Worship That Changes the Atmosphere

I was at the Influencers Conference 2012 and really liked what Benny Perez shared about John 12:1-3

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

When Mary poured out the perfume at the feet of Jesus, the text states that the fragrance of the worship “filled the house”.  Extravagant worship transforms the atmosphere.

Firstly, extravagant worship transforms the “atmosphere” of the heart of the worshipper.  On the way to the Influencers Conference, we were running late and traffic in the car park had slowed to a crawl.  What began as excitement quickly gave way to anxiety and frustration.  I also had some “discussions” with my wife.  When I finally made it in to the service, the last thing I felt like doing was to worship.

But when I began to sing, when I began to lift up my hands and to applaud, even when I didn’t feel like it, my heart and my emotions began to change.  I stopped thinking about “poor old me” and I began to focus on Jesus.

History is full of stories of encounters with God in worship that have transformed the worshipper.  But the impact goes beyond the individual as the transformed worshipper, revitalised by the call of God, also becomes a history maker.

Second, extravagant worship transforms the atmosphere in the place of worship.  That’s what happened in John 12.  Mary’s worship caused the whole room to be filled with the sweet scent of perfume.  It was likely that the fragrance continued to linger with those who came into contact with it for days to come.  In Acts 4:31, after the believers prayed and worshipped, it says that the place where they were meeting was shaken.  That’s the power of worship to change the atmosphere of the room.

And last, I believe that extravagant unified worship can transform the atmosphere in a city.  I am looking forward to the day when passionate worship ministers join across the city of Perth to lift up the name of Jesus in praise which pushes back the forces of darkness in the city to see transformation in every part of society.

Being a Son, Not a Son-in-Law

I was at church yesterday and the preacher was teaching about Praying with Power.

She taught that one of the main keys to effective prayer is to know our identity in Christ.

John 1:12 says:

To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…

The point the speaker made was that if we realise we are God’s children, we have a right to our inheritance in Christ, making us bold in our prayers and petitions.

I think this is a point easiest understood by those who are married.

Even now, when I go visit my parents’ home, I am completely at ease opening up the freezer and reaching for my mum’s extensive ice-cream collection. Even though my wife shares the same weakness for ice-cream as I do, she is much more hesitant and cautious. She will only have an ice-cream if my mum asks if shed like one.

The opposite is true whenever I stay with my wife’s parents in Singapore. Even though I am told to feel at home, inevitably, I feel more like a guest.

Thats the difference when we live our lives as sons (or daughters) of God rather than as sons (or daughters)-in-law.

Under the covenant of grace, we have access to every blessing that God has promised through His son. We are adopted into God’s family and are co-heirs with Christ, seated with Him in the heavenly places in a position of authority. Despite this, we often live as though we are still under the law, as if we are sons-in-law or daughters-in-law. We are careful when we approach God; we feel like we still need to do things to please Him and earn His favour.

I am thankful that the favour of God under the covenant of grace is unmerited! It doesn’t depend on what I do, but its all about what Christ has done for me! I am so grateful that I am a son of God, rather than a son-in-law!

The Year of Unceasing Fruitfulness – Part 2

Today, I want to continue with the thought of 2012 being the year of Unceasing Fruitfulness. It is certainly a word which has resonated with me and it is one, which, it seems, has resonated with many Christians as well.

In his New Year’s message, Joseph Prince shared the key to unceasing fruitfulness by cross-referencing Jeremiah 17:5-8 with Psalm 1.

Psalm 1:1-3 says:

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

The key is to meditate on the Word of God. Prince shared the thought that to “meditate” was to “mutter under one’s breath”; to keep the Word of God on our lips.

I want to bring this thought into the context of apostolic worship.

I believe that true worship transforms the worshipper. This happens in a number of ways. It is true that encountering God exposes our own sinfulness and convicts us to change. It is also true that we become like who (or what) we worship. But worship also transforms us, often not in a sudden, electrifying moment, but through a gradual process. This is where I think Biblical meditation and worship through singing intersect.

I remember many years ago, Integrity Music released Scripture Memory songs, Scripture set verbatim to music. It was a powerful and effective way to memorise Scripture. This is in fact how I memorised Romans 8:1 (“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” – sing with me if you remember this song!) It’s actually a shame that not more worship songs these days record Scripture in this way.

So, the process of singing is one way by which we can take a Scriptural word or thought and internalise it by repetition. It is a psychological phenomenon which I am not equipped to explain, but I can only point to the evidence of my little niece who, at the age of 2, is just beginning to form sentences of longer than 3 or 4 words; and yet she can practically sing an entire song on her own (she needs to work on her pitching though, but not bad for a 2 year old!)

Do you ever get a song stuck in your head and it just keeps repeating over and over again? When I attended New Creation Church on the New Year’s service, the worship leader led the song “Unmerited Favour”. It’s actually got some awkward phrasing, but it now keeps playing in my head:

Now I’ve got every reason to rejoice
Your unmerited favour is on my life
It’s got nothing to do with what I did
But it’s all about what You’ve done for me
And because of the cross it’s plain to see
I’m irrevocably saved now I am free
And I’ll rejoice
In everything You’ve done
In everything You’ve done

Almost unconsciously, I am declaring the favour of God over my life! The power of music is not just to play over in our minds, but also to bypass our minds and affect our emotions. In fact, when coupled with the gestures of worship (such as bowing, dancing, lifted hands), it becomes a way we love God with our heart, mind, soul and strength.

So one way we can meditate day and night is to let the songs of the Lord ring in our hearts, increasing our faith to believe God for His will to be done in our lives.

It is therefore not surprising that the psalmist is also a prophet. The songs are forthtelling – bringing the future Will of God into our present.

I want to leave you today with a song (which is a bit dated now) but which captures the thought of “Unceasing Fruitfulness”. It’s called “Lord I Live by Your Word”, written by Mark Altrogge and recorded by Kent Henry. The lyrics paraphrase and capture Psalm 1 and Isaiah 55:10-11:

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Here’s the song:

As we begin 2012, my prayer for you is that in your life, God’s Word will not return to Him void. It will accomplish His will in your life. It will surely succeed. His Word transforms the desert, and His Word will transform You. May His Word water the soil of your heart and bring forth unceasing fruitfulness (and not only that, but also increasing fruitfulness) in 2012.

The Year of Unceasing Fruitfulness

I had taken my seat in the cinema at Marina Bay waiting in anticipation for the start of the service. It was an interesting experience for me. Even though we would usually visit New Creation Church whenever we were in Singapore, this was the first time we were attending the service at a satellite location via live feed. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

The screen moved from rolling announcements to live feed as the worship leader took the stage. The first song started: the chorus of “Great is the Lord” – one of my favourite songs of all time.

It was part emotion, but mostly the presence of God. I sensed tears welling up. This was gearing up to be a great first church service for 2012.

After the worship ended and the chairperson read a couple of testimonies, Joseph Prince took to the pulpit. The whole congregation, linked through satellite at various sites in Singapore, waited in anticipation for him to release the vision for 2012.

Prince started with Jer 17:5-8:

This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

In that context, Prince announced the vision for 2012: the year of unceasing fruitfulness.

Wow! That really really resonated with me.

There are two types of people: those who trust in man. They are like a bush in the parched land. They don’t experience prosperity when it happens upon them.

And then there are those who trust in God. Even when the heat comes, they won’t feel it. In the year of drought, they continue to be fruitful.

I’m making this my theme for the year too.

I’m not sure what the economic situation will hold. Life might throw some curve balls. But because my confidence is in the Lord, I will be like a tree planted by the waters. My leaves will be ever green.

In Rev 22:2, Scripture says:

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

No natural tree bears twelve different types of fruit: only the tree of life which is a picture of the cross. Because I am in Christ through the cross, I can bear fruit. I can be fruitful in every area!

So this year, I thank God for unceasing and increasing fruitfulness. In finances. In my job. In my ministry. In my relationships and family. It’s going to be an exciting year ahead.

And I believe that in 2012, my life will be impactful because the leaves are for the healing of the nations.

You Crown the Year with Goodness

As we approach the end of 2011, I am reminded of Psalm 65:11 (NKJV):

 You crown the year with Your goodness,
And Your paths drip with abundance.

It has been an eventful year for me, but looking back, I am amazed at the goodness of God in my life, both in the valleys and mountaintops.

This year, after being in the same church for 21 years, my wife and I both felt the call to move on.  It was difficult because we have many close friends at the church and we were both actively involved in ministry.  I was almost like part of the furniture.  We had been working with a great team of people in the worship ministry but yet we felt that God was calling us out.

We went through about 5 months of uncertainty as we waited on God, spoke to the pastor and took counsel from our friends.  I had sensed that we would sort of be like Abraham, leaving the comfort of a place we know, and wandering into unknown territory.  It was a time of both fear and excitement.

At the time, a friend of ours was staying at our place and she had been praying for us.  She reminded us that all things work together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28).  We felt a bit more at peace that God does indeed work all things together for our good.  Sometimes, we believe in “faith detours” as if somehow the so-called wrong decisions we make can somehow stop us from experiencing God’s goodness in our lives.  So we tell people to be careful about the decisions they make; to discern the right path.

Now, don’t get me wrong: there are some things which do cause us to stray.  So, if we decided to leave our church and fill our Sunday mornings with other activities (like sleeping-in!) and we stopped going to church, that would be a bad decision.  But we weren’t going to do that.  We just simply wanted to go to a different church.  It wasn’t like we were turning ourselves over to live like heathens.  As long as we actively serve God in church, that’s a good thing!

So in that situation, I don’t think that there is a bad decision. We just have to trust God that He will work everything out, not only for our good, but also for our best.

In July 2011, we went to the 25th Hillsong Conference and were so blessed by the atmosphere of faith and awesome teaching.  At the conference, Israel Houghton introduced the song “Jesus at the Centre of It All” which really became an anthem for this season of my life (as I’m sure it was for many other people who were at the conference).  If that was the only thing I learned from the conference, it was worth it.

John Maxwell taught on leadership, but also emphasised the need for discipline in honing our anointing.  He taught his “rule of 5” and I was convicted to find the 5 things I needed to do everyday to fulfill my potential in God.

(I am still a “work in progress” and I am still working on centring my life on Jesus and being disciplined in my walk!  I thought I’d mention that in case anyone thought I had “arrived”.)

After coming back from Hillsong, we felt that God was firming up our decision to leave our church so we met up with our pastor.  Whilst it was a sad moment, to realise that we would no longer be part of this local house, we were encouraged by the fact that as we finished the meeting, our pastor prayed Romans 8:28 over us, the same verse our friend had encouraged us with a few months earlier.

So in the end we just had to take the step of faith.

Since then, we have been visiting different churches and seeing how awesome God is in our city.  In all the different expressions (from 2 hour services to 1.25 hour services; deep teachings to inspiring messages; so-so music to technically excellent music; big-congregation-impersonal to small-church-warmth), we had no doubt that the Spirit of God was moving in all these expressions, using them to minister both to the members of the church and the unchurched as well.

We also had the privilege of serving in the Commonwealth Prayer Initiative and meeting up with different worship leaders in the city.  I sense that our leaving our church opened the door for us to participate in this important milestone in the history of the church in Perth.  It did leave us feeling a bit awkward though because when you attend these meetings, people always ask you “what church do you fellowship at?”

At one meeting, my wife said “we are part of the church in Perth!”  That really resonated with me because even though at that point in time, we didn’t belong to any congregation, we were definitely part of the church in Perth.  We served the city-wide church and we participated in its destiny.

I also sensed that God was beginning to start something in our city amongst the worship leaders and I believe that will evolve in the next few months as we begin to take steps of faith.

I am glad to say that in the midst of the seeming disruption and dislocation, we have experienced the goodness of God working in our lives.   God did really crown our year with goodness.  His paths on which we were led dripped with abundance.

Thank You God for your faithfulness, provision, protection, healing, wholeness and prosperity. We are thankful for our friends and family who prayed with us, encouraged us, served alongside us, cried with us, rejoiced with us and journeyed with us as we walked in His destiny for our lives.

We believe, as Joel Osteen often says, that 2011 was great, but 2012 will be our best year yet.

Happy new year Worship Revolutionaries.

 

In Honour of the Worship Revolution Band 2010/11

I can’t believe we are now in the second last week of 2011. It’s been an amazing year full of God’s faithfulness and favour. In another post, I will reflect more broadly about this year, which was filled with some amazing transitions (though not yet complete) and faith-building experiences.

But today, I want to honour and appreciate a bunch of people with whom I have had the privilege to serve alongside for most of 2010 and for half of 2011.

The Worship Revolution Band started in around May 2010 as part of a restructuring of the worship team in our church. We finally went from a rostering system to being allocated specific bands.

We took the opportunity to cast a bold vision and set some crazy goals for ourselves, with our main outlook being to reform and energise the worship of our church. We reached some milestones, fell way short on others, but after about a year of being together, I can look back and say that we were well on our way to achieving our primary objective.

We defined our culture as being spiritual (who isn’t?… well, I suppose the carnal ones amongst us might not be, but I could only see our team members being full of Jesus and therefore spiritual), unified, fresh, authentic and fun. We didn’t want to miss out on fun, because serving God should be fun and fulfilling.

Together, we wanted to spur one another on, bring cohesion to the band, improve together and celebrate our progress.

After many months of learning to function together, we started to add fuel to the function of worship to unleash the fire of worship. We wanted to balance excellence against the prophetic and the spontaneous. We learnt together (some of our guys went to group singing lessons with Stephanie Truscott) and inspired each other.

Here are the people who made the Worship Revolution Band one of my most fulfilling ministries in recent memory:

  • Co-Worship Leader: Derwin Bong. A young, passionate and sensitive worship leader. I hope he leads worship again soon. City of Perth, look out.
  • Music Director: Addie Choon. We worked really well together because Derwin and I could cast the vision and direction and Addie would make it happen musically. A really talented guy who plays bass and keyboard with a very keen understanding of worship ministry.
  • Vocal Director: Kelwin Wong. One of the few people I know who can harmonise with himself in three parts. Known for recording harmonies so the singers could learn their parts before rehearsals. One day, he will star in a musical!
  • Singers: Ling Chua (my awesome wife and a worship leader in her own right), Kelwin, Tri Tran (one of the hardest working people in our team!), Minh Lam (our resident culture-vulture. One day, he will help the church cross the culture divide), Melissa Loong (faithful minister and super creative) and Liz Tran (one amazing female vocalist!).
  • Keyboards: in the early days, Jeremy Wong (who retired to become a missionary-in-training; one of the most radical, sold-out-for-Jesus types I know) and Matthias Yap (an upcoming keyboardist we were privileged to serve with).
  • Bass: Addie
  • Guitar: Ivan Manalip, a faithful guy who wins the most-improved award.
  • Drums: Samson Tan, a great personal inspiration to me, revivalist and all-round nice-guy and Bernard Lim, who always thinks outside the box and challenges me creatively. Really enjoyed working with Bernie.
  • PA: Wei Koay, a faithful servant who is always willing to sacrifice huge chunks of his time to serve the Kingdom.
  • Honourary AV (we didn’t have AV people on our band, but we claim these guys): Jess Tran and Adrian Chee, our great friends and who always celebrated with us.
  • Honourary Dancers: Joan Manalip (one of the most creative and inspiring worship dancers) and Sharon Chia (another great friend on the journey who we’ve claimed as a “daughter” even though she isn’t that young anymore!).

So, as we end 2011, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to my awesome co-labourers, friends and inspirers. You have made my own journey a fruitful and fulfilling one. I hope to serve with you guys again one day!

With much love,
Lester

A New Chapter

It is always difficult to start something.

The starting of a thing often sets its future course.

But life is often more about the journey.  The grace of God is greater than the best of our starts.  So no many how we start, there is always the comfort of knowing that His grace is sufficient for the journey.

So to start again is exciting.  It’s the abandoning of the familiar in favour of wading into unfamiliar ground.  This process always involves more faith.

I’m looking forward to the new chapter.

On 24 July 2011, after 21 years (for me) and 10 years (for my wife) in our home church, my wife and I felt the call to move into new territory.  We weren’t really sure where God was leading us, but we have spent the last few months now seeing what God is doing amongst the churches in Perth.

What we’ve seen has surprised and encouraged us.  Later on, I will share about my sense of the worship landscape in the city.  But it’s been amazing to see the move of God amongst the churches in its various manifestations.

We’ve also had the privilege of taking part in a city-wide prayer event in the form of the Commonwealth Prayer Initiative.

Even though we had doubts when we stepped out, like Peter we sensed the voice of Jesus steadying our steps and keeping us from sinking.

We’ve also sensed a call to unite churches in worship.  Can it happen?

Two thousand and twelve promises to be our best year yet!