Distracted and Deceived

Distracted and Deceived

In a sermon, Stef Liston spoke about the two main ways the enemy wages war. First, to turn our attention from God through DISTRACTIONS, and second, to make us doubt/quench our full potential through DECEPTION.

It struck me because so often those are the two things I struggle with the most in my faith. Since coming back to Singapore I have been bombarded with distractions. My mind can’t fully be still, even when I’m reading my bible in the morning my thoughts are racing about what’s next, life, lunch. Sometimes with the most facepalm worthy things.

Another battle is fighting the lies about my identity, and these lies become like weeds that wrap round the tree that is blossoming, and choke the life out of it slowly. (Luke 8:14)

In my journeys to and from work, I have observed that many (not all but a seeming majority) Singaporeans are glued to their screens. Some people are reading the news or a book, which is fine, but most are watching movies, playing games or scrolling on social media. Sometimes, by virtue of ‘everyone’s doing it’, I find myself gravitating to my phone as well, checking empty updates of people I don’t really know or care about. That, and reading articles that frankly, have little value on my life.

Why is this an issue?

D I S T R A C T I O N

The Lord speaks to us in the stillness of our hearts and minds, but when we fill our time with visual stimulation and mindless social media, I don’t know how we will actually be able to hear Him.

I call it the abyss of screen time: my mind and awareness darkens, and I delve deep into the lives of other people, of vicious comparison. Either that or I’m numbed to all other sensations because of the escapism of watching videos or scrolling social media.

How distracting it is, and unsatisfying for my soul. To quote a famous man, “But we can give Frodo his chance if we keep Sauron’s Eye fixed upon us. Keep him blind to all else that moves” (Aragorn, LOTR). Distractions keep us blind to other humans, oblivious to the voice of God.

What would it look like if, instead of waiting for that two hour session during a random church camp to go our treasure hunting to pray for people, all of us would open our eyes to see needs on the streets as we are travelling, to observe people and pray for our nation? How much more will God be able to move in our nation? Our cry that God will establish His kingdom here in our nation will turn into action!

What hope do we have against the enemy if we spend that 10 minutes in the morning on the Word of God, and the rest of the time at work or watching videos?

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:16 – 17

‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’ – I’m convicted to allow my bible readings to dwell in me richly each day, by thinking about them, processing them, breaking them down into smaller phrases and really delving deep into them. Best time to do this? Every morning on the train/bus. Eating lunch alone.

When we are distracted, we leave ourselves open to

D E C E P T I O N

Lies start to creep in about my body image when I scroll the Insta-perfect models. Lies about the futility of my life start taking root little by little when I see all the powerful lives others seem to live. Bitterness and disappointment fight to the surface when I begin to compare myself to friends who are seeing breakthrough in their lives.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 
Ephesians 6: 10 – 13

Putting on the armour of God requires awareness, and focus. Often times the devil’s schemes are subtle, he creeps in like a thief to steal, kill and destroy. To steal our joy, kill our hopes and destroy our faith in Christ. They may start like little foxes, but if we do not remember that we are in a fight, we leave ourselves vulnerable to attacks and they may slowly tear down the good work that God has done in us.

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
Grace be with you.
1 Timothy 6: 20-21

Paul exhorts Timothy to GUARD the truths, the gifts, the downloads, the faith given to him through the Spirit. Because the enemy will come, and will try to take them away.

“It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters

This is an exhortation to us as believers to be aware of what we let in to our lives, what we fill our time and minds with. It is something that comes up of personal conviction, and a desire to walk more closer with God. To live out the freedom that He has already won for us. Sometimes that takes a bit of uprooting, rock removing, rug pulling in order to free us from the chains that so easily entangles.

What are some of the little distractions that have crept into our daily lives, and keep us from the all-consuming, transformative power of God?

Have you noticed what happens when you engage with these distractions? What are you aware/not aware of?

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful” (1 Corinthians 6:12) What are some things that dominate your time and mind and emotions that are not helpful in encouraging your journey?

The cross was God’s plan???

The cross was God’s plan???

Thank God It’s Friday!

An especially good Friday it is today! The Saviour of the world was led to the cross, beaten & mocked, humiliated. And on the cross, he died for us, bearing all the sin of the world, past, present and future. Because of this, we receive grace and hope!

Reading through the account of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Book of Luke, my attention was drawn particularly to the conversation held between the three men hanging on the cross.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
Luke 23:39

The first criminal turned to Jesus and criticised him. ‘Are you not the Christ?’ He questioned Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. It was not a recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, but rather a mocking “you can’t be the Son of God because look, you are hanging here with me, awaiting death.”

How can the picture of a man dying on the cross ever be God’s salvation plan for humanity?

To this criminal, and to be honest, for many of us, God’s plan only looks like God’s plan if it is what we can envision it to be.

In his commentary on Judges, Tim Keller writes: “These chapters are a picture of how societies not centered on God must function: worshiping something other than the true God; deciding what seems right, logical and reasonable in their own eyes; wondering why things never seem to go much better; and then deciding that God, if he exists, cannot much care for people.”

“Save yourself and us!” the criminal railed. If you are the Son of God, then SHOW IT. Show your might and your power that you can deliver yourself from the cross and bring us along with you as well.

What is stark about this to me, is that this criminal, despite being guilty and on the threshold of death, sees not his own guilt, but mocks Jesus with such pride.

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 4And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23: 40 – 43

But the other criminal’s response was of reverence and humility. He recognised Jesus as ‘God’. Even if his life was marked by crime and sin, this man recognised Jesus as God. He also recognised that both criminals were ‘receiving the due reward of our deeds’ but Christ was innocent. He probably did not understand why Jesus had to die on the cross, but he acknowledged him and is rewarded with the eternal presence of God.

What a picture of redemption. When we come to Christ with our sin, we die alongside him, but are raised to life in him and spend our lives with him. Grace is more than our sins being taken away, Grace gives us the undeserved reward of his presence with us through the Holy Spirit. And that daily, though we live in this broken world, we can be with him.

We don’t always recognise God’s plan as His. Sometimes it is difficult to accept that the season of brokenness and pain in our lives is God’s plan. I pray that our response in these seasons would be that of the second man, and not the first.

  1. Acknowledge God as God.
  2. Humble ourselves to know that we were deserving of death, but by grace have received the reward of Emmanuel, God with us.

Stef Liston on his sermon on the temptation of Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane spoke about the weight of Jesus going to the cross. This is the man who never knew what it was to disobey the Father. He had never been outside of the complete love of the Father. He had never received the wrath of God from the beginning of time.

Yet, this was the man who took on all of the sin of the world. Who drank from the cup of God’s wrath, who bore all the brokenness of the world. Who on the night before the events at the cross struggled so hard with the weight of this that he sweated blood.

Why?

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21

‘for our sake’

The picture of Christ on the cross is not a glorious one, it is the picture of a perfect, obedient, humble Son of God in such vulnerability. It is the picture of all our sin laid on him. The costly weight of sin.

But it is the picture of redemption. Of complete trust in the Father’s plan. He never once doubted that the Father’s plan would be fulfilled. That He would rise again in glory, defeating death and sin.

It shouts the loudest song of God’s upside down kingdom. He uses the weak, the small. He “chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

The beauty is that Jesus had us on his mind when he was hanging on that cross. He doesn’t only just remember us, humanity and the world are central to his death on the cross.

It’s hard to see God’s plan for our lives when things are so broken and painful. When you feel so small and weak and defeated. But trust Him. He knows. As we die to ourselves as Christ died on the cross, we find that we are raised to new life, new freedom, new hope in Him.

Wow Lord, you are incredible. Thank you so much for your love for us. Thank you that you are always in the business of using the weak to shame the proud. You never despise brokenness. There is a profound beauty of your people praising you through their pain. When we cry out to you, Lord, you already heard us. You have already redeemed us. While we await the final redemption where we will be with you for eternity, help us fix our eyes on you. On the gruesome but so beautiful picture of the cross. Thank you that you have already made a way for us to be with you in this life through the Holy Spirit. As we celebrate your death and resurrection, bring us to new levels of trust in your plan for us on an individual level, and for your kingdom.
We love you Jesus!

Promises promises promises

Promises promises promises

“Language opens up the non-present to our present”

My lecture on the philosophy of language ended with this statement. How beautiful that humans get to share language, and through language, or the word, we have the ability to reflect on the past, speak about the present, and hope for the future.

Promises are, in this sense, a language of the non-present. The language of the future. I love that God makes promises to His people, and that His promises are unchanging. He never fails, and never backs out of any promise He makes.

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations
Deuteronomy 7:9

The difficulty of promises, however, is in holding on to them in surrender. Sometimes, when God had deposited a dream in us or a certain calling, and nothing really happens, it can feel like God had forgotten about it. Or that maybe we grow skeptical about whether we had actually heard it right. We are called to live by faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” but as humans, not seeing could sometimes lead to disbelief, especially when we are battered by the storms of life.

God made a promise to Abram when he was 75 years old.

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15: 1-6

There’s a sense of frustration in Abram, ‘I continue childless’. ‘continue’ – Lord, you promise to make me a nation, but how would that be possible when I continually, again and again, have no child? Abram believed it here, but as years went by, it got harder to sit by and do nothing. So, Abram and Sarai decide to make a son, through Hagar when Abram was 86 years old. (11 years later from when the promise had been given).

And then again, in chapter 17, when Abram was 99, God reminded him of His covenant to make him the father of multitudes. He renames him Abraham, ‘for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful’ (Genesis 17:5-6). How difficult it must have been for Abraham to believe God. His very name reminds him daily of the unfulfilled promise, his fruitlessness.

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will givee you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”
Genesis 17:15-17 

Sarah and Abraham both respond cynically to this promise, simply because biologically and logically, it was impossible that the promise could be fulfilled. But as we find out later, Isaac is born to the couple finally, when Abraham was 100 years old, a good 25 years after the covenant was first spoken to him.

Two things I want to draw our attention to.

God is sovereign and most importantly, GOOD.

No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.
Genesis 17:5-6

Interestingly though, God’s word to Abraham spoke as if the promise had already been fulfilled. “for I have made you” suggests that it is already done. He gives the assurance of His promise to Abraham in the act of renaming him. He sees the fulfilment of the promise before Abraham is able to comprehend it.

An analogy could help us understand this. Your tap had exploded while you were at work, and your neighbour called to tell you that there was water leaking out of the flat. You were stuck in an important meeting, and there was no way to leave the place so you call your father to help you sort it out. Two hours later, while you were panicking and worrying about everything being ruined in your house, you get a text from your dad saying it’s sorted, everything has been cleaned up.

That relief.

Why relief? Your dad is someone who loves you and is trustworthy. When he says he has sorted something out, it means it has been done, even though you can’t technically see the situation being sorted.

When God says “for I have made you”, it is an assurance. He’s telling Abraham, don’t panic, don’t doubt. I have already sorted it. And why will we feel assured/relieved? Because our God is a good God, and a loving Father. He works things out for our good. He is unchanging and forever. He doesn’t go back on His word. We can trust Him when He makes promises.

Learn to trust His promises for you, ESPECIALLY when it seems so impossible.

It is precisely in the impossibility that God likes to operate. Look at Abraham and Sarah, look at the mess of Jacob and his wives. Most importantly, look at the life of Jesus, from conception to death on the cross. God is always doing the unexpected, the impossible. If He operated merely in what is natural (of course He does), then how do we understand and experience the supernatural nature of God? How do we trust and follow a God if He merely did what was rationally possible? How can His name be glorified if He only chose the logical, the strong, the competent?

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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

Wow. How much more will we understand how utterly dependent we are on God, and how infinitely good He is when He does the impossible in our lives? When the dreams and promises he deposits in our lives surpasses our expectations, or seem so implausible, that’s when we have to press in and believe Him for it. It is an opportunity to learn to pray in surrender and to learn about His greatness.

What an incredibly rich life it would be if we lived in constant expectation of God’s promises being fulfilled. When we ask bigger when we look to Him for the promises that seem impossible. How exciting life would be!

Reflection
Are there dreams and promises that God has given you that you have brushed aside simply because it seems so impossible? Bring it before Him today again, and pray into it. Pray for wisdom to discern if they are indeed dreams from Him.

Are there dreams that you have stopped praying about because nothing seems to be happening? Hold on to His goodness, and ask again for His assurance. Often times we are so blinded by our own expectations that we don’t see how God is already working in us to fulfil those promises. Pray that He opens our eyes to see how He is working, and for faith to believe in what we do not yet see.

Lord, we thank you so much that you are good God. You are the God of the past, present and the future. And you see all of it from your sovereign perspective. You see the fulfilment of your promises to us as you are giving those promises to us. You are working in us and through us toward that fulfilment. We are sorry for doubting you, and not seeing your goodness in our lives. We bring these promises and dreams before you again, and pray you breathe new life into them. Give us a hope for the future. If we have any human expectation that blind us to see how you are fulfilling your promises, tear those down and show us clarity. Fill us with godly hope and expectation as we surrender to you. Amen.