Posts

A Dream I Had to Give Up . . . Hong Kong

Written By Cecilia Leung

You know that oft-quoted verse, Jeremiah 29:11? I hate it. If you bring it up to me right now, I’m liable to break down in tears or leave the room, slamming the door behind me.

Here’s the context. I’ve long had an irrational fear of ending up living on the outskirts of a small town in America. It might seem silly, but this is something I’ve really struggled with, and thought I eventually made peace with. For the first few years of marriage, my husband and I, and eventually our son, lived very happily in that dreamy, suburban neighborhood I had feared so much.

But two years ago, we were given the chance to move to the Asian metropolis I had spent some of my formative years in, Hong Kong, and we leaped at the chance.

From the day we landed, it felt like this was where we were meant to be. My husband, my son, and I, all thrived in different ways on this side of the world. Without need for much discussion, we both agreed that this is where we wanted to raise our son. This is where we were going to live for the next 20 years, and maybe for the rest of our lives.

We dreamed about the future. We relished the little daily memories we were making—picking out greens at the wet market while our child admired the frogs for sale; ordering roast pigeon for dinner at the noisy outdoor restaurants; watching the old men play chess in the park, chattering happily in the local language on the playground . . .

Then, because of a series of complex reasons, we made the decision to move back to America.

While we were convinced that a move will be best for our family in the long term, in many ways, it was the last thing we wanted to do. We both cried as we made the decision. America is great and all, but it is just not what we imagined for our lives.

I look around the home we thought we would raise our son in, and realize that it is not to be. Looking at frogs in the market, eating at outdoor restaurants . . . these things will no longer be a part of our daily lives. This will not be my son’s childhood.

And that hurts.

Letting go of dreams really, really hurts.

As I was crying myself to sleep the night after we made our decision to move, it occurred to me that I had been reading Jeremiah on and off throughout the summer, and would be reading chapter 29 the next day.

That threw me into a fresh round of tears.

I knew that in chapter 29, Jeremiah writes a letter to the Israelites in exile in Babylon. He tells them they are to remain in Babylon for 70 years. In the past, every time I heard that “70 years” promise (Jeremiah 29:10), I had always thought to myself, “Hey, that’s not so bad. They know when they’ll get to return to Israel.”

But this time it struck me. 70 years. That’s long enough for a generation to die. The parents who took their children from their ancestral homes in Israel to the foreign soil of Babylon—they would grow old and die, never seeing the familiar trees and bushes and boundary stones of their home again.

Is that how long we would be away from the place we had wanted to call home? Of course, we could (hopefully) come back for visits. But it wouldn’t be the same.

Through Jeremiah, God told the Israelites to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters” (Jeremiah 29:5-6).

Build houses. Settle down. Plant gardens. Marry off your children. This is your new home, Israelites. You’re here to stay. Dig in. Invest. Live life.

It felt like God was talking directly to me.

You know, I’ve always been interested in growing things. I have a peanut plant growing in a pot in my tiny kitchen at the moment. But gardens are a near-impossibility in my beloved metropolis. “Plant gardens,” God says. Move back to America.

If I were less emotionally distraught, I would have admitted earlier that planting a garden would be lovely. I could grow peanuts, carrots, leeks, sunflowers . . .

But I did not want to move back. Don’t You dare tell me to plant gardens!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).

But they are not my plans! In that moment, I did not want God’s stinking plans to “prosper” me. I did not want His hope and His future. I wanted my hope, my future—a future that involved raising my family here!

I cried myself to sleep.

I cried myself to sleep the next night as well, and the night after that.

But God is patient. He let me throw my little tantrums, and I didn’t get struck by lightning or anything.

Letting go of dreams hurts. But it’s something all of us have to deal with at some level or another. So many people throughout history have had to make harder decisions than we are making. At least I don’t know that we will be in America for the next 70 years. Who knows, maybe we’ll get to come back after 10 or 20 years or something. One could hope.

We’re making plans for the move now, obedient to where we think God is calling us to.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

These are most definitely not my plans. I would prefer things to go my own way. But I guess God knows best. He’s probably working things out right now, planning minute details that we won’t even notice until we look back with 20/20 hindsight years from now. He knows better than me what I need, what my husband needs, what my child needs.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

I’m trusting You on this one, God. I don’t like Your plans right now, but I trust You. You’ll work things out, one way or another. I’m sure in the long run, I’ll look back and be thankful for everything that’s happened. But it might take me a while to get to that point. Be patient with me.

You know what’s best, God. I trust You.

 

Worship—More Than Just A Spiritual Encounter

Written By Justin Lim, Singapore

Yet another routine—our alarms go off, and in our drowsy states, we set off on our weekly journey to church with our half-eaten breakfast and coffee in our travel mugs, slipping into the pews of the church as we walk past the friendly ushers and the lights dim.

The worship leader starts off with a call to worship and encourages us to “Praise God as we worship Him today . . .” With Psalm 100 on the big screens, the pads fade in with a single melody accompanied by a low bass note.

Growing up in church as a teenager, I picked up the guitar, then became a musician for the youth, then the main congregation, and was finally asked to be the elusive “worship leader” that I was so excited to be.

At the tender age of 19, I sang my heart out in front of the church, in hopes that the congregation would do likewise. I often questioned why we did not sing loudly or with vigor like charismatic churches, and always tried to find ways to improve the setup in church so that our worship could be as loud as the bass thumping from the church across the street. Listening to concerts from Jesus Culture, Bethel or Hillsong, only caused me heartache—why couldn’t we worship like that in a Presbyterian church?

 

“All of Life” Worship

Then came a change of scenery—I went overseas to Australia for further studies. I quickly settled down in a good church, and when the opportunity arose, decided to join the worship ministry.

However, I soon realized that it wasn’t the worship team I was joining. It was called the magnification team, or mag team for short. I was confused, and I soon noticed that the word “worship” was rarely used during the singing portion of a service.

I spent my second year playing for a different campus of the same church, often asking when I would be asked to lead the band. However, in hindsight, it was clear that my heart wasn’t ready—I had to rid myself of things that I struggled with: pride, envy, malice.

Towards the tail end of my second year, my music director and I read through Titus together. We prayed and gained each other’s trust as Paul did with Titus.

One day, I finally decided to ask the question, “Why don’t we call our mag teams worship teams?” My director replied, “It was because we are moving away from the misconception that worship is solely about music, towards an ‘all of life’ worship as we see in Romans 12.”

Paul reminded the Romans to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). God demands our undivided attention in all of life. This means that our hearts should yearn to do His work and love Jesus as He loves us in every area of our lives.

And then it dawned upon me that worship was more than just singing. It was more than just good music. It is about my entire life. I think David clearly hits it on the nail when he said that God does not delight in sacrifice or burnt offerings, but wants a broken and contrite heart, and for us to do His will (Psalms 40:6-8). Fast forward to this side of the Cross, worshipping God is about listening to what God truly says in the Bible, holding fast to it, and following it dearly as an act of worship.

Singing is often echoing Scripture creatively and poetically. It is declaring how we should respond to God for the rest of our lives. Congregational singing is meant to be an avenue for teaching and a means to encourage one another (Ephesians 5:19). Singing is not simply a “spiritual encounter”. No amount of clap offerings or shouts of praise would suffice if our hearts aren’t broken and our lives entirely devoted to God, as David reminds us in Psalm 51. That step of reconciliation is the mandatory step towards worshipping Him in spirit and truth.

 

Outward Expression of an Inward Posture

Two years down the road, I am now leading a band while also directing music in my own congregation. I hope to help fellow brothers and sisters in Christ see that congregational singing, while significant, is just one facet of worship. I hope that we can remind one another, through song, who Jesus is, and together praise Him melodically (how good would that be?).

Music leaders, while we know that worship is much more than just 30 minutes on a Sunday, can sometimes fail to emphasize it. How can we communicate that to brothers and sisters in Christ whom we help lead in congregational singing? Can we be intentional about our words, and the way we carry out our Sunday gatherings? Can we help our churches look for more than a “spiritual encounter”, but to see that singing is an outward expression of an inward change and posture that is worshipping Jesus 24/7?

Simple Ways to Love God With Your Mind

Written By Sarah Tso, Singapore

It was a beautiful autumn Saturday when I unpacked my last box. I had just moved to UK from Singapore, and was thrilled to start my postgraduate studies and to continue campus ministry as I had done as an undergraduate.

However, as I settled into my new home and met my housemates, I quickly realized that as a committed evangelical Christian, I was in the minority. While I believed God was my source for everything, most of my housemates did not see the need for God as they deemed themselves “self-made successes”.

This made me question—why did I believe what I believed? Was I going to church because it was the “right” thing to do, for a cathartic worship experience, and for encouragement to get me through the week? I realized that beyond loving God with my heart (my passion), soul (my life) and strength (my service), I also had to love God with my mind—to know my faith and why I believed.

This got me started on a quest to love God with my mind. Along the way, I came up with four ways which have proved helpful:

 

M—Make Time to Know God

I arrived in the UK feeling confident as a witness for Christ. But as I tried to stand up to any Jesus-related questions thrown my way, I humbly realized I had accepted God and the Bible based on others’ faiths. Seeing the importance of knowing God for myself, I created a scared space in my life to read His Word and ask honest questions about it.

Through such times with the Lord, I began to know His redemptive father heart for all and to trust that—more than I ever could—He loved my housemates and wanted them to receive Him. I was reminded that only He could bring about the growth of the seed of the gospel sown into their lives (1 Corinthians 3:6), which came in His perfect timing and ways higher than my own (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Having this sacred space greatly benefited me as I began to know God for myself–to know Him whom I have believed (2 Timothy 1:12) so that when questioned about Him, I would be prepared to answer.

This sacred space can look different for each of us. For me, as an audiovisual learner, I prefer to listen to the audio Bible on my daily morning commute, and pray between appointments. What is your sacred space with God? Consider marking it in your calendar so you won’t miss out moments to meet with God regularly.

 

I—Investigate Truth Claims

As I interacted more with my non-Christian friends, I realized how ill-prepared I was to answer some important questions. Why would someone believe in God when life looks good? Why was living a homosexual lifestyle sinful, and is it possible to surrender such desires?

Loving God with my mind meant I could not dismiss these questions. Such topics needed clarity, but before I dove into them, I needed to understand truth in order to detect what was false. Through a journey of reading, attending talks, and conversing on such topics, I learned a term called “post-truth,” where one accepts or rejects truth according to one’s own preference.

I learned that making truth subjective—as so many are tempted to do when faced with tough questions—emptied truth of its very definition.

During my quest to learn truth, I began to understand Paul’s prayer in Philippians: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best” (Philippians 1:9-10, emphasis added).

Knowledge. Insight. Discernment. Knowing Biblical truth became even more important when opportunities arose to share it—notably when America legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, and during a terrorist attack in 2016 that shook the UK.

Love compels us to share the truth, so let’s be encouraged to learn the truth.

 

N—Never Walk Alone

I am thankful for my prayer partner in the UK—a Canadian-Cantonese girl with a beautiful smile and love for the Lord. Our conversations brought clarity for me on tough issues. And though we did not have all the answers, we encouraged each other to learn God’s perspective on issues, and to communicate such truths coherently and lovingly.

For these reasons, I would encourage every Christian to approach and walk with someone like-minded in a desire to grow in Christ. As “two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10), such accountability and journeying together in the faith can encourage us toward loving God with our minds.

It was an arduous and lonely journey praying for my non-Christian friends and learning how to address their questions. However, this journey became so much more bearable when I shared my burdens with my Christian friends and they prayed for us.

 

D—Dig into Credible Resources

Evangelist John Sung was known to read only the Bible and newspaper every day. He knew the dual importance of knowing Scripture and its relevance in his cultural and spiritual climate.

Similarly, I encourage us to be well-informed, critical-thinking Christians who know our Bibles and how it relates to current issues. We can do so by wisely selecting resources that: (a) clarify Scripture with Scripture, (b) are in-line with Scripture and (c) reliably inform us of our times today—with truth, objectivity, and credibility (see the list below for some examples). Personally, I found it helpful to install reliable news apps on my phone and ensure I only read books and articles from credible authors, including those from varying perspectives.

This has humbled me to adopt a more teachable attitude. Once, a friend asked why Christians were advised to marry only other Christians. Instead of attempting to “win” the argument, I chose to ask for her thoughts on it. As it turns out, she had a personal story and feelings of resentment which led to her believing the Bible was “narrow-minded” on the issue. And after acknowledging her feelings of hurt and confusion, I was able to eventually win the right to share with her the Bible’s perspective on the issue, which brought her clarity.

Keeping abreast of what is credible and current for a number of issues has helped me to be better informed and equipped to participate meaningfully in faith and cultural dialogues—to listen to the questioner behind the question, and to seek common ground instead of “winning” an argument. From there, I can build bridges and eventually win the right to speak into another’s life.

 

I am thankful to God for bringing me on this journey of growth and helping me to come to know my faith, the person I put my faith in, and how my faith fits in with the times. Though we live in uncertain times, we can take heart that the truths in Scripture are unchanging. Because of that, we can put our hope in these truths, for: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8).

Loving God with our minds is a lifelong journey involving focus, discipline, ownership, and accountability. Above all, it is a meaningful journey with the eternal benefits of knowing God more and more—a joyous journey indeed!

 

Recommended Resources for Loving the Lord with all our Minds:

  • The Bible—our foremost resource with no substitute for it!
  • For understanding the entire Bible:
    • Unlocking the Bible, by David Pawson.
    • God’s Big Picture, by Vaughan Roberts.
    • “The Bible Project,” Bible themes and Bible book overview infographic videos, co-founded by Tim Mackie.
    • Quest Study Bible: The Question and Answer Bible, a Bible published by Zondervan and Christianity Today featuring questions and answers as you read through the Bible.
  • On the reliability of the Bible:
    • More Than a Carpenter, by Josh McDowell.
    • Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell.
    • The Case for Christ book series, by Lee Strobel.
  • For knowing the times and culture of today:
    • On truth and morality: The Reason for God, a book by Timothy Keller. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, a book by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek.
    • On suffering: Why Suffering?, a book by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale. What Good is God?, by Philip Yancey.
    • On post-truth: Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World, by Abdu Murray. True for You but Not for Me, by Paul Copan.
    • On sexuality: Can You Be Gay and Christian?: Responding With Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality, by Michael L. Brown.
    • On the sanctity of life: The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture, by Scott Klusendorf.
    • On science and religion: Can Science Explain Everything?, by John Lennox.
    • On the prosperity gospel: “Six Keys to Detecting the Prosperity Gospel,” podcast by John Piper (Desiring God Ministries).
    • On hyper-grace: Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message, by Michael L. Brown
  • On doubts within the Christian faith:
    • Why People Stop Believing, by Paul Chamberlain
    • Disappointment with God, by Philip Yancey

 

How Can We Date with No Regrets?

Written By John Stange, USA

John Stange lives in Langhorne, PA where he serves as the lead pastor of Core Creek Community Church. He also directs the National Mission Board (an organization focused on church planting and church health), and teaches at Cairn University. John and his wife Andrea have four children. He can be reached through his website at DesireJesus.com.

My son is a lot like me. We have similar personalities, preferences, and tastes in music—we even have the same name. One other trait we both share is staying up later than we should most nights of the week. But since we both tend to do that, we’ve turned it into a time to talk or hang out for a little bit before calling it a night.

Last night, our conversation centered around dating. I think he got a kick out of hearing me tell him how I tried to win over his mother. I reminded him, “You should be glad I won her over. If I didn’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”

One aspect of dating that we discussed was “dating with a clear conscience.” I imagine that is a struggle for un-married believers of all ages. There is so much ambiguity in a relationship caught between simply “getting to know each other” and potentially planning a forever-future where you’re joined together as one.

Even though Christ has enabled us to begin seeing life with His eyes, we still struggle with the pervasive presence of temptation. We’re frequently tempted to take our lives in a direction that violates our conscience and produces regret.

So how can we date with a clear conscience? How can we keep our minds on Christ when we’re smitten with, or attracted to, a potential future spouse?

 

 1. Understand who you are in Christ

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)

When we’re dating, it’s particularly important to remember the new identity Christ has given us. Before knowing Him, our identity was tied to who we were in the flesh.  Now, through Christ, we have been made a new creation, with a new nature, and a new future that He has secured on our behalf.

Many couples mistakenly try to find their sense of identity in their relationship with each other, instead of their relationship with Jesus. And if that happens, any relationship we have will quickly become an unhealthy idol instead of a blessing. Overall, remembering who we are in Christ will help us see our relationships from the right perspective, and help keep our focus on honoring God in all of our ways.

 

2. Be selective about the diet you feed your mind

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)

We don’t just feed our bodies each day, but we also feed our minds. What does your mental diet primarily consist of? Are you reading Scripture and good books, or spending hours on Instagram? Are you regularly seeking to be entertained or aroused by sensual imagery on TV, in movies, or online?

Whatever we feed our minds, we will see emerge in our life, and especially in romantic relationships. With a poor diet, we might struggle more with lust, temptation, and acting or thinking in ways that are not upright. But in the same way, if we’re careful to feed our mind with God’s Word, we can be quicker to redirect our thoughts and desires to what is good (Philippians 4:8). This habit remains vital, even when the relationship progresses beyond dating. I’ve found that always pivoting my mind’s wanderings back to things of God is good for me, the health of my marriage, and the well-being of my wife!

 

 3. Talk about boundaries with the person you’re dating

The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty. (Proverbs 22:3)

A few months into dating my wife, she was convinced I was about to break up with her. I was shocked because that was the furthest thing from my mind. She admitted to me that she noticed I didn’t kiss her, hold her hand, or put my arm around her as much as I did when we first started dating, and she wanted to know why.

I guess I should have explained myself to her ahead of time, but early in our relationship, I realized we were very likely going to get married, and I was concerned that if I allowed myself to become too affectionate physically, I might fall into temptation and sin against her.

As you can imagine, she was grateful to finally learn what prompted my behavior. She still tells me that she respects the way I carried myself during our dating years, and as our relationship progressed, we were both grateful for laying out expectations early on. It kept us alert to potential temptations, and enabled us to work together to avoid them.

 

For Christians who truly desire to bring God glory through their lives, actions and relationships, dating can be a difficult space to navigate. But it’s not impossible, and dating with a clear conscience is worth striving for. And we are blessed with God’s Word and His Spirit, which equip us to live in a way that’s pleasing to Him (Hebrews 13:20-21). So in all things—especially in dating—let us strive to love God by living with a clear conscience!