Aleph, Daleth, Lamedh, Mem 

no idea

A conversation I had with Karis, my fellow youth leader ^__^”

It was 10 o’clock on a Saturday night. Youth group was tomorrow morning, and I was on to lead a bible study on Psalm 119.

Now, Psalm 119 is a bit of a monster. It’s an acrostic poem with a stanza for every letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Clocking in at 176 verses, it is the longest of all the psalms, and indeed, the longest of all chapters in the bible – a behemoth meditation on the law of the Lord.

And so, I was a bit stuck. I had a long week, and a long day – yeah, doing assignments, preparing other bible studies for uni, rehearsing, and so forth. I was a bit pooped at this point, and didn’t really know what to do. I read through bits of the passage, and didn’t know what to make of it. It was almost the same thing written over and over… how was I to understand it, and furthermore, teach it faithfully, clearly and edifyingly? I wanted to encourage and challenge the senior high schoolers I was leading, but I didn’t have the energy or mind space to do much prep.

I went to sleep. Of course.

Now, come Sunday morning. It was 11:10. I was due to leave at 11:20 to get to church. And in these measly ten minutes, I was flipping through the passage… wondering how on earth I would teach this. This psalm was so long – surely, I needed to pick selections out of it. But which ones? What kind of opening illustration would I use? How about applications? What’s the big take away?

So, I pretty much had no idea what I was doing.

Every time I lead a bible study, and especially so in a situation like this, I am reminded of a truth that my mate Sarah once said at an ISCF camp, which has stuck with me ever since:

“You can lead the best study in the world, and if God doesn’t work in their hearts, they’ll get nothing out of it. But you can lead the worst study in the world, and God can work through that to produce heaps of fruit.”

In a bible study, it’s never me doing the work. It’s always God. The strength and power of my teaching comes not from my own words, or eloquence, or great analogies or illustrations, or wisdom. Nope. None of that. It comes plainly from the word of God, and by the working of His mighty Spirit.

This is a comforting truth. It’s not as if we should do no preparation at all and be lackadaisical with our efforts. It’s not as if we should wing everything. Not at all. And in this case, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to prepare well, or that I was lazy. I just simply lacked the capacity and headspace to do it. Yet, the truth is that God can, and does, work through weakness. The power comes from Him.

And so, I asked Him for help. I prayed that God would speak through me, and help me to teach faithfully and clearly. I prayed that He would reveal to me the riches of His word. I prayed that He would work in the hearts of each and every youth to reveal to them His truth and glory.

Great. It is now 11:20ish, and I’m on the car ride up to church. I’m still flipping through my bible, trying to piece together a structured study. And then an idea came to me – why don’t I just pick out a few different stanzas of this psalm, and teach one big message from each stanza. Hey, that’s not a bad idea! Some of these different stanzas are actually quite different, and insightful… and we can just let the word of God speak for itself. Yes, this sounds like a plan. Thanks Spirit.

So, the study happened, and it turned out to be really solid and encouraging! Only half an hour before I had no idea what I was doing. Yet, in the study, we immersed ourselves in God’s word, and got into the head of the psalmist and poet, we talked about parallelisms and how the Psalms gives us different images to piece together – we got stuck into God’s word and was richly blessed by it 😊

Here are the four things we took out of it:

א Aleph: God’s law is to be lived out, and brings blessing to those who obey it.

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.
Psalm 119:1

ד Daleth: God’s law is life-giving in our brokenness

I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word.
Psalm 119:25

ל Lamedh: God’s law is eternal, enduring and timeless.

Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.
Psalm 119:89

מ Mem: God’s law is personal, lovely, sweet and brings us real joy.

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Psalm 119:103

And we saw how all of these are fulfilled by the true Word of God – the godman Jesus Christ.

Praise God that He works through weakness and uncertainty. Praise God that He reveals his truth to us whilst we are in darkness.

So, today, I was just really reminded that God is faithful. He works in those last-minute scrambles. The power of His word really doesn’t depend on human circumstances, or human efforts and powers. And He pulls through each time to richly bless His people. And sometimes, the best prep we can do is to pray – to depend on Him as our father, and abide in Him. Prayer is powerful, and necessary, especially when it comes to teaching and understanding His word.

Today’s events weren’t particularly big or significant. There was nothing overtly special. It was just another Sunday morning at youth group. It was so ordinary. Plain. Simple. Yet, God still faithfully worked in these little, ordinary events for the good of His people. He is both a God of the big things and the small things.

I’m encouraged to continue depending on Him in prayer through all things, especially in this busy upcoming week. Because He is faithful, life-giving, eternal and sweet. He is our God.

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Is this it? Reflections on AnCon17

ancon2017

Golden hour at Merroo is absolutely phenomenal.

From around 4 to 5-ish in the afternoon, the warmth and light of our one and only sun decides to give us a great big hug. At that hour, it starts to shine spectacularly through the trees, onto the hills and meadows, and you can sit, or lie, or stand there with such an astounding sense of contentment – safe, warm and comforted by its majestic golden cloak as you breathe in the crisp winter air. It ain’t called golden hour for nothin. And you know that every single photo you take will look so, damn good; glowing, full HD, profile picture material. Yet, at Merroo, it is more than just the sunshine at golden hour. Here, I am surrounded by my dear and precious brothers and sisters, with God’s word written on our hearts and minds. More than just light or warmth in the air is faith, hope and love, which brings into sight the trueness and beauty God’s holy people. And more than just the sound of birdsong and gentle breeze is conversation seasoned with salt, the life-given and life-giving words of the saved – laughing, building one another up, enjoying relationship with their creator and one another.

At golden hour at Merroo, I catch a glimpse of what is truly beautiful. For at this hour, the glory of both the sun and the Son shine brightly into our lives.

***

Wow… another ancon has come to pass – this time, my second one. This year, we spent five days looking at the resurrection of Jesus Christ, exploring all its glorious truths, details and implications in a world where death casts a long, dark shadow over all things under the sun. And honestly, it has just been so joyous and refreshing being immersed in God’s word and amongst His people. I really enjoyed growing as a community with my ACES faculty family – it was just so much fun spending time with familiar faces and old friends, as well as the many chirpy and overly-energetic first years! Of course, the main sessions were fantastic, with phenomenal teaching from Rowan and on-fire music, as always. One night, we had question time, and the room became so packed to the point of overflowing. There were crowds at the door, at the windows, all hoping to catch words of wisdom as Rowan faithfully answered questions from the bible. I thought that maybe this is what it felt like when the crowds flocked to hear Jesus teach, haha! [1] But once again, at Ancon17’, I was reminded of how glorious and good God’s truth is; how refreshing his people are; how beautiful his creation is.

Unlike last year, which was my first time at ancon, my expectations weren’t driven by hype at all. This time, I was there for the feast of truth and community. Emotions and child-like excitement may have been ever so slightly subdued this time around, but nonetheless, the joy remained very real. I won’t lie, though – amidst all the joy, there were struggles and burdens over these five days. I had a lot on my mind and heart, and for much of ancon, I was trying to make sense of things emotionally. See, it wasn’t all rosy and happy, but rather, much of my experience reflected the realities of living in a still-broken world. But that’s the thing about ancon – its foundation isn’t emotion, but truth. And truth speaks into emotions, and every other aspect of our lived experience. The resurrection of Jesus, and indeed the entirety of the gospel, speaks to the things I was struggling over these five days. So, how about I tell you about some of the truths I learnt or were reminded of, and then let me tell you how these things speak into some of the things I was feeling during ancon. (Not that you could do anything about it anyway… cos this is my blog hehe C: )

***

// Nuggets of truth //

1) Jesus is not a concept, Jesus is alive! He lives, and he is Lord! Our king is not a theoretical figure nor a concept, but a person who is alive right now. It is often easy to forget this. In his resurrection, Jesus has conquered the tsunami of death. The inescapable blanket of death which covers all of creation has been lifted. The sting of death, the pain, the loss of relationship – it is all over. We all know that death is the end, right? Wrong. Death is not the end, and this is proclaimed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ in history. He is alive. And he is Lord.

2) For the Christian, resurrection is both a present and a future reality. In being united with Christ, we too are resurrected – that is, one resurrection in two instalments. So… the resurrection has already happened. Now. What!? Yes. He has already brought us from death to life by giving us an inner, spiritual resurrection now. Yet, we long for our bodily resurrection with him on that day – when we will be raised immortal, imperishable, in glory and power, and into a new creation devoid of suffering and brokenness. See, resurrection isn’t a far-off thing in the future. The reality of resurrection, for both Christ and us, overflows into our lives in the present. We are to live the resurrection life now. Yet, we also know that the best is still to come.

3) The glorious future reality that we look forward to… actually breaks into our present lives now. As God’s people, we live as an ‘eschatological outpost’. What on earth does that mean? It means that we are an ‘outpost’ from the future. We are a little pocket of heaven… right now. We usually think that we go to ‘heaven’ when we die. But that is not what the bible teaches. Rather, heaven begins right now as we live out the resurrected life – how amazing is that?! We live now as the people God is resurrecting us to be. We do this in the way we live and the way we speak truth. And the things that will last into the future reality are faith, hope and love. May we abound in these things as we live out our lives – they are critical, foundational, essential. May we clothe ourselves in faith, hope and love as we look towards the sure coming of a faithful God, as revealed in his word, in history.

4) There are three broad purposes of our embodied existence right now. Firstly, to live in relationship with God. Secondly, to live in relationship with one another. Thirdly, to live in relationship with the created world. We live an essentially relational existence. Are we living in a way that allows this? Do we sleep, eat and exercise well that we may fulfil these purposes? Furthermore, in this broken world, our lives are a gospel canvas – our sufferings reflect the death of Jesus, whilst our perseverance by his strength shows the power of the resurrection.

5) In Christ, we have absolute freedom. In his death, we die to our broken, sinful natures. In his resurrection, we are raised to new life and power. We are unchained from the havoc of this world, though its effects may still linger. Yet, we are essentially free. So, let us put to death to old sinful self and put on the new, resurrected self. In this freedom, all burdens are lifted. We don’t need to do anything. There is rest. Yet, by his grace, he has given us much that we may glorify him. How will we use our freedom?

6) God is patient in salvation. May we continue to proclaim his lordship and gospel, that many might come and join in the goodness of the resurrected reality.

***

One thing which I struggled with at ancon this year was a restless sense of FOMO – that is, fear of missing out. I suppose it’s what can easily happen at such a big conference like ancon, with 650+ people. There is so much going on… and everything can be very overstimulating. There are also so many people – people you see often, people you don’t get to see often, and also people who you’ve never met before. Consequently, I found myself restless… there was so much that I could do but wasn’t doing, so many people I could be having conversations with but weren’t spending time with. I felt like I couldn’t settle down, that I was everywhere yet nowhere at times. Appropriately though, FOMO was something that we talked about in our last Friday review group. The resurrection helps us manage, and indeed is the solution, to our FOMO. In Christ, we have all things, and we await an eternal new creation with an infinite capacity for good things. In the case of people, well, there’ll be plenty of time to get to know them in the new creation. So, let us remember the resurrected reality; to all the good things that our Lord has called to now, and will reveal to us in the days to come. There is no FOMO in Christ.

Another thing which gripped my heart over ancon was the temporality and transience of everything… and how sad that is. It began with a reflection that ‘Oh… ancon is so great, but it’s going to be over soon.’ I realised that all good things would be over too. Soon, our carefree uni days would be over too. And then our lives. Nothing good lasts forever. Of course, I knew this truth. But over ancon, I felt this in a very emotional and visceral way; it gripped my guts, and I was deeply saddened by it. The shadow of death over all things, as we read in the opening chapters of Ecclesiastes in our first review group, became a real fear. And in this fear of losing things (and particularly, the fear that this bubble of joy called ancon would soon be over), I felt like I lost the capacity to fully enjoy what was in front of me. Again, the resurrection speaks to this. Temporality, perishability – these are the marks of our broken, sinful selves. Yet, Christ has crucified that self, and raised us to a glorious new reality, one that is imperishable and eternal. May this be our hope. And may it not come just in the future, but begin now, as we live out the resurrection life in faith, hope and love.

The last thing I want to talk about is just an overwhelming sense of tiredness and burden. I feel as if the holidays before ancon weren’t particularly restful, especially with the prep needed for ancon. Furthermore, just the tasks of serving at ancon – waking early for rehearsals, prepping for review groups, etc. – meant late nights and early mornings, and consequently, a fair deal of physical tiredness. I just really wanted rest. Further combined with the sense of FOMO, fed by the temporality of things, I grew restless. Now, ancon is a challenging place – we are convicted to live our lives for the Lord, to serve the LRLR (less-reached and less-resourced) and so forth. And I just felt so burdened… I didn’t want to do anything. But the truth of the gospel is this – we have absolute freedom in Christ. He doesn’t need us to do anything. He has done it all for us, and He continues to work in the world. This is the freedom and rest that comes from the gospel. So, we can take rest as we need it. Yet, by his grace and Spirit, he gives us what we need to live his way – nothing we do needs to be from our own strength. And this is why I could take a two-hour nap on the beautiful meadows of Merroo during golden hour – and that was really refreshing! I thank God for the rest He gives us.

These are some of the things I felt and experienced during ancon, amidst all the joy, laughter, learning and growth. And I don’t regret any of it… because I know that God works in all things for my good. [2] And I’m not sad that ancon is over. Because it’s not the end at all. It’s actually the beginning – the start of an exciting new semester of university, where we can go out and enjoy the work he has given us! Praise God for a fruitful and awesome ancon – may it have transformed us, and may its truths continue to shape our lives as we continue on from here, in all faith, hope and love.

***

Here’s a poem I wrote in faculty time.

The sun rises,
peeking out from behind that hill.
And when the morning comes,
we, too, rise with it.
The cold shiver no longer, for there is warmth.
The weak of sight stumble no longer, for there is light.
Yet, for that sickly piece of grass, that weakly rooted chaff,
the sun is a great fright,
blazing in glory, a consuming fire,
bringer of drought and plight.
Yet, it is the giver of life, light, sight and delight.

The Son rises,
peeking out from behind that empty tomb
And with the morning star,
we, too, will rise with him.
The broken cry no longer, for there is comfort.
The blind stumble no longer, there is the light.
Yet, for that sickly, false, unrepentant, weekly rooted chaff,
the son is a great fright,
blazing in glory, a consuming fire,
bringer of judgment and plight.
So, let us pay attention, let us be found in him;
Our giver of life, light, sight and delight.

***

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:9-11

ancon review group yay


[1] Say, something like the story in Luke 5:17-26
[2] Romans 8:28

Spiritual High – what do I make of this?

Reflections on spiritual or ‘camp’ high

Spiritual high

I want to talk about a phenomenon known as a “spiritual high”.

Last weekend, I went away to a quiet, bushy place called Yarramundi, along with a hundred or so high schoolers from North Sydney Girls & Boys. This was the annual camp run by the Christian group, called ISCF. We spent a weekend hearing talks from the Bible, playing crazy high-energy games, chatting in discussion groups, learning from workshops, eating mediocre camp food, hanging and having late night chats, and just having a great time. Maybe you’ve been on some sort of Christian camp or conference before, or maybe, if you are reading this, you were even at camp with me last week.

Now, camp is one of the things in the ISCF calendar that everyone looks forward to. For many people, it is a highlight of their year. I know it was definitely a highlight for me back in high school. Around April each year, NSGB ISCF is “keen for camp”, and if you’re really super excited, a “keen bean”.

I think there is a trend here.

Christians (and non-Christians too) absolutely love their camps and conferences. It excites us. There is something about camp which thrills us, which stirs us – something that is so deeply enjoyable and satisfying about going on camp. You might know the feeling, friend. You spend a few days constantly talking about particular things, doing particular activities, around particular people. You are saturated with teaching which bears words of truth that have an eternal and infinite significance, which convict us and makes our hearts soar, and remind us of a good, great, cosmic reality. You are surrounded by your brothers and sisters, a community which so unconditionally loves, a community which shares its joys and burdens with such unity – and it is really a safe, and warm, and loving place to be. Camp is an awesome place to be.

And by the end of you camp, you feel like you are on fire. You have tasted the sweetness of God. You have experienced the reality of true and loving community. You want to love Jesus with all your heart, soul, strength and mind – you want to live for Him. You are so encouraged, and so warmed, and you are on fire for God.

This feeling, my friends, we sometimes call a “spiritual high”. Some of you might call it a “camp high”. And it feels really great.

It’s funny – I was hearing from my sister that on the first week back to school, the entire population of year 10 girls who came to camp (an astounding 20-30 people) all came to lunchtime ISCF that week! The group has never been that big at lunch, and wow – the leaders needed to quickly reshuffle things so that they could fit everyone into a group. This really shows that camp does set us “on fire”. We are excited and so moved.

But…

No matter how great it feels, the spiritual high inevitably comes to an end sooner or later. You might have experienced this yourself before. The daily rhythm and hustle-bustle kicks back in – things get busy, perhaps you have exams and assignments, friendships to enjoy and deal with, things to do and think about… and the spiritual rush you had from camp slowly wears off. God isn’t on your mind anymore. He doesn’t excite you… or at least, you don’t think too much about it. Maybe you stop going to church, ISCF, youth, or whatever it might be. There are other things to do now. You’ve lost that “rush” that you felt at camp.

What do we make of this?

Am I less of a Christian now? Why aren’t I feeling excited? Why is God so distant now?

I often thought about this, particularly when I first started growing as a Christian. I would ask the question “how do I keep this spiritual high up?”. Maybe you are asking this question too. I tried and fought really hard to keep this passion, to keep being “on fire”, to keep up the passion and excitement I had for God.

But… there would always come a point where it died down.

And this is perfectly OK.

I would like to share with you a really nice illustration, inspired by C. S. Lewis, which helps me think through this issue. [1]

Picture in your head a newly married couple. Can you imagine the story behind this? The two people meet, they fall in love, start dating, and then they get engaged, and then bam, they get married. And now they are on their honeymoon, maybe somewhere fancy on some tropical island or somewhere cool like Europe or America. Imagine what they are feeling. They are completely in love – the emotions overflow, and they are so, so excited, and very ready to spend the rest of their lives together. Maybe you can relate – at least, with the feeling of “being in love”. Can you imagine that rush of emotions? Of affection? Of love and adoration for the other person?

But we all know that no marriage stays in the honeymoon stage forever. Maybe in a few months, or a few years down the track, life completely settles and it becomes… “normal”. There’s no rush of emotions, or any of that “being in love” feeling anymore. But here’s the question – does this mean that they no longer love one another?

Absolutely not! Whilst “being in love” is what might start a marriage, it isn’t what a marriage is built on. Marriage is built on a promise (that’s what they do at a wedding, hey) – to love and cherish one another, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, til death do us part. This first thrill of “being in love” is replaced by a more steadfast, lasting kind of love. The husband and wife love each other, no matter what happens, even if they don’t feel it. And there’s something really genuine and real about this kind of love – it’s more than just an emotional feeling. Rather, their love is an unwavering, joyful commitment to one another.

I think our spiritual lives are often like this. Our spiritual high is a bit like being spiritually in love. It’s a rush of feelings and emotions. It’s not a bad thing – no, enjoy it! It’s a good gift to be enjoyed. But we know that this first thrill won’t last. Rather, it transforms and becomes a more steadfast and lasting kind of love. It becomes an unwavering, joyful commitment. This is what we call faithful Christian living. So, friend, know that it is OK that your spiritual high will eventually wear off.

My encouragement to you is this: in your spiritual high, make the “promises” needed to give you that steadfast and lasting kind of love. In the good times, make habits that will last through the bad times. Right now, when you are pumped up and on fire for God, make a commitment to keep seeking God.

What does that look like?

Keep going to ISCF, or church, or youth – and commit to this. There’s nothing better than getting a steady diet of God’s truth along with your brothers and sisters. Go even when you are busy and have heaps of exams and assignments. Go even when you don’t feel like it. It’s easy to go when you are pumped up right now. But what about later? Make it a commitment, and a habit right now, so that it will last when aren’t on fire. This is what faithful Christian living is like.

Keep reading God’s word – and commit to this. Find a time and a place that works for you each day. Maybe it’s in the morning when you wake up. Maybe it’s on the train to school. Before you sleep. When you get home from school. Wherever. And let yourself keep it up even when you aren’t on fire. This is what faithful Christian is like.

Surround yourself with Christian brothers and sisters – and commit to them. Encourage them, and let them encourage you. Continue to love them, and continue to encourage one another to seek God, even when you aren’t on fire. This is what faithful Christian living is like.

When the spiritual high fades away, you will still have God’s truth and promises, and you will still have your brothers and sisters. These are the things that will not fade. And it is beautiful, steadfast, lasting. =)

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25


[1] Check out C.S. Lewis’ book “Mere Christianity” – in particular, the chapter on “Christian Marriage” (Book 3, Ch. 6).

Heaven, Hearts, Home | ISCF CAMP 2017

Reflections on ISCF Camp 2017

ISCF Camp

There really is nothing like being home again – sleeping in the stillness of your own room and your own bed. Funny, because the topic for NSGB ISCF camp was “Heaven – the Home for our Hearts”. And yes, whilst I didn’t get a whole lot of good sleep during camp this year, camp was a reminder of where our home and hearts should truly lie. It was my fifth ISCF camp, going back for the second time as an ex-leader now, and still, it never ceases to warm my heart and stir my spirit. ISCF has always had a special place in my heart – yet somehow, being back this year was especially heart-warming. Coming to camp as a weary uni-student, I was shocked, absolutely astounded, and refreshed by how God so faithfully works.

One of the most encouraging things I witnessed was seeing my little brothers and sisters who I led in year 7 and 8 grow up – and oh how they’ve changed, grown and matured! It makes me so, so happy. I remember how the little rascals I led in year 7 scripture which would make me lose my voice every Tuesday afternoon, as I tried to contain them from running around the room to no avail. I remember the tiny kids who came to ISCF because their friends did and because it was the cool thing to do, and then shyly huddle in their little group during the bible study. And I remember getting little year 8 Geoffrey to do the bible reading every Friday lunch because it was so cute and entertaining HAHAHA.

But man… now I see them eagerly questioning and seeking God with all their hearts and minds. Now I see them thirsting for life-giving gospel truth. Now I see them bring their friends along because they really want them to know Jesus. Now, I even see some of my little brothers and sisters lead from the front. I am so moved, and I am so proud :’) But in actual fact, it is a testament to how God works so faithfully time after time. It has been several years since I’ve left high school, and yet God is still working in the hearts of ISCF, still growing his people, still leading his flock, still maturing the saints, still bringing his glorious and good kingdom. Coming back and seeing these guys in the flesh… it brings me so much joy to see how they’ve grown, and I really am excited to see how God will continue to work in them.  There is something so genuine and so beautiful about the way God’s word has changed these guys’ lives.

Another really awesome thing which warmed my heart was seeing all the ex-leaders again. These guys were my family back in high school, and now, I don’t really get to see them much at all. But being back together with them over this weekend, and more than that, serving together and building God’s kingdom – man, it’s a feeling that’s difficult to describe with words. It was almost like old times in high school, yes, but now there’s also the knowledge that we have all grown and matured since. There is just so much joy in the kingdom of God, an unquenchable blood-bought unity, knowing that we are working for something that will never fade nor perish. I loved how we could pray together and look out for one another as we went about the task of growing God’s kingdom here at ISCF camp.

Camp this year was also a humbling lesson in learning to rely on God. I won’t lie, or be subtle about it, but camp certainly was one of the most exhausting things I’ve done. Surviving the first day on three hours of very low quality sleep was a challenge (I’m blaming year 11 boiz HAHA). I think at times, I was bummed out that I couldn’t have as many conversations or catch up with as many kids as I wanted – I was just feeling sluggish and low-energy, and wasn’t able to do as much as I would have liked. At times, I looked at some of the other ex-leaders during free time and saw how hard they were working, and I remember thinking ‘dang I wish I could be as helpful and servant-hearted as these guys’. But it was indeed a humbling and reassuring reminder that the task of growing God’s kingdom wasn’t on my shoulders. God has this in His hands. And we can carry one another’s burdens as the body of Christ. I needed to remember that it was OK to not be able to do everything I wanted, and it was OK to receive God’s grace of rest. God is faithful, and He continues to grow his people regardless. 😊

ISCF camps were always a highlight back in my high school days, and hey, I think nothing has changed. I know I’ve said this ten million times, but again, it’s just such a powerful testament to how God is working faithfully in His children. Camp is a little glimpse into heaven. We long for heaven; for the eternal and good rule of God to be established. Yet, at the same time, heaven begins now. In the way we are transformed by the spirit, and in the way we live our lives centred around God – heaven is breaking into earth this very moment.

It is a good day.

Reflections on Good Friday.

Cross

On this day, two thousand and so years ago, our Lord was crucified. It was a good day. And today, it is still a good day.

It is a good day, because it is a restful day. Yes, restful, because it is a public holiday and we have a little more time to sleep and rest. But more than that, it is restful because on this day, eternal rest was secured. On the cross for which good Friday is so well known, it wasn’t just Jesus that was crucified. All our brokenness – everything inadequate and unsettling and disgusting about us was crucified there with him. The nagging debt which all of us owe was paid that day. And the blood which flowed and dripped off that cross washed us so that we were white as snow. No longer were we at unrest with the God of the universe. No longer did we need to work to be right with Him. We received the truest rest that we could ever receive – the rest from self-justification. With one last breath, Jesus said “It is finished.” His work was done. Our work was done. There is now rest. And the king, hanging broken on that cross, invites us to join in his rest. It is a good rest. It is a good day.

It is a good day, because Jesus is declared king. Pilate nailed an inscription onto the cross, declaring that Jesus was the King of the Jews. Yet, little did he know that this act of mockery proclaimed the most glorious and important truth, the identity of the man Jesus: King. The Jewish authorities asked Pilate to take the sign down – but he refused, for his word was final. On this day, the earthly authorities had declared the kingship of Jesus. Not just king of the Jews, nor the Roman Empire, but of the whole creation. Of the rocks which bore the metal for the nails, and the trees which bore the wood for the cross. Of the executioners who flogged and killed him, of the crowd – you and me – who wanted blood and shouted, “crucify him!” This is our king. Though we killed him, by his blood we are cleansed. He invites us to be a part of his kingdom. He is a good king. It is a good day.

It is a good day, because we are no longer thirsty. But at what cost? On the cross, Jesus knew that all things were now drawing to an end – and he said, “I thirst.” Jesus once said that he was the source of living water. Whoever drank this living water would never be thirsty again. Yet, Jesus was the one who thirsted. The second person of the triune God thirsted – so that we don’t have to thirst. He was needy, that we might be full. As his blood flows and washes us clean, so does his grace flow into our cups, overflowing and overflowing – whilst his body was broken, hanging dry on the cross. He gives us living water that our thirsts might be eternally quenched. It is a sorrowful day, yes – he is the man of sorrows. Are we to mourn? His sorrow secures for us joy. We are satisfied for good. It is a good day.

Reflections on Maitland Alive 2017

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It’s been a day since I returned from mission, and I already miss it! But as Chewy said, it’s a good thing that not every day of the year is Maitland Alive. Just as church on a Sunday is a little taste of the new creation – of how life is really meant to be – mission week is a reminder of the new creation for the entire year. Can you imagine the feeling after a long, intensive work out? Your body aches in exhaustion, but you know that you are being made stronger. And though it was painful, there is a joy in the experience. Mission week has felt like an intensive spiritual workout. I feel like I’ve been pushed hard spiritually this past week, and I’ve grown and learnt a lot. I honestly did not expect to grow so much, and so I’m so, so thankful for how God has worked through this week.

To start off on a down-to-earth, tangible note, mission was interesting because I had never worked with kids before. I don’t think I’ve had a serious conversation with a primary school kid since I was… a primary school kid. And so, before mission began, I had no idea how to relate to these kids. As the days rolled on, I gradually got more and more used to it, and discovered that you needed to approach kids with high levels of energy and a healthy dose of silliness. Many things on mission were scary, purely because I had not done it before. Things like playing with kids. Taking kids to the bathroom. Disciplining kids when they were acting up, and comforting them when they weren’t feeling well. Even trying to teach kids the gospel in a way they could understand. From experience, I’m very comfortable having intellectual conversations with quiet Asian-Australian youth, but not with rowdy, white primary-school aged kids. Being forced to “step up” in many ways, by the sheer fact it was uncomfortable doing something for the first time, really challenged me to be courageous and take initiative as a man of God.

One thing I really, really loved was singing kids songs! Again, it’s been a long while since I’ve sung a kids’ song – complete with actions and all. But really, if these truths are good enough to teach children, then they are good enough for us old people. And the songs, in all their simplicity, really get to the heart of the message. As an adult (and especially as a uni student), I love to think about theology and philosophy and how the big ideas of the Bible all coalesce and shape our lives. But… the very, very basic truths which we should functionally live by? They are very easy to gloss over. And so, the kids’ songs get to the truths that we should trust and hold to heart. Oftentimes, I found myself singing the songs to myself as a reminder of the truth during the stressful and tiring day, and they really did refresh me! Some of my favourite lines:

“And He’s known me and He’s loved me since before the world began. How wonderful to be a part of God’s amazing plan!” (Our God is a Great Big God!)

“Well it’s been slow going, but there’s a knowing – that someday, perfect I will be!” (Little by Little)

Mission was an undeniably high-intensity and draining week and half. From the early wakeups, to the high-energy program, visitations, spending large amounts of time with people, section meetings, late nights to bed – it was unbelievably tiring. And the team knew this. Inevitably, there would be times when we would be tired, and weak, and upset, and unappreciated, and peopled-out. Yet, because of this fact, everyone in the team was all the more intentional in loving one another, taking care of each other, and being an encouragement. And Christ shone so, so brightly. I feel that back in our normal lives, there is no explicit “need” to be so intentional. But on mission, we are forced to take an active role and stance in loving one another. It’s all good to be teaching the gospel to kids… but we also needed to live it out in our lives. And I could really see this happening during the week. One of the mission ‘values’ was that we were to be people-centred and not program-centred. These few words made a world of difference in the way I approached things during this week. Stressed? Tired? Lots of things to organise and do? The most important thing is to love one another. Getting the perfect program can wait. Living the gospel in the way we treated one another was much more important.

I remember there were moments on mission when I was extremely discouraged. In these times, I was especially tired – the long days and heavy interactions with people were draining. The hot weather didn’t help either. There were also times when there was some friction within our section – understandably, as most people were tired and stressed. In these times, Satan was whispering in my ear “Disunity! Disunity! Disunity!”. These moments honestly did feel like poop. But I know they weren’t poop. God used them to teach and sanctify. I’m so thankful that during these times, I could receive the grace of rest – to catch up on sleep back in the room, to have a warm shower, and to be refreshed and reminded of the truth and goodness of God in edifying conversation. Yes, we were tired and discouraged at times, but God’s grace was enough.

Whilst we spent a fair few hours each day with the kids – the program went for about three hours – we spent a lot more time together as a team. Twenty-four hours each day together. And this really, really was the thing that stuck out. If we think about our personal growth in terms of the head, the heart and the hands – reflecting what we know, feel and do – there are some places where you really grow in terms of the head and heart, such as AnCon where there are heaps of amazing bible teaching and talks. What about the hands though? I felt that mission was a place where I really grew in terms of the hands – in actually, physically, living out as the body of Christ. The gospel was in action. And I could see this through the team – everyone was so servant-hearted, so humble and gentle, so real and genuine, so eager to seek the good of others. And everyone acted with such joy – there was very little grumbling or complaining. Even in the most menial and mundane of tasks – washing up the dishes, cleaning the toilet, cutting up bits of paper for craft – everyone was so ready to serve and love one another through their actions. And no glory to themselves, but all glory be to God. It really is refreshing living with Christians that you don’t usually hang around with, and seeing them live, and being built up by their words and actions.

However, one thing I became increasingly aware of over mission was my own sinfulness and brokenness. Especially in moments of tiredness, being drained after a long day’s program, I really saw how much darkness there was in my heart – moments where I’d taste the pride, or the self-centredness, or the bitterness and hurtfulness that came so naturally. I guess this was the result of being vigilant and constantly checking myself in this high intensity environment. But one thing that I had really come to appreciate on mission was hearing the word preached (especially at team time in the morning), and being wrecked by it. The talks always felt so real – there was always an immediate need to apply it in the intense environment of mission. And often, the talks would be very painful to listen to in the rebuke it brought. It’s difficult coming to terms with your sinfulness, yet it’s so liberating to be able to face it and repent. Nick said something which really stuck – “You hear it, and it’s so painful, but it’s so good.” Having the word of God slice into you and incisively cut away the sin in your life – it really does hurt, but it’s a good pain, because you know you are growing.

Man… there’s a lot to say, and a lot that I can’t put in words. It was an edifying experience. Whilst mission is over, life goes on. And whilst it was quite sad to see mission come to an end, it really is a beginning rather than an end. My prayer is that I’ll take what I’ve learnt and experienced and grown over the past one and a half weeks, and that it would charge me up for the year ahead. I pray that I might continue to walk faithfully, and encourage and love those around me. Because mission continues wherever we are, and wherever the Lord places us.

“With man things are impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27 (Oh yeah!)

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Book: Mere Christianity

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Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis has an extraordinary ability to take what you already know – or what you think you know – and make you think about it in ways in which you have never before. When we wake up every day and live out our lives, there are so many things working in the backgrounds of our minds which help us make sense of our world. Very often, we take these things for granted, and for the most part, we hardly even notice them. In Mere Christianity, Lewis directs our attention to these unnoticed aspects of our daily experience with grace, wit and razor-sharp logic, and uses this to present an endlessly fascinating account of how Christianity works. What I have found particularly refreshing is that Lewis starts with nothing, and builds his case from the ground up. There are no assumptions. He begins with what we all know, and experience, and feel in our day to day lives – and then he goes from there.

Let’s put things in context. The year is 1942, and Great Britain is at war. The front line is at the doorsteps of the civilians themselves, as planes bombard this small island nation each night. C. S. Lewis is called to deliver a series of radio broadcasts on BBC on the Christian faith, and these speeches were eventually gathered into a single volume and printed. See, Mere Christianity was not originally a book. It was a series of radio speeches to a broken and war-weary nation.

Here are some of the nuggets of truth and insight I have gleaned from Mere Christianity:

1. The reality of the moral law. “Hey, that’s not fair!” – “Come on, you promised…” – what occurs so naturally to us is that there is some sort of standard of behaviour which we expect other people to follow. Yet, this standard, or ‘law’, is very peculiar if you think about it. Consider the idea of science for a second. Science is able to observe the world around us, and tell us how the world works. It can provide ‘laws’ which describe the world – Newton’s laws of motion, Mendel’s laws of genetics. But the ‘moral’ law is different – it doesn’t actually describe anything that we are doing. Instead, it describes what we should do. In fact, many times what we are actually doing is contrary to this moral law. So, this moral law is very real… but at the same time, it isn’t really “real”. It’s a thing, but it’s also a not-thing. This is something that we can’t learn from external observation. We can observe humans, but unless you were actually a human – you wouldn’t experience, and thus understand, this idea of a ‘moral law’. Where does this experience come from? What lies behind this ‘moral law’? Our experience of the moral law raise many questions, and it is in this context which Christianity starts to speak.

2. The person of Christ. We look for something to help explain our ‘moral law’. Enter first century Palestine, and we see a man – Jesus of Nazareth – make the preposterous claim that he is able to forgive sin. This phrase – ‘forgiving sin’ – is a phrase that we have difficulty understanding. We throw the phrase around often, and we don’t realise the scandalous implications of what it actually means. Consider this. Let’s say you punch me, I forgive you. Or you steal my money, I forgive you. But let’s say you hit me, and a stranger off the street – completely irrelevant to our situation – comes up to you and says, “I forgive you”. You would make him out to be a fool. “Get out of here”, you’d say. So, we see Jesus acting like he’s the chief party concerned in any offence. And if you think about it carefully, Jesus is claiming to be the power behind the ‘moral law’ I spoke of above. He’s the one who sets what is right and wrong. He is the one who you are offending every time you break this moral law. And so, what can we conclude something about this man, Jesus of Nazareth? He is a lunatic. Or, he is a liar – a really great actor. Or, he is God himself. How do we approach the person of Jesus?

3. The root of evil. Lewis spends an entire section of the book talking about Christian ‘virtues’ or ‘values’ – ways in which Christians should live and behave, and how to make sense of them. There is so much good stuff here I cannot possibly write it all down, I may as well quote the entire book! So, if I was to draw attention to one thing which really stuck out to me, it is what Lewis calls the centre of Christian morals: “the essential vice, the utmost evil – Pride”. Pride is the vice that leads to every other vice, and is the complete anti-moral, anti-God state of mind. We aren’t proud of having something, but rather, we are proud for having more of it than the next person. See, the very essence of pride is competition. Once we take away competition, there is no pride. Pride, as Lewis says, is enmity. I’ll keep quoting Lewis (I can’t think of any better words to say): “For Pride is spiritual cancer, it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense”.

4. Heaven and Longing. This idea of ‘heaven’ is central to popular views of Christianity – “I want to go to heaven” is a popular sentiment. Whilst this idea is common misunderstood, I think there’s something quite important and insightful here. Here are a few things that Lewis says. “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither”. Or, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Interesting.

5. Life and transformation. The last thing I want to say, and probably the most profound thing I have learnt. We say that ‘Christ has come to give us life’. Hold on, aren’t we alive already? Why do we need to be given life? So, Lewis makes a distinction between natural, biological life, called ‘Bios’, and Spiritual life, called ‘Zoe’. Imagine bringing a tin soldier to life. This is what it’s like bringing a being from Bios to Zoe. When we put our faith in Christ, we aren’t just committing ourselves to follow another set of rules, but rather, we are being given life and being transformed into a timeless, spiritual being.

What I’ve written so far is completely inadequate in capturing the spirit of Mere Christianity. There are so, so many nuggets of insight strewn throughout its pages – so many little word-bites that get you thinking long after you’ve read them. If you haven’t read it before, I must recommend it. This is definitely a book which I’ll be revisiting again and again.