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The Upside Down Kingdom

Title: The Upside Down Kingdom
Artwork by: YMI X Zach Stuef (@stuefcreative)
Description: The call to follow Jesus often means going against the grain of the culture that we are accustomed to. The world may tell us to put our own interests first, but Jesus says we are to look out for the interests of one another (Phillipians 2:4). Society says we are to follow our dreams for a fulfilling life, but Jesus says the opposite—a fulfilling life comes when we lay our lives down to follow Him (Matthew 16:25). Jesus radically challenges the pattern of this world, and with it, our realities of this earth. Making sense of His commands can be difficult, but it is worth pursuing.

Join us as we explore the challenges Jesus puts out for His followers, and glean the life-changing experience of living a life opposite to what the world offers.

 

Lose All to Gain All

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

We are constantly on the look-out to gain all kinds of earthly pleasures; whether it be a new holiday experience, growing our social media presence and followers, or eating at the latest restaurants. But our frenzy to collect these temporal experiences, often leave us empty and dissatisfied, and could see us miss out on the One person who truly matters—Jesus. What are you chasing at the moment that has blinded you to Jesus?

 

 

Weak Made Strong

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Cor 12:9)

We are taught to be strong, independent, and self-sufficient. The idea of relying on others and celebrating our weaknesses can seem baffling. But with Jesus, it’s the reverse. Scripture says we are strong when we are weak. It is when we are at the end of our tether that the power of God shines through. When was the last time you asked God for His grace and strength to see you through a tough spot, instead of relying on your own?

 

 

The Last Will Be First

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)

We #humblebrag about our accomplishments, but a quiet satisfaction washes over us as we compare our standing to other people whom we perceive as lagging behind in their life. However, Heaven operates on a different system, and God doesn’t rank a person based on their hard work or social standing. Eternal life is available to all who accepts Jesus as their Savior, and cannot be bought with money or hard work. Therefore, let’s be careful about sizing people up based on where they are in life, knowing that we’re all equal in the eyes of God. Is there someone we have to stop judging?

 

 

Die to Live
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)

We are all dying to live longer in this world. We invest in healthy diets, read up on cancer prevention methods, and tick off our bucket list to ensure we have the most enjoyable time on earth. But are we aware of who or what we are really living for? Jesus laid His life down to redeem us from our sins, which shows His great love for us. It’s in His death that we are made alive. What fleshly desires do you have to put to death today to fully follow Jesus?

 

 

Give to Receive

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35)

 We feel loved, valued, and #blessed when we are showered with gifts or when people go the extra mile to help us with a favor. But Scripture’s view of feeling #blessed is that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). 

Giving requires a sacrifice on our part, but we’re able to do so because we have a generous Father who does not withhold any good gift from us (James 1:17), but supplies us with all our needs (Philippians 4:19). As we generously sow into the lives of others, they’ll see that God is our Provider, and there is no lack in Him. In what areas can you generously give to someone today?

 

 

Free from Sin, Slaves to Righteousness

You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:18)

We must carefully sift through the deluge of information the world offers on a daily basis. Because if we are not careful, we will find ourselves soaking in the views of the world and drinking in various earthly desires. And soon, we become ensnared by sin. The good news is, Scripture says we have been set free of sin, and that we are no longer slaves to this world, but to righteousness. We are now free to lead a life of purity, integrity, and virtue.  What sins of the world are you enslaved by that you need to break free from today? 

 

 

Humbled To Be Raised

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:10)

The world says we are to raise ourselves up before men, which can lead to an overinflated ego and a perverse sense of self-worth. We want to win arguments, are reluctant to back down from our opinions, and refuse to be the first to apologize. However, the opposite is true in God’s eyes. He values a spirit that is humble, teachable, and moldable, and when we humble ourselves before Him, that’s when He will lift us up (James 4:10) What can we do today to humble ourselves before God?

 

 

Losing Life To Find It
Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39)

It is perplexing to think that we have to first lose our life in order to gain it. But that is essentially what is required of us the moment we accept Christ’s offer of salvation. We enter His Kingdom as new creations, shedding our old life in the process. The initial period of realizing we have been set free can leave us on a high, but as time passes, with trials and tribulations, are we still as excited about following God as we were when we first accepted Him? Or have we allowed worldly worries and troubles to cloud us from seeking the Kingdom’s true treasures? 

 

How Can I Truly Live An Authentic Christian Life?

Written By Tan Chew Suan

 Chew Suan got to know Singapore Youth For Christ in her teens and now serves as a full time staff in Teaching Ministry. She counts it a great privilege to devote her time to the studying and teaching of God’s Word for the purpose of equipping gospel workers.

 

I thought it was going to be our usual Christian Students’ Meeting—sing a few worship songs, listen to a bible teaching and pray. But my seniors decided otherwise that day. They wanted us to have an impactful structured experience on what it meant to suffer for Christ. We were led blindfolded into a classroom and told to make our way, on our knees, through the legs of a maze of tables. When we reached the end, I stood up, thinking it was over.

“Piak!” Suddenly, I felt a slap on my face and heard my senior’s voice asking, “Will you forgive me?”

What I felt in my heart was seething anger, but what came out of my mouth was, “I forgive.” Knowing the model answer, I gave it, but what I truly felt inside was the opposite: I was full of anger and resentment. But why did I give an answer contrary to what I truly felt? It was simply because I wanted my seniors to think of me as a gracious and teachable Christian—which they did, because they could not see my heart.

This was not an isolated event in my Christian life. There have been many occasions when I presented myself as more prayerful, more diligent in my Bible reading, more faithful in a given task, and more loving toward others than I really was. I was more concerned about whether fellow Christians believed I had been ungracious toward others, than whether I had truly been ungracious. In short, I cared more about what people thought of me than about what I truly was.

 

The Pharisees’ Problem

In the New Testament, there was a group of people who also cared more about appearing righteous than about being truly righteous. They were the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. Jesus had very strong words for them. He said in Matthew 23:25-28: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

The word “hypocrite” is translated from a Greek word that refers to an actor playing a role. Thus a hypocrite is not someone who he appears to be. Likewise, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees appeared to be good and righteous on the outside, but they were selfish and wicked on the inside. Jesus’ injunction to them was first, to clean the inside, so that the outside would also be clean.

The word “first” showed Jesus’ priority. Who we are inside takes priority over who we appear to be outside. This is because what we really are, will be shown in what we say and do. If we are good and righteous, our speech and actions will be good and righteous. However, if we are selfish and wicked, while we can pretend to say and do the right things, we are just play-acting; we would not be authentic, we would be hypocrites.

That’s not to say that we necessarily belong to the same camp as the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. Fundamentally, they believe in their own righteousness to save themselves, whereas as Christians, we believe in Jesus who came to call sinners (Mark 2:17), of whom we are included. I don’t believe I can clean up my own heart, but I trust in Jesus’ work on the cross for the cleansing (Heb 10:19-22).

But if in my Christian walk there is no integrity, and the goodness I show outside is not found inside, then I am behaving exactly like the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. If that is the case, I too need to pay heed to Jesus’ injunction. Who I am inside must take priority over who I appear to be. Let me be more concerned when others think more of me than who I really am, than when they think less of me. Let me be more concerned about genuine goodness than the appearance of goodness. Let me be authentic. This is my prayer.

 

The “Authenticity” Problem

When I look at some of my younger Christian friends, they don’t struggle the same way I do. They are brought up with the mindset that they are to be true to themselves, to follow their heart. There is something admirable about this stance. It speaks of a certain integrity; what you see is what you get. They speak what they really think and they act out of what they really feel, they don’t put up a pretense. They are less concerned about how people view them; they are more concerned about being able to express their true selves. So unlike me, they struggle less with hypocrisy in authentic Christian living.

While there is the correspondence between the inner self and the outer image, which is a plus point, there may be a potential danger when being authentic to oneself is seen as the ultimate good. This is because we have been corrupted by sin and thus do not think, feel, and act as we should as God’s image bearers. By God’s grace, He redeemed us through our Lord Jesus Christ and part of the redemption goal is for us “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29).

Thus Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesians 4:21-24, “when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;  to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

The potential danger then is this: We, as Christians, forget that in Christ we are a new creation, and we think, speak, and act as though we are still in our old self. In so doing, we may think we are being authentic in expressing who we are, but in reality we are being inauthentic to who we are in Christ. Thus authentic Christian living requires more than just a correspondence between the inner self and the outer image, it also requires that my inner self corresponds to the image of Christ.

 

The Means To An Authentic Christian Life

How can I truly live an authentic Christian life? First, by the help of God, I need to be a person of integrity. I must resolve not to act hypocritically but to be the same person inside and outside, with whomever, at whenever, and in whatever situation. Second, through God’s Word and through the Spirit’s work of renewal, I need to be conformed more and more to the image of Christ. To be like our Lord Jesus Christ in all that I think, say, and do, so that I reflect my true identity in Christ. The hymn by Thomas O. Chisholm captures beautifully what it means to live an authentic Christian life. May this hymn serve as our prayer.

Living for Jesus a life that is true
Striving to please Him in all that I do
Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free
This is the pathway of blessing for me

Refrain
O Jesus, Lord and Savior
I give myself to Thee
For Thou, in Thine atonement
Didst give Thyself for me
I own no other Master
My heart shall be Thine throne
My life I give henceforth to live
O Christ, for Thee alone

Living for Jesus who died in my place
Bearing on Calv’ry my sin and disgrace
Such love constrains me to answer His call
Follow His leading and give Him my all

Living for Jesus, wherever I am
Doing each duty in His holy name
Willing to suffer affliction and loss
Deeming each trial a part of my cross

Living for Jesus through earth’s little while
My dearest treasure, the light of His smile
Seeking the lost ones He died to redeem
Bringing the weary to find rest in Him

The Christian Walk: A Warm Summer Holiday?

I was brimming with excitement when I finalized my bookings for my big trip to Europe last year. Having forked out a significant amount of money for both my air tickets and a new camera, I was certain my first trip to UK and France would be a complete blast.

I could barely wait to share in my friends’ experiences, having heard stories and seen Instagram pictures of those doing their overseas experience on the antipodes. I dreamed of the endless bookshops I could visit in London, admiring my literary heroes, both past and present. In particular, I couldn’t wait to see Shakespeare and Company—the “small, crumbling bookshop on Paris’s Left Bank” that UK newspaper The Independent described as possibly “the most famous bookstore in the world”. I also looked forward to Parisian chic, croissants, beautiful apartments, breath-taking architecture and mustached-men playing their accordions around the cafes and sidewalk.

I fantasized of a warm summer holiday swanning around in cute summer dresses (bye-bye, boring black winter stockings), and looking forward to showing off my arms, which I had been working on at the gym. My thoughts were filled with taking pretty photos on my new camera, filling my Instagram account with envy-worthy photos, and walking Paris’ Champs-Élysées under a starlit night.

What hadn’t been part of the itinerary was falling sick during my three-week vacation.

It could have been the hectic schedule or the change in weather (it was winter in New Zealand but summer in the northern hemisphere), but my body wasn’t playing ball. What started as a bit of a sneeze and an itchy throat soon morphed into something else entirely in Europe.

There was a point when I completely lost my voice, managing only a croak. To make matters worse, my body decided to reject every kind of food. I was throwing up after every meal and my nose would start bleeding without rhyme or reason.

On one traumatic morning in Brixton, London, my friend and I were running as fast as we could, with our backpacks, to catch an Uber ride to the train station for our flight to France. That’s when I felt a sickly drip down my nose, and my suspicion was confirmed the minute I wiped my nose with a tissue. With blood dripping down my face, I must have looked like I was running away from a fight (or for my life).

In France, I visited the pharmacy so many times you’d be forgiven for thinking I had it down as a must-see tourist destination. Then my nose started acting up again, just before we made our way to the Shakespeare and Company. I was so terrified I would start bleeding all over the nice, new books that I made sure to have a wad of tissues near me. My backpack soon morphed into a first-aid kit: I had a bottle of cough syrup, cough drops, paracetamol, and packs of tissues.

I woke up each morning with dread. Would my nose behave today? Would I be able to hold my meal in or would today see me bent over the bathroom sink while my guts tried to make their escape?

Funnily enough, my holiday-gone-wrong had me thinking about my Christian walk: how expectation didn’t always match reality.

It was at a church play that I answered the altar call at the age of 12. While I cannot recall the play in full detail, I do remember the title was Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames, and it had scenes featuring a non-believer and a believer. In each scene, there was a tragedy, and the non-believer was sent away to somewhere rather hot and fiery. I certainly didn’t want to go there, so giving my life to God seemed like a get-out-of-jail-free card to escape the fiery furnace. I figured all I had to do was accept Jesus as my Savior and He would swoop me out of hell.

As I grew up, I began to hear altar calls that went along the lines of how accepting Jesus into your life was the “best thing you can ever do”. “And from now on, your new life begins . . .” was another often repeated phrase.

For me, it conjured up a life without pain, where Jesus would sweep down from Heaven to catch us before we scrape our knees. Jesus would also save me from making silly mistakes in my exams and prepare a cool crowd of friends for me.

However, none of that happened, and at one point, I was angry at Jesus my forever friend, who I felt had ditched me during my most crucial moments. For example, I remember scoring a C on a Math test and fuming at Him. Not just that, how could He allow boys to dump me? And why did I receive email after email of rejection when I was desperately seeking employment?

You see, I had fallen into trap after being sold the idea that being with Jesus is the “best thing of my life”. But Jesus didn’t guarantee that a life with Him will be free of tribulations. The Bible tells of a blameless and upright man named Job, who feared God and “abstained from and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Job was also a rich landowner who was blessed with a big family and a large stock of animals. But Job went through some real tough situations. He lost his family and all of his animals in one day, suffered from sicknesses, and at one point, wished he was never born.

Reading Job’s story made me realize that following God doesn’t necessarily spell a smooth ride. There will be times where I will be tested or left clinging onto my faith. But Job’s story has also showed how faithful God is, and I took comfort knowing Job’s life had a happy ending, where in the end, God restored everything he had lost.

Even though my own Christian walk has been filled with ups and downs—nothing like Job’s thankfully—I can sincerely say I don’t regret answering the altar call as a 12-year-old. With God, I know He is just one call away. I have lost count of the times God has answered my prayers and I love resting in the deep, unconditional love He has for me.

I also take heart in knowing when my life ends on Earth, I’ll begin a perfect one with Him in Heaven. The Bible says Heaven will be a place where God will wipe every tear from our eyes, a perfect place where there will be no more death, or crying, or mourning or pain, for the old order of things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

This perfect place may sound like a fantasy, but unlike the fantasy I had of my holiday (where nothing went as planned), I know this promise will not disappoint. That makes all the present suffering worthwhile!

A Fruitful Life

Title: A Fruitful Life
Materials: Watercolour
Artwork by: Jenn Cruz (@lovethatletters)
Description: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

What does it mean to live with the “fruit of the spirit”? How can we recognize these “fruits”? How can we see the beauty of each aspect and prayerfully ask God to help us live out these characteristics as engage in relationships?

Over the last month, I painted each attribute of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit live on Instagram. As I was painting, I invited the followers to discuss the attributes at hand, sharing our difficulties and engaging in encouraging conversation to spur each other on. My intent was to get viewers to ask themselves the question: what does having the Fruit of the Spirit mean to you?

 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

 

 

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy 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)

 

 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

 

 

Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience (Colossians 1:11)

 

 

Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love (2 Corinthians 6:4-6)

 

 

For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth. (Ephesians 5:9)

 

 

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love. (Ephesians 3:16-17)

 

 

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)

 

 

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)