Monday, 30 April 2012

DOES GOD WANT US TO BE RICH?

What does the Bible say about abundance and riches?

“Come on, come on; you can make it,” my family cheered on as we watched those tiny creatures scurrying into the sea. Released by a turtle conservation centre, these hatchlings get swept by the merciless waves the moment they reach the shoreline. Sheer numbers help to offset the high casualty rate as many fall prey to predators; only a few survive into adulthood.

At night, as we lay on the beach, caressed by countless grains of fine sand, we marveled at the vast expanse of darkness lit by countless twinkling stars.

We see ample evidence of abundance in nature. But God’s abundance is also seen in the way He deals with His people. He promises to bless abundantly those who obey Him—just as he promised Abraham that He will make his descendants as abundant as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5).

What does Jesus actually mean when He says, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10)?

The Greek word Jesus uses to describe the abundant life His followers ought to be living is perissón, meaning "superfluous”, "overflowing”, "so abundant that it considerably exceeds our expectations”.


                                                                     
Tangible and intangible

This abundance can be in the form of material blessings or, more importantly, that which money cannot buy—meaning, purpose and fulfillment in life. Following God certainly has its rewards for what "no eye has seen or ear heard or mind conceived” has God prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9).

To be rich financially should never the main focus for the Christian. Rather, He wants us to know Him intimately and find true riches in Him. He does not promise that all of us will live in bungalows and drive prestigious German marques once we come to the faith. However, He does promise to supply all our needs.

Thus the abundant life—in spite of what it immediately conjures up in our minds—is not primarily characterised by quantity but quality. It is focused not on things of our earthly existence, the here and now. Paul describes it this way: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3).

Abundance vs. scarcity mindset

While being rich should not be our primary focus, we should not embrace a scarcity mentality either. Many are apt to think that poverty is a virtue; the phrase “as poor as a church mouse” appeals to them.

But as God’s children, we have to think big and expect great things from God. In the account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Luke 9:10-17), Jesus tested the disciples, challenging them to feed the multitudes at the end of the day when everyone was all tired and hungry. To the disciples, it was inconceivable for Jesus to tell them, "You give them something to eat," when they were “stuck” in a remote area with no easy access to food.

Like the disciples, we too have often been driven to despair on realising our own insufficiency. When the disciples protested that it would cost a bomb to feed everyone, Jesus asked them what they had. They answered, "We have only five loaves of bread and two fish,” a little boy’s lunch.

Looking at the circumstances, they saw no way out except to send the people away to fend for themselves. But Jesus said, "Give them to me." And as they say, the rest is history. Jesus blessed the loaves and fishes, multiplied them and fed the multitudes.

Until the disciples were willing to commit to God whatever little they had, God did not move. Similarly, He is able to work mightily when we commit our “five loaves and two fishes” (time, talents and resources) for His use. For He is able to “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

Embracing an abundance mindset—as opposed to a scarcity mindset—involves learning to walk by faith, tapping into His infinite resources, enjoying His blessings with gratitude and being a channel of His blessings.

We have to think big, move out of our comfort zone, envision great things for His glory— even what is humanly impossible—whether it’s in the church or marketplace. If we can do it on our own, what need is there for supernatural strength? As the Psalmist instructs us: “Blessed is the man whose strength is in You” (Psalms 84:5).

A pastor in a small town heard clearly from God to build a multi-storey church without any financing from a bank. Many thought that he had gone mad. But he stuck to his guns. Somehow God provided amazingly through a rich widow who funded the purchase of the building. If the God we believe in owns everything, including the cattle on a thousand hills, what is this miniscule project to Him?

Abundance and the marketplace

If the church wants to make a significant dent in society, it has to discard the notion that poverty is piety. “There have been three factors that have changed society far more than anything else, namely violence, knowledge and wealth. And the greatest of these is wealth,” emphasises C. Peter Wagner in his book, The Church in the Workplace. Indeed, wealth is the indispensable “fuel” for social transformation.

Many would immediately react and say, “Tut-tut … another proponent of the prosperity Gospel.” But Wagner offers no apology. He believes that for the kingdom of God to advance in the 21st century, two things have to be in place: productive workplace ministers and transfer of wealth. “A poverty mindset is not just a psychological problem,” stresses Wagner. It “hinders the people of God from stepping up and taking their rightful dominance over God’s creation.” Citing Deuteronomy 28:11 and 3 John 2, he affirms that it is God’s will for His people to prosper (To him, prosperity has four facets: material, spiritual, physical, and social). However, this teaching in no way undermines the need for spiritual insight, prayer and spiritual warfare before society is transformed.

“Prosperity Gospel”

While we believe in a powerful and generous God, we must not be taken in by the real proponents of the “prosperity Gospel”those whose ethos is coloured by material comforts and well-being far above spiritual considerations. These are the bad apples among the television evangelists and larger-than-life charismatic ministers who constantly pressure people to give to “God’s work”. We have to be wise stewards of our money and be wary of supporting their spiritual empire or lavish lifestyle.

Their mantra goes something like this: “Name it and claim it”; “Ask and you shall receive”, “The more you sow, the more you’ll reap.” All these affirmations are positive; believers use it frequently. But even good things can be hijacked to serve selfish motives like greed and ambition.

Characteristically, they will cherry-pick verses to support their stance on the “prosperity Gospel” whilst downplaying the centrality of the cross and its demands (self-denial). Using religion as a means of gain, they manipulate the truth for personal ends.

Blessed to be a blessing

God is not niggardly. He wants to abundantly bless His children, and often materially as well (Psalms 103:1-5). But wealth is like a two-edged sword. How many people can handle great wealth? Many get mesmerised by the gifts rather than the Giver. Joseph, who became the Prime Minister of Egypt, could handle great wealth for he did not succumb to greed, pride or sexual immorality. But how many modern-day Josephs are there?

That’s why the Psalmist enjoins us, “If riches increase, do not set your heart on them” (Psalm 62:10). It’s so easy to be bedazzled by the gleam of riches that we lose our upward focus.
Paul also exhorted the rich “not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God … to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-18).

The best panacea against pride and hoarding, the twin dangers of wealth, is to be a channel of blessing. We are blessed that we might be a blessing.

"The same Jesus who promised an abundant life (John 10:10) warns against greed, citing that “a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15).

The abundant life Jesus promises is one filled with meaning, purpose and fulfilment. If He so chooses to financially bless us in abundance, that is an added bonus. But we cannot insist on the latter or treat Him like the genie of Aladdin’s lamp for He is not our servant but the sovereign Almighty (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

Want to experience the abundant life? It all begins with self-denial (Luke 9:23).

Am I Living the Abundant Life?

(Tests of living the abundant life)

1.     Have I discovered God’s calling for my life?

2.     Have I experienced true joy and fulfillment?

3.     Do I know how to tap into His abundant resources?

4.     Do I see myself as a channel of God’s blessing?


Sunday, 29 April 2012

PASSING THE BATON

Exploring the vital issue of leadership succession

Leadership succession is one of the crucial issues facing any organisation, be it a church or NGO. Who will replace the senior leader when he steps down, whether by choice or circumstances? 

Leadership succession planning is vital when we realise that most senior leaders are in their 50’s or 60’s. That means, at best, they only have 20 or 30 years more to serve God.

To attempt to “clone” a leader who has built up a ministry over the years based on knowledge, skill, experience and intimacy with God is difficult. Often the successor will find it hard to fill the shoes of the leader. Thus, it takes time and energy to invest in and raise potential successors who will carry the baton for the subsequent laps.

For example, Elisha followed the older prophet Elijah when the latter ministered, learnt from him and had a spiritual hunger for a double portion of his master’s anointing. So when the mantle fell on Elisha, his ministry was a success.

How then shall a leader choose a successor? First, he needs to identify potential “eagles” among the flock — those who have spiritual hunger, are keen to serve and be groomed to leadership positions but are not eyeing for glamour or prestige. Those who chicken out, like some of the men in Gideon’s troop, are bypassed (Judges 7:3). “Chickens” who stay in coops (comfort zone) far too long are likely to cop out when challenges arise. He looks for the likes of Timothy and groom such people to take over him. He encourages Timothy not to be timid, stirs up his giftings and sets an example for him to follow.



                                                                     

Second, through close association with the disciples, the leader needs to teach, train and show by example. He needs to identify their strengths and give them the opportunity to flap their wings. Hopefully, when the time comes, they will brave the plunge from the cliff and soar upwards. He also needs to give them the chance to fail. To “fail forward” means to learn positive lessons from failure and to move ahead.

Albert Schweitzer, the famed medical missionary, once said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others … it is the only thing.” Certainly, walking the talk has a greater impact than just empty talk.

In Transforming Leadership, author Leighton Ford notes that “Long before modern managers, Jesus was busy preparing people for the future. He wasn’t aiming to pick a crown prince, but to create a successor generation. When the time came for Him to leave, He did not put in place a crash programme of leadership development — the curriculum had been taught for three years in a living classroom.”

An ego-driven leader will not invest time and energy preparing others to take over after his season of leadership is over. But a servant leader is willing to impart all that he has and knows to his successors. Unlike the kung fu sifu (master), who keeps certain techniques to himself, a servant leader is humble and secure, not afraid or jealous that he might be upstaged by his disciple.

Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges writes in The Servant Leader: “Your personal succession planning efforts will speak volumes about your motives as a leader.”

And what better example of humility is there than Jesus who washed the disciples’ feet with a basin of water and a towel; for He came not to be served but to serve (John 13:5, Mark 10:45).

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Pastors’ views on how to pass the baton

"Jesus modeled it (Mark 1:14 — “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news”) and then mentored his disciples (Mark 1:17 — “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”). Next he empowered them (Mark 3:14-15 — “He appointed 12 ... that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons") and subsequently, He encouraged multiplication (Mark 6:7 — "He sent them out two by two”).

If we consistently follow the pattern of Jesus, I think the task of raising new leaders will be taken care of. Of course, the challenge is to find the "Joshua" among the flock who will be able to fit into the shoes of the lead pastor. That will require much prayer and discernment and is no easy task!


 Pastor Lawrence Yap, Charis Christian Centre, Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.



Effective leaders make an impact not only in their own context and time, but also mentor future generations to do so. Paul is keenly aware of this. In 2 Timothy 2: 2, four generations of leaders are mentioned: Paul, Timothy, reliable men and others.

Christian leadership can be found at different levels of society: church, para-church organisations or the marketplace. How do we pass on the baton?  First, we need to prayerfully look out for them. They need to prove themselves as reliable people — in character and service — over a period of time. Second, we need to intentionally bring them into the team as co-workers and leaders. Third, we need to invest in their training and exposure. Finally, let them have a go at greater tasks and responsibilities; allow them to make mistakes; encourage them. That is the way to prepare for effective leadership transition.

By Pastor Ooi Chin Aik, Founder and President of Ministries for Asia-Pacific (MAP).

The above article was first published in Asian Beacon magazine, June 2010, issue 42.3.

TALKING “RINGGIT AND SENSE” BEFORE YOU RETIRE


 Biblical insights on financial planning for retirement

                                                                            


Whether it’s to escape from work pressure or to pursue unfulfilled dreams, few fancy themselves working till their last breath.

An overworked colleague of mine once vented his frustration: “He who does not plan to retire one day is a fool.” How he longed for the chance to retire early—hang up his stethoscope and go globe-trotting.

It is crucial to set our finances in order ahead of retirement. The need to plan is obvious, what with a longer life span and the ever-increasing rise in fuel and food prices, cost of medical care and nearly everything that impinges on our lives.

                                                   Faith vs. Planning

Some say planning  implies we have little faith. Since God cares for us as He would  care for the birds and the lilies, we should just concentrate on seeking and serving Him (Matthew 6:25-33).

Others become obsessed  with financial planning for retirement. They save and scrimp so much that they  become niggardly towards God’s work and  often exclude themselves from social functions.

How do we balance these two extreme viewpointsfaith and planning?

Isn’t God’s planning evident in His creation and the instructions He gave for the building of the ark, and the tabernacle and temple of Jerusalem?

Likewise, we need to plan. But we must first acknowledge God as the source of wisdom; we may plan but it is God who directs our steps (Proverbs 3:5,6).

The industrious ant forages for food in summer so that it will have sustenance during winter (Proverbs 6:6-11).

Similarly, Joseph had the foresight to plan. And his family and a nation were saved  when famine came (Genesis 41:35,36).

Lack of planning may cause us to outlive our finances. We may then have to depend on handouts from relatives or friends. We may even have to come out of retirement and go back to work but will our health permit it? How can we avert this potential financial time bomb?


                                                       Que sera sera

“Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be.” That’s the familiar refrain of many who do not plan for their retirement. They think they can rely on their EPF savings alone. But a shocking survey reveals that 70% of retirees deplete their EPF savings within the first three years of retirement.

Many depend on savings and fixed deposits for retirement without realising that inflation will erode  their purchasing power. Others count on their children to support them during retirement. They invest heavily in their children’s tertiary education but yields are usually lower than expected.

The children may be able to fend for themselves. But after paying for the home, car and daily necessities, they can barely support their aged parents.

What if relationships turn sour?  The parents are left high and dry financially. It’s heartbreaking but it has happened. In a neighbouring country, laws have been enacted to compel children to perform their filial duties.

                                                        Start early.

Often people do not plan early enough; they tend to underestimate their needs. He who retires at 55 has to sustain himself for another 20 years. It’s advisable to start planning when we are in our 30’s or, better still, when we commence working.

Determining the size of the retirement nest egg, even with advice from financial planners, is difficult. It’s like aiming at a moving target.

That’s why we need to learn more about financial planning. We need to know our monthly expenses, learn to budget and live a modest lifestyle. We may even need to “add another string to our bow”reinvent ourselves in a field unrelated to what we know best.

“Be diligent to know the state of your flocks and attend to your herds...the lambs will provide your clothing and the goats the price of a field”  (Proverbs 27:23-26).

In an agrarian community, people attend to their flocks and gather hay for subsistence. But today we need not soil our hands. We have various investment vehicles, including property, shares or small enterprises.

Having faith doesn’t exempt us from working hard or taking personal responsibility for our finances. And we cannot rely on obsolete paradigms in these days of economic uncertainty. Secure, cradle-to-grave employment no longer exists.

Jobs may be axed in the wake of corporate restructuring. It  would be too late when we realise Murphy’s law applies to us and we are caught unprepared.
                                                      
                                                 Stocks or Property?

Many who want to  get rich quickly usually invest in the stock market. Often, these punters realise to their chagrin, after getting burnt, the wisdom in the saying  “he who goes after quick riches will suffer whereas he who gathers slowly will become rich.”  One certainly needs patience to realise investment gains.

Investing in property in well-sought after locations reaps handsome benefits. Besides capital appreciation, property can be rented out. It is an effective hedge against inflation. It can also serve as collateral for further loansthe increasing equity built up over the years can be unlocked through refinancing.

But we need to pray for wisdom to invest in the right propertyespecially when to invest  and the location. For those who wait patiently, its rewards are relatively consistent (Psalms 37:5-11). The limited supply of landed property in choice locations means that prices will tend to go up in the long term. As humourist Mark Twain quips: “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore!”

Through property investment, financial goals are often attained without losing sleep over the volatile financial markets, something often associated with investment in shares. But as with all investments, things can turn awry if the timing or location are wrong or if one bites off more than one can chewsuch as when one over-commits and struggles to repay a huge mortgage.

                                                 Is planning for all?
                                                  
But someone might retort: “I can hardly make ends meet, let alone consider these investments. How can I plan my finances?”

The need to plan our finances differs greatly. Donor-supported ministers or pastors mainly depend on God who is their inheritance, just like the Levitical priesthood. Government servants can depend on pensions and free coverage for hospitalization whereas private sector employees will have to fend for themselves. Singles will have  a lighter financial burden compared to the family man or single parent.

Testimonies of God’s faithful provision for his servants abound. A minister once  recounted the blessing of seeing his children secure scholarships to study overseas, something inconceivable even in his wildest dreams.

Although everyone’s financial situation is different, we still need to plan our finances even if we do not make major investments.

A word of warning: It’s easy to go overboard and emulate the man who hoarded material things for personal enjoyment without regard to God (Parable of the Rich Fool).

When we plan, we must not lose sight of our calling or amass wealth without giving to the needy. Finally, we need to know when enough is enough. “Do not toil to acquire wealth. Be wise enough to desist“ (Proverbs 23:4).

May good sense prevailfinancial sense based on faith and prudence. Faith in a loving God who provides for our needs and prudence to plan for retirement.

The above article was first published in Asian Beacon magazine, December  2008, issue 40.6.

RELATED POSTS

DOES GOD WANT US TO BE RICH?

HOW TO ATTAIN FINANCIAL FREEDOM

DOES FINANCIAL PLANNING NEGATE FAITH?


EXTERNAL LINK

EDUCATING MALAYSIANS ON RETIREMENT SAVINGS




Thursday, 26 April 2012

HEALING THE INNER MAN.

You can be set free from bondages, emotional wounds and baggages to live a victorious Christian life—one filled with meaning, purpose and power.


Abrasiveness can be positive. It causes the oyster to produce a pearl. But this is not so in human relationships where offences are an inescapable reality. Either we offend others or we get hurt. Only those resting in the cemetery will never have to face offences anymore.

With offences, the tendency is to harbour unforgiveness, which is often associated with bitterness, resentment and anger. Unlike physical wounds which often respond well to medical treatment, emotional wounds often persist and can be crippling to believers.

Living under bondage to the past, believers miss out on God’s destiny for their lives. They are unable to come into the fullness of what God has in store for their lives and enter into the “Promised Land”. No wonder some have been described as the “walking wounded”.


                                                                         

Saved but broken

Gaspar Anastasi suffered from depression and once thought of killing himself.  His wife, Michele, was a poster child for bitterness, being raised by a mother who was physically and emotionally abusive. As a young couple, they faced an uphill struggle in their marriage. When they went to a marriage counsellor, he suggested that the best solution is for them to get a divorce on grounds of incompatibility. When Anastasi sought his pastor’s help, the answer was: “Maybe you don’t have enough faith.”

Young believers are often taught: “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new creation. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”(2 Corinthians 5:17). 

If that is so, Anastasi thought to himself, Why are so many like Michele and I still living in defeat? Why are we hurt and broken emotionally?

As he studied God’s word, it became clear to him that the ‘new creation’ refers to our born-again spirit, not every area of our lives. Like old plumbing, various aspects of our inner man still have to be fixed.  He soon realised that God isn’t just interested in getting us to heaven but restoring us completely so that we can live for His glory.

The godly principles he has learnt on his journey to freedom have enabled him to minister over the past 30 years. He pastored a church and later started a ministry of inner healing, Word of Life Ministries. As a couple, they also help restore broken marriages.

                                                                     



Unhealed trauma

Peter Horrobin, founder of Ellel Ministries, recounted how Lynda, 26, fell from a cliff and landed on the rocks below. Her spine was broken and subsequently she was registered as disabled and put on a lifetime pension.

Horrobin and his team shared with Lynda that Christ came to heal the broken-hearted (Isaiah 61:1). The word broken used in this verse means “shattered into separate pieces”. They prayed that God will expose the pain that lay in her heart. She instantly fell to the ground, lying there in the position she had been when she fell off the cliffshattered and traumatised. Helping her to relive the pain at the point of impact was a crucial part of the healing process. They spoke love and gentleness into her spirit and soul. They led her to forgive those who should have warned her of the danger. Then they anointed her with oil, praying for her physical healing.

Shortly after that, she went to the government office to discontinue the pension benefits as she was healed (earlier she had been certified by three doctors as being disabled for life). This amazing testimony illustrates the fact that the body cannot be fully healed while it is still reflecting on the pain brought on by unhealed trauma. Our mind, emotions and body are truly inextricably intertwined. It’s important to pray for the broken heart, not only the broken body.

Demolishing and Rebuilding

As we go through life, painful experiences will inevitably be etched in our memories. The human brain comprises 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) embedded in a mass of glial tissue. In many ways superior to a computer, the brain processes thousands of thoughts in a day. Whereas computers have a ‘delete’ function, there is no corresponding ‘erase’ button we can push to rid ourselves of unwanted and unpleasant memories in our brain. These memories continue to haunt us for a lifetime.

But no matter what burns in our memory, forgiveness is one of the important keys in overcoming our inner painforgiving the one who has wronged us. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is an act of obedience on our part in response to God’s word. It does not mean we condone the act of injustice inflicted upon us. But we do it anyway. It not only restores our relationship with the one who offended us but also restores our fellowship with God. But most of all, we stand to benefit in many waysphysiologically and psychologically.

When we align ourselves with God’s word, that we are to forgive as we have been forgiven by Christ, we will experience release and healing. The world says, “You must get even. An eye for an eye.” But we have to demolish such thoughts, taking them captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). By doing so, we do not allow anger to fester (Ephesians 4:26) or bitterness to take root (Hebrews 12:15).

We are told to put off the old nature, put on the new nature and be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Ephesians 4:22-24).

God is like the Master Potter. When the lump of clay is deformed and unsightly, He crushes it and reshapes it. One way this is achieved is when the Holy Spirit brings a particular verse to our attention and applies itlike a balm or arrowto our lives. A balm soothes while an arrow convicts.

Initial Approach

The initial approach to inner healing is through prayer and counselling. Through a preliminary session of counselling, the counsellor will take a detailed history just like what a doctor does. Important traumatic events (including history from birth, childhood, school days, workplace and marriage) such as loss, abuse or rejection are recorded. 

Sometimes, to widen the scope of the inquiry, a questionnaire will be given as well for the counselee to fill up. According to what has been obtained from the history, and as the Holy Spirit directs, ministry team members will pray for the counselee, focusing on a few key areas.

Holistic

Some cases will need to be referred to psychiatristsfor example, severe cases of depression and bipolar depression which are linked to chemical imbalance in the brain. Hence, the approach must take into account of the fact that man is a tripartite beingspirit, soul and body. “Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until Christ comes again” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

When God ministered to the depressed prophet Elijah, He first told him to eat some food to strengthen his physical body. Later, He directed him to a cave and spoke to him in a ‘still small voice’, re-commissioning him for a new assignment. Both physical and spiritual refreshing were needed (1 Kings 19:8, 12).

Role of Holy Spirit

Whereas a heart attack can be diagnosed by an ECG, pinning down the cause of inner hurts is not so straightforward. Apart from love for the counselee, helpers must humbly depend on the Holy Spirit for wisdom to identify the root cause(s). Some have the spiritual gift of ‘word of knowledge’ which sheds light on the underlying cause (1 Corinthians 12:8 ) while others are given words of wisdom that they might know how to comfort the weary (Isaiah 50:4). As you can see, it’s a different ball game altogether, one where physical diagnostic tools will fail miserably.

Inner pain and hurts arise not only because someone sins or makes wrong choices. Sometimes it may be due to generational curses. In cases of sexual abuse, victims may fall prey to an evil spirit of lust and in turn abuse others.

Teamwork

Ministering as a team has its advantages as two is better than one. One asks questions while the other prays. In a multitude of counsellors, there is victory. There is opportunity for sharing, discussion and mutual encouragement. Furthermore, God promises His presence in their midst as they pray for the seeker. Counselling one-on-one with a member of the opposite sex is a definite no-no.

Those who feel called to this healing ministry are well advised to go for training. They should learn as an apprentice under the supervision of a ministry team.

Foundation

The ministry of inner healing rests on the finished work of Christ at the cross. He came to heal the broken-hearted and set the captives free (Isaiah 61:1). He also came to destroy the works of Satan. “In this way, He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by His victory over them on the cross” (Colossians 2:15).

While the emphasis and approach may vary with different ministries or organisations, the methods employed must not be contrary to the objective Word of God. We must be wary of healerseven if they are illustrious personalitieswho advocate a certain approach which works but is unscriptural.

Deliverance

Usually, through prayer and counselling, healing comes quietlywounds have been identified,  forgiveness and restoration follow. In dealing with cases of sexual promiscuity, the minister prays for ungodly soul ties to be broken as well. 
More on soul ties: http://bit.ly/17P7xWz

Sometimes, there is a need for deliverance from evil spirits. Confrontation with evil spirits may result in its manifestation, which may be loud, violent and protracted. When King Saul disobeyed God by not wiping out all the Amalekites, God removed His Spirit from him. This opened the door for an evil spirit to enter his life to torment him (1 Samuel 16:14-15).  When sin abounds, Satan begins to take advantage through the open door.

Evil spirits seem out of place in this sophisticated, highly technological age. However, we should neither emphasise them (see evil spirits lurking behind every bush) nor deny their existence. Many in deliverance ministry testify to the freedom that can be achieved through deliverance from evil spirits. Their dramatic case histories mirror that which happened to the demoniac who lived among the tombs. Violent and uncontrollable, he became sane and sound after his deliverance by Jesus (Mark 5: 2-5, 15).

Getting a sense of the power and reality of the spiritual worldmost of all, the authority of the name of Jesusis an awesome experience. Ministers of inner healing have privileged “ringside seats” of the raging battle between the spiritual forces of good and evil. But, just as Jesus warned his disciples, they must not be mesmerised by the fact that demons are subject to them, but rather rejoice that their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).

Consolidation

To consolidate the gains made though restoration, those who have been set free need to be disciplined. The spiritual disciplines they have to work out in their lives include Bible study, prayer, worship and meditation. Keeping in fellowship with other believers, memorising and verbalising God’s word (“speak to the mountain” and affirm the truth) are important keys to walking in freedom and “maintaining” the victory (Philippians 2:12).

Even the apostle Paul had to discipline himself so as not to be disqualified in the race (1 Corinthians 9:26-27). It is a process called sanctification, which is ongoing and will not end till the day we leave this earth (Philippians 3:12-13).

Joshua decisively led the Israelites across the river Jordan but taking possession of the Promised Land is a step-by-step process, a journey. Positionally, we are “brand new” at conversion. But a lot of “internal work” still needs to be done.

Joy of Ministry

Ministers of inner healing find fulfillment in seeing lives being transformedthe hurting get healed and captives are set free. They are glad they can be co-workers with God in getting people back on track.

Many like Anastasiwho have been healed withinhave embarked on a ministry to set others free. They do it because they are convinced inner healing works and they want to share their freedom with others.

Compared to The Great Commission, inner healing may not be a “big thing” as far as the church’s agenda is concerned. Nevertheless, it has a crucial role to play in setting God’s people free and moving them into their God-appointed destinies.

The above article was first published in Asian Beacon, issue 43.5, October 2011.


CONNECTING WITH YOUR TEENS
Roadmap to Building Healthy Parent-Teen Communication.

By Jake Davis and Dr Lim Poh Ann

“You need to spend 15 to 20 minutes daily with your child. If you cannot spare the time, you may have to give your child away for adoption.”

Dr Lim Mee Gaik’s statement certainly raised some eyebrows at a recent Parenting Teens seminar. Organised by Focus on the Family (FOF), it was held at Gospel Hall, Petaling Jaya.

A professor at Capella University in San Antonio, Texas, Lim is a Licensed Professional Counsellor and Marriage and Family Therapist. Though she has spent more than 30 years in the US, she has not forgotten her roots – the place well known for white coffee and chicken rice, that is Ipoh, Perak. She finds it a joy to return annually to speak at FOF’s seminars. 

Rich with examples and illustrations, her lively and interactive talk kept the parents enthralled. Some of them came because they had trouble dealing with their teens.

The key principles addressed in the seminar included:
1. Create a respectful and non-blaming approach.
Parenting with a respectful approach means appreciating your child’s input. Do not talk down to your teen. After all, communication is a two-way process.
A parent’s job is more than just instructing and ordering their kids around. “Parents fall into the trap of just being ‘directors’,” Lim said. “They tell their child what to do, but they forget to be their friends.”
Healthy communication is essential to foster better friendship between parent and teen. She believes that, through this approach, teens will become more respectful and responsible as they grow up into adults. 

2. Work towards collaboration and a win-win situation.
Since parent-child communication is a two-way process, it is helpful to create an environment of collaboration. “As often as possible, parents should find opportunities to say ‘yes’ to their teens,” Lim stressed. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you spoil them with expensive electronic gizmos.
When solving conflicts, create a win-win situation where both you and your teens are satisfied with the solution. For example, upon completion of their homework for the week, you take them out for a weekend movie.
3. Reinforce rules consistently.
“Disciplining a child begins with establishing consistent guidelines,” said Lim.
It is better to set a few guidelines with which they must comply; too many rules are not likely to be followed.

4. Resolve conflicts in ways that will nurture desirable behaviour.
To resolve conflict, parents should not just stop the immediate negative behaviour (for example, chiding them for bad temper) but employ creative techniques to build positive characteristics (for example, teaching them patience and self-control).
By using such “approach” techniques in conflict resolution, a conflict can become part of a teen’s learning process. “Avoidance” techniques merely communicate that negative behaviour cannot be tolerated; the teenager does not gain any long-term benefit. 

5. Decrease criticism, increase acceptance.
Parents shouldn’t just lecture their teens whenever they’re together. In fact, at least 70% of their interaction time should be positive, Lim stressed.
Highlight specifically to the child the action which pleases you. For example, “I appreciate you for keeping your room tidy.”  Do not just say, “You have been very helpful.” 

6. Build on their strengths and reward small successes with positive feedback.
Parents need to focus on their children’s strengths – be quick to compliment, rather than correct. Good behaviour has to be rewarded, not necessarily with gifts but happy times spent together which create lasting memories (for example, a fishing trip).

7. Create a “success mindset”.
 “Encourage your teenagers when they fail,” said Lim. “Teach them that failure is a great way to learn.” Just as Edison, the inventor of the electric bulb, failed many times before perfecting it, parents too must adopt a positive attitude towards failure – and impart this truth to their teens.

8. Use “I’ statements to state your requests.
What this means is that we phrase our statement somewhat like this:  “I would appreciate it if you could help me dispose the rubbish after your dinner.” This is a more respectful way to speak to your teen than saying, “Get off your butt now and dispose the rubbish.”
Don’t keep on yelling at them as they will get “sensitised” to it and shut you out. 

9. Ask open-ended questions.
Parents show that they value their teens’ opinion when they ask open-ended questions such as:  “What do you suggest that we do?” or “What do you think is the best way to solve this problem?” By doing so, parents do not appear condescending to their teens – as if they know it all.
At this juncture, Lim asked for feedback from the parents – specific examples of open-ended questions. 

10. Empower your teens by seeking their advice.
Parents should seek advice from their teens in areas where they are often more knowledgeable such as mobile technologies or social networking.
They can also farm out simple tasks to them. “When you start trusting your teens by giving them jobs and not see them as being irresponsible, they’ll live up to your expectations,” Lim said.
Empowering teens through the above actions instills in them a sense of pride and achievement.

 11. Share about your personal challenges.
To connect with your teens, be real with them. Let them know that you are human. Be honest with them; sharing your weaknesses and failures with them helps build trust. And don’t brag about your past accomplishments or what you had to endure. The latter seems to suggest, Why can’t you be like me?
Parents should learn to apologise to their teens. Apologising is not a sign of weakness. When you apologise, teens lower their guard, become less resistant and respect you more.

12. State your expectations clearly.
It is important to avoid generalities when stating expectations. Be specific when you tell them what you desire to see. For example, “I know you can set a good example for your younger sister by making your own breakfast.” Clearly stated expectations enable teens to live up to their parents’ desires.

13. Develop new ways to enjoy one another’s company.
Parents should ask themselves, “What would interest my teen? What will he or she enjoy?” Think of him or her as a friend.
“Plan something creative to keep the teenager interested,” Lim suggested. These activities might be bowling, fishing, board games or jogging. However, watching TV together is not interactive; it doesn’t build rapport.
Keeping one another educated on one’s current interests and hobbies will make time spent together interesting and meaningful. A father who shows interest in football, of which his son is an avid fan, creates opportunities for building relationships.

14. Practise active and attentive listening.
Parents need to listen attentively to their teens without interrupting them. By listening, parents show that they care for and respect their teens.
Do not give advice as this will cause them to clam up. Let them ventilate their thoughts and feelings. Empower them by letting them solve their own problems.

15. Formalise dates regularly.
Be intentional about setting aside time with your teens (separate time for each teen). One-on-one hangout time improves bonding and intimacy with your teen. Block it out in your calendar. Write it down.
When parents despite their busy schedules consistently spend time with their teens, they get the message that they are significant and esteemed in their parents’ eyes.
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During question time, a father asked about how to deal with procrastination – when a teen refuses to obey instructions despite being told several times. Lim shared that parents need not fret. “You don’t have to repeat an instruction when you want your teen to do something,” said Lim. “Just state your instruction (once) clearly and calmly, look at your teen in the eye and follow through till it is done.” For example, you might say, “I want you to throw your soiled clothes into the laundry basket and not all over the room.”  Subsequently, you look at him in the eye, walk him to the place where the basket is located and see to it he deposits the clothes there. So the next time your teen procrastinates, do not fume or yell at him. Try out this assertive strategy.
Many parents were glad they took time off on a Sunday afternoon for this seminar. They have certainly been enlightened on how to connect better with their teens.
The above article was first published in Asian Beacon magazine, August 2011, issue 43.4.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

PILL FOR THE PSYCHE

God’s prescription for mental health

Many take a pill before they go to bed to calm their frazzled nerves. In the morning, they would pop a pep pill to help them through the day. If only there was a magic bullet to relieve all our anxieties, we would gladly give anything for it.

Yet, many do not recognise God’s prescription found in the Bible. It is efficacious, free and without side-effects. It is so unbelievably simple. Isn’t this the reason why Jesus says unless you come to me like little children, you cannot know me? We need child-like faith to appreciate the therapeutic benefits of His laws.


                                                                            
With time, as we embrace His laws, we become mature individuals. We feel good about ourselves, are able to get along with others as well as cope with stress and disappointments in life. Furthermore, we are able to balance the various areas in life – the spiritual, intellectual, physical and social (2 Peter 1:3, Luke 2:52).

Self-esteem

“I am not good at it, just so so.” We often depreciate ourselves instead of learning to acknowledge a compliment. Instead we ought to have said, “Thank God, He has given me this gift or talent.”

Having the right estimate of ourselves is so important – too high an estimate smacks of pride whereas too low an estimate is detrimental to our self-image.

Undoubtedly, believers are to emulate Christ as an example of humility (Philippians 2: 8). But this is not to be equated to low self-esteem. Many make the tragic mistake in not recognising the difference between self-esteem which is positive and pride which is negative.

Such confusion is addressed in Romans 12:3: “…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” Paul then goes on to show that we should recognise the specific gifts that God has given us and use them (Romans 12:6).

Gideon had a poor self-image. He saw himself as coming from the weakest clan and as the least among his family members (Judges 6: 15). But the angel of God gave him a boost for his morale when he said, “The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valour" (Judges 6:12). He then went on to lead an army to defeat his enemies.

If believers embrace a healthy self-image, the church will have no lack of people serving in various ministries, be it worship, teaching or administration. The caveat is that they remain humble and have a servant’s heart.

Loving ourselves, loving others

When our neighbour is away, do we volunteer to feed his pet or water his plants? These are simple acts of love which will be much appreciated.

But before we can love others, we need to love ourselves. If we hate ourselves or have a poor self-image, we won’t even think of making friends, let alone reach out to others in need. Indeed if our emotional tank is empty, how can we love others? It’s just basic psychology.

Similarly, the Bible tells us we are to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22: 39). Research has shown that people who give of themselves to others live longer, and lead healthier, happier lives. Here is where following God’s precepts reaps temporal benefits as well.

A giving, altruistic nature helps us in many ways. According to Stephen Post and Jill Neimark, authors of Why Good Things Happen to Good People, those who help others have healthier hearts, are happier, have higher self-esteem, and are generally more successful.

Depressed people who participate in occupational therapy feel better when they stop looking inwards and perform simple tasks for the benefit of others. They tend to gripe less when they realise there are others who are more unfortunate than them.

Coping skills

A person’s ability to cope with adversity is dependent on his genetic makeup, nurturing and childhood experiences. But attitude and dependence on God also play an important role.
Those who know how to wait on God in solitude and to tap into the Living Springs know what it is like to be refreshed spiritually (Isaiah 40:31).

Despite having insulin-dependent diabetes and being treated for cancer, Susan taught the poor English. She had the inner joy to serve in a faraway land where the students could not possibly repay her. Lesser souls would have curled up in self-pity and, in remonstration, cry out to God, “Why me? Why are you so unfair to me when I have been so faithful towards you?”

We can know the inner strength of a person by his response to adversity. As they say, the true worth of a tea-bag is uncovered only when it is hot water. “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small” (Proverbs 24:10). Conversely, those who find strength in God have the tenacity and resilience to face crisis.

Anger

If we knew the damaging effects of anger on our body, then we will realise how appropriate is Paul’s admonition: “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26).

Each episode of anger sets off a physiological response in your body, causing your heart to beat faster, your blood pressure to rise and your coronary arteries to narrow.

Dr. Leo Maddow of the University of Pennsylvania observed that brain hemorrhages are usually caused by a combination of hypertension and cerebral arteriosclerosis. He found that anger elevates blood pressure which may cause the diseased cerebral artery to rupture, resulting in a stroke. "Someone who stays angry long after the particular incident that caused the anger may be committing slow suicide,” he says.

So while you may not be able to avoid becoming angry, you should keep short accounts with God, forgive the one who made feel angry, and hence do yourself a favour.

Worry

Man’s propensity for worry is a sign of the times we are living in, what with the financial crisis, flu pandemic and natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis. Just like the millions of hypnotic tablets that are being consumed nightly worldwide, vertical frown lines between the eyebrows are tell-tale signs of the stressful times we are living in.

Paul enjoins believers to commit their cares to God: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

If Jesus is sleeping in our “boat”, we need not fret. We can sail through the storms of life. He may appear as sleeping amid the storms in our lives but in reality He cares. Just, by faith, commit our fears to Him.

If indeed He is the One who created the universe, including the storms and waves, what are our petty problems to Him? The trouble is we often magnify our problems and hold a small view of God.

In Your God Is Too Small, author J. B. Phillips explains that the trouble with many today is that, while our life experiences and intellect have grown significantly, our concept of God has not changed significantly since our Sunday School days. We tend to “put God in a box”, so definitely He is not going to be big enough for our modern needs.

The psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). Once this revelation hits us, we will sleep like a baby without hypnotics.

Blessings of obedience

It’s no accident that, by keeping God’s precepts, we enjoy the blessings of a healthy psyche. It’s all hardwired in God’s plan that blessings will follow obedience (Deuteronomy 28). 

However, it will be simplistic and far-fetched to say that counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists no longer have any role to play. After all, Jesus did say, "Healthy people don't need a physician, but sick ones do” (Mark 2:17).

The Prince of Peace brings a message of comfort: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28, 30).

The Gospel is “God’s pill” for our psyche. Far more than “a pie in the sky”, it brings tangible earthly benefits today.

The above article was first published in Asian Beacon magazine, December 2009, issue 41.6.

EXTERNAL LINK

IS MENTAL ILLNESS PURELY A SPIRITUAL PROBLEM?
Does it mean that, if we are more spiritual, we will be able to overcome anxiety, depression and so on?