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.

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.

Show Horses or War Horses?

The headline says it loud and clear: Matt Chandler warns Church is no longer about discipleship but ‘being entertained’

As reported by Christian Post, Pastor Matt Chandler’s 12 May sermon challenged The Village Church’s congregation “to participate in the Body of Christ for the purposes of discipleship and community — not entertainment.”

You and I are so overstimulated, you and I are so overwhelmed with fast-paced, energized entertainment that we have developed a real idealized sense of life with a real low pain tolerance. The Church herself no longer is about discipleship, no longer is about being shaped, no longer is it about being formed. It’s about being entertained in the gathering.

Far too many people, Chandler warned, are interested in the more external elements of ministry — such as impressive light shows and worship bands — instead of actually growing the Kingdom of God.

Matt Chandler warns Church is no longer about discipleship but ‘being entertained’

Revelation? Not exactly. If you have been a Christian for a while, this should not surprise you at all. No, this is definitely not a new observation. We should just be thankful that someone is willing to stick his neck out to say it like it is.

That said, Chandler is not the first pastor to mention this and he most certainly will not be the last. As rightly noted by Leah MarieAnn Klett, the Christian Post reporter, “Pastors and church leaders have long warned of the dangers of the entertainment and amusement-driven church.” Consider these familiar statements from A.W. Tozer:

The church that can’t worship must be entertained. And men who can’t lead a church to worship must provide the entertainment.

Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us.

I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the church, the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the public service which now passes for worship among us.

A.W. Tozer

Indeed, the Lord, by His grace, will always send His messengers to warn His people so that these might then be awakened, aligned and assigned for Him. I am very certain that more than a few pastors, leaders, preacher and teachers have been issuing this same warning over and over again. However, since these are not big names the likes of Chandler, they will never be quoted or featured. (This is another consequence of the entertainment-celebrity-influenced-church but that is for another post, another day.)

After receiving the assignment of Archippus Awakening to awaken the saints to know and fulfil their God-given kingdom assignments, I was drawn to learn more about the name, Archippus. Since many names in the Bible have prophetic significance, I wondered if there might be a message contained in this rather obscure name. As I discovered that Archippus is about horses (greek: hippos), the Lord revealed the condition of His Church. When I wrote my first book*, Say To Archippus, I devoted an entire chapter to this, aptly titled, “Enough Horsing Around”. I hope you will read the whole book. But for now, allow me to share a relevant section here:

Show Horses or War Horses

There is a very famous horse show that is staged by the Spanish Riding School of Vienna featuring a breed of horses known as Lipizzaners. These horses are so well trained that they can perform each move and execute each jump with precision, finesse and poise. The most challenging, and the most impressive, are the airs above the ground exercises where the horses can strike poses with both or all legs in the air. It is no wonder then that thousands would flock to watch these talented horses.

So precious are these Lipizzaners that through more than a few wars, instructions were specifically given to ensure their safety and survival. On this point, it is interesting to note that although the principles taught are based on the same ones taught to calvary riders to prepare horses for warfare, these show horses were never deployed in war. It seems that they were worth more in a show than on the battlefield.

Could this be symbolic of the Church today?

We certainly know how to put on a good show week after week: the lights are just right, the band is technically competent, the worship leader looks cool, the speaker delivers an inspiring message, the congregation is stirred, and the service ends right on time! In terms of training, we have more material today than we can ever hope to cover in our lifetime. We are spoilt for choice as we feed on the best there is from the most experienced in virtually every field of ministry. From hearing God to knowing our identity in Christ; from inner healing to deliverance from demons; from spiritual disciplines to spiritual warfare; from the apostolic to the prophetic.

But the question must be asked, “Are we like the show horses of Vienna, so nice to watch and so entertaining? Or are we ready for battle?”

Chapter Four: Enough Horsing Around, Say To Archippus, pp45-46.

Since then, whenever I declare the message of Archippus Awakening, I will share this ‘parable’ of show horses. What is encouraging is that leaders have begun to realise that we have bought into the world’s narrative of entertainment and amusement. Most, if not all, confess a certain tiredness from having to “put up a show” week or week, month after month, year after year.

Although everyone means well, this is taking a toll and robbing us of the time and energy needed for deep and authentic discipling relationships. As I have said many times over: It is one thing to preach and teach about discipleship; it is totally another to really and truly disciple. More easily said than done. Why? Because discipleship requires time; and we just don’t have time. Discipleship also requires commitment, but most just prefer entertainment.

I am thankful that Pastor Matt Chandler has used his platform to warn the Church. I pray that more pastors, teachers and leaders will be willing to lovingly and graciously do the same. Even more, may it not remain just another good message from the pulpit with shares and likes on social media. I pray that church leadership will go one step further to honestly (and brutally) examine how they may have, consciously or unconsciously, propagated an entertainment church culture; and then take steps to realign with Jesus and the ways of His kingdom.

Finally, let us acknowledge that it is all too easy to point a finger at pastors and leaders. Please fight the urge and not yield to that temptation. Instead, we should reflect and honestly check ourselves if we have become consumer Christians expecting to be entertained by our leaders and ministry teams. If so, then we will be the ones who will complain the most and present the greatest resistance when kingdom changes are proposed and implemented. God forbid.

My prayer is that as these warnings are issued and heeded, Archippuses will be awakened to the real condition of their hearts and the condition of the Church, be willing to align with Jesus and all that He stands for and be ready to be assigned for the purposes of His kingdom.

“The horse is made ready for battle, but victory rests with the Lord.” Proverbs 21:31 NIV

*To order SAY TO ARCHIPPUS and ALIGNMENT CHECK, email archippusawakening@gmail.com. Also available at CRU Media and Faithworks.

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!