Preaching

The first time I preached was last Dec when we went to India to visit a missionary couple.  Before that, I always had the desire to preach.  Maybe this is part of my own imagination and maybe also part of the Holy Spirit.

The first time I preached, I preached on the Fear of the Lord is the Beginning to Wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).  This was never the topic I thought to preach on. As I was praying, I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit that this was the right topic.  Little did I know, on the platform where I first preach, their banner was Proverbs 9:10.  I believed I listened correctly to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  My joy wasn’t because my message was elegant or witty or people listened to me.  My joy was simply I spoke the words God wanted me to speak to the church.

The first time I preached, it was on Proverbs 9:10.  The banner on the church has the exact same verse!

Since being in Uganda for a month, I had the privilege to preach in various churches.  I like to jot down some of my thoughts when it comes to preaching.

Preaching is to speak God’s Word to the church.

The preacher is like the prophets in the Old Testaments.  A preacher’s job is to become God’s mouthpiece.  The message can be an exhortation, encouragement and also a rebuke. The message might not be good to the ears to hear if the heart of the hearer is not right in God.

Preaching is not a performance. Rather, the preacher’s heart is so attune to God’s heart that the message flows out.  Technique is almost not relevant.  A few years ago I was among discussions about doing a three point sermon or how long should a sermon be before the audience got bored. These should not be the focus of how to preach.  The first and last question is, did I serve the Lord by preaching the Word which He wanted the church to hear?  If the answer to the question is not a yes, then the sermon is garbage.

The success of a preacher is not how polish the message is delivered.  It is not the skillful elegance of the presentation.  Rather it is to speak as accurate as what God wants to speak to the church.  In Paul’s eyes, to preach is to show the power of the cross and the demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Corinthians 2:1-4).

A preacher can deliver a polish message without God. But a preacher, filled with the Holy Spirit, will always cut to the heart of the hearer.  A message inspired by the Holy Spirit will ALWAYS be relevant and ALWAYS bring glory to God.  Paul even said that he didn’t use fancy words to convince the Corinthians.  He used simple words and power through the Holy Spirit to share Jesus Christ and His crucifixion.  We need that.  If our presentation skills are too good, people will draw to the message by us and not of Christ.  This is not an excuse to not prepare.  We need to focus on the right things to prepare.  Thus, technique is not the right things to focus on.

The response of the hearer does not measure the success of a preacher.  If the hearer’s heart is not right with the Lord, a message of rebuke might turn them against the preacher (look at Stephen from Acts 6:8-7:60).  But this has nothing to do with whether the preacher is good or not.  If the hearer rejects a message from the Lord, it is the hearer’s responsibility (and possible judgement and condemnation from the Lord).  When Paul preached, he didn’t always get a positive response.  In fact, he get more negative and hostile responses from the Jews (Acts 9:20-24, 13:45-52, 14:3-7, 14:19-20, 17:5-9, 17:12-13).  But this doesn’t deter Paul from preaching nor was his preaching ineffective as many Gentiles and some Jews believed.

My goal for every time I preach is to be in a position where I, the Lord’s servant, become His mouth piece.  This requires the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit only comes to those whose hearts are pure.  It is the Holy Spirit which gives us access to God’s heart.  This is the only formula.  If there are sins in my life, I will not be effective in preaching.  Notice Isaiah only become God’s prophet after his sin (his mouth) is cleansed.  When filled with the Holy Spirit, we can be imparted with wisdom and understanding of the Bible.  When Peter and John were before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:13, the Sadducees were astonished that they were not train nor educated.  Yet they preach with such boldness, conviction and wisdom.  In our church when our preachers are highly educated and highly skilled, does that hinder the gospel rather than promoting it?  Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 stated that he came to Corinth church not with excellent speech or persuasive words of human wisdom.  But he came in demonstration of the Spirit and of power so his hearer will put their faith in the power of God and not in the wisdom of men.

My preparation as a preacher has two folds. First, I need to know the Bible.  Such that when Holy Spirit prompts me I can pull passages easily. The more Bible I know, the more effective I will be in speaking in Truth and in Love.  The second is to abide in Him.   For me, that’s to be filled with the Holy Spirit and walk with the Spirit.  In Acts, we see Holy Spirit is the one who directs the steps of all the disciples.  Only after the Day of Pentacost, then the disciples preach Jesus and the Cross with boldness.  This is the KEY.  We need to walk with the Spirit that we know where He is moving.   The Holy Spirit is like the wind.  He knows what each church needs to hear.  We need to hear from Him to deliver the right message.  We might not know why the Holy Spirit is prompting us to preach a certain topic or use a certain Bible verse.  We might think we are foolish to do so. But we must trust.  We must learn to trust.  We must learn to listen.  We must learn to discern.

I make it habit to not use the same sermon I used before.  I might use the same illustrations and testimonies.  It doesn’t mean every time I preach has to be new and novel thoughts or interpretation.  It means that after I prepared my sermon, I always give the room for the Holy Spirit to discard the message or change any of its content.

In all the sermons that Luke recorded in Acts (Peter’s sermons in Acts 2:14-39, 3:11-26, 10:34-43, Paul in Acts 13:16-41, 17:22-31, 26:1-23), there’s a common thread between all of them.  They always preach on Christ, the Cross, and Resurrection.  The exception is Acts 22:1-21 when Paul was addressing to the Jerusalem mob.  It looks like the mob cut Paul off in verse 22 before he preached on Jesus.

I believed that preaching, my preaching should stay consistent with what was preached in Acts.  To some, this might seem irrelevant as the cross is already preached and the listeners need to hear something different.  I beg to differ.  To preach anything else other than Jesus and the Cross reduces the centrality of Christ in Christianity.  We need to not be afraid by public opinions to preach sin as it leads to death.  We need not be afraid to offend others that there’s no salvation found other than Christ alone.  Lastly, Jesus overcame death by resurrection in the third day.  This is the victory which we hold on to.  This is why we preach.  There’s power, a demonstration of God’s power in preaching Jesus, the Cross and the Resurrection.  This is the Good News.  I hope I will never get tired or stray from preaching this.

 

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.1 Corinthians 1:17-18

…but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.1 Corinthians 1:23-24

We preach not to draw others to us.  We preach to draw others to Jesus.  This is the goal.  Just as John the Baptist said, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ (John 3:30).

Preaching is not a profession.  It is not a job.  It is a calling from God.  It is appointed by God (1 Timothy 2:7).  Paul was created in his mother’s womb to preach.  That was God’s purpose for Paul’s life.  When he was born again and he discovered God’s purpose for his life, Paul made it his only goal to pursuit this purpose.  Woe to me if I don’t preach the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16).  These are the words of a man who is filled with the Holy Spirit and recognized the purpose God placed him on earth.  If we are to be effective in preaching, we need to be like Paul.  Man (and woman) so filled with the Spirit, a clean heart, and a single purpose to do His Will.

Monkey Business

Since we settled in Uganda, we had Vervet monkeys as neighbours.  They often travel in packs and will swing past our front porch.  A local told us they are harmless. However, Wai Jia and I stayed a bit far from them in case they bite. The younger Vervets loved to play and wrestled with one another. Here are some pictures and a few videos of them in action.  We always eat our breakfast outdoor.  It is quite a sight when they run past us.

Monkey Gallery

Video: Two baby monkeys and a mama monkey

Two baby monkeys and one mama monkey

Video: Monkey grooming himself

monkey grooming itself

Video: Monkey jumping off a tree

monkey jumping off a tree

BONUS Video: Colobus Monkeys jumping between trees (taken at the Entebbe Botanical Garden)

Jumping Colobus Monkeys

The Call

I packed Oswald Chambers’ two books in one, So Send I You and Workmen of God, with us to Uganda. One of the joyful moments we have every morning is reading one chapter for devotion.

Since following his devotion’s My Utmost for His Highest, I enjoyed reading Oswald Chambers’ writings. His words bring clarity to Spiritual truths in such a profound way I don’t get from reading other authors. I am not implying the other authors are not good. But for me, Oswald Chamber’s materials are true gold. He never softens the truth when it needs to be hard. He always brings the truth to its edge where it shows where my life still needs maturity. His materials are meant for those who take following Jesus seriously or else the reader will not have the desire to follow. Interesting, at times Jesus’ words can be sharp and feels ‘discouraging’ (see Mark 10:17-22 or John 6:60-66).

Of all the missionary-preparation books I read, by far, this book is my highest recommendation for anyone who desires or contemplate to be a missionary or missionary service. Many books talk about dealing with cultural, transition, language, and worldview issues etc., and these topics are important. Sometimes in desire to do mission, we can easily left out a missionary’s main focus, God. Oswald Chambers reinforce this over and over again.

Wai Jia and I had the opportunity to speak to many youths in various churches regarding missions. One of the frequently asked questions is how do I know God is calling me to such a place?

In the first chapter of the book, entitled ‘The Call’, Oswald Chambers shared that:

These calls are heard by a few only because the call is the expression of the nature from which the call comes, and can only be heard by those who are attuned to that nature.

Am I attuning to the one who calls? Which is God, Himself. It is so important to be able to attune or to discern His voice. Oswald used Isiah as an example. In Isaiah chapter 6, Isaiah was in such a crisis which he was able to attune God.

I am going to side track a bit. Notice that the immediate response Isaiah gave when he saw God was the realization of his own sin. Not just confessing sin in a general statement. But a very specific sin which he personally know he is in condemn for, a man of unclean lips. This is the response when we are in the presence of a Holy God. We instantly see our personal individual sins lit up like blood stains on our hands. This is taken from Oswald’s devotion on Utmost.

Anyway back to the call, God didn’t tell Isaiah to do anything. God was simply talking to Himself, ‘who should we send?’ (Isaiah 6:8)

Once Isaiah is attuned to God, the call comes as nature as breathing. Isaiah realized that he can do something for the Lord. He saw the opportunity. Now redeemed, forgiven, without hesitation and without regret, he said ‘Here am I! Send me.’

This birthed a ministry for Isaiah cost him his life.  God used him mightily as the last warning before Judah is to receive judgement through being conquered by the Babylonians.

Back to the question that the youth asked, how do we know where God is calling us?

My standard answer would be ‘well pray about it, read the Bible, talk to your pastor, research on different missionary organizations.’  It seems so random and without an element of God in it.

The better answer is to have the right relationship with God. God’s call is not random or required some advance deciphering device. We just need to attune ourselves to be in the right relationship with God.

To be brought within the zone of God’s voice is to be profoundly altered.

The call of God is not a call to any particular service, although my interpretation of the call maybe; the call to service is the echo of my identification with God. My contact with the nature of God has made me realize what I can do for God. Service is the outcome of what is fitted to my nature. God’s call is fitted to His nature. When I have received His nature, then His nature and mine work together; the Son of God reveals Himself in me, and I, in my natural life, serve the Son of God in ordinary ways, out of sheer downright devotion to Him.

If our youths are interested on missions and are not sure what to do, the first and foremost we should help them attune their lives to God. Just like in Isaiah’s case, God didn’t ask or command him. The instant Isaiah is attuned with God, he instantly recognize the opportunity to serve.

..there is no call to service for God; it is my own actual “bit,” the overflow of super abounding devotion to God. God does not have to come and tell me what I must do for Him; He brings me into a relationship with Himself where in I hear His call and understand what He wants me to do, and I do it out of sheer love of Him.

In short, don’t focus on do, focus on having a right relationship with God. When our heart and ear is attuned to Him, our eyes will see how we can serve Him!  Serving is the by-product of being in the presence of the Lord.

Transition

We are now waiting in the Doha airport in transit to Uganda.

It has been a long time since I blogged, I will give a quick update.  My role with OMF finished in mid April.  Afterwards, we went to Canada for a month.  It was a great time to see friends, family and thank my supporters.  We came back to Singapore three weeks ago and started training at church to prepare our way to Uganda.

We are going to Uganda to serve there for a year.  I will be teaching two lessons in the Bible School and as well as teaching IT.  Wai Jia will be helping out at a NGO (Mildmay) and looking ot start up a community development project with a local church.

Though the actual transition started within the past two months, we’ve been packing and cleaning up our home in Singapore since Christmas.  The last week was especially busy as we closed up accounts (home line, gas and electricity, newspaper etc.), packing the home and also training at church.

Last night as we locked up the door for the last time, we know we are opening a new season in our lives.  A while ago, someone asked me where my home is.  Is it Canada? Is it Singapore?  The answer is they are both my home and they are both not.

Without a physical place where we can call ourselves home, it can be trying at times.  We might feel like we are floating in a current, not knowing where it will go.   There can be a sense of overwhelming emotion of lostness and sadness.  It is during this period I stop and remember Hebrew 11:8b:

…and he (Abraham) went out, not knowing where he was going….

This was my defining verse when I left Canada.  This is the same verse as we embark to Africa.  If you read the whole chapter of Hebrew 11, it is very encouraging.  These individuals are known as heroes of faith.  It is a reminder for us to perservere.

I really have no clue what to expect in Uganda.  We just have to trust in Him and His leading.  He alone is more than sufficient for us.  He has provided more than both Wai Jia and I can imagine (have a read at WJ’s blog post).

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)

At the airport…

cliff-wj-airport

 

Cliff eating his last durian before taking off…cliff-eats-durian

Taking my medication

Since my liver transplant in 1991, I’ve been taking one drug to keep me alive.   The drug is called cyclosporine.  It is an immunosuppressant drug.  For thsoe who are not medically incline, cyclosporine lowers my immune system.  Since my body treats the liver as a foriegn host and will try to attack it, cyclosporine lowers my immune system and body thus able to accept the liver.   It is quite amazing when we think about it.  This drug is created from a fungus.  How did the scientist figured that out, I had no idea.  With three little pills, the size of M&Ms (but definitely not taste like M&Ms!), twice a day, it keeps me alive.

When I tell people about my medication, those who are in the medical profession will often be amazed that as a transplant recipient, I am taking only one drug.  Transplant recipients often have a cocktail of medications to boost their immune system to keep them healthy.  The first year after my transplant, I would take a whole bunch of pills and liquids.   Yet, sometimes, someone will ask me what are the side affects of taking cyclopsorine.  I would tell them in the most serious tune, ‘yes, there are some major side affects. I am alive.  It is not easy to ‘live’ with this but I finally get use to it.’

With all joking aside, not taking cyclosporine, my body will attack my liver and Cliff will see Jesus very soon.  Thus, this is important for me to take it every 12 hours to make sure there is a good cyclosporine level in my blood.

Ever since Wai Jia and I were married (one and a half years ago), I often wondered why she never made the effort to remind me to take my cyclosporine.  After all, she’s a medical doctor, she should know all the 101 side affects of NOT taking cyclosporine.  Doesn’t she care?   It never really bothered me but sometimes I just wonder.

Then a few days ago, I had a revelation.  Wai Jia is also taking some medication as well (not cyclosporine, thankfully.  This drug is already expensive for one person!).  As I reflected upon this, I realized I rarely made an effort to remind her to take her medication.

So the whole thing turned around.  I realized that by asking how come she doesn’t care, I am actually looking at a mirror and asking myself, do I really care her?

Over the weekend, we went to the church’s Marriage Preparation Course (MPC) to give a testimony as to how the course helped us as a couple (which for all those who are about to get married, definitely consider taking a MPC. It helped Wai Jia and my marriage.)  I am once reminded something a trainer said in my MPC.  He said that we are actually very selfish people.  In our own mind, we have a perception of who that person should be to us when we are married.  We will consciously (and unconsciously) force that person to fit that mould in our head.

As Christians, we often talk about agape.  Agape is a Greek word that means sacrificial love.  That’s the word we use to describe Jesus dying on the cross for us.  It is a love that costs one person something for the sake of another person.  With marriage, we often use the same word to describe how we treat our spouse. In fact for Wai Jia’s engagement ring, I etched agape on it.

Reminding me to take medication in the whole scheme of things is very small. I’ve been doing this for twenty years.  It is like breathing to me.   However, it reminded me how self-centre I still am and there’s still a way for me to learn to love sacrifically.

Last night, I shared my relevation with Wai Jia.  She said that she purposely chose not to remind me because she doesn’t want to nag me (like my mom. I will be honest. I don’t like my mom nagging me but I know she does it out of good intention!).   So for her, by loving me, choose not to remind me to take my medication.

:)

 

 

 

God’s Ocean of Grace

The past few weeks have been a mix of filling out forms, emails, testing systems and a million and one to dos.

Just to give a brief update…

We came back from a recce trip two weeks ago.  Wai Jia wrote a great post on her blog.   I am serving with OMF until mid April.  Afterwards, we will fly back to Canada to thank my supporters, follow up on my medical needs and visit friends and family.  Then come back to Singapore to pack and then to head to Uganda.  We plan to stay in Uganda for one year.

Many of the nights, both Wai Jia and I are exhausted by night. It feels like this never ends. There’s always one more form to fill (or re-fill) and one more thing to pack. We try to encourage each other that soon, this will be over.

Seeing that I am getting stressed, Wai Jia deliberately schedule off time for us.  This is where we don’t talk about ministry or work or moving.  Just rest.  I am learning to rest as well.

More importantly, I am learning to depend our Father.  It seems that this season of my life is to learn to depend on the Father.  There are a number of things I have no control.  For example, who is to take care of my medical needs while we are in Uganda?  What about getting medication?  I don’t have all the answers. I just focus on following Him.

Internally, I realize I am going through transitional stress.  The thought of going to Canada to say godo bye and then making farewells in Singapore makes me feel un-settled.

Over the weekend, my friend Whatsapp me and asked how I have been doing. To which I replied:

We are just riding along the currents of God’s ocean of grace.

And that’s where we are at right now.  We are just riding along.

There are probably more things to say and more to blog. What are we doing there?  What we hope to accomplish?  What are our concerns?

Hmm…good questions.   :)  Will catch up on those on a later time.

For the Love of Money

The issue with addiction with money is very hard to detect. Not many people is willing to have such examination of one’s heart as the author. We often praise those who make lots of wealth. This probably fuels the addiction. Perhaps we should all examine our own heart once in a while.

“I generally think that if one is rich and believes they have “enough,” they are not a wealth addict. On Wall Street, in my experience, that sense of “enough” is rare. The money guy doing a job he complains about for yet another year so he can add $2 million to his $20 million bank account seems like an addict.”

Article: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/opinion/sunday/for-the-love-of-money.html?_r=0&referrer