Light

Light. It brings with it warmth, comfort, vision and direction. What would we do without it? With no light, there is no sight. But there’s more. In this world full of darkness, light isn’t just an illumination, it’s an embodiment of truth, hope & life. It’s what we use to see, to navigate, and to fight in and against this darkness.

Think about it. Light is everywhere. It’s found in the screen you’re looking at, in the lamps along the street, in the Sun that brings us day. Yet without darkness, light will not be obvious or necessary. Of course, I wish that the life and the world that we live in would just be perfect. But you and I know that’s not possible.

So what can we do? I say we can either curse the darkness, or light a candle. Today on Good Friday, I don’t just choose to recognize the darkness in our world; I choose to remember. I choose to remember on this day what it’s all about. Easter is not about the bunnies or the eggs. Easter is about the Light of the world – Jesus Christ.

The Light came to our imperfect world two thousand years ago to die for our sins. He took upon Himself the sentence we all deserved on this Friday many many years ago. But He didn’t stay dead. On the third day, He rose again defeating even death itself.

Jesus Christ did all that because He wants to bring His light into our darkness, into our lives. And it’s only when we first let Him light up our lives, that we can then be a light to others. It doesn’t matter what kind of light we are, we were not meant to stay in darkness.

We were created to shine brightly like a city on a hill! And the beautiful thing is that all of us are different kinds of light making a difference to the world in our own unique ways. One light is all it takes. But before that, just as how light needs a source of energy, we need a source of energy no matter who we are.

You could be an LED, a flashlight or a wall lamp; nothing changes the fact that Jesus is the source of the light in us. So today, come to God. Recognize the darkness in this world but also remember the Light of the world. He wants to bring His light to us so that we can bring His light to others. This Easter, let’s light up our world together.

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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.

The Movies of Fall/Holiday 2015

Just to Share: I know it’s already a little into Fall season right now in terms of movies, but better late than never right? Haha so without further ado, here are some movies I am personally looking forward to for the remainder of the year!

1. The Martian

Remember me saying previously that I have a thing or two for science-fiction? Yup, that was enough to get me interested in this movie. And of course, it looks really good with an interesting fresh plot. Based on the novel of the same name, we will be brought on a journey to Mars where an astronaut gets stranded on, finding means to survive while his crew mates on Earth struggle to return and rescue him. Seems like the kind of movie that would be engaging from start to finish.

2. Pan

Childhood fantasies will be relived this October when a new origin story is birthed forth on the big screen for Peter Pan. I mean seriously, the last time I watched a Peter Pan film, I was only 7 years-old! And like I said, I would always love a good movie about adventure. But that’s not the only thing that I’m looking forward to in the movie. I’m also looking forward to Hugh Jackman’s performance as Blackbeard, which so far, looks oddly interesting.

3. Goosebumps

Just as we were on the topic of fantasy, here comes another one in the genre, mixed with comedy and fun. Goosebumps totally reminds me of those Scooby-Doo movies that I used to enjoy as a kid! But honestly, I just want to see what this movie has to offer in terms of story too. Also, it’s been some time since I watched a film featuring monsters on the loose (not referring to those scary ones). So if it’s good, why not?

4. Spectre

Let’s change frequencies a little. 2015 has been a year of spy flicks, with the likes of Kingsman, Mission Impossible and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. But one of the most renowned agents, 007 is returning to bring a conclusion to spy films for the year. Well, at least from what I know, there aren’t anymore big ones coming out! And for the most of it, the James Bond films starring Daniel Craig have received great reviews so far, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how this one turns out. That is, after I’ve finished watching the previous installments first.

5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Talking about movie franchises that I need to catch up on, it reminds me of The Hunger Games. But having watched none of its previous installments, I’m already hyped up for Mockingjay Part 2 by this trailer haha. Still, there’s no way I am stepping into the cinema without first finding time to watch the first 3 films! Being one of those movies that first kicked off the trend of films based on young adult novels, I’m confident this last installment in the series would give fans an epic conclusion that will not disappoint.

6. The Good Dinosaur

Pixar. The animation studio that has brought us Inside Out, my favorite film of the year so far, is going to bring us into a world where dinosaurs roam the Earth alongside Man. With Inside Out being such a great success both critically and commercially, it makes me both excited and worried for The Good Dinosaur. With 2 movies released in a year, and having the first one being so successful, people are going to have high hopes for the second one. So much so that it may not meet up to their expectations. But for me, I’m going to have faith in Pixar that they’ll deliver once again. Just look at how beautiful the film looks from the trailer!

7. Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie

Probably the last big animation film of the year (that I know of); Blue Sky Studios are bringing the art style of the Peanuts comic strip into the larger canvas of a feature film. I’m always up for a good animation film and so far, the look and the animations of this movie looks really interesting. You can tell it’s not just your usual 3D animations, but with a blend of “hand-drawn style” animations as well. I’m seeing it as the kind of movie I would watch with some of my younger cousins & some popcorn during the holidays. How about you?

8. In the Heart of the Sea

Not the most edifying movie to watch I must say, with the kind of “disaster at sea” that it portrays. But I have a feeling it will be a great movie still in terms of plot, acting and visual effects. I’m especially looking forward to Chris Hemsworth’s performance outside of his role as a superhero in The Avengers. And did you know that this movie is directed by Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Rush)? There’s great potential in this movie turning out to be phenomenal.

9. The Revenant

Academy Award® winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu is back in the director’s seat after his 2014 film Birdman won the Oscar for Best Picture earlier this year. This time, it seems to be yet another Oscar-worthy film. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, The Revenant feels like a really intense and immersive film. According to reports, the making of the film had gone way over-budget and over-schedule because of certain ways the director wanted it to be shot. It seemed bad but I’m also looking forward to seeing the results of his decisions & everyone’s hard work on set. Who knows? Maybe DiCaprio can finally win an Oscar through this.

10. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

You’ve probably guessed this last movie that I’m most looking forward to right now, haven’t you? Hahaha everyone is looking forward to it! The Force is strong, but the hype for this is even stronger. I watched Star Wars as a kid, and I must say that when I watched the trailer above, just hearing the opening music alone brought chills to my spine. The rest of the trailer did what it set out to do – making us want to watch it again & again until the movie comes out. Oh, and it reminded me to go watch all Episodes 1-6 one more time. Soon I’ll be ready! Going to the cinemas this Christmas will feel magical.

Well, it always seems that my lists of “anticipated things” always ends up being a list of 10. But that wraps up all the movies that I’m really hoping to watch this Fall/Holiday. Hopefully I can suck out all the creative juices that they have to offer too. Haha, thanks for reading.