The Choice We Must Make

We all have a crucial choice to make. The choice before us is whether we take things into our own soiled hands. Or leave things in God’s untainted hands.

This choice is most vital when it comes to what Christians call “salvation”. This refers to our right standing before God. The Bible tells us that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves from our sinful nature and make ourselves acceptable to a Holy God. We simply can’t take salvation into our hands. We have to leave it entirely to God’s hands.

Romans 5:6 states this starkly: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” In short, Jesus Christ is our surest assurance that only God himself can do something about our hardened yet hopeless condition of rebellion against God.

As someone put it: “Why are we so afraid to put our lives into the hands of someone infinitely wiser, bigger and better than us?” Why indeed? There is an illogic to this that only the “psychology of sin” can explain. When we sin, we are always more appeased and assured when we are doing something about it. When we sin, we embark on one of these three main choices: we hide our sin, we blame others for our sin or we self-atone (do penance) for our sin.

Story is told of a father in Australia who walked into his house and caught his two young kids fighting. The younger boy held the broken TV antenna (yes, TV sets had these in the “old days”). Upon seeing his father, the son – while still holding the incriminating evidence – immediately blurted out: “She (his older sister) did it! She made me do it”. Here is the DNA of sin inherited from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). We sin, we hide, we blame and, finally, we atone.

Hiding is simply covering up our tracks so that we don’t look so bad. Blaming is outsourcing our culpability to another to make them appear wrong. If the first two fail, then we usually opt for atoning. Atoning is our attempt to do the religion bit – go on a religious pilgrimage, embark on religious rituals or look to religious men to be our intermediaries with God. After awhile, we must admit that none of these can deal with the power and guilt of sin that so haunts our souls and destroys our relationships.

Only God can break the stranglehold of Satan and sin over us. To accomplish this, God has generously sacrificed His Son and kindly poured out His Spirit. In simple terms, Jesus’ death on the Cross 2000 years ago grants us our positional holiness to be made acceptable to a holy God while the Spirit empowers us for our progressive holiness in our daily living.

The supreme purpose of the Son’s and the Spirit’s work is to reproduce God’s love in us.

Galatians 5:13 declares: “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh but through love serve one another.” And what is the character of divine love made possible through the Son and Spirit? “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” In short, divine love – accomplished by the Son and applied by the Spirit – chooses not to harm its neighbor.

Question is: “Are you harming or blessing your neighbor?” Neighbor can simply be defined as someone that God has put us in the best position to love and help. And that neighbor who may be your spouse, child, parent, sibling, friend, fellow believer or an outright stranger. It’s that someone that God has divinely orchestrated for us to be a Samaritan to – in a season, in a day or in a moment.

It is not good enough for us to claim belief in God, without any corresponding evidence of God-empoweered, God-changed and God-glorifying behaviors. Many of remain as selfish in our thoughts, as defamatory in our words, as quarrelsome in our attitudes and as harmful in our actions to others while presuming we are Christian.

As you read this, are you scheming evil behind your spouse’s back, harboring dishonor towards your parents, holding a grudge against a friend, conspiring to assassinate the character of a boss at work or a leader at church – even while you go to church and “do” ministry?

Then you have a choice to make.

Either you keep going with this double-life that fools no one but you and dishonors no one more than God. Or you come humbly to the Son and lean wholly on the Spirit to live a totally new life under God’s new management. We can’t have the half-flesh and half-Spirit life. We can’t have the half-me and half-God existence. It’s not on with God. Our God who has given himself fully cannot tolerate half-measures.

So I commend to you a new rhythm of life under God – purposed by the Father, accomplished by the Son and empowered by the Spirit. Why not replace your old habit of self-love and self-glory with this God-glorifying habit: Pray a good prayer, think a good thought, say a good word, do a good deed and, finally, feel a God feeling to your neighbor. And remember that God-given “neighbor” could be your spouse, child, parent, sibling, friend, boss or leader whom you are really struggling to love. Then, with prayer and the Spirit’s empowerment, we repeat this gracious cycle of new life.

By God’s grace, I choose to wake each morning, continue through the day and lay down each night saying to my wife, my two children or my aged mother: “God bless you. You are God’s good gift to me.” I do the same for my extended family and my spiritual family in church.

By God’s grace, we can choose to pray a good prayer, think a good thought, say a good word, do a good deed and feel a God feeling about all the neighbors God brings along the way. Divine love in Christ chooses not to do harm but to do good, even to our most trying or nastiest neighbors.

What will you choose today?

Prayer: Almighty God, you have chosen to love and save us while we were still unlovable. May your Son and Spirit empower us to choose wisely each moment – not to do harm but to be a channel of your love. Help us O God. In Jesus’ name we pray.

A Heart Affair

What goes up must come down. And vice versa.

Anyone who’s a casual observer of life would come to that conclusion. This would be especially true of the world economy where the cyclical booms and busts seem to revisit us much sooner. It seemed like yesterday that we had the last recession. What goes around must come around.

There is another more important truism to observe – what goes on in our hearts will soon bear its bad consequences. Or its good fruit. If we read God’s Word with some observation, we soon notice that God is preoccupied with our internalities, not externalities. If we took God to heart, we would save ourselves a whole lot of money from plastering our faces and beautifying our bodies!

They call the Psalms the hymnbook of the Old Testament, of which Psalm 119 is the longest. I love the Psalms because they capture the real struggles of a pilgrim of faith. And the location of our struggles of belief or unbelief, trust or doubt, obedience or disobedience, peace or turmoil is often in our hearts.

I was struck by how often “heart” appears as I read through Psalm 119 in my Quiet Time. Verse 2 says “Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart, they do no wrong but follow his ways”. It echoes God’s call to His people to “love Him with all their heart, soul and strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

In Jewish culture, “heart”  refers to our mind and will more than our feelings. So if I said to you: “Share your heart”, I’m not asking about “how you’re feeling”. I am asking about “what you’re thinking or intending to do” as an outcome of your thoughts or will.

To seek God “with all our heart”, then, is not the uncommitted or wavering attitude of someone who’s leaving their walk with God to chance or circumstance. By that, we mean God is only as good or bad, big or small, near or far depending on what happens to us in a day or a season.

If we live that way, we will end up with a circumstantial God and circumstantial ethics. It results in a chameleon believer – ever changing and being changed – as we compromise with our sinful natures and fallen world for our survival and satisfaction.

Rather, “heart” speaks of the intentional bent of a grateful person set on trusting and obeying God regardless of chance or circumstance. If we live this way, we have a God over our circumstances and God over our ethics. It results in a consistent believer – ever steadfast and being strengthened as we depend on God to overcome our sinful nature and fallen world.

The difference between the chameleon believer and the consistent pilgrim is vast.

The half-hearted chameleon believer is only as steady until we chance upon our next temptation of our on-going vulnerabilities. For Israel in the Old Testament, she was only was only as steady until she chanced upon the next tempting Canaanite idol. Then she would cave in. And all hell would break loose in her walk with God.

So too with us.

The alcoholic is only one sniff away from the whiff of a drink. The porn addict is one image from indulging again. The angry person is one incident away from the next rage. The proud is one step away from the next ego-boosting project, job or ministry. The romantic is only one “reminisce” away from paralysing nostalgia. The spendthrift is only one sale from the next shopping binge.

You get the message? It’s all about our hearts.

The manifestations of our hearts are many. But the disease of the heart is one – we have strayed away from God. And have been trying to replace Him frantically with anyone and anything else ever since.

What goes on in our hearts will indeed bear its bad consequences. Or its good fruit. Which will you choose?

The trouble is we have no ability to save our hearts from this addictive and destructive drift from God into Godlessness. This is not simply a matter of willing our human hearts to think and act in new ways. This is supremely a matter of God willing to do something about our hearts.

And God has.

It is Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross and resurrection from the dead alone that makes us new persons with new hearts. As we live under Jesus and depend on God’s Holy Spirit, our hearts are more and more attuned to what pleases Him and what is truly good for us. Only then will we know the liberation and joy of a heart totally given over to Jesus.


How Pitiful Are You?

We were created with many God-given rhythms.

Our essential rhythms are obvious. We all have a built-in need for air, water, food. Deprive ourselves of these and we die quickly. My friend and I endeavored a 40-hour famine during my university days to raise funds for a charity. We were not supposed to eat so as to emphatise with the hungry we were raising funds for. We could, however, drink. Sustenance liquids such as Milo were allowed if we felt in any “danger” during our fast.

My friend and I swore we would not be such weaklings. Who could not fast for a mere 40 hours?

The first part of our fast was a breeze. In the final hours, though, our gastric juices and rumbling stomachs worked overtime. I don’t know about thinking of the hungry but we were surely conscious about our hunger. In the last leg of our fast, we sheepishly took turns to sneak into the kitchen to make one drink after another. Milo never tasted so good.

We learnt a precious lesson. We do have God-given needs which we deprive at our own peril. There is a parallel lesson: We need to discern that God has also built into us other essential but not so obvious rhythms. Deprive ourselves of these and we die slowly. Rest is one such rhythm.

In the Old Testament, God intended His people to work for six days and rest on the Sabbath. There was good reason for this. The creational reason was that this mimicked God who did the majestic work of creation in six and rested on the seventh day to enjoy His work. The humanitarian reason was that the Israelites knew how dehumanising being on call 24/7 was as slaves in Eqypt.

When God’s people “downed their tools” on the Sabbath day, it was not a day to do anything or nothing. It was a day to embark on a most important activity — to renew their perspective of God – and hence of life under God. 

This life-changing renewal would come in one way — only by listening to God’s Word. Only God’s Word can grant us sanity in the midst of the many competing insane voices vying for our love and loyalty. The Sabbath essentially declares that “God is God and I am not”. It declares that even as we rest, God is at work. It is God who keeps the universe humming along marvellously and keeps providing for us generously.

People who do not “down their tools” are pitiful people. Why? When we don’t “down our tools” to rest in God, we are actually declaring that this world and life is all we have. We are like the proverbial mouse on a treadmill. We are always moving but never arriving. We try to excite ourselves about life by exhausting ourselves with work. It just doesn’t work. All we become are “one dimensional dehumanised persons” who find our total security and identity in work.

Our dehumanising slavery to work often begins innocently enough.

We could not finish work or a project at the office. We bring the work home by convincing ourselves that we’ll do “about an hour or so” — and only for a night. Before we care to admit, it turns into an enslaving nightly routine. We work incessantly, surfing and emailing into the wee hours. Night merges into day. There are no borders. The endless cycle begins.

We are unable to rest our minds, hearts and bodies. It’s work, work and more work. That’s all we have. There’s nothing to live for but plenty to die from. The Japanese call it karoshi - “death from overwork”. The word may be Japanese but the phenomena is now global because of the borderless world of the internet. Overwork not just kills the workaholic but kills the people around us.

I was once at the zoo – a favourite outing when the kids were young. I noticed a man, obviously out with his family too. Really heartwarming as a thought. Why? Throughout the entire outing – from the tram ride to the zoo enclosures – he was on his handphone most the time.

All the while, his young kids kept calling out to him excitedly about a new discovery for a shared moment of family joy. Yet, all he could afford from his busy phone manner was a superficial smile and a disengaged mind. He was there in body but not there in spirit. It sobered me up to reflect on my own busyness in Christian ministry.

Is work killing you and your relationships with your loved ones off slowly? Is work all you have to live for and to die from? Is work the only thing that gives you a sense of fleeting security and false identity. Is work your first and last thought of the day? If the honest answer to any – or all of these – is an undeniable “yes”, you are a most pitiful person.

God never intended for us to excite ourselves about life by exhausting ourselves with work. It’s not the way He made us. That’s idolatry. God made us to rest from and to bask in our labors under His care. God-induced rest reminds us that “He is God and I am not”. That’s worship. God-given rest is a rhythm of life we ignore at our own peril.

Jesus said: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28).

His offer to rescue us from all our enslaving idolatries still stands. But not for long. So act now. Or else you will be a pitiful person – losing your loved ones and your Loved One – forever.




Are You Just An Appetite?

A wife catches her husband with another woman, in yet another affair. She bursts out saying: “You are impossible to live with! You are just an appetite.”

With that she storms out of their home and out of his life. And who’d blame her?

If we live with a serial womaniser or a recalcitrant cheat, we’d probably do the same. Nothing breaks our heart and crushes our spirit more than living with a repeat offender right under our noses. Betrayed spouses rightly call this “sleeping with the enemy”.

It’s terrible when we degenerate into a series of appetites.

And our appetites can range from the obviously wrong – sexual immorality, adultery, pornography. To the more socially acceptable – grumbling, gossip, white lies, anger, pride. We know we have become just an appetite if we are only as happy or secure as our last satisfaction of an uncontrollable desire.

The alcoholic is only as happy as the last drink. The adulterer is only as contented with the last fling. The porn addict is only as satisfied with the last click of the mouse. The angry person with the latest outburst. The proud person with the most recent one-upsmanship. The gadget addict with the latest download. In all those ways, we must admit that we have degenerated into a series of appetites.

Why is this so wrong?

God created us to worship Him. The most glorious thing about being human – made in God’s image – is to glory in God. Our highest duty and delight is to live in awe of God. To eat, sleep, work, rest, breathe, love, live – all in awe of the awesome God who created us. In short, to be truly human is to glorify God.

Sin is our stubborn insistence not to worship God. The most inglorious thing about being human is to glorify ourselves. But that is what we do persistently.

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” (Ephesians 4:17-19)

Here is the curse of being idolaters instead of worshippers of God. Always sleeping around but never satisfied. Always pleasuring ourselves but never pleased. Always getting our way but never enough. Always winning but never victorious. Always eating but never tasting. Always holidaying but never rested. Why?

When we reject God and become idolaters, we become just an appetite. Nothing and no one can ever replace God and our need to worship Him. It’s a terrible thing to be an idolater. It’s a bottomless pit to quiet desperation and sure destruction when we live only to satiate our next appetite.

A man broke down. He cried, and in between sobs, said he loved his wife dearly. He wanted so much to be faithful to her. But he kept failing when he got distracted by the next pretty young thing in skirts – which was pretty often. I suggested to him that he did not love his wife. In fact, he hated her. Who he really loved was himself. He was shocked to hear this. But the message sunk home.

Sometimes we need to shock one another.

Never start with the presumption that we are nice people who love God and neighbor. Idolatry means we are God haters and self-lovers. That’s why we become just an appetite for the next “self-fix”: self-pleasure, self-importance, self-satisfaction, self-righteousness and, unthinkably at times, self-pity.

Are you impossible to live with? When are you going to stop your downward spiral of feeding your appetite for the next illicit affair, porn indulgence, grumble session, insecurity binge, anger outburst or pride fix?

Here’s the straight talk from Jesus: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Unless we confess we are hopeless self-lovers who desperately need Jesus’ forgiveness, we’ll always be impossible to live with. Have you gotten impossible enough to cry out to God for mercy?

Prayer: “Almighty God, forgive me for forsaking you. For choosing to idolise myself and not to glorify you. I am impossible to live with because I am idolatrous. Please forgive me and save me Lord Jesus so that I will no longer live only to satisfy my next appetite. Please grant me your Spirit that I might live to worship you. That I will find my greatest joy in glorifying you. Amen.”




Been There, Done That?

“When are you going to grow up?”

That’s a question exasperated parents often ask children in a fit of anger. When we see kids fight over toys, teenagers sulk over their pimples, courting couples lament about their relationship woes or new parents vent about their sleepless nights – some of us who have travelled that same road earlier may remark philosophically: “Been there, done that!”

By that we mean we have experienced those seasons. And we are glad that it’s over, especially if it was a painful or, worse still, a traumatic season. Yet “been there, done that” may not simplistically mean we have learned, grown or matured through a bad season or bad experience of life.

We need to distinguish between “moving on” and “moving forward”.

Many people “move on” physically or geographically after a bad experience. So we move on from a dysfunctional family, a draining job, a stressful country, a crushing relationship in church or in life. Often time, that’s needed. It’s also therapeutic. It gives us a much needed new breath of fresh air. 

But here’s the catch. 

We may move on geographically to new places but may not move forward spiritually. Years on, when we bump into who and what we “moved on” from – quarrelsome siblings, gossipy relatives, disappointing friends, unreasonable bosses, backmouthing colleaques or a failed love – we still go into a spiritual tailspin and emotional depression. 

All of which may signal that we have not made much, if any, progress from the sad and bad experiences of life. We may have “been there, done that” but we also may have been “done in” – permanently scarred – by the painful experiences of life.

Now, years on, as we bump into those old friends or family – or as we encounter similar difficulties in our new relationships – we may have to acknowledge that we have not “moved forward” spiritually in our walk with God and with others.   

Years later, after moving on, we may remain the same proud, angry, bitter, selfish, self-important, self-righteous, unforgiving, insecure and messed-up persons which got us into trouble in our previous relationships in our jobs, marriages, families, churches and countries in the first place. 

In that sense, we would always remain a danger to our relationships, marriages, families, workplaces and churches. In that way, we have “been there, done that” in terms of past bad experiences but we have never been to good experiences. We have never been to new places which God intends for us. What good experiences and new places?

The Bible tells us that if anyone in Christ, he or she is a new creation. Only Jesus’ death and resurrection can make us new people with new hearts to love God and others. Romans 8:28-29 tells us that God’s grand design in offering us new life through Jesus Christ is to “conform us to the likeness of His Son”. 

So, if we merely “moved on” from life’s pain, we may never have experienced the joy of forgiveness, the goodness of reconciliation, the liberation of undistracted love or the rightness of surrendering to God’s will. 

These all different experiences of believing in Jesus. They all add up to “being conformed to the likeness” of Jesus – in his sacrificial love, in his self-forsaking humility and his total surrender to God’s will. 

They say that time is a great healer. That’s a lie.

The ticking away of a clock cannot heal anything – let alone heal broken hearts and bashed up people. Only God can heal through time. So, until and unless we yield ourselves to God and his forgiving love in Christ, we would remain people who have merely “moved on” but never “moved forward”.   

You may have “been there, done that”. But have you been to the new places God wants to offer you – love, joy and peace – in Christ? If we have not, then we remain like immature children.

One of the hardest things we need to acknowledge is that we are immature, even childish, in the things that matter to God. With time, we may gain a reputation as accomplished professionals, longserving church leaders, faithful ministers or counsellors, wellknown pastors or missionaries.

Yet, it’s not what others think that matters. It’s what God knows and thinks that matters. Now and for eternity. If God met you today, would he meet a childish adult who has never grown up? Could this be what God is saying to you: “Grow up!”

Let us pray: “Almighty God. Save me. Help me leave behind my pride, anger, bitterness, my self-importance, my self-righteousness, myself. I have been there, done that. It messed up my life. It angered you. It got me nowhere. Be gracious to me. Help me give it up. Let me come and find new life in Christ and your Spirit. Only then can I move on from my bad experiences in life and move forward to the good life you kindly offer me in Christ. Amen”     

The World’s Oldest Profession

There is an anecdotal claim that the world’s oldest profession is prostitution.

The statistics suggest that this terrible trade is still very alive. There are 40 million prostitutes globally. Prostitution is legal and regulated in 22 countries. A prostitute earns $1 an hour in South Africa. It ranges from $25/hour in Chicago to $10,000 for a high class escort in New York.

In South Africa, 1 in 2 prostitutes suffer from AIDs. In Chicago, an average call girl suffers 12 beatings and 300 acts of unprotected sex in a year. All this adds up to a US$58 billion human trafficking industry where 2.5 million women are traded and treated merely as flesh for men.

It’s pretty sickening. Or should be if we have any moral compass in us.

The Bible speaks of an older type of prostitution. It is spiritual prostitution. This is the wrongful selling out of our souls to Satan, instead of rightly giving of ourselves to God. It is this spiritual sellout of God that causes to us prostitute the precious things of God in our life.

God tells us that people in the last days will be characterised by misplaced love for self, money and pleasure rather than love for God (2 Timothy 3:1-5). Narcissism is extreme self love that results in the destructive hatred for others.

A growing global trend is ageism. This is the prejudice or discrimination of the aged. I feel the world is standing on the verge of extreme breakdown of family life. God’s blueprint for a stable society was “thou shall not commit adultery” and “thou shall honor thy father and mother”.

The first protects the sanctity of married life. The second protects the sanctity of family life. Both are indispensable to healthy individuals and a stable society. Is it any coincidence that almost every nation today struggles with the terrible twins of burgeoning divorces and abandoned parents?

Often time, this is due to our mad pursuit of freedom at the expense of our loved ones. Singapore is one of the fastest aging nations yet we are increasingly agist (anti-aged).

Most young people associate the old with low employment jobs – cleaners and servers at fastfood joints. The unconscious lesson could be: “Old = useless!” A university social work lecturer observed: “As couples increasingly live apart from parents, their children grow up without knowing what’s its like to interact with older people at close range. They grow up in a cloistered world.”

All of which adds up to a very low view of the old in society and a very low tolerance of the our parents in our homes. We increasingly find our parents an inconvenience to our lifestyle and lifegoals.

But, if we abandon them, we may still have our lifestyle but we may have lost the life God intended. For God says: “Honor your father and mother” — which is the first commandment with a promise – ‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’ (Ephesians 6:2).

How’s your attitude towards your parents? Have you factored them into your life? Do you resemble more of the world’s attitude of bias, fear and discrimination? Are you ungrateful and forgetful of the ones who loved you?

By God’s grace, my mother turns 100 in December. She has lived with us since 1991. My two children know of no other existence except living with “Ah Mah” (our dialect for grandma). They love her, tease her and enjoy her – mostly.

I stroked my mother’s back recently before I rushed off to a church meeting. It was deliberate. Old folks hardly get a cuddle from hurried kids today. Human touch means a lot. I expected it but it still saddened me – my mother is just skin and bones now as her muscles atrophy.

I told my son that today. I reminded both my kids to cuddle Ah Mah more. He teared up. He said he will miss her when she finally but inevitably departs in God’s good time. That response is worth more than all the lessons you can learn in a school or a university.

When was the last time you held your aged parents’ hands? Gave them a heartfelt hug? Offered them a needed massage? Or are we too busy or, worse still, too self-righteous fighting among ourselves as siblings as to who should care for them in time and money?

The world’s oldest profession may be prostitution. But the world’s oldest vice is the prostituting of our values – self love at the expense of God and others. That prostitution of ourselves may sadly include the abandonment of our God-given parents in our mad pursuit of our mad lifestyles.

There may be a prostitution of our values taking place right under our noses in our homes which we have to repent of. May God grant us His Spirit and grace to love the ones we should love under His good design for His glory. Amen.



The Day I Met a Murderer

I went to prison more than 20 years ago.

It was part of a visit. A group of us accompanied a pastor to sing at the prison chapel. After the service, we talked with the prisoners. Have you ever talked to a prisoner? It was my first time. I was nervous. I stuck out my hand and said something like: “Hello, what did you do?”

“I killed someone!”, the short stocky man said matter of factly. What do you say when you hear an answer like that? In my naiveness, I said: “Oh, nice to meet you!”. What do you call an encounter like that? An awkward meeting with a very uncommon person! I mean, how often do you get to meet a murderer? Answer: Not often.

But, according to Jesus, we meet murderers every day. He said: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”

For Jesus, anger is tantamount to murder! If anger is murder, then we are all most likely guilty. What radical teaching? A father was angry and scolding his son. The young boy, who had just learnt about Jesus’ radical teaching on anger in our Sunday School, turned to his father and asked: “Are you murdering me?”

Jesus’ radical teaching on anger is part  of the Sermon of the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Basically, it teaches how we should live act Jesus’ or kingdom people. Jesus says anyone who is angry with his brother, will be subject to judgement”. His concern is not the outward act of murder but the inward attitude of vindictive anger.

Jesus adds “anyone who calls his brother ‘raca’ – an Aramaic swear word meaning stupid, blockhead, idiot – will be punishable in hell. Why so serious? It tells us that contempt, “put downs” or character assassination of any kind against a fellow human being made in God’s glorious image is serious business.

Such exposing teaching! We never thought we will be guilty of murder!

Have you never wished someone dead? That can be true of us wishing a nagging parent, a cheating spouse,  a stubborn child or a disappointing friend “dead”. If not dead, at least, we like to wish them “away”! We sometimes have so much venom that we think we will be not be satisfied or happy again until the other person offending us “disappears” from planet earth.

Students may think that of teachers. Employees may regard that of bosses. Unthinkably, church members may think that of other members or church leaders. All vindictive and vengeful anger lies at the root of murder. The end we want is no less than the removal of the person.

Jesus teaches us about the willingness and quickness of dealing with anger – indeed all sin! Why? The character of kingdom people is we must take sin seriously.

You may ask: Is there no place for anger of any kind? Of course, there is. Godly or righteous anger. When a child is molested, a woman raped, a foreign worker exploited, an aged parent neglected, a mentally ill patient abused – we should feel moral anger. If we don’t, we are perhaps morally dead.

But, if we are honest, most of our day to day anger has little or nothing to do with God. It has everything to do with us. When our interests are unmet, our importance is sidelined, our opinion is not accepted, our ego is bruised – that’s what really stirs the venom in our hearts. Only we know – that’s the point – when anger brews in our hearts against anyone who stands in our way.

I read a newspaper report of a Korean woman. Her young child was crying for a bottle of milk or a change of diapers. In a fit of rage, she choked the child to death. Why? She was an internet junkie. Her child got in the way of her addiction. It’s a drastic case but it does drive home the truth of our vindictive anger which murders.

Will God meet a murderer when He meets you today?

The chances are high if you harboring a murderous anger against a child, spouse, parent, colleaque, boss, neighbor or a fellow believer simply because they got in your way of a passion or an ambition. Murderous anger caused the first murder when Cain killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4). Vindictive anger also resulted in the greatest murder- the death of Jesus at the hands of envious leaders.

If we don’t confess it and seek God’s help, we will be held in the prison of unforgiveness now and in the permanence of hell in the future.

PRAYER: “Help me O Lord to confess my anger. Make me come quickly and willingly to see the seriousness of my anger. I am a danger to my loved ones – my child, my spouse, my parent, my friend or my church – whenever I harbor such anger. Bring me to my knees to surrender my old self and find new life in Christ by your Spirit.”


When Looking Good Never Looked So Bad

Joan Jacobs Brumberg studied the diaries of adolescent girls in the United States of America over a period of 100 years. She found a massive shift in values.

The girls of earlier generations were nurtured to focus on “good works” – personal morals and family values – as the key to getting on in life. Today, in contrast, our girls are taught to idolise “good looks” as the answer to the good life.

This shift from “good works” to “good looks” is but one manifestation of our idolatrous world. And it’s taking a terrible toll in so many ways. The first is the sexualisation of our children.

According to a study in the March 2005 British Journal of Development Psychology, 71.4% of 7 year olds wanted to be thinner and most thought it would make them more popular!

The Wall Street Journal discovered something similar Americans: “Suicide among tweens more than doubled between 1979 and 1995. Therapists say they are seeing a growth in eating disorders — anorexia and obsessive dieting — even among girls in late elementary school, doubtless an outgrowth of a premature fashion-consciousness.”

Girls are not the only ones messed up by our culture’s obsession with looking good. Boys end up with an emphasized belief that girls are merely sex objects. This, in turn, jeopardizes their ability to form and maintain healthy intimate relationships with women in the future.

Michael Thompson, co-author of “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys,” says he hears from seventh- and eighth- graders a lot of talk about oral sex, which they, don’t think of as sex. “For them, it’s just fooling around”.

In short, this sexualisation of our children may ironically result in our generation having less chance of healthy marriages with wholesome sex lives in the future. And bad marriages will, in turn, result in more dysfunctional persons and relationships. A sure way to destroy society. For when we destroy individuals, we destroy institutions.

What are we to make of this?

One of Satan’s main ploy is to deform the image of God in humanity. Ephesians 4:22 states: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” Satan’s great lie – from the great temptation in Genesis 3 – is that we will find our true human identity and security apart from God. He tempts us with a most enticing prospect – “our eyes will be opened and we will be like God” – when we turn against God. We will be truly human without God. That’s Satan great lie. Our old self is indeed corrupted by deceitful desires!

Speaking plainly, when we live apart form God, we are living a lie. In other words, the sexualisation of our children is part of a bigger Satanic conspiracy – the deformation or distortion of our humanity.

Ironically, the more girls focus on looks, the more insecure they are as persons. The more boys focus on girls as mainly sex objects for their pleasuring, the more unreal and unstable they are in their relationships.

Both suffer the same problem. They are messed up. They are idolatrous. This “inward” focus on good looks for “outward” approval – to find our true identity and security – is a vicious downward cycle of self destruction. But, please observe, the path to self destruction never looked and felt … so good!  

The answer out of this downward spiral of deception?

Our true identity and security is not found by looking inwards for aesthetics or outwards for approval but looking upwards to Jesus for assurance. Ephesians 4:23-24 declares we can be made new in the attitude of our minds by “putting on the new self”. This new self is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” through Jesus’ death on the Cross.

Jesus has come to save us from living by a lie. When are we going to realise that we will never be truly human, secure or whole until we come to know God through Jesus Christ? Women may need to ask: “When am I going to stop spending too much time and money on looking good while never feeling secure?” Men need to ask: “When am I going to stop looking at women as bodies to be used and start treating them as persons to be loved?”

The answer is never. Until you give your life to the Lord Jesus, that is. For only Jesus can destroy Satan’s work of making us live by a lie. Only Jesus can rescue us from a destructive mindset of obsessing about good looks. And focus on “good works” which God has created in advance for us to do.

PRAYER: “O God save me from my obsession with looking good at all cost. Save me from the lie that I find my identity and security from outward approval by others. Grant me the joy of salvation – that I am truly secure because you love me, made me and saved me – by giving Jesus to die for me and your Spirit to keep me saved. Amen.”  

Porn: Who’s Doing What to Whom?

Internet pornography is a great curse of our generation.

In the 1950s, if a person wanted some illicit sex, it took some deliberate plotting. They would have to get dressed. Lie to their loved ones about their actual intentions. Then proceed guilt stricken to a red-light area or sweaty palmed to a cinema in town to get their sex fix.

Previously, the place of sexual temptation and sin was outside the home. Today, the place of danger for a curious teenager, a vulnerable single or an addicted adult is at home behind closed doors. Home is no longer a sanctuary for our souls but a seduction of our senses after a hard day’s work.

With virtuality, internet pornography is literally “in our face” 24/7. No one is safe anywhere, any time. Many dirty sex or smut addicts are so afraid to be alone. It is our moments of solitaire that morph into moments of slavery to porn. 

In short, what porn reveals about us is this: “We are our own worst enemies.” We pose the greatest danger to ourselves. The starting point is not what porn does to us. Rather, it is what we do with porn. Why do we do porn? We do porn because we are obstinate self lovers. We do porn because we are hardened God haters. 

Jesus said that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile him. Rather, it is what comes out of a person is what makes us unclean. “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come — sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person” (Mark 7:22-23).

That’s the core of hardcore sin. Myself, my pleasure, my satisfaction is all that matters. The heck to everyone else. In our moments of weakness, we don’t give a hood about who we wrong or hurt – God or others – on our highway to pleasure.

So, it’s not technology that is making us watch porn. It’s not virtuality that is sucking the life out of us. It’s not the availability that is messing us up. It’s depravity. My total depravity. It is something I am doing to God. If I am daring to wrong God, than I am daring to wrong others – and unknown to me – I am daring to wrong myself, who’s made in God’s glorious image.

That is why we should be very afraid of ourselves. But there’s something even scarier than that. We cannot do anything to help ourselves out of this mess! Romans 5:6-11 declares that Christ died for us while we were still sinners and powerless to do anything about our desperate condition.

Internet pornography is NOT the great curse of our generation. We are the great curse. Our sin is. Porn is but one of the many sickening expressions of my rebellion against God.

Until we confess our powerlessness over sin, we will remain hardcore rebels under God’s wrath. God has graciously intervened. We have the victory of Jesus over Satan and sin. We have the power of the Spirit over sin. He has graced us for new life through Jesus’ death. Will we be humble and contrite enough to cry out to Jesus?

PRAYER: “O God, I am a hardened self-lover. I am a stubborn God-hater. My addiction to pornography confirms my hardness of heart. Please forgive and save me through Jesus my Saviour and Lord. Please empower me moment by moment – by your Holy Spirit and Holy Word – to stop sinning and to start glorifying you, not pleasuring myself. Amen.”

Virtuality: Servant or Master?

What gives you a high or endorphin rush?

Our church is doing a series on “Gospel and Culture”.

It is to help us exercise faith in an unchanging God and gospel in an ever-changing world. Today, I want to explore the pros and cons of virtuality.

Virtuality is great for connectivity. We are the most privileged of all human generations. At the click of a button, we get information and become an “expert” in any field. In an instant, we become acquainted across time and space. I may be living in downtown Singapore but I could be “walking down” the streets of San Francisco on a google map and streetview! I love the immediacy of the net!

Yet, virtuality has its grave dangers. It’s great for connectivity but not necessarily for “community” with our God-given loved ones. 

Has virtuality affected your real “community”? Here’s a simple test: “Do we know people ‘out there’ better than people ‘in here’ – in our marriage, our family, our church?” 

So, teenagers may find themselves getting immoral courage to disobey parents on the net. Singles may drift into escapism by surfing dating sites endlessly instead of finding contentment with their existing friendships.

Marrieds may pleasure themselves selfishly on the net instead of enjoying real intimacy with their spouses. A survey in Singapore found that 70% of couples switch on their phones, iPads or updated their Facebook – immediately after making love! Virtuality is the new afterglow!

The aged may find themselves on an endless anxiety journey as we self-diagnose and self-medicate every ache and pain in our twilight years.

Even Christians may find their virtual relationships affecting God’s call to love and serve their “real-time” churches. A seasoned missionary spoke of a new trend – virtuality affecting missionary effectiveness with local people and culture. Why? They spend more time keeping in touch with Christian friends back home on the internet than getting to know real people in the mission field!

This impedes their “incarnation” of mission – from language learning to actual ministry – and stifles their effectiveness to reach and love people for Christ in the new country.

In all the ways above, virtuality may be messing up our real relationships. Many of us have to admit that we are on the verge of being virtual junkies, that is, if we have not fallen off the cliff yet in this area!

If we cannot live through our moments, let alone days, without virtual contact, we are probably addicted. We need to confess this addiction quickly and detox gadgetry from our lives seriously.

We need “gadget-free times” in a day, a week and a year. We need to replace these with “God-filled moments” in a day, a week, a year. We need to distinguish between “immediacy” on the net and “intimacy” in real life. Virtuality, like money, is a good servant but a terrible master. Are you a master of your gadgets? Or have our gadgets mastered us?

I don’t know what gives you an endorphin rush and makes you feel good about being human. We are made in the image of God. We are saved by Christ. For what? To love real people in real life. For many, getting on the net is our highest endorphin rush in a day. I am not sure God intended us to live this way (unless you are skyping with your loved ones overseas!).

By God’s grace, I can say with full confidence that I get my endorphin rush from real, not virtual, life. Enjoying time with my wife and kids. Having a meal or going out with close Christian friends. A walk in a park. A run by the beach. Sharing God’s Word. Praying with people. Just the thought of preaching and helping people grow in Christ. All these still give me a real high each day and week.

But I do wonder for how long as virtuality intrudes into every area of my life. I must pray, be intentional and confessional about filling my life with God (and the things of God) instead of gadgets. Lest I turn from the worship of God to idolatry of gadgets.

PRAYER: “O God, save me from all forms of idolatry. If I have a weakness in this area of gadgets, help to confess it. Humble me to seek your power to rid myself of this addiction. Change me to find true joy with real people in real life. Help me to get closer to and love those in my marriage, family and church rather than people “out there”. In Jesus‘ name.”