What Lies Beneath

“I want to be smart.
I want to look good.
I want to ‘fit in’. I want to have many friends.
I want to be happy & successful.”

What’s wrong with being smart? Isn’t it right for us to always strive for the best and try to be the ‘cream of the crop’?

What’s wrong with being pretty? Is there any wrong in trying to be prettier or in following current trends?

Is it wrong to have many friends, to ‘fit in’ and to be popular? It is our human nature (given by God) to long for love and acceptance from others.

How can trusting and following my heart be wrong? Don’t you always see inspirational quotes that say, “Follow your heart, do the things that make you happy”?

Remember this: Lies from Satan always begin in the form of a question, injected into your heart.

Satan is still using his old trick. He deceives with questions, just like how he deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden and made her question herself and God. Thus, the bible gives us a warning; “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9—ESV)

EYES ON THE PRIZE

I was born and spent my first ten formative years of life in a country where competition was truly encouraged, worldly achievement was highly praised and compensated, and ‘success’ was really the ultimate goal of life. Starting from early primary school, I can remember my cohort being segregated into different classes based on our ‘ability’. We were separated into best class (for students ranked 1-40), second-best class (for the 41st to the 80th), and the rest were just called “mixed ability classes.”

At around the age of nine, we had worn our ‘label’ in school every day. Before migrating to Australia at the end of year four, the school decided to adjust the system and merge those two best classes. Instead of having the top forty students in the best class and the next forty in the second-best class, the top eighty students were randomly divided into two classes. I vividly remember all the negative reactions from my classmates. With anger, frustration and sadness, they exclaimed, “This is not fair! We have worked so hard to maintain our rank to be in the best class, and now some of us would get ‘downgraded’ to the second-best class?” At that time, I said to myself, “Lucky me, I don’t need to experience the feeling of being ‘downgraded’!” 

After spending most of my childhood in such an environment, I became a high-achiever, aiming for nothing but the best in many areas of my life. 

Even though it is not totally a bad thing, I am reminded once again of the deadly catch it may bring. If we start to place our success and other worldly things as the foundation of our self-worth, we are surely setting ourselves on the path of disappointment. As children of God, we have been ‘set apart’ from the people of this world, and our self-worth should not be built on things of this world. Instead, we should have God as the one and only solid foundation. 

This was one of the lies that I somehow believed – what a timely reminder for me. My values were determined by what I could achieve in my study life. Yes, it is unavoidable to have society (i.e. school) put numbers and ranks on me. But my real value is not determined by the label people put on me or by what I do; instead, my value is determined by how God views me (Ev. Sariwati). 

ALMOST FAMOUS

I am convinced that all of us (including me) have social media accounts. Let me ask you. Is the way you view yourself significantly impacted by how many friends you have on Facebook or Snapchat, how many subscribers you have on YouTube, how many likes you have on your Instagram post or how many of your Tik Toks went viral? If the answer is somewhat yes, you are – like many other teens – bound in Satan’s trap. 

In many surveys conducted worldwide, about 90% of teens aged 13-17 use social media platforms and more than 50% use more than one. Our generation, known as Generation Z (Gen Z) are ‘screenagers’. As the name suggests, this age has people spending most of their lives in front of a screen. The usage of technology and social media comes so naturally to us, and it has become part of our lives. Unconsciously, we have developed ‘nomophobia’, shortened from ‘no mobile phone phobia’. A phobia where we feel anxious or stressed when we do not have our mobile phones with us.

Before we know it, social media will start controlling our emotions, thoughts and life! The initial intentions to use social media as a platform to connect with friends will turn into an uncontrollable desire to be famous, to be liked and accepted by the community. It will turn into a competition among peers about who is better-looking, and more popular. Social media is greatly used as an effective tool by Satan to deceive you. Do you find it scary how a number of likes on a certain post can make you be on cloud nine and a single hate comment can impact the rest of your life?

So how can we equip ourselves to not fall into this trap? 

These are things I learned from Rev. Agus Marjanto and Ev. Sariwati from the retreat:  

  1. We should never entrust our hearts to social media and let it control our emotions. Rather, “trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5-6—ESV).
  2. Do not believe that our outer appearance is worth more than our inner. Our physical beauty is only temporary (1 Peter 3:3-6—ESV), and the beauty that matters the most to God is our inner beauty (Jeremiah 9:23-24—ESV).
  3. Make sure that our activity on social media is right and brings glory to God. Remember, social media itself is not evil, but people with wrong and evil motivation brought together will make it evil. 
  4. The relationships we have on social media are just virtual relationships and communication. What we really need is communion that can only be obtained offline. Communication is simply sharing opinions, but communion goes deeper to share life with others. Communion is only found in a church among believers who share the same faith. So seek to find a Christian-based group of faith where you can experience communion, hold one another accountable and encourage one another to live a holy life. 

BEING A CHRISTIAN IN THIS GENERATION

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19—NIV) 

Being a Christian living in this generation can be hard. I have had experiences where my friends invited me to hang out with them – on a Sunday. I told them that I could not come as I had to go to church. Most friends would just let the situation brush past them, or some even are willing to reschedule for my sake. However, a few of them would pose questions like, ‘Why do you need to go to church anyway? Can’t you just skip it this week? Just this once?’ 

In our community, we often feel like we can’t ‘fit in’. It is true, we can’t fit in and we shouldn’t because we can’t love God and the world at the same time, and there is NO middle ground. God calls us to give Him our all; or nothing at all. 

During the teens retreat Q&A session, I asked this question to clear up my confusion about being Christians in the world:

Christians are often disliked by people of the world. But if they despise us, doesn’t this disadvantage us when we are trying to spread the gospel to them? 

Here is the answer from Rev. Agus:
We are all in this world, but we don’t belong to the world. In all relationships, both parties will influence one another – either good or bad. This applies to our relationships with worldly people. They influence us, and likewise, we must also influence them. In fact, there is no disadvantage at all. When things are smooth-sailing, they might judge our way of living or dislike us. However, once trouble strikes, the people of the world will realize and come to find the righteous, true of heart, holy, honest and one that demonstrates love and holds onto the truth. 

It reminds me of the story of Noah. What did the people around him do to him when he obeyed God and did exactly as told? They mocked him, laughed at him and called him crazy; until it started to rain.

When we are sharing the gospel to our worldly friends, they might reject us in the beginning. Do not be anxious if they reject you, instead pray to God to ask for His help and the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts to enable them to accept Christ. Definitely do not conform to the ways of worldly people in order to gain their attention and approval. 

Scripture alone is absolute truth, essential truth, decisive truth, authoritative truth, undiluted truth, eternal, everlasting truth.
Charles Spurgeon

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 World’s Lies, God’s Truth. What’s Next?

Binge-watching & The Good Doctor

As soon as I got home from Teens camp, my brother and I decided to watch a The Good Doctor episode. For those who don’t know, The Good Doctor is an exciting drama depicting the ups and downs of life from the perspective of professional medical personnel, especially from the shoes of Dr Murphy, a resident surgeon at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital who suffers from savant syndrome and autism. As always, this show does not fail to coat a canvas with the variant colours of human emotions. Set in a hospital, sadness is sketched in times of death, loneliness is shaded in times of isolation, and anxiety is painted in times of painful suffering.

All seems good and well to the audience who watches this show. They might shed a tear here and there or relate to frustration and hopelessness experienced by bed-ridden patients. Such cathartic experiences seem normal to us, enjoyable at least, if not satisfying and crave-fulfilling.

Binge-watching TV shows have become one of our generation’s biggest cultural norms since streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Stan, and Disney Plus became popular in recent years. We all enjoy it because we all love stories. We love to watch others’ lives that we can relate or dream of relating to, whether it be imagining yourself with the confidence of Superman or imagining yourself as the girl who gets all the handsome guys in your favourite K-drama.

Worldly lies in our everyday life

But, do you know, that behind all these seemingly natural and neutral experiences, movies and TV shows have a much more significant influence on us than we can imagine? In The Good Doctor, behind all these entertaining medical stories, a worldly culture of pride, arrogance and “follow your dreams” is seen in the doctors’ actions. Even more so, away from the hospital, a culture of free sex and frequent partner changing is definitely an unquestionable norm. Not to also mention the deliberate choice of character diversity picturing, male, female, transgender, gay, straight, black, white, Asian, you name it. It is clearly evident that this show is trying to put out their post-modern philosophy of, “don’t judge. Let’s all be equal because the truth is relative. You can’t say I’m wrong, and I won’t say you’re wrong either”.

Satan’s lies like these underpin the majority of media we consume. They are so subtle that if it’s not by God’s grace, then we will never realise that it’s everywhere. It’s in our Netflix, our YouTube, our Instagram, our Snapchat, everywhere. We can’t run away; 24/7 we are bombarded by worldly philosophies that subtly seep into our skin ever so slowly that we fail to realise we’ve changed.

Ideal vs Reality

We’ve just spent three days you could say, “bombarded” by the Word of God. There were no phones, so no distractions from social media. Great. God’s Truth – 100% win! Satan’s Lies – 100% lose! But the reality is, that’s not everyday life. We can’t get rid of all screens. And the solution is definitely not ditching the internet and running to a monastery somewhere in the mountains. We still live in this world even though God says we are not of this world.

So, my question is, what’s next? We don’t live in retreat world where all we do is read the Bible. In fact, God does not call us to live an everyday life in retreat world where we are in a safe sanctuary, away from anything to do with the world. God as called us to be apart from the world, but He calls us to live in the world to accomplish His will and serve those who need Christ. And so, now that we are no longer in retreat, how do we stand amidst the striking temptations of Satan?

1)  Read God’s Word Every day.

I genuinely encourage and would go as far as to say that this is a definite must for anyone who calls themselves followers of Christ. The world will continue to bombard us with lies, and how can we counter lies if not with the Truth? Christ is the Truth, and Christ is fully revealed in the Bible. If you don’t read God’s Word, you’re a dead man trying to stand against Satan’s multitude of legions. Christ is the Truth, and only He can bring us victory against sin and against the lies of this world. 

When I say read God’s Word, I don’t mean a quick glance at today’s devotional or skimming past the verse of the day on your Bible app. I mean a true strive to get to know the Truth and get to know Christ personally through His Word. It takes time, effort, grit, tears, a broken heart, and a whole lot of prayer to catch a glimpse of who Christ truly is, to catch a glimpse of the Truth. But it’s totally worth it.

I said earlier that we all loved stories and relating to other people’s experiences. Well, the Bible is the ultimate story. It is the true, factual reality of this universe. And it depicts not only of experience we can relate to but experiences we can relate in because we are part of this story. We are part of God’s ultimate story. We are people whom God chose before He created the world, we are people God sent Jesus for, we are people who God leads now in sanctification, and we are people who God will rise in glory at the end of times. Read Ephesians 1 for more.

We must acquaint ourselves with the Truth. Apart from Him, we have no hope. A soldier would not dare to go into battle without armour and training. O, Christian, do you dare to venture into this world without being equipped with the Truth who can set us free? I encourage everyone to give our mornings to seek God in His Word before we do anything else. Even before we check our phones, so that before we set our eyes on the world we are called to serve, we have started our day by fixing our eyes on the Truth, our one and only hope.

2)  Find community. Find church.

Apart from getting to know God personally through reading God’s Word, we need a community of believers who can encourage us in our walk of faith. Who has ever felt like their devotions are dry, empty and with no real knowing of God? My hand is definitely up.

God does not call us to be individual Christians. In fact, God has called us to be the body of Christ. He has called us to be in communion with each other, with fellow believers so that we might build one another and encourage one another to grow in faith and preserve in following Christ. See Ephesians 4 for more.

If you’ve never been part of a church community, I’ll say, you have to find some. If you are part of a church community, let me ask, is there real communion that takes place as God intended? Is church community to you just a friendship club or is it filled with a genuine love for one another after Christ’s love to build one another up and encourage one another to grow in coming to know and love Christ who is the Truth? Remember, we’re in this together.

3)  Pray. Pray like a helpless man because you are.

We can try our best to read God’s Word every day, we can be active in church community and ministry, but there is one thing we can’t do: know God, know the Truth who is Christ. As Matthew 11:27 says, “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Here is the reality, and here is an essential point.

If God does not work to reveal Himself to us, there is no way we can know Him. If His Spirit does not work, our hearts cannot be changed. John 15:5 truly holds, “apart from [Christ] you can do nothing”. And so, what can we do?

Jesus says in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matt 5:3). Those who are warriors of Christ are warriors of prayer, warriors of complete utter helplessness in self ability and are in complete utter surrender to God who will provide us with the gift of knowing Him, living for Him and being used by Him.

Apart from God, we indeed are nothing as humans, and so, let us surrender fully to Christ as our hope in prayer.

Today, tomorrow and the rest of my life.

About two and a half years ago, in the same hotel, in a similar retreat, I gave my all once again to Christ. From that retreat, God burnt a fire and a zeal in my heart to get to know Him and to live and serve Him. The next morning, as I meditated and reflected on all the things I had learnt at that retreat I prayed to God, “Don’t let this fire burn out Lord. Keep it alive for years so that I can always keep fighting for You”. I still have that prayer that I wrote down in my Bible, and I can testify that God is faithful because that fire is still burning as bright as ever today.

So often, our fire and zeal for God kindled at retreats burns out after a couple of weeks because we forget and return back into our old sinful habits. But I encourage you to pray just as I did because God is real and faithful and active. Fall to your knees and cry for a revival. Beg to God for a whole heart that burns to know Him and serve Him. And with such, wake up each morning with the same prayer, with the same cry, with the same plea for a heart that loves God and His Truth. Plea that He gives us a greater love for Himself and a dying love for this world.

O teenager, our generation needs Christ. I need Christ, you need Christ, and many out there are lost, they desperately need Christ. The time has come for us to surrender all for Christ. Do not wait, do not delay. If we do not surrender now, when will we? Surrender not just today, but wake up to surrender again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, till all our days are past, and we are called home by our Master.

Give our lives not just in retreat but give our everyday life. After all that God has done for us, what more do we have to give?

May God Be Glorified,

Your Brother in Christ,

Hans

Hans Sangtoki (17) is the coordinator of RE Generation-Z. He has a passion for serving his generation and sharing hope in Christ. He also has an interest in classical music and dreams of conducting an orchestra one day.

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