Staying on the path

“If it is God’s will you want more than anything else in the world, it’s going to mean endurance.” – Elisabeth Elliot, 1983

I’m not one to write down resolutions, but in recent years I’ve prayed for a guiding theme or principle to help me envision and live out the year. Coming from the highs of last year’s “arise and shine”, I had such expectation for what 2017 would be all about.

And as the arc of the year-end played out, it became clear that God was leading towards foundational work. At Church, our own personal vision spoke of living out our Christian faith that runs counter to this world, turning it right side up—the “Upside Down Faith”. And one late night on YouTube, stumbling upon Ms. Elliot preaching from the year I was born, I was struck by the quote above.

There it was. Faith and endurance.

Still a one-liner wasn’t enough. As any researcher would, I wrestled with the next steps of operationalising that frame into more concrete terms.

How could I put this faith into action? What would I do to endure?

Words started to come. Build. Sow. Persevere.

***

Last Saturday, as we celebrated the 21st anniversary of our Senior Pastors in ministry, the answer played out vividly before me on stage. With every testimony and tribute shared, the story of God’s work in and through our pastors was told. I may have heard these in bits and pieces from those who have had personal encounters with them, but there was such power to see the full scope of it and the fruit it bore—our Church standing strong today.

Pastor How’s and Pastor Lia’s living testimonies pointed directly to the heart of what it means to have great faith and endurance.

With barely two years at Heart of God Church, I have little history to speak of, but it has not lacked in significant moments.

852117793_47249_3921905300531587336From that very first service on the 21st of March in 2015, Pastor How preached on “Grace for the Disgraced”, and it opened a second chance for me to get back on the right path and allow God to work on my character.

When I first served in ministry, it overwhelmed me to see the work poured into a seven-minute testimony segment, something that stemmed from the standards of excellence they set and modelled. I also saw how Pastors attended to every detail, through the processes set in place.

 

When I went on my first mission trip to Myanmar, I was deeply impressed by how one encounter that Pastors had at a Children’s Home from years ago, birthed and sustained an entire ministry, and the beginning of global outreach. All because they knew they “had to do something.” And so they did. Faithfully.

 ***

Pastors, in everything you do, you leave traces of your hearts that beat for God and others.

You build. You sow. You persevere.

Thank you for building our Church, by building up every individual person and emphasising character above all.

Thank you for tirelessly sowing and speaking into individual lives, showing that no act is too small and no person beyond help.

Thank you for persevering and never losing heart in the times of trial, always led by the joy of God’s vision set before you. And that is your heart for raising up generations of people who will give God the best years of their lives. Just as you have done.

 

“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.”

1 Timothy 5: 17 (KJV)

In all their 21 years serving, it astounds me that this is the first time the Church has celebrated with them. It also coincides with the first time they chose to take their sabbatical after three 7-year cycles. Though I should not be surprised, given the humility and dedication with which they have conducted themselves all these years. Last Saturday’s landmark service and outpouring of love are truly nothing in comparison to their full reward awaiting in Heaven.

Twenty-one years ago, Pastor Lia had a vision of God’s will for her life— to build a strong youth church. She and Pastor How wanted it more than anything else. So they remained faithful, obedient, and patient in endurance.

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I thank God for placing me under their wise leadership. I pray that God would also grant me the same grace to stay on His path, to fulfil His vision for my life, sharing the vision of our Church, not just another two or 21 years, but to run the entire race in this lifetime.

 

 

*written on the occasion of the 21st year of ministry of Pastor How and Pastor Lia, Heart of God Church

 

Truth be told

It came as an unexpected question on Christmas eve morning, but a nevertheless welcome one. Like a simply wrapped package tucked in a hidden corner under the tree, bearing that one gift you never knew you wanted.

“How do you read the Bible? I never owned or read the Bible growing up, because they didn’t teach us that in public school.”

Could this be true? My grandmother just asked me about reading the Bible. I was still cramming my Christmas card-writing and gift-wrapping, but when God presents such a gilded moment complete with a red velvet bow, you drop everything to receive it.

Truth be told, I was caught off-guard. No one had asked me before. How would I respond to this seemingly random, yet perfectly timed question?

I tell her the Bible is God’s Word. He speaks to us directly, to anyone who would listen. He reveals Himself and His plans for us, to anyone who would seek in faith. He set us on the right path with His Truth, to anyone who would trust in Him.

Simply put, God’s love letter to us as He draws us closer into a relationship with Him. We read it with a desire to go deeper into that relationship.

And in my heart, I asked that God do the rest.

***

There was one gift that I eagerly anticipated in the run up to Christmas. My water baptism on the 17th of December. The very moment of immersion went by so quickly, but it was the culmination of a journey of 33 years that took a different turn in the last three.

I think of that Ethiopian eunuch traveling by chariot in the desert, struggling with the words of the prophet Isaiah and seeking guidance (Acts 8: 26-38). After coming to the realisation of who Jesus is, He asked the God-sent Philip, “What prevents me from being baptised?”.

And many times, I asked myself that same question. For someone who had known and believed in God her whole life, it was one thing to understand with my head, and another to accept it completely in my heart.

When the truth of God’s word truly pierced my heart, I was certain to whom I belonged. Even as God gives this gift of new life freely, it requires something of us that we might have it fully. It would take turning my back on my sinful, self-consumed, proud, relationship-obsessed ways.

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with family and friends at Heart of God Church, December 17, 2016

No longer just a historic account, or an impressive literary tome, God’s word could begin the work of transformation it was meant for. As I was submerged in the water, I was buried to leave behind all sin and idols. Then coming up from the water, it symbolised Jesus’ resurrection and my rising again to new life.

This was the truth of what happened in my life—what Christ’s salvation has done for me (the details another story)—that I could not help but be baptised and let this Truth be known.

***

On Christmas eve morning, I received another early gift, the image that will be seared in my memory. My grandmother, Mamita as we fondly call her, seated near the front door, my bible in her hands, angling for light to aid her reading.

Just a week shy of her 92nd birthday, I gifted Mamita with her first Bible. She promises to read it every day. We live in different continents, but I’d like to keep her in prayer, as she makes her own journey in getting to know God in new ways.

On Christmas evening, when everyone had gone to bed, I sat by the soft glow of lights on my tiny tree. I pondered on what this Christmas meant, and I was led to a powerful statement that Jesus made toward the end of His earthly life.

“You say rightly that I am a King. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

John 18: 37

We all take different paths, but we all come to our personal moment of truth when God’s inescapable glory and truth is revealed to us. The moment when that Truth draws us to Him, and we respond to His love and receive His mercy so that we are forever changed. And it is a Truth so enduring, a grace so amazing, that we are compelled to share this gift with others.