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 has 38 Oxley Road got to do with the Church?

Our Little Red Dot has caught the world’s attention again.

However, this time, it is not for something Singaporeans can say we are proud of. Yes, I am referring to the recent family feud involving the Lee siblings concerning 38 Oxley Road.

As I considered the exchanges across the numerous platforms, this question popped into my heart: “What about the Church?”

The Church of Jesus Christ is both the family and the house of God. Everyone agrees that Church is not a building or a place we go to, but the people of God. But when it comes to executing the Father’s will, not everyone is in agreement how Church is to be.

There are the same accusations of power play, over reliance on an institution, over dependence on one prominent personality, and the pushing of personal agendas. Some say that we must demolish the establishment, others shout a vehement ‘No!’, whilst others are willing to consider options along the spectrum. And so, the siblings in Christ continue to squabble over what to do with the house, taking to social media to air our views with articles, videos, memes and hashtags.

Meanwhile, as the world watched the Lee saga unfold, the world is also watching the Church. As the Lee siblings risked tarnishing the name of their father and Singapore’s founding father, might we be doing the same to the Name of our Heavenly Father when we fight against one another?

I have had a heavy ministry schedule over the past two months. Four church camps in June. Launched Archippus Awakening’s pilot mentoring aligning process on 1 July. KINGDOM101 resumed last Wednesday 5 July. On Sunday, I preached at two churches. In between the services, I found myself missing Serene and children dearly. The family has been so supportive, never complaining whenever the work of the ministry takes me away from them. That afternoon, I had a deep yearning to be with them. Thankfully, no one had any appointment that night (can’t presume these days with teenagers) and the Lim Tribe went out for dinner.

Exhausted from teaching and preaching, I didn’t talk very much. Just being with Serene and the children was enough for me. Over dinner, around the table, the children engaged with each other. They talked, they teased one another, they laughed together. Half the time, in the noisy restaurant, I couldn’t make out what they were talking about. But it didn’t matter one bit. My heart was filled with joy just watching them interact with one another.I thought to myself, “This must be how our Heavenly Father feels when He sees His children loving one another and enjoying each other’s company.” I know I felt it that night, and it felt really good. My prayer is that the Lim siblings will continue in this love and friendship with one another, come what may. In John 17, Jesus prayed for believers, siblings in Christ, to be one. For sure, this would please our Father in heaven.

Thankfully, the Lee siblings have agreed to take things offline so that what is family can be kept within the family. This will benefit a far bigger cause, that the Prime Minister and his government will not be distracted to do what they have been elected to do – govern Singapore through these challenging times. After all, it’s not just 38 Oxley Road but the greater house of Singapore that Singaporeans must be concerned with.

Perhaps the Church – the elect of God – can learn from this episode. Would we, the family and house of God, be willing to set aside differences for the greater cause of the kingdom of God? Sure, the house must be set in order, and that we must do. But there is a much larger picture of the kingdom of God that will require brothers and sisters in Christ to stand together.

Personal, ministry and denominational agendas cannot be the order of the day. It has been, and it will always be, about the Father’s will, is it not?

These thoughts were first shared in Henson’s July 2017 Newsletter. To receive One Day At A Time newsletter updates directly in your mailbox, subscribe here.

Why Don’t We Quote Jesus More?

There’s not a day when my social media Newsfeed is not filled with quotations from well-known Christian authors and speakers. This becomes even more pronounced when a conference is ongoing, and for a few days after. Almost everyone, it seems, is wowing at the revelation of these one-liners. There seems to be so much wisdom and depth in these sayings that these must be shared with the rest of the world.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with sharing these ‘ah-ha’ moments. That’s what social media is all about, isn’t it? You come upon something good and you want everyone to know. Post. Share. Like. Repost. Comment: “Word! Truth!”

Sounds edifying enough. But of late, my concern is if we Christians may just be revering the words of these men and women of the hour so much that we altogether miss the words of Jesus, our Master and King. I began to notice that more and more preferred to quote anyone and everyone, except Jesus. Where congregations are concerned, it is not uncommon to hear the phrase, “My pastor says…” Again, it is not wrong to listen to pastors, the under-shepherds. But what about Jesus, the Good Shepherd?

Applying this to myself, I made a conscious effort to read through the gospels again, to see what Jesus said in those accounts, and to hear what He would say to me, and to us as His church. Each day, I would post a saying of Jesus (or two).

The exercise has been an interesting one. Perhaps, I do not possess a big enough ‘friend’ or ‘follower’ base, but unlike the clever and witty sayings of the big names, the sayings of Jesus, the Name above all names, usually do not attract too many ‘likes’ or ‘comments’. Once in a while, you get a few ‘amens’, but that’s about it. (Maybe, if I take the trouble to use a fancy font and insert a breath-taking background image, that might help.)

Personally, it’s been enriching to read and re-read the gospels, to hear my Master and King speak directly and precisely. Naturally, I prefer the verses that remind me of His love, grace and blessings. That said, I cannot skip the parts that appeal less to me, and Jesus, at times, says some rather hard stuff pointedly and without compromise! Whilst I like to hear (over and over again) of how special I am to Him, how highly favoured and richly blessed I am in Him, the truth is that it is really not about me at all! And if I am to be totally honest, the sayings of Jesus promptly reveal how I have missed Him and His kingdom in the way I understand Christianity and do church today! Have you heard what Jesus says about following Him, obedience, faithfulness and readiness?

Ouch! No wonder the writer of Hebrews says, “For the word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him, to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:12-13

I do not mean to dishonour, discount or discredit any teacher and preacher. As one myself, I am greatly encouraged when someone shares how he or she has been helped by the uncovering of a little nugget of truth through my teachings or messages. Yet, no matter how good, inspirational or motivational a communicator is, his or her words are never to supersede or replace that of Jesus.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, read the Word of God for yourself. Listen to His voice for yourself. Hear what Jesus says to you, and then obey Him. It is not just what apostle so-and-so says, or what prophet so-and-so says. It is what Jesus says that truly matter. If you need to quote anyone, quote Him who has both the first word, and also the final say.

God’s “No Mercy” Policy

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I was hoping for “no pain”. Instead, I was told, “No mercy.”

Earlier this year, sometime in April, I began experiencing a tightness around my left shoulder. I have no idea how it came about. Just one day, it was difficult to remove my T-shirt after a run. Perhaps a pull or muscle strain, I thought. So, I left it for while, hoping it would go away on its own. But nope, the tightness persisted. I was just thankful it didn’t become worse.

Six months later, I find myself at the doctor’s, listening to the various possibilities of a tendon tear, an impingement or a bone spur. A common occurrence, I am told, for someone who has come of age. Yes, growing older.

This morning, with X-ray and ultrasound results in hand, I met my doctor friend again (same ACS cohort). Other than a slight bone spur causing mild adhesive capsulitis (fancy term for frozen shoulder), the tendon and muscles are all ok. As such, surgery is not required – for now. To help bring down the inflammation, the doctor administered two jabs (slight ouch). After this, it’s back to the physiotherapist for stretching exercises.

And that’s when he said, “No mercy.”

He added with a smile, “If she gently sayang sayang you, no point.” Ya right, thanks. Just what I needed to hear 🙂

As I drove home, I couldn’t help but think about the two words – no mercy – in the context of the Church and Christianity today. With the present focus on love and grace, “no mercy” sounds so incorrect. Too harsh. Surely, this has no place in the Body of Christ. After all, the God we know is full of mercy, is He not?

Of course, He is! And that will never change for His mercy, His lovingkindness endures forever! However, we must not forget that, at times, when needed, our God also administers a “no mercy” policy.

Like my shoulder, there could have been something that has caused irritation, stress and pain in our lives. As much as He is able to bring relief, He also desires that the tendon/muscle be stretched out and strengthened again. And for that to happen, pain may be experienced for a while more before the desired effect is achieved. Through that process, the Lord expects us to bear through the pain and discomfort, for our own good. In that, He says, “No mercy. You’ve got to push through until you get the breakthrough.” He knows that gently sayang sayang will not do the job at all. On the contrary, it is firmly sayang sayang (tough love) that our faith will likewise be stretched and strengthened.

In the Body of Christ, might there be an increasing proportion that seeks to grow without the pain? Are there questionable doctrines that have developed like bone spurs causing irritation and restricting mobility in the Body? Why can’t God just remove the discomfort instantly? If He is indeed good and merciful, surely pain and suffering cannot be from Him. With such thinking, no wonder there is such concern that the next generation of believers has grown soft, unable to take any pressure or pain. O, God forbid, that we should become a frozen (shoulder) generation!

At my first visit, the doctor took one look and observed that my left shoulder was a tad shrivelled owing to lack of use. Easing the inflammation was one thing. Getting me back in shape was another. And it’s the same with our spiritual walk and growth. As a miracle-working God, He could simply zap away all pain. But if that was all He did, we, and consequently, the Body of Christ, would remain shrivelled and weak. For sure, our God is more than able to do His part. But He also expects us, both personally and corporately, to do ours: to exercise, to stretch, to grow up in Christ.

Thankfully, we can rest assured that through it all, He watches over us, and will be with us, enabling us as we lean entirely on Him. For sure, His grace remains sufficient for us, even as He administers the “no mercy” policy.

With that, I fixed my appointment with the physiotherapist. Caution: Ouch Ahead!

Word of the Year 2016: Post-Truth Christians Too?

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The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2016.
Each year, Oxford Dictionaries will pick a word to describe the trend or sentiments of that year. And it has just been announced that the Word of the Year 2016 is post-truthan adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

The prefix post- used to refer to a time after a specified situation or era. However, in recent years, it has been modified to mean ‘unimportant’ or ‘irrelevant’. In other words, post-truth literally means that truth is no longer important; or worse yet, no longer relevant.

Although mostly associated with Brexit and the recently concluded American elections, one cannot help but wonder if this sentiment is applicable beyond the arena of politics? In community? In relationships?

What about the Church?

Noticeably, in the past decade, there has been a steady departure from the Word of God. This is not to say that preachers do not refer to the Bible for their messages. They still do. However, the focus and emphasis on sound doctrine is considerably much less. Theology is regarded as boring and too complicated, so let’s not waste too much time on such academic stuff. And so, messages today tend to major on addressing issues of self-esteem, positive thinking and personal pursuits of health, wealth and happiness. Simply, as long as it makes you feel good, then that’s fine. After all, God is a good God and He loves you very much. And since the truth hurts (and it does), let’s not dwell too much on that.

This type of thinking is so pervasive in the Church today that many are willing to disregard truth and discard doctrine. Feelings and emotions, although subjective, are considered more important and better indicators of a relationship with God, than that which is objective and true. Have we not heard this before: “I know it contradicts the Bible, but I have been so blessed by that person’s teaching and ministry.” Even if some of these fringe on being heretical, believers are willing to accept it on the basis of it-feels-right-so-it-must-be-right reasoning. Besides, if it’s wrong, the Holy Spirit will prompt me accordingly. True?

Anyone who has not experienced the same experience is deemed to be less spiritual, or spiritually dead. To not go with their flow is seen as not being led by the Spirit. What is worse is that any attempt to question is seen as legalistic, judgmental and Pharisaical! And soon, we’d have to add Bereanic to the list too because the searching of Scriptures is no longer relevant (Acts 17:11).

This does not mean that the Bible is no longer needed. Not at all. For sure, Bible apps are cool and will continue to be used. It’s easy to find verses and really good for creating image posts on Facebook and Instagram. Bible studies will continue to be well attended too. After all, that’s what Christians do – gather in groups, read a passage, and then give personal opinions of what it means to them. But to consider it absolute Truth, to live out the Word and be totally submitted to its authority? Does God require that at all? Surely not, since we are no longer under the law, right?

You may think I’m being a bit extreme here, over-reacting perhaps. I assure you, I am not. Truth be told, the Church is struggling to understand what it means to remain relevant in a society that is post-modern, post-Christian, and now, post-truth. To the post-modernist, truth was relativised and each decided what was true or not. In a post-Christian climate, Christian fundamentals were challenged and done away with. Alternative worldviews slowly but surely replaced the Christian worldview, both in the society and in the Church. In a post-truth world, anything goes. It no longer matters what is true or not, because truth is neither important nor relevant. Whatever works and produces the results, that’s cool. Yes, the end justifies the means.

As in the case of the recent elections, Christians were divided as Christianity became more politicised. It mattered not if the candidates told the truth or lied. Moral conduct was of no consequence. Truthiness, “the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true”, instead, was the order of the day. Why? Because truth is totally irrelevant in a post-truth era … as long as we get what we want and are allowed to continue to have church as usual.

But is it really church as usual? We have already seen denominations split over doctrinal disagreements. Some have embraced LGBT in the clergy and in key ministry positions. Others have endorsed same-sex marriages. In the name of grace and love, sins are glossed over. One day, a prominent minister confesses sexual misconduct, the very next day he is re-instated and no one bats an eyelid. Oh, I am sorry. Who am I to judge? And on what basis? Truth? What’s that?

But seriously. Church as usual? Let us not be so naive.

I suppose the Apostle Paul saw this day coming when he wrote to Timothy: “These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living, the pillar and ground of the truth.” 1 Tim 3:14-15 NKJV (emphasis mine)

Yes. The Church is to be the pillar and ground of the truth. Whatever the world says, whichever era we may be found to be in, we are people of the truth. However, more and more, we can expect that truth will be resisted and even rejected (2 Tim 3:8-9). There will even be those who regard themselves as Christians, who talk and sound Christian, but never come to a knowledge of what truth really is (2 Tim 3:7)!

As the pillar and the foundation of the truth, the Church is not there to just talk about truth, teach about truth, or have lofty philosophical discourses about what truth is or is not. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy was that the truth would be clearly demonstrated and seen through their conduct. Along the way, false apostles, prophets and teachers will appear. But the Church is never to compromise, holding steadily to the Word of Truth (2 Tim 3:16-17), paying careful attention to doctrine (1 Tim 4:16), led by the Spirit of truth, who guides us into all truth (John 16:13).

I am fully aware that come 2017, there will be another Word of the Year. But this does not mean that truth will necessarily be returned to its rightful place of importance or relevance. Our Lord Jesus Christ has already warned about the increase of deception in the last days, that many will be deceived. The post-truth era merely opened the door of deception even wider.

May all who profess to know Jesus – the Way, the Truth and the Life – continue to hold fast to Him and His Truth. And may we, His Church, also be found to “be diligent to present [ourselves] approved to God, [workers] who [do] not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Tim 2:15

Christian Music & Arts: Creative Licence or Trying Too Hard?

Hillsong

In case you are not aware, Hillsong has been in the internet spotlight this week. In Hillsong NYC’s Women’s Conference, it was reported that a youth leader dressed up and appeared as the Naked Cowboy. Over in Hillsong London, concern has been expressed over a voodoo ritual being used in a segment of the 2016 Easter Special.

It is, as always, very interesting to read the comments, both for and against. In the “for” camp, these would argue for relevance and defend the creative freedom to share the gospel in any way that is effective. In the “against” camp, those who are bold enough to say anything about holiness and purity are promptly labelled as modern day Pharisees.

I wasn’t at either location or presentation so I don’t have the full picture of what really went on or how these came about. But still – Why have a semi-naked youth pastor on stage? Was the ritual just a creative portrayal of evil, or an actual offering of occultic worship? Were these necessary at all?

The side story is equally interesting. Thanks, Dr Michael Brown, for writing When Hillsong Offends the Naked Cowboy.

Apparently, the original Naked Cowboy, Robert John Burck, is an ordained minister; yes, a clergyman! According to a statement issued by his representative, “Mr. Burck is an Ordained Minister & would NEVER attend church in the house of the Lord in his Trade Dress and is EXTREMELY offended by this activity due to his deep Christian beliefs and respect for the process of gathering in the name of Jesus Christ and in the presence of God to worship and praise the Holy Father.”

Although Mr Burck would never appear “naked” in a church setting, he has no problem with being the Naked Cowboy in the streets of New York. I can’t help but wonder: Was he upset that nakedness was displayed in a Christian meeting? Or that the necessary permission was not sought and as a result, he wasn’t paid royalty for the use of his Trade (un)Dress?

This reminded me of something I encountered some years back which prompted me to write No Sports Bras in Church Please. Addressing the issue of modesty in a youth camp, the leader reminded campers to be appropriately dressed. Sounds right and commendable. However, the message that is being conveyed is: When in church or in a Christian setting, it is clear that certain things are out of bounds, not even to be considered. But when you’re out in the world, everything is fair game and par for the course. Sadly, we don’t realise it but we practise this often. No wonder Christians are often viewed as hypocrites.

By this, I am in no way advocating that we bring what is in the world into the Church, that we may appear to appear consistent and relevant. That said, I am all for recovering what has been lost to the enemy, to redeem music and the arts for the kingdom of God. But what does this really mean in practice? How far can or should one go in the name of creative and artistic licence? Is it ok as long as the name of Jesus is proclaimed? Does the Church need to try so hard to make the good news even better than it already is?

Unfortunately, the line has become so blurred that it is not quite as easy to determine when it is crossed. I know that this should not be the case at all, that it should be plain and simple, black and white. However, seeing how everyone has an opinion, and how everything can be justified these days, the only certainty is that the responses will comprise of varying shades of grey.

Note: Brian Houston, Senior Pastor of Hillsong Church, explains in Have You Heard The One About The Cowboy? that the appearance was “unauthorised” and that “It won’t happen again.”

A Programme That Fixes It All? Sorry, No Shortcuts.

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Photo source: http://www.janua.fr/ldap-tools-by-janua

Not too long ago, I wrote an article with this tongue-in-cheek title: “The Believer’s Conference Survival Guide”. In conference- & seminar-laden Singapore, Christians are constantly signed up and attending these events. As such, I thought it’d be good to share some pointers and reminders.

Well, I recently found myself at one of these offerings. I appreciated the topics, the speakers and what they had to offer. Nothing wrong with what was presented or shared. Everything was good, biblically sound. And yet, I came away with a feeling of frustration.

[At this point, please understand that what I am sharing is largely personal. It’s me and where I am at; so please, let not anyone be offended at all, least of all the ones who worked so hard to put everything together, or the ones who graciously made time to prepare their sessions. As a speaker and organiser myself, I greatly appreciate every effort and the desire to help others.]

As I sat there listening and processing, I became increasingly edgy. The points were not new at all. I am sure the participants (mostly ministry leaders) would have heard it all before, and possibly even preached it too. The questions posed were not new; nor were the responses ‘revelational’. I am sure those who asked were totally sincere in wanting to learn. And those who shared were happy to impart something of value and worth. Everyone was saying the right things, and yet, the Church (at large) continues to struggle with the same issues and challenges.

I kept hearing that it’s not about another programme or another activity. And yet, I wonder if each was secretly hoping to discover the programme that would fix it all?! I wonder if we have all become so clueless and helpless that we simply can’t figure out how to live life according to how the Lord would have us live. I mean … Singapore is a nation that prides itself in academic and intellectual excellence. With all our expertise and reputation in efficiency and problem-solving, why do we seem to be going around in circles?

Perhaps, that’s where the real problem lies. Are we trying too hard to fix the system that we have missed the big picture? Are we trouble-shooting in the wrong places? Have we only complicated the process even more? Have we unconsciously replaced obedience with organisation, sacrifice with seminars, discipline with dialogue, maturity with methods, purpose with programmes, assignment with activities?

Once again, I say: I am thankful for conferences and seminars, and deeply appreciative of how I have received good reminders, fresh perspectives and insights from the speakers and organisers. But at the end of the day, there are simply no shortcuts.

As leaders and ministers, we often ask, “How can we help them…”, “How can we get our members to…”, “How do we encourage more to…”, etc. Certainly, we can do our part and we must. But unless these are personally impacted and touched by the Lord, compelled and convicted to live for Him, willing to obey and to sacrifice, our efforts, well-intended no doubt, will not avail much. It will just be another conference, another seminar and another programme.

General Election 2015: Observations for Life & Ministry

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Everyone agrees that this General Election was a little different. Perhaps it’s the SG50 factor, the first election without LKY, the first time without a single walkover, interesting personalities from the opposition parties, etc. Whatever the reason, there certainly was more excitement (and haze) in the air. I actually stayed up for as long as I could tahan (endure) before finally deciding at 2am that I would not wait for the Aljunied GRC recount. This is quite an achievement for one who is not particularly interested in politics.

Now that GE2015 is over, as the dust settles, I thought it’d be good to share some personal thoughts about the process and the psychology behind it. Interestingly, I noted some parallels that would prove helpful to myself as a minister, not in Cabinet, but of Jesus Christ and His Church.

1. Numbers are not everything. However impressive, numbers remain largely deceptive. The opposition parties drew large crowds at their rallies. Many clamoured for Dr Chee Soon Juan’s autograph. Social media was abuzz with seemingly similar views and as many LIKES and SHARES. And yet, when the results were announced, these encouraging numbers amounted to little, if anything at all. Churches and ministries are quite the same, aren’t we? When we report, it’s numbers we present – and the larger, the better. We judge a church’s health by how big it is, and an activity’s success by how well attended it was. This lesson reminds us that numbers are not everything. There can be a lot of hype but very little support. Sadly, the herd mentality has prevailed through the centuries. Look at the multitudes that Jesus preached to. Where were they when it mattered? Jesus was not impressed with nor swayed by numbers, and we shouldn’t be either.

2. Numbers are important. Well, at least for the PAP. The 69.86% result was a “national swing”, a “landslide victory”, a “strong mandate”. To the ruling party, this signalled not just a clear and decisive win but also the support of the people. Although numbers are not everything, certain numbers are important. For the Christian community, we have to look beyond the crowds, registrations and attendances. What we should be really interested in is how many truly love and serve the Lord, translating attendance into action. No point reporting a large number of real-time decisions but finally only a small percentage of real-life disciples. The numbers of true significance may not always be impressive but these are what we must focus on.

3. Complaints don’t necessarily mean a desire for change. I think complaints are here to stay, no matter how wonderful a government is. Even the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew acknowledged the Singaporean as a complainer and grumbler. And the opposition parties found out the hard way when they were snooked into thinking complaints will turn into votes in their favour. Simply, complaints do not necessarily mean a desire for change. I call this the uncomfortable comfort zone. And sadly, this applies to Christians too. I’ve heard enough complaints about churches, pastors and leaders. But when push comes to shove, no one is prepared to do anything – too many years, too many friends, too much investment through tithes and offerings, too much to lose, too much inconvenience, too much trouble, too lazy, etc. Most are discontented with the situation but everyone seems totally content with the status quo. I know this sounds totally irrational but that’s just the way it is. So, by all means, pay attention to the ground but don’t be naive to expect that these would necessarily be there for or with you.

4. We are not desperate enough. Is this not true? Nothing is really at stake. Singapore is doing ok and our lives are rather comfortable. So, let’s make some noise but not too much. Let’s not risk anything. Don’t rock the boat. With affluence and freedom, Christians in Singapore can fall into the same trap. Since we get to worship freely and comfortably in air-conditioned auditoriums, let’s just be satisfied with that. After all, is that not an indication of God’s favour and blessing? But look at what’s happening in America now. That freedom is slowly but surely being taken away. It’s not enough just to complain about poor leadership or questionable doctrines. Believers are forced to take a stand, to put their faith where their mouth is. I am not saying that I desire that eventuality, ever. Armchair politicians are aplenty as are armchair church members. And it definitely takes a certain level of desperation to get these off their religious butts.

5. Be careful what you say about mothers and women. Look what happened to NSP’s Cheo Chai Chen after his poorly considered remark about PAP’s Tin Pei Ling? Enough said.

6. It’s hard to discern who is telling the truth. Many of the candidates spoke well, eloquently and rather convincingly. Of course, some should not even be there in the first place. Everyone had a case for action or for change. But who is presenting the whole truth, really? It’s hard to tell, isn’t it? We have our fair share of that in Christian circles. Today, we have so much information and a choice of the best speakers. But is what we are listening to accurate and in accordance with the Scriptures? Or are we merely hearing what we want hear? Just as statistics and data can be presented by politicians to convey the party’s agenda, we must be aware that in these days, the same is being done with and to the Word of God. It all sounds attractive and good but we must discern if it is truly God’s kingdom’s agenda or not.

7. We decided but God presided. Without doubt, every vote, Christian or non-Christian, mattered. Singaporeans decided who they wanted in their constituencies and in Parliament. The future of the nation rested in our hands, or so it may seem. The truth is, whatever the result, God is not surprised and remains totally in control. In the end, His purpose will stand. Such is the tension between the freewill of Man and the sovereignty of God. We think we have the power to direct and to will, as if everything depended on us. As moral agents, God allows us the freedom to decide; and that carries with it responsibility and accountability. Ultimately, through our decisions and actions, and in spite of, God appoints the authorities. We think we are serving our own purposes and that of our nation, but somehow, these all end up serving the purposes of God! My little finite mind still cannot quite figure out how it all works but it does. It would do us well if we remember and apply this in our lives and ministries. We would rest and trust more. He is God and we are not.

These are just my personal observations. All said, I am thankful and blessed to be a Singaporean. May we never forget the grace of God that has brought us to where we are today.

Ezekiel the Entertainer?

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Imagine this..

You are the Preacher or the Pastor of the hour. Your name has become the latest buzzword in Christian circles. Mention it and people go, “Yes, I’ve heard of him.” You are invited to speak at seminars and conferences, highly sought after, booked two to three years in advance. Your Facebook and YouTube statistics are impressive, not to mention the number of clicks and visits to your website. Your podcasts are well subscribed to and freely shared over social media platforms. Your meetings are well attended because people simply love to hear your anointed messages, and they leave wondering how you got those awesome downloads. Many queue up to be prayed for because you are prophetically sharp.

Sounds good, yes? Which minister wouldn’t desire a ministry and reputation of such impact and influence?

Interestingly, the Bible describes the seeming success of Ezekiel in pretty much the same way: “As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.'” Ezekiel 33:30

As a preacher and teacher of the Word, I must confess that it is all too easy to assess the effectiveness of my ministry by numbers and positive comments. After all, who wants to preach to an empty room? We may declare that it’s not about numbers but truth be told, it is encouraging when the numbers are there. Also, although we are open to feedback and comments, no one likes to be told that his messages are boring, repetitive or ‘not anointed’. Without doubt, I believe Ezekiel did his best and he did exceptionally well. Similarly, we who have the privilege to declare God’s Word must do our very best and not hide behind spiritual or religious excuses.

And yet, more than just popularity and numbers, the Lord is looking for something else, something far more important than sell-out conferences and packed-out churches. In the next verse, He reveals the condition of the hearts of those who flocked to listen to Ezekiel: “So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain.” Ezekiel 33:31

I think this verse is self-explanatory. I may not have spoken to thousands but I have been to meetings which involved thousands. The speakers are world famous and the atmosphere is highly charged. The amens are resoundingly loud and the altar call is almost always full. But I wonder what happens when the people leave these meetings? Only God knows. All I know is that what is usually reported is the number who attended and how great the meetings or messages were. Could it also be that those who attended “hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain”?

“Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.” Ezekiel 33:32

Ladies & Gentlemen, put your hands together, give it up, for Ezekiel … the ENTERTAINER! Lights, camera, action!

I know I’ve felt like that at times – the hours spent preparing a message, labouring over the Word, consulting commentaries, revising, and then revising again – somehow, the message is never done, never good enough. And then, I get up to the pulpit, deliver it with all my might, preach my heart out and it’s done. The crowd disperses, a few say ‘thank you for the message’ and it’s over. And you start all over again. Sure, it may have been a good message. But how many, I wonder, will actually act on the word? Have Christian meetings become entertainment centres where the audience enjoys what is presented, stirred and moved even, but leave without any desire for action other than to secure a booking or seat for the next show?

Sadly, with the choices and options available these days, preachers and pastors are pressured (directly or indirectly) to perform. If not, there is always the other church, the other ministry, the many other sermons online, the other offering bag. I will do my best, but God forbid that I should be just an entertainer tickling the fancies of the listeners. I will do my part to stay true to the Word and to deliver it without compromise. Even so, I cannot determine how the people will respond. We are so deeply entrenched in Church and Christian culture that many do not realise that they have become hearers and not doers of the Word, deceiving themselves (James 1:22).

Where am I going with this? I suppose I am just reminding myself to keep keeping on, to remain faithful in my assignment, to never to compromise, no matter how challenging it may be. The indicators of success are not numbers or accolades but faithfulness and fruitfulness; and that only happens when people move from merely being hearers to being doers of the Word. In the context of Archippus Awakening, it is when people are not just awakened, but move on to be aligned and then to be on assignment for kingdom. I cannot force or coerce anyone beyond how the Lord will convict or how they each will personally respond. I can only declare what I have been given to declare and these will have to decide their own course of action.

And in the end, no one can say that they didn’t know or that they were not told. Each will be responsible and accountable.

“And when it comes to pass – surely it will come – then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” Ezekiel 33:33