Thursday, February 02, 2017

Why Am I Embarrassed to Be A Christian

Why Am I Embarrassed to Say That I Am A Christian

For YMI Jan 2017.
(This is the unedited draft before the editing process)

Colleague: “I heard things about XYZ Company. It shouldn’t be so Christian, they should hire secularly, like the rest of the sector.”
Me: “Yea, I heard those things myself, and I was a former employee there. I do understand why they do certain things though.”
Colleague: “Correct right? They shouldn’t be so Christian. Then how did they hire you? You’re not Christian right?”
Me: “Actually I am.”
Colleague: “Oh.”
Me: “Yea.”
*End of Conversation. Goes back to our work awkwardly.*

Just last week this was my actual conversation with a colleague. “How apt.” I thought, since I was gonna write this article on being embarrassed to say that I am a Christian.
Being from a family of church-goers, and attending a mission school for 10 years of my life, I am the stereotypical church kid. As a child I not only attended one church, but I actually attended two each Sundays. Then in my teens, I spent every other day travelling for an hour and a half to spend time with my youth peers and youth church staff. My Saturdays in church youth ministry began early at 7am and usually ended past 11pm. At 17, my energy seemed boundless and having relatively more freedom than a child, I literally spent most of my Saturdays talking to people, attending classes, being a crew for children Boys & Girls Brigade Company, being visual crew, crafting out discussion plans and more. Besides, I was heavily involved in para-church activities on campus, and even worked in a parachurch organization.

Yet when I was with my classmates or when I began to be in the workforce, I would be really embarrassed to say that I am a Christian. Usually my English name, a name of a famous Pharisee, being a rather rare name, would become an icebreaker and people would ask the origins of my name where I’ll sheepishly tell them it’s from the bible.

That’s where one of those awkward “oh.” moments would arise, usually preceding an abrupt conversation end, or an equally abrupt change of topic.

I always admire my friends who met Christ, heard His word, received with joy and converted, where their lives are shining, exemplary examples of how Christ redeems their lives and they are usually the ones who daringly proclaim that they are Christian, in spite of their circumstance or persecution. A friend started a company and christened his company “Salt & Light”. I was amazed! It was something I would not do for fear of further tarnishing the name of Christ and Christians in my city. “What if the company mess up, and people will see and scoff again about Christians and their companies?”.
His response: “Nothing to hide”.
And that episode taught me the true meaning of being Salt and Light.
It was an identity issue. When Jesus preached this on His famous sermon on the mount,

Matthew5:13-16 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that[b] they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

In Him, he gave our identity as “salt” and “light”. That the essence of salt and light is not that we attain those, but that he has made us to ‘become’ salt and light.
Why then was I always embarrassed to be a Christian? In my language, “why am I always so pai-sae to say that I’m Christian?”

There are probable reasons why we remain incognito Christians.

First, we probably know we are not living up to how a Christian should be.
We know that we are not being truly Salt and truly Light in our families or schools or workplaces.  We know that we are called by Him to be His Lights, shining like stars in the dark sky. But when we look at our own behavior, our own conduct, reality is not congruent with what should be. Our families and colleagues are the ones who see us most often in a day. And they see many aspects of your life. Knowing that the light is not shining bright from you, makes us ashamed to declare that we are Christian to our watching, non-christian colleagues and family.

Second, we probably want to give ourselves permission to compromise and set a lower standard to fit in. Other times, in those flashes of fleshy weakness, we do not want to disclose that we are Christian for fear that we must constantly be on top form, and have to behave in a goody-two-shoes manner all the time. There are times our fleshy side wins the Spirit within us and we do the things we do not want to do. So we do not tell the world that we are Christian just so that we can give ourselves that allowance to not be on top form.

Third, we probably dare not risk being distinctive.
We know what Jesus says about being Salt and Light. But in daring to be so, a lot of our actions come into scrutiny into His light. Not just about being a good worker or family member or friend, but life-giving, distinct and perpetually sacrificing. That was Jesus’ model.

We then realise that being Salt and Light affects not only what you avoid doing, but also what you do proactively.

What you do or do not do has to stem from that identity Christ given us.
I do realise that when you choose to be unashamed and declare upfront that you are indeed a Christian, it makes it easier to live from that identity – Salt and Light. But of course, in John 15-16, Jesus does warn us, that it will come with a cost. Being a Christian literally means to be Christ’s ones.
This identity of Salt and Light, requires courage. Immense amount of courage. Will you join me in being less embarrassed to be Christ’s ones?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How God Taught me to Give part 2

In my previous article I shared how people taught me to give. I experimented and tried to give as much as I could in that year. On my own, there are times when giving stems from a selfish heart. Other times, I preferred to be self-indulgent and spend on myself.
Some lessons I learnt from the experiment were that to make generosity a lifestyle, it had to be permeate your choices, daily and consciously.
2 Cor9:6-9
 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written,
“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”

Oftentimes, this passaged has been used in several ways and many times it has caused discomfort in many hearers. Yet this passage is fundamental to our understanding of being in a generous lifestyle.
Being of good cheer
To be generous over the course of your life, there must be some way of doing it in a sustainable practical way. Avoid giving out of compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver. (2cor9:7). How then do we build cheer? Ps 37:3-7 gives us some clue. Trusting in Him, Delighting in Him and Committing our way to him. Spend time in the Lord and enjoy his presence (ie: Delighting). Let him fill your cheer and contemplate on His cross and his generous love that he was willing to die and save us.

Intentionality, Discipline, Consistency,
In the earlier part of 2 Cor 9, in verses 1-5, he told the more affluent Corinthian Christians to be prepared with a love-gift to honour and serve the poverty stricken Macedonian Christians. They were legendary in their selfless giving despite being in poverty. Our generousity-inclined lifestyle has to be an intentional choice. It must become a discipline to give often, consistently. For that, like every other aspect of our lives, we have to plan for it.

Stewarding and budgeting for this lifestyle:
In my city, there is an annual shopping marketing blitz called the Great Singapore Sale or affectionately known as GSS.
To really incorporate generousity into our lifestyle, we have to budget for it. Using GSS as a simple acronym, here is some ways to be generous often, and consistently.

G- Give
Decide on an amount or percentage of your monthly income & time that you hope to use to give. This is over and above your tithe. The new testament principle does not give a percentage but simply “be generous”. Find people around who will be blessed and ultimately be intentional that each gift is a worship and to let people know about Jesus.
As stewards of God’s money, save to the glory of God. Saving is pragmatic, and will allow us to have a simple life, but also, save with the intention that if God calls you to begin your calling, you are able to begin immediately with the financial resources He allows you to steward.
Spend prudently as a wise steward, knowing that our resources are His and each endeavor with our finances is a testament to who Christ is in our lives.

So let our stewardship and lifestyle veer towards generousity but each step, delighting in God, delighting and being of good cheer, enjoying the process of giving as our daily worship to those in need, and people we meet.

How God Taught me To Give part 1

It’s Christmas Time! A time of gift exchanges,  reflection and catching up with old friends!

The past decade, as I entered adulthood in my late teens, I kept meeting inspiring people. People who were called full-time, missionaries, community workers, social workers, random people I met and spoke to, family members, colleagues, classmates, bosses, all kinds of people. They gave their life to various works, to various causes.

But the one thing that threaded my inspiration of them were their tireless generousity. Not all were Christian. In fact, some of my most generous friends are non-believers.

I wondered, what is it about their generousity that elicits inspiration? Why is selflessness so fantastically alluring? What differentiates Christian generousity from non-Christian generousity? Should it, or must it differ? I wanted to emulate that giving spirt and wanted to learn how to give.

The primary way God taught me to give was by example from family, people, from churches, from people I met, books I read the past decade since I was 18. The hodgepodge of generous stories taught me about the beauty of generousity and in turn taught, influenced, modelled and even mentored me no matter how long or how brief the interaction was… Here’s my tribute to the many teachers of generousity in my life:

My mum’s family were 3rd generation Hainanese naturalized immigrants and her siblings are the Baby Boomer Generation, who grew up in 50s-60s Post-war Singapore. Since a child I was always amused, sometimes intrigued by how my mum and her numerous siblings exchange gifts almost on a weekly basis. Although my mum is the only believer in the family, I caught a glimpse of what Romans 12:10 looks like: “10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour.” This pattern was started by my late Grandma and interestingly, my sisters has also adapted my mum’s extravagant generousity despite their own struggles and various ailments. My cousins always remember my mum as the only aunt who gives and accepts them despite their life-choices.

Her giving was not confined to gifts but she used gifts as a tool to love.

If indeed our Christian family is indeed our true spiritual family, should we not live this lifestyle of “loving affectionately, and outdoing one another in showing honour” to those who are siblings in the faith? It must be our lifestyle.

Friends / People
I remember friends who painstakingly crafted, created random gifts for friends with such thoughtfulness and personalization, and I wonder why’d they do it? Many shares that it was a culture they’ve known all their lives. Their family elders modelled thoughtfulness and generousity to them as children and now they are doing so consistently.

I remember S, a very strong lady, who managed to get diverse gifts for each person at one evangelistic Christmas gathering, I asked her how she managed to get such a diverse and even personalized gift for the close to 100 participants that night. I was amazed as the gifts were not cheap! She told me each personalized gift was a prayer, but the gift buying did not happen just during the Christmas season, but she took time to buy various items throughout the year.

A consistent lifestyle it was, to be generous.

I remember my ex-colleagues of social workers, who were generous even when it hurts.
The team gave, loved, treated each other, cooked for each on such a regular basis it was a beautiful culture. The supervisors and senior management even remembered our birthdays individually and gave us good gifts on our birthdays. I cannot comprehend giving such love to 100 staff on such a regular basis. This, was on top of our daily work then, that involved being generous to our clients day by day. They went the extra mile for clients, getting them supplies from their own pocket, and sometimes after all these extra miles to only receive complaints when some clients get unhinged in stressful times. Yet they still go on.

I remember Mdm D, a Cambodian non-believer, who together with her husband, worked hard to grow their business, with the sole aim of helping her fellow countrymen. She provides numerous jobs, and even homes for her farm workers to raise their family. Being our host in Cambodia, she regularly stopped the bus to feed and clothe random beggars on the street. It was a lifestyle of generousity.

These people I met showed me the beauty of generousity and more importantly, how very possible it was to integrate generousity into our lives.

Churches and Christian Organisations
Peers, people and friends inspires us with individual generousity and thoughtful effort. But when a church or Christian organization do it corporately as a representative of Christ, the beauty is full.

I remember a church in Bangkok, Thailand, who hosted us Singaporeans as we jointly ran a camp for youths and young adults.

The Thai and Singaporean teams were almost the same age, young urban working adults in our mid twenties. Yet here were a team of our peers who modelled for us hospitality. Many took many days of leave and rented vans to drive us around. The lay pastor, a lady, let us stay in her home and gave us sufficient space to rest. Food being important to us South-East Asians, when they fed us, they fed us abundantly.  It was a high cost they were willing to bear. They set the standard for urban hospitality, and we pass on this legacy that when we have any opportunity to host foreign guests and teams. As best as we can.

I remember two Singapore churches who invited the wider body of Christians in the city for training conferences, one a 1000-member church, another a 100-member church. Both church families overwhelmed us with their corporate generousity and kept piling on us hospitality, gifts to the extreme. What they were doing were not just for the conference or training, but they were simply demonstrating what they do on a weekly basis. It was again, lifestyle generousity on a corporate scale. The larger church focused on their immediate community while the smaller church had only one ministry: street kids. What was amazing, was that the hospitality shown was not a messy, spontaneous show, but a intentional lifestyle originating from their leadership and administration.
If the Lord puts you in a position of leadership in an organization or church, will you be willing to model Christ’s generousity corporately?

I am blessed to know two great men who have taken the past decade of their lives to listen to countless hours of our cries for help, counselled us late into the night, and was intentional about teaching us the bible several times a week no matter how fatigued they are. They showed us generousity of love in longsuffering-ness. The older mentor was actually the mentor of the younger mentor for more than 25 years! They taught me how to give, nurture, build love over a long, long period of time. They showed me how sowing and discipling is never a once-off 6-month programme, but life on life over a lifetime.

Are we willing to be this generous in our longsuffering to build up the present youth and children?

If there is one book on generousity, it must be “No Greater Love” Mother Teresa. In there, the late great Mother Teresa (now St. Teresa) pens her thoughts and reflections from her several decades of work among the slums in Kolkata. In there she transparently shares her trials, and her struggles to even be generous day by day. One refrain she writes often, is the passage in Matthew 25:40, where King Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Mother Teresa reflects that each act must be a worship to Jesus. Her love for Christ is true and devoted and she writes about Jesus throughout the book, how His love His generousity enables her to do the work even when she does not want to.

She challenges her readers to “give till it hurts, and give till it hurts no more”

Experiment on your own
Despite having all these people in my life, the most difficult is still to live out this generous lifestyle. I can learn all I want and end up never doing, or never intending to do. In 2014, I attempted to try to incline towards giving often. I realized how much of a taker I am rather than a giver. It was a very hard time to change life-long inclinations.
Only the knowledge that God was generous and he wants to use us to be his generous representatives here on earth.

In that year, I found myself vacillating towards all kinds of extremes.

There were days when I did not want to give at all, and I became self-indulgent and ‘gave’ to myself. Other times I gave out of selfish motives.

These are times we realise that our hearts truly need Christ’s cross and we truly need to be saved.
What began as an experiment to try be more generous revealed how much a taker I am.

When we begin to comprehend the amazing grace Christ truly gave all for us, we begin to comprehend that we are called to be on His mission to exhibit his generousity. Read on how poor Macedonia gave abundantly in 2 Cor 8-9, which was the guiding passage on generousity.

Love & The Daddy Heart of God

In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul expounded in his famous treatise of the ‘more excellent way’: Love. 1 Cor 13:3 “ If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” That even if we give away everything, but do it not out of Christ’s love, we gain nothing.


Our generousity must be an outflow from Christ love to us, and also an intentional message about our Daddy God’s love.

You might wonder, “I am no Mother Teresa”, “I am not rich”, “I am not in some noble helping professional”. The life models of the several peoples who showed me about their generous giving life were from all walks of life, very poor to very rich. It is a consistent intentional lifestyle to be generous.  

Christian generousity must and should differ from what everyone else does. We have a message of a very rich king who emptied himself and became poor, died rose again, so we can be adopted to His family and allow Him to demonstrate His living life in us.

 A well-known pastor in my city-state wrote extensively about the God of the How Much More. In Matthew 7:11 “how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Get to know your Daddy God intimately. And as his child, we live out the identity he given us: Child of God. And from there we reflect our Daddy’s generousity to all.