Contentment in the Wilderness

Do you often find yourself complaining about the many little unpleasant things that happen in your daily life? From waking up late and missing the train to school to your annoying friends or siblings; about the heavy workload and assignments given by your teachers, or about the high-speed internet connection that was just not fast enough to your liking.

We are all too familiar with these ungrateful comments that consciously (or unconsciously) come out of our mouths daily. Whenever something doesn’t go our way, we easily get annoyed, and our first impulse is to complain. 

“An ungrateful teenager” is a stereotype often attached to us, which unfortunately holds some truth.

We might think it’s okay (and normal) to spurt out our vexation whenever we feel like it; however, the Bible teaches us not to take this sin lightly. We may not realise it, but complaining is no less deadly a sin as idolatry.  

The deadly cost of complaining 

Most of us would be familiar with the story of the Israelites being delivered from slavery in Egypt. During their journey towards Canaan, the Promised Land, the Israelites started to complain towards God. 

God had given them plentiful manna to eat, yet they had other cravings, grumbling at the entrance of their tents for God to give them meat. 

“If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4a-6) 

Soon, God granted them meat, yet the Israelites continued to grumble over their hardships. 

When some of the men, sent to explore the land of Canaan and observe its people, returned to the camp with bad news, the Israelites grumbled once again. Upon hearing

how big, strong, and powerful the Canaanites were, and how the Israelites would not stand a chance if they were to attack them, they wished they had stayed in Egypt, where they seemingly had a better life with safety and comfort. 

“If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:2-4)

They even rebelled against Moses and Aaron, wanting to stone them, then choose a new leader and go back to Egypt. 

All their grumblings made God furious. He had already provided the Israelites with so many blessings, yet they were still ungrateful and complained a lot. Because of this, they were kept from entering the Promised Land, and as a result, destined to roam in the wilderness for forty years instead. (Numbers 14:26-35) 

Fast forward more than 3000 years later, and we still have the same disease of complaining that is no different from the Israelites’. We have been blessed abundantly, yet we keep complaining over the little things in life. We should learn from the Israelites’ mistakes and realise that complaining is the initial step away from God that will cause a multitude of destructive sins to follow. 

Just take a moment to think about some recurring sins we do. Maybe it is being envious of others, frequent fights with our siblings, or disrespecting our parents and teachers – trace it back to its root, and we’ll most likely find that it is related to being ungrateful. Ungrateful for our God; ungrateful for what God has done in us, and ungrateful for what God has given to us. All these are by no means small sins, and they all deserve God’s wrath.  

Overcoming daily life’s struggle – choosing gratitude over complaint 

Have you encountered real daily struggles choosing gratitude over complaint? 

Do you find it easier to complain than to give thanks? 

Do you easily get irritated when things don’t go your way?

According to pastor and author, Paul David Tripp, the decision to complain or to give thanks are both rooted in the way we view ourselves. “Complaint”, he said, “is an identity issue –  a severe case of misplaced identity.

He wrote, “If we place ourselves in the centre of our world and reduce our concerns down to what we want and feel, we will operate with an entitled and demanding attitude.” 

This entitled attitude will spur us to complain when things are not as we want. 

Tripp added, “The universe wasn’t created – nor does it operate – to satisfy our desires. We regularly don’t or can’t get what we want.”

There, he hits the bull’s- eye, and bluntly tells us the reality that we are not the centre of the universe; the world doesn’t and will never revolve around us! Thinking so will only make us a complaining person. 

As we are sinners, we are supposed to receive God’s wrath, yet we are saved. All that we receive are undeserved blessings that God has graciously given to us, even though we are not worthy. When we recognise that we are debtors to God, and that God is not obliged to give us anything, we will be humbled, and learn to be grateful instead of complaining. 

Furthermore, the small insignificant inconveniences that we complain about in our everyday lives should be taken as practise and training for the bigger struggles that will occur later in life. As Christians, we should all expect to receive more infliction, than those of the world. Since our teen years, we should practise being grateful instead of complaining about small inconveniences, rather recognising God’s plan behind them so that we can be prepared to face bigger struggles. 

We can all learn from the God-centered mentality of apostle Paul, who could still praise God even though he was arrested and imprisoned. Looking past all of his own circumstances and hardships, instead, he focused towards God’s good plan. If we change our self-centered lives to become God-centered, we can avoid becoming slaves to our circumstances and rather, become grateful for God’s providence in our lives – trusting in God’s plan behind all of our life circumstances, no matter how different they may be to our own desires. 

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Joanne Soviner (14) is one of the writers and designers for RE Generation-Z. She strives to share God’s love and grace she has received and the truth she is learning with other teens. She enjoys dancing, bullet journalling, and learning new languages.

RAT: Rapid Anti-sin Test

If you’re a student living in NSW, you would have done at least 2 Rapid Antigen Tests by now, supposing you’ve been following the local government’s recommendation for school goers to swab themselves twice weekly. 

Since our society is required to live with Covid, self-testing with RAT kits has become and will continue to be an additional new normal to the future. In the beginning, thousands of people joined the RAT race due to the lack of stocks. Despite the exorbitant price tag, many were still willing to purchase it, in anticipation of the symptoms appearing on them, therefore needing to get tested, isolate, and take some medication or vitamins to recover. 

Whilst it is significant to check our physical health during this pandemic, there is one most important thing that we often neglect to check- that is ‘our spiritual health.’ 

Have we checked our spiritual health recently? How do we check it? How can we make it healthier? 

As we willingly swab our noses twice a week for the benefit of our physical health, we also need to regularly check our spiritual health with the same urgency and willingness, for it will cost us our eternity. 

Acknowledge Our Disease

Indwelling SIN is the universal disease found in each and every one of us that is responsible for our spiritual deformity. It is so common that none of us is spared from it. To make it clear: ALL OF US has this disease. However, many refuse to acknowledge this truth or, rather, do not realise that they have the disease. Thus they live with it instead of trying hard to fight it. 

This situation is especially true for us who call ourselves Christians. We often think that we are better than the people out there. In reality, we are just as corrupted.  

We might say, ‘I go to church regularly, I listen to the weekly sermon attentively, I even take notes during the sermon and never skip my teen connect group discussions.’ By doing all these things, can we say that we have a clean bill of spiritual health? What was inside our heart and mind when doing all those things? What prompted us, and what motivation did we have for doing those things? 

We already know our sly enemy is always on the work to deceive us with its crafty tricks, making us think otherwise. Be very wary of the subtle sins we have. Humble ourselves and ask God to open up our spiritual eyes so that we can clearly see all of our sins as how our holy God sees it. Only then can we see the depth of damage it has caused us. 

Examine Our Spiritual Health

The Word of God is the only reference needed to examine our spiritual health. It is the highest standard, with 100% precision, that can tell us the severity of our spiritual conditions. The Bible is like a clear mirror that will show us where the disease of sin is lurking. 

Here I would like to suggest three guiding questions to kick off our self-examination. 

  1. Do we love our God more & hate our sin more each day?

God has given us the greatest and first commandment in Matthew 22:37

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 

When we say we love our God, we should do it with everything we are. He should be on the throne in our heart, be in charge of our soul and occupy our minds. Everything must align together. We can’t claim to love God by stuffing our souls and minds with worldly things. We can’t compartmentalize ourselves for God and for the world. With that, we should have denied our fleshly desires and hated our sins more.  

  1. Do we strive to live a holy life?

The Bible has told us to make every effort to be holy as without holiness, we will not see the Lord (Hebrew 12:14). 

Many of us Christians may seem to be living a holy life… on the surface. We’re going to church and doing all the right things, and we might even receive some compliments for being ‘good teens’ compared to many others out there. However, many of us may not be striving to actualize and cultivate the gospel we learn into our daily lives and live a holy life.

Despite all the misconceptions about holiness within our generation, the greatest joy that we can ever find in this world is through obeying and following the laws of God; and living in holiness with Him. Once we accept Christ, the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to regenerate and sanctify us, and holiness is a fruit that comes naturally after. 

Living a holy life does not mean we never sin or that we can 100% follow God’s law without fail, but it is learning to love what God loves (hate what God hates) and doing his laws with a joyful heart. 

  1. Do we bear fruits of the Spirit?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” (Galatians 5:22-23b ESV)

Another way to examine our spiritual health is by observing the fruits we produce in our lives; particularly the fruits of the Spirit. Essentially, when we develop a deeper personal relationship with God, we go through the process of sanctification, and our lives are changed to be more Christlike. These fruits of the Spirit will emerge in our lives as our character and outlook change. 

  • Love – do we love others as God calls us to?
  • Joy – do we feel joy when we follow God and do his commandments?
  • Peace –  do we feel true peace in Christ?
  • Forbearance (i.e. patience) – Do we exercise patience when meeting hard people or circumstances? 
  • Kindness and goodness- Do we show kindness to others?
  • Faithfulness – Do we faithfully follow God in any life circumstances?
  • Gentleness – Do we display the ‘spirit of gentleness’ (Galatians 6:1) and humility?
  • Self-control – Are we able to say ‘no’ to our fleshly desires?

Take Action For a Life-Long Recovery 

So what was your diagnosis? Was it a good one?

Mine is a far cry from ‘good’, and I assume many of you share my result.

When we are placed under the microscope of the Bible and illuminated by the bright light of God’s holiness, no one can escape. However, the Bible is not given to condemn us for falling short. It is there to show us the truth and guide us to come closer to our heavenly Father. 

During our time on this earth, we need to go through a life-long process of progressive sanctification every single day. It can often be so painful, but this process is necessary for our recovery. 

When we have an intimate personal relationship with God, we will grow in our love of the Lord, and we will learn how to mortify our sins and reject our worldly desires. It is only through a union with Christ, that we will be sanctified and transformed into a new creation. He will enable us to love holiness more and to walk in the path of obedience. All these things can only be obtained by praying and meditating on God’s Word daily. 

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” 
Psalm 119:9

Next, to commit ourselves into the recovery process of spiritual health, we can start doing these things:

  1. Constantly praying and studying God’s Word.

This is the most important; the first step that we cannot skip.

  1. Fellowship

Initiating fellowship, and having a group of teenagers that we can have fellowship with will help to strengthen our spiritual health, and also give us a support system. True fellowship happens on the basis of a spiritual relation, and being one in Christ. In fellowship, we can share our lives and our struggles with others, and we can hold one another accountable. We can look out for one another, lovingly point out one anothers’ ‘symptoms’, and especially support and pray for those spiritually weak. 

  1. Ministry

Serving within the church allows us to humble ourselves to serve God, and to evangelize God’s truth to others out there who are yet to hear it. Within ministry, we may also have fellowship with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and we can learn how to expand our talents to be used for God’s glory. Our faith is strengthened through the hardships and trials we face, and we learn to reject worldly pleasures and walk in obedience. 

So as we enter this school year, I encourage us all to not only keep checking our physical health but, most importantly, to check on our spiritual health against God’s Word more regularly. May we all experience spiritual growth and start (or continue) on the life-long journey of spiritual recovery. 

Joanne Soviner (14) is one of the writers and designers for RE Generation-Z. She strives to share God’s love and grace she has received and the truth she is learning with other teens. She enjoys dancing, bullet journalling, and learning new languages.

What Friends Are For

Nearing the end of the year, I look back at the past year and give thanks. I give thanks for the health God has still blessed me with, the opportunities He has given me, and the things He has taught me. But above all, I give thanks for the people He has put into my life this year that have helped me grow into who I am now. 

Friends — they’re the people we socialise with the most. Averaging about 30 hours per week, interacting with our friends is a major part of our teenage life. Whether we have many friends, or maybe just a few close friends—we always long for true friendship. After the first man, Adam was created, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) Yes, we are created as ‘social beings’. Therefore relationships are very important to us. 

The importance of friendship 

I am sure we all now understand how important our relationships with friends are. The pandemic situation this year forced us to go into yet another lockdown that lasted the whole school term. It constrained us to mingle with our friends and made us distant. I became more aware of how our friends and our interactions with them can have a big influence on us. 

We all know our friends can influence our desires, interests and hobbies and even some of our thoughts. Most of us have also heard of ‘peer pressure’ or FOMO within our friendship circle that may lead us to do things that we wouldn’t normally do. But during lockdown, I truly realised that friendships could affect our motivation, mood and even change our entire worldview and outlook on life. For instance, many of my classmates found that we were losing motivation to study during lockdown because they did not get as much interaction with their friends or peers as they would in a normal classroom setting. Many also became sadder, anxious and pessimistic amidst the dreary lockdown without the daily interactions with their friends. They turned to playing video games, binge-watching Netflix and scrolling through Tik Tok, but all these efforts did not make things any better. 

This led me to wonder: if our friendships can have such a big influence on our lives, then why do so many people in our generation choose and treat friendship carelessly? 

Our friendships (and any of our relationships with other people) are very important. They will shape our lives, thus we should be careful and pay more attention about who we choose to befriend. 

“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.”
Proverbs 13:20 

The breakdown of our social circles 

By no means am I saying we should only befriend a certain type of person, and I definitely do not imply that we should only be friends with Christians who have the same beliefs as us. However, we should be aware of the breakdown of our social circles and exactly where each one of our friends stands. 

Simply said, our social circles can be further broken down into several tiers. This may include our acquaintances, our casual friends, and our close friends. You may be just like me, ‘knowing’ many people in your grade just by their names and faces but have never talked to them. You may wave to others when you pass by on your way to class. However, when it comes to your inner circle of close friends, they are the people whom you sit with at recess and lunch breaks. You know them, and they know you quite well too. You feel comfortable sharing your life with them and confide in them about your problems.

Now let me tell you this: Not everyone can be let easily into that inner circle of yours.

This special circle is only meant for the people you carefully choose as your closest (prayerfully true) friends; they are the ones who will have the biggest impact on your life. As much as we would like to have many close friends, we need to understand that these friends will not only have the ability to influence your interests, thoughts or life direction—but can also lead us closer to or further away from God. So choose wisely. 

Signs of a true friend 

  1. True friends love us and point us to Christ

True friends show Christ-likeness in their lives. None of our earthly friends can ever compare to Christ, the ultimate true Friend who was willing to sacrifice Himself on the cross for us. However, God still calls us all to be true friends by loving one another, just as how Christ loved us. True friends are selfless and put their friends’ before themselves. They also evangelise God’s truth to us so that we can experience the delight of the Lord together. In a true friendship, we should feel ourselves drawing closer to God day by day and growing in the knowledge of Him alongside our friend.  

“ My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  
John 15:12-13

  1. True friends pray for us and encourage us 

True friends will pray for us and encourage us amidst our struggles in life. They will support us and will direct us to depend on God through all our hardships. The encouragement from true friends will help motivate us to obey God, even when it is hard to do so. Our true friends are the people who will lend a listening ear when we want to share and will also help carry our burdens by praying for us. 

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”  
1 Thessalonians 5:11 

  1. True friends hold us accountable 

True friends are people who we can trust, people who will not judge or reject us and will honestly but lovingly point out our sins. As Christians, we should have our circle of brothers and sisters in Christ that we can count on to hold us accountable. This may be our connect group friends, or friends who serve in ministry together. As children of God, they too will understand how it feels like to be the minority in our society today. These true friends help to support us as we fall into sin and suffering and offer us Godly counsel amidst the worldly things we face each day. 

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” 
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

These are some of the signs of true friends that we should look out for in our inner circle. Pray that we can find true friends and also become one ourselves to show Christ’s love to others around us. 

More than friendship 

And now we move on to the elephant in the room, a ‘more than friendship’ relationship. Yep, you guessed it—I’m talking about dating. 

Out of the other relationships that we have been exploring and reflecting on in the past couple of weeks, this is the only one I have not experienced (and I’m sure it is the case for many of you too). But certainly, we’ve all seen our fair share of romantic relationships from all the Hollywood romcoms and the k-dramas that we watched. Many of us may also know that some of our friends are starting to dabble into romantic relationships. It is also possible for some of you to wish for such a relationship yourselves. 

However, before we jump onto the bandwagon and dive into romantic relationships, we need to know of the danger attached to it, especially in today’s culture. Society today takes dating lightly and many people date with no intention of marriage. The media today has twisted what God had intended for dating and marriage to be and has falsely made young people build up their own expectations and ideals for what it should be. 

Now let me burst your bubble. Romantic relationships are more than just romance. Dating and marriage should be in God’s time and should be according to what God intends it to be, that is, to display the amazing redemptive story of Christ and His bride—the church. Therefore, it should be done in loftiness of respect and responsibility to God. 

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” 
Genesis 2:24

In God’s time, if at all, we will be called to get married and start our own families. We need to remember that God should always be the centre in all. For all the things that we do in life, we should seek to please and glorify God—and this is no different in the context of romantic relationships. 

Rather than searching for ‘the one’ in this time of our lives, we should wait for God’s perfect timing and arrangement. We should ask in prayer for our future significant other to be someone who fears and loves God and will accompany us in our work for Him in our lives. 

As we reflect on the roller coaster ride that 2021 has been, I would like to pose a few questions to examine ourselves:

  • Have our relationships with others been godly just like the way that God intends them to be? 
  • Have we become a true friend to others around us so that they may see Christ’s love through us? 

Venturing into a new year, I hope that we may reflect on all our relationships that God has blessed us with this year. First and foremost is our relationship with God. Then our relationship with our family. Lastly is our relationship with our friends. May our relationships be used as instruments to glorify God even more in the coming year. 

Joanne Soviner (14) is one of the writers and designers for RE Generation-Z. She strives to share God’s love and grace she has received and the truth she is learning with other teens. She enjoys dancing, bullet journalling, and learning new languages.

Not So Hard

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘teenager’? How do you describe yourself as a teen?

I recently did a Google search for words that described teenagers. Apart from a few positive words, the most common ones I found were ‘lazy’, ‘rebellious’, ‘ignorant’, ’immature’ and ‘self-centred’. These are some negative stereotypes faced by us teens nowadays.

According to worldly standards, our typical Generation-Z teenager likes to be idle, has an indifferent attitude towards most things in life, can’t live without checking a device every few minutes, and is infamous for their mood swings and rebellious nature towards their parents. Unfortunately, I have to admit these descriptions have some truth for many of us.

On the other hand, I’m convinced that you will strongly agree with me that teenagers do possess more positive qualities than those given labels. However, the real problem is that we start to believe and normalise their undervalued claims and think it is okay to live ‘down’ according to those low expectations placed on us. 

Over the recent school holidays, I participated in a book club activity organised by the teens in my church. The book I read was Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris. Just as the name suggests, this book is all about how teenagers should rebel against society’s low expectations, step outside of their comfort zones, go beyond what is expected, and start doing hard things worth doing for the glory of God. 

The Average Teen 

The book introduced me to many young people who had gone on to do extraordinary things in their teen years to make significant contributions to society. There’s no surprise that the book’s authors, Alex and Brett, also have plenty of extraordinary experiences in their teen years including writing their first book at the age of eighteen! Do Hard Things became a best-selling book that has been translated into a dozen languages and has empowered so many (young, and not so young) people to start doing hard things in their lives. 

Reading about all of these extraordinary teens was the most inspirational part of the book for me. But at the same time, it also made me feel uncomfortable. 

When I reflected on myself, the first reaction I had was to feel overwhelmed. Here, I am an average 14-year-old girl living a plain and ordinary teen life, and I have definitely not done anything extraordinary like all those young people mentioned in the book. 

Sure, I’m sitting in front of my laptop and writing this article right now instead of idling around, but we are talking on a whole lot of different levels here. We’re talking about serving as grass-roots directors for statewide Supreme Court campaigns and writing a best-selling book. I started to wonder if I was missing something along the way and had wasted some of my precious teen years.

Unintentionally, I started to reason with myself.

Well… you see… I just turned 14 not so long ago. That means I can still be considered a newbie teenager right? Besides I am fully aware that God has created each of us unique with sets of different talents, and we should be content without comparing ourselves with others. I think I’m already doing good enough. Those young people they’re talking about in the book are outliers, they are way above my league — I am just average after all. It’s best if I just stick to doing what I know best to carry out my responsibilities as a student. 

Once again, I am convinced that I just represent the inner voices of so many of you, fellow ‘ordinary’ teens. While we are in full agreement on this (I take liberty to assume), unfortunately these kinds of reasoning are the exact excuses that the book states would hinder us from doing what we could actually do — to be specific, from what God actually made us to do. 

Overcoming Common Roadblocks 

For those who know me personally, I am conscientious, a perfectionist and a high achiever. Furthermore, I often ‘overthink’ things. Previously, I thought that my unhealthy habit of  ‘overthinking’ was just a result of my personality. But I learnt that there are actually two main reasons why these thoughts came to my mind (yours too) and possibly held me back to reach my full potential.

  1. Fear

If you’re anything like me, fear is probably the most common reason that stops you from doing great things. Fear of failure is a big thing for me, and I know for sure that this is also the case for many of my friends and the majority of people. I mean, who likes failing, right? Whether it be participating in a competition, trying a team sport, taking a maths exam, or taking up ministry at church needs a great deal of effort and … there’s always a chance of failure in doing it.

As teenagers, we tend to worry a lot about failure and about how others’ opinions of us will change after we experience it. We have a reputation to maintain, don’t we?  Thus we tend to choose to ‘play it safe’ within our comfort zone. The old me would be so reluctant (and would avoid if possible) to sign myself up for something that I couldn’t do well or be the best at it.  

We always think that by not starting in the first place, we won’t have the chance to experience failure. Unfortunately, we will realise sooner or later that we’ve missed the opportunity to do many amazing things and have wasted days, weeks, months or even years doing nothing significant. 

I started to be one of the writers for RegenerationZ in January this year. That time, my teens youth group leader casually asked me to write a reflection on what I learnt from the teens retreat we had a few days before that. Never in a million years would I imagine myself doing this if not for the opportunity offered to me at that time, simply because it was outside of my comfort zone.

Throughout the year, I was given more responsibilities to take on. Often these thoughts came haunting me.  

Are you sure you can do it all? There’s no way you will be able to finish all your work and assessments from school if you spend more and more time doing ministry! Sooner or later, you will be drowning in all the work and fail in both school and ministry!’ 

There I would be lying if I say I’m not scared if that really happens. But, I can attest that God is sustaining me and enabling me to do them alright so far. 

I am also learning to look at failure from a different perspective now. Failure brings so many lessons that we would not have learnt in times of success. Obviously, no one would purposely fail just for its life lessons, but God will be at work in times of failure to make us less prideful of our limited self and ability and to learn to be solely reliant on Him. 

Looking back now, I am glad that I did not let my fear of failure overtake the situation. I am glad that I was able to take those scary first steps, and now I am embracing all of the new responsibilities and challenges that are given to me.

  1. Complacency

By definition, complacency is ‘a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.’ In simple terms, complacency is closely related to the feeling of pride, as well as the thought that we are already ‘good enough’. These thoughts and feelings are also significantly fueled by the low expectations of society. We often receive praise from others just for completing a task that was already our responsibility. Over time, these compliments and praises pacify us for not wanting to do more. We feel too comfortable to stay in our current position, and wouldn’t want to risk aiming to achieve bigger and harder things. Soon we fall short of our true potential because we aim only to be bigger than the next fish in our small pond. 

I realised that too often, I fall into the trap of having this mindset. On some occasions, I would soak in all the compliments and awards I received and use them as proof of my ability. Other times, I would use it as an excuse to justify that I was already doing better than others thus, I had the right to chill out. 

I believe my parents saw this trend in me when I was still in my previous school. So, we agreed for me to move to another school that would challenge me more academically. I remember they were saying that it is better for me to be a small fish in a big pond rather than a big fish in a small pond as it will challenge me to reach my full God-given potential. I learnt that we should measure our lives by excellence, rather than excuses. This is the only way in which we can grow and improve ourselves, and to cultivate the talents that God has given us for His glory. 

I Dare You 

A few months back, my 5-year-old sister was practising a piece on the piano. It was a song titled “Not So Hard” in her stage three piano book. After a few tries, she innocently commented, ‘Why is the title ‘Not So Hard’ when it is actually hard to play?’ My mum laughed at her and told her that it wouldn’t be so hard if she kept practicing.

Isn’t it true for almost everything else? The concept is the same —It will be hard when we first start doing it, but with practice it will become easier. This goes for simple tasks such as learning to sit, to walk, to eat and on to a bigger task such as waking up earlier to do your morning devotions, obeying your parents, and joining your church ministry. 

In the end, I would like to leave you with these two fundamental questions worth pondering (Do Hard Things pg 56) :

First, are we spending our time right now to prepare us for what we hope to become in the future?

Second, are we doing things now that will equip us for the greater things God may have for us to do? 

I would like to challenge you, fellow teens, to change your mindset and take that first step outside your comfort zone to do more hard things worth doing for God’s glory despite your fear or complacency. Draw your confidence in God to equip you to do what He wants you to do.  Remember this: ‘We are created to do hard things and we can do hard things.’ That small step will change the entire direction of your life.

“It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.”Lamentations 3:27 (NIV)

Joanne Soviner (14) is one of the writers and designers for RE Generation-Z. She strives to share God’s love and grace she has received and the truth she is learning with other teens. She enjoys dancing, bullet journalling, and learning new languages.

Against The Current

When we are given a choice between agreeing with the majority or siding with the minority, we always gravitate towards ‘the many’ even though we may not really agree with them. There is always a temptation to follow the crowds regardless of whether it is right or wrong. Social conformity comes from our Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). It hinders our ability to stand firm in what we believe is right. 

As Gen-Z followers of God, we are at the tip of the spear, always being confronted with such choices daily. The media feeds us with trends and ideas that do not align with our biblical principles. The principle beliefs and values displayed in this generation’s movies, books, music and fashion conflict with the Scripture more than in any other generation before us. Meanwhile, society does nothing but to endorse and embrace them. 

Maintaining our belief, purity and holiness in our Christian lives has never been harder. 

Counterculture life 

Many people would make the justification that ‘If everyone else is doing it, that means it’s right’ because ‘how can so many people be wrong?’

As Christians, however, we need to be clear that the majorities’ rules do not and cannot change the truth. Our standards should be God’s Word. Most of the time we cannot go along with the majority. Instead, we have to go against them in order to do what is right and pleasing to God. That means we have to set ourselves apart from the crowd and live a counterculture life. 

By definition, counterculture is ‘a culture whose values and norms of behavior differ substantially from those of mainstream society’. Simply said, if we choose to live counterculture, we choose to live a godly life as the minority. We choose the less travelled, often lonely road because this is the only path that leads to life in Christ (Matthew 7:13-14).

We are His chosen people. We are set apart from this world. We can’t accept what the world approves if they are contrary to God’s will (see Colossians 2:8). Just because most of our friends are doing it doesn’t make it right. The popular profane things many teens do such as swearing, alcohol, pornography, drugs and pre-marital sex all go against the nature of our holy God. People of the world like to do those things to satisfy their own sinful and selfish desires. We can’t call ourselves followers of Jesus if we are unwilling to let go of the ways of this world. 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will.”Romans 12:2 

It is hard

Since around April this year, all my fellow teens in the ReGeneration-Z ministry have been reading a Christian book together. The book title is Love Riot, written by Sarah Barratt who is a teenage author, speaker, and leading editor for The Rebelution (a Christian youth organisation). In this book, Sarah talks about many of the struggles faced by Christian teens today and how we can overcome them and step out in faith. 

Sarah’s discussion about the discomforts of living a countercultural life resonated well with my own experiences of rejecting the status quo and living a Godly life that is different to those around me. Sarah wrote, “Holding different beliefs in a liberal society, standing for truth when counterfeits are accepted, choosing love when everyone else is bowing to hate, and fighting for the truth of the gospel isn’t comfortable.” – Love Riot (pg 70)

So far, I consider myself blessed to have several close godly friends at school with whom I can openly talk about my faith. Moreover, those who are not Christians are accepting of my beliefs, and never do anything to make me feel uncomfortable about standing in the truth. Nonetheless, I still experience the awkwardness and discomfort of it all. Whether it was that time I was speechless when I was sitting among my classmates and teacher who were in a heated discussion about how Christians were homophobic and lived an unhappy life of do’s and don’ts, or at the other time when everyone else except for me was laughing at that crude joke that was clearly inappropriate and impure in the eyes of the Lord. Even during lockdown online learning, I was among the minority of people who did not wear a purple outfit or put on a purple screen background for the LGBT movement, ‘Wear it Purple Day’. 

I am certain such situations echo in many of us. It is a reality that we must face when we proclaim Jesus as our ultimate truth in this generation that rejects the existence of an ‘absolute truth’. Many times we may be tempted to change sides, to feel the comfort of blending in with others, but we shouldn’t. On the contrary, we need to stand firm, being fully aware and prepared because once we choose to stand apart, we are likely to be rejected and denounced by others. We may lose a friend or two, and on the other extreme we may be prosecuted and lose our life like what has happened in the past and is currently happening to His people in countries like Afghanistan, North Korea and China (2 Timothy 3:12). 

It is needed

One of our callings as Christians is to minister to the rest of the world. We cannot fulfill this calling if we choose to go with the flow. We should be the ones influencing others and bringing them to know God instead of being influenced by them to turn against God. 

A 19th-century British evangelist called Rodney ‘Gipsy’ Smith said, “There are five Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Christian. Most people will never read the first four.” This statement implies that the majority of people around us have never read the biblical Gospel or attended a single church service, but they ‘read’ us, the Christians. We are the ‘gospel’ that others will see. All of our words, actions and whole lives need to be holy so as to be a living testimony and authentic witness for Christ to everyone around us. We never know how God may work through our holy conducts to draw others closer to Him. 

Never think that others won’t be able to ‘read’ our lives during lockdown. Yes, we don’t see each other as much, but during this time they literally read our lives from the messages we send, the posts we release on our social media and the comments we make online. All these things will remain there long enough for more people to read what Christians are like. 

It is worth it

There’s a saying that ‘anything truly worthwhile does not come easy. If it did, it would not be all that worthwhile.’ Thus, no matter how hard or lonely this journey is, we should still persevere. In this uncertain world, God is certain and will remain faithful to His promise. 

  1. Heavenly Reward

God promised us a great reward in heaven will be ours.  

“Blessed are you when people hate you when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” -Luke 6:22-23a 

Do not worry about the world’s rejection, hold onto assurance of His promise as He is the judge and will have the last say (John 12:48). He is the one who has absolute control and power in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). 

  1. Happiness and Freedom 

To people of the world, Christians may always seem to be living their lives under a giant rulebook of do’s and don’ts. They have the wrong perspective about holiness in life as they associate it with being fanatic, stiff, self-righteous, inflexible, unhappy and gloomy. Our friends may mock us, saying that we don’t have a sense of fun in life; about how we ‘only live once’ but choose to spend our precious days of youth in such a dreary way. They long for happiness and freedom, and most of them try to look for it in all the wrong things like video games, alcohol, pornography, drugs, free sex, and more. These things won’t bring them happiness or freedom, instead they get trapped deeper in their addictions. 

On the contrary, holiness leads to happiness in life. Rev. Agus recently shared a quote from a puritan, Thomas Brooks, about his interesting metaphor between holiness and happiness. He wrote, “Holiness differs nothing from happiness but in name. Holiness is happiness in the bud, and happiness is holiness at the full.”

In short, we can’t find happiness in worldly things. Happiness will only bloom from holiness and the greatest joy that we can achieve in this life is in the joy of obeying God’s laws and living in holiness with Him. 

When we live our life in sync with God, we will feel His love abundantly towards us as He will be with us to guide, protect, provide and love us (Amos 5:14).

Pressing On

Let me remind you that we are nothing without God. Everything we are is God’s grace. So do not ever think that you can live if it is not granted by God. Do not think that you can live your daily life by your own strength, not to mention going on to live a holy life against the current for God. So how can we press on and not waver? Three things were suggested by Sarah in her book:

  1. Prayer

Prayer is a very powerful thing for all those who are in Christ. When we pray, we have the most personal connection with God, we are able to encounter Him and speak to Him one on one. Prayer gives us strength, courage, and assurance to face the everyday challenges that may come with living for God. 

  1. Scripture

Meditating on God’s Word regularly strengthens our knowledge and trust in the Lord, enabling us to avoid the influence from the mainstream. The bible is full of commandments, words of encouragement and directions to how God wants us to live our lives. Making time to read Scripture is a struggle, but it is a good routine to build up to constantly remind ourselves what is true and right (Psalm 1:1-6).

  1. Stepping Out in Faith

Trust God 100%. Step out of our comfort zones to respond to what He calls us to do in submission and obedience. Let go of all the fears we have and trust God to guide us in living out the plan He has for us. 

Apart from those three above, I would like to add one more that I find very helpful for me.

  1. A Christian Community

Find a community of people who stand in the same truth, who can encourage and support you — people that can become your role model. One of the first places we can look for such a community is within the church congregation. For me, this includes my youth group leaders and friends, as well as my friends in the ministry. I find that our regular fellowships are a genuine and safe space in which I can share my struggles, learn and pray for each other and grow together spiritually. Even though my other friends at school may criticise me for standing apart, it is reassuring to know that I am not really alone. I have right behind me, a community of believers who will back me up and a mighty God who will never forsake me. 

“Press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.
– Philippians 3:14

Joanne Soviner (14) is one of the writers and designers for RE Generation-Z. She strives to share God’s love and grace she has received and the truth she is learning with other teens. She enjoys dancing, bullet journalling, and learning new languages.

Fully Forgiven

How do you feel about forgiving someone who has hurt you? 

Throughout our life, I’m sure there are countless times when we felt wronged or hurt by others. The idea of forgiving those people would definitely not come naturally; not even in our wildest imagination. Our first instinct would be to reject the idea completely with countless excuses up our sleeves to justify our reservation. 

Just last year, I had the experience of such a situation. I was caught in a friendship where my trust and sincerity were taken advantage of. Unfortunately, it was not a mere misunderstanding but purely an intentional act of lying which made me feel hurt and frustrated. I was angry and annoyed with that person, and avoided her for the rest of the year. 

Deep down I knew that I should have forgiven her. I prayed the Lord’s Prayer and kept asking God to forgive my sin ‘as I have forgiven those who have sinned against me’ But it just felt really hard to do! For the rest of the year, I struggled with the feelings of ‘I know what I should do’ but ‘I can’t do it yet’ as the incident was so fresh to me.

It was only on the very first sermon of this year, I learnt about how forgiveness should actually work, giving me the courage to finally take the first step to forgive that friend. 

In his sermon about ‘The Four Directions of Our Sight’, Rev. Agus talked about looking backwards into our past. He mentioned about the hate and unforgiveness that we might have in our hearts towards the people who have previously hurt us. He told the congregation that we should forgive the people who had sinned against us. However, he also added that forgiving others doesn’t mean that we have to forget about what they did and return to our original state as if nothing had happened. In this area, we must pray and ask for God’s wisdom, to enable us to forgive and to move on by putting the relationship into the right state.

I felt relieved after hearing that sermon which helped me to learn the truth. Initially, I always thought that when I forgave her, I had to forget the incident altogether and return to former terms with my friend. In my head that was the whole idea of forgiveness, which was totally wrong. This belief was apparently one of many misconceptions of the world about forgiveness, which often makes us reluctant to forgive others. 

Learning the truth 

Not long ago, my mum shared with me the lesson she learnt from her daily devotion taken from ‘The Quiet Place’ book by Nancy DeMoss Welgemuth. In her book, Nancy summarised at least four misconceptions about forgiveness and revealed to the reader the truth found in the Bible. 

  1. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It’s a choice.

But forgiveness cannot be proven by our feelings, any more than it can be motivated or empowered by them. Forgiveness is a choice. And feelings often aren’t. So it’s quite possible to forgive someone the right way – God’s way – and still have thoughts flash across your mind that seem to contradict the decision you made.” – Wolgemuth, Nancy DeMoss. The Quiet Place (p. 255)

From this very first point, I learnt that we forgive because we deliberately and purposely choose to forgive someone the right way – God’s way. It should not be because of our feelings, whether we feel like forgiving or not. 

Once we decide to forgive, it does not mean we are free from the pain forever. We might sometimes feel the pang when old feelings turn up and we need to take this as an opportunity to once again reaffirm our forgiveness to others. 

  1.  Forgiving is not forgetting.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” -Ephesians 1:7

I’ve heard the phrase ‘forgive and forget’ so many times in my life, and without realising, this was what clouded my ability to forgive my friend. Incapable of forgetting, made me reluctant to forgive her, even though I knew it was the right thing to do. 

Maybe many of you are also like me, thinking that you won’t be able to forgive those who have hurt you as you cannot forget and get rid of the pain inflicted by them yet. But this is not true. Forgiving does not mean forgetting. Even the Bible never said that God forgets our sins, rather He chose not to remember them. “Choosing not to remember is not the same as forgetting.”

“ For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”– Jeremiah 31:34b

Because of the finished work of Christ on the cross, God will not charge us for the debt of sin. He will not hold our sin against us and hold us liable against them. 

  1. Forgiveness is not a work in progress. It’s a work in practice.

Many of us may be ‘procrastinating’ on forgiving others, dragging it out longer into a lengthy period of ‘healing’ and ‘self-consolation’. In my experience, I was also guilty of this by waiting and believing that ‘all wounds would heal with time’. 

But forgiveness does not work that way. By God’s grace, it should be a choice that we make now and then living out the implications of that choice into the future. Forgiveness works at a specific point in time that you decisively choose to forgive a person. Nancy DeMoss Welgemuth describes forgiveness as a plant that has to be planted first to bear fruit. We should first plant the seed of forgiveness before expecting the fruits of healing and joy to come, and not the other way around. 

  1. Forgiveness is not a quick fix nor a one-time event. It is an ongoing way of life.

‘Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”’ Matthew 18:21-22 NIV

Too many times as teens, we want a quick and easy result with minimal effort required. Unfortunately, forgiveness doesn’t exist as a quick fix nor a one-time event. 

Maybe we expect that once we choose to forgive our offenders, they will realise their mistake and repent, and our relationship will be mended. But, we live in a fallen world. Not all offenders are going to apologise for their actions, and your relationship with them could be broken forever.  

Another reality is that we will keep having to face such situations as long as we still live in this world. Forgiving one person now won’t change that fact. We must brace ourselves with the need to do it again and again as an ongoing way of our life.

Learning to obey 

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32

Forgiving others and living out the implication of this choice is certainly not easy.  

To tell you the truth, after I decided to forgive my friend, I was still hoping not to end up in any of her classes this year. To my dismay, the exact opposite happened. She turned out to be my classmate for all my subjects. We even ended up in the same group work project once. 

I confess that I was frustrated at the beginning. I really wasn’t ready to follow through with my choice daily. 

However, I slowly understand God’s wisdom for putting me in a position where I couldn’t ‘escape’ forcing me to peer deeper into His words and presenting me with the opportunity to learn more.

Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon on “Forgiveness Made Easy”, teaches us to forgive each other “for Christ’s sake”.  

We surely know that God hates sin. Sin opposes the primary person and characteristics of God; His holiness. The holiness of God is disgusted by sin’s unholiness. Yet God decided to forgive us, who are such sinful and impure human beings for Christ sake, for the sake of the great atonement which Christ has offered. 

How big could others’ wrongdoing be compared to our sin towards God? As Spurgeon put it, “What we owe to God is infinite, but what our fellow creature owes to us is a very small sum”.

Thus, when it feels hard for us to forgive, remember that God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake. The Son of God died on the cross bearing all the consequences of our sin against the Father so that we may be reconciled with Him. 

God himself has set ahead of us the example, before commanding us to do the same. We would truly be wicked creatures if we demanded repayment from those who have done us wrong, even after receiving God’s forgiveness for our incomparable sins. 

Spurgeon also reminded us that forgiveness is a mutual operation – forgiving each other (not just others), because surely enough we are also sinned against others and need to ask for their forgiveness.

So brothers and sisters, can’t you forgive one another for Christ’s sake?

In the uncertain days ahead where the Covid outbreak is still rampant, we cannot predict what will happen to us, to our families and friends. If any of them have wronged us (or we have wronged them), be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you when He still gives us the chance.

Joanne Soviner (14) is one of the writers and designers for RE Generation-Z. She strives to share God’s love and grace she has received and the truth she is learning with other teens. She enjoys dancing, bullet journalling, and learning new languages.

Perfect Imperfection

Will I ever be good enough?

Will people like me and accept me for who I am?

Do people think I’m weird?

I wish I…

All these thoughts are very commonly found in our minds as teenagers. 

Our appearance and ability that results in acceptance and approval from others means the world to us. 

We want so many things, but not just anything. We want it to be ‘perfect’ and ‘fast’.

Social media, our ‘popular and genius’ friends and often our own thoughts are used as a benchmark for our idealism and self worth.

The Survey

A few months ago, I conducted a survey asking about the challenges faced by teens in our generation to obtain some data about their struggles. Though receiving the expected result, I find it somewhat concerning to a certain degree and it saddened me. Around one hundred teenagers aged 12-16 responded to the survey, and many admitted to struggling with mental health, emotional health, the thoughts of self harm and even suicide. These are not just random people. My friends and classmates that I know personally are among these participants. 

Grades, insecurity, loneliness and friendship problems were the main issues that came up. Things that I could resonate with. These standard profound issues are faced by all of us teens. 

Forms response chart. Question title: how old are you?. Number of responses: 95 responses.
Source: Joanne Soviner
Source: Joanne Soviner

63.2% of all the respondents said that they are facing assessment stress. Around 47-48% said identity and insecurity are problems for them. Alarmingly, nearly 17% said they have had self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Much to my relief, only 2.1% said they had sexual problems and none had problems with substance abuse. 

Teenage Obsession 

Have you ever wondered why you value acceptance and approval so much?

Being social creatures, humans have a tendency to seek a sense of belonging and external sources of approval for the things we do. This applies for everyone, but is especially evident in teens.  Without realising, we grow an ‘obsession’ with social relationships and reputation.

Especially with the boom of social media, images of seemingly perfect, trendy and popular celebrities are just one click away. Over-glamorising certain lifestyle standards which gives us continuous pressure to be the same way as those that this world regards as perfect. 

The people around us: ‘perfect’ friends at school and our own family members that we look up to, adding up to our exasperation.

Above all Satan speaks to our minds….constantly. Being the deceiver he is, he speaks through our own thoughts that are comparing, accusing, insulting and pressuring all the time.

We want to be ‘the perfect one’ in our society. 

Fuelled by what we see or hear and pumped by our own fantasy of idealism, we feel the pressing need to whip ourselves into shape with the fear of missing out or falling behind in this achievement oriented world culture. 

All these really make us anxious and very sensitive.  

The Struggles

Even as a Christian teen, I am not immune to this. I know the truth yet it is very difficult for me to put it into practice. Many times, I have fallen into this obsession for  seeking approval from others, valuing the praise I receive, or envying those ‘popular’ girls.   

I have learned all these are lies that have been planted by Satan. They are his tricks to deceive me to believe that I am worthless if I can’t meet the world’s standards. The most important lesson is that I know and believe the hope can be found in Christ who values and loves me so dearly. Yet, it’s still not easy for me to face these struggles.

It leads me to wonder: If I find it hard to face even with knowing His truth, then how difficult would it be for those who haven’t learned these truths yet? 

The feeling of being in the pressure cooker and finding no hope when they fail to reach the bar is depressing.

Can I be any help to them while I myself am still in this struggle and trying to get up after falling countless times? 

The History

While browsing the internet, I found this website and read some interesting stories of some women of faith. 

Gladys Aylward was born in England with a small figure and dark-colored hair. She spent her early life, just like us, ‘envying’ her tall and blonde hair friends. But she responded to God’s calling in one of the revival services she attended and was willing to be used by God. She was sent to be a missionary to China, where her appearance helped her to blend in with the local people. She opened an inn and orphanage while spreading the gospel and brought many souls to know God. Her life story was published as ‘The Small Woman’ and was made into a movie where the actress who played her role is a ‘much taller’ Gladys for entertainment purposes.

A similar story comes from Amy Carmichael, an Irish girl born from a Christian family, who was not pleased with the colour of her brown eyes. She then prayed to God to change her eye colour to blue, like all her other family members. But her eyes remained brown. Though disappointed in her unanswered prayer, Amy kept committed to God. She later realised God’s wisdom for denying her request when her brown eye colour made her fit for a mission field job in India where she spent 56 years ministering women and rescuing young girls from becoming temple prostitutes.

These two women who felt lacking in their appearance, yet responded and committed to God’s calling, have been greatly used by God to become His servant to bring more people to know Him. 

A different story came from Fanny Crosby – a famous hymn composer (also a preacher, lecturer and home mission worker) who became blind due to mistreatment of eye infections she suffered when she was a baby. When she became discouraged, she prayed and asked God to use her despite her limitation. During her teenage years, it became evident that she had a great poetic talent, which she developed further to write thousands of hymns and poems until her old age. 

Rather than having self pity and blaming God, she gave thanks for her ‘disability’ which enabled her to focus on writing hymns. Songs such as ‘Near The Cross’ and ‘All The Way My Saviour Leads Me’ are some of my favourite hymns written by Crosby. 

Gratitude, Contentment and Prayer

I learned a lot from these three women and resolved that through our willingness to obey God, we too can win this battle and be used to help others. 

Our struggles cannot be used as an excuse to disobey God and it is not an obstacle to quit from our calling. Instead we need to adjust our mindset, learning to always intentionally be grateful and content with who we are and what we have as a gift from our Father to fulfil our calling in this world. 

We are created for a purpose, not as a mistake.

Our ‘newfound’ objective in this earth is not for ourselves but for the expansion of God’s kingdom within us and through us. We need to embrace this role with a clear sense of purpose and outreach to many lost souls, especially our fellow teens. 

I certainly know it is easier said than done.

But, hey, keeping up with the world’s standards is also not an easy task. Why don’t we choose the right battle that we know will give us absolute assurance for eternal life in Christ? 

So pray. A lot.

When you are alone and those wrong thoughts start coming, pray.

When you are out with friends and suddenly you feel ‘envious’, pray.

When you feel like giving in to sin, pray.

And when we pray, remember to include our friends who are facing the same struggle as us so they too can be saved, and if God is willing, that we will be ready to be used as an extension of His grace to our friends. 

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Joanne Soviner (14) is one of the writers and designers for RE Generation-Z. She strives to share God’s love and grace she has received and the truth she is learning with other teens. She enjoys dancing, bullet journalling, and learning new languages.

The Chosen

The final week of the school holiday is here – how time flies, especially during holidays. I hope you all had a good Easter and learned the true meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, to behold the Man, and to understand the significance of His sacrifice to our lives. On this occasion, I would like to recommend a great Christian series called The Chosen for you to watch before the holiday ends.  

The Chosen is relatively new and is ranked 1st as the most crowd-funded movie project of all time. This Christian TV series can be watched for free from Youtube or on their app. The first season contains eight episodes and a bonus Christmas episode. The second season was just released last week on Easter Sunday. 

I started watching this series not long ago, and I really enjoyed how each episode can depict important events in the Bible that deepened my personal understanding and interpretation while still being entertaining enough for a younger audience like us.

One of my favourite episodes is Episode 7 from Season 1, which portrays the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, written in John 3: 1-16

The Israelite’s Teacher

Nicodemus was an Israelite Pharisee of high position and a member of the ‘Sanhedrin’ (the Jewish ruling council). Among all the Pharisees who disapproved of Jesus, Nicodemus was probably the only one who believed in Jesus’ miracles and teachings. The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus was particularly important as it was the last time He had a dialogue with a Jewish religious leader before His trials. He remained silent to most questions and was eventually crucified. In this conversation, Jesus truly revealed himself to Nicodemus and all of us — from which we can capture so many important points about Him.

Sent from God

It was late at night when Nicodemus met Jesus. Due to his high position, Nicodemus was afraid of being seen by the other Pharisees; hence he chose such an hour. 

“I believe you are not acting alone. No one can do these signs you do without having God in him — only someone who has come from God.” 

Nicodemus had seen several of Jesus’ miracles, such as His exorcism of Mary Magdalene and the healing of the paralytic. By saying this, Nicodemus proclaimed that he believed Jesus was sent from God. 

Born Again

Just like us, Nicodemus had many doubts and questions that he wanted to ask Jesus. In the movie, he asked Jesus, “What have you come here to show us?” Much to the anticipation of Nicodemus, Jesus replied, saying that He had come to show them a kingdom. Nicodemus did not understand that the kingdom Jesus was talking about was not of this world and protested about the rulers of Rome viewing Jesus as a threat. Jesus cuts him off, saying, “A sort of kingdom that a person cannot see unless he is born again.” 

The creators of The Chosen accurately depicted the confusion that we may likely experience when we hear the term ‘born again’. Nicodemus was deeply puzzled about what Jesus meant before questioning Him further, “You mean like a new creature? A conversion from a Gentile to a Jew?” He even joked about his old age, unable to return to his dead mother’s womb to be born a second time. 

The first time I heard the term ‘born again’ in Sunday School when I was younger, I was confused, just like Nicodemus. What does it mean? Does being ‘born again’ mean literally going back into my mother’s womb and going through the whole birth process again? 

Jesus explained, “Truly I say to you unless one is born of the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit. That part of you is what must be reborn to new life.” Despite being Israel’s teacher with extensive knowledge and study of the scriptures, Nicodemus was still confused after hearing Jesus’ explanation. Jesus’ further elaboration was really interesting for me. He explained John 3:8 in a way that I had never thought of before.

Jesus: “What do you hear?”
Nicodemus: “The wind.”
Jesus: “How do you know it’s the wind?”
Nicodemus: “Because I can feel it. I can hear its sound.”
Jesus: “Do you know where it comes from?”
Nicodemus: “No.”
Jesus: “Do you know where it’s going?”
Nicodemus: “No.”
Jesus: “That’s what it is to be born again of the Spirit. The Spirit may work in a way that is a mystery to you. And while you cannot see the Spirit, you can recognise his effect.”

Being born again is not about the physical birth associated with the flesh, but it’s about our spiritual lives. To be reborn in spirit is to have a change in heart, truly accepting God and living a new life – one that is lived for God and pleasing towards Him. The Holy Spirit is instilled and working within us, given to us by God to help us in our walk of faith. Just like how the wind continues to blow in a way we cannot understand, sometimes, we cannot recognise the work of God’s hand or understand the way he chooses to work in us. But in the end, we always recognise the effect of the spirit and receive its fruits. 

Came from Heaven

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.” (John 3:9)
“No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” (John 3:13)

Speaking to a Pharisee, Jesus knew that Nicodemus valued the law and was keen on obeying it. But the message Jesus is trying to convey here is that no one has succeeded to go to heaven by keeping and following the law. In other words, Jesus wanted to say that we cannot enter heaven by our own works. 

It is He, the Son of Man, who has descended from heaven to save us. And Jesus continued this conversation with the ‘how’.

Lift Up the Son of Man

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:14)

Knowing Nicodemus had a thorough understanding of the Old Testament (Torah), Jesus mentioned an event where Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness so that whoever was bitten by a snake would live by looking at it. In this, Jesus revealed His identity as the Son of Man who will be lifted up, that whoever believes will be saved.

Many people in Jesus’ time, just like Nicodemus, thought that the Messiah was going to come as a king. They perceived him to be a grand royal who would fight against the Roman rulers and deliver the people from the heavy taxation and oppression. But Jesus did not come to Earth as a king. Instead, He chose to be born in a humble manger, raised in a Nazarene carpenter family and despised by the religious rulers. He came into the world not to condemn it but to walk in the path of perfect obedience toward His Father so that through Him, the world could be saved from evil. He was to be lifted up neither to save the people dying from snake bites nor to save them from taxations or oppressions, but instead to save them from spiritual death in SIN. 

Suddenly, we could see the camera shifted to John and Andrew, who was eavesdropping on the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. John furiously wrote down this important conversation, which would later become the gospel of John. As the camera shifted back to Jesus and Nicodemus, it led to the most famous verse of the Bible. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

John 3:16 has been one of my all-time favourite verses, one that I can recite off by heart. This verse sums up all the Bible contents leading up to Christ, God’s plan when sending His Son, and Jesus’ work on Earth. God loved us in such a way that he was willing to send down His only Son to be lifted up on the cross on Calvary to save us from the spiritual death in sin.   

Follow Me

The movie scene of this meeting ended somewhat differently than in the Bible. Jesus invited Nicodemus to follow Him. Nicodemus was hesitant. He had wealth, a position in the Sanhedrin, a loving wife, many children, and grandchildren, and he was also getting advanced in age. He would have to give up his comfortable life and possessions to follow Jesus. 

In the next episode (ep 8), Jesus and his disciples are seen waiting at the well, ready to depart to Tiberius. Nicodemus is hiding in the corner. He had left a bag of gold for Jesus but was unwilling to leave behind his current life to follow Jesus. In disappointment, Jesus said, “You came so close” while Nicodemus sobs in the corner.

While this particular event was not stated in the Bible, I recalled a similar occurrence when Jesus asked an unnamed rich man to follow him. Even though the rich man wanted to follow Jesus, he did not want to give up his wealth. 

Most of the time, we are all just like Nicodemus and the rich man. We hold on to so many things such as our money, our achievements, our friends, our comfort in life, all things that we think can make us happy. We are so unwilling to give them up to follow Christ. 

Will we leave all these things behind to follow Him, or will we let HIM go after coming so close?

This episode of The Chosen gave me a unique viewpoint of John 3:1-16 that has deepened my personal understanding and interpretation of this passage. I hope you will enjoy this series as much as I do.

Happy watching!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fldru4OUAo?start=2258]

The Battle of Identities

It was a Wednesday afternoon, 3 weeks ago, when Ms. K walked into our classroom and probed this question to the class: ‘Who are you?’

There were many answers from my classmates. Some answered, ‘I am a human being’, some said, ‘I am made up of many things such as my hobbies or likes and dislikes’, while others said their name and nationality. I was trying my best to pay attention but I was getting bored by the second. Classes right after recess and straight before lunch are always tough (yawn).

But soon enough, one of my friends declared that she was a girl. When my teacher heard this statement, her response caught my full attention. She said, “Are you very sure about that? If you want to be something else – you can change that, right? You can be whatever you want to be, can’t you?” That class marked the beginning of my philosophy course for the year. 

THE WORLD BEYOND THE BUBBLE

I believe I used to live in a ‘safety bubble’ intentionally created by my parents. Being born in Asia, receiving my child baptism when I wasn’t even aware of it, playing with my Sunday School friends on weekends, and going to a religious school on weekdays put me in this so-called ‘bubble’ that wrapped me around ‘safely’. 

I am certain all of you had your own safety bubble created by your parents in one form or another when you were younger. But do you realise that the more we grow, the more exposure we inevitably will face from this contaminated fallen world? We can’t hide in our safety bubble forever.

False teachings, wrong philosophies, worldly ideologies are filling up our society.

The scheming enemy is out there placing its snares in so many different forms and ways to deceive and destroy us. It comes from the books we read, the movies we watch, the songs we listen to, the activities we do, and even from our classrooms! Like very tiny hazardous particles in the air, we inhale into our lungs every time we breathe, often didn’t realise they exist as we can’t see them and they don’t really make us sick instantly. 

POST-MO MOVEMENTS

We are now living in a ‘post-modern’ era that has actually started since the late 20th century. In this culture, people are skeptics and claim that there is NO absolute truth. Everything is relative, and questionable. They consequently tend to be self-referential and epistemological (episteme – knowledge and logos – reason/justification). Combine this with the post-Christian time we live in right now, where the culture is increasingly becoming more secular, it is a bizarre situation to face at once. Just last week, Rev. Agus warned us that philosophical matters or ideologies that involve the way of life and morals are much more evil than any physical harm. 

THE BATTLE 

The conflict between science and Christianity started in the 16th century, following the battle about equality and human rights that has once again been put into the limelight recently. Even though God is the one who created science, and that science would not exist without Him, modern-day scientists have been coming up with theories that go against Scripture. Their theories contradict with God’s purpose of creating science – which is to know more about Him and his creations.

God created everything vs Big Bang Theory/Evolution
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1-ESV)

The first sentence in the Bible starts the whole story about how our universe was created. God is the one who created EVERYTHING and before anything was made, God already existed. If you’ve been raised in a Christian family and have been going to church since young, you would already know this full well and (I hope) believe this truth wholeheartedly. However, the world around us rejects this truth and instead places its trust in theories of science. There are many theories about our existence and how the world came to be. The most common ones are the ‘Big Bang Theory’, which explains how the universe started as a single dot then expanded to its current size, and the ‘Charles Darwin theory’ of human evolution which suggests that humans originated from apelike ancestors.

God created male and female vs LGBTQ+
‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1:27-ESV)

This issue I see around the school is concerning. Some girls decided to come in a shirt and pants instead of dress uniform, diversity lunchtime clubs are created to open a ‘safe space’ for students to express themselves, and mufti days to celebrate diversity. Gender fluidity may be the worst and most common lie in our society that goes against the Bible in many different ways. 

Genesis 1:27 explains how in the beginning, God had already made us MALE and FEMALE. He did this according to His plan and he created male and female to be unified through the bonds of marriage and to reproduce. However, in this ‘post-modern’ world, humans have turned against God’s intention and introduced the concept of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) which encourages same-sex attractions as well as gender transformations. In this era, experiencing a feeling of attraction to someone of the same gender or ‘changing’ your gender is supported. There even emerges the ‘Q+’ section of LGBT, which is the genderqueer, people who think they fit into neither gender or ‘have their own gender’.

Some countries around the world have already supported this movement and even legalized it. The country I live in, Australia, legalized the LGBTQ+ movement and same-sex marriage in 2017. Since then, there has been a spike in the number of people, among which are also teenagers, who have identified themselves as gay or transgender. Statistics show as of 2020, 4.6% of teenagers in Australia identified themselves as being gay (The Australian’s Women’s Weekly).

God created men and women to be equal, but different vs feminism
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” (Genesis 2:18-ESV)

God created Adam and thought it was not good for him to be alone. So He created Eve, a woman, as a helper for Adam. Both men and women have their unique strengths and weaknesses, perfectly planned by God to complement one another. They are made different, but equal, with neither gender dominating over the other. 

Unfortunately, because men fell into sin, not fulfilling their calling and abusing their position, the problem of gender inequality came about. More and more, women are being looked down upon and not given the same opportunities as men are. They have also become more susceptible to violence and rapings, and soon a community of women grouped together to embark on the journey of feminism. Being as sinful as the men, this movement became a battle between the two genders, with women trying to prove themselves better than men, rather than to seek biblical equality. 

We are unworthy of His grace vs newly defined human rights
“One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?“Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:19-21-NIV)

No man is worthy to deserve God’s great grace, His never-ending mercies, and His ultimate salvation. It is wrong to think we have anything in us that is excellent or entitled to this treatment. Only those who have seen God’s goodness and glory will realise that we are nothing. Of course, it does not mean that we are not granted basic ‘human rights’, but it means that we should not have radical thoughts of freedom in the name of human rights. God is our potter and we are the clay, what right do we have to go against God’s design for us and choose our own description of identity? 

HOW CAN TEENS WIN THE BATTLE

Teens are often labeled as ignorant and self-centered human beings. The biological explanation for this behavior is due to our developing brain (ie. brain under constructions). We are still lacking awareness, thus often misjudge the seriousness of the situations and our abilities to handle them. Ignorance, however, is not bliss and very dangerous in this current era we live in now. 

A book that I’ve recently been reading – Teen Brain by David Gillespie states that our brains grow both in volume and maturity, starting from the third week of gestation and finishes when we are around 25 years of age. In our early childhood years, our brain is only starting to navigate spatial orientation, coordination, attention speech, and languages. In the teenage years, the brain then finishes impulse control, decision-making, and social skills; the crucial stage where we form the foundations of skills used for later in life. 

Coincidently it is also the stage when we are trying to find our real identity. In this time span, the things around us will have the most impact on our brains, shaping the majority of our values, morals, and beliefs. They will influence how we make our life choices that will shape our future. Hence why it is vital for us to be certain not to get polluted by the world’s crooked ideologies that will falsely dictate us.

We need to live with eternity in view. We need to think of the consequences of every choice we make. We need to make that right choice and avoid any evil temptations at all costs. No one can make that choice for you. Only your faith, your prayer, and your determination to be obedient to God can guide you to make the right choice. Equip yourself with the TRUTH of the Word of God. Hold tight and get dependent on it. Let it crush your heart and change your life to enable you to be who God has created you to be (your identity) and to fulfill your purpose according to His will.

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3-ESV)

As the culture of the world feeds us with wrong philosophy and ideology about who we are, remember that no matter how true it looks or sounds, as long as it doesn’t align with the Scripture then we ought to believe it is a lie. The word of God is the ultimate truth and should form the basis of our ideology and identity. 

So the next time I get the ‘WHO ARE YOU’ question, my answer will be:

I am a daughter of God, fearfully and wonderfully made by Him. I am shaped by His own hands from dust and breathed the breath of life. I am made in the image of God, with a purpose that is to glorify Him. I am also a sinful human that goes against my Creator, but because of His love, He redeemed me through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.

Growing Pains

Today marks the start of the second week of school.
How was your first week? 

Some of you may be relieved that you are no longer stuck at home and super excited to see all your friends again. Some of you might still feel nervous about making new friends in your new class (or new school!) and adjusting with new timetables and meeting all the school requirements. We all (including adults and kids) are also cautious, waiting to see this pandemic’s development praying this year will be better than the last. 

Personally, I’m just thankful that school has gone back to how we know it before quarantine although I am still sad that I am no longer in the same class as my small group of friends from last year. My inbox is also currently filling up with emails from school teachers, listing down their expectations and requirements needed from the students. Not to mention all the information regarding extracurricular activities and competitions to choose from such as Debating, Dance, Da Vinci Decathlon to name a few. 

As we venture into the new school year, I have a few things in mind to share; things that I learnt from weekly sermons and the retreat that I find useful. I hope that they can help us to sail through the year better as growing Christian teens. 

  1. Know yourself

Last year, for one of my art school assignments, we were asked to write a reflective paragraph about who we are using creative text sizes, colours and fonts. We were then asked to tear it down, only to rearrange it in a different way. Before I knew and without my permission, ‘Ms. Perfectionist’ (or let’s call her Ms P) who lived in me, decided to take charge of the task. She started to measure and draw lines on the paper and took the scissors to cut it nicely into identical-sized squares when most of my other friends just casually and randomly tore theirs. Ms P went to the extent and planned for me to rearrange those pieces into specific arrangements, rainbow colour coded! Perfect! 

Do you know yourself? Most of your answers would be YES. But do you really
I learnt that one of the biggest human problems is that we don’t really know ourselves! 

Are you aware that your ‘personality’ will significantly impact your thoughts, how you process things and how you perceive things; it will then affect your emotions, how you react to certain things and flow into your actions, how you deal with these things. So it is vital to really know yourself.

We are all created uniquely by God, with different personalities, strengths and weaknesses. 

For me, I like to do things in a structured manner, and I like to prepare things in advance. I don’t like failure, thus always trying hard to achieve the best results. Being an introvert who doesn’t talk that much and is not so good with meeting new people, I always try to stick with familiar faces (friends) and unconsciously try to make them feel comfortable. 

I remember the lesson I learnt from the retreat. “SIN takes healthy desires meant to serve us, and turns them into unhealthy obsessions that make us slaves.” I need to acknowledge this in order to understand the pitfall it creates for me. I am prone to the obsession with study and competition to serve my desire to achieve the best results, also trying to be someone everyone likes, to ‘please’ my friends so that they stick with me. Do you see it now? Be it your strengths or weaknesses can ‘turn on you and destroy you’ if you fail to recognise and acknowledge your sinful nature.

My personality, worries and struggles might be different from yours. But the same God that created us and loved us has given all these for our good. He wants the best for us, that is, to be more and more like Him and fulfil His purpose to bring Him glory. So take time to really know yourself as the very first step of growing. 

  1. The BIG W

Recently, I have found myself in a pool of choices to make and school requirements and responsibilities to meet. What language class to choose, what extracurricular activities I should join, what to do with the super long ‘to-do list’, etc.

These are choices you’ll have, often difficult to make. It is not about which one is right and which is wrong, but it is more about choosing the best option out of the ‘right’ ones.
HOW do we choose then? 

WISDOM. 

This was a topic discussed in Morning Devotions during our Teens retreat. 

So what exactly is wisdom?
Wisdom is knowing what the greatest goal is in any situation and the best way to achieve it. Unlike knowledge, wisdom cannot be learned and can only be given by God. But you need knowledge to exercise wisdom. In other words it’s knowing the right and best things to do with the knowledge you have.

How can I get it then? The only way is to receive it from GOD- keep praying to Him to give you wisdom, and for adequate knowledge to be able to exercise it. 

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5 – NIV)

To get the knowledge needed, we need to actively train ourselves to meditate and learn from the word of God daily (as written in the devotion on Jan. 28). So that when you are facing life’s many choices, you will be able to choose wisely according to the true knowledge. 

  1.  Love and Grace

Let me tell you the ending story of Ms P, who took charge of my school Art project.

The moment I was about to finish doing what she told me, I realised that her plan didn’t work as it should have! I had a few pieces left in my hand that could not match the colour code she requested and still had a few empty spots to fill in! IT WAS NOT PERFECT!

I’m sure it has also happened to most of us from time to time. We plan, we try our best, yet, the result is not what we wanted it to be. 

Now, we are all learning to fix our eyes on God and be more like Him. Is this benchmark rather impossible to reach? He is the ultimate PERFECTION!

Do not fret! His grace alone is enough for us.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9 – ESV)

There is no such thing as a life without problems. Our lives are full of ups and downs, and sometimes it can get too overwhelming for us, be it in our daily life and our spiritual life. The cause for this feeling does not lie in the problems of life itself, but with how we choose to deal with them. 

Naturally, we feel good when we have our lives ‘under control’, but sometimes, it is beyond our capabilities. It is actually part of God’s providence for us, to allow us to experience downfalls in our lives so that we may come to HIM again, learning once again to rely on HIM. It is HIS way to make us get closer to HIM so that we can become more like HIM. It is a blessing given to us as a fruit of HIS love for us, the same love as a father who delights in his son. 

The definition of ‘blessing’ for God is totally different from ours. For us, we think that a blessing from God means receiving what we desire when we desire it. But for God, He focuses more on the long-term than short-term. His providence is according to His pre-set plan for us. In His time, He will mould our temporal (physical) wellbeing to ensure we receive eternal and spiritual wellbeing. 

So, next time there is something in your life that doesn’t turn out how you want it to, remember that this may be God’s blessing- even though it might not seem like it. 

Let us ask the Lord to hold our hand while we walk in the path of discovering ourselves, and to know HIM more as our Creator. Ask for the wisdom to enable us to make the best decision in all the choices we face, and set our eyes on HIM throughout this year. Ask HIM to open our spiritual eyes to HIS providence throughout all areas of our lives and to grow more as Christian teens. 

Joanne Soviner (14) is one of the writers and designers for RE Generation-Z. She strives to share God’s love and grace she has received and the truth she is learning with other teens. She enjoys dancing, bullet journalling, and learning new languages.

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