Covid-19 Circuit Breaker: Staying Home & Passover Perspectives

Some have likened the stay home directive to that of God’s instructions to the Israelites to stay indoors on the night of the first Passover (Exodus 12). What makes the proposition even more attractive (and prophetic) is that Singapore’s “circuit breaker” measures kicked in on 7 April – yes,  you guessed it – so very close to Passover 2020 which starts sundown of 8 April.

I have absolutely no issue with staying home and staying alive at all. However, I do find it a little bit of a stretch to apply the Passover account to what we are going through at the moment.

I will share some observations and will then end with a perspective which I believe is even more critical than merely avoiding Covid-19 (don’t miss this at the end of this post).

But before that, a little caveat: This post is not meant to stir any deep theological debate so please don’t pick a prophetic fight with me. You are free to believe or claim whatever you want to believe and claim.

Ok. Here goes …

Firstly, the Christian passover is no longer just physical but spiritual. Faith in Jesus, our Passover (1 Cor 5:7), has given us eternal life. I am not advocating being reckless in these critical times – be responsible and stay at home. That said, even if we should be affected physically, we know that death has already passed over us because of who we are and what we have in Christ.

Secondly, the time frame is not consistent. For the Israelites, they had to stay home for only one night. Even if we consider the entire Passover observance, it would be 8-16 April. As at the time of this reflection, Singapore’s circuit breaker measures will be until 4 May – three cycles of Passover? – just kidding.

Thirdly, if the proximity of dates is to be considered, then this only applies to Singapore and not to the rest of the world. As favoured as I believe Singapore is, I don’t think this special Passover privilege is reserved only for us. As with all other spiritual principles, it must be applied universally and consistently.

Fourthly, unlike the first Passover, we are not in a lockdown situation (and we hope and pray that we never get to that). We can still go out and dabao (takeaway) our favourite hawker fare. Just wear a mask and practise social distancing.

By now, I think you get the point. As attractive as the Passover proposition is, the only common factor is that of staying at home – that’s all.

This, however, does not mean that there is nothing we can learn from the Passover account in Exodus 12. I will close with this perspective for your personal prayer and processing:

Notwithstanding these observations, as already briefly alluded to above, I have no issue with the Passover principle when viewed and processed through Jesus, our Passover and Christ, through Whom we have been saved by His blood. This is indeed a glorious promise!

However, to simply stop there would be to totally miss the point of our salvation (or survival through this Covid-19 crisis). If you want to read and claim Exodus 12, then do so in its entirety. To this end, allow me to bring Exodus 12:17 & 41 to your attention:

“So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the last of Egypt. … – it came to pass that all the armies of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.”

Exodus 12:17 & 41 (emphasis mine)

Make no mistake. The preservation of lives in Egypt was for the purposes of the kingdom of God in the land, through His own kingdom people, the armies of the LORD. Likewise, in and through this crisis and staying home, there will be a time when God’s people will be raised and released. May we be ready for that.

Let’s pray that the significance of Passover doesn’t only apply to the staying at home to avoid death. Pray for Exodus 12:17 & 41 to be equally significant, if not more.

In this pause, may we not waste the space but be postured rightly that we may consciously prepare for the coming play.

Blessed Pesach!

Covid-19 Disruptions: Two Reminders for the Church

Disruption is not a new concept but Covid-19 has brought it to a totally new level.

In the past two weeks, there have been so many developments. And each day brings with it more change and fresh challenges.

Where ministry is concerned, I experienced it first-hand recently, in a short span of two weeks. My teaching engagement in Cebu was postponed. Next, the AAA Seminar in Kota Kinabalu was called off. Then, two church camps in June which I was scheduled to speak at … yes, cancelled or postponed.

As for our own Awakening Event, AWE2020, following a very strong impression on Sunday morning, we decided to bring it back to Singapore (originally Batam). That evening, the government announced even stricter health and travel advisories. Thankfully, the Lord had already warned and directed us accordingly.

No one is spared. Everyone and everything is being disrupted.

That said, whilst inconvenient and extremely uncertain, we must not forget what the Lord has already said to us, His people. Amidst the various disruptions, it is easy to be caught up with the adjustments and miss a greater significance of what the Lord desires for His church. Allow me to recap the two main points previously shared:

A COLLECTIVE PAUSE Through the Covid-19 situation, God has pressed the pause button. Note that this is not just for China, or for Singapore, but for the entire world. This also means that churches the world over are affected. It’s a collective pause … for the purpose of praying, to seek Him and to reflect. It is a pause-and-pray that we may be ready for the play that comes after the pause button is released. [Read: Pause & Pray: Play]

A CORRECT POSTURE Whilst all eyes are on news and updates of the Covid-19 situation, our focus must be on God. For the people of God, our starting point must be faith and hope in Him (not fear). To this end, we believe that God will see us through this crisis, trusting Him not only to protect but also to provide, no matter how adverse the global economy may be. With a correct posture, we will see that disruptions notwithstanding, the kingdom of God continues to advance; and we must move with Him. [Read: Covid-19: Faith First]

Pondering the above this morning, as well as recent developments and disruptions, the Lord then dropped these two reminders in my heart.

1. Don’t fill up what God has freed up

Don’t waste the space that you have now. This is the best time for an alignment check. Take stock. Especially for those in leadership, there are many decisions to be made. However, look beyond the firefighting and the adjustments. Don’t let these distract you from what is truly important. Stop trying to fill up what God has freed up. Use the space wisely. Get ready for what’s ahead. Check alignment – to discover assignment, or to be even more effective on assignment.

The Lord then reminded me of what I wrote in my book, Alignment Check. I pray that this will speak to many of you:

“Whilst this [framework] may provide a good overview of the Alignment Check, it is unlikely that any alignment would have taken place. It is like sending your car to the workshop, getting a computerised reading of how misaligned the tyres are, driving off immediately, and then wondering why there are still problems with the steering. Recognising misalignment is only the first step. Allowing the Mechanic to help you with the realignment makes all the difference! And for that, the vehicle needs to be still and stationery for a while longer than what most of us may be comfortable with.

Alignment Check, p29, emphasis mine.

With the lockdown in many countries, the roads are empty. Vehicles are all stuck at home, as are people. I say again, this is the best time to check alignment. Don’t waste the space, the additional time, you now have on your hands or at home. Stop trying to fill up what God has allowed to be freed up.

2. Don’t mistake church-onlined for church-aligned

Thank God for technology where services and teachings can be live-streamed. With church services disrupted, we now have even more online options (think Christian Netflix!). Over the past week, I have also been praying about Archippus Awakening’s digital strategy.

That said, is it just about getting everyone to attend services online? I don’t believe so. The prompting of the Lord came strongly this morning: The solution is not church-onlined; but church-aligned.

And where online articles are concerned, please be careful (yes, even this one – *grin*). There is so much information about Covid-19 … way too much! Staying updated is one thing; but to be inundated with an overload is not healthy at all. In case you are not aware, there is a lot of nonsense out there. If you don’t know how to posture and handle these well, you will either be distracted from what God is saying or be paralysed and not move with how God is directing. Once again: The solution is not church-onlined; but church-aligned.

I am not speaking against anyone, any church, or any practice here. Once again, we all agree that technology is a great tool, especially in these times. However, we must also be mindful that it is just a means to an end – that’s all it is. Just as we can attend service after service and not be aligned with Jesus and His kingdom, we can likewise view live-stream after live-stream and remain unchanged. We can be online, and still not align.

Praise God for leaders and teams working overtime to help you stay connected online. At the end of the day, it is not how many viewed the live-stream or clicked LIKE as the message was delivered. Once again, it’s not onlinement that God is after, but alignment. May the Lord grant you wisdom to discern and process what He is saying to you – personally.

Conclusion

I started out recognising the disruptions that the Covid-19 crisis has caused. Yet, through these, let us not miss what God has allowed. What if we changed our perspective from how Covid-19 has disrupted us to how God is disrupting His church?

Clearly, this disruption is an awakening where God is trying to get our attention. Don’t waste the space by trying to fill up what God has freed up. This is the best time for an alignment check. Whilst getting online seems to be the order of the day, getting aligned should be the focus. In Archippian-lingo, “Focus on the aligning. Let God do the assigning.” This then postures you for kingdom assignments, making you ready for when the Lord finally moves from pause to play.

This article was first published on Archippus Awakening‘s website on 20 March 2020.

Covid-19: Faith First

Last night, following WHO’s declaration of a global pandemic, our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong provided an update on the Covid-19 situation. In the concise 11:28″ live broadcast, he reassured Singaporeans by focussing on three aspects: medical, economic & psychological.

Coronavirus: Full text of speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong on the Covid-19 outbreak

This morning, as I spent some time praying and reflecting, I was led to consider these points backwards – psychological, economic, medical.

The natural response is always to see what is happening, consider its impact and then consider the appropriate response. Applying this to the Covid-19 outbreak, medically, we will first look at the facts and figures, study the clusters and see how best to contain the spread. Next, economic impact is ascertained and the appropriate measures rolled out. Finally, to weather this, psychologically, the people must stand together that we may get through this together.

Well and good, naturally. But in the spiritual, from a kingdom perspective, I felt the Lord reminding me that it is often upside-down; hence the prompting to consider it backwards.

Psychological

Firstly, fear cannot be the primary motivator. It has to be faith and hope in God. This is and must be the starting point for the people of God.

Faith and hope in God does not mean that no Christian will ever get infected with the Covid-19 virus, or die from it. It does mean, however, that in any eventuality and whatever the outcome, our faith and hope continues to be in God and God alone.

We do not want to be infected but we are not afraid should we be infected. We do not want to die from such an infection but because of who we are in Christ and the eternal life we already have in and through Him, we are not afraid to die. If we truly believe that God is in control, then we must acknowledge that He is also sovereign over the measure of our days (Psalm 39:4).

Faith allows us to continue with what we have been tasked with that we may be faithful to fulfil our assignments, come what may. Fear, on the other hand, will paralyse and make things even worse than it already is. We will be responsible but we cannot be fearful. May we learn to discern the difference and have the right starting point of faith.

Economic

Once faith and hope are rightly placed in God, the promise of His provision follows. Jesus said it in this way, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Our part is not to worry but to be gainfully employed in the work of His kingdom. God’s part is to look after and provide for His kingdom people.

In a time when businesses are being hit left, right and centre, I know that this can be a cause of concern for many.

This statement by PM Lee caught my attention: “The situation is especially serious for some sectors – hotels, aviation, hospitality, and freelancers in the gig economy. But nobody has been spared. Everyone feels the impact, to different degrees” (emphasis mine). Hey, I thought to myself, that’s me he’s talking about. If churches continue to cancel services, camps and retreats, many of my speaking engagements will be affected … oops.

Well, that is if I depend on the way things have been. What if God is disrupting His people, forcing a shift in their paradigms? Could He be shaking our comfort zones that we will truly and fully trust in Him for provision and not the typical sources of financial support? I’ve always believed that God’s kingdom economy runs counter to that of the world. To see and experience that will require eyes of faith that look to Him and not the facts and figures circulating in the media.

Another statement by PM Lee stood out for me: “We will help our workers keep their jobs, and retrain during their downtime, so that when things return to normal, our workers will be the first out of the gate, and immediately productive” (emphasis mine).

This sounds really familiar. On 15 February, reflecting on a word that the Lord had pressed the pause button through Covid-19, I shared that it was not just a pause-and-pray scenario, but that we are to get ready for the play that comes after. In my #GoViralWithPrayer live broadcast that morning, I said:

“The pause is only a moment, because after the pause is a play. So, it is not just a pause and pray, it will be a pause and play. I believe that this whole situation will pass. God wants us to pause and listen to Him. For those who align or realign, those who are awakened, and we are inclining our ear, leaning in to listen to Him, heeding this word to pause and to pray, assignments will be there. Once this thing moves on, God is looking for men and women – Archippuses – who will be awakened, aligned and assigned.”

Pause and Pray: Pray

To be sure, this is not just a time to look for alternative ways to do church. This is an opportunity for every believer to pause and seek the Lord, to be realigned and retrained “so that when things return to normal, [believers] will be the first out of the gate, and immediately productive” for the work of the kingdom.

Medical

With numerous reports and articles coming from everywhere and anywhere, we need discernment to know which are true and which are not. Even experts and medical practitioners can’t agree on whether to wear masks or not! I am even finding it difficult to keep up with the rate of updates. So how?

Once again, we start with faith and hope in God, not fear. And then, we trust in His provision and leading. Medically, I’d like to suggest that we leave it to the professionals to figure out what they need to do. Unless you have a platform to do something about it, your opinion will remain just that – an opinion, however strong. (Please stop being a Facebook keyboard warrior – it’s not helping.)

In constituting a people for Himself, God required that the children of Israel first acknowledge Him as God, i.e. faith in Him. In that covenantal relationship, God promised to provide for their every need. For their well-being, He laid down communal and societal laws that included basic health and hygiene protocols. Can you see the same order here – psychological, economic, medical?

Whilst I may not fully understand how the virus infects or mutates, I can be socially responsible by practising personal hygiene, washing my hands and not attending functions/meetings if I am unwell. This is not fear but faith working through love, a kingdom value.

Even if religious gatherings are shortened or limited in size, these may inconvenience but should not concern us too much. Kingdom assignments will continue, regardless of size and frequency of church meetings. In fact, this may yield positive outcomes (as some have already experienced) as smaller groups are much better for relationships and authentic interactions. Large meetings, whilst impressive, have a tendency to encourage complacency and apathy, and even provide a false sense of success.

Where mega meetings have become normal for Christians, what if this is the new normal God desires us to embrace – a returning to “the old paths, where the good way is” (Jeremiah 6:16)?

Conclusion

It’s not about just avoiding or surviving Covid-19. For us as the people of God, we must see beyond the natural that we may discern the spiritual significance of the situation. For that, we need faith first.

Anna Joy’s Baptism

As much as we would like our children to be baptised, we are also keenly mindful that baptism is not to be treated lightly or ritualistically.

As one who was infant baptised as part of the Methodist system and tradition, I later discovered that I could not opt for baptism as an adult. The next step was ‘confirmation’. And so, after Serene’s baptism (as an adult new believer), we were both ‘confirmed’ and received into church membership together in November 1994.

Over the next years, learning more about the faith and gaining deeper understanding about baptism, I began to desire the experience of baptism – not just some water trickling down my head, but the full impact of being totally submerged in water and then to be raised up out of the depth again. However, that desire would remain a desire, for where I was at that point in time, there was no possibility of it ever becoming a reality. Simply, re-baptism was not allowed.

Thankfully, we serve a God who knows our deepest desires.

In 2003, the Lord led us from Wesley Methodist Church to Full Gospel Assembly Singapore. I had all but forgotten about this little desire in my heart until an announcement was made about baptism. I approached the senior pastor to check if I could be re-baptised and the answer was ‘yes’!

You may be wondering what the big deal is. I assure you, it is a big deal and we should make a big deal of every baptismal experience. I am so convinced that it is such an important milestone of our faith that I listed it as the first point of alignment check to rightly appropriate the work of Jesus on the Cross, reproduced in full hereunder:

Remember Your Baptism
Your baptism is not merely a rite of passage to secure membership in a local church. Through baptism, you identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3-6; Colossians 2:12-13). Through the Cross, the ‘old you’ died. And as Christ was raised, the ‘new you’ was raised with Him. We can say, as Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

When you remember your baptism, you remember all that has been transacted at the Cross, and all that has secured for you at the Cross. Go back to the Cross that you may move forward from the Cross. Remember this truth as you move on kingdom assignment. Don’t ever forget whose you are in Christ, who you are in Christ, and what you have in Christ!

Alignment Check, “Appropriate the Cross”, p102.

Whilst I appreciate the notion of infant baptism, I do not subscribe to it today. Sure, the individual can ‘confirm’ his/her faith later. But to personally understand ‘death’, ‘burial’ and ‘resurrection’ with Jesus Christ through baptism is something I believe every believer should experience and remember.

Where our children are concerned, we have been careful not to put any pressure on their decision to be baptised. In each and every case, they have been the ones who have approached us, telling us that they are ready for baptism. Our part is to determine that they are indeed ready.

Each year, FGA Children’s Ministry conducts Blast Off! – a baptism class for 10-12 year olds, involving parents. After this series, we left it to Anna Joy, our youngest, to consider (no pressure, remember?). It took a while (for which we are thankful) before she finally said ‘yes’. In the days leading up to her baptism, we could see and sense the excitement in her. To the 10 year-old, it was “the big day” and “the special day”.

On 1 December 2019, Anna Joy was baptised, to the glory of God!

Thanks to FGA, I got to do the honours of baptising my own daughter. Whilst I enjoyed this privilege and my time in the baptismal tank with Anna Joy, this joy and honour must be shared with my wife. It is Serene who has spent much more time with Anna Joy, teaching and guiding her in the Word of God through the homeschooling journey. Serene and I are also very thankful to Uncle Sam and all the teachers of Spark Kids, for their love and attention showered upon every child.

Our hearts are full, now that each of our seven children has been baptised. That said, this does not mean that our job is done. It’s been 10 years since our oldest two were baptised; and we can all agree that whilst baptism is a major milestone, it is still only a milestone. It is the spiritual journey that is ongoing, where the rubber meets the road. Our part as parents is still to guide our children on this journey, and then to release them to walk with God on their own. We cannot walk the journey for them, but we pray that we will be worthy examples of what it means to love and serve Jesus.

We are so excited for Anna Joy as she begins a new phase of her relationship with Jesus. It was heartwarming too to see her older siblings stand with her and excited for her. (That’s the bonus of being the youngest, and being so cute.)

We love you, Anna Joy, and we are praying God’s best for you as you grow into all He has in store for you! You’ve been such a blessing and joy to us in the Lim Tribe. By His grace, and with His enablement, you will likewise be a blessing and joy to many, many others. Remember your baptism.

Kanye Is Simply Kanye. Jesus Is King.

Judging from the number of articles across as many websites and platforms, it seems that Kanye West is quite well known.

Forgive me. Although the name does ring a bell, I have no idea who Kanye is. I only just discovered that his wife is Kim Kardashian. And I was promptly informed by my teenager when I pronounced his name wrongly (Kanye believe it?). Well, in case you are still in the dark (where have you been?), Mr West recently encountered Jesus and has been making waves all over.

But, no, this is not a post about Kanye West; whether his conversion is real or not. (For an objective commentary and response, I’d recommend Bill Muehlenberg‘s article: Kanye and Christ.) Instead, this post is about how normal Christians like us should respond when superstars and celebrities like Kanye confess and profess faith in Jesus Christ.

Rejoice
For starters, we rejoice when anyone – yes, anyone – repents and believes in the good news of Jesus Christ and His kingdom. However improbable it may seem to you, nothing is impossible for God. That said, salvation is just the beginning; next comes the walk of faith and of sanctification. To this end, I appreciate Pastor Greg Laurie’s open letter to Kanye as a new believer.

Numbers Mean Something but Not Everything
It is heartening to note the massive spike in faith-based Google searches after Kanye’s “Jesus Is King” album launch. It was also reported that more than 1,000 people gave their lives to Jesus when Kanye gave an impromptu altar call at his concert in Louisiana. In terms of exposure and numbers, this is indeed impressive! I pray that these knew the difference between gettin’ up to the stage at a typical Kanye West concert and givin’ up their lives to Jesus at this Kanye West concert. On this note and at this point, it is not easy to tell if one has truly chosen to follow Jesus or is simply following a popular figure. Only time will reveal how many will stay on the straight and narrow way as disciples of Jesus Christ.

I make this comment in light of what we have observed from church history. When Emperor Constantine legalised Christianity in 313AD, it was seen as a step forward for the persecuted church. Thousands, millions, became Christians – or at least they considered themselves as such. Today, we understand that filled churches may look good; but in reality, Christendom or Churchdom is not the same as kingdom. Numbers mean something but not everything.

As much as we are thankful for Kanye’s reach and influence, our hope is not in some prominent person but in Jesus: He is still the only One who saves.

Revival Is Not Dependent on the Rich and Famous
I think it’s great that Kanye is using his mega platform to declare “Jesus is King”. However, we should not for a moment think that God needs big name influencers to reach the masses. Don’t get me wrong. Can God use superstars to bring about His purposes? Of course, He can. But does He need superstars to do that? Not at all. Revival is not dependent on the rich and famous; or the attractive and influential. In fact, God’s preferred agents and vehicles have more often been the weak, the foolish and the poor (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

Jesus Is the Only Name That Deserves Worship
Reading the various reports about Kanye West, I can’t help but remember the Lord’s prompting when He first gave me the assignment of Archippus Awakening in October 2013. I later recorded this conviction in my first book, Say To Archippus:

“I believe the days of spiritual celebrities and superstars are over. And in these last days, God will raise up the common man and woman to do great and extraordinary things in and through them. These are the Archippuses of our day who will know their assignments and be obedient to fulfil them!”

Say To Archippus, p26.

Since then, painfully, we have seen so many big names – pastors, leaders, worship leaders, influencers – stumble and fall. Allow me to clarify: God is not against spiritual celebrities and superstars. God is, however, against His people making too big a deal of anyone. Somehow, we have this perpetual propensity to put people on pedestals. Can’t we see that this does no one any good? – neither the ones who are worshipped nor the ones who worship the ones who are worshipped! (By the way, the other extreme of tearing and putting people down is not right either.)

Responding to a recent spate of certain known Christian figures leaving and questioning the faith, John L. Cooper, the lead singer of Skillet, said:

My conclusion for the church (all of us Christians): We must STOP making worship leaders and thought leaders or influencers or cool people or “relevant” people the most influential people in Christendom.

John L. Cooper, Facebook Post

Well said, John. The truth is: Big name, small name or no name, Jesus is the only Name that deserves worship. You can be inspired or encouraged by Kanye, but it must still only be Jesus you worship.

Kanye Is Simply Kanye
If we are not careful, we will begin to accord Kanye special status, conferring upon him all kinds of spiritual titles. Even worse, we buy into the lie that only celebs like Kanye are able to reach the world for Jesus. Or we use it as a convenient excuse why we cannot do anything because we are not as talented or resourceful. We forget that to God, Kanye is simply Kanye, no different from anyone of us, a sinner saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

And Say to Kanye…
I believe what God said to Archippus through Paul, He would say the same to Kanye, and also to each of us:

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

Colossians 4:17

Whether known or unknown, we each have kingdom assignments to fulfil. You may or may not agree with what Kanye is doing or how he is doing it, but at least he is doing something. Granted that he is very talented and his Area of Operation is huge. But then again, to whom much is given, much is also expected (Luke 12:48). When Jesus comes, each believer will stand accountable before the King. Would it not be more productive to know and move on your kingdom assignment instead of commenting on Kanye’s or someone else’s?

Jesus Is King
I hope you can see why this post is not about Kanye West. I am not endorsing him. I am not promoting the album. I am also not criticising him. I have only used the opportunity to share some principles and to bring some reminders that ultimately, it is about Jesus; and how we each are to respond knowing that Jesus is King.

Kanye West is not the first celebrity to come to Jesus and he most definitely will not be the last. His declaration that Jesus is King has resulted in thousands listening to this Truth and singing along. Even so, let it be clearly stated that it is one thing to sing along with a song and its lyrics; but it’s totally another to live out the truth that the song declares. (Yes, it’s the same with Hillsong favourites.)

When all is said and done, it is not how many times the song or album is downloaded, streamed, played or sung; or if it even tops the Billboard charts. Finally, what matters is how many of those who declare “Jesus is King” will truly live for Him as their King.

What I Don’t Get About Christians & Halloween

I don’t get it.

There are so many things Christians can and should celebrate but we spend so much time and energy over why we can or cannot celebrate Halloween.
Why this obsession with wanting to celebrate a festival that is questionable and controversial?

I don’t get it.

It is not as if 31 October is an open slot in the Christian calendar, where there was nothing eventful in church history, so we might as well occupy ourselves with the next best thing – Halloween! In case we have forgotten, 31 October is significant to Christians because this was when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg. This sparked off an entire movement which we have come to acknowledge as the Reformation. Since 1517, we have had great reason to celebrate on 31 October because of the recovery of the true gospel: justification by faith alone. And yet, between Reformation Day and Halloween, so much more attention is given to Halloween?!

I don’t get it.

Every year, without fail, there will be so many articles for and against Halloween. It doesn’t matter if ex-satanists or ex-witches state openly and clearly that Christians should have nothing to do with Halloween. There will always be a counter-argument that there is nothing wrong, that Christians have the victory, that there is nothing to fear. (It’s the same with yoga.)

Then, this year, there are suggestions by well-meaning ministers that we can join in the Halloween festivities by dressing up as noble characters like Paul the Apostle, Martin Luther, Mother Teresa or other key Christian figures. After all, even superheroes like Iron Man and Wonder Women have appeared in the Halloween line up. And of course, Elsa, of Frozen fame! Surely, we can let it go and Christians can join in the fun by dressing up as their favourite biblical hero too. (See how we are trying so hard to fit in again?)

In the first place, why do we even need to celebrate Halloween? To celebrate means to participate, to partner, to share, to fellowship, to koinonia. Secondly, to dress as these biblical characters is to put them on the same level as demonic characters. Thirdly. if you really need to dress up, go organise your own fancy dress party. Why wait one year, on 31 October, to argue about whether dressing up is ok or not for the Christian? Can’t we see that the issue is not what you dress as but that we are choosing to hang out and celebrate with questionable characters – the very ones that Jesus died to save us from?

I don’t get it.

I hear you say: “But we are saved! Jesus has overcome powers and principalities! We need not fear demons and zombies at all!” Amen. I wholeheartedly agree with these declarations.

However, the issue is not about victory in Christ (which we have), or the fear of being possessed by the spirit of Spiderman, or dirtying my favourite white shirt with cosmetic blood, or getting rashes from cheap makeup. The issue is holiness.

Personally, I don’t celebrate Halloween not because I am afraid of ghosts or gore, or that I will be jumped on by evil spirits. That would be totally missing the point. I don’t want to have anything to do with Halloween because I am called to be holy, to be set apart to the Lord and from the world. To this end, there are just some things I don’t do and some events I will not participate in. Period.

It baffles me that Christians accept that they are to be different and yet crave so much to be the same as everyone else! Once again, why this great need to do whatever the world is doing? Why so desperate? (On the point of fear, I suspect it is more FOMO – the fear of missing out – that Christians, adults and children, struggle with.)

In constituting a people for Himself, God told the children of Israel not to wear clothes of mixed material (Lev 19:19; Deut 22:11). Today, we tend to spiritualise this instruction; but fundamentally, it was about being set apart (to be holy) from the rest of the nations. Simply, don’t be like them. Don’t dress like them. Sadly, these days, we see Christians justifying why it is totally fine to dress and look like everyone else; even demons.

Before you throw me the we-are-not-under-old-testament-law card, allow me to appeal to the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:11-18 (that’s in the New Testament #justsaying). Addressing the Corinthians who were at the same time spiritual and carnal, Paul had to warn them that the two just don’t go together.

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will dwell in them
And walk among them,
I will be their God,

And they shall be My people.”
Therefore
“Come out from among them,
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,

And I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty.”

2 Corinthians 6:16-18

Paul’s source? The Old Testament scriptures: Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 32:38, Ezekiel 37:27, Isaiah 52:11, Ezekiel 20:34, 41, 2 Samuel 7:14. And don’t miss the punchline in the next verse:

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness …

2 Corinthians 7:1 (emphasis mine)

I hope you got what Paul was saying: Because we have a glorious promise of being God’s people, His sons and daughters, our response is to be holiness.

Ironically, “hallow” means “saint: one who is holy or set apart” (noun) or “to honour as holy” (verb). Halloween is simply All Hallows’ Eve, the day before All Hallows’ (Saints’) Day on 1 November. Today, there is nothing hallowed about Halloween. And God’s people, His sons and daughters, His holy ones (saints) keep trying to justify why it is ok to be participate in something that is anything but holy. Even worse, we are desperately trying to make it holy by Christianising it. And to prove that they have no need to fear spiritual darkness, the scarier, the spookier, the more ghastly, the more frightful the costume or character the better.

I don’t get it.

I mentioned above that the issue for me is not one of fear. Well, it isn’t; and yet it is. It is not because of the fear of the dark forces that I choose not to participate in Halloween. As we all believe and agree, we are victorious in Jesus Christ. However, it is because of fear – the fear of God – that I determine to be holy. After all, Paul exhorts believers to “perfect holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1, emphasis mine). Unfortunately, like holiness, the fear of the Lord is not exactly trendy or popular these days amongst Christians.

If you ask me, the Word of God is very clear: It’s about holiness and the fear of the Lord. I get it! But why aren’t others getting it? Perhaps we have been so well tricked with a deceptive treat of Christian freedom that we just can’t see it or simply refuse to get it?

I don’t get it.

I am fully aware that a little post like this may have little or no impact. This is just me thinking aloud, as with my previous two articles “Christians & Halloween” (2012) and “Halloween. How?” (2017). What is it with Christians and the obsession with Halloween? Why the desperate need to fit in? Why so many FOMO Christians?

I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. 😦

More Than Just Pray For Your Pastor, There Is One Thing That Will Really Help.

Recently, there has been an increased focus on mental health and emotional wellness. Not just in society, but also in the Church. Suicide rates are up as more and more are feeling down. Depression is the latest buzzword. Not just in society, but also in the Church. And it hits hardest when we discover that yet another pastor has taken his own life, the latest being that of Pastor Jarrid Wilson.

When that happens, it raises more questions than there are answers. How? Why? Is it even possible? Was he saved? Is he still saved? If you’re looking for a point of view, theological or otherwise, there are enough articles and contributions for you to consider.

Interestingly, most of the commentaries seem to focus on the person and his own self-care, or lack of. As a minister, I am fully aware of how easy it is to neglect this critical aspect whilst determining to give all to the Lord and His people. But there is more to it than just scheduling that personal retreat or chilling over a cappuccino every once in a while.

According to this Church Leaders article, Why Are Pastors Depressed?, a Canadian study by Rev Andrew Irvine of Knox College, University of Toronto, highlighted five key contributors to stress and mental illness in clergy:

  • Lack of Rest or Day Off
  • Lack of Support From Fellow Clergy and a Sense of Competition
  • Lack of Personal Community
  • Marital Strain
  • Signing Up for Ministry but Feeling More Like a CEO Than a Pastor

Please read the full article for a better appreciation of the points. Having served the Lord in a full-time capacity since 2004, I can relate to each and every one of these points. Allow me to add some of my comments so that no one misreads, misunderstands or misinterprets anything.

Lack of Rest or Day Off: It is not that I don’t want to rest, but that it is difficult to do so. Yes, I know the theology of rest and I have preached it more than a few times (to myself too). More easily said than done. I am thankful that presently, I have the flexibility to push hard or pull back. Many pastors do not have that luxury. The demands of ministry and our acute sense of responsibility are a potentially dangerous combination.

Lack of Support From Fellow Clergy and a Sense of Competition: This is really ironic, right? We preach family and teamwork from the pulpit. But when the rubber hits the road, it is often ‘every man for himself’. Sadly, this is still the case in many places. Although we would like collaboration, it is competition we experience. Real or perceived? Perhaps we still need to deal with our own insecurities. Sigh.

Lack of Personal Community: Ministry is all about people. And yet, ministry can be extremely lonely for pastors and leaders. It is not that we don’t want to get close to the people but as odd as it sounds, the people don’t always want the leader to get too close. We are good for vision, direction and instruction. But when it comes to interaction, building authentic relationships, there seems to be this barrier. And since all ministers are busy and stretched, it is difficult to form relationships there too.

Marital Strain: I thank God for Serene and all she has had to put up with. More than a few times, I have neglected her and her needs for the sake of the ministry. It has not been easy for her (seven children & homeschooling) but she has stood by me in every season. Few understand the dynamics and challenges of our family and ministry. Our pet phrases are: “If it’s not you, then it’s me. If it’s not me, then it’s you.” and “If don’t laugh, can go crazy.” Thank God that we are still able to laugh.

Signing Up for Ministry but Feeling More Like a CEO Than a Pastor: Oh man! I sure can relate to this! Back in 2012, it became so frustrating and unbearable: I left my job for the ministry, only to find myself back in a job! I am so thankful that I discovered my kingdom assignment in Archippus Awakening. Now, if only I can just go awaken the saints without having to worry about strategy, administration and management! Hmmmm …

Yes, I have good days and also bad days. There are times when I feel so low that it is scary (no joke). Thankfully, these moments are brief and few; and they go away after a good run around the park. (Of course, read bible, pray, worship, etc.) This does not mean they do not return every now and then. I am well aware that physical and mental exhaustion can trigger such negative feelings and emotions. At the same time, I am also mindful that the enemy is all too ready and willing to help me feel worse about myself, the ministry and others around me.

Thanks for reading and sharing in my struggles and that of many others who serve as pastors, ministers and leaders. We appreciate your words of appreciation, encouragement, support and prayers.

However, more than just a call and reminder to “Pray for Your Pastor” or observe “Pastors Appreciation Month” (coming up in October – in USA, not Singapore), there is one thing that would really, really, really help: that you know and fulfil your God-given kingdom assignments. (Did you see that coming?)

I believe every minister desires to serve God and His people well. That is why we do what we do, often at the expense of our own well-being and health. On our part, we must strive to achieve the right balance and seek help when needed; hopefully not when it is too late. That said, the people of God have a part to play too. If the majority largely remains consumeristic, then the load and stress will remain on the same small percentage of workers. If that is the case, just telling your pastor or leader, “I will pray for you, for God to enable you to do great and mighty things for Him!” sounds nice but is not going to help very much.

Please don’t get me wrong. I appreciate every prayer uttered for me and on my behalf. However, as sweet as these may sound, it is music to our ears when we hear faithful ones step up and say, “Pastor, I know what my kingdom assignment is. I am going to co-labour with you. It is not easy but together, we will share the load, so help us God.”

The above five points are indeed great reminders for me as I navigate the challenges and demands of ministry. Most definitely, by His grace, I will be careful to constantly check my own alignment where these are concerned. As I do my part, I pray that you will do yours too. More than just pray for your pastor, seek to know and fulfil your God-given kingdom assignments.

Trust me. That would really help.