The Triumph of Modernity

Can Christianity and modernity go together? 

It’s a topic I often hear when I study English and Art history. As the world moves forward and time continues, it’s inevitable that the things we see, hear and do every day will be affected by worldviews that continue to change. How do we stand firm in our belief when Post-Modernism and secularism heavily influence all the literature, art, music etc?

It’s part of the human experience, and as long as you’ve ever opened the internet, I’m sure this is something we’ve all experienced in our lives. 

As an avid fan of history and the arts, these are some thoughts I’ve contemplated recently. 

Christianity in literature

A poem I’m reading at school right now is about a man in early 20th Century America, and, bound by his religion (more specifically, his conversion to Anglicanism), he has alienated and isolated himself from society. The man is stuck in a dilemma:

  1. He doesn’t know what to do in his life
  2. He is afraid of approaching the people around him
  3. He fears death, and his body is deteriorating
  4. He is unhappy about the deterioration of this superficial world

Literature critics say that his spirituality is the reason why he is ‘broken’ or different. He doesn’t fit into society’s norms and certainly isn’t feeding into the new Modernism ideas that were emerging at the time. 

Fast forward 100 years later, and we’re in the 21st Century or the Post-Modern Era. Do you relate to this man? Even 100 years later, his experience with the deteriorating and superficial world is still what we face today (it’s probably even worse now). 

Christianity in art

“Does modern art hate religion?” a BBC Contemporary Art article reads. At first glance, it seems that, yes, religion and art in the Post-Modern world seem to clash in every way possible. What was once the most predominant subject matter in the art world is now tucked away in art galleries that focus on contemporary and modern art. 

If you lived in the olden days, all the art you’d see would be Christian or Catholic. But now, the only Christian form of art we see regularly is probably Mary and Baby Jesus on the old church building window you see at the corner of your street (architecture is art, too!). 

Obviously, there is a huge decline in Christian art today. And with the takeover of secularism, Christian art is not only rare but strange. More on this later.

Christianity in music

You’ve probably heard of Bach before (he wrote St Matthew Passion and the famous Cello Suites). He famously quotes, “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul”. Notice how familiar this is to the Westminster Catechism; “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. 

From the beginning of time, in the Bible, the purpose of music was for God—to worship, praise and enjoy Him. First used by King David, who played the lyre, and the Levites, who were musically trained, music in the Bible was originally used according to its purpose. 

You can probably guess where I’m getting at now.

In comparison, think about the music you and I listen to every day. Though I do know a few people who only listen to Classical music and hymns, for most of us, secular music is normalised, and we are numb to it. 

It isn’t exactly wrong to listen to secular music; I’ll admit, I do too (and probably to an unhealthy extent). I’m not rambling on about how all secular music nowadays only revolves around love, money and sin, but what becomes an issue is that the music we listen to isn’t fulfilling its purpose. 

Does listening to music about money and sex glorify God? Or does constantly feeding our minds with heartbreak lyrics refresh our souls? Sure, there might be some empowering or reassuring music out there, but the comfort and joy we receive on Earth can only be temporary. Again, eternal joy can only be found in God and His glorification.

And so the question still stands: Can Christianity and modernity go together?

Many believe that Christianity and modernity are like oil and water. How can we maintain a Christian life, yet still be alive and somewhat ‘normal’ within society?

In a world that is slowly leaving tradition and spirituality behind, it definitely isn’t easy to stay strong in faith while not feeling like an outsider. And with the rise of pop culture and the internet, we can never really escape the world’s attempts to draw us away from God. 

A Bible verse that I hear commonly about this topic is John 15:19. In the ESV version, it reads:

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

Although the Bible was written thousands of years ago, its ideas and values still apply to us today (which is all the more reason for us to read it!)

Christianity and modernism aren’t total opposites. Like in any time period in history, as children of God, our end goal is to bring God’s glory and Kingdom to earth. In any context we are placed in, we are to bring people to God instead of following the flow of the world. 

Another way to put it is that God is omniscient. He wants the best for us and wouldn’t ‘sabotage’ us by putting us in an evil world of modernism for absolutely no reason. He knows we can overcome it (with His help, of course). 

When we feel down or lost among the treasures of the world, know that there is a higher and much more precious joy that we can have. A joy that we can only find in God, the Creator of all things. 

So yes, Christianity and modernism can go together. When we are grounded in the truth and love of God, living a Christian life in the midst of a modern world is a must for us. And by doing so, we are glorifying God, setting an example to the people around us. 

Vivienne Han (17) writes and designs for RE Generation-Z. She hopes to use her interests to bring more teens to Jesus. When she isn’t busy drawing, you’ll find her watching random Ted-Eds or tending to her succulent garden.

Lights of The World

If you’ve been on the internet for long enough, you’ve probably heard the ‘inspirational’ phrase “Stars can’t shine without darkness” quite often. As cliche as it is, the quote is completely correct. 

Darkness is not a ‘quality’ that exists in itself, per se, but it is defined as the ‘partial or total absence of light.’ Just like at the beginning of the creation in Genesis 1, the Earth was “Without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” It wasn’t until God said, “Let there be light,” that the Earth finally had something to distinguish between day and night. 

In the fairytales or movies we’ve seen, we probably recognise that darkness generally has negative connotations and is usually linked with wickedness or evil. Whenever we see detectives visit a scene, it is always dark – and they have flashlights to see and identify objects in the dark

But why do bad things always happen in the darkness?

Of course, we wouldn’t witness a homicide scene happen in the light of day. Or people wouldn’t abuse substances in public where everyone would see them. Well over 50% of violent crimes happen between 6 pm – 6 am. Perpetrators commit acts of sin in the darkness because that is where they think no one is watching them (of course, God can see everything). 

In the Bible, the notion of light is mentioned many times:

“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.” – Micah 7:8

“For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.” – Psalm 18:28

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” – Psalm 119:105

Or more specifically, the phrase “The Light of the World”:

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” – John 8:12

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16

In both cases, both Christ and we are called the lights of the world. Amongst the broken and dark world that we live in, the light of Christ is the only thing that can set us free from the bondage of sin. And in return, we must also share this Light to those around us, so that they, too, might be saved. 

Christ as the Light…

Out of the many ‘names’ that Christ has, such as the Shepherd, Living Water, Messiah, Son of Man, etc., the Light of the World is one that we don’t hear about often. John specifies that ‘whoever follows Me [Christ] will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’. This implies that by walking with Him, we will be in the light, and far from the darkness and wickedness of the world (not quite physically, but we will be protected by God in every step of our lives). 

But, the keyword is, ‘whoever follows Me.’ This does not simply mean knowing of Christ and having a deep and intricate understanding of the most difficult parts of the Bible, but it means having a personal and genuine relationship with Christ. It means to surrender our all to Him. 

…of the World

Being the Light of the world means that the world was made for His Light. When the Light – Christ – comes, He will shine against the darkness and expose all the atrocities of the world. And, following God’s plan for our salvation through Christ’s death, Christ will be enthroned and worshipped by the people of Earth. As John 1:4 quotes, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. 

Christians as the light of the world

Jesus says, in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world.” And in Ephesians 5:8, “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” 

Obviously, we can never compare to the holiness and light of Christ, but what does it mean when Jesus says that we are the light of the world? Similar to how we are also the salt of the earth, being the light of the world means that we must rise up and not hide our light as Christians. 

Being a source of light in the world means that we are being witnesses of Christ, proclaiming the Word, and revealing the truth, that is, Jesus Christ. 

Our calling as the lights of the world

God’s work is not only limited to pastors and missionaries, but every single one of us are called to serve Christ and shine together as a church. To fulfill our purpose as the light, we mustn’t stay in already well-lit places (i.e, our comfort zones), but we must reach out to those who do not have the light. Matthew 5:15 reads, “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” 

So therefore, as Matthew quotes next, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Extra Bible reading: 1 John 1:5-9

Vivienne Han (17) writes and designs for RE Generation-Z. She hopes to use her interests to bring more teens to Jesus. When she isn’t busy drawing, you’ll find her watching random Ted-Eds or tending to her succulent garden.

Seize The Year

Like most people, during the first few weeks of a new year, there are specific things that I do or feel every January. For example, I clean out my room, throw away old things, write out my New Year’s Resolutions, and feed into the urge to better myself this year – or you’ve probably heard the cliche phrase “New year, new me” thrown around everywhere.

Though we should really be improving ourselves throughout the year, it isn’t wrong to indulge ourselves in these norms. So, this year, let me take you through 5 of the habits I’d like to work on. 

  1. Morning devotions and Bible reading

Giving our best can mean a lot of things, but something specific I’d like to mention is giving Him our best time of the day – that is, the morning when our minds are still fresh. By filling our thoughts with God’s words and His plan for us, we are better equipped for the day at hand. Though many of us might already spend our mornings reading His Word and doing devotions, there are still things that we can improve.

  • Don’t touch your phone beforehand, or where possible, don’t read the Bible from your phone. While it’s efficient and compact, doing your devotions from your phone is just simply not it for a few reasons.
    • Distractions from notifications
    • The temptation to check social media or a game
    • Reading from your phone means that you’re losing the whole idea or ‘experience’ of flipping through the pages of a paper Bible. You lose perspective of where things are in the Bible. And, scrolling through the Bible on your phone almost feels like you’re just scrolling through any other app, even though the Bible is worth way more than that. (I’m not saying that it’s sinful to use your phone as a Bible, but why use your phone when you could use a paper Bible?)
  • Where possible, try to do your morning devotions in a quiet environment when you’re able to concentrate because speaking from experience, reading the Bible on the way to school is not a great way to go. Hence why doing your devotions at your desk in the morning is the best option you have.
  • Make sure we read both the Bible and devotions. A friend once told me that reading your devotions every morning is just taking in what someone else got from the Bible, whereas reading the Bible itself lets you also find joy in learning it directly. It isn’t wrong to read devotions (it is actually very important you do so), but devotions can’t be everything, and vice versa. Here are some devotional books I’d recommend if you don’t have one already:

2. Time management and prioritising

When talking to my friends – or in fact, people of all ages about our struggles, time management is always something that pops up. Every year, I’d pledge to myself that I’d use my planner and be organised, but it never really happened. 

While we’re still alive, time will keep going, with or without us on board – and we cannot go back to make up for the time that we have wasted. A simple way to change our mindset is to think that we’ll each be held accountable for every single second in our lives at the end of time. Have we used our time wisely for God’s glory?

And as a reminder, we must consider our calling right now as students. On top of ministry and extracurricular activities, we must know how to prioritise our responsibilities so that we can give our best to God with what we have.

3. Breaking free from screens

As Generation-Z, we’re quite known for being quite ‘advanced’ or tech-savvy. But after months of lockdown, being glued to our screens is something we’ve gotten too used to. Though the world around us revolves around pop culture or trends, we must know our place and purpose. 

Inevitably and unconsciously, the culture and norms we find in movies, songs, books are affecting our mindset, dragging us closer to this age’s worldview and away from God. If we aren’t firmly grounded in Christ, we will easily be pulled away by the current. 

Something you can add to your New Year’s Resolutions is lowering screen time!

4. Treating our bodies well

Something that isn’t really spoken about too often is how we must take care of our bodies because we are created in the image of God – “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). 

Treating our bodies well doesn’t mean we can rest or do ‘self-care’ all day, as that is slothful. But it also does not mean that we have to train every day like an Olympian. To glorify God with our body means to follow His calling for us – to praise and worship Him and be a blessing to others. 

And in a more practical sense, treating our bodies as a temple of God also means not destroying our flesh or putting harmful things in it. Instead, we must stay pure and clean, bearing the image of God. 

5. Where do we find our joys?

Though this isn’t something we can exactly control, it is worth identifying where our affections are so that we may come closer to God. Whether we like it or not, the things on Earth are all temporary and will someday pass. We can only find true joy in God, and to do so, we must:

  1. Read His Word to know who He actually is and what His will for us is. How are we able to develop a personal relationship with Christ if we don’t even know who He is?
  2. Pray to Him, sharing our struggles because Christ is willing to stoop down to hear us. Though earthly friends may forsake us, a relationship with Christ is the only one that can bring eternal joy. 
  3. Serve Him, be it through the church or in your everyday life. Ministry at church brings joy not only because we are serving Christ but also because of the togetherness and community with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. 

And so, whether or not you’ll join me in working on these five habits, I pray that the beginning-of-year motivation drive doesn’t just end here, but may it continue throughout the year, that we better ourselves and find true joy in Christ. 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:13.

Vivienne Han (17) writes and designs for RE Generation-Z. She hopes to use her interests to bring more teens to Jesus. When she isn’t busy drawing, you’ll find her watching random Ted-Eds or tending to her succulent garden.

God-Given Gifts

When thinking about talents, the first Bible story that comes to my mind is Christ’s Parable of the Talents (found in Matthew 25:14–30). Throughout our lives, we often ponder on our calling and talents. We might always compare ourselves to others, or we might feel our goal is to be better than others. 

I’m sure we can agree that one of the biggest struggles during our teenage years is to find who we are or how to fit in with the people around us. For some people, that might mean hanging out with a specific type of friend group, or for others, it might mean having to gain academic approval from others. 

For me personally, worrying/doubting too much about my talents and comparing myself to others is something that keeps me from doing my best, joyfully and willingly, for God and God alone

The Ancient Greek word for ‘talent’ is ‘talanton’ (τάλαντον, meaning ‘scale’ or ‘balance’). At that time, this word was used as a unit of measurement, weighing approximately 36kg. As a unit of currency, one talent was worth about 6,000 denarii (scholars believe this to be worth around 600,000 USD). A denarius was the usual payment for a day’s labour. In simpler terms, a person who owned one talent of money would have been very well off.

So, we can see that a talent was worth a lot back then. But like Jesus’ parable, when we talk about talents nowadays, we talk about ability or expertise. And yes, being talented nowadays is still something very treasured. 

The Parable of the Talents

In the Bible story of the Master who gives his servants talents, we can see it as God who gives His servants (us) different amounts of talents. The servant who was given five talents came back with another five new talents, and the servant with two talents came back with two new talents. But the servant that was given one talent hid that talent and only came with excuses as to why he did not put that one God-given talent to work. 

When we feel like we aren’t as talented or don’t have as many opportunities as the people around us, we grow too lazy or ashamed, stopping us from working the talents that God has given us. When asked why we do this, we might also give a whole list of excuses to prove that we are in the right. 

Oftentimes, we feel like our worth is based on our talents or capabilities (especially when compared to other people). As cliche as it sounds, we need to understand that our worth does not come from our ‘performance’ or others’ opinions. God does not need our help, and pleasing people doesn’t do us anything good in the long run. 

The only way to find our worth is in Christ, learning that He has first loved us and that we don’t need to achieve any worldly things to gain His acceptance. 

Learning to trust in God

When the unfaithful servant gave his master excuses as to why he did not put his talents to work, he said, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.” (Verse 24-25).

The Bible does not explicitly state why the unfaithful servant did not work out his talents, but we can infer it is because of his proud heart. And, of course, we’re not any different. The servant might not have necessarily been jealous of the other two servants, but it is more likely that he was indulging himself in self-pity (not that I’m condoning self-pity either — jealousy and self-pity are both matters of the heart that we must take to God). 

The problem was that the unfaithful servant did not trust his master. He was not happy with his single talent and felt like he deserved more. I think it’s very important for us to remember that God does not owe us anything. As sinners, it is more than enough that Christ died for us — what more can we ask for? God is not obliged to give us all the trivial things we want, and we do not have the right to expect God to give every human an equal amount of talents. 

Truthfully speaking, if we were given a single talent, we might have been thankful and happy to work it out. However, like the unfaithful servant, when we see our friends with two or five talents, then we feel ashamed, and we bury our talent.

Have we been burying our talents?

Do you know what your talents are? While we’re still young and exploring ourselves, it is worth learning different things to see what we enjoy and show talent in. 

When talking to my different friend groups, be it school or church friends, we often end up on the same topic — talents and God’s direction for our lives. Some of us might be at that age where questions like “What do you want to do after high school?” or “Which university are you going to go to?” start popping up from the people around us.

While we’re faced with the struggle and expectation to already know exactly what we want to do in the future, it’s important to remember that God has a plan for all of us. There is no such thing as a person that God does not love. Similarly, there is no one that does not have any talents — we just have to work to find what our talents are, with the help and guidance from God. 

Like what we know from the Parable of the Talents, it is wrong not to work out our talents. We cannot simply say that we are talentless and bury all the potential talents that we have. And even if we think we lack talents, we still have the responsibility to work on the few talents that we may have. 

Talents as a God-given grace

Lastly, I’d like to remind us all that we are created uniquely and perfectly, according to God’s image. Every person has different talents, hence why we mustn’t compare ourselves to others. After understanding how precious talents are, we must not put them to waste. God expects us to use all the power that we have to use and work the talents that He has given to us joyfully and willingly. 

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith.

Romans 12:6

Vivienne Han (17) writes and designs for RE Generation-Z. She hopes to use her interests to bring more teens to Jesus. When she isn’t busy drawing, you’ll find her watching random Ted-Eds or tending to her succulent garden.

Living The Work Life

As the holiday comes to an end, with school starting just around the corner, what comes to your mind? I’ve been thinking about it for the past few days, here’s what’s been going through my mind:

  • I have to wake up early again
  • I’m starting year 12
  • I’m going to be overloaded with work
  • and I’ll need to need to get myself back together

Now, notice how they all begin with ‘I’? As human beings, it’s natural for us to only think about ourselves. But that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to do so. Because we are sinners, everything about us is corrupt (total depravity), and the only way out of it (or the only way to gain our salvation) is through Christ alone. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9. 

Without our Creator, we are unable to find answers or rest while living in this world. So if our lives and hearts aren’t driven by the Creator’s purpose, our lives will have no meaning. 

Purpose

While we’re doing work, whether it’s schoolwork or ministry, we might ask, “What is my purpose?”, “Is this what God wants me to do?” or “How do I know what God wants me to do?”. 

As our to-do lists start to get filled up again during this next term, I’d like to remind us about why we do what we do. 

As Christian teenagers, we have a special calling to joyfully proclaim and serve Christ, and still fulfil our duties at school and at home (keyword: joyfully). Something important to keep in mind is that we need to do all our duties – we cannot only do ministry and expect God to be satisfied with our lives. From an extreme point of view, if we only do ministry, how will we expect to get a job without education? Or who will clean the house and make dinner?

A fruitful life is a life that is consistent and integrated. Yet, we are still sinners, and so some wrong reasons or attitudes are keeping us from living the ‘work’ life God had planned for us (by work, I mean school, ministry and housework).

Living a balanced and integrated life

As mentioned earlier, we must have a balanced and integrated life. Being a Christian doesn’t mean that we act all holy at church but we live totally different lives the moment we walk out the church door. So as we return back to school, it’s important to be grounded in Christ in all aspects of our lives. Even though we do schoolwork and ministry, we mustn’t neglect our housework, because that is our duty too. (Remembering that God won’t give you something to do if it isn’t doable).

Learning how to prioritise

Now you might ask, How do I get all of this done? We do this by setting our priorities. But first and foremost, it is essential that we first make sure that we are grounded in God’s Word and understand our calling as a student. When we are grounded in Christ, all the things we do are driven by the right purpose, and with God-given wisdom, we will know what to prioritise. 

Day-to-day priorities will be different for everyone. Maybe for you, it’s based on deadlines or a to-do list. Or maybe what matters for you as a student is your schoolwork. As students, we are called to go to school and do complete schoolwork (to the best of our ability) like anyone else, but as Christians, we also have the calling to serve Christ. When we surrender and bring our struggles to God, He will guide us to be able to prioritise and accomplish our calling.

Perfectionism (Pride)

At first glance, perfectionism might not seem too bad — isn’t it right to do things to the best that you possibly could? But my question is, why do perfectionists do what they do? For some people, it’s for themselves to feel satisfied, but for others, it might be because of the desire to appear flawless before others. Either way, both these reasons are self-centred. 

Deep down, perfectionism is driven by our pride. For me, perfectionism might be the one I relate to the most on this list. Perfectionism stops you from being able to cooperate with other people. Studies show that perfectionists have higher levels of stress, burnout and anxiety. 

So how do we deal with pride and perfectionism? It doesn’t necessarily mean that we completely flip our lives upside down, and it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for excellence. We must still aim to do our best in everything, remembering that we are doing this for God, and not ourselves

Moving Forward

You may or may not resonate with the struggles mentioned above, but I hope that as our to-do lists start filling up again, we stay grounded in Christ, remembering that no amount of ‘work’ we do will ever bring us salvation or true happiness. As God’s creations, we will only find the answers to life and true rest in Him. 

“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.” – Blaise Pascal

Vivienne Han (17) writes and designs for RE Generation-Z. She hopes to use her interests to bring more teens to Jesus. When she isn’t busy drawing, you’ll find her watching random Ted-Eds or tending to her succulent garden.

You Won’t Make It Alone

I’m sure we’ve all had friends, and endured the ups and downs of youthful friendship. Our friends can encourage us or bring us down, depending on who you choose to be in your circle. But how do we know which friends are right for us, and how should we approach friendship?

Let’s start with a simple question – Why do we need friends in the first place?

I was reading science articles on the internet one day, and came across one that said, “friendships can extend life expectancy and lower chances of heart disease”. Scientists have also proven that the release of oxytocin (the stuff in your brain that makes you feel warm and fuzzy) is related to social interactions. Strange? 

Let’s look at the Christian perspective of what friendship means.

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” – Proverbs 18:24

We are created as social beings

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and everything in it, and it was all good. But when He created Adam, notice that God said something different. He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Before sin came into the world, the first problem to exist was that the first man was alone – he did not have a friend or a community around him. 

Since the beginning of time, humans have been created with the longing for true friendship. And we can’t live life to the fullest without it.

What makes a true friend?

As social beings, in life, we’ll find that we naturally (or purposely) follow what other people do. Maybe it’s to fit in with the people around you or to prove your self-worth. Having true Christian friends means that the encouragement and expectations around us are (presumably) proper and healthy. That being said, choosing the right friends in the first place is also something very important. A true friend encourages us, tells us when we do something wrong and heightens our joy in God. 

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

We need a friend to encourage and bring us back up again

In our lowest times in life, we need a friend to bring us back up. Of course, we can only find true happiness and contentment in Christ and our personal relationship with Him. But of all the pleasures we can find in this world, true friendships are probably the most treasured thing we can have. 

Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me, it is the chief happiness of life.” – C.S. Lewis (Collected Letters, 174)

In this world two things are essential: life and friendship. Both should be highly prized and we must not undervalue them” – St Augustine.

Time with friends and words of affirmation might be just what we need when we are feeling down. A true friend will lend you an ear or a shoulder to lean on when things aren’t okay. A true Christian friend will remind us to seek refuge in Christ, casting our anxieties to Him (1 Peter 5:7).

We need friends to hold us accountable

As sinners, we aren’t aware or are unwilling to accept it when we are wrong. Let’s look at a real-life example, to see it from a clearer perspective. 

Why do we ask other people to proofread our work or mark our test papers? Or before meeting someone important, why do we ask a close friend if there’s anything wrong with our outfit or face?

Even in simple matters like these, we need someone to look out for us – to tell us when we are wrong, and to help us up when we stumble. A healthy friendship is when you respectfully and with an honest and humble heart correct your friend when they do something wrong. 

If you’re too afraid or not close enough to correct your friend, you should pray for the courage to do so. Pray for them and tell a responsible adult instead of staying silent.

We grow better in a church community 

Have you ever served God together in a community of Christ-followers? If you have, you’ll understand what I mean when I say this. Being able to serve with your brothers and sisters in Christ might be one of the most joy-bringing things you can do while in this world. Not only are we finding joy in serving God, but we are doing it with other people who also love God, allowing us to grow together and learn from each others’ experiences.

In the midst of all the worldly things we face every day, having a Christian community can be what makes us feel welcomed and at home – a community where we can share our struggles with people who also love God. 

Christ’s sacrifice is the best example of true friendship

Though we may have many friends, inevitably, they can also fall or bring us down with them. There is only one perfectly faithful, loving, and never-changing friend that we can have, that is, Jesus Christ Himself. 

On the night before His own death, He gathered His disciples, whom He refers to as His friends, and said to them “Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). Through His death, Christ did the most heroic act of friendship, even giving His own life. 

Living and loving like Christ

So, brothers and sisters, during these difficult times, I urge you to pray for your friends and your church community. Find time to check up on your friends and video-call them if need be. Together, share what you’ve learnt from the scriptures and sermons.

Remember Christ’s love for us, and live each day with Him as our example. 

We’re all in this together.

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6).

Vivienne Han (17) writes and designs for RE Generation-Z. She hopes to use her interests to bring more teens to Jesus. When she isn’t busy drawing, you’ll find her watching random Ted-Eds or tending to her succulent garden.

Burnt & Worn Out

Oftentimes, during my most hectic days, I stop and think to myself; Why am I doing this? Do I truly feel happy? Is this what God wants me to do?

It’s inevitable that as we grow older, more expectations weigh us down. Whether or not we meet these expectations is a different story, but how we approach them is more important. 

Serving God in ministry or our day-to-day lives is something we must all do as followers of Christ. But when this turns into a mere expectation or something we simply do out of habit, we lose our joy in serving God… Or maybe it wasn’t there in the first place.

Back to the basics

Before we continue, let’s talk about what serving God is in the first place. The most obvious examples we know are singing in your church’s choir or being a Sunday School teacher. But serving God isn’t limited to the things you do at church or just the “God-related” things. Serving God can also mean things that aren’t tangible. It means obeying your parents or doing your best in a school test paper. 

When thinking about being used by God, a hymn that comes to my mind is Let Me Burn Out For Thee. You might be familiar with the chorus – it goes;

Let me burn out for Thee, dear Lord
Burn and wear out for Thee
Don't let me rust, or my life
Be a failure, my God to Thee
Use me and all I have, dear Lord
And get me so close to Thee
That I feel the throb
Of the great heart of God
Until I burn out for Thee.

The idea of serving God from a young age and giving our all to Him seems to follow me everywhere – in hymns, sermons, conversations with adults, etc. After time, it started to pressure me. And it’s not because it’s wrong to serve God and give my best to Him, but it is our hearts – our sin – that destroys our idea of serving God. 

If you’ve grown up in the church, you might be familiar with this usual trope; maybe you were put in the children’s choir from a young age, or you’re used to an environment of people that are so religious and holy – maybe almost to the point where they’re unreachable

Being used to this context leads to a fatal flaw; serving God or giving our all to Him becomes something that we are numb to. It becomes a part of our life, in a sense that our ministry becomes a matter of legalism – something we are accustomed to. In other words, we don’t find joy in serving God; our ministry isn’t a result of a personal relationship with Christ

The Unheeded Secret

A long time ago, I read a devotion by Oswald Chambers that changed my view on serving God. He quotes, “The great enemy of the Lord Jesus Christ today is the idea of practical work that has no basis in the New Testament but comes from the systems of the world. This work insists upon endless energy and activities, but no private life with God”.

When serving God turns into something we are accustomed to, we find that we serve Him for the wrong reasons and with the wrong heart. The heart of our ministry mustn’t be our usefulness to others or the amount of service we do. 

It isn’t our ministry or reputation that redeems us, setting us free from the bondage of sin. In fact, serving God based on a desire for reputation and approval from others is a sin in itself

The only way we can be saved is through Christ, our living Saviour who died for us. Because of this, as Christians who have heard the good news, there is no doubt that we will naturally want to share it with others. Because we’ve heard this good news, our hearts are renewed and we can have a personal relationship with God. This personal relationship with God should be the basis of our ministry.

What happens when we don’t serve God in joy or based on our personal relationship with Him?

When serving God (specifically, but not limited to church ministry) becomes based on the wrong things, its purpose is ruined. As humans created in the image of God, we were made with a purpose. That is, to serve our Creator with joy. The Creator Himself does not need us, but we need Him to sustain us. 

As we go through the ups and downs of life, it is God that keeps us from falling. It is God that we must fully depend on, because He is perfectly omnipotent and faithful to us, though we may go astray. 

When we’re at the lowest points of life, it isn’t our practical work or reputation that can bring us back up. Doing practical work or ministry just to meet deadlines to make yourself feel better might work, but that is only temporary. After a time, when years worth of stress and strain are piled upon us, we will only snap when we reach our limit. 

Now, do you see the difference? Serving God by performing certain deeds will not us grant our salvation, and nor will it be accepted by God. When our ministry is based on our personal relationship with God, we will have joy in serving Him. And should stress or strain surround us, we don’t need to fear, because we have God to guide us

So, together, let us serve God with a renewed and joyful heart, for His glory.

Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” - Psalm 100:2

Vivienne Han (17) writes and designs for RE Generation-Z. She hopes to use her interests to bring more teens to Jesus. When she isn’t busy drawing, you’ll find her watching random Ted-Eds or tending to her succulent garden.

TULIP – The Five Points of Calvinism

Transcript

Introduction

First Thing’s First – Back in the 16th Century, a new Christian movement started by German theologist Martin Luther took place in Germany. It’s now known as the Reformation.

What happened? – The Reformers were against the Roman Catholic church, which was dominating at the time. Why?

Indulgences – In the Catholic church, indulgences were purchased to reduce the severity of punishment a person had to undergo to pay for their sins to find their way to heaven.

The Reformation – The Reformers saw that this was an issue, so they brought Christianity back to the Bible and salvation in Christ.

John Calvin – Years later, French theologian John Calvin also played a big part in the Reformation. He made sure to straighten incorrect Christian perceptions – the teachings he taught are what we believe today!

Total Depravity

“We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.” – R.C. Sproul

We Are Sinners – Total Depravity is based on the Reformed understanding of how all humans have fallen into sin. Due to his failure to obey God, Adam and the rest of his offspring fell into sin.

What Is Sin? – Sin is man’s rebellion against God, and because of sin, our relationship with God is broken – we are all guilty before Him. Because of sin, we must all perish (Romans 6:23).

Depraved – Because of sin, our whole existence; reason, emotions, desires, body; are all corrupted and contaminated. Because of sin, God’s image in man is damaged but not entirely gone.

Our SalvationSo why can’t we save ourselves? Total Depravity means that we have failed towards anything good, meaning that we have no desire or ability to search for God.

Jesus ChristA person that cannot swim is unable to save a drowning person. Similarly, because we are sinners, we cannot save ourselves. Only Jesus Christ – sinless in nature, can save us from our depravity.

Unconditional Election

God’s Sovereignty – Unconditional election means that our election is based on the sovereignty of God, rather than an action or good deed from us that prompts God to save us.

Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls” – Romans 9:11

Jacob and Esau – You might remember the story of Jacob and Esau. In the Bible times, it was normal for the firstborn son to receive inheritance or blessings, but in their case, God blessed the younger son; Jacob. Strange?

Injustice? – On what basis does God elect to save people? And what happens to those who aren’t of God’s elect – isn’t this unfair?

By GraceOf course it isn’t unfair. Since we’re all depraved sinners, we deserve to perish (Romans 3:23). And so if God sovereignly bestows His gift of grace on some sinners and not all, it is completely just.

Through Faith – It is God’s divine right to execute His mercy when and where He desires. Our response to this is to pray and ask for God’s grace. So in faith, we must live our life for and glorifying Jesus our Saviour.

For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.‘” – Romans 9:15

Limited Atonement

Redemption – Limited atonement is to do with God’s plan for our salvation – specifically about how redemption is only for His elect. It is about how Christ died for those that the Father had given Him.

A Reformed View – Christ’s death bought us salvation, but not in a way that God just hoped that people would believe. God has a specific plan for each individual – His plan was perfectly executed through Jesus’ death.

Sufficient For All, Efficient For Some – The limit of elected people does not mean that Jesus isn’t capable of saving everyone. He is perfectly capable of saving everyone, but not all are part of God’s plan.

His Chosen People – His chosen people are a group of people that have been predestined by God in eternity to receive eternal life. In His wisdom, God passes by those who aren’t of His chosen people.

Jesus says in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

Irresistible Grace

Did you know that of the 131 times the word “grace” is mentioned in the Bible, 124 of them are in the New Testament – 86 of which are from the apostle Paul. That’s two-thirds of the word “grace” from just one author!

What is grace? – Simply put; grace is a gift from God. A gift that we undeservingly receive, not because of our own works, therefore, we may not boast of it. (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 11:6).

On the contrary – Grace is also a power for living – it’s an influence or acting of God that works in us to change our capacities for work and suffering and obedience – John Piper.

“God’s grace is so powerful that it has the capacity to overcome our natural resistance to it.” – R.C. Sproul

Natural resistance – Because of sin or Total Depravity, as humans, we naturally resist God and His grace. We push Him away because of fear, disappointment, idols and whatnot. But God’s love and grace allow us to be with Him.

A hardened heart – “Irresistible grace” doesn’t mean that God forces His grace onto us, but it means that the Holy Spirit changes the tendencies of our heart and our will. Through the grace of God, our hardened hearts are melted.

The work of grace – The irresistible grace of God affects those whom He intends it to affect. The only reason why we want to come to Christ is if God’s grace has been worked in us. That’s why we say that grace precedes faith.

Perseverance of the Saints

“True Christians can have radical and serious falls but never total and final falls from grace”. – R.C. Sproul

Once saved, always saved – Perseverance of the Saints is about the idea that if you are truly faithful and have received God’s grace, you will never lose it.

Outward faith? – You may have heard about the type of Christians who profess their faith but don’t truly believe in Christ as their living Saviour. Or Christians who honour Christ with their lips but whose hearts are far from Him.

“I never knew you” – Towards Christians like these, Christ replies; “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” – (Matt 7:23). So-called ‘Christians‘ like these were, in fact, never part of God’s chosen people.

Inevitable sin – As we see in the stories of David and Peter, none of us are perfect, and it is inevitable that we fall into sin. But we must remember that true Christians will never completely lose God’s grace or go totally astray.

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” – 1 Corinthians 10:12

Perseverance – Something to remember is that God’s work of salvation in us is not because of our perseverance. It is completely by His own hands. A more accurate way to describe this is the Preservation of the Saints.

Sources

R.C. Sproul, “TULIP and Reformed Theology: Total Depravity.” Ligioner Ministries, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/tulip-and-reformed-theology-total-depravity/

B. Kristanto, D. Tong, “Man and Sin”, (Module 4), IREC Catechism

R.C. Sproul, “TULIP and Reformed Theology: Unconditional Election.” Ligioner Ministries, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/tulip-and-reformed-theology-unconditional-election/

R.C. Sproul, “TULIP and Reformed Theology: Limited Atonement.” Ligioner Ministries, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/tulip-and-reformed-theology-limited-atonement/

B. Kristanto, D. Tong, “His Chosen People”, (Module 8), IREC Catechism

Did Christ Die for the Whole World? // Ask Pastor John https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sEu0-0RrOI

R.C. Sproul, “TULIP and Reformed Theology: Irresistible Grace.” Ligioner Ministries, www.ligonier.org/blog/tulip-and-reformed-theology-irresistible-grace/

What Is Grace? (Ask Pastor John), https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-grace

By His Grace, for His Name, Through the Obedience of Faith https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/by-his-grace-for-his-name-through-the-obedience-of-faith

R.C. Sproul, “TULIP and Reformed Theology: Perseverance of the Saints.” Ligioner Ministries, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/tulip-and-reformed-theology-perseverance-saints/

Vivienne Han (17) writes and designs for RE Generation-Z. She hopes to use her interests to bring more teens to Jesus. When she isn’t busy drawing, you’ll find her watching random Ted-Eds or tending to her succulent garden.

The Things of Earth

Every year, for fourteen years, my parents would take me to Indonesia over the summer holidays. One of my highlights of this annual holiday was going to the Momentum Christian bookstore there. I had enjoyed the warmth of this store – being surrounded by books made me feel at ease. One year, I had picked out a blue book that looked appealing to the eye. I brought it home, and it’s been lying in my dusty bookshelf for at least three years, still in its plastic wrapping. 

The title reads, “The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts” (by Joe Rigney). I’ve spent the past few weeks devoting time to read this book, and so I’d like to share some of what I’ve learnt. 

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” – John Piper.

This book starts with a foreword by Reformed Baptist pastor John Piper. You may or may not have heard the above quote before. If you haven’t, this quote basically summarises what we call “Christian Hedonism”. With this belief, God’s glory and our happiness will never be in conflict. Since our greatest source of happiness is in God, it is only natural for us to want to return our thanksgiving back to Him.

This book was written for people who genuinely want to glorify God in all they do but find themselves lost in sin or struggling with loving God’s gifts too much. It was written for people who find it difficult to put a God-centred life to practice. Have you ever felt this way? It’s something most of us have experienced, including me. 

So how can we enjoy what God provides without setting our affections on the things of earth? And what are we to do with the things of earth?

The Chief End of Man

The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?”. If you’ve heard this before, you might also be familiar with the answer; “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever”. 

Now, you may be thinking that glorifying God and enjoying Him are two separate things. For starters, “glorifying God” seems like something we have to complete, whereas “enjoying Him” is about receiving rather than working – similar to enjoying the company of a friend. Even though the two may not seem to go together at first glance, they must not be separated. 

At times, we may struggle with having to glorify God while enjoying Him. We find that doing His will is often exactly the opposite of what we want to do. But in reality, there should not be any pressure between the two. It is only our sin that gets in the way, making us feel like earthly things are more enjoyable, rather than God. Do we take this calling of doing His will as a mere commandment or duty? Or do we willingly and wholeheartedly want to obey Him?

The path of obeying God is not only the best for us, but it brings the most joy in our lives. 

So what are we to do with the Things of Earth?

Now, back to the original question. This book was written to answer a simple question: What are we to do with the things of earth? Do we embrace them? Reject them? Use them? Or enjoy them with a bit of guilt? After all, there seems to be conflict in hymns and in the Bible itself. Here’s an example that the book provides.

The author, Joe Rigney, looks at Helen Lemmel’s “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”. This is what the chorus reads:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.

Pay attention to the lyrics. When we look in Jesus’ face, the things of earth grow dim. So when we set our eyes on what’s above, the things of earth lose their value.

Now, on the contrary, the book also looks at another hymn, “This Is My Father’s World” by Maltbie Babcock. This hymn gives voice to the other side of the tension:

This is my Father’s world

He shines in all that’s fair

In the rustling grass, I hear him pass

He speaks to me everywhere

So? Which view should we take? Does He shine in all that’s fair, or do the things of earth grow dim in the light of His face?

With all this, a Bible passage comes to my mind.

Lay Up Treasures In Heaven

Matthew 6:19-20 reads, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

I realise and acknowledge that it’s hard for us as teenagers to let go of our earthly pleasures and turn our eyes toward Jesus. I’m sure we’ve all experienced feeling distant from God. In those moments, we might indulge ourselves in earthly pleasures, leading to a life that isn’t integrated or devoted to God. 

“A man may do some service to two masters, but he can devote himself to the service of no more than one. God requires the whole heart, and will not share it with the world. When two masters oppose each other, no man can serve both. He who holds to the world and loves it, must despise God; he who loves God, must give up the friendship of the world.” (Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on Matthew 6:24).

But on the other hand, it’s not wrong to enjoy the things of earth either. In 1 Timothy 4:4-5, Paul seems to have a different view on earthly things:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

So which is it? Should we count everything on earth as loss or focus on receiving God’s gifts on earth? To answer this question, let’s think about finding our joy in God

Where do we find our joy?

Finding joy in God and His Word is important – it fuels our love for Him and people around us. The joy we find in God should be our deepest longing (like David in Psalm 63). 

Something to remember is that our lives on this earth and the things of it are temporary – this includes all the material things we own. There is nothing on earth that we can depend on, because none of it is absolute. 

So even though we are surrounded by the things of earth, the only place where we can find joy is in our deliverer, Jesus Christ. And so, God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you

Matthew 6:33

Vivienne Han (17) writes and designs for RE Generation-Z. She hopes to use her interests to bring more teens to Jesus. When she isn’t busy drawing, you’ll find her watching random Ted-Eds or tending to her succulent garden.

Body Positivity vs. Body Neutrality

For most, if not all of us, appearance is something we’ve struggled with. At a certain age, we become aware of, or even obsessed with how we look, pushing ourselves to prove our worth to everyone. This might not just be in terms of appearance, but also things like getting good grades or having the most friends. 

Appearance is a big problem because we feel like we have to look good or perform to be accepted. We all have different reasons – maybe it’s to make ourselves feel better, or even to impress the person we like. But does appearance really fill in that empty void we have at the bottom of our hearts? Is this what God wants for us?

For me, it started at around sixth grade. Being the introverted and closed-off person I was, I could only look at the ‘cool’ girls from a distance. Thoughts like “I don’t dress as cool as them” or even “I’m not as thin as them” filled my mind. And as an 11-year-old, this obviously wasn’t the best mindset. 

Fast forward to now, I’ve come to realise that what matters and what God looks at isn’t people’s perception of us, but it is our hearts. 

… Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

Body Positivity or Body Neutrality

One day, I was scrolling through Instagram and I found an interesting topic about ‘Body Positivity’ vs ‘Body Neutrality’. If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, here’s the difference between the two:

Body Positivity: “All people should love their bodies as they are”, “Your body is beautiful regardless of what society says”, “Everyone is beautiful in their own way

Body Neutrality: “Your appearance shouldn’t determine your value”, “We are who we are – we can’t change ourselves, so we should just accept who we are

The Psychology behind this

People are all different – some gain confidence by telling themselves positive mantras such as “I am beautiful”, “I love myself” or “I’ll do whatever my heart feels is right” until they become reality. But this doesn’t work – it’s rather toxic and could, in fact, make us feel worse

Whereas on the other hand, Body Neutrality teaches that we should just accept who we are – that there is no need to love or hate yourself, and that we should just accept our bodies, focusing on what it does for us.

A Recollection of thoughts

Now at first glance, I thought I sided with the Body Neutrality side, seeing that it’s more realistic, but on second thought, there were way more factors that came to mind. Here’s what stood out the most to me:

We are created in the image of God.

If we open to the very first chapter of our Bibles and look at verse 27, we see a verse that is crucial for us to understand. It reads: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”. This world is changing, and it’s changing rapidly. With so many new changes, new beliefs and new ‘norms’, we can find that it’s harder for us to hold onto the truth, that is, Jesus

After God created everything, He saw everything that He had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31). He created humans as the pinnacle of all creation, according to His image. Not long after this, in chapter 3 of Genesis, man falls into sin. Through this, the image of God is defaced – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Because of sin, we are destroyed. We seek for things in the world, hoping to find something that will satisfy us – this might include fame or money. We end up trapped in lies about our identity and self worth. Looking at our reflection in the mirror, we conclude that we are imperfect. We realise that all is vanity

In the New Testament, Jesus says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In the original language, to destroy means to utterly perish. Our one and only hope is in Christ Jesus who died and redeemed us, defeating the power of sin and death. 

On the cross, Christ sacrificed Himself to pay for our sins, giving us our new self, and because of that, we are renewed and sanctified continually. Paul says in Colossians 3:10, “And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator”.

Since we’re created in the image of God, we are to set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12). In everything we do, we must do it for God. This includes how we act, how we dress and how we treat our body. 

So how do we apply this to our lives?

Which view should we hold on to? Body positivity or neutrality? Truth be told, neither of these are precise. While we may see people showing off their trendy clothes or their seemingly perfect lives, remember that we are called to be different. Jesus said that if you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, [because He] chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19).

We are made in His image, and our absolute highest purpose is to glorify and enjoy God forever.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body”

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Vivienne Han (17) writes and designs for RE Generation-Z. She hopes to use her interests to bring more teens to Jesus. When she isn’t busy drawing, you’ll find her watching random Ted-Eds or tending to her succulent garden.

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