Wait for the Punchline!

I recently watched a very interesting segment on TED Talks where a comedian unpacked for the audience how comedy works. First there’s the setup, and then there’s the punchline. The setup is where the comedian uses his talents, observations, and resources to seize any opportunity to ensure that the audience is moving in the same direction as his storyline. The punchline occurs when he changes that direction in a way that they’re not expecting it. The results are revelation, fulfilment, and joy expressed through laughter.

Here’s an example:
Three men are about to be executed. The guard brings the first man forward, and the executioner asks if he has any last requests. He says “No”, and the executioner shouts, “Ready! Aim!” Suddenly the man yells, “Earthquake!” Everyone is startled and looks around. In the confusion, the first man escapes.

The guard brings the second man forward, and the executioner asks if he has any last requests. He says “No”, and the executioner shouts, “Ready! Aim!” Suddenly the second man yells, “Typhoon!” In the confusion, the second man escapes.

By now, the last man has it all figured out. The guard brings him forward, and the executioner asks if he has any last requests. He says “No”, and the executioner shouts, “Ready! Aim!” and the last man yells, “Fire!”

(In this blog, ‘punchline’ is used to emphasise the point that, no matter what the enemy throws at us, God has the ‘last laugh’.)

I thought of a ‘setup and punchline’ story in the Bible except that this setup has a negative connotation but the ending has a positive outcome of forgiveness, restoration, and hope. In fact, this story involved a ‘double’ setup – a setup within a setup. It’s a fascinating story found in John 8:1-12 where Jesus rescued a woman caught in adultery.

Jesus was teaching in the temple early in the morning to a crowd hungry for God’s Word when the religious teachers and Pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd and asked Jesus, “What do You say?” They were trying to trap Jesus into saying something they could use against Him.

If Jesus says to let her go, then His claim that He is the Son of God is invalid because the law of Moses, given by God, requires stoning to death as a punishment for committing adultery. But if Jesus says to stone her, then it nullifies His message and ministry of bringing hope and salvation to mankind. It was a catch-22 situation. It was a setup and Jesus walked right into it! It was a tense and bleak atmosphere.

However, when pressed further for an answer, Jesus delivered the punchline – “He who is without sin (or never had a sinful desire) among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Jesus answered their question with another question. That is mastery at its best! Oh, what a Saviour we serve!

The Bible tells us that, when the accusers heard this, they were convicted in their hearts and slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. She was brought into the temple, hopeless, defenceless, and ashamed, but she left forgiven with a new lease of life. That day, she walked out from the darkness of her past because she met the ‘Light of the World’ (John 8:12).

It’s noteworthy that, on the morning of this story, the temple’s four great lamps of the court, whose light could be seen from the entire city of Jerusalem, were being extinguished after being lit for the entire week of the Feast of Tabernacles. Thus, in contrast to these extinguished lamps, Jesus is giving those who follow Him the inextinguishable, life-giving light, and they shall no longer walk in darkness.

There are several other stories in the Bible where Jesus was seemingly trapped in a setup and then He delivered the punchline, e.g. the healing on Sabbath (Matthew 12, Luke 13) and most remarkably, His death and resurrection. In these accounts, Jesus not only delivered Himself out of it, but also the people involved.

Perhaps you’re going through a difficult season in your life right now, or experiencing a time of uncertainty, or bearing the consequences of a past mistake. I want to encourage you to keep ‘abiding under the shadow of the Almighty.’ (Psalm 91) Those hurting who come to God always experience healing and hope. King David understood this. When the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from King Saul, he proclaimed in Psalm 18:1-2, “I will love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength (rock), in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn (strength) of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Jesus is the Author and the Finisher (Perfecter) of your faith (Hebrews 12:2), which means He owns the rights to your story. You are His ‘work in progress’ – He has the final say. The setup is not the end, wait for the punchline!


Ps. Kevin Koh

A Fail Grade Regardless Of What You Do

All great men in history were tested. They were men who went into their baptism of fire and emerged with their stories and wounds. There are also Biblical figures whom God delighted in, whose histories are less known, whose stories we never get to hear about. But for the most part, these men and women of renown had to undergo their tests.

While I’m a firm believer of tests and examinations, I have difficulty convincing my young daughters that these are good for their development, especially the one taking her Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) this year.

Abraham and Moses, Governors Joseph and Daniel, King David and the apostles, all underwent great and multiple tests. It was David, a man after God’s own heart, who cried out, “Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind” Psalm read more…

What The Black Death Taught Us

Get ready, this is going to be a long blog but I’m certain it’s going to be worth your time.

The ‘Black Death’ (Bubonic Plague) occurred in the mid-1300s, caused by a certain flea that lived off rodents’ blood. It particularly thrived among black rats in Central Asia. The bacteria carried by the rat attacks the lymph glands of the human body and hence the immune system. Victims experienced high fever and bled beneath the skin. This caused visible dark patches, giving the name ‘Black Death’ to the plague.

The Black Death shows remarkable similarities to the present pandemic that has brought the world to a standstill. I want to take time to point out some uncanny similarities.

1. It started in China

The plague started in Central read more…

Persecution

We recently hosted a Zoom prayer meeting on the International Day of Christian Martyrs. It was really encouraging to see the number of people and nations that participated. The uptick in destabilising and frightening trends worldwide has sounded an alarm. I think it’s a sign of the times. Are we witnessing the beginning of the End? Many of us are feeling the urgency to be better prepared, and rightly so!

Looking back, we realise God has been preparing us to face troubling times. A year ago, Brother Yun shook us up with his testimonies of surviving horrific treatment at the hands of cruel authorities. Canon Andrew White’s life story last October reminded us further of the price that’s being paid by Christians in other parts of the world. Then, in a series of messages at the end of the year, read more…

God’s Generational Treasure

Cornerstone’s youth ministry, relaunched as ‘Generations’ in 2000 after a 3-year hiatus, celebrated its 20th anniversary this month. It’s been my great joy and honour to watch many of these young lives journey into adulthood.

Many of our ‘then’ young people are now serving in Cornerstone as pastors and staff. These lives stoked in the fire of God are now effective ministers and some have been sent out as church pioneers, pastoring, labouring in the fire of the Holy Spirit, serving locally and in the nations. They’re no more young teens but men and women, many married with family.

What God has wrought through these yielded vessels are stories to be told – just like how my husband and I took the divine plunge into the ministry 30 years ago – life encounters still burning in the flames.

The God read more…

Proud to be Singaporean!

Every year, on National Day, my family and I will sit in front of the TV to watch the National Day Parade live. As always, we sing the songs patriotically, laugh at the outrageous costumes, tear when the National Anthem is sung, talk about our National Service experiences, but one thing is for sure – we’re all proud to be Singaporeans. I’m a patriot and I love my country and my people, regardless of race, language or religion.

In 1978, the evangelist Dr. Billy Graham, prophesied that Singapore would be an Antioch for Asia. It was a defining moment for us as a nascent nation. At that time, we were just 13 years into nationhood and so, our future was uncertain. If you can recall, the Iranian Revolution had just begun that would eventually lead the world into a global read more…

The Power of Creativity

I’ve always been intrigued by the account of Adam naming the animals in Genesis 2:19-20. Names in the Bible carry identity, nature, and purpose. We today have the benefit of hindsight.

We’d look at an elephant, for example, and know its nature and temperament. However, for Adam, it was the first time animals ever existed and God wanted him to creatively call out the nature of each living thing.

The Lord wanted to give Adam a sense of ownership in the Garden. He also wanted to partner with His son in the creative process and participate in defining the nature of creation.

I often wondered what was going through Adam’s mind as he set eyes on each animal for the first time. The first man, made in the image of the Master Creator, with the creative nature of God in read more…

Buried or Planted?

This week, two seemingly unrelated events converged on the same day and shed some light into what I’ve been pondering. I received two packs of seeds from the National Parks to grow some edible plants at home, even though I didn’t register for it. I remembered saying to myself grudgingly, “Great! Now I’ve got to find some soil to plant those seeds.” Later that evening, I watched a war movie where the opening scene centred around a small group of US Marines at the cemetery in a sombre mood, surrounding the lowered casket of their fallen comrade.

The next scene showed the soldiers shovelling soil onto the casket, and then it struck me – burial looks no different from planting. Both require some digging and the ‘objects’ are hidden underground, covered with soil. However, for one, death means new life read more…

Rooooooooom!!

Every man who has gone through National Service in Singapore has his own favourite story to tell. Usually, they’re hilarious tales of being ‘tekan’ (disciplined) by their army sergeant. Mine was the room inspection.

It may sound unreasonable now but, back in the day (there I go again), the officer would suddenly show up in our room of 16 men in bunks without warning or appointment. The accompanying sergeant would shout “ROOM!”, the recruits would jump to attention and the officer and the sergeant would then inspect the room.

To the new recruits who had yet to appreciate the discipline, the gruelling drill looked more like an excuse for torture. The inspectors ran their fingers in the most obscure areas like the underside of the table or the top of the cabinet. In a room of Ah Boys who were read more…

Don’t Forget Your Mission

I’m glad the elections are over! Don’t get me wrong, I believe the exercise of our votes is the most fundamental act of a functioning democracy, and it’s a responsibility that we need to take seriously.
 
At the same time, a week is about as much of social media political frenzy I can handle. All of a sudden, everyone has a degree in political science. The coffeeshop political pundits come out in full force. Dubious exposé about various candidates surface, and sound bites suddenly defined a whole person’s life. Of course, elections come with its own share of funnies:
 
“Everyone told me to vote wisely, but I couldn’t find ‘wisely’ on my polling card.” Nandos announced, “We too have an East Coast plan… we now deliver to the East Coast!”
 
read more…

God Is On His Throne

No nation has been spared as the novel coronavirus came onto the global scene like a tsunami. Some have likened the ‘Circuit Breaker’, the nation’s comprehensive stay-home notice for all Singaporeans, as a time of confinement.

A confinement is traditionally associated with a mother recuperating from childbirth. It’s during this period that her strength is given time to renew, and her body to revert to its original state. And, if any thought that things would return to normal post-confinement period of 7 April to 1 June, we all now agree that things are never going to be the same for quite some time, even as we’re now in ‘safe transition’ Phase 2.

Resilience is key as we see the goalposts shift. And it isn’t just here in Singapore, millions are battling a loss of normalcy in their daily lives and read more…

A Plumb Line Cornerstone

As a young boy growing up in rural America, I was around a lot of building projects. Though I couldn’t do much, I’d carry things around the site, help hold a board, or a tool, or take measurements. Occasionally, I got to pound some nails.

Sometimes I’d get to hold or check the plumb line. This simple yet remarkable instrument was used to ensure a vertical line was ‘true’ or plumb. It was employed to make sure what you built wasn’t crooked; that, as the structure grew taller, it wouldn’t topple nor resemble a ‘Tower of Pizza’ (oops, Pisa – effect of being quarantined for too long!).

‘For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel, They are the eyes of the Lord which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.’ Zechariah 4:10

The read more…

Book your tickets