Two recent incidents got me thinking more about the challenges that we all face when it comes to dealing with peer pressure. The first one is during our church’s mission trip to South Thailand. In one of my conversations with the local Thai pastor, he shared that over the past few years, he observed that the students whom our mission team has been seeking to reach out to tended to be more open to the Gospel message and attending church service after they graduated from school.
In his opinion, one of the reasons for the students’ positive response is that after a student has graduated, he or she has less to contend with when it comes to conforming to peer pressure. Even though there is nothing explicitly negative associated with being a Christian, it is understandable that within a predominantly Buddhist community, few young people would readily express interest in another religion or be prepared to be different from their peers. This also means that in our mission endeavour, we need not lose heart but should continue to pray that God will preserve the seeds sown and trust that there will be fruitfulness in God’s sovereign timing.
The second incident is during our bowling game at SAFRA Mount Faber with some Secondary 3 Normal (Academic) students who have signed up for a government-initiated mentoring program. Our team of mentors were pleasantly surprised by how our mentees behaved much better in our midst than when they were in the classroom with their peers. We even commended a girl for trying her best to restrain herself from her usual “colourful” language. This is because we noticed that every time her bowling ball wandered off into the gutters, she would just cover her mouth with her palm and scream instead of sprouting some expletives.
Although it was somewhat amusing seeing her do so, the mentors were glad to have discovered this sensible side of her as well as the rest of our mentees. Given that the mentors did not set out any ground rules with them for this outing, it was heartening to know that our mentees are generally thoughtful youths. Indeed, it was a timely reminder for the mentors that as we seek to connect with our students and build a good rapport with them, there can be much good that will come forth from this mentoring relationship.
As much as the two incidents involve teenagers, we know that adults are not spared from peer pressure. In a toxic work-environment, there is always this unspoken expectation of leaving only after the boss has left his office or needing to appear busy behind your laptop even after your work is done. Sometimes we do not speak up or act as we should, caring more about other’s opinion of us than what we ourselves know is right. Likewise, church leaders may also struggle with the demands and displeasure of church-goers whenever they seek to teach and apply biblical principles in the life of the church.
Given that we can be so easily influenced by the people around us, it will certainly help when one learns to surround himself with like-minded godly people who can help him on his path toward Christian discipleship. Although there is much we can learn from inspiring sermons on the internet, every Christian needs the local church. Unless we are in a unique situation where there is no available church, we need to understand that God has intended the community of believers to be the primary place where one can be nurtured and admonished in the Lord.
To be sure, the church is not called to try and turn worshippers into conformist, exerting social pressure to make everyone think and behave the same way. Otherwise, the church will end up functioning more like a cult. Instead, the goal is to be cultivating integrity where even though we are different parts of the body, we are united by one Spirit and all submit to Christ who is the Head (1 Cor 12:12-20).
As Christians, we do what we do not because we fear men and are pressured to behave in certain way when we are amongst God’s people but because we fear God and love God’s people. It would be rather tragic and ironic if in a community which values truth, her members are merely modifying their behaviour in order to be accepted and loved instead of showing signs of being transformed by God as a result of being convicted by God’s Word and assured of God’s love.
Indeed, let us pray that here at True Way, we can be a nurturing community where as people come as they are, by God’s grace they will increasingly bear Christ-likeness as they become part of God’s family. In a globalised digital world, the pressure to conform to a different image can easily multiply manifold with a click of a button or swipe of a finger. But we take heart that the church can be a safe refuge against the unceasing onslaught of images and values that can so easily entangle us and lead our focus away from God. Since Christ who is the perfect image of the invisible God has come to “reconcile to himself all things … making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20), we know that ultimately God’s people will be bearing forth Christ’s image too (2 Cor 3:17-18)!
As a tourist, being in Japan is an amazing experience; the Japanese people are hospitable, considerate and go out of their way to make sure you enjoy your stay. You can get by easily with hand gestures and saying ‘Konnichiwa’ & ‘Arigatou’ here and there. However, things start to get a bit more tricky once you become a resident and have to navigate the processes of daily life.
Mundane activities like registering for school, applying for insurance, rent, utilities, etc. feels like a minor obstacle that needs to be overcome and with each day bringing new challenges they can slowly add up into a mountain. When we first arrived in Japan, we had to wade through stacks of forms every day, each one having to be painstakingly translated. Then there were the meetings with teachers or city officials to explain our situation and to answer their questions. We were fortunate that our team leader accompanied us for these meetings, assisting to translate.
However, this feeling of being so helpless, so unsure of what’s going on around you and so overwhelmed by the flood of information, is also an incredibly humbling experience. We were so used to being able to communicate our thoughts and desires in English, that we take for granted how difficult it can be to do simple things when you don’t have the words for it.
For instance, one time we were looking for furniture and all we wanted to know was the cost and timing for it to be delivered to our house. The poor shop assistant could not understand English and had to call for help. In the end, what should have taken a minute, ended up taking almost 15mins instead. When we left, we weren’t quite sure who was the more exasperated party, us or them. It is negative experiences like this that make me want to hide and not talk to anyone because each conversation in Japanese feels as strenuous as climbing a hill.
To add to the challenge, our children began to fall sick, succumbing one by one to the flu. All three went through bouts of vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, and coughing which, all told, lasted for a month. Initially, we relied on the medicines we had brought over but none of them made any difference. Altogether, it took two visits to clinics, two trips to the hospital and multiple doses of local medicines before all 3 kids finally recovered. We felt thoroughly spent having gone through such a long drawn and stressful experience.
The Silent Hand of the Lord
In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, Zechariah was informed by the angel Gabriel that, in answer to their prayers, his wife, Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son. Zechariah questioned how, in their old age, this would be possible. As punishment for his disbelief, he was made dumb until the promise was fulfilled. Similarly, if someone had, years back, told me how my family would one day be living in a foreign country despite not knowing the language, tell people about Jesus, I would have scoffed at the notion. Now that the Lord has opened the door for us to be here, humanly speaking we are so outside of our comfort zone and so helpless that anything could easily trip us up. In fact, some nights as I looked upon my children coughing in their beds and heads warm with fever, I found myself silently wondering whether it was a good idea to move my whole family to Japan at all. I wondered if the Lord would really enable us over here. Like Zechariah, I too feel that I have been ‘struck dumb’ here in Japan as it feels as if I have been stripped of the agility to communicate and can only sit in helpless frustration awaiting God’s fulfilment of His promise to use us to share the good news of Christ in His timing.
Yet it is also in these moments of helplessness that God’s grace and mercies are most abundantly displayed to me. Through them, I painfully realise how utterly dependent I am on the Lord. He is not just my family’s source of strength, provider and sustainer, but fittingly in my case, He also gives us a voice when we are otherwise voiceless. When I had no one I could speak or turn to, He was always there by my side awaiting my prayers. Sadly, I must confess that even with such ready access available, I did not always turn to Him first, relying instead on human wisdom and understanding. I shudder to think that the Lord prolonged my children’s illness just so that I would learn the valuable lesson of turning to Him first… If anything my journey, like Zechariah’s, is an encouraging reminder that man’s disbelief can never thwart God’s plans!
Slow but Steady Progress
Recently, some older WEC missionaries had pointed out how well our family has adjusted to life in Japan and how delighted they are that our children are settling well into the local school. In the midst of fighting our daily battles, it has been difficult to recognise that, thanks to the silent hand of the Lord, both of those points are true. On reflection, we are not just surviving here but, in fact, doing better than we think we are. This despite not knowing exactly what each day will bring and still having a long way to go in our Japanese studies.
I’ve heard it said before that one of the hardest challenges in Japan is speaking on the phone. In person, you can get the message across through body language or facial expressions. However, on the phone all that is available are your words. I struggle with this fear so much that initially I refused to answer the phone, preferring to pass it to Hooi Yin instead. Lately though, one of my small triumphs was the sudden realisation that I could understand (just a little) what a delivery man was saying to me over the phone and gave a small cheer when I hung up. It turns out, my proficiency in the Japanese language, much like my faith and trust in God, grows slowly but only with daily practice.
Looking back, it amazes me that, with all we have been through, it’s only been 3 months since we arrived in Japan and 2 months since I last wrote to True Way. How I miss being able to sing songs of worship to the Lord surrounded by the congregation in Singapore! Though we are far away, I still feel connected to True Way from the regular messages that I receive from friends asking us how we’re doing. It is always a pleasure to know how you all are and that you have been praying for us. In turn we also appreciate being able to pray for you as well. Finally, thank you all for your prayers and well-wishes for my family and I look forward to updating you again in future.
We are starting a new sermon series on the book of Daniel. This is a continuation of where we left off last year when we preached on the Kings. Recall that after Solomon’s reign, his kingdom was split into two, the northern kingdom being Israel and the southern kingdom, Judah. Sadly, all the kings of Israel practiced idolatry. God used the Assyrians to bring judgment upon Israel when the former conquered the latter in 722 BC.
As for the southern kingdom, Judah, she did not learn from the mistakes of Israel. Many of her kings also served idols except for a few good ones. However, the last 4 kings did evil in the eyes of the Lord and so God eventually used the Babylonians (who became the next superpower after the Assyrians) to bring judgment upon Judah in 586 BC. The temple of God in Jerusalem was destroyed and the walls surrounding Jerusalem were also torn down. The Babylonians deported the abled men of Judah to Babylon so that they could serve in the king’s palace while only the poorest of the poor were left behind.
The book of Daniel has to do with the exiles in Babylon of whom Daniel himself was one of them. This book fascinated readers through the ages. In particular, the stories of Daniel and his friends are definitely fixtures in the Sunday school curriculum which children love to hear; the stories have also inspired great works of art and music.
The first half of the book (chapters 1-6) contains stories about the miraculous experiences of Daniel and his friends as they serve in the courts of foreign kings. Through them, foreign royalty recognises who Yahweh is and that His control extends beyond the borders of the Jewish community. The second half (chapters 7-12) contains a number of strange visions reportedly received by Daniel. These visions trace the rise and fall of the ancient Near Eastern empires (Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks). The overall purpose of the miraculous stories in the first half and the bizarre visions in the second half points to a God who is ultimately victorious over the powers and authorities of this world and to the people of God who would eventually triumph because they remain faithful to Him and to His teachings.
The book of Daniel is considered as apocalyptic literature with prophetic and wisdom influences. “Apocalypse” is a Greek word meaning “revelation”, “an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling” (Goswiller). Apocalyptic literature contains dreams and visions with their interpretations and predictions about the future. God who holds time in his hands and sees the end from the beginning is the one who reveals; he gives wisdom to his servant Daniel through whom the revelation is made known. This is similar to the last book of the New Testament, the book of Revelation, where the Apostle John is made privy to what is going to happen concerning the end times.
Apocalyptic literature has the purpose of strengthening those who are being oppressed. Daniel was written while Jews were suffering in exile. Revelation was written for persecuted Christians. Salvation is in the distant future. God has not forgotten His people. In fact, God is in control and He is working out His good purposes in the midst of the chaos. Apocalyptic literature is designed to comfort and encourage the faithful in distressful times. It will thus bring much comfort to present day Christians who are suffering for their faith under evil regimes.
The book’s chief theological contribution has to be the sovereignty of God and how that sovereignty may be manifested on earth through God’s faithful servants. Yahweh is addressed as “the God of gods” (2:47; 11:36), “the Lord of kings” (2:47) and “the Most High God” (14 times). He is the one who gives power and glory “to whom he will” (4:17, 25, 32; 5:21). He is the one who raises up rulers and brings them down. On the one hand, divine sovereignty means that all human powers, even the oppressive and wicked ones, derive their power ultimately from God; He always has the final say. On the other hand, divine sovereignty also means that God may give power to the powerless, even to the lowliest of men (4:17). Indeed through the lowly and seemingly powerless, God’s reign may be manifest on earth.
God sets up an eternal kingdom “that shall never be destroyed” (2:44). That kingdom, the 5th one in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2, is symbolised by the “stone cut from the mountain by no human hand” (2:45); this stone subsequently “became a great mountain that filled the whole earth” (2:35). To Daniel and the exiles, it is comforting for them to know that even if they are powerless and lowly, they are under the abiding reign of God. To us who are living in the year of the Lord, we think of the kingdom of God Christ has ushered in when he came the first time, a kingdom that is eternal and will never be destroyed, and a kingdom that will fill the whole earth when he returns to consummate it.
Being sovereign, God is certainly transcendent in the book of Daniel. He is repeatedly called “the King of heaven” (4:37), “the Lord of heaven” (5:23), “the God of heaven” (2:18, 19, 37, 44), “God in heaven” (2:28) or simply, “Heaven” (4:26). Yet that transcendence does not imply a God too aloof to be concerned with human affairs. He intervenes on behalf of mortals on earth by listening to their cry for mercy and unravelling divine mysteries for them (2:17-23). He also responds by delivering his servants from harm although he cannot be manipulated by their faith in him. Daniel’s three friends illustrate this well: “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (3:17-18).
We therefore worship God not because we want to get something out of Him; God is wholly free to deliver or not to deliver. George M. Schwab in his book Hope in the midst of a hostile world says: “In that reliable divine involvement in life’s trials and tribulations, people of faith can be assured that the reign of God, even if it is not fully realised in one’s own time and place – even if it is not evident by earthly expectations of power – will never pass away and will never be destroyed. On the contrary, God’s reign will continue to grow until it fills all the earth. No promise of ease in life is made, no assurance of freedom from trials and tribulations, no removal of the threat of terror and death – only a hope held out of vindication even after death, a resurrection hope (12:1-4).”
God is in control. The faithful will triumph in the end. The one word that cries out from the book of Daniel is ‘Hope!’
Following through the sermon series in the last few Sundays on “Work”, I thought it is interesting to share some thoughts for anyone either seeking a career or in the process of changing a career. Some years ago, my son Yi Li finished his O level and was looking at what course to pursue so that he’ll be able to end up with a suitable career for life. He decided to take the Polytechnic route and applied to pursue a course on “Hospitality and Tourism”. He went to the interview and one of the interviewers somehow realize that his dad was a pastor and so threw him a question. “If you are required to work in a casino, would your dad be happy about it?” That kept him thinking if that was the career he was looking for. To cut the story short, he chose other courses after much counsel from us as parents and also from his siblings. Now my son has just completed Uni and is looking for a job. When he asked for our opinion, of course as parents, weknew what he is looking for. Grace’s respond to him was that he should ask if that is the job that God wants him to have.
Some of us may think that Christians should aspire to “Christian careers” like working at a church or in a parachurch ministry. Many tend to limit themselves to the “helping” professions. Christians can be doctors, nurses, teachers, childcare workers, social workers, or counsellors. But a businessman? A lawyer? An IT specialist? An investor? A builder? A fashion designer? A TV producer? A musician? An artist? We tend not to list these jobs among the most desirable work for Christians.
Christians can consider almost any career. Now, when you flip through the pages of the Bible, you’re not going to find a verse telling you what career you should take or where you should live. What you will discover are verses about work providing you with direction in the decisions you make and the work you pursue. From what the Bible says about work to gaining clarity on your calling, you will find what you need to know to “work heartily, as for the Lord” (Col. 3:23). It is not so much what we are doing that matters, as for whom we are doing it. We glorify God when we work hard and cheerfully, whether as a pastor, an investor, an actor, a stay-at-home mother, or a barista.
Paul does not tell the believers to leave their current work and become missionaries or pastors. He tells them to remain where they are and serve God there. Choosing a career can be difficult. Obviously, it is a matter for prayer. You should seek God’s direction for His will for your life. It can also be helpful to examine the specific gifts God has given you. He makes us each different (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12:4-8) with unique desires, talents, and interests, and for unique purposes. It is also helpful to talk with those who know you well. Such people can serve as wise counsellors (Proverbs 15:22), often providing helpful insight. Christians may consider any career in which they can honour God and use the uniqueness with which God created them. Of course, there are certain careers that are inherently dishonouring to God—most of them not strictly legal, such as betting industry, prostitution or pornography. But any career that does not require sin in its performance is laudable Christian work and can be done to the glory of God.
More often than not, we hear of parents telling their children that if you don’t study hard and have good results, you’ll end up being a road sweeper. Our societal values make it difficult to honour so-called menial jobs. Our sick societal values esteem big bank accounts, fancy houses, new cars, extended paid vacations, prestigious jobs, beautiful, youthful looks, and perfectly cloned behaviours. These societal values wring the worth from the vast majority of hard-working folk. Grace and I always reminded our children that any job is an honourable job. In our neighbourhood there was a foreign cleaner. He was not a believer, but he was the most hardworking person we ever saw making sure our neighbourhood is spit and span. Our family even nominated him as the best worker in our neighbourhood but sadly after that, we don’t see him anymore in our neighbourhood. We presume, he would either be promoted or that his contract is finished and had left the country.
I think the difference is that we need to create our own values by looking for the honour and worth in our work now. Any honest day’s work is honourable and worthy. Finding the honour and goodness in everything you do builds dignity and honour within you. Seeing your job as an honourable job, adds more meaning and peace to your life. Also, seeing the honour in what you do now, creates an ideal foundation upon which a career change can be built.
If you cannot find any worth in your current job, that lack of worth will likely haunt your career change. Before jumping jobs or seeking fulfilment elsewhere, consider your current job as sacred work. Monastic writers have described their day-to-day, menial work as the path to holiness. Your job is much more than a means to pay bills. Try envisioning your job as your ministry. When we see our work as sacred and honourable, we feel good about what we are doing and who we are. This goodness spins off into our family, workplace and ultimately the world.
As a Christian, no matter where you are, your first priority is to fulfil the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The way you fulfil the Great Commission, however, will not be same in every situation. When you are at work, remember you are there to work. Witnessing by having long conversations about Jesus when you are supposed to be accomplishing your tasks is a bad witness. Do not violate people’s personal boundaries by jamming Christ into every conversation. If you want to have a long, deep, personal conversation with someone, take them out to coffee when you are not on company time.
As Christians, our deeds reveal Christ just as much as our words. When people see us working hard, ethically, compassionately, respectfully, and consistently, then when we do have the opportunity to explain that Christ is the reason for our good character, our words will be that much more powerful because of our good reputation in the workplace. Let your actions at work till the soil so people receive your words about Christ even better when you get the chance to share your faith with them. Do your job first at work. Don’t steal from the company by “witnessing” on company time. But also, don’t use this as an excuse to avoid witnessing to your co-workers. Start a relationship at work, and then build a relationship outside of work to tell people more directly about Jesus Christ. Remember “walk across the room” and witness appropriately.
It doesn’t matter what type of work you do; you will face temptations to sin. Have you been tempted to accept money under the table to push through a deal? Do you feel inclined to fudge the numbers on your sales quota? The presence of sin in your life or the world doesn’t abolish your need for work. You can automate tasks or outsource responsibilities, but you’ll need to do work in some shape, way, fashion, or form. Thankfully, you’re not left on your own to do this. In scriptures about work, we see that Jesus’ goal is to redeem everything—including work (Col. 1:15-20)
Do you work as you would work for Jesus? It’s easy for our eyes of faith to become glassy at work and forget who it is we work for. Jesus may not be your team leader. He may not be physically sitting in an office watching your every move, or the one signing your checks, but he is the one you work for. Paul had this in mind when he said, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men… You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24).
I am amazed at the love of Christ. Jesus left His glory in heaven and put on flesh to be one of us to identify Himself with us. In Hebrews 4:15 ESV, the Word of God says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Such great love He has demonstrated for us. He sympathises with us, knowing that we are weak human beings who need His help and intervention. In Romans 5:8 ESV, the Word of God also says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” How can it be that the God of creation, the God of the entire universe, would die for me! I think of myself as being unworthy of His love but God thought of me as being worthy. God went to the extent of allowing His beloved Son Jesus Christ to be crucified on that cruel cross for my sins and shame and also for yours. Jesus took the punishment of all my sins on that cross. His love for you and me is immense. No words could adequately describe the love of God. The greatness of God’s love for us is beyond comparison and really, beyond comprehension. His love has changed my complete outlook of life and transformed me from a nobody to a somebody in Christ and for His glory!
The love of Christ constrains (or “compels” in NIV & “controls” in ESV) me to share with others the greatness of His salvation plan for the whole human race! That was the main reason for me to be involved in the recent Celebration of Hope at the National Stadium. I saw that others who have yet to know Christ Jesus can discover the true and living hope found in the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus, who sacrificially laid down His precious life to redeem us and reconcile us to His Heavenly Father. There is no other hope except in and through Him alone! He offered His life so that the lives of people are enriched! This can be abbreviated in this acronym, “H. O. P. E. “, that is, “He Offered; People Enriched!” In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 KJV, the Word of God says, “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” Having loved by Christ, we should reciprocate His love! We should no longer live for ourselves but for Him alone. He should not contain this love to ourselves but explode it out to others. We should be overflowed with the love of Christ, reaching out to the lost! We should courageously and confidently testify of His great love for us and to us. I am reminded of Romans 5:5 which states that “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We can and are capable of sharing this powerful love of Christ with others through the anointing of the Holy Spirit in our testimonies and lives.
I am reminded once again of another verse, 1 John 3:1 ESV, which says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” Such joy and privilege that we have, through the love of God and of Christ, we are called “Children of God.” Since we are God’s children, we should not take this for granted but seek to live as His beloved children, yearning to know and love Him more and then readily and wholeheartedly obey what He instructs and directs us.
Having discovered and experienced the love of Christ, what is required of you and me? Let me share 4 possible ways: i) Listen, ii) Offer, iii) Value and iv) Enjoy. They are actually the acronym, “L.O.V.E.” Listen: When you listen to others attentively, you are showing love to them. Offer: When you offer to help others willingly, you are being hospitable to them. Value: When you value the ideas, the opinions and the suggestions of others, you are accepting and appreciating them for who and what they really are. Enjoy: When you enjoy the company, the friendship and the companionship of others, you are telling them that they are loved and cared for by you.
In conclusion, I would like to post 2 questions for your consideration of applications: firstly, “How has the love of Christ impacted you?” and secondly, “What shall you do with the love of Christ which you have encountered and experienced?”