The discomfort of strange bedfellows

Like fondant. Literally, icing on the cake; but for me, it was the main event when I made my bed in the morning. The gold standard of a perfectly smoothened cover, just the way rolled sugar hugged the curves of a confection.

As a child, I was obsessive in my pursuit of order. Over the years, I loosened up and this compulsion also relaxed. So much so that I swung to the other end of rambling Black Forests, where no pristine fondant existed. So began my ongoing battle with clutter, one that more often than not, I had allowed to overwhelm and overcome me.

Flash forward to Easter this year, where I had a strange case of the chicken pox, though milder the second time around. It was a call back to childhood summers of past, but with the addition of a research report to be done, a side of dust mites and a mountain of laundry. I took the opportunity to finally work on this unattended business. Forgetting Marie Kondo and her many steps to tidiness, I was determined to start somewhere, anywhere.

In that period of isolation, not only did my clutter face me, but so did my own long-held, daily struggle with sinful patterns. Things that had been ‘dealt with’ previously, but in a state of complacency, returned with renewed intensity.

Stripping away a contaminated bed of its covers, I confronted the lust of the flesh, the pride of the mind. One thought after the other plagued me. There it was, the folly of my ways—how I had grown a little too comfortable with the filth, and just how much I needed this shake-up and wake-up call.

* * *

I found myself reflecting on chapter 6 of Isaiah, aptly called “The Cleansing Before the Call” in the NLT version. There, in Isaiah’s transformation from conversion to calling, God’s word was clear on what it means to come before Him with all humility and receive His grace anew.

1 / Clarity and conversion

 “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” (Is 6:1)

Only in putting to death the idols I held up on a pedestal, could I see God for who He is. This is the holy reverence we are moved to when the Holy Spirit begins its transformational work in us.

2 / Confession

“And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Is 6:5)

Next came an admission of my sin and weakness. There is that one big struggle, the ‘sin that so easily trips us up’ (Hebrews 12:1)–be it lust, sloth, anger, unforgiveness, addictions. It was through the Holy Spirit’s conviction that I could humbly acknowledge my sin, come repentant before God, and become empowered by His grace to overcome the weakness of the flesh.

3 / Cleansing

“And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Is 6:7)

An angel of God, a seraph, touched Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal. And in that moment of forgiveness begins the work of sanctification. In repeated patterns of cleansing and growth, I experienced a discomfort, for ‘no discipline is enjoyableas it happens! But what is promised isa peaceful harvest of right living’ for those who submit themselves to the process (Hebrews 12:11).

4 / Calling

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Is 6:8)

 Christianity does not stop at the cleansing. It is not merely self-improvement, for there is only so much I can will myself to change. It is a transformative walk with Christ towards the ultimate call to become more and more like Him, as we draw others to Him. I am saved—we are all saved—for the work God calls us to do.

* * *

bedfellows“As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.” (Romans 6:20-21, The Message) 

Sy Rogers put it so well. The way we bathe and cleanse our bodies daily is precisely what we need to do on a spiritual level everyday. There is a temporary tidying that remains superficial, one where I can straighten out the bed covers for appearances but stuff my closet with mountains of unsorted laundry. Yet there remains a true cleansing that goes to the root and the heart of things, and frees us from that dead end of our human effort.

On our own, in a world so corrupted, we can’t keep permanently clean. It is only by the blood of Jesus that we are cleansed and made right with God. And it is only in treasuring this Truth daily that we find discomfort in sin, denounce its empty pleasures, and delight to follow His commands.

For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

(Romans 6: 22, ESV)

* * *

Lord, I do not want to take the cleansing and spiritual discipline for granted, nor do I want it to hold me back from what You have called me to do. As I rise and fall with the ebb and flow, make me into the person You call me to be, deal with my character, shape me and mould me.

Purify my heart, Lord, so that I would do only what pleases You. Far too long, I have heard and yet do not truly hear. May the Holy Spirit open the eyes of my heart to see You in all Your glory, as the One true God. And may I see my sin for what it truly is, how it breaks Your heart and separates me from You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Call them by name

Ano’ng pangalan mo? (translated from Filipino to English: What is your name?)

It was the first question we’d ask every child. A crucial question. One that gave identity to the amorphous yet very real poverty many have become accustomed to. And with that one line, a door opened, inviting an exchange between two seemingly different worlds, but also two individuals with a lot more in common than they would have originally thought.

A week ago, I had the blessing and privilege of joining a team of 40 from Heart of God Church on a mission trip to my motherland, the Philippines. We were there to get first-hand experience and support Pastor Bill Wilson’s Metro World Child Ministry that conducts the world’s largest Sunday School, reaching over 40,000 children weekly, in city slums around the globe.

How does one attempt to describe what one can only sense?

In four short days, we came face to face with what was previously unnamed. Weaving through narrow, labyrinthine backstreets and alleyways; by the danger of old railways and houses teetering on stilts above murky waters; through the strangeness of cemeteries where the living co-mingled with the dead; through forgotten rural patches amidst the urban chaos of Metro Manila. There, our senses were assaulted and heightened by unthinkable spaces—environments that no person should have to live in.

There was the penetrating smell of waste in an ironically named site in Tondo: ‘Aroma’, they called it. The cacophony of children’s laughter and the clatter of scrap and garbage, as they ran (literally) naked with abandon, in playgrounds of their imagination. With the hot sun bearing down on the ground, I could feel the crackling of matted garbage and caked mud, as our shell-shocked footwear tread what had become permanent terrain.

And yet to know a place is to know the people. One child at a time, we were acquainted with the community. I won’t forget the young girls, initially shy behind their timid smiles, but with a little prodding, would engage in conversation and even trail along visitations. Little boys playful rough-housing and clinging on to our men, as if looking for monkey bars, a father figure or both. Children who would soon trust you enough to hold them by the hand or carry them in your arms. Their brightness a contrast to the bleakness around them.

And ringing in my head and my heart, all these names—they don’t belong here.

The only difference I could see between us and them? Nothing, except that I would be able to leave, and they had no choice but to stay. I did not earn my place in this world, any more than they deserved to be found where they were. But indeed, to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).

It took 35 years for such a personal homecoming, to finally walk through these paths and see with the eyes of my heart. I will always thank my God, for how He orchestrated everything, even bringing me out of my homeland to give me a new identity, to find Him, and call on His name. And now, as I have freely received, so am I called to freely give and share the hope of the Gospel and the Good News of salvation in Jesus to all.

All attempts to exhaust description and commit this to memory would not matter, without a demonstration of the love of Jesus.

Standing there amidst the screaming hopelessness, many of us asked— can one person make a difference? Pastor Bill’s own testimony as an abandoned child picked up from the streets by a Christian who responded to his moment of need, has made all the difference in his life and the thousands he has reached. There were also many stories of former sidewalk kids turned teachers, showing God’s power to transform a life. All it took was one person who was willing to be used by God, to reach out in love and relationship to another.

These children were not meant to be pitied, but to be loved. In those small, intimate moments, with every smile, hug, word of kindness or encouragement, seeds were sown. The love of God came in the form of food, clothing, healing and prayers. It may take generations, yes a miracle to turn things around, but for as long as there are people who will fight the good fight, we know that our God always remains in control.

In our dorm room, there was the Metro World vision, a handwritten sign displayed on the wall:

 “To see leaders, teachers and pastors raised up out of the streets of the cities worldwide, so they in turn will minister to the next generation.”

And this is the kind of evangelism that the ministry lives and breathes, through the tireless dedication of the Metro staff and volunteers. In the weekly sidewalk gatherings, through regular visitations and the genuine connections made with these children, the ministry provides a safe space, a bright spot of hope, and a seed of a dream for a future in Christ.

Knowing one child, one name at a time, so that they would come to know the name above all names, Jesus. And in turn make His name known and glorified in generations to come.

***

Coming back to Singapore, where the contrast of comfort could not be more evident, it is easy to forget. I am challenged to bring this same passion home, not retreating into familiar routines, but to open myself and my heart to those around me.

As Church presses on toward HOGC 4000, this trip reminded me it is not about the crowds, but it is about individual lives and souls. It spells the difference between life or death, heaven and hell for someone out there.

Let not the people around us become a nameless sea of bodies, drowned and lost in a world that tosses us with its hapless, foolish distractions. It’s true, we can’t save a single soul ourselves, but we can set into motion what only God can bring to fruition. So that as God calls each one by name, they too would have His name etched in their hearts for eternity.

 

 


 

I am thankful for my Pastors who have this same heart for young people and generations, who built our church upholding these core values. Thank you, Pastor How and Pastor Lia for believing that the strength of a church would not be in its seating capacity, but its sending capacity. You have led by example and paved the way for us to respond to the urgency of needs within the larger body of Christ’s people, far beyond what we could do by ourselves.

 

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Photos: Lek Jian Yu, Gemma Lee, Marcus Heng

This was my third time signing up for the Tondo trip, but I know now why it happened this time and this way. A big thanks to Pastor Garrett, Pastor Lynette and Pastor Charleston and all our leaders, for thinking of every single person on the team—how we could grow through this experience and walk even more closely with Christ, toward our destined purpose in Him.

 

Grateful for this team of 40, helmed by the wise leadership and generous hearts of Darryl, Sabrina, Peck Lian and Evonne. We were people called to this moment for different reasons, many of us not quite understanding why we were there, or how we could make a difference. Yet as the days passed, I was continually amazed by each person’s willingness to come together with our unique strengths, united by a mission to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And through that, we were not just people who went to a church in Singapore, but people who became the Church to our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Philippines. To God be the glory, forever and ever! Amen.

 


 

If you have been moved in any way, you can find more information on Metro World Child Ministries on their website. Learn about how you can sponsor a child in the Philippines and other parts of the world, as well as other ways to help.
Know them by name and make a difference.

The joy of the chosen few

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)

I have had my own ideas about these challenging words uttered by Jesus, but never truly understood what they meant until this weekend.

On Saturday, I witnessed a singular, historic milestone in my church, Heart of God Church—the ordination of three senior leaders into the office of Pastor. In meaningful ceremony, Charleston Lim, Garrett Lee and Lynette Goh took their oath to become Pastor Charleston, Pastor Garrett and Pastor Lynette, for all the congregation to see. Where once we had our two Senior Pastors, we now have a five-strong team.

 

ordination1

Pastor Lynette, Pastor Charleston, Pastor Garrett, now and then. (picture from Instagram accounts: @pastor.how and @pastor.lia)

These are young leaders who grew up in church, once teenagers finding their way in this walk of faith, to now become the first fruits of a dream from decades ago. And as they were called, this was the moment that named them among the chosen few, formally stepping into roles long practiced and prepared for.

With every story shared, we saw how Pastor How and Pastor Lia passed down a spiritual heritage. And to see our Senior Pastors’ own long-held dreams turn into reality, in the fulfilment of these new pastors’ dreams—what an astounding and beautiful sight.

 

In a world where fleeting fame and self-centred success have become commonplace aspirations, disproportionately glorified in our age’s culture, what a rarity to celebrate dedication to a cause greater than the wisdom of man, greater than self. Faithfulness over flash. The constant over the instant.

One by one, well-deserved accolades and hard-earned credentials were brought to light. I was most struck by their influence in and ownership of our church. From my own few encounters with them, hearing them preach, or from stories told, I have seen the passion and humility with which they carry out every task. It was also in doing the mundane, the necessary, from the smallest to the biggest decisions, that made all the difference in Heart of God Church and the lives of individual people.

Here was no truer testimony of their faithfulness, of a proven calling, of real transformation from the moment they responded to that call, no matter the cost. How they put others before self, and God above all else. How their joy has been no more or less than the cause of Christ.

* * *

As we sang Kari Jobe’s “The Cause of Christ”, a particular line struck me:

“For my joy is this, oh the cause of Christ.”

Those words. For the joy. Coming into this year, I reflected on what had waned on my part in 2017. Amidst last year’s personal theme and exhortation of endurance was a clouded view of what this cause was for. Of what use was it to serve? For the joy.

“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that was set before Him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” 

(Hebrews 12:2)

Yes, endurance is one side of the coin, that which keeps one standing firm in the waiting. But ultimately, it was the joy that Jesus looked toward, what spurred Him on His mission. And Christ’s joy of bringing salvation to the lost is what I—what all of us who believe—rejoice in today, being undeserving and yet wholly loved recipients of this grace. This is the same commission we carry today, to bring the love of God to all those who have yet to receive an invitation to Christ’s call.

* * *

How does one become numbered among the chosen few?

In a short but powerful preaching, Pastor How put it wisely with an equation that breaks down the journey from called to chosen.

CALLING = BURDEN + VISION + DESIRE + ACTION + ABILITIES + CHARACTER = CHOSEN

It all starts with a burden to meet a need, sparked by a vision of an ideal, fuelled by an actual desire to respond, followed through by an action, executed with honed abilities and grounded by character transformed through Christ.

As we move through each level, joyfully and willingly submitting to the process, Pastor How says, “we are chosen because of the choices we make.” And our new pastors have proven their calling, making not just a one-time decision, but daily choices to surrender all to Christ.

At any point in our lives, many of us have probably felt called to something, to a cause greater than ourselves, but in the end, came up short in the final count. I can only pray that God would make me worthy of the call. Oh, that many of us would take hold of this joy and belong to the chosen few.

* * *

Today, I rejoice with our church, for the significance of this event and what it represents—that there will indeed be generations of young people, pastors and leaders who will give their best years to God and the cause of Christ.

I thank God for Heart of God Church, where Pastors believe in using the church to build people, not the other way around. Where men and women not only stand in their specially-designed roles, but also as equal partners in Christ toward building His Kingdom.

I pray for our newly ordained pastors as they assume the office, knowing that this is only the beginning of the great work God will do through them and our church, with the best years still ahead.

 

Great expectations

A conversation with daddy on the family chat, as my parents vacation in Baguio for his birthday (translated into English):

Dad: …Love you guys. I miss our family vacations in Baguio. Maybe someday, we can do it with the grandkids. (*three laughing emojis*)

Me: Ahhhhh hahahahahahaha!!! Even without grandkids, lezzzgoooo.

Patty (my sister): DAD. IT’LL BE A LONG TIME BEFORE GRANDKIDZZZ.

Me: You gotta have faith dad. #prayersalone (#dasallangtalaga) And very very very good health.

Patty: LONG LONG LONG HEALTHY HEALTHY HEALTHY LIFE

Dad: (changing the subject) #notexpectinga1000wordFBgreetingonmybday

Me: Oh dad, don’t expect it at all. (*laughing emoji*)

Dad: #pamyisnotfeelinganypressurerightnow

***

That, right there, is a true story. Hashtags included. And in that short exchange you immediately see three things about my dad. His love for family (and his yet-to-be, unknown grandchildren), his sense of humour (complete with #dadjokes), and his great expectations.

Now there is probably not a sane parent out there who has not had grand dreams for their children. Yet not every parent approaches this in the same, level-headed manner.

We are fresh from a wedding in the family—one that many of us jokingly refer to as the only wedding we’ll be having in a long time. It is in moments like these, that get me thinking of how my dad has graciously dealt with the many unmet expectations heaped upon him in 34 years of parenting.

Many people ask why none of us in a family of six children have followed in his footsteps to become medical doctors. The more kaypoh* ones may go a step further and pry about why we have yet to settle down and give our parents grandchildren.

35144771800_900e081173_oWhile I’m sure dad has his hopes for us, I didn’t feel that overbearing burden of expectation upon us. There wasn’t one course to take—not a case of medicine or bust. There wasn’t one way of living a life—not marrying for the sake of it, as if it were the only inevitable option. There wasn’t just one mold of thinking, being or doing, which looking back, may have been simpler for a young person finding her place in the world. Of course, we were well-aware of his preference, but in the end, the choice was still ours to make.

Well, he asks for a 2 million-word piece for Father’s day in June; and instead he gets these 977 words—as a belated birthday greeting, at that.

***

Growing up, dad was the one to start the fun and jokes at the dinner table (especially when he was in a very good mood. Ahem.) And admittedly, it was mom I would run to for the serious talk. Still, when it mattered, dad always came through with his words of love, encouragement and wisdom, usually written. I’d like to think I get my inclination to writing from him, among many other things. This is one old email I keep from the time I hit a rough patch in a previous relationship.

 


“…(you will find) someone who will share your dreams and aspirations…You are a beautiful person not only outside but moreso inside. I am sure that one day (maybe even sooner than you expect), Mr. Right will come your way.

 Again, I know that right now you feel that the world is coming down on you but please don’t feel so. I will tell you now to pray, pray harder than you have prayed before. Ask our Lord for guidance and strength. Prayer is powerful. Part of my daily prayers is that nothing but positive things come out of your relationship, no matter what happens. I am certain that even with your breakup, something positive will come out of this.”


I read back on this email five years later, and it astounds me how it was indeed prayer that saw me through that time in my life. Back then, I had my own daddy remind me to go to my Father in heaven. And out of that dark period, the light of a renewed relationship with God came forth.

Prayer
Picture taken from Heart of God Church Instagram account (@hogc)

We recently concluded a series on prayer at church. Pastor How preached that prayer is a posture of humility, a petition to the highest authority, a position to defend and hold, and that secret place where we encounter Him. It lifts our spirits to rejoice in Him and stirs up faith to expect great things from God.

***

Dad, on your birthday, I come before God grateful for you, my father here on earth. Through you, I have felt what it is to be loved unconditionally and to receive freely. And because of this, I can approach my heavenly Father with even greater expectation.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

Ephesians 3:20, NLT

So yes, I pray not just for a life abundant in years, but one rich with love for and from God, and those around you. Yes, let’s pray you will be walking your children down the aisle, or enjoying with your grandchildren in due time, but also pray that you would walk with Him closely and enjoy His presence daily. I am expectant to see what God can do in and through your life in these golden years of wisdom. 

The Message version of the Bible puts it beautifully: “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

So dearest dad, hope and dream far beyond what the world dictates. For if there’s someone who gives above and beyond what we expect, that is our Father God.

I love you always. Happy Birthday! 🙂

 

 

*kaypoh: (Singlish), (noun) a busybody, (verb) to pry into someone else’s business

Independence Day (a letter to mom)

Dearest Mommy,

This is your first Mother’s Day as an empty-nester. When your not-so-little monkey, Paola, left home late last year, it all became official. And so it has been a long 34 years of motherhood thus far, that probably went by too quickly, depending on how you see it.

All around me, friends and relatives are becoming mothers for the first or second time. It must be an entirely different experience for you, transitioning into a new season of motherhood. One where your children no longer vie for your attention 24/7, but instead one where you wait for their Viber messages across different time zones. Where the once messy dinner affairs for eight are now intimate dates for two. Where peace and silence replace the shrill cries and raucous laughter.

Yet also one where we are no longer just a room away to kiss and hug you goodnight, or bug you for no good reason. Where we have come to rely on the virtual endearments of emoji and internet speak. And where finding us sometimes means seeing a Facebook post or an email of a flight itinerary, just to see where in the world we are.

You always told us that your main role as a parent would be to equip us for independence. That it would be your greatest joy not to keep us all close by and dependent, but standing on our own two feet, wherever our individual paths would take us.

I know this is ‘out-of-season’, but I still remember that skirt you painstakingly crafted for our Christmas tree. At some point, the holiday rush interrupted that yearly practice of adding a new star for another year passed. Growing up, it would have been unthinkable to break from tradition—like being incomplete for the annual family picture. Yet the day has come when we are all beginning to build new traditions, while gratefully drawing from our home and family that you and daddy built with great love and sacrifice.

I’m sitting outside now at some café, and I just finished my long overdue read of Joy’s novel, “All My Lonely Islands”. (As an aside, has dad gone past the fourth chapter? Please tell him to read the whole thing.)

The central mother figure to the story’s protagonist wrote to her—

“I wanted a faith that stands on its own even if it seems that God has snatched back His hand and no longer remembers my name. I hope you’ll learn to drive your roots in a deep earth so that the fullness of your life will depend on no one, not a mother or a best friend.” 

Your prayers have been answered. You have raised us as independent men and women, and I will always be grateful for that.

Rather than selfishly keep us dependent on you, you gave us the space to fight our own battles, be it as simple as nursing a cold or overcoming heartbreak. Yet not once did I feel any distance, as you always readily listened, offered your wise counsel and fervently prayed daily for every one of us.

You have shown us a better way—anchoring our faith not on filial ties or limited human capacity, but a complete trust in God alone. More than being an independent woman, over the years, I have gone through a journey of becoming God-dependent. And I thank you for supporting me through every step of this walk in faith.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3: 5-6

As it turns out, not one of your daughters is in any great hurry to become a mother. I know though, that when that time comes, if God wills, then I would like to share this same kind of God-dependent parenting. You did subscribe to the idea that your children are not entirely your own; that God blessed you with each of us, only to pass under your care for a season. And we are all ultimately, His children.

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Mommy, we can never truly be apart, as our ties have been forged by flesh and blood, by a lifetime of vivid moments, a treasure of values I hold close, and the great blessing of a shared faith. Know that I would choose to be by your side, not because of desperate need, but because of the love I have for you.

Happy Mother’s Day! In a strange way, after 34 years, Happy Independence Day to you too! 😉

Near or far, I love you always, mom.

Pamy

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.