Lighten Up. The Orchard Road Light-up Is Just That. A Light-up.

Artist’s impression of the centrepiece of this year’s light-up. (Image: Orchard Road Business Association)

I suppose the latest hoo-ha would be how Disneyland has hijacked Christmas in Singapore.

If you have been following the news, Disney characters will adorn this year’s Orchard Road light-up. Instead of the traditional Christmas symbols, the main icons will be Mickey Mouse and his gang.

But what are traditional Christmas symbols? Well, it all depends who you talk to, isn’t it?

As reported in Orchard Road Light-up: Is it Christmas or Disneyland?, a certain Ms D’Silva “feels it would be more appropriate if the decorations used motifs associated with Yuletide cheer, such as Santa Claus, reindeer, colours like red, green, gold, or beautifully wrapped presents.” In other words, to many, Christmas is identified by Santa Claus and the accompanying paraphernalia.

Commenting from a marketing perspective, NUS Business School Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon feels that the Disney theme is perfectly fine – not an “overkill” – but “could be made tighter by associating each Disney character with a Christmas icon, say for example, a Disney princess with Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer or Mickey Mouse carrying Christmas gifts.” Once again, we see how closely Christmas is tied to Santa (Rudolph is Santa’s lead reindeer and Christmas gifts are all courtesy of Santa and his company of elves).

As Christmas has largely become a secular affair celebrated by everyone of all faith orientations, religious or otherwise, the above responses are not surprising at all.

That said, it was appropriate that the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) should have issued a statement to express its disappointment, “saying that its exclusive focus on Disney characters buries the original meaning of the festival.” To this end, it “has no meaningful connection to Christmas, which commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ.”

In response, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) explained that “the Orchard Road Christmas light-up was just ‘one of several components’ of the Christmas on a Great Street event, which also features pop-up booths along Orchard Road, including one run by Celebrate Christmas in Singapore, an associate member of NCCS.”

[Hmmm … reading between the lines, might the underlying message be, “Hey, you knew about this all along – that your Christian pop-up booth would be a part of the larger Disney-themed light-up. Why are you making a fuss now?” Taking it a little further … I can’t remember past light-ups in recent years but I believe there were no biblical symbols either. Why was that not an issue to be raised then?]

Whilst I appreciate that a statement has been made by the body that officially represents the Christian community in Singapore, my personal opinion is that Orchard Road is not the actual battleground for Christmas. If we want STB (and others) to regard and respect Christmas as Christian, I believe we must start by looking at how we Christians celebrate Christmas in our churches, events, families and homes.

Think about this: if we ourselves are sending mixed signals to the world, how can we expect others to protect the sanctity of the season for us?

Although we proclaim that Jesus is the reason for the season, we must also admit that many are all too ready to include Santa and other Christmas symbols in our celebrations. Like the responses above, these have become Christmas defaults. Like the stores and malls, the moment we get into the Christmas season (or Advent, in church-speak), churches somehow feel the need to create the Christmas spirit. Before we know it, Santa hats, snowflakes and candy canes begin to appear alongside nativity scenes. Hang on! If it’s about the birth of Jesus, why do we need Santa-ccesories? So, is it Jesus or Santa? Can we please make up our minds?

And we wonder why, of the more than 260 entries in the children’s art competition “What Christmas Means To Me” (recently organised by The Treasure Box), “only about 15% featured the birth of Jesus or something otherwise related to the story of Christmas (e.g. Wise Men, Angels, Shepherds etc). The rest were a cornucopia of everything and anything but – plenty of Santas, reindeer, Christmas trees, candy canes, presents, families eating Christmas food and so on.” It must be noted that many of these submissions were by children “from churches and faith-based kindergartens”  (Why we should care about the commercialisation of Christmas by Elvin Foong). Then again, should we even be surprised by the children’s authentic expressions when Christian adults have no problem having these symbols in their supposedly Christian Christmas celebrations?

My point is simply this: how can we expect others to take us seriously if we are all mixed up ourselves? As far as STB and the world are concerned, the Church seems to be okay with everything. If Jesus and Santa can co-exist, then why not Mickey Mouse, Woody or Elsa? Perhaps, next year, Christians would be appeased if Mickey donned a Santa hat. Or have Kristoff of Frozen as the main character since his name sounds closest to Kris-mas and his best friend is a reindeer. (Who knows? Sven and Rudolf may even be related!) Or better still, feature Toy Story characters gathered around the manger.

Personally, whilst I am not thrilled with the commercialisation of Christmas, I am not too concerned what they put up along Orchard Road, whether Disney characters or Marvel superheroes. And even if the entire retail stretch should be decked out with baby Jesus, choirs of angels, shepherds and wise men on camels, does it necessarily mean we would have scored a victory? I think not.

If Christians sincerely desire to recover Christmas, we don’t start with the lights and decorations along Orchard Road. We must begin with ourselves.

– Stop hoping and depending on the world to help us declare our King. The values of the world will always run counter to the things of the kingdom (have we not learnt that already?). Why are we so happy just to have a pop-up booth as only one of the many features of the Great Christmas Village when Jesus should be the main and only attraction? (Well, better to be represented than not at all, I guess.) Why do we need Orchard Road when we have more than 700 churches around the island to accurately proclaim the true meaning of Christmas?

– If it is truly about Jesus, then stop embracing Santa iconology and other commercial Christmas paraphernalia. You can still go carolling or have your cell group Christmas parties without Santa hats and reindeer hairbands. Really! Stop sending mixed signals, compromising and confusing ourselves and others. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why our children are drawing Santas and reindeer when asked what Christmas means to them. They are just following our example.

– Dispense with this Christmas spirit thingy; there is no need to compete with the retail malls (or other churches)! For all we know, the so-called Christmas ‘spirit’ is none other than the spirit of mammon in disguise. For sure, the only spirit we need is the Holy Spirit and we are to be led by Him not just in December but every day of our lives.

– Be a generous and cheerful giver throughout the year, not just at Christmas. Fox News just reported that “this holiday season, $16B will be wasted on unwanted gifts“. I wonder if this includes the Christmas gift exchanges so many are forced (er, encouraged) to participate in, just for fun, in the spirit of giving? (There’s that ‘spirit’ again.) Not exactly good stewardship, is it?

– The birth of Jesus is most accurately declared and demonstrated when He is truly birthed in our hearts and through our lives. No point being Christmassy for a season only to be considered as hypocrites for the rest of the year. To this end, it is His death and resurrection that we must fully embrace on a daily basis; not just celebrate His birth once a year. (Did Jesus Ever Celebrate His Birthday?)

I assure you that I am no party-pooper, and I know how to have a great time celebrating Jesus. In fact, I do that all year around.

Lighten up. Go enjoy the Orchard Road light-up without reading too much into it. All said, that’s all it is – a light-up to draw tourists and rake in more retail dollars. In a few weeks, the lights will be all gone; but not your love, worship and testimony of the True Light, Jesus. The way your face lights up each time you mention and share Jesus will mean lots more than what Mickey and his friends can ever hope to achieve.

Here’s wishing one and all a very merry and blessed Christmas!

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The Crossing Over to the Other Side Always Begins with a First Step

I snapped this shot whilst on a short family break five years ago. As I looked over the horizon, the way forward extended into nothingness.

Having been instructed by the Lord to drop everything without even knowing the next assignment, this picture sure described my situation so accurately. And yet, I knew I had been told to cross over; and that cross over must begin with a very first step of obedience by faith.

It would be 10 days later, on 27 Oct 2013, that the Lord would reveal the next assignment to me – Archippus Awakening. Five years and many steps later, what a journey it has been! Even so, I still don’t know what lies ahead. All I know is that my King and Master, JESUS, is more than faithful and He will lead me forward as I determine to fulfil all He has assigned to me entirely by His grace.

Today, I face a new horizon and another crossing over. After five years, is it not odd that the next step still feels like a first step all over again? The principle remains: every step must be taken with obedience and faith. Truly, it is not where we have been, but where we will continue to go with the One who deserves all worship, praise, glory and honour.

And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry
which you have received in the Lord that you may fulfil it.” Col 4:17

Do You Remember the 23rd Night of September?

I know the first line of Earth Wind & Fire’s hit song very well – “Do you remember the twenty-first night of September?” – except, for me, it’s not the 21st but the night of the 23rd that I remember.

While waiting for the train that night, I snapped a picture of the arrow just for fun. As recorded in my first book, Say To Archippus:

The next day, as I reviewed the post, the Lord prompted me to look more closely. Although the arrow was the object of the photo, it was the red line about the arrow that came into focus. I remember remarking, “Something’s blocking the arrow from moving forward.” And as soon as I said that I realised, “Hey! I’m that arrow and something is blocking me from moving forward!”

Soon enough, the Lord removed that line, inviting and allowing me to move forward with the assignment of Archippus Awakening.

This brief post is to mark the significant date of 23 September 2013: that night, the Lord used a simple visual device on the floor of an MRT platform to direct me into my kingdom assignment.

It’s been five years. Archippus Awakening just celebrated her 4th Anniversary on 3 August 2018. The Lord has opened many doors for the message of awakening to be declared – in Singapore and abroad. Soon, over the weekend of 3-8 October 2018, Team Archippus will bring this message to Guam, USA.

Just a few days ago, I shared this little arrow episode at the commissioning of Archippus Awakening’s second publication, Alignment Check. When Sujuan (designer) proposed an arrow for the cover design, it reminded me of the MRT arrow. Unknown to her, I had also been using the same visual to demonstrate the advancement of the kingdom of God. In the same way, before anyone can move forward, every believer must also find his or own alignment with the Lord and the purposes of His kingdom.

I firmly believe that the kingdom of God continues to advance and He graciously invites His people to participate in all He is doing. Dear Archippus, you are included too. Get on board. Do not allow anything to block you from what God has already prepared for you (remove the red line).

Focus on the aligning. Let God do the assigning. Move forward for Jesus and His kingdom.

To order SAY TO ARCHIPPUS and ALIGNMENT CHECK,
email archippusawakening@gmail.com.

Do You Struggle With Perfectionism?

Hands up, those of you who struggle with perfectionism.

I see your hand…I see your hand…I see your hand. Welcome to the club!

My name is Henson, and I am a perfectionist too. There you go. I’ve confessed. And that is good for the soul, right? Nice. The problem is I still struggle with this dreaded perfectionistic tendency each time I get down to work. I find it hard to settle down until I deliver the ‘perfect’ piece of work.

There’s another word that doesn’t sound so bad – excellence. Yes, I want to be excellent in all I do because I desire to give no less than my best to the Lord. Isn’t that what Colossians 3:17 means when Paul wrote, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”? Amen!

And yet, time and again, I fail to discern between excellence and perfectionism. As a result, I end up striving and stressing, relying on my own expectations of how things should or could be, instead of resting in the Lord and trusting Him for the final outcome.

This morning, I made a conscious effort to cast every care and concern over to Him. (That’s biblical too.) After my long list of petitions and requests, this thought popped into my head:

“God does not require a perfect work to work perfectly.”

Boom! No, there was no thunder or lightning, but BOOM! That silent thought reverberated so loudly that I knew it had to be the still, small voice of the Lord. It was firm, yet gentle. This was not a rebuke, but a reminder.

God is not upset when we strive to give our best to Him. However, it is not His desire that we end up fretting and worrying, taking it out on ourselves and others. In spite of our imperfections, God is still able to bring about His perfect work!

Mind you, this is not permission for us to cut corners or be shoddy in our work. The way we work must still be an extension and expression of our worship of God. That said, no matter how hard we try, or how well we do, it still falls far short of what He truly deserves. Yet, our less-than-perfect sacrifices are accepted because of His grace, because of the perfect work of Jesus Christ.

Without a doubt, I will continue to be excellent for Jesus. Thank God that His perfect work is not dependent on how perfectly I do mine. May I always be reminded to just do my best, and leave God to do the rest.

Two Words that Changed the Entire Course of My Life

I would have missed it … if not for Facebook’s prompter: “You have memories … to look back on today.”

How could I forget such a significant day!?

Well, to be fair, the past weeks have not exactly been easy. And this week has also been a packed series of meetings, teaching and preaching engagements too. As if that is not challenging enough, my mind has already raced ahead to next week’s commitments!

For all the bad press the social media giant has received recently, I am thankful to have been reminded by Facebook of this special day.

On the morning of 8 July 2000, two words would change the entire course of my life: Follow Me. In the weeks and months that followed, I responded to the Lord’s invitation to follow and serve Him. It has been 18 years! What a journey it has been, and continues to be.

Each year, I make it a point to pause that I may reflect and never forget the significance of that encounter, and the decisions that were made because of that encounter. But as mentioned above, I almost missed it this year!

This afternoon, as I worshipped with the Filipino congregation of Full Gospel Assembly, the presence and goodness of the Lord overwhelmed me. When the worship leader led the song, “I need You more“, tears filled my eyes as memories of God’s faithfulness over the past 18 years flooded my mind and heart.

These two lines were especially meaningful to me:

I need You more
More than yesterday

Yes, it has been 18 years. That said, it has only been 18 years. If I needed Him yesterday, I need Him today and tomorrow too! If I needed His grace and enablement for the past 18 years, I sure need a lot more of that to fulfil all He has assigned to me.

Later, I brought the family out for a meal to mark this special day. Over dinner, I took the opportunity to tell the children what actually happened 18 years ago (when we had just two children then), how the Lord led, and how that has brought us to where we are now.

From just a young couple with two children, to leaving the family business, to living by faith, to bible college, to running a school of ministry, to becoming a family of nine, to pastoring a local church, to birthing a new ministry in Archippus Awakening – every step of the way, the Lord has shown Himself more than faithful!

Follow Me. Two words that pierced my heart that morning 18 years ago. The Lord invited, I accepted, and the rest, as they say, is history. These two words changed the entire course of my life! I’ve experienced and learnt so much, and I know there is so much more that the Lord has in store for me.

To God be all glory!

It’s ok. Really. The Lord is at hand.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed and anxious? Have you ever felt upset and frustrated? Have you ever felt alone and lost?

Yes, yes, and yes! Guilty, as charged.

Oops! I hope I didn’t stumble anyone. After all, how can someone serving the Lord, living by faith, moving purposefully on kingdom assignment have such experiences?! Well, you just met that someone!

I’ve always maintained that the work of the ministry is no walk in the park. As much as I’d like to inspire and encourage others with nice, pick-me-up statements and Instagrammable posts, I also believe in being real and authentic. And that means admitting and acknowledging that it’s not about mountian-highs all the time. There are moments – and quite a few I might add – that valley-lows are encountered and experienced.

In the past weeks, I struggled with such a moment.

On the surface, everything seemed normal. In fact, things must have looked quite good (have you seen my Facebook feed?). My schedule has been packed and I was kept duly engaged in my kingdom assignment of Archippus Awakening. Looking ahead, the trajectory seemed to be pointing up and up. My schedule is packed and there are more than a few items on the to-do list to take care of.

In Christian-speak, we would say that the Lord is enlarging the place of my tent! And yet … that was why and when the pressure mounted and concerns began to overwhelm. Yes, I found myself in one of those moments. Anxiety, frustration, helplessness, aloneness … you name it … I experienced it all! And the enemy was more than happy to help me feed on my self-pity, that I may sink even further.

Day and night, I wrestled with many questions and issues. At times, I even took it out on those around me. (I am not proud about this, but I did say that I would be real and authentic.) Everything felt wrong. But faith is not based on feelings, I preached to myself. Ya right, more easily preached than lived out. And so, the tussle went on.

Last night, the Lord graciously intervened, reminding me of Philippians 4:4-7.

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7

There are many familiar words and phrases in this passage, but this was the line that hit me: “The Lord is at hand.”

Oh how I needed to be reminded of that!

My heart wanted dearly to please the Lord. However, amidst the many details to handle, I must admit that He did seem a little distant. In my bid to be responsible and faithful, I didn’t realise that my focus had shifted, ever so subtly. As the saying goes, “If you feel that God is far away, guess who moved?” Ouch. In Archippian parlance, I allowed myself to be knocked off alignment!

How that one little line ministered to me: “The Lord is at hand.”

Situationally, nothing has changed. There are still many things to take care of and to handle. But being assured of the Lord’s presence made all the difference!

I don’t try to rejoice. I can rejoice because the Lord is near! I don’t try to think positive so that I don’t fret. I don’t have to be anxious because the Lord is at hand! And that also means that I can boldly bring my concerns to Him and make my requests. Because the Lord is not too far away that He cannot hear me. He is near and very present! I don’t try to have peace. I have the peace of God because the God of peace is at hand, near me, with me!

Are you overwhelmed and anxious? Are you upset and frustrated? Are you feeling alone and lost? Perhaps, like me, you have lost perspective of who God is and where He is.

Take heart, my friend. It’s ok. Really. Remember … the Lord is at hand.

Why Knowing Your Kingdom Assignment Matters

Everyone loves new things. And the marketing industry knows it all too well. Just look at all the advertising headlines and see if this isn’t so … New! Fresh! Improved! The Latest!

Even in Christian circles, one of the most favourite verses must be Isaiah 43:19 – “Behold, I will do a new thing …” Indeed, our God is a God of new beginnings and of fresh encounters. However, when interpreted through today’s consumeristic lens, it is all too easy to miss the context of what this passage actually says. As a result, this verse is often used as a marketing ploy for the next Christian activity, as a seasoned marketeer would, to bait, to entice, to attract.

But is God really doing a new thing? Or are we simply of such short attention span and so quickly bored these days that we need to make it appear as if God is doing a new thing?

Take my kingdom assignment in Archippus Awakening as an example. It’s been the same message since Day One, and continues to be so. I don’t know how many times I have declared it (lost count). All I know is that it remains relevant and I am still to share it whenever the Lord opens the door and presents the opportunity.

Bukit Panjang Methodist Church Leadership Retreat

Honestly, it is tiring. And, having shared it over and over again, I do get a little bored with myself. (How many times can I tell the same jokes?) In the past weeks, it’s been the same message of Archippus Awakening at Bukit Panjang Methodist Church’s Leadership Retreat (27-28 May 2018), All Saints Presbyterian Church Camp (8-10 June 2018) and Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church’s Contemporary Service Retreat (14-17 June 2018). And in the next weeks? … you guessed it! … Archippus Awakening!

All Saints Presbyterian Church Camp

That said, the Lord has not given any new instruction; and so, I plod on. By His grace, although it seems old to me, it is new to those who are hearing it for the first time and God moves powerfully in their hearts! And this, I have experienced, over and over again, to the glory of the Lord. Clearly, it is not about what I think or how I feel at all. My part is to remain obedient and faithful to what the Lord has assigned to me!

Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church Contemporary Service Retreat

Too often, and for too many, believers are looking for the next new thing. We are easily distracted and quickly bored with what we have heard or already know. This is why it is important to know our kingdom assignments. If not, we will always need more and more Christian activities to keep us occupied. And even worse, we expect these to be highly creative that we may be constantly engaged, that Christianity would be fun and entertaining!

Make no mistake! God is not here to serve my soulish desires and satisfy my fleshly cravings. On the contrary, I have been redeemed with the precious blood of King Jesus that I may be set free from sin, to serve Him and the purposes of His kingdom. God forbid that I be so influenced by today’s consumeristic culture that I pick and choose what I’d like to do or not do, based on how I feel.

This is why knowing our kingdom assignments matters. True fulfilment is found, not in what is new or novel, but when we fulfil that which we have received from the Lord.

And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord that you may fulfil it.” Colossians 4:17

To learn more about Archippus Awakening and kingdom assignments, join us at “Awakened Aligned Assigned” Seminar on Saturday 30 June 2018 (aaaseminar2018.eventbrite.com) or Awakening Event: AWE2018 (3-5 Aug 2018): tinyurl.com/awe2018.