We’re Moving! =)

•April 28, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Wow it’s been a long time since I blogged here! This will be the last post on this blog, for we are moving to a new blog which will be integrated with my new centre’s website at www.irwins-study.com

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To my followers, thank you so much for following and commenting all these years, and I hope that you will continue to do so at my new blog! =) See you there! 

Come, it is done.

•August 18, 2013 • Leave a Comment

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and stay here…'” (Exodus 24:12)

When Pastor Kai spoke on this verse during the sermon this morning, he mentioned how this is a picture of how God desires for us to draw ever nearer to Him.  While in this case it seems like Moses had ‘no choice’ but to go up the mountain because the clarion call was so clear from God, we need to also realize that Moses had a choice: he could choose to climb up the mountain to meet God (difficult but ultimately fulfilling) or he could have chosen to remain at a distance away (easy but ultimately fruitless). Today, if we wonder whether God still calls us to Himself in such a direct fashion, we only need to turn to the Scriptures to witness the numerous times that our God reaches down to us to call us to a deeper and closer communion with Him:

“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22)

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Psalm 145:18)

But it is God’s invitation to His wedding feast that strikes me the most. In Matthew 22, Jesus told the parable of the wedding feast, and in it, the King extends His invitation to everyone: “Come to the wedding feast!”’. And yet the people who were invited would not come. How sad!

I was thinking that perhaps the reason this caught my imagination is because just yesterday, Yingjie and I met with our church wedding caterer to discuss our ‘wedding feast’. In the midst of the discussion, while we were so blessed to listen to the journey of our caterer who is also a believer, we also discovered that there are so many things to consider when planning for a feast: menu, seating, layout, decoration, timing, guest lists…and we are only doing it for 400 guests. Imagine God preparing it for everyone! =) But also imagine how heartbreaking it would be if He has prepared everything and He has invited everyone and He has cleared every obstacle so that we can draw near to Him – and yet we choose not to.

In Exodus, God moved the earths to part the Red Sea so that His people, the Israelites, could draw close to Him; 2000 years later, God emptied the heavens of its glory by sending His Son to die on the cross for our sins so that we, His children, can draw near to Him even today. Would you not come?

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It starts with His house

•March 26, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Today’s devotional journal leads us to the episode when Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem to chase out the money-changers who had desecrated God’s holy place. Interestingly, it shows us that while Jesus could have gone to the political leaders and demanded that the oppression of His people be ended, He chose instead to go first to His house – the temple of God. Because only when His house was put in order, could the watching and waiting world be transformed.

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This relationship between the church and the world struck many chords with me. First, it reminded me of the church themes that were shared by the Senior Pastors at the beginning of the year – how the Church Within must first continue to grow deep roots downward so that we can resolutely bear fruit outward to impact the Church Without and inspire the Church Beyond. Next, it also brought to mind the short video introducing the Global Discipleship Congress where Pastor Ed mentioned that while we often think that the world is in trouble and the church is in need, we got it all reversed. It’s the world that is in need, and the church is in trouble. Finally, today’s devotional also ends with an insightful quote by A W Tozer who remarked that in his time, he saw the world changing the church instead of the church changing the world. Perhaps not very much has changed since then.

But what do all these mean to me personally? It reminds me that before I can start thinking of God’s kingdom, or being of use for His purposes, or leading my CG, I must first start from myself. Cleansing must come from within, because judgment starts first from His house. It reminds me that now is the time to repent in faith, knowing that God is faithful to forgive and to restore me to His unending love.

Beware the white elephants of the soul

•March 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

At Dawn Prayer this morning, Pastor Ed shared this interesting illustration:

In ancient days when the king of Siam had an enemy he wanted to torment and destroy, he would send that enemy a unique gift, a white elephant, a live, albino elephant. These animals were considered sacred in the culture of that day. So the recipient of that elephant had no choice but to intentionally care for the gift. This elephant would take an inordinate amount of the enemy’s time, resources, energy, emotions, and finances. Over time the enemy would destroy himself because of the extremely burdensome process of caring for the gift.

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Being the history geek that I am, I was fascinated by this story! So I quickly did some research and found an interesting article written by Ross Bullen from the University of Western Ontario entitled ‘“This Alarming Generosity”: White Elephants and the Logic of the Gift’. In it, Bullen traces the historical roots of this practice and uses the white elephant as “a paradoxical figure torn between its Eastern and Western definitions…a privileged sign for exploring the relationship between Siamese and American cultures. It is a sign for, among other things, discourses on white supremacy, economic risk and waste, diplomatic gift exchange, and the transnational foundation of both U.S. and Siamese national identity.”

But it is the spiritual metaphor and the manner that Pastor Ed uses it that captures my attention. He led us to pray for God to surface those white elephants in the dark corners of our soul that captivate our time, our energy, our resources and our attention. These activities or things in and by themselves may not be detrimental, but it is when they pull us away from God-honoring pursuits that they become shackles to the soul. Read how an article in The New York Times on 28 May 1873 put it:

“He knows that the beast will eat him out of house and home without the possibility, on his part, of resistance. He cannot sell or give away the fatal gift, for no one would accept it, and the attempt to get rid of it even would be direct treason and sacrilege. He sits down with Oriental resignation to submit to the inevitable, and the white elephant devours his substance.”

Lord, help me not let the white elephants in my soul devour my substance and take me away from pursuing You.

“The most valuable thing this world affords”

•March 16, 2013 • Leave a Comment

When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, there was a significant moment during the coronation ceremony, when she was presented with a Bible, and told by the Archbishop of Canterbury: “We present you with this Book, the most valuable thing this world affords. Here is wisdom. This is the Royal Law. These are the lively oracles of God.”

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‘The most valuable thing this world affords’, ‘here is wisdom’ – such wonderful words to remind not just a queen, but each of us. That we do need the Bible not just for the wisdom it affords, but because it is the Word of God given to us; that in its words, there is living power to transform lives. Yet sadly, we just treat it like any other book, as Gandhi pointed out:

“You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilisation to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.”

How true and how sad.

What Makes an Educated Man?

•March 16, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Was recently shown this interesting article on the 3 characteristics of what makes an educated man (here), and according to the writer, here are the 3 things:

“An educated man has been defined as one who can entertain himself, one who can entertain another, and one who can entertain a new idea.”

1. One who can entertain himself

“Only those who want everything done for them are bored.” –Billy Graham

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“Of course these days, with an iPhone always at hand, amusing yourself isn’t very difficult. Anyone can surf or text the boredom away. The real test for the modern educated man is the ability to entertain himself when technology isn’t available or is not socially acceptable to whip out. Can you entertain yourself at a boring meeting, while camping, while conversing at a dinner party? The educated man can, and he does it, ironically enough, by retaining an important ability of his childhood—curiosity. The educated man is insatiably curious about the world around him and other people. In any situation, he sees something to learn, study, and observe.”

2. One who can entertain another

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“He is able to do this because of the breadth of his reading and his experiences. He has an arsenal of interesting tales at the ready about his travels and endeavors. And he’s up on the latest news stories and interesting scientific breakthroughs.  No matter the demographics of the group he’s with, he knows a story that will appeal to them.

Abraham Lincoln is a good example of an educated man who could entertain others. Though Lincoln only had one year of formal education, he read voraciously and dedicated himself to lifelong learning. The result was the ability to talk to anybody about anything and leave them entertained. Like all truly great men he was also a good listener.”

3. One who can entertain a new idea

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This might seem like the easiest one…how hard is it to be open-minded, right?

Well recent research into the way our minds work has shown that far from being the rational beings we flatter ourselves into believing we are, unbeknownst to us, our unconscious is constantly shaping our thoughts, beliefs, and motivations in irrational ways. For example, because of the ‘backfire effect’. when we’re presented with evidence that contradicts our beliefs, instead of changing those beliefs, they become even more entrenched. The ‘confirmation bias’ makes us seek out and only pay attention to new information that confirms our preexisting notions, while we let information that contradicts those notions go over our heads. And the ‘sunk-cost fallacy’ pushes us to stick with a less sensible or desirable option instead of choosing something better, because we’ve already invested time, money, or emotion in it.

In other words, our unconscious minds see our personal ideas as a great treasure, and competing ideas as would-be looters; when they’re detected by the unconscious’ security system, it unleashes the dogs and locks the gate.

Entertaining a new idea doesn’t necessarily mean accepting it and changing your beliefs every time you’re presented with a different take on things. As it has been said, “Be opened-minded, but not so open-minded that your brain falls out.” The educated man has an easier time in seeing this. His varied experiences and studies have given him multiple opportunities to see how the information he has learned has changed his opinions–even if it took those new ideas a long time to be invited in. The sheltered man who only interacts with people just like him and only reads things that confirm his preconceived ideas will not have these experiences to draw upon, and will thus greet all new ideas like menacing strangers, shaking his fist at them from the safety of the other side of his crocodile-infested moat.

Interesting stuff! =D

 

The ‘So That’ God

•March 14, 2013 • Leave a Comment

As I was reading Exodus, I was struck by the purposes of God. Often, we think of Exodus as a magnificent story of Israel’s deliverance from slavery, of God’s mighty miracles, and of God’s sacred ten commandments given as the Law. Indeed, the book of Exodus captures all these marvelous events, yet we will be missing a key point if we do not understand the ‘so that’ God. Yes, God redeemed His people, but for what purpose? Not just to rescue them, but to free them so that they can worship Him.

Where do I see this? When Moses went to Pharaoh for the first time:

Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’” (Exodus 5:1)

And again in Exodus 7:16 –

Then say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness. But until now you have not listened.

And then again in Exodus 8:1 –

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.

Over and over again throughout the book of Exodus, we are told that God’s people are redeemed not just so they can enjoy freedom, or the wealth of the Egyptians which they took with them, or even to enjoy God’s presence with them as they travel in the wilderness. They are redeemed for a greater purpose – to worship and glorify Him. The lesson I am learning from this is that in enjoying the blessings and gifts bestowed to me by my Father, I must also not forget the Giver and His Kingdom’s work. To seek from God only blessings, wealth, health, good fortune is to have a one-dimensional faith that does not fully capture the magnitude of God’s call in our lives. We are blessed so that we can be a blessing. We are redeemed so that we can reflect His glory. We are loved so that we can love others.

Like Moses, we cannot stay at the burning bush. Much as we would like to tarry in God’s presence, there comes a time where we must arise and be on our way, to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us.

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