Our Present From God

It’s a typical character, in an equally typical narrative. 

From determined, single-minded victors, to nervous and unsure heroes, there’s a whole range of characters in every genre – and the pages in all these books tell the story of the character’s… present. 

Even though we, as an avid audience, may know every detail of the character’s past and future, we’ll never be able to truly and fully understand their present  – their emotions, feelings, and motives. 

Yet the ‘present’ is something we all face, regardless of race, culture, home life or anything else. It’s something you’re experiencing as you scroll through this article now. It’s something you’ll experience later on as you carry on with your day, or, depending on the time of where you are currently, it’s something that you’ll later be falling asleep in. It renews itself every single day – every single hurried blink of our eyes, and in every panting breath we take, as our ‘present’ becomes our forgotten past and our future into our living present. 

I recall reading a story depicting the past, present and future as each individual character, and it became pretty confusing at times! But that’s the reality in our world of space and time, where we can only change our linear lives by the actions we do in the present. 

And we, as Christians, are no exception. In this world we live in, and in our ever-progressing present, every action we take reflects our worldviews and values. So even though we all may be plodding through this one-way trip of life, it doesn’t mean that our experiences and actions in the present are the same as those of the world. 

  1. A Present Experience

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:22). 

As a child, I always found this verse a bit disconcerting. After all, why would the world hate us if what we were preaching was called the Good News? And even though I heard about the persecution of Christians in distant countries and even in the Bible stories, I always assumed that it would never happen to me. 

Why would it?

But the truth is, that the very fact of us being Christians guarantees our suffering. Perhaps it’s not as apparent to us now, but it’s a reality of the present. Persecution isn’t just a thing of the past or only happening out there, but it’s a present living reality. Jesus, Himself states this in John 15:19-21, “ If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” 

Maybe it’s not persecution as large of a scale as house churches or the persecuted early church, but it will be present nonetheless. Whether it’s being shunned or looked down upon for having radically different beliefs as others at school, or a personal struggle of your own, it’ll be a part of our present. 

But God doesn’t leave us to struggle alone. 

  1. A Present God

When we hear at church that ‘Jesus is alive,’ how do we respond? 

Is this something that makes us glad? Or is it something we view with apathy, with the countless times of hearing it at church making us just not care?

Because, in the end, it wheels down to how we truly view God. 

Past the beliefs of our family, friends and church community into our deepest and truest thoughts. What do we believe God to be? Who do we believe God to be?

Is He Someone real to us? Can we see His hand working and active in the everyday events of our lives? Is He present in our lives?

Or, deep within our hearts, is He Someone we merely think of as a distant Creator, a God who has left this world ticking like a well-wound clock and doesn’t involve Himself any further? For us, is He just ‘that Great Man Upstairs’?

But does He have to be?

  1. A Present Help

The Bible is around 4000 years ago, and some sources suggest even longer! With such an ancient text, it’s easy to assume that the words are outdated, and have no rightful place within the post-modern world we live in. 

Yet the Bible is more than just lengthy words written on dusty manuscript paper. 

It’s the living Word of God. 

It’s a Word that was present in the lives of Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, and it’s a Word that lives on in the present of so many people now. 

Because it’s the Word of an equally eternal and living God. 

And with this truth firmly in our grasp as those saved by Him, we can rest assured in the ever-renewing mercies He provides for us. John Piper, Reformed theologian and pastor, aptly summarises the ever-present love that God promises His children which can be inferred from Romans 8:35. 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” 

Though we still will face troubles and struggles every day, God provides His people with a “present and powerful” love. It’s more than just a memory, or a Bible story from hundreds of years ago – it’s a present gift, as He continues, even now, to work in us and “bring us to eternal joy”. 

God’s eternal love for us doesn’t start only when we get to heaven. 

It’s a present, living, wonderful, powerful, reality.

It’s a present from God. 

Reference: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/present-and-powerful-love

Elaine (Anggi) Tambunan (14) is the editor and one of the many teens that write in RE Generation-Z. Through her articles, she aspires to remind more teens to live lives as lights in the world. She can be easily identified with a spectacled face buried in a thick novel or doodling.

Worries of our Future

The future. 

That giant, vast, and gaping abyss of the unknown. 

It’s perhaps little wonder that we, as a society, have always been fascinated with the possibilities that result from being able to glimpse past the blurriness of the unknown, and see clearly and starkly what will happen to us. Whether it’s prophecies, such as the Oracle’s within Greek mythology, visions of the future, looking at tea leaves, checking a horoscope, or even crystal ball gazing. Particularly within science fiction, countless stories and narratives tackle such concepts of being able to peek into the future, whether through means of a time machine or even simply being visited by your future self. 

The future has been and still is a central part and influence of humanity, affecting our decisions, thoughts and worldview. 

Because what the future essentially is, is that unknown and impenetrable part of our lives that we have no way of knowing or preparing for – even if society claims the opposite. 

Like in the previous article,  we outlined that we can never change the past because it is set firmly in stone; it’s the opposite when we discuss the future. Because if we view our past as an immovable and unchangeable solid, our future becomes like water – ever-changing, unpredictable, and a constant reflection of our past and present actions. 

The only assurance we can have of the future is when our ‘future’ becomes our present. Otherwise, we have no idea what, good or bad, awaits us. 

And that’s the hard, simple truth of our future.

It’s the fact we don’t know. 

A matter of perspective 

Perhaps, as teens, the threats that the future poses may not seem as immediate to us. Instead, we simply leave thoughts of the future for an unspecified and vague date much, much later – and if we were to be truly honest with ourselves, we would be happy to never have to think about it. 

Or maybe, we’re more inclined to worry. Nervous about the unknown trials that we aren’t even entirely sure will come, we spend our time anxious and scared of what’s to come. And these worries leave us feeling drained and unmotivated, even to complete tasks that we previously would have enjoyed.

And maybe still, some of us view the future confidently. After all, are we not the post-modern generation? The future is ripe and ours for the taking, and we make countless determined plans for the future. Even if our ‘Plan A’ doesn’t work, we’ve got the rest of the alphabet at our fingertips. We view the future victoriously, for we consider it to belong to us. 

Sharing from my perspective on the future, I’ve always viewed the future with a level of intimidation. Just like how I, as an inexperienced suburb-living student, would regard a wild animal – although I may feel somewhat excited, for the most part, I would be frightened, not knowing what it would do to me. And, for me, that’s the most terrifying part about the future. 

It’s something I don’t know, and I can’t ever know. 

Or is it? 

An all knowing God 

Have you ever stood on the shoreline at the beach? With gentle waves lapping at your feet, and the grainy sand firm underneath, you feel at ease. 

But when the waves come, the water crashes onto you with unexpected fury. You’re swept off your feet and crash into the crumbling sand. 

Especially with the abundance of problems that we already have in the present, we’re so scared that the future will crash onto us a wave of unexpected change and hardships. And we’ve all probably experienced first-hand that no matter how stable the sand underneath us feels or how much we’ve prepared, the wave always leaves us sprawling on the ground. 

It’s this particular topic that James writes about in his letter James. 

One of the major leaders of the Jewish church during early Christianity, James addresses his words to the Jewish believers scattered around the ancient world. Following the martyrdom of Stephen, these scattered believers were surrounded by the constant threat of torture and suffering. It’s little surprise that they were anxious and unsure, wondering what new trial was just ahead, and maybe, just like us, they tried to make plans to grasp at whatever secure future was slipping from their hands. 

That’s exactly what James addresses in his following words, 

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that. ” (James 4:13-17)

We can’t know the future, and neither can we control it. 

But God can. 

After all, He is, well, God! He is the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 22:13), and both know and understand the past and the future. And it is in the hands of this eternal, all-powerful, and omniscient Lord that the future is held. 

The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as the ‘Author of Life’ and ‘Finisher of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2), and these two names reveal very special truths about the relationship between us, God, and the future. 

1. Author of Life

Notice how the author of Hebrews decides to refer to Jesus not as ‘Creator of life’, as we would normally assume, but as the Author. And that’s a pretty significant detail. As Author, He knows and is actively involved in the whole story of our lives – including our future. He knows what’s best for us, and He grants us, His children, a precious promise – that all the things in our lives, in the past, present and future, will ultimately be for our good. 

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

2. Finisher of our Faith

God doesn’t only create us and leave it at that. He is actively involved in all dimensions of our lives, and He walks with each of us individually every step of the way. We won’t have to venture into the future alone, but His grace overflows daily to sustain us continually. 

John Piper, an influential evangelist and preacher, calls this continual grace, ‘future grace’. In his words, “future grace is God’s power, provision, mercy, and wisdom—everything we need—in order to do what he wants us to do five minutes, five weeks, five months, five years, and five thousand years from now.”

The sand swirls beneath our feet, and ahead of us, we can see the relentless wave racing toward us. 

Sure, we’re afraid. 

But we’re not alone, and we’ll never have to be

Extra Resources: https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-do-you-mean-by-future-grace

The Regrets We Leave Behind

Imagine that somewhere out there, past the swirling veils of starry darkness that make up our galaxy, you existed. 

Perhaps not the you you’re familiar with, but another version of you. A ‘you’ who got that grade, made up with that friend, won that award, said the right things. 

A better ‘you’.

A ‘you’ that you don’t regret. 

I’ve always had a particular interest in science fiction, and a particular aspect that I’ve found is pretty popular in this specific genre (and even in others) is the idea of ‘parallel universes’. 

Simply put, it’s the theory that somewhere beyond our universe, exists other universes where we exist as well – yet it’s not really ‘us’. In these parallel universes are versions of us where we made better choices; we didn’t talk back to our parents, we didn’t procrastinate before the math exam, we didn’t carelessly say words that hurt our friends. 

But what makes this idea so appealing to us? What inner desire do we perhaps unconsciously have that drives us to produce stories, movies, and other media forms about this specific topic? 

One thing I can change.. 

It’s the typical icebreaker question. Maybe a friend would ask this during a lull in conversation, or maybe you’ll come across it on the back of those fruity chews wrappers. 

It’s a no-brainer, really. 

“If you could change one thing in your past, what would it be?”

I’m not sure about you, but when I heard this question, my mind immediately jumped to the answer, “I wished I’d started studying for my math exam earlier.”

But my thoughts didnt stop there. 

“What if I’d studied harder? I could’ve gotten a better grade.”

“Maybe if I didn’t waste my time as often, I’d be more successful. “

“If only I didn’t do this thing, I could’ve still been friends with that person.”

“Maybe.” 

“What if.”

“If only.”

These are the words that we often associate with the feeling of regret. 

According to the Cambridge dictionary, regret is defined as “a feeling of sadness about something sad or wrong or about a mistake that you have made, and a wish it could have been different or better. “

And I’m confident that most, if not all, of us would agree with this definition. 

I’m certain all of us have experienced regret before. Even the most popular, successful, and prestigious of people that we see on media and the news, who we assume would be satisfied in their success, all have had regrets in their lives.

It’s only natural that we, as humans, experience regret. It’s inevitable in this sin-filled world that we live in. 

Because when sin first seeped into our hearts during Adam and Eve’s fall into temptation, it was then when our free will was corrupted. This distortion and corruption of the free will God gave us is the catalyst of our feeling of regret. 

Even though we’ve fallen into sin, and turned away from the fulfilling and joyful purpose that God has intended in His love and goodness for us, we still feel guilt.

Why? 

Because, deep inside the sin-invaded fortress of our hearts, a little watchman  continues to berate and rebuke us whenever we sin. 

He reminds us that our sin is wrong. He tells us we shouldn’t be doing it. Yet we still do it anyway. 

And so, the watchman shouts. Not for joy, but with tears, in righteous sorrow and anger as all the while, we continue to sin. 

And that’s precisely what regret is.

Regret’s sinful side

Don’t get me wrong. Regret can often be a good thing – when the watchman’s cry is drowned out by the racous pleasure of the world, God still can use our feelings of regret to lead us back to the right path. 

But, just like any other blessing, regret can be corrupted. 

Just like how drinking water is vital for our survival, great quantities of water left unrestricted, such as a flood, can easily engulf entire cities. And it’s the same way for regret. Left unchecked, regret can easily cause us to self pity, or, in an opposite effect, cause us to get lost in our own self hate. Either way, the devil uses regret and guilt to discourage us, and tempt us to think that it’s useless to return to God. 

Even as a Christian, my guilty regrets over certain sins make me unmotivated and reluctant to come before Him in worship, let alone serve Him in ministry. Just like Adam and Eve, hiding from God in their shame, we too often hide our faces in shame from the light of God’s mercy. There’s a verse that summarises this pretty well, and it goes as follows.  

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10)

Brought to light

But for us, the story doesn’t have to end there. 

As children of God, we are able to rest assured in His promises. And this includes His promise of redemption! As it says in Ephesians 1:7, “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” 

John Piper, an American theologist and pastor, elaborates on this verse, revealing that this redemption God gives us is far more complex than we would originally think. Referring to Hebrews 9:15, “he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant,” John Piper explains that this redemption, this ‘freedom through payment’ that he grants us, is a freedom from sin – and this includes the guilt that comes from our past sins. Just like it says in Isaiah, God tells us, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

The fact that we’ve sinned will never change. 

We’ll never be able to travel to a parallel universe where we didn’t make those mistakes. Neither can we time travel again to the past and take back our sins. 

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

In all things. It’s only because of God’s mercy and love that He is willing to work in us, through the mistakes we’ve made. It’s because of His grace that we’re able to, just as it described in Proverbs 24:16, “who though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again.”

A Final Note

Almost a skeleton, Betsie Ten Boom lay on the small cot dying. Imprisoned in Hitler’s infamous concentration camp for aiding and hiding Jews from the Nazi government, they, along with countless others, had suffered hellish imprisonment, starvation, abuse and countless other horrors. 

From the world’s perspective, it seemed that Betsie would have had many regrets. 

After all, she could have easily looked the other way and avoided all the suffering that had come with following her God. 

But she didn’t. 

In her very words, “There are no ifs in God’s Kingdom.”

Why stay in the land of ‘what ifs’? It’s time to start living for now – and for God. 

When I’m Older

What do you want to be when you’re older?

We’ve probably been asked this question more times than we count. It’s been a topic of discussion, thinking, and imagination all through our childhood. Personally, I can confirm this as a fact – I’ve changed from wanting to be a pilot at eight years old, to a writer at 9, to a graphic designer at 12… The list was endless, and it’s still growing to this day. 

Even as teenagers, ‘growing older’ is still a concept our minds often linger on. At an age where we’re not children but haven’t quite reached adulthood either, being older and more mature still seems to hover on the horizon of the distant future. 

Because we don’t consider ourselves to be ‘old’ yet, our years still seem to stretch out before us, and, surrounded by a culture driven by YOLO (You Only Live Once), we’re often tempted to join them living life for now. 

What we want to do, now. What makes us happy now. What contents us, now. What makes us feel purposeful now. Everything else we can do later – when we’re older. 

Even with our calling as Christians that we’re exposed to every Sunday Service or Bible study, although we may say aloud that we’re going to evangelise to our friends and serve God, our minds often add a whispered “when I’m older” to our claims. 

Because how can ordinary teens like us serve God? 

Shouldn’t we wait until we’re older and more mature before answering God’s calling? 

When I’m Older

Picture the scene: It’s Sunday, and the Sunday service has ended. Feeling inspired by the sermon’s message to evangelise to those around us and serve God through ministry, you promise to start living the gospel through your life. But as time goes on and everyday school life brings about its standard sets of situations and struggles, the drive to minister starts to falter. The gospel just seems so out of place in the daily busyness of life. And it’s often during such times that we make the all-too-familiar excuse – “I’ll serve when the time is better. I’ll just wait until I’m older and have more opportunities.”

What we often don’t realise is that, that ‘perfect’ time to evangelise doesn’t exist. It’ll never be the right time to tell a friend the Gospel or start ministry. If we keep waiting and delaying until we feel we’re more ‘experienced,’ we’re never going to start. Just like how Paul urges Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage.” Later on, in verse 5, Paul repeats this instruction, saying, “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” 

Evangelising and living lives that reflect His Word isn’t restricted to ‘good’ times – we’re meant to make use of every opportunity to share the Gospel, even if it comes at great personal cost. 

Living devoted lives as teenagers starts now – not somewhere in the near future, but now because we are part of the Church’s community. 

The Church is called to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:16-20). This calling isn’t specified to our parents or adults – God calls the whole church. We, too, are tasked with this mission.

But even with this, we sometimes still feel insufficient to share the gospel with our friends. Because, aren’t we still too young? Will anyone even listen to us anyway? 

Serving God Now

We’re probably familiar with the person of Timothy in the Bible. Through his believer mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois, Timothy was guided in the Christian faith. Paul chose Timothy as his successor to carry on the work of the gospel, and he accompanied Paul on several missionary journeys. He also served as Paul’s representative to numerous churches, such as those in Corinthians and Philippians, before becoming a pastor in a church at Ephesus. 

Even though Timothy had a strong faith in God, he still doubted himself – just like us, he wondered if he was too young to serve God. Paul encourages him in his first letter, instructing him as follows: “Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:11-12). 

Even though we may not feel ‘old’ enough to start serving God effectively, we must remember that God has given us many gifts and opportunities to serve Him even in our teen years. We’ve been given talents, opportunities, and our youth. Why waste them? 

As it says in Ecclesiastes 11:9, “You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things, God will bring you into judgment.” 

Even though we may not be able to travel to other countries on missionary journeys to preach the gospel, we still can evangelise to those around us. Whether they be our school friends, family, community, or anyone who doesn’t yet know the truth of the gospel, we can share His Word to them by living devoted lives to God. “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:15)

Living devoted lives for God doesn’t start when we’re older or when the ‘right’ time comes. 

Living a devoted life starts now.  

Elaine (Anggi) Tambunan (14) is the editor and one of the many teens that write in RE Generation-Z. Through her articles, she aspires to remind more teens to live lives as lights in the world. She can be easily identified with a spectacled face buried in a thick novel or doodling.

A New Year, A New Path?

5, 4, 3, 2, 1… and cue the fireworks! 

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s finally out with the old year, and in with the new — 2022 is here! 

Speaking of the New Year, I’m reminded of some conversations I’ve had with several friends on the topic of travel prior to 2022. Especially with the lengthy lockdowns, it’s probably no surprise that many want to spend the New Year elsewhere while celebrating with family and friends overseas. But unfortunately, with the rising COVID cases and the resulting risks posed, many trips have had to be delayed, shortened, or even cancelled, much to my friends’ disappointment. 

However, something they don’t realise is that even with these trips being cancelled, there’s a journey that will never stop, not even because of COVID or whatever the new year brings. And it’s a journey that we all have to take — the journey of life. 

As the New Year rolls in, we’re still travelling. But even though we all seem to be walking in the same direction, there’s a massive difference in the paths trodden on by those of the world and those who follow Christ. 

New Year, New Light?

Perhaps it’s just me, but New Years always seem like the ideal time to recall nostalgic memories of the year past. Recently, I’ve started to reread one of the books I had a while back, ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ by John Bunyan. Most of us would have probably already read this or watched any one of the various film adaptations. Despite being such a famous Christian allegory, I hadn’t read this book for over a year and, as a result, forgot quite a bit of the book. However, I found that a certain small part of the allegory still stuck with me even today. 

In the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, the first glimpse we get of the main character, Christian, is in his hometown, the City of Destruction. Obviously, Christian is not a happy man, but is in fact, terrified! Why? Because he has read about the inevitable death and judgement, he must face, and he knows that by his own strength and with the burden on his back, he cannot survive. 

But then we meet another character — Evangelist. Unlike the rest of the citizens of the City of Destruction that Christian previously tried to warn, Evangelist directs Christian, giving him instructions to “flee from the wrath to come”. Not understanding, Christian asks how he shall do such a thing. It’s this quote which first comes to mind.

“Then said the other [Evangelist], Do you see yonder shining light? He [Christian] said, I think I do. Then said Evangelist, Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto”

Evangelist’s instructions to the despairing Christian also applies to us Christians, in the year 2022. The shining light that Evangelist points to is not a lamp that flickers or goes out. It is the living Word of God. And what’s more, it cannot and will not change, even with all the change around it. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35

What a promise! If like the Psalmist in Psalm 119:105, God’s Word continues to be the lamp to our feet and the light to our path, then we will still be able to persevere and press on towards Celestial City, no matter how narrow or rough the road becomes. 

And so, like Christian, we must continue to ‘keep that light’ in our eyes as we carry on life’s journey into the year 2022.

New Year, New Joy?

In theory, it seems pretty easy to fix our eyes on God’s Word, but in real life, it’s a whole different matter. Believe it or not, our eyes so often stray.

As teenagers, we’re one of the most vulnerable to all the new things that each New Year brings. Not only do we face countless physical and mental changes — our appearance, personality, and for a few lucky ones, our height — but we also face new responsibilities, relationships, and even new values.

Despite the benefits that the new ‘things’ in 2022 introduce into our daily lives, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of idolatry. Who knows what new technologies, new philosophies and new ideologies will be ushered in and who knows if they won’t tempt us to fall?

One thing’s clear — no matter what you place in your heart to replace God’s throne there, it can’t satisfy. It may give you comfort for now, but as soon as another New Year approaches, we realise how temporal these earthly things are. And this will always be the case, because we, as human beings, are both flesh and soul. While our physical desires are satisfied with the new things of the world, the wants of our souls are left neglected. 

What, then, is able to both satisfy and sustain us as we make our way through the New Year? Richard Baxter puts it rather simply: “Unbelievers seek their happiness in things of the world. Believers find their happiness in God.”Whatever change this new year promises, the only way we can strive on is if our happiness is firmly grounded in Him, who is unchanging and all-satisfying.

“Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1)

New Year, New God?

As the New Year goes on, we also must go on. We may not know what “rivers of trial” we’ll have to cross or what “Alps of life” that we must pass over, but what we do know is that we won’t have to walk alone. God doesn’t just give us instructions, a to-do list, and a first aid kit and expect us to make the journey. In fact, He goes with us. 

In Spurgeon’s 1892 New Year sermon, he addresses the congregation with the following statement. “I see … a Guide provided, as our companion along the way. To him we gladly say, ‘Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel.’ He is waiting to go with us through every portion of the road. ‘The Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee.’ We are not left to pass through life as though it were a lone wilderness, a place of dragons and owls; for Jesus says, ‘I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. (John 14:18)’”

God never promised us a prosperous and comfortable road trip to the Celestial City. In fact, it’s very much the opposite (see 2 Timothy 3:12). What the path of 2022 will hold is still yet unknown, but we can be certain that He will walk with us even to the very end.

A month after making this sermon, Spurgeon completed his own journey of life, fully dependent and trusting in his faithful Companion. On the path of life of a true Christian, there will always be two sets of footprints. And at the times that only one pair of footprints are visible, we can be certain that it was then, God carried us. 

May God continue to guide us on this journey as we enter the New Year of 2022.

Elaine (Anggi) Tambunan (14) is the editor and one of the many teens that write in RE Generation-Z. Through her articles, she aspires to remind more teens to live lives as lights in the world. She can be easily identified with a spectacled face buried in a thick novel or doodling.

Surviving The Teen Years: Hardly Trying

Transcript:

You know those people, who never struggle to get high grades? Yeahh.. nah that’s not me. I didn’t really care about my studies. I still got decent marks – in my opinion anyways. But my parents thought otherwise. They kept on telling me that my 50 to 70 percents aren’t gonna get me a good job, and they liked to compare me to my friend, Melanie, who always gets high grades. Until now, they still do this and it ticks me off, but they do have a point. If I had continued going at my slow pace, I wouldn’t have gotten as many future opportunities as I could.

I got fed up and took my anger out on Melanie and said, “Why are you trying so hard to get good grades all the time? After you leave school, graduate from uni, get a good job, what are you going to do next?” She came to me a while later and told me she had an answer to my question. Melanie told me that she was learning so she could be better equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to glorify God. She added that by learning about the world around us, we can see God’s existence, wisdom and power, through His creation.

This motivated me to study. However, I still felt pressure, especially from my parents, but also from myself to get a certain grade or job, which made me scared of failing. Our parents want us to do our best, and we still need to respect and listen to them. But in the end, our goal is to glorify God. Not to please ourselves or anyone else.

Like the parable of the talents in Matthews 25:13-40, the servants were each given a different number of talents. The first 2 worked hard to double what they were given, while the third was lazy. Like me, you might relate to the third servant who had less talents than the others. In reality, God has given each of us different amounts of talents in different things, so we can’t expect the same result from everyone. We study to develop our talents and reach our full potential, not to reach our own, or other people’s expectations. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been given 1, 2, or 5 talents, our responsibility is to put in all our efforts to grow our talents for God’s glory.

It’s so much easier said than done and I still struggle with expectations myself. There’s no definite solution for this problem. All I can say is that only God has the solution and we need to rely on Him while doing the best we can. He has a different plan for each of us that might not be what we or our parents expect. So, we need to trust God, through obedience, to guide us through His plan that He has for us.

One thing to remember, is that as Christians we’re called to be a living example of Christ to this world. If we’re lazy, people will see us and think “Why would I need a God, if I’m already doing better than these Christians?”. Through our actions, people can either be led towards or away from Christ. In Titus 2:7, Paul tells us to be an example to people around us. Our peers will look at our diligence and attitude to learning, so it’s important that we bear witness to Christ in all that we do.

The Way we use our Words

We’ve all been quoted proverbs before – throughout childhood, and even to this present day.

‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’

‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’

‘An apple doesn’t fall far from its tree.’

Any of these sound familiar?

One of the earliest sayings that I remember hearing is, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.’ At the time, it seemed to make sense. After all, harsh words can’t hurt us physically, and as far as I could see, it left no wounds. 

But as I grew up and started to interact and talk with more people (such as my teachers, friends, classmates, and even random strangers), I began to realise that words could indeed hurt. And perhaps, hurt even more than any physical wound.

The Bible addresses this truth several times, discussing it in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Unlike the saying, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me’, the Bible warns about the danger a careless tongue poses to both its owner and  surroundings.

Ironically, the book which addresses this topic the most throughout its chapters is the book of Proverbs, written by the renowned king of Israel, King Solomon.

If we flick to Proverbs 12:18, we are able to read that

 “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Later on, it’s added that, 

“The soothing tongue is a tree of life,

    but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”(Proverbs 15:4)

Speaking is such an everyday occurrence that we don’t often think of how our words affect those around us. Sure, in public, we know to ‘think before we speak’, and we remember the usual common courtesy rules that apply to speech. But what about the times we’ve made hurtful jokes about others? Or when we snap at our siblings or parents for no good reason? Just like how our actions and desires have been corrupted by sin, it’s inevitable that our words, too, have been corrupted.

Last week, during my school’s weekly Bible study, we discussed chapter 3 of the book of James. What stood out to me about the chapter was how the author used analogies to describe just how dangerous our tongue was. 

In verses 3 to 6 in the chapter, the way the tongue directs the rest of our actions is described in three ways: how a bit in a horse’s mouth leads where the horse runs, how the rudder in a ship changes the course the vessel sails, and finally, how a tiny spark can set the entire forest aflame. We may argue that it was only a small insult, or it was only a few swear words, but we can’t stop the inevitable.

What comes out of our mouths came originally from our sinful hearts. As it says in Matthew 15:18“But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them”. 

But does it have to stay that way?

If we have been saved by Christ, it means that we have received a new life and a renewed heart —meaning, our words, too, have to change.And yet, as we have all discovered, it’s not that easy. The Bible has never promised that the process of sanctification (especially of our words) will be a simple journey. 

However, in Christ, it is possible. 

Being a Christian means that our speech should reflect Christ, as that is who our hearts belong to. If we continue in using words that defile ourselves and those around us while at the same time claiming to be a Christian at church, what message are we sharing with those around us? We end up being hypocrites, and as a result, we cannot be a blessing to others. When we are sanctified by Him, all aspects of our lives must be given to Him — especially our tongue.

So what words should come out of our mouth? Ephesians 4:29 instructs us to speak graciously and encouragingly, saying, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”. Our speech needs to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ, not tear down. 

Perhaps, when you meet up with your school friends, instead of continuously complaining about teachers you could remind them about the positive things as well. Maybe, when your siblings are getting on your nerves, you could opt for a more patient and peaceful reply. Or, when you see a friend struggling through something, you could encourage them and most importantly, pray for them.

Whatever your struggle is, it’s important to continuously study His Word and ask for His guidance. Even though we’re continuously reminded, it’s easy to forget that we aren’t alone in this fight.

Sticks and stones may break our bones, while words are able to hurt those around us. But our speech was made for much more than that: our words are meant to be a blessing for others. 

How will you use your words today?

Surviving The Teen Years: Trying Hard

Video Transcript:

How do you feel when you get your grades back? Maybe you feel scared, or don’t really care. Or maybe if you’re a straight A’s student like me, you can feel overconfident that you’ll top the class.

Pride. It’s something we’ve all felt before. Whether it’s when we’re praised for something we’ve done, or when we win something. Pride is rooted so deeply inside our hearts that it becomes second nature. We don’t realise how dangerous it is. When we feel proud, we put ourselves above everything else – including God’s authority. Pride makes us think that we don’t need anyone or anything. Worst of all, we stop relying on God and become self reliant on our own limited self and abilities.

A few months ago, I thought that grades were everything. I was determined to keep my position at the top of the class. Whether I was happy or not, depended on how I was doing at school. I never struggled too much to get good grades, but I put my studies above everything else; even above God. 

It came to a point where my friend, Liam,  asked me a question that would change the way I saw my studies and grades, “Melanie, Why are you trying so hard to get good grades all the time? After you leave school, graduate from uni, get a good job, what are you going to do next?” It sounded like such a simple question, but I couldn’t answer him. I’ve been going to church my entire life, and I know that the only way to be saved from my sin is to be in Christ. I finally understood that everything in this world is temporary, including my grades. 

Without God I wouldn’t be able to study or learn in the first place. I realised my motivation for studying was only to get good grades that would fuel my pride. I was so hung up on being the best, feeling proud, and keeping a good reputation, that I forgot why I was learning in the first place. 

In reality, grades aren’t everything. They’re just used in school to show how well we’re learning. Our calling as students is to try our best in our studies. But grades are not supposed to be a competition between your peers. Yes, we do need to try our best in studying and school but not until it becomes our idol and we place studies above God.

After a while, I finally know the answer to Liam’s question about why I was trying so hard. Back then, it was to fuel my pride–to make me feel good about what I’ve achieved. But now, my motivation is to learn so that I can be better equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to glorify God, both now and in the future. 

*OUTTRO*

Thanks for watching the whole video! Look out for the next video, where my friend Liam will give his experience and point of view on grades and study. Bye!

No small sacrifice

We’ve all made sacrifices before – whether it was giving up a hobby for ministry or giving up a few dollars as an offering at church. Not all sacrifices were physical, and not all sacrifices were made happily, but we can agree that all of them were made at a certain cost to ourselves. 

Why, then, do we continue to make these sacrifices to God? After all, if we judge our actions by the world’s motto of ‘pleasure over pain, aren’t we being incredibly foolish?

When puzzling over questions such as these, it’s always best to turn to the very beginning, where the very first sacrifice to God was made by mankind.

The Very First Sacrifice

Most of us have heard about the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). Two brothers, sons of Adam and Eve, were presenting sacrifices to God. While Cain presented fruits of the ground as his sacrifice, Abel, being a shepherd, presented the fat of his firstborn lamb. It’s written that the Lord accepted Abel’s sacrifice while rejecting Cain’s. This led to Cain’s anger and jealousy, and although being warned by God, he went on to kill Abel, resulting in his punishment to be ‘driven from the ground’ for the rest of his life.

If we take this chapter for face value, some might argue that God was unfair to Cain – after all, why didn’t God accept his sacrifice?

Sacrifices in the Old Testament

If you take a look at the Old Testament, you’ll probably notice that there’s a lot of mentions of ‘sacrifices to God’ there. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Israelites, all sacrificed burnt offerings to God. Again, with many of the kings and prophets, they all sacrificed to God. 

If we open up to Leviticus 1, we’re presented with the instructions that the Lord gave Moses concerning the burnt sacrifices of the Israelites. This chapter is followed by three others, all involved in the topic of sacrifices. These include both animal and grain offerings, with the method of sacrificing depending on both the type of offering and motive. For example, a lamb offered as a peace offering would be killed in front of the tent of meeting with its blood thrown on the sides of the altar, while a bull being sacrificed as a sin offering would have its blood sprinkled seven times before the Lord in front of the veil of sanctuary. 

The main motives behind these sacrifices vary between thanksgiving/praise, penitence for sins, or self-dedication. No matter what type of sacrifice it was, it was a serious and holy matter. 

We must remember that God doesn’t need anything that we may sacrifice to Him – everything we own, even our very lives, were given to us by Him. It doesn’t matter how much you give Him – He is not obliged to us in any way for our sacrifices. 

What matters to God in a sacrifice is the attitude and state of heart of the giver.

But what exactly is involved in this state of heart? Let’s take a closer look!

  1. Sacrifice wholeheartedly

Google defines the word ‘wholeheartedly’ as “with complete sincerity and commitment.” The keyword being complete. The words that recur throughout the first four chapters of Leviticus are ‘without blemish’ and ‘firstfruits’. In simpler terms, everything we sacrifice to Him must be the very ‘best’. 

When we look back at the sacrifices of Cain and Abel, we see that although both of them offered to the Lord, it was only Abel who presented the ‘best’ of his flock – the firstborn. Not only that, but it’s clear that Cain did not have the right state of heart, as seen by his jealousy towards and eventual murder of his brother. Even though animal sacrifices are no longer relevant to us, we must still sacrifice to God our best whether this means giving Him the ‘best’ of our time, the ‘best’ of our efforts, or the very ‘best’ of our lives.

  1. Sacrifice cheerfully

It comes as no surprise that the sacrifices we make aren’t always made with a happy heart. I know from personal experience that we usually feel as if a cheerful heart in sacrificing is too much to require. But the truth remains.

I recall hearing this quote from a sermon. “If we refrain our lust, without cheerful obedience to please God’s heart, it is not holiness. Obedience becomes a grievous yoke to us.”

When we sacrifice comfort, pleasure, or an easy life for God, our first reaction is to grumble. But, if we are to sacrifice to God, we must give Him our all – and that includes our emotions. 

Whenever I complain about sacrificing my time and effort to help my mum, she always reminds me that it is better to not sacrifice at all than to sacrifice unwillingly. And the same definitely applies when we sacrifice to Him. 

  1. Sacrifice all

A chapter I came across when reading Sara Barett’s book, Love Riot, was titled ‘Do You Love Enough to Give Everything?’ There, she mentioned a quote from an article that she had recently read, which changed her perspective on sacrifice to God. It read: “ ‘Lord, there’s nothing I won’t do for You. I will die for You!’ But I think Jesus is responding by pointing to places in our lives and saying, “Yes you are willing to die for me…but are you willing to let this thing die in you?” 

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that, “we know that the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14a), meaning that our obedience to Him must not be limited to purely external sacrifices. 

Sara Barett challenges the reader with the following question: “Can you think of any areas in your life you’ve been afraid to give to God?” If I were to be truthful, there’s too many aspects of my life that I’ve been unwilling to give – my free time, my hobbies, even my comfort zones. But if we are to sacrifice our best for Him, we must sacrifice all.

There are many spiritual heroes who sacrificed status, comfort, and their very own lives for God. One of the most inspirational for me personally is an evangelist named George Muller. Although his early college years were spent selfishly for himself, he sacrificed his reputation, status, allowance, human support and appreciation – all for God. We must sacrifice our entire lives to Him – in both physical and spiritual aspects. 

In the end, it’s only us individually who can make the decision – the decision to sacrifice our best and our all, with a cheerful heart. Don’t get me wrong – I guarantee (from personal experience) that the process won’t be easy, and it’ll cost you. But whenever we feel discouraged, we must remember Jesus- how He was willing to give up his position as the glorified Son of God in heaven to suffer on earth, and ultimately sacrificing His own life on the cross for our undeserving souls. 

Will you sacrifice for Him? 

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