “They are neither dead nor alive, they are disappeared”

Malaysia seems to be slowly walking down this road.

Perhaps what is equally disturbing is the fact that the authorities seem to be relatively unperturbed by these disappearances. Perhaps they are feverishly working behind the scenes to locate and free these victims. Unfortunately, their relative silence lends itself to all sorts of speculation. Are the authorities unconcerned because:

  1. They don’t care?
  2. They are helpless?
  3. They condone these disappearances?
  4. Worse?

What can followers of Jesus do?

  1. Pray. When God’s people pray, God listens and responds though we may not see His hand at work (Daniel 9:20–23). Action without prayer makes us practical atheists.
  2. Protest. Continue to let the powers that be know that this situation is unacceptable. We can write to the press. We can make representations to our elected officials. We can continue our public vigils. And we mustn’t grow weary.
  3. Participate in the political process. There is a general election coming. Let us vote in a government that cares.

For the record, here are those missing that we know about:

Amri Che Mat, social activist: Missing since Nov 24, 2016.
Joshua Hilmy and wife Ruth, pastors: Missing since Nov 30, 2016.
Raymond Koh, pastor: Missing since Feb 13, 2017.
Peter Chong, social activist: Missing since April 5, 2017.

Let us not fail these five souls or fail ourselves, by going on with our lives as though it is business as usual. It is not. God have mercy.

 

At 8.20 pm, 25th March, 2017, I received a Whatsapp message from a friend, Steven Toh, informing me that a mutual friend, Meng Hoi, had had a heart attack and had died. My first reaction: “Loh Meng Hoi??????” Because it couldn’t be that Meng Hoi.

It couldn’t be Meng Hoi.

He was one of the most gentle people I knew. I first met him when I came to serve as pastor of the then First Baptist Church, Petaling Jaya. My relations with the church leaders were not always smooth. I am sure my quick temper was part of the problem. But here was a leader who never lost his cool, and was always kind and gentle even when he disagreed with you.

It couldn’t be Meng Hoi.

At a chapter of life when many were slowing down, he was more active than ever, pouring his life into youth ministry and providing sterling leadership in the Boys Brigade, among other things. The testimonies of lives touched by him continue to pour in. In a day and age where virtually every day we hear of poor leadership or, worse, leaders who abuse their charges, Meng Hoi’s work among youth shone very bright. He deserved many more years of ministry. He would have touched many, many more lives.

It couldn’t be Meng Hoi.

We had promised to meet and catch up. I haven’t had a proper chat with him for decades. I live in Singapore and he lived in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, but recently we reconnected over social media. What we really wanted, though, was to catch up face to face so we said that the next time I was up in PJ and we were able to coordinate our schedules, we would meet up over a meal and have a long catch up. I was really looking forward to this.

So it couldn’t have been Meng Hoi. There must be some mistake. He looked like he was in the peak of health. I had heard nothing of any struggles with health problems. It couldn’t have been Meng Hoi.

But it was.

God’s thoughts are clearly higher than mine because at times like this I have no idea what He is up to. If He needed help to choose who to take home, I will be more than glad to give Him some names.

But Meng Hoi?

I vacillate between sorrow and shock, between grief and anger. And guilt that I hadn’t seen him earlier. Why Meng Hoi? But God doesn’t give any answer, much less a satisfactory one.

Therefore I am grateful that Good Friday and Easter are near. I try to comfort myself by remembering that death and sadness belong to the Friday part of life. But Sunday is coming.

(Spoilers ahead for fans of Bones.)

The finale of the TV series Bones, was a two-part episode (season 12, episodes 11 and 12). The first part, “The Day in the Life”, ended with a horrendous explosion. The bad guy had won. He had successfully attacked the good guys and had escaped justice. The good guys, well, we are left wondering as to how many had died or had been maimed horribly. And one of them was pregnant. Did she die? Will the unborn child survive? And because this is not Netflix, which sometimes releases a whole season at once, we had to wait one whole week to see how things turn out. Once again, we encountered the dreaded “To be continued…”.

We saw episode 12 last night, “The End in the End”. And we could exhale. The good guys survived and went on to experience shalom in different forms. The bad guys were captured or killed when they resisted violently. The good guys won in the end. Evil people were brought to justice. And I so badly need life to imitate art.

These days, the soundtrack of my life is often in a minor key. A dear brother, Pastor Raymond, has been kidnapped for more than a month now and still not a single word from the captors. And a few days ago, I received the shocking news that an old friend, a fantastic human being, Loh Meng Hoi, had had a heart attack and died. Meanwhile, many who oppress others with evil seem to prosper and are seemingly immune from justice. Recently, a friend reminded me of Ecclesiastes 7:15,

 In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:
the righteous perishing in their righteousness,
and the wicked living long in their wickedness. (NIV)

Is there a God? Is this God good? Is He any good? Empirically, the jury is out.

I am hanging on till Good Friday and Easter. Fortunately, they are just a few weeks away. Once again we remember the Good Friday-Easter sequence. On Good Friday Jesus died. Good died. Hope died. Evil won. But we realise now, looking back, that Good Friday ended with a “To be continued…”. We held our breath on Holy Saturday. But Easter came and Jesus rose again. And we remember the words of Julian of Norwich:

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Art imitates life. Hang on. It’s still “To be continued…”.