Sing, O Barren!

Scripture is full of paradoxes. The poor are made rich, the weak strong, the humble lifted up. In reading the Word, we’re continually confronted with real life stories of situations which are downright shocking.

Seas and rivers part. City walls fall flat. Donkeys talk. Magi from distant lands travel for months following a star representing the arrival of a long-awaited Lord and King, only to find him wrapped in strips of cloth, a baby bedded in an animal’s feeding trough. And all of these examples pale before the anomaly of the Cross.

This past year has also been rife with paradoxes. With churches closing their doors and physical gatherings prohibited or scaled down, one would have predicted a drop in membership and a dramatic decline in offerings. While challenges and hardships have been real, we now have the benefit of hindsight to see just how faithful the Lord has been through it all.

Our Training and Equipping participation is going through the roof. KI Kids touched thousands of children instead of hundreds, and in multiple nations. We’re now reaching many more through the livestream of our online services, and our finances are stronger now than at the start of COVID.

This is true for most of our CGN churches as well, though it’s also good to be reminded that some within the network really need us to stand with them in times like these.

The prophet Isaiah gives us a picture of how to create our own paradoxical story. A barren woman is told to ‘sing!’ in Isaiah 54:1 – “Sing, O barren, You who have not borne! Break forth into singing and cry aloud, You who have not laboured with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married women, says the Lord.”

A lady who has unsuccessfully tried to get pregnant for years is told she’s going to have more children than a woman who’s already a mom – that she’s going to have such a brood that she had better get busy adding rooms and gathering lots of furnishings to accommodate an abundance of boys and girls.

If we didn’t have history to look back on, we might think Isaiah is just being a masterful poet, using hyperbole and metaphor to concoct a message to dazzle his readers. But the prophet did not play his prophetic fiddle to make the children of Israel dance. His words so angered them that they conclusively sawed him in two!

No, Isaiah was not being creative or politically-correct. He was stating something startlingly TRUE – that God routinely takes impossibly bleak and depressing situations and recreates them into brilliant billboards of redemption, power, and love.

Promises long shredded and filed away in the dustbin by this desperate woman were about to be recovered, restored, and fulfilled. Naturally speaking, realising one was barren was a most painful, disheartening, and terminal diagnosis. More than a physical malady, being unable to bear children meant that shame, rejection, guilt, fear, and dashed dreams would be one’s lifelong companions.

The flood of negative emotions that oppressed a woman in ancient times as she faced this bitter truth would reverberate condemnation like the echoing blow of a judge’s gavel.

The woman in the mirror was bereft, stricken, cursed. Family gatherings became a cacophony of whispers from kinfolk. The shifting eyes of passers-by, the huddled women in the markets, the ever-more frequent pointing of a crooked, careless finger. The awareness that her husband was on the lookout for her replacement, someone to give him pleasure, empowering him to produce offspring and build a legacy.

And yet the Lord says, “Sing!” Lift up your song of praise. Cry aloud your hymns of thanksgiving and adoration. This simple yet profound act of faith is the first and most crucial step in unlocking Hope’s promises.

Once one is pregnant with Heaven’s implanted Word, babies are not far behind! Out of intolerable travail, a holy assurance is fantastically birthed and a confession sired: my season of barrenness has been preparing me for barn-filled years of bounty.

COVID’s strike has been painful; but it has proven and is now preparing us for stewardship of much greater things. Desolation is not our destiny. Breakthrough starts with a choice to break forth into song to the One who is working all things together for our good.

It ends with more children being born in desolation, and with the need to aggressively extend our tents to the left and right in preparation for what God is about to do.

This is our invitation to be a part of God’s unfolding story of paradox. Have we not come to the Kingdom for such a time as this?

Pastor Kevin Graves

My Running Craze

Can I be obsessive? For sure. In fact, when I get into something, I’m often obsessive about it. My latest obsession has to do with running. Now, if you know anything about me, I hate running. It was my bane during the time I was doing my military service.

You see, long-distance running is pure torture. It isn’t a short stab of pain but a numbing continuous agony that needs to be sustained for a long time. Yet I’ve taken to running with a vengeance in the last couple of weeks, clocking anywhere between 25-35km a week.

While my timing isn’t anything to brag about, I’ve discovered somewhat of a joy in running at a steady pace for a longer period of time.
 
Let me romanticise about running, about how it mirrors life and the needed elements read more…

The Broken-down Wall

It’s a time of festivities with Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day over this weekend, but celebrations will be muted because of the continued Covid restrictions.

Should I reflect upon culture, tradition, family, love, but I was thinking about the broken-down wall. Perhaps there has been complacency, too much feasting when God is looking to build, reinforce and strengthen the wall of His Church and the believer in this time.

It has often been proposed that the Church should be without walls and we might have heard this comment that when a wall is erected, it will keep people out.

God loves and has great compassion for the person on the other side of the wall and we need to re-process if we think we’ve erected the wall to keep them out! If we understand anything of God’s heart, we read more…

Grace From The ‘Begats’

Like many of you, I’ve been on the #365 Bible Reading Plan. And as usual, when I came to Matthew 1, I was stumped by a whole list of genealogies. To be honest, this is where I’d usually flip the pages and skip the boring parts altogether (I’m sure I’m not the only one!).

As modern readers, our eyes would glaze over, and we’d ask, “When are we going to get to some action?” We don’t understand the significance of genealogies today, but people back then did. It was common practice to publicise one’s genealogy because they were proud of their ancestry and where they came from.

And it was your genealogy, not résumé, that determined if you had a place in the world. Today, we live in a highly individualistic society in which all that matters is what you read more…

Love God, Love Your Neighbour, Love Your Enemies

One of the most-talked-about subjects of the Bible is love. In fact, Jesus said that we identify ourselves as His disciples through the way we love people. We don’t prove who we are by the greatness of our faith or the number of miracles we perform, but by the way we love others.

It’s easy to love those who are nice, humble, lovely, and kind. We spend much time loving these people because of the ease of it. As a result, we sometimes come to think that we’ve lived out the command to love our neighbours pretty well.

But recently, the realisation hit me that I was unconsciously avoiding the ones that I don’t understand, those who are different from me, and the ones who weirded me out. I definitely wasn’t rude to them, but I haven’t engaged them the read more…

Huh? Work On My Weakness?

At the start of the year, like all prophetic believers, we asked what the word of the Lord was for 2021. I started the year with our three days of churchwide prayer and fasting, followed by 18 days of prayer – all pumped up and excited to hear what the Lord had to say.

Every new year, I’d resolve to do something different – like learning a new skill, a sport or try something new and outside my comfort zone. In 2018, I tried open water diving, under the persuasion of a pastor friend. I was almost scared to death, if not for a good and experienced dive master. I went mountain climbing in 2019, injured my knee and took a year to recover with the help of a physical trainer.

Last year, during the lockdown, I picked up cooking, learning read more…

A Man of the Spirit

As we turn the corner to a new decade, it’s a great time to affirm our commitment to things that really matter. At Cornerstone, we don’t want to be a people who merely ‘talk the talk’, we want to be people who are born of, filled with, and walk in the Spirit.
 
Some four million Jews spread throughout the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus’ birth. Sects and schools arosing within Judaism memorised huge portions of Scripture. Until that time, no generation had a greater expectation that the Messiah’s visitation was at hand. Prophecies were diligently studied, theories and timelines were drawn up, groups formed isolated communities to wait for the Christ. 

And yet the first person to recognise Jesus did not study under any famous rabbi nor join any elite school. Simeon was an old read more…

Rehearsing Our Beginnings

One of my life-long emphasis is PURPOSE. What’s the purpose of my life? What am I supposed to do? What’s my destiny? Perhaps more understandable – what’s the destination that God has for me?

More than 34 years ago, I began earnestly asking if there’s a point to my life. I was perhaps 11 years old, but even then, I needed to know that there was more to life than just sustenance and existence.

I spent countless hours wandering in the recesses of my mind asking questions. I often wondered where my consciousness would go when I die. Does it just get snuffed out or does it drift onwards in the emptiness of space and time?

Even there, I intuitively sensed that my consciousness was somehow eternal. I wondered also if I was a read more…

What A Year 2020 Has Been!

I’ve been in full-time ministry for 30 years, and in all those 30 years, three clearly stood out as being earth-shaking.
 
The first was 2001. What happened? 9/11. When those planes struck the World Trade Center in New York City, the world we knew changed forever. And I remember the exact moment I heard the news. Time stopped for me as I watched the horror of those twin towers collapsing. Life was never going to be the same again.

A war followed shortly. Stock markets around the world crashed. Fear was all around. The Middle East was in turmoil. Security ramped up around the world. The new normal was long queues at airports, tight airport security, restrictions. But we learned to make adjustments, and live with inconveniences because life had to go on.
 
The read more…

Intimacy With Christ Defines Us

Is 2020 the beginning of a new decade or the end of the last? Whatever your social or mathematical persuasion may be, 2020 has been the ‘new’ for many things.

On the global scene, the year was marked as the new decade with prospects of booming economies, only to be shuttered because of the novel coronavirus, an unprecedented viral spread which continues with increasing deaths.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made world news at the start of the year when they stepped back from the royal family. We saw the worst bushfires in Australia yet, the controversial American Presidential election, the ongoing international war threats and trade disputes, and end this year with the United Kingdom’s much-anticipated final exit from the European Union on 31 December.

On the local scene, it would be the 2020 General read more…

The Plight of Lostness

For thousands of years, the fundamental problem with mankind has been the heart. There’s something twisted inside and we often find ourselves in bondage to our sinful desires. Sin is not just an outward act but the inner disposition of our heart.

The Bible describes sin as falling short of God’s glory, violating what’s right and exchanging the truth for the lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.

John Stott famously said, “Many of the happenings of civilised society, the problems with morals and civility would not exist if it were not for human sin. A promise is not enough; we need a contract. Doors are not enough; we have to lock and bolt them. The payment of fares is not enough; we have to be issued with tickets which are punched, inspected and collected. read more…

Leah’s Victory

When we mention Jacob and Rachel in the Bible, it’s usually about how he worked 14 years for her. She’s the woman of promise – the one we should wait for.

But I’ve a fascination with the story of Leah, Jacob’s first wife. Her story moves me – I pitied and felt bad for her, yet somehow, when I began to read about her life again this year, I saw the goodness and sovereignty of God.

Because of the greed of Leah’s father and his manipulation and deceit, Leah was thrown into a living hell.

She was put into a situation where she married a man who not only did not love her, but found that her very own sister was her husband’s one true love.

The final verses of this passage are the most plaintive I know of, hardly read more…

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