Reflections on Fallow Ground (IDMC 1a)

Listening to Rev. Edmund Chan speaking about breaking one’s fallow ground was something I appreciated a lot. As a person who loves using metaphors to help explain concepts, the agricultural example was something I found rather thought provoking. Visualizing the field as my own life and looking at the experiences of my life made the message quite understandable.

I consider my “field” of life as one that is currently being worked on. With a hand plow, I would think, considering the rather sluggish and fitful pace that I am maturing and bearing fruit at. But definitely a field in progress, even if some rocks remain in the field, and some thorns still need uprooting.

In particular, I felt impacted greatly by the concept of the thorns. As someone with a tendency towards hedonism (life of pleasure, for the- no wait), I am particularly vulnerable. There are a lot of things in my life that I know I allow or toe the line with, because I enjoy them, despite knowing that I could use my time on other much more productive things.

While I know that God is certainly not opposed to pleasure and enjoyment as a whole, I also know that I do overspend my time on some activities which may otherwise be all right in moderation. Reading, playing games, and viewing entertainment, these are the things which I know have a tendency to turn into thorns that draw away the ‘energy’ that otherwise might make the field of my life more productive in growing as a person.

It is the knowledge that I know I need to surrender these things, day by day, moment by moment, that I struggle with. And to not be deceived by the lie that to indulge in such things is acceptable. There is simply a cost to spending my time and energy in certain things. That is how life simply works.

One cannot become a writer without spending time writing. One cannot become a chef without cooking. One cannot live a life that emulates Christ without constant struggle and surrender against the will of the flesh, that one may live out the will of the Spirit. It is the constant laying down of the heart and the mind before the will and word of God that will produce a godly life and nothing else.

It is only by the proper plowing and breaking of the soil and sowing, by which a field will produce a harvest.


breaking your fallow ground (IDMC 01)

The Intentional Disciple-Making Conference is a major conference focused on a theme directed to equipping and spurring on followers of Jesus Christ towards discipleship. One is held every year in Singapore, hosted by Covenant EFC. It was my first time to attend an IDMC but I had heard about it the past few years and was somewhat interested in it, but I wasn’t able to go until this year. For this, I am thankful.

IDMC 2017: Rekindling Your Spiritual Passion (image from idmc.org.sg)

In his opening session, Rev. Edmund Chan began by speaking about the initiative to return the church to its roots of discipleship-making. He states that the problems we have in the church today can be thought in the following manner:

  • What we have isn’t a church problem, we have a people problem.
  • What we have aren’t people problems, we have heart problems.
  • What we have aren’t heart problems, we have obedience problems.

Therefore, change must happen among the people of God. But change isn’t such an easy thing to execute, as we all know. Nonetheless, he gives us 5 paradigms of change:

  1. People should change, as growth only happens in change.
  2. The good news is that people can change.
  3. But the issue is that people don’t change.
  4. This is because people won’t change – this is a desire of the will.
  5. Most often this is because people short-change change (they think too short-term).

Rev. Edmund brings us to the passage of Jeremiah 4:1-2 where the good prophet is delivering God’s message to Israel saying, “…return to me Israel…” He declares that if Israel returns to the ways of their Lord and would not waver, returning seriously to God, He would make it so that the nations of the world would praise the name of God as they saw how He treated Israel. The key ideas in this passage were:

  • Return to me – the wording here highlights the personal nature of their relationship with God
  • Remove your detestable things – they must remove what is displeasing to God, as He has revealed to them previously in His Scripture (idols etc.)
  • Do not waver – here they must not turn back to their old idolatry (and short-change change, as it were)
  • Blessing and glory – these things shall be delivered to them in the name of the Lord

But how is to be done? How are we (Israel) to return to God? The next set of verses in Jeremiah 4:3-4 gives us some wisdom in how to pursue this.  We are told to break up our fallow ground, not to sow among thorns, and to circumcise ourselves to the Lord. The wording used here is something a bit tricky for many to understand, especially in this urban age and lifestyle. Just like Rev. Edmund I too am a city boy despite being a probinsyano (provincial) and driving past farms almost daily. The context used here was easy for the Israelites to understand in their day and age, written as it was for their culture and their society.

Fortunately, Rev. Edmund did his research and unfolded the concepts in 3 points.

  1. Preparing the Ground (of the Heart) – Break up Your Fallow Ground
  2. Sowing Aright – Do not Sow among Thorns
  3. Redirecting our Life – Circumcise our Hearts

Working the Fields (Photo by Maria Raj)

Preparing the Ground used the Hebrew word nir in the verse of breaking up the ground. This term was used for unplowed, hardened ground. This is a metaphor for our spiritual life which can be equated to our heart. Agriculturally the metaphor was obvious – unplowed ground is unproductive ground. The question thrown to us then, is whether our hearts are plowed and productive for the things of God or hardened and unproductive.

An interesting concept here is that we need to realize that plowed ground is essentially broken ground. And this is a good kind of brokenness. Just as a wild stallion is unusable, only a broken and trained horse can be used. And a farmer will not use ground that is not broken, it would be a waste of his seed and resources. The verses show us that there was a great spiritual neglect in Israel in those days, hence they were fallow. And we need to remember that just like plowing the soil was hard but necessary work, making sure the soil of our hearts is well-plowed can be (bloody) hard work as well, but it is necessary.

This can be a real struggle, especially if there are “rocks” in the field that is our heart (and life). These are things which cannot be ignored, just as rocks in a field cannot be left around. They must be removed even if we need to dig deeper to do so, for they are detestable to the Lord, and will sorely affect the productivity in our lives. These may be emotional or personal issues of various sorts, bad habits, idolatry, or a great many other things. And at times these rocks may not be just small things, but large boulders. Just as a farmer would call others to help him break these boulders down for removal, so might we need assistance in breaking down the boulders that are lodged in our “fields” of the heart.

Sowing Aright is the second concept we’re given here, and at first glance it looks obvious. If we see “thorns” in the field, then, of course, we just put seed around it. But as is explained to us, this isn’t the case for a farmer. In a field, there will always be thorns present, and we cannot just sow around them. What must be done is that the thorns from the field must be removed. Thorns and weeds will choke the seed and steal the nutrition that otherwise should go to them.

In other words, thorns are things of our lives that may steal away our energy in pursuing God. Spiritual complacency may occur if we do not uproot the thorns in our lives. These are often things which we think do not matter so much and let stay, but the truth is that these all need removal. They must all be uprooted. Some examples given are:

  • Doubts and unbelief
  • Past hurts
  • Unforgiveness and bitterness
  • Addictions and bondages
  • Disappointments
  • Lukewarmness
  • Anxieties and discouragements

All of these things do matter to God. I think on these and know that many of these would indeed hinder us and steal away the joy that Jesus promises us. Leaving them behind to linger versus confronting them as soon as the Lord reveals would only slow a follower of Christ down. That said, some thorns do take longer to uproot than others, but what is key is the process of uprooting our issues must be committed to and pursued.

The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. – Rev. Edmund Chan

Circumcise the Heart was the final lesson point delivered. To the modern world, circumcision is a cultural tradition. But it meant something else when God instituted this for the Jews. To circumcise one’s self was a sign of being set apart as one of His people. Similarly, when we are told to circumcise our heart, we are being told to set aside our heart for the Lord. In our lives often the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.

This is why our hearts must be set aside for God. This is a decision we must make, to devote our hearts to the purposes of God. We must be circumcised to the Lord. Our eyes to the Lord. Our mouths to the Lord. All things to the Lord. And when we are given unto the Lord, we will be able to see God’s hands in all things, and we will see that in these things God clears the way.

We must carefully examine our heart’s condition and remove all that hinders us from God. As I am reminded of this, the next series of statements strikes me. Perhaps we say there are just too many rocks. The roots of the thorns are too deep. Don’t lose heart. Don’t give up. Because we all struggle. We all have feet of clay. But our hope is in Christ, and through Him we are delivered. We are a community. Help is there. Get it. We cannot dabble with thorns in our life. For beneath the surface, there is a great war for our lives between the seed of God and the thorns that bring us away.

Returning to the ideas at the start of the session – what kind of problems do we have in the church? We have people problems. But these problems arise from where? The heart! And so what we have are heart problems. But as Christians, are these just heart problems? Perhaps what we really have are obedience problems – to trust and obey in full. Do we obey or disobey God’s word? Do we believe or disbelieve? As life goes on, we hope that obedience gets easier. But the truth is that it doesn’t necessarily get easier. It is a discipline that needs to be developed, over the long-term.

As we closed, Rev. Edmund shared a few parting thoughts with us. The key here is not to know the key, it is to apply the key. We can move in faith because God promises! And that telling Him “You do it!” is not abdication of action, it is the surrender of control in our life. A real Christian should mean real business with God and be totally sold out to Him.


Return to the Lion City

Singapore, the Lion City. I find myself considering the history I have with this place. In the past, I travelled for reasons of enjoyment and pleasure, which is typical of vacations. Though I have also enjoyed this trip, the primary impetus for my journey to Singapore is different. It is to learn and to be disturbed.

Disturbed, not because I desire to simply be disturbed as there are many ways that can happen. But what I seek is to be disturbed from my complacency and comfort. I am hoping to be stirred up in mind, heart, and soul once again as I once was but mere years ago. I have come to the Lion City, to find new inspiration from the Lion of Judah, to roar at this world with a voice full of hope and passion for the Lord.

Many things have happened to me in the Lion City of Singapore. I pray that the Lord uses this time to deepen my understanding of who He is, as I attend the IDMC 2017 conference. I hope that this time that has been set aside for learning and pursuit of God shall not be put to waste but shall result in a renewal and transformation that I can hardly imagine possible.

Originally written on Aug 31, 2017


To Exceed, Build Right

Excellence in life should begin with a firm foundation. Just how most of the wonders of the world start with immense work on their foundations, the substructures of the entire project, so it should be with lives that seek excellence.

There are many stories of people who have been catapulted into fame and power but eventually collapse under the strain or pressure. There are few who are able to weather such things with steadiness, and I would think that it is because these people have a very strong foundation of who they are. While we may not be the recipient of such meteoric rise, I would think that most of us would still desire to be living lives of impact and excellence where we are.

It is rather interesting, as I read this book called Mentoring Paradigms, by Edmund Chan, which tackles how to be a mentor to others. Now I believe that a person who teaches something (or mentors another) is forced to grow and to achieve a degree of mastery or competency. And therefore, one way by which we can help us achieve excellence is if we learn how to mentor or guide others.


Building High

How do we build lives of excellence?


There is a concept that is proposed here in the first chapter, the idea of the sub-structure, structure, and superstructure. Most of the time we look at the superstructure of a person’s life – their achievements, their work, the highlights and such. Less often, we look at the structure of their life – the less visible but important things. How they spend their time, with family and loved ones, with the right community, and so on. And hardly anyone gives notice to the substructure, that which is invisible, but is most central to a person – their philosophy on life, their belief system, their identity and how they understand who they are.

It is, interestingly enough, well-aligned with the topics of the recent Friends camp (Friends9) last July 14-16, which tackles the theme “Exceed”. To a Christian, the substructure is grounded on their identity with Christ. The rest is not all too different from those who don’t believe in Jesus as Lord, but the paradigm can still be the same. The foundation, the bedrock of a person, begins internally – in a Christian’s case, with their relationship and identity in God.

Without that clear foundation, one will may it more challenging to arrange and prioritize the other aspects of their lives. But with it, it becomes easier to rearrange all these other parts of life. Family, friends, community. Ministry and work come in afterward and in these we achieve excellence and exceed when we are able to build on it with the right attitude and skill.

In other words, to a Christian, the core of who we are in Jesus and our relationship with Him is of absolute necessity, and requires clarity. Because if we are solid in this, then we know how to decide in all things in our lives. Of course, our understanding of what it means to be a Christian should grow over time, as we come to a deeper knowledge of God, and in that manner become more mature, and a greater blessing to each other. But, again, it is this foundation that we must tend, for without it, all else may very well fracture.


Friends9: Exceed

Five years ago, I attended my first CCF FRIENDS retreat. I knew almost nobody. But I was there because God had answered a little prayer of mine. At the time, I was already a believer in Jesus Christ. But I was going through an extremely difficult season of my life –  such that I was wondering and hoping for relief. That was when the Lord led me to Friends, in 2012. And how appropriate was its theme title: Breakthrough.

Friends: Breakthrough

Many things have happened since then, but that was the first time I truly experienced the joy of a community with a heart that I’d never thought would have one. It goes to show how foolish my thoughts were. God has led me over the years, leading me to other communities within the church, who are all dear to me – but CCF Friends will always be one of those closest to my heart. He has connected me to key people within it – some who may not no longer visible during the events, but who are nonetheless a part of the spiritual family of Friends in some way or another.

Going into Friends9, I have technically occupied the “highest” seat in my life of service within the ministry thus far. Ironically, I was also at my lowest and most disconnected period with the Lord, compared to prior retreats. I knew this, and my heart was troubled and I was frustrated (in a numb, detached manner) with how I was. I experienced up and downswings in the quality of my walk with the Lord, and on more than one occasion as the retreat drew near I felt like dropping out and quitting altogether.

But God kept me going despite my flubs and moments of irresponsibility. He showed me grace and displayed the strength of His body when other volunteers helped me out and carried many of the burdens that should have been mine to shoulder. He had me witness that in such things as these, I truly was incapable of doing His work by my own power. It was a humbling, but inspiring, lesson. And from it I can only say that my heart has been drawn even closer to the family that I have with my brothers and sisters in Friends and among my fellow believers in Jesus Christ.


Friends9: Exceed Core Team

I am truly spoiled by God, as during the run up to the camp I also kept praying that I wanted to re-experience that feeling of rest and joy with Him. And true enough, I did. Even while we were working, God allowed me to be in that rare zone of both being busy yet relaxed, firmly engaged yet at ease. I was able to have time to spend with Him in solitude, but also able to connect with some new people and reconnect with a few old friends. I was allowed to witness lives being touched, and to see the promise of changed lives.

Truly, God exceeded my expectations, in many quiet ways that dawned on me as I was at the camp and after. It was one of the most subtly meaningful FRIENDS retreats that I’d been to, and I have to say it was a very unique “mountaintop” experience for me. It was not so much a spiritual high, as a re-grounding and a solid and gentle sense of reassurance and reaffirmation.

The Cross

My thanks to Jesus Christ, my Prince of Peace and King. To You be all the glory.

Friends9: Exceed – Praise & Worship Playlist


One Piece: A Life for a King

One of the reasons why I continue to enjoy reading manga, beyond the action, art, and story – is because every now and then, well-written ones remind me of something interesting and meaningful. One Piece is one of the best-written manga still active and a recent chapter gave me a bit of food for thought. Spoiler alert here, in case you haven’t kept up to date with the releases of the manga.

In the current story arc, Luffy and his nakama (friends/companions), along with some other allies are heading up against one of the Yonko (Pirate Lords), Big Mom. Big Mom apparently has a special power which allows her to devour the life essence of anyone who has fear for their own life. This enables Big Mom to be of particular danger – as people, in general, will naturally have this fear.

Image from Melonciutus | Deviant Art

The Knight of the Sea, Jinbe, is confronted with Big Mom’s power when he declares that he wishes to leave her crew. Much to her surprise – and the surprise of many others – her power has no effect on Jinbe. She uses it twice, to no avail. Jinbe declares firmly the reason why he was not affected, saying, “No one who desires to follow the Pirate King will fear for his own life.”

As a follower of Christ, this concept is not new to me. Most people will give up their own life for something they consider to be of a value that transcends themselves. This may be for one’s faith, for one’s family, or for one’s ideals. In all these cases, they place something or someone above the value of their own individual life, such as Jinbe’s choice to devote himself to following the would-be Pirate King, Luffy. These individuals, we call heroic, as they are able to rise above the norm of selfish living.

Image from Maxime-Jeanne | Deviant Art

The question that reaches out to me, as I reflect on Jinbe’s statement, is whether we are living our lives just for ourselves? Or have we found something (or someone) to whom we can dedicate our lives to? Someone worth living and dying for? And if we say we have declared that we have, are we really committed to it, such that the threat of death would mean nothing to steer us away?

I have said that I follow the name of the King, Jesus Christ, but how deeply have I committed? Is it with the same firmness and devotion as the Sea Knight, Jinbe? Or is it with lukewarm declarations of loyalty? Whatever it is we chose in our life to devote our time and heart to, I think we need to evaluate its worth, and upon doing so with sobriety and wisdom, pursue it with all that we have.

(Originally posted at DAGeeks, written by John G. III, yours truly)


time sink

There are things in life which are like an abyss, able to devour of time without end. And when confronted with some of these activities, which I occasionally am prone to doing in excess, I begin to remember and recoil with horror and revulsion at the time that has slipped through my fingers. Time which has gone to no real end. To no purpose. To no good. To, ultimately, nothing.

And so I ask myself, how can I spend what is probably the most precious thing to Man in these ways? Time is something we can never recover. It can never be replaced. The time of life we have is, I believe, the most precious of gifts. And it should be spent well. It should be spent on doing things that are of good. It should not be poured down the drain frivolously, to be lost or casually cast about.

When a person has experienced a season of work, a time spent in purposeful things, when one has seen their time applied in uplifting ways, in serving the Lord, in being part of that which is infinitely greater,  we begin to see a huge difference. The time spent in banal, self-centered things, can be felt as tragic or frustrating.

But thankfully, grace abounds. And for most of us, there is yet another minute, another hour, another day. How then should I spend this irretrievable currency? And how will I actually spend it?