Freedom

Based on a sermon by Pastor Lia.

“But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel.”‭‭ – Psalms‬ ‭22:3‬

God isn’t just found in our hearts, in the Bible, in church or in Heaven. He also lives in our worship to Him. Wherever His name is lifted on high, there His presence will be.

The Christ-centered songs we sing alone in our bedrooms or together with the congregation in church are not like other songs.

It is not for good vibes, fun or hype. It is neither for a performance, nor a karaoke! It is a form of praise the Bible describes as something that welcomes God to take a seat in our midst.

“You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭16:11‬

In the presence of God, there is fullness of joy! We get to experience a true joy and sense of freedom no other thing in this world can give. Once you have experienced the pure pleasures of praising Him and being in His presence, the pleasures of this world will fade in comparison.

If you have never encountered Christ before in the way that I’ve described, believe in Him. Seek Him with all your heart and lift up His name in songs of praise and I assure you, your life will be changed from the inside out.

It really isn’t hard to worship. In fact, we have the privilege to do so anytime, anywhere. Put aside all distractions, press in and focus on God.

As we do so, especially as a church, there is great power. Remember that once we step into church, we are a part of a big family. And though God will impact individual lives, we must now think for the people around us more than just ourselves.

When we worship and lift up praises to Him, we are actually giving to build the faith atmosphere in the house of God. The Bible says that “without faith it is impossible to please Him”. Instead of just receiving from the atmosphere, we are producing an atmosphere in which God can move to touch the lives of others.

“Let God arise, Let His enemies be scattered; Let those also who hate Him flee before Him. As smoke is driven away, So drive them away; As wax melts before the fire, So let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” – ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭68:1-2‬

Worship is powerful. Worship is warfare. A man’s worship can bring the presence of God that holds power to change lives and drive out evil. Imagine a church of thousands united in worship. We will shake the gates of Hades.

So the next time you hear a church singing passionately and loudly, don’t be taken aback. We just can’t help but praise Jesus.

Pardon the noise. It’s the sound of freedom.

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Why Do You Give?

Giving is something we do all the time. We give in the form of gifts, time, energy and finances. But today, I want to ask you (and myself), “Why do you give?”

Because while many of us give in different forms, be it to a cause we believe in, to our family and friends, or to the church, this is a very important question that we must ask ourselves so that we give with the right heart. From what I’ve observed from myself and also other people, there are usually 5 reasons why people give.

1. Insecurity

Some people give because when they look around, they see their peers doing it; and in order to sort of fit in or not appear to be selfish, they give too. And while in a way, it is good because they still gave in some way, this kind of giving gets painful in the long run. That’s not how giving is supposed to feel! I believe giving is meant to be a joyful thing.

“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7

2. Instruction

There are also people who give because someone told them to do so. Maybe it’s a parent, a senior, a leader or an elder. And while it is good that we obey all these people, we must also have our personal convictions in giving. If not, we will eventually be unwilling to give. Giving by instruction is one of the lowest levels of giving. Let’s not stop here!

3. Intention

Then, there are others who give with personal motives. They give out of their own will but there is an expectation for something in return. Some people give to their “friends” so that in the future, they will lend a helping hand when they need it. Some Christians give to the church and to God because they want to be blessed by Him.

While we will be blessed by our loving family and good friends and God will also honor our giving, we must not give with this dangerous mindset. Because there is always a possibility that we will not get anything in return! Are we going to throw a tantrum and stop giving then?

If we give with expectations to get something in return, it is NOT giving, it is buying. You go to the cinema, buy a ticket with your money and expect a great movie. You go to the restaurant, buy an expensive dish and expect a great meal. You go to the store, buy something with your salary and expect a great product. And if it turns out that any of them doesn’t meet your expectations, you’ll get upset.

But this is not how things work with giving! With hidden intentions or expectations in our hearts, we will not be giving, we will only be trying to buy people’s favor and God’s blessings. We want to be givers, not consumers.


So there are people who give out of insecurity, instruction and intention – motivations that makes the spirit of giving temporal, unpleasant and even selfish. But there are also another two groups of people whom I’ve really seen giving with the right attitude, and we want to be just like them.

4. Intimacy

The first of these two groups give because of intimacy. They give out of a heart of love and thankfulness towards someone. It is natural to give to someone whom we love or are intimate with! Have you ever seen how a loving couple would give to each other?

If you’ve ever wondered how to be a “cheerful giver” as described in the Bible verse above, this is it. When we give out of our hearts to love, we will do it cheerfully. We can give without loving, but we can never love without giving. There is a joy in giving to people we love. We are cheerful in doing so. Let’s give with a heart of intimacy towards our friends, family and God.

5. Involvement

Last but not least, there’s also a group of people who gives to be involved. They give to a disaster relief because they want to be involved in helping people. They give to a loved one because they want to be involved in their lives. They give to someone or something that once helped them and now want to be involved in doing the same for others because they are grateful. They give to a vision and a cause they believe in because they want to be involved in making a difference – in changing the world.

Today, let’s give out of intimacy. Let’s give to be involved in something greater than ourselves. Most importantly, give with a smile on your face. God loves a cheerful giver, but I believe a cheerful giver also loves God.

Pain

Pain. It is something that can come in many forms. It could come in the form of a sickness or a discomfort; you know the kind of feeling that you get when you have a fever or the sore that you have after exercising for the first time in a long while? Or how about that sensation that you feel at your fingertips after playing the guitar for an hour? Accidentally stubbing your toe against something? That’s pain.

Yet beyond all that, we know that pain can also come in less physical forms of disappointments, discouragements and rejections. I’m sure that you and I have had a fair share of all that. But I guess only those who has been in pain will understand it. And only those who understand pain can relate to those who are hurting.

So in a sense, could God use our current pain for a future purpose? Because it is true that we connect to others not by our strengths, but through our weaknesses; that we relate to others not by our personal gains in life but by our personal pains in life. So maybe God can use our pain for a greater purpose – if we have the right perspective and allow Him to do so.

Besides, if there is one Person that we should use as the ultimate example of pain with a purpose, it is Jesus Christ! He was nailed to the cross for the remission of our sins. He was betrayed, He was tortured, He was humiliated, He was abandoned. He went through the most physical, emotional and spiritual pains and suffered more than any of us just so we can be set free. Yet after all these things, He is perfect, He is alive and He is all powerful.

Maybe right now as you’re reading this, you’re in the midst of a painful season in your life. Never think that no one understands your pain. Because even if the people around you don’t, Christ does.

Before I conclude this last post for the week, let me just say one final thing. Pain never lasts. Sometimes it feels like forever, sometimes it might even really take forever to subside. But trust in God and one day sooner or later, He will bring you through it. Jesus came to loose the chains of eternal pain in our lives, and essentially also – eternal death. Of course, I pray that as much as possible, you do not experience pain in your life. But if it does happen, have faith.

And also, remember that there is always the possibility that your pain could have a purpose. At times, your pain can even make you stronger. Out of painful experiences, victors can be made. Go ask any Olympics champion if winning was ever easy. I think we all know the answer. Pain can either drain you, or train you. Choose what it does.

Overcoming Our Forces of Nature

Hi friends, I had quite a few revelations recently! Some I got while I was in church attending service, others while I was reading a Christian book, but there’s also those I got while I was reading my Bible. Talking about my Bible, here it is:

my_bible

For some of you who do not really understand what you’re looking at here, let me briefly explain. This book that you see can be many things, but one thing it definitely isn’t is that it’s just a book. No, it’s not just a book. If you have a relationship with Jesus and read this intently, you will realize what you are holding & studying contains power that can change your life. It can shift your mindset, touch your heart and even propel you to action.

Don’t believe it? Well, hopefully by the end of this post, you will have a little teaser of what the Word of God can reveal to us. Let’s begin. What I decided to do today is to compile some of my recent revelations which I thought were really amazing and share them with you here. The ones that I am going to talk about in this post are mainly from exactly a month back while I was reading my Bible.

It was just a Monday night and I was in my room, spending time with God. I held the Bible you see above, and said a little prayer before flipping to the book of John. I went straight there because I am currently on a “New Testament Challenge” I gave myself. I just wanted to continue from where I left off previously. How unprepared I was for the truths that were about to jump out at me! I began reading the first chapter of the night and it wasn’t long before a verse caught my attention.

12 Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” – John 8:12

At this point of time, you must be wondering why the title of this post is Overcoming Our Forces of Nature. You could be reading this under a tree, by a river, or on top of a hill. But I’m not in any way referring to the “nature” around you. What I am referring to here is OUR human nature. You see, by default and by birth, it is in our nature to sin. Ever since Adam & Eve’s first disobedience to God, they and their descendants leading up to us today have all inherited characteristics & qualities contrary to God’s.

For example, when I was just a young boy, nobody – not my parents, my relatives, my friends (I probably didn’t have many back then anyways LOL) taught me to lie. But as soon as I got into trouble, it would be my instinct to push the blame to someone else or something else to cover up for what I’ve done! You can identify with these experiences, can’t you? Even if it’s not lying, you would have done something before that you know in your conscience is wrong, dirty, unholy . No matter how rich, smart or good-looking you are, this is a fact that you and I can’t change, that we are sinners.

This is why I don’t believe that a person can deny his/her need for God. Everyone needs God, no matter how successful they are. Because by our own brilliance, yes, there are many things we can achieve; but one thing we can never do by our own strength is overcome this power of Sin over our lives. Still, as mentioned, there is always a way out with God!

You know what the verse above means to me? As I read it, I just felt the Holy Spirit saying that we can all live a sin-free life. Maybe not totally sinless, but we can definitely sin less. How? By having a relationship with Jesus and following Him. When we do so, we will not walk in darkness because He does not carry darkness, or evil or death. Instead, He has the light of life. With this, I just felt that God had more in stored for me in the following verses, so I kept on reading. And boy, was I right. Next few verses that totally builds upon the previous one:

31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” – John 8:31-32

I don’t know about you, but I had a question from the previous verse about following Jesus. “How do I follow You, Jesus? And what is considered “following” You?” That’s what I asked God as I was reading, before He answered me with verses 31 & 32. It says that if we abide in Christ’s word, we are His disciples indeed. “Disciples” at its basic definition simply means “followers”. Are you beginning to see the link? To follow Jesus, it requires us to abide in Him and His word. Because it’s in the Word of God that we will find, know, understand and apply truth that will set us free. Free from what? The chains of sin.

At this point, I was already mind-blown with what the Holy Spirit had revealed to me. But He wasn’t done with me just yet. There was just one last scripture that God wanted me to receive that night, and it’s found in verses 34 to 36 in the same chapter.

34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. – John 8:34-36

At first glance, I was honestly just puzzled with this scripture. However, after some pondering and digging, I finally uncovered the treasure hidden here. We do not need to be slaves any longer. Let me break it down for you and explain in detail why I felt this was what Jesus was trying to say. Perhaps, some “keys” that I came up with to interpret the verses above would prove useful to help you understand what I’m about to say.

Slave of sin (whoever commits sin) = You and I before following Jesus.
son” with a lowercase ‘s’ = You and I after following Jesus.
“the Son” with an uppercase ‘S’ = Jesus.

Alright, just leave that at the back of your head for now. Firstly, it is important to know that Jesus is not a slave. He walked this same Earth we walk every single day but you know what’s the difference between Him and us? He has never sinned before. That is why He has the power to set us free! And when He does so, verse 36 above says that we shall be free indeed.

Second thing to note is that Jesus also does not see us as slaves. Only the slaveholder Satan sees us as slaves. How do I know this? Because the Bible says that Jesus is a rewarder.

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. – Hebrews 11:6

Now tell me, how often does a slaveholder reward his slaves? Exactly. That is why I am so sure Jesus is neither a slave or a slaveholder.

With the identity of Jesus clear, we can now begin to look at the verses in John 8 one by one and uncover the truths behind them. I’m going to go straight to verse 35 because I am sure most of you would understand verse 34 pretty easily. Simply put, we who sin are now slaves to sin.

But verse 35 is the tough one. It can be quite a mouthful when you read it. What exactly does it mean? It took me awhile, but here are a few things I got from this verse. First of all, slaves don’t have the privilege to live in a house. But a son lives in the house. THE Son does.

And this Son (Jesus) has the power to set the slaves (us) free because He does not belong to the slaveholder. As mentioned before, He is not a slave. But in order to set the slaves free, He had to pay a price not of money, but the price of His life so that he can BUY them back from the slaveholder (Satan).

And it is only when He has paid the price to buy them back that verse 36 can come to pass because now the slaves are truly free and can even go back home to be with the Son. “But isn’t He dead?” Well, before I end off this post, let me give you one final overall picture of the story that is painted here. You should get it after this.

In the beginning, mankind was living in the same “house” as God the Father. Adam and Eve literally lived in an environment where God’s presence permeated its atmosphere. And it was supposed to be this way for eternity.

Unfortunately, as you know it, Adam and Eve sold themselves and the entire human race into slavery, into sin. As a result, we could no longer abide in the same “house” as God any longer.

After a long period of time, mankind forgot their identity. We have forgotten that we are sons and daughters of God. But the Bible says that God loved us so much, He gave His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to come and buy us back, so that we will know our true identity and abide with Him forever.

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. – John 3:16

And the Good News is, Jesus didn’t stay dead! After dying on the cross for our sins, He rose again on the third day and defeated Satan once more. That is why today, we can have a relationship with Him – He’s alive!

Today, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or not. The truth is Jesus died for every single one of us so that we do not have to be slaves to the power of Sin and the acts of sins. Follow Him today, be it for the first time, for the tenth time, or for the hundredth time. You will begin to overcome the forces of your human nature and experience true freedom that will change your life forever.

And can you believe it? This is what God revealed to me in just ONE chapter of His Bible. Imagine the infinite possibilities of what He can speak to you and I through the other 1,188 chapters.

Of course, I have to say that this is MY revelation and interpretation of John 8. God can use the same words here to speak to you a totally different thing. I am not saying this is the only true meaning of this chapter, so by all means, please read it for yourself and listen personally to the Holy Spirit. More than just communicated knowledge, you will receive your own revelation knowledge.

Lastly, if you liked this post, do check out my write-ups of some of my Pastors’ sermons:

Christ3

ambidextrous

The reason why I am able to get revelations like this, is because my Pastors first taught us all how to approach and read the Word of God. So do check them out too! That’s all I have for you today and I’ll see you in the next post. Thank you for reading and sharing.

p.s. Pastor Tan Seow How & Pastor Cecilia Chan, more affectionately known as Pastor How & Pastor Lia are the senior pastors of Heart of God Church – my spiritual home and the theater of dreams.

The Parables of Jesus Part 2: The Love of God

Note: The following is a detailed write-up of Pastor How‘s message over the weekend of October 10th & 11th. “The Parables of Jesus Part 2” is the second of 3 parts in this opening season of  a new sermon series, which will be covered across multiple seasons over the next few years. If you haven’t already, check out my write-up of the first part before moving on with this post.

Parables – stories that provide earthly analogies for the heavenly messages behind them.

Commonly used by Jesus, their purpose is to help our worldly minds comprehend and understand spiritual principles more easily. Because naturally, we have no concept of Heaven to begin with.

Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.” – Matthew 13:14-15

Pastor How kicked off the second part of The Parables of Jesus by addressing our hearts. Just as the verse above says, spiritual things must be understood with our hearts. If we do not engage our hearts while listening to God’s Word or reading Scriptures, we will either hear and not understand or see but not perceive. Still not understanding what’s all these “seeing but not seeing” and “hearing but not hearing”? Well, Pastor How gave us an example:

fedex-cropped

This is the FedEx logo. Some of you may already know about this, some of you may not, but hidden within this iconic logo is an arrow:

fedex-arrow

That’s what “seeing but not seeing” means! Before we found out about the arrow, most of us must have seen the FedEx logo like hundreds of times. We’ve seen it online, on TV, on billboards. Yet every time we look at it, we see the logo yes, but we don’t see the arrow hidden within it. Personally for myself, it’s only recently that I found out about the hidden arrow, and it wasn’t even by my own eyes! The Internet told me!

The reason why we normal everyday people would not notice this interesting design is because most of us would not be so interested in FedEx’s logo, as compared to its services, that we would stop and study it intently. To most of us, the logo needs not be taken seriously. In fact, most of us would just have a glance at it. Besides, its the services that count. Why engage our hearts in looking at the logo?

You are starting to get this, aren’t you? To engage Jesus, we need to engage our hearts. Just like in the everyday relationships with our friends, family and partner, the heart must be involved. It is only when our hearts are involved in our relationships, that true understanding can be gained about the other person!

“Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship with God.”

We always say that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship with God. If that is true, then our hearts must be engaged. Pastor How shows us something interesting:

heart_sp_how

He said that in order to hear God, we must do it with our hearts. Because it’s within our hearts that we can find our spiritual “ear” that will hear the voice of Christ. With that, he went on to discuss the 5th parable in Matthew 13.

Hidden-Treasure

44 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13:44

Once again, we have a “traditional interpretation” of this parable here. Usually, we would think that in this verse above, the “man” refers to us and the “treasure” refers to Jesus. So our interpretation of this verse would be something along the lines of us finding Jesus, selling everything we have to buy and live with Him happily ever after. But if you study it closely and engage your heart in doing so, you would realize again that this does not make sense! Here’s why.

10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” – Luke 19:10

Across the pages of the Bible, you would see verses like Luke 19:10 that describes God as the One who is finding and seeking us, not the other way around! For example, how often would you see someone who has never been exposed to Christianity before suddenly realizing one day that he needs to find God? Personally for myself, before I knew about Jesus, I just lived life my way (though it was purposeless) and never had a single thought about God or gods in general. I had to be invited to church. And I was stubborn at first! The Holy Spirit had to persuade me before I believed in Christ. So very quickly we can see here that God is the One who seeks us. How? Through our Christian friends who invite us to church. When? When our hearts are open. Why? Because He loves us.

Now I don’t know about other religions and beliefs, but in Christianity, it’s never about Man looking for God or Man becoming God. In Christianity, it’s always about God loving us and looking for us. In fact, God loved us so much He didn’t just stop at looking for us; He became one of us. God became Man. This is the greatest love story ever told – that God would love us so much He gave up His Godhood to pursue us. If you’re reading this, get this – God doesn’t only love you from the moon and back. He loves you from Heaven and back. Use your heart and you’ll understand this.

Remember the “keys” that were given to us in the previous part of this series? The ones that would help us interpret all the parables? Let’s look at some of them together with what we’ve gathered here today and interpret The Parables of the Hidden Treasure even further.

The “man” refers to Jesus.
The “treasure hidden in a field” refers to us.
The “field” refers to the world.

In this Parable of the Hidden Treasure, the “man” who found treasure in a field, and for joy over it goes and sells all that he has to buy that field refers to Jesus. We who believe in Jesus are the “treasure(s)” that He has found. And just like in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the “field” here refers to the world. So what does this mean? It means that God didn’t just “buy” us Christians, He bought the entire world.

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

As long as our hearts are open, God will find us somehow. If you’re not yet a Christian today, this especially applies to you. When your heart is open, God will somehow find you. For me, it was through a cousin. For you, it could be through a relative, a friend or an article like this, I don’t know. But open up your heart today to His love and your life will never be the same again. Jesus saw us as His treasures so much so that He would purchase us at the highest price of dying for our sins. But it’s up to us now whether we would like to accept that love into our lives and become the treasures that He has always seen us as, or not.

23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” – 1 Corinthians 7:23

Once again Pastor How emphasizes the fact that we can’t buy God and His love. We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). It’s like how a child can never buy his father’s love. A child cannot go up to his father, offer him money and ask for his love. A father loves his child for who he is (his child), not for what he can offer to him! So in the same way, there’s nothing we can sell to buy Jesus.

“There’s nothing good we can do for Jesus to love us more; there’s nothing bad we can do for Him to love us less.”

Jesus is the One who gave up and sold everything, including His Godhood to buy us. But some of you may be wondering, why must He do so? Wasn’t there another way? Take this following analogy from Pastor How as an example:

Say you’re an animal lover on the way home today. As you are walking across the street, you spot a group of puppies and their mother huddled together beside an alley. You thought “Aww so cute! Let me go take a look at them.” So you walk towards them, and as you’re doing so, you notice that they’re all bruised, dirty and hungry. And because of your love for animals, you know of a place called “Dog Heaven” where dogs are clean, well-taken care of and fed with the best food a dog can ever have. So of course, you immediately think of bringing these dogs there! But as you try to carry the puppies, their mother barks aggressively at you. You then try to explain to these dogs that you’re trying to help them and bring them to great place. Here’s the problem, they will never understand your intentions because you’re speaking English, not “Doggish”. As a result, it is almost impossible to lead these dogs to “Dog Heaven”.

But consider this. What if you had a superpower that can transform you into a dog? You’ll take the shape of a dog, speak “Doggish” and of course be able to lead them to “Dog Heaven”! That’s exactly why God had to become Man, giving up his Godhood just to come and lead us to Heaven. We were bruised by past hurts, dirty in our sins and hungering for something greater in life. God saw all that and came to save us.

I bet that no matter how much you love animals or dogs, and even if you had a superpower, you will never give up your “humanhood” just to lead these dogs to “Dog Heaven”. That shows the scale of God’s love for us. He became the Word in flesh just so that we can understand Him and be led to Heaven.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:6-8 (NLT)


Pearl

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” – Matthew 13:45-46

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure is not the only parable in Matthew 13 that shows God’s love for us. The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price does the same too. And with the previous understanding of the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, we can immediately see more “keys” here in the 6th parable:

The “merchant seeking beautiful pearls” refers to Jesus.
The “beautiful pearls” refer to us.

As you read this parable, you would see its similarity to the Parable of the Hidden Treasure. But why exactly do God see us as “pearls”? Pastor How explains that the pearl is different from gemstones like emerald, ruby and sapphire. It is a product of a living organism. Watch this following video and learn how pearls are formed.

It’s interesting because the formation of pearls are caused by its oyster’s defense against irritation and discomfort, which can be compared to how we go through pains and problems in life. That’s why God calls us “pearls”. Because through life, we can develop strength and character through hardships and struggles (like mentioned in the part 1 of the series) and become “beautiful pearls of great price” to God. As we are tested by pressures and tempted by pleasures, would we still continue to pursue holiness? Man always look at appearances, but God looks at the heart. To Him, nothing is beautiful like holiness.

Whatever that we have gone through, or are going through right now in the kingdom of heaven is for us to become “pearls of great price”. Before Pastor How concluded his sermon for the weekend, he shared with us a story about a great hero – Irena Sendler. Some of you may have heard of her before, some of you may not. But here’s her story:

sendler-compilation

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Nazi Germany and its allies invaded Poland. About a year after, under Hitler’s rule, a ghetto was constructed in its capital of Warsaw, where all the Jewish population in the area were rounded up at. It’s in this ghetto where the Jewish awaited their deaths – by starvation, disease or execution. Young children and newborn babies were not spared too. It was indeed dark days that these people lived in, and none of them had a future. Their lives were not even theirs anymore. But in this huge darkness, little glimmers of light and hope shone as a woman decided to light a candle and do something about it.

Irena Sendler had moved to Warsaw prior to the events of World War II and worked as a nurse and social worker. Due to her position and occupation, she was given a permit that allowed her to enter the Warsaw Ghetto to check for signs of diseases that are spreading and prevent any such virus from spreading beyond the ghetto. What she decided to do was to use her job as an advantage and rescue as many Jewish children from the ghetto as possible. Using various means, she entered the ghetto and spoke to Jewish parents about her plan. Having no other choice, these parents would entrust their children to Sendler in the hopes that they would have a future besides certain death.

With the help of her co-workers, she would then take this children and smuggle them out. Sometimes, she would use stretchers with sick people to hide the children underneath them. At other times she would carry these children inside coffins among dead people. When she’s desperate to get as many children out as possible, she would drive an ambulance to the ghetto and put them all inside. She would also bring dogs along on the ambulance. These dogs are trained to bark at the sight of the Nazi soldiers. The fierce barks of the dogs would discourage the Nazi soldiers from checking the ambulance and at the same time drown out the cries of the children within.

sendler

After successfully smuggling out the children, she would place them under the care of good Polish families. Furthermore, she would help make false documents to give these children new identities that replaced their Jewish names. But she didn’t just stop there. She even kept a record of all these children, including their real names, parents’ names, false names and names of the family that adopted them. All these were done in her hopes that one day, these children can be reunited with their biological parents. For fear that the Nazi would one day find these records, she put them all into glass bottles and buried them in the backyard of her home. In total, Irena Sendler and her co-workers saved approximately 2500 children from death. So many lives were saved just because 1 person decided to make a difference.

Unfortunately in 1943, Irena’s deeds were discovered and she was captured by the Nazi Germans. They tortured her and forced her to reveal the locations of all those children, as well as her comrades. However, she refused to do so, even after she was brutally beaten and her limbs were all broken one by one. Eventually, after being unable to gather any solid information from Sendler, the Nazi gave up and decided to execute her. What they didn’t expect was that Sendler’s co-workers would bribe the executioner on the way to her execution, saving her from her demise. The executioner recorded Irena Sendler as being executed but in actual fact, she has not been killed. After being rescued, Irena Sendler went into hiding.

A couple of years later, the war ended and Irena Sendler would return to her old home and dig up all the records that she buried. With her co-workers, they would then try to reunite the hidden children with their Jewish families. Of course, most of these efforts were to no avail, as most of their parents have already died during the war. But it doesn’t change the fact that 2500 kids were saved from tragic death that occurred to millions of Jews. In 2008, at the age of 98, Irena Sendler passed away peacefully and returned Home to be with the Lord. This is how she looked like towards the end of her life:

irena-sendlerThis is what true joy looks like.

You can see immediately from the photo that Irena Sendler had true joy on the inside of her because she knew that she lived a life full of purpose in God. She is the prime example of a “pearl of great price.” Of such, God calls “beautiful”. You know, when I am at the end of my life, I want to be able to look back and smile at the things I’ve done for Christ. I want to be able to smile like Irena Sendler here. But before we become pearls of great price, we must first be Christians that are willing to pay a high price. Irena Sandler paid a high price for her great deeds. Now it’s our turn to do so in our individual ways.

And with that, we’ve come to the end of The Parables of Jesus Part 2. You must be thinking where the last 2 parables (7 & 8) are. Well originally at the end of Part 1, Pastor How did say that the last 4 parables in Matthew 13 would be covered here in Part 2. But he gave us all a pleasant surprise because instead of covering all 4 parables in this part, he will be extending it over to a Part 3 on October 24th and 25th! And he describes that in the next part, a sacred secret will be revealed.

This series has been so mind-blowing and life-changing that I can’t wait to hear the last part of this season already! If you read to this point, you are seriously amazing and I thank you for doing so. But you know what, like I always say, nothing compares to hearing this message for yourself in church. If you haven’t thought about coming to Heart of God Church yet, start now! Just saying, I will not be posting a write-up of the 3rd part; secrets are only revealed to those who seek them. So don’t miss your chance of uncovering the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven on October 24th and 25th! See you in church.

The Parables of Jesus Part 1: Discernment

Note: The following is a detailed write-up of Pastor How‘s message over the weekend of October 3rd & 4th. “The Parables of Jesus Part 1” is the first of 3 parts in this opening season of  a new sermon series, which will be covered across multiple seasons over the next few years.

Parables – stories that provide earthly analogies for the heavenly messages behind them.

Commonly used by Jesus, their purpose is to help our worldly minds comprehend and understand spiritual principles more easily. Because naturally, we have no concept of Heaven to begin with.

Throughout this sermon, Pastor How shares his interpretation of Matthew 13, which is probably the most accurate, balanced and thought-provoking one I’ve ever heard. In the book of Matthew, chapter 13, Jesus taught using 8 parables, 4 of which were shared to the multitudes and another 4 that were only shared to His disciples.

Usually, we would read each parable individually and interpret them as they are. But what we have failed to realize is that Jesus actually had ONE overarching message behind all 8 parables. What is it? Well, here’s what we’ve learned from unpacking the first 4 parables that were covered in this part:

Sower

13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” – Mark 4:13

According to the verse above, one thing is for sure. This first parable in Matthew 13 is the key to deciphering and decoding all the other parables in the same chapter. The Parable of the Sower, after being explained by Jesus, gives us a set of “decryption keys” to work with:

Seed” refers to the Word of God.
Birds of the air” refer to the wicked one/Satan.
Soil” refers to our heart, which can be categorized into one of 4 types:

  1. Wayside
  2. Stony places
  3. Thorns
  4. Good ground

So as seen above, there are 4 different kinds of hearts! When God drops a word into us, whether we receive it or not or how we receive it depends on what kind of heart we have.

The “Wayside” heart, just like its literal counterpart has been “trampled upon” and hurt so much that it’s hardened. And of course, a ground/heart that is hardened can receive nothing.

The “Stony” ground or heart on the other hand is where the seeds of plants can be grown and the Word of God can be sown. However, due to its stony nature, these plants are unable to grow roots and when the Sun shines upon them, they get scorched and wither away. Perhaps you’ve already gotten it, but basically the Sun represents problems in our lives, which can be good or bad. If we Christians do not grow “roots” within ourselves, these problems will cause us to leave God and church due to discouragement. But if we do, these problems will make us stronger like how sunlight will make rooted plants stronger!

“Hot water hardens eggs but softens potatoes. It depends on what substance we are made of.”

The “Thorns” in the ground or our heart represent the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. During our time on Earth, we will be tested by pressures and tempted by pleasures.

Lastly, the “Good” ground symbolizes a heart that not only hears, but understands God’s word. It’s funny because the truth will not set us free – as compared to the understanding of that truth. When that happens, just as how good ground produces fruit, a good heart will also produce the fruits of good character. But of course, good character traits aren’t gifts that are just given to us. They need to be worked on and developed, just like how fruits have to be cultivated and grown.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23


Wheat_Tares

24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.” – Matthew 13:24-25

The second parable that Jesus talked about is really interesting. Let’s begin with how it starts – “The kingdom of heaven”. What you will realize is that if you read all the subsequent parables in the chapter, Jesus will start them off the same way. In fact, all of the parables in Matthew 13 begins with “The kingdom of heaven”, except of course the first one – the Parable of the Sower. This makes the first parable really unique and reinforces its importance as a source of reference like we’ve discussed previously.

But before we come back to the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, what exactly is “the kingdom of heaven”? One thing it definitely isn’t is Heaven. Pastor How explains that the kingdom of Heaven is not Heaven itself, but rather, it is the dominion of the King (God) on Earth during His absence. With that covered, we would then study the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares and once again see another set of “keys” that Jesus has given to us after his explanation in Matthew 13:36-43:

The “man who sowed good seed” refers to the Son of Man, Jesus Christ Himself.
The “field” refers to the world.
Good seed” refers to the sons of the kingdom/“good ground” Christians.
Tares” refer to the sons of the wicked one.
The “enemy” refers to the devil.
The “harvest” refers to the end of the age.
The “reapers” refer to angels.

As Pastor How went through this parable with us, we were taught to also refer back to the first parable. And as we did, this whole parable about wheat & tares made more sense. For example, if it’s true that soil represents the human heart as Jesus explained, it would also be true to say that a field which is a collective of a body of soils represents the world that is a collective of the hearts of more than 7 billion people on the planet.

And if you and I are really “good ground” Christians, Jesus would want to send us into the world to make a difference and be a light shining for Him in the darkness! But He will only “sow good seed”. The bad kind of seeds that will produce tares are sown by the enemy. Here’s a fact: the devil cannot create, and can only copy and counterfeit. God is the ultimate Creator. So who do these “tares” or “sons of the wicked one” refer to? Well, they refer to false Christians.

Yup! Don’t be surprised. They do exist. I’ve met some before, and at some point of time in the past, I could have been one myself. So at this point of time, I want to write to both non-Christians and Christians alike. To non-Christians, if you personally know me and I have offended you unknowingly before, I deeply apologize and want you to know that I did not mean it. I’m constantly working on it! And to those who do not know me, please understand that there are many “Ian”s out there (Christians minus the Christ). If you’ve met any one of them before, please do not lump every other Christian in together with them and see us all as the same. Bad or false Christians do not change the 100% goodness of God. There are Christians who do live in His ways.

Now to all the Christians reading this, my Pastor is not teaching us to judge and criticize those whom we deem are false Christians. It’s not in our position to “go to war” with them. At the end of the age, God will send out His angels to do it Himself (Matthew 13:41-42). And besides, you never know when these people may change for the better! I mean come on, have we all been so good all along? Wheat produces fruit, but tares don’t. So if we really are good and have the fruits of the Spirit within us, we should let God send us into our world to be witnesses for Him, not judges.


Mustard

This third parable is probably one of those that we either misunderstand, or don’t understand at all. Especially if you’re Singaporean like me, you would know that most of us ain’t farmers, botanists or horticulturists and wouldn’t get this parable. Pastor How probably spent hours digging into the Word and researching on mustard plants and trees because what he shared with us next blew my mind.

In Matthew 13:31-32, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed, probably the smallest of all seeds which is sown into the ground by a man. And “when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” But did you know that that statement didn’t make sense? Well, I didn’t either until Pastor How explained further!

You can Google it, but basically, a mustard plant and a mustard tree are 2 totally different species of plants. They are unrelated and a mustard seed only grows to a mustard plant, not a mustard tree. That statement above is as good as saying an orchid flower will grow into a coconut tree! So contrary to popular belief, this parable is actually talking about an unnatural kind of growth that will happen in the kingdom of heaven – an unnatural growth that will occur in some churches, where they will grow to a point that “birds of the air” can “come and nest in its branches”.

Wait hold on, “birds of the air”? Sounds awfully familiar. That’s because it’s one of the “keys” provided by Jesus in the first parable! What does it represent again? The enemy, the wicked one, the devil, Satan. So does it mean that if churches grow big, it’s a bad thing because the devil can take residence inside them? Of course not! Let me make myself very clear again. Pastor How isn’t saying that all big churches are bad, or that churches should not be big. In fact, we want our church to be bigger too. But if our church or any church were to be big, it must happen naturally. It must be by God’s will and spirit, not ours!

A church cannot be built by the ambitions and ego of its leader or pastor. Because even if it does grow big, it will happen in such an unnatural way that management of it is difficult. And when that happens, the devil can have the freedom to operate within its walls. This can be compared to a man growing huge muscles but on steroids. There are side effects. If the devil cannot destroy the church by failure, he will destroy it by success.

“Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

We do not need to grow at all cost. In Heart of God Church, our pastors believe in using the church to build people, and not the other way around. A plant or tree can only grow as tall as its seed allows it to. We can only grow as tall as our genetic code. Likewise, a church can only grow according to that “seed” or “genetic code” that God has placed on the inside of it. There’s always a limit to a child’s physical growth as she grows up to become an adult. But when she grows up and gets married, she will eventually give birth to more children that will also grow up. The same goes for the church. There’s always a maximum cap to a church’s growth. But there’s no saying how many more churches that can be birthed forth from this one church as a result of its fruitfulness!

“Don’t use people to build the church. Use the church to build people.”


Leaven

The last parable that Pastor How covered and we will be talking about today is this one about leaven. Once again, the message that Jesus is trying to convey over here is nothing like we’ve ever thought of. The common interpretation of this parable is that the leaven represents the gospel that will be spread all over the world. But this doesn’t make sense because firstly, if it is indeed a representation of the Word of God, why must it be hidden as described in Matthew 13:33? It should be preached throughout the entire world!

Secondly, if we look at different parts of the Bible, leaven is always used to symbolize something bad. For example, in Matthew 16:11-12, leaven symbolizes the false “doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” This is also probably what Jesus is talking about here in this parable – false doctrines.

Leaven” refers to false doctrine.
Meal” or “bread” refers to the Word of God.

Here’s the scary thing about false doctrines. They are usually mixed in with the “bread” of the Word of God. It isn’t obvious, and can come in the form of a sermon, a message, an article or a book. They may not necessarily be totally wrong, but neither are they totally right. They could be half-truths that we will receive gladly if we are not careful. We must constantly discern the good and bad of what we read and listen! It doesn’t mean that something popular is naturally good. And even if something is good, it doesn’t mean that it is of God. Just 2 weekends ago, we had John Bevere in our church sharing a message from his newest book “Good or God”? And that’s exactly what he talked about too.


Conclusion:

In this first part of “The Parables of Jesus” series, we have truly learned a lot. Through this in-depth look at the first 4 parables shared by Jesus in Matthew 13, we can see that Satan’s tactics are to plant counterfeit Christians into the world, establish counterfeit churches and preach a counterfeit gospel through them. In this current age and time that we live in, we must take heed to guard our hearts and be discerning. Some of us may have encountered any of the above and have been discouraged, disappointed, disillusioned or deceived. But we must expect these things to happen and stay strong.

13 Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13

If you enjoyed reading this post, you got to come and hear the next part for yourself. In our humanly perspective, it may seem like the kingdom of heaven is on the edge of defeat and despair. But in God’s eyes, He has another plan altogether through all this. He will have the final victory. This weekend, Pastor How will be unveiling this through Jesus’s next 4 parables in Matthew 13. I can’t wait already!

Last but not last, I must say that even though I may have been able to write down and share with you what he has preached, hearing the man himself is at least 10 times better than reading my posts. On October 10 & 11, mindsets will be shifted, hearts will be touched and lives will be changed. So come and experience it for yourself. See you in church!

What Heart of God Church Means to Me

“Church is a place where a nobody like me who knew nothing, found Somebody that gave up everything, so that everybody & I would know this thing – that in Him we can be somebody that has something.”

This is what I wrote recently on an Instagram post that I had, which summarized very much what church means to me.

For this last post of the day, I’ll be expanding on that whole idea, breaking it down to give you a clearer picture of what God and Heart of God Church has done for my life. This also is what I feel, the most important post out of every single one you’ve seen today about Fun, Laughter and Creativity. Because this one is about Christ.

1. “Church is a place where a nobody like me who knew nothing,”

Before I came to Heart of God Church, I was literally a nobody who knew nothing. I was just like any other typical teenage boy, and had no greater purpose in life to live for. Each day was about having school and having fun. I played computer games with friends & surfed the Internet all day long after finishing a day’s homework. I was satisfied with my life! I never thought about my future, how much potential it holds, and just lived day by day.

I knew nothing that I could hold on to for life and had no skills that I could anchor my hopes on. I was just a 15 year-old boy! I mean I knew some martial arts and could play some guitar but they were more of just things I was passionate about. Passion and Purpose are 2 very different entities.

I’ve found that if we only got passion, and happiness that comes from that passion, it will run out when we’re not doing what we’re passionate about. Purpose however, gives us a true joy that lasts beyond the times we spend fulfilling it. Even in our darkest times, we can still have something to rejoice about, knowing that we have a God-given purpose and a reason for being alive.

By living for that purpose, we will have a joy that lasts, even after a point of time when we can no longer continue. That’s because we would know that we have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7)! Above all, a God-given purpose has eternal significance. So knowing that we’ve made a difference in such a way would definitely give us joy that lasts.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

Have you ever thought to yourself, why you were born on this Earth and what you are here for? Passion can’t answer that question. Purpose can. God can. For me, I didn’t even think about it. Hahaha how sad! So as a result, I did not really have dreams – for myself or for anything in particular. Or should I say, I didn’t know how to dream?

2. “found Somebody that gave up everything,”

Thankfully, all these changed on May 29th, 2011. It was the day I stepped into Heart of God Church for the very first time. That day, I met the most genuine people on the planet! They were not just friendly, they became my friends.

Seriously, they were so kind that when my cousin secretly told them that my birthday was just around the corner, they planned a simple celebration right after the service to surprise me with a little cake! They even sang me a birthday song. All these, on the first day they’ve ever met me. Though to many it may seem like just a small thing, to me it was special. Because other than my parents & some relatives, no one has ever celebrated my birthday with me before. I don’t remember any of my friends doing so! But after that day, no single birthday that followed in the years to come was dull or lonely.

I was so touched by the people’s warmth that day. It left a huge impression on me and I was so happy. So although I did not become a Christian immediately, I went back to church pretty regularly for the people (and also because I had free rides from my uncle, LOL). But after some time, I realized that my friends in Heart of God Church are very different, and why.

The answer is Jesus Christ.

As I continued going back to church, I started to feel a love & a peace in the atmosphere that I’ve never felt before anywhere. It can’t really be explained in words, you got to experience it yourself to understand it. As the people praised & worshiped Him, as people shared about how their lives were changed by God, and as Pastors preached the Word of God every weekend, I can’t help but be touched by Jesus’s love for us.

He gave up everything He had. In fact, He died for me and you. Not only did He descend from heaven’s throne to walk this earth as man like us. He took all our sin upon Himself on the cross so that we can be set free from this power of sin – the power that prevents us from having an intimate relationship with Him. That’s right. Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship with God.

Thankfully, Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose again on the third day and offers us now a relationship with Him, the Creator of the whole universe. When I saw that picture of God’s perfect love and the many people around me whose lives were undoubtedly changed by this relationship they have with Him, I could no longer hold back anymore. I had to give it a go. So from that day onward, I became a Christian and my life would never be the same again.

3. “that in Him we can be somebody that has something”

Of course, that was only the beginning.

I kept going back to church even without my uncle’s free rides. I kept going back to church not just for the people, the lights, the music. I continued to go back because of God.

In God, mindsets are shifted, hearts are touched, characters are transformed.

Fast forward to present day. Do I still play video games? Yeah, but not all of the time anymore. Do I still make mistakes & have problems in life? Yes, but now I have faith to conquer them with Christ on the inside of me. How about being a nobody who knows nothing? Well for that, it is no longer true of me anymore.

After being in church for awhile, I started to serve and give back to the house and the Lord that have both given me so much. And that is when I discovered my gifts and talents in video production! Actually when I was younger, I enjoyed using simple tools like Windows Movie Maker to put together videos. But I eventually stopped because there was no PURPOSE in doing so.

In church it’s different. We can all use our different gifts and talents for a greater purpose, to serve God and His people. If I’ve never come to church and God has never found me, my gifts would never have been discovered. I would never have known that I could be creative, much less use these gifts for a great purpose.

The videos that I produce with my fellow Videos Ministry mates are literally being shown to thousands of people on the weekend services! But this is also only possible because of the great leaders in Heart of God Church that never fails to encourage us. Personally for myself, when I first joined the ministry, I really knew close to nothing about creating videos. All I had was an interest for it. But my leaders in church really believed in me and trained me from scratch. That is why I can be who I am today, doing the things that I do!

But why do they believe in us so much? Because Pastor How & Pastor Lia also believed in them, and continues to believes in all of us too! Our Pastors never despise youths, and always believe that young people can do great things for God. They don’t just say it! They mean it by trusting us with expensive equipment in church such as sound consoles & cameras, just to name a few examples. And because of this environment that they have created, all of us can dream big dreams.

I have dreams now, yes. I have a purpose now, definitely. In fact, part of it involves me writing this post you’re reading right now. You see, in God and in Heart of God Church, I don’t just have “something”, I have many things! A great spiritual family is one of them, true joy is one of them. It’s impossible to list out here every single thing that God has blessed me with over my past 4 years as a Christian! This is really just the tip of the iceberg! And I’m only ONE out of the MANY lives that were changed by God here in Heart of God Church.

Today, I’m no longer a nobody. I’m a child of God and He’s my Heavenly Father. What gives me the most joy is not only having a purpose, but knowing that I have a God that loves me no matter what. And because of that, I can now learn to love others. I must say though, that I still see myself as ordinary. But I’m ordinary with an extraordinary God. A God who found me while I was mostly clueless about life ahead. A God who brought me to a church where I can call “Home”. A church where I found a family. A church where my dreams will come to pass. This is what Heart of God Church means to me.