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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? 

 

5 Ways To Do Christ-centered Friendship

Title: 5 Ways To Do Christ-Centered Friendship
Artwork by: YMI X Barbs Jenjaroentham (@barbsiegraphy)
Description: 
We are made for friendships. True friends are with us in the midst of our difficulties, intercede for us when we are too worn down to pray for ourselves, and gently point us in the correct direction when we end up straying too far from the path. Building intentional friendships, especially one that is modeled after Christ, requires the sacrifice and investment of time, and can sometimes seem a little inconvenient. But despite its costs, it is worth sowing into friendships that will last the mile. How deep does your friendship go? Follow us as we look at what makes for a Christ-centered friendship.

 

Let us try initiating deeper conversations that matter with our friends. We could go beyond the generic, “How are you?”, and instead ask our friends about how their spiritual lives or their quiet time with God is going. Sincere questions like these can bring about a deeper bond as we encourage each other in our spiritual lives. Scripture says we are not to look out after our own interest, but also the interests of each other (Philippians 2:4), and conversations like these allow us to do just that.

 

Be a friend who is willing to offer practical help. Too often it is easier to text a sick friend, “Get well soon. Rest up”, but wouldn’t it be lovelier if we showed up with a food parcel for our friends to see them through the week?  It isn’t always easy to find the time in our busy schedules to add in an hour or two to visit a sick friend, or to sacrifice our weekend to help a friend move house. But actions speak louder than words, and nothing says we care more than putting in some elbow grease to help a friend out. Scripture says two are better than one, because if one of them falls down, the other can help them up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

 

We are constantly encouraged to “follow our hearts” in whatever we choose to pursue. But what happens if the direction chosen is leading us, or our friends, down a destructive path? In times like these, would we be brave enough to gently steer our friends back on the right path with the gospel? Similarly, would we be open to taking advice from friends who are concerned about our welfare, even though it may be uncomfortable? Scripture says the wounds of a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses (Proverbs 27:6). Receiving and giving advice may not always be comfortable, but true friends will always have each other’s best interest at heart.

 

Friendship requires honesty, but too often we have found ways to skirt around issues that are troubling us. It is also easier to pretend things are going 100% well when in truth it isn’t. Perhaps the fear of being seen as “less-than” have compelled us to hold back from telling the whole truth in the presence of our friends, or perhaps we are afraid our stories will get repeated elsewhere. However, friendships that are genuine, honest, and open allow us to share our vulnerabilities without worries. Let us actively work on cultivating friendships like these, where we can come together with our shortcomings, hold each other accountable, and remember each other in prayer (James 5:16).

 

Sometimes it can feel like we don’t quite know how to respond to our friends’ situation. Maybe we haven’t gone through what they are experiencing, or we do not want to say the wrong thing that would further hurt them. Words may fail us, but we can pray alongside our friend, who might be too worn out to pray on their own. Ultimately, we know that none of us can solve each other’s problems, and prayer acknowledges we have a God who is able to do far more than we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).

Knowing the Bible is Not Enough

Photo taken by Ian Tan

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

Early this year, someone new joined the small church that I attend. He identified himself as a Singaporean working in the United States, temporarily sent back to Singapore for a work project. During one prayer meeting he shared that he was serving as a youth leader back in his home church. He seemed to know the Bible very well and sounded very confident of his own salvation. He could easily quote the relevant verses (John 14:6, Ephesians 5:8 and more), and share how important a faith in Jesus was for salvation. We quickly accepted him as part of our small church family.

But merely a month later, our pastor and other church members informed me that this man was actually a fraudster. He had made up stories and borrowed money from various church members. He eventually fled with the money that our church members had lent him and never returned to our church. His phone line was canceled too and beyond contact. I never saw him again.

I was very surprised at this chain of events. How could a person so knowledgeable about the Bible turn out to be a fraudster?

I realized that knowledge of the Bible does not necessarily translate into godly living. James 1:23-24 says this is like a person who looks at himself in the mirror and goes away, immediately forgetting what he looks like. If God’s Word has no impact on the way we lead our lives, then we will be no different from a non-believer.

Even though I have been a Christian for a number of years, I didn’t always read the Bible. For a long time, I heard God’s Word only in church on Sundays. Even then, I was like the person in James 1:24—my life was not transformed. I was still living by my own flesh. I was a Christian outwardly, but inwardly my heart was not aligned with God. I indulged in my own sinful ways without a repentant heart.

But then I went through a dark period a few years ago. The only thing that comforted me during that time was God’s Word, and I realized how desperately I needed the Bible in my life. I have since learned a few things about reading the Bible, and reading it effectively. Perhaps they might be helpful for you as well.

 

Set aside time

Setting aside quiet time to read the Bible is very important to me, because I want to focus without distraction. This habit started during my period of darkness. God’s Word was what gave me strength to go through that period, and I realized how much I need His Word and how truly it refreshes me. Like Jesus withdrawing to lonely places and praying (Luke 5:16), I try to find time in the midst of my busyness, so that I can slip away and be with my heavenly Father. Daily, God’s Word gives me the strength that I need.

 

Ask God for help

Also, I dare not take the Word of God lightly. We know that all Scripture is God-breathed and is good for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but I do not always have the wisdom I need to understand and apply what I am reading. And so, I humbly seek the help of the Holy Spirit, knowing that our God is a generous God and is always ready to give us wisdom without reproach when we ask for it (James 1:5).

When I first came across Ephesians 1:14, for example, I really had trouble understanding it. It says that the Holy Spirit “is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” But other parts of the Bible tell us that not everyone who calls out to the Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21). So how can the Holy Spirit guarantee my salvation?

I brought my confusion to a trusted mentor, whom God used to help answer my question. My mentor explained to me that the Holy Spirit helps us to understand and walk in the ways of the Lord as we work out our salvation, and so guarantees our salvation when we do not harden our hearts and allows Him to work in us.

 

Allow God to convict me

As I read God’s Word, I remind myself to invite God to search my heart (Psalm 139:23-24). When I lay bare my heart, God helps me see how His wondrous truths could be applied to my life. There are times the Holy Spirit shows me how to repent of my erroneous ways.

Sometime last year, I said some things that made my friend upset. During a morning devotion, I came across the verse Matthew 15:18, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.” This caused me to reflect that the words I speak can defile me. I realized that what I said to my friend was not at all glorifying to God, and it reflected how self-centered my heart was, and how insensitive I had been towards her. I needed to apologize to her and align my heart with God.

God’s Word is like a double-edged sword to me, judging my thoughts and the attitudes of my heart (Hebrews 4:12). When I read the Bible humbly, I allow it to convict me of my sins. Through this, God is shaping me into the unique individual that He designed me to be. Though I will not be perfect until the day I see Him face to face, I know that even now, God is in the process of transforming us into His image with an ever-increasing glory when we allow His living Word of truth to sanctify us (2 Corinthians 3:18).

 

Simply knowing the Bible is not enough. Though I had listened to many Sunday sermons, I did not allow them to change my life. Only when I read the Bible with a humble and contrite heart did the Word lead me back to God for salvation. God is always ready to forgive us no matter how far we have gone astray from Him (1 John 1:9). Knowing this, we recognize that the Word of God is like a gift, and effective Bible reading will consistently point us back to God.

Let us be doers and not just hearers of God’s Word (James 1:22). Let us read our Bible so that we can be men and women after God’s own heart, working out our salvation as sojourners. Then we will live as true disciples of Christ.

Malaysia’s 14th General Election—How Can Christians be “Salt and Light”?

Flag image from Freepik.com

 

Written by Sharon Lee, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

Tomorrow marks Malaysia’s 14th General Election. It has undoubtedly been the topic that has occupied the attention of all Malaysians, myself included, over the past few months. Everyone has been looking forward to the possibilities that might emerge from this election.

Even from as early as late last year, I began to see many of my friends, whether those close to me or on social media, urging their fellow Malaysians to participate in the election by voting. I even saw Malaysians organizing fundraising events or donating their own money to help Malaysian students overseas who desire to come back to vote but may be lacking in funds, return home to vote. There are also Malaysians working abroad, who applied for a leave of absence from work so that they could come back and vote, even though this may affect their salary.

Everyone has been eager to do their part—for the country, for the next generation, and for all Malaysians to have a better life. I have been so moved and excited to witness these activities—moved, because I realize how deeply we all love our country; excited, because there is so much that we can actually do! Even though many of those who offered help are not Christians, I see them as examples of what it looks like to be “salt and light”.

Generally, Christians around the world have taken a conservative and low-key stance towards politics and other related issues. However, we, the younger generation of Christians, should not distance ourselves from political involvement, especially if it will help improve the wellbeing of our fellow countrymen. There are many ways through which Christians can demonstrate the love of Christ. There is much more that we can do!

Paul counseled Timothy sincerely, just as he counsels our current generation of young Christians: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Perhaps we are young in age, and perhaps we lack the wealth of experience and knowledge that older Christians have, but we have grown up in this time and age, and we are blessed with initiative, energy, and creativity. Since we have such wonderful gifts, then our actions should not be looked down upon by anyone. To prevent anyone from looking down on us because we are young, we must prove ourselves in the five areas Paul spoke of and only then can we convincingly lead by example, teach, and transform lives. At the same time, this will show others that God can work through anyone. It may even result in the gospel being shared!

Are our words gentle, so that others feel loved when they hear them? In our actions, do we show love to others? Are we on time for worship services? If the floor is dirty, would we think of cleaning it ourselves? Are we actively using our gifts to serve the Lord? Do we notice the needs of others, and offer timely care and help? Do we honor God in all that we do, and live out the faith we have in the Lord? Do we keep ourselves clean before God and man? Although none of this is easy, and it is hard to perfectly do all of them, it should not be an excuse for us to do as little as we can or not do anything at all. We can learn by practicing, and then we’ll become better at loving others.

Take the upcoming General Election for example. Every Christian realizes that national affairs are not solely the concern of politicians or high level leaders. It affects every one of us. And for Christians, we should not avoid participating in politics, because Christ has called us to be the salt and light of this earth (Matthew 5:13-16). Even though we may not necessarily need to take the same actions as non-Christians, can we—like them—turn our passion and love into visible actions? Can we Christians be the ones who boldly stand up for the sake of our country? Can we be that one good example, so that others will see that it is possible, and necessary, to approach elections with a good attitude? God placed us in this country as citizens, and so we should be Christ’s witnesses here on this land, serving our country well.

But we must also be cautious. Though we can participate in the political process, and contribute to our country, we should not be easily swayed by the different voices competing for our attention and lose our focus. We should also avoid getting into arguments or causing any trouble. We simply do our best in whatever way we can, and leave the results to God. And so, regardless of whether we think the political situation might change from the upcoming General Elections, we Christians should not only pray for the country and God’s sovereignty, but we can also actively participate and vote, offering what we can in real action.

I currently work in a Christian organization. A work trip happened to be scheduled during the  election date. In the end, we decided to ask for our overseas colleagues’ understanding, and shifted the date of the meeting. This allowed the Malaysian co-workers to come home and vote with minimal disturbance to our work. At the same time, we have also witnessed the love and understanding of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Although this election has nothing to do with our other colleagues, they lovingly accommodated our request, and were willing to change the date of the meeting for our sake.

God is pleased when our love is shown forth in action. Prayer is extremely important, but it will be even better if you can offer your action alongside your prayer. Often times what we lack is action that is birthed from love. After all, we do not become “salt and light” so that people might think Christians are more holy or perfect, but that they might feel our warmth, and see Christ through us.

Finally, may God bless Malaysia!