12 Fruit for 12 Months: The Year of Unceasing Fruitfulness in Review

Unceasing Frultfulness

So we come to the last day of 2012 and it’s always good to end by revisiting the premise set forth at the beginning. It helps us to see how far we have come and how faithful God is.

As I shared in an earlier post, we were at the first and last services of 2012 at New Creation Church. New Creation Church itself went through an amazing journey this year, settling into some swanky new premises at the Star Performing Arts Centre.

On 1 January 2012, Pastor Joseph Prince announced that 2012 would be the Year of Unceasing Fruitfulness based on Jeremiah 17:7-8:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He 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.

And then, taking his cue from the tree of life in Revelations which bore 12 different fruits, Prince declared that in 2012, we would experience a different fruit each month of the year.

He finished the first service by asking us to present three different requests to God, believing that in the course of the year, God will provide an answer to each one of those requests.

I remember still lifting up those requests during that service.  The first was that Ling and I would find and settle down in a new church family. The second, that I would see our investment property sold at a particular price. The third, which I was even too scared to fully articulate, was that God would use me to somehow bring unity amongst worship leaders in the city of Perth.

Miraculously, I saw God answer each and every one of those requests over the course of 2012!

So here is 2012 in review – 12 fruits for each month!

JANUARY: REST AND REFRESHING

We had a great time of rest in Singapore and was inspired when we went to New Creation Church with the theme for the year. It set the course for the year of our experiencing great blessings even in the midst of drought. Even when heat came, we remained ever-green!

We also connected with an apostolic leader in Perth, Wendy Yapp, who has been instrumental in encouraging us forward in our ministry in the city.

FEBRUARY: A NEW HOME IN FAITH COMMUNITY CHURCH

We were so blessed to settle into our new church family, Faith Community Church!

The messages we’ve heard Sunday after Sunday have been inspiring and life-changing. Pastor Benny Ho is a visionary and a brilliant teacher of the Word. And we’ve enjoyed meeting new people and being part of the church’s various ministries.

MARCH: LING IS BLESSED WITH A NEW JOB

Ling had been freelancing for a while and had been wanting to get permanent part-time work. God oversupplied and she found herself in a dream job in a dream company with great colleagues. How she ended up in that job was a miracle!

APRIL: AN AWESOME CELL GROUP!

It’s one thing to be part of a church, but another to actually be part of the church community.

We are really grateful to our cell members and our cell leaders, Ernie and Wen for making us feel included and loved.

Having such a great bunch of new friends has been instrumental in seeing us through a period of great transition in our lives. It has been one of the great highlights of the year!

MAY: CONVERGE

Converge full logo

 

We got to be part of the Converge organising committee, putting together a week of events during which the church came together in our city to pray and worship. I was privileged to help organise the Day of Worship – 14 hours of non-stop worship – anchored by different church groups throughout the day.

JUNE: ANOTHER FINANCIAL YEAR IS OVER

For the industry I work in, everything revolves around the financial year i.e. 1 July to 30 June. God sustained me for another year in my job!

JULY: LING JOINS THE HEALING MINISTRY

I was really grateful to see Ling begin serving in a new ministry in healing and intercession. This was something that has been on her heart for some time, and even though I miss serving together with her in worship, I have seen how excited she has gotten every time she sees God works in a person through healing.

Also, Pastor Benny preached one of the best sermons of the year on surrender versus commitment.

AUGUST: CINDY RATCLIFF COMES TO PERTH

Cindy Ratcliff signing

Metrochurch hosted one of my favourite worship leaders, Cindy Ratcliff. And we got to take a photo with her!

And I started serving again in worship ministry at Faith Community Church! Team 3 and Lisa Palm (our worship director) rock!

SEPTEMBER: ARROWS COLLEGE

I was so blessed to attend a one-week module on worship at Arrows College taught by Ray Badham. It was great to see a fresh perspective from a seasoned teacher of worship and also to catch some of the passion from the other students.

OCTOBER: INVESTMENT PROPERTY SOLD

We sold our old apartment! We had been thinking of selling it for quite a while, but the timing had never felt right. So one of the requests at the beginning of the year that I presented to God was to sell the apartment at a specific price. However, as the year was panning out, the economy wasn’t doing well and I began to think that it would be unrealistic to sell for that price.

However, just as we listed the property with our real estate agent, property prices started to recover and we went out on a limb and put up a higher asking price.

Miraculously, within one day of the home open, we had an offer at the asking price, which far exceeded the price I had specified in my request at the start of the year! God is good!

NOVEMBER: JOURNEYING TOWARDS GLOBAL DAY OF WORSHIP

I was privileged to work with a great bunch of worshippers in organising GDW!

DECEMBER: GLOBAL DAY OF WORSHIP

Global Day of Worship

In December, I had the privilege of seeing GDW come to fruition and how God exceeded my wildest expectations!

I really believe (as one of the intercessors had prayed) that it would be an historic moment in our city and that God will orchestrate greater unity amongst the church in Perth, particularly at a grassroots level!

And this blog reached 15,000 hits yesterday!

So, it’s been an amazing year. Never would I have thought the year would have been so fruitful! But God is true to His promises and He always oversupplies, doing exceedingly, abundantly above what we could ever ask or think. The year 2012 has indeed been a year of Unceasing Fruitfulness. I am so thankful to God for what He has done in and through our lives. If 2012 was great, I believe that 2013 will be greater still. I can’t wait to see what great adventures God has in store for us!

Happy New Year and God bless you. May 2013 be your best year yet!

Going Back to (Worship) School

Today, was my first day back at school following my last exam at uni and after 12 years of working life. It was quite a surreal experience. I almost felt like I should have packed a piece of fruit and a muesli bar and 15% juice in a tetrapak. I also wondered whether the cool kids would want to sit with me.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but I was glad to be back studying again, even if it was just for one week at the Worship Module of Arrows College with Pastor Ray Badham of Hillsong College teaching on worship and songwriting.

The first thing that really amazed me was just how many students had set aside 10 weeks of their life to complete the Arrows course. There were people from all generations and all walks of life. I was really impressed by a young worship leader from Faith Community Church who decided to step out of the comfort zone of his job as an accountant in a Big 4 firm to pursue God’s call for his life in church ministry.

During the morning chapel time, Pastor Benny Ho shared an insight from John Maxwell about three zones that we can live in: the challenge zone; the comfort zone and the cruising zone. When we operate in the challenge zone, this is where we are stretched and stimulated, ultimately leading to our growth. When we are in our comfort zone, all we are doing is something we already know. The worst is when we fall into the complacency of the cruising zone. This essentially leads to stagnancy and death. Pastor Benny encouraged us to always reinvent ourselves and put ourselves back on the shelf of the challenge zone.

I feel that this year, God has really challenged me beyond the things I am used to – particularly in the context of ministry where I am stepping out to do more things within the city itself. I feel completely out of my depth but at the same time needing to rely on God all the more.

So there I was, sitting in a class of 30 or so students, hoping that God would somehow speak to me about this next phase of my journey. I didn’t come with much of an agenda, except perhaps that I was getting a bit tired of my day job and hoping that this will be a week of refreshing and re-firing and being receptive to whatever God would say to me.

Today was also about going back to school on the basics of worship.

Pastor Ray shared about what worship is: essentially making the point that it is a lot more than just what we do on Sunday.

I have in two previous posts, Defining Worship and Defining Worship Part 2 sought to define worship. Looking at worship in contrast to idolatry, Pastor Ray adopted Timothy Keller’s definition: “worship is ascribing ultimate value to something in a way that engages the whole being.” And Pastor Ray shared that the primal design and direction of our lives is to worship God. When idolatry comes in, it distorts our lives.

Martin Lloyd-Jones says this:

An idol is anything in my life that occupies a place that should be occupied by God alone… An idol is something holds such a controlling position in my life that it moves and rouses and attracts me so easily that I give my time, attention and money to it effortlessly.

The psalmist observes in Psalm 135:15-18:

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
nor is there breath in their mouths.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them

We become like what or who we worship. And that is why Paul says in Romans 1:18ff that as a result of idolatry, God gave humanity over to futile and foolish thoughts and to the degradation of their bodies.

True worship on the other hand transforms us into the image of God. So worship transforms us in an upward spiral towards becoming more and more like Christ, from glory to glory, strength to strength. As Christ-followers, we don’t always engage in true worship, but when we do, transformation is always the result.

We often equate worship with music and singing, but it was great to be reminded about this foundational truth: Worship is much more than what happens on a Sunday. It is about ascribing God his true worth and in the process being changed to be more like HIm.

Blessings Reel – August 2012

Ephesians 1:11-12 says this:

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

The Message paraphrase puts it this way:

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

August has been a busy month, but it was entirely filled with God’s blessings.

First, there was the Israel and the Church Conference with Peter Tsukahira and David Davis. I am always dumbfounded whenever I hear people teach about Israel. I’m not a fan of those who teach about Israeli politics and somehow try to use the Bible to justify their stance, but it’s completely different when teachers take a biblio-historical perspective and show us how Biblical prophecy is being fulfilled right before our very eyes.

If anything, it makes me love the Bible more. Sure, people try to challenge the authority of the Bible in all sorts of ways, but frankly, I’m tired with apologetics and proof texts and all that stuff. Skeptics can argue about these things all they want. But when I see the heart of God for Israel, both in the Old and New Testaments, and see how current and historical events pertaining to Israel are fulfilling prophecy, you have no doubt about the divine authorship of the Bible, and God’s passionate heart for His chosen people.

You might say that before the foundations of the world, God had already predestined to reconcile Israel to Himself in conformity with the purpose of His will for the praise of His own glory.

Second, getting to see Cindy Ratcliff lead worship in Perth was pretty much a dream come true. Okay, so maybe there is a bit too much celebrity-ism in worship, but the take-home message was that God uses humble vessels like Ratcliff to entrust big visions and ministries. I was impressed by her voice, stage presence and songwriting skills, but above all, I was inspired by her lack of pretension; her love for people and her passion for God’s presence.

Third, a friend of mine for whom I was praying survived a job cull in his company. Even though 75 per cent of the team lost their jobs, my friend experienced God’s favour in being able to keep his!

Fourth, I finally signed up for Bible School. Well, sort of. I’ve always wanted to try going to Bible School, but it’s difficult to take such a big step. But I am grateful that Pastor Benny organised Arrows College and an impressive faculty to teach a 10-week course. I couldn’t arrange to take 10 weeks off work, but I am going to a one-week module on “Worship and Songwriting” being taught by Ray Badham.  I’m really looking forward to it.

Fifth, this blog reached 10,000 hits in August. It is only by God’s grace and I am trusting that it will grow from strength to strength. This month, as part of Faith Community Church’s Season of Prayer, my wife has forced me to “fast” (i.e. give up) checking up on my blog stats. I was quite obsessed with seeing how many hits the blog was getting each day, but I’ve decided to leave that issue up to God.

Finally, I was blessed to become part of Faith Community Church’s worship team. After having not served in a church worship ministry for over a year, it’s great to get back into a ministry which I feel God has made a life-long calling for me.

As Peter Tsukahira shared during the Israel and the Church Conference, based on Ephesians 1:11-12, before we were even born, God had already designed us with a destiny. When God starts restoring us to the dreams He had for us, this is “our calling”. And the Holy Spirit gives us gifts to support our calling – gifts which are more than just talents. This is called “our anointing”. The gifts and calling are without repentance, i.e. God does not change His mind on them.

When we align with God’s calling and anointing, we come into our inheritance and we begin to bear fruit.

Indeed, this is a year of alignment, and a year of Unceasing Fruitfulness! It is indeed “in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for!” Amen!

I Love Our Church

I think I’ve got to stop crying so much in church. It’s getting embarrassing. You can only hold it in so long before it wells up at the bottom of your eyes and one blink sends a little stream down your cheek. I usually do the move where you discretely move your index finger flush across your eye like a windshield wiper to remove the tears.

Today, Pastor Benny Ho was sharing about the power of spiritual fathering from Malachi 4:5,6:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: ‘And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers….’

It was a fitting end to the Intentional Disciplemaking Church Conference at Faith Community Church. It was also Father’s Day.

The photo above shows the huge children’s church filling the stage as they presented a special item. Not only was it cute and heartwarming, it was as if God was putting on metaphorical display the potential of the next generation.

Pastor Benny shared a moving story about how when he started out in ministry, he was a slight figure with a squeaky voice and how he struggled to get speaking engagements. He shared how depressing his journey had been, and it was difficult not to feel sorry for him. But the turning point came when a Methodist pastor looked him in the eye and said “I believe in you” and then asked him to teach a Christian Education class. This became the launching pad for his future ministry.

The story made me think about all the mentors who had, in one way or another, shaped my life and ministry because they had believed in me and the potential of God in my life.

  • Like my first youth group leader, who took a bunch of young, immature guys and told us we could do anything in Christ. Even though we were very young Christians, I remember how he sat us in a circle and told us he believed we could hear from God for a word of knowledge or prophecy, and he made us practise it.
  • I remember a pastor who saw that I had the gift of leading worship from a young age and gave me opportunities to lead, first in a cell group, and then in a Sunday service.
  • I remember a cell leader who met up with me regularly and used to pass me Kent Henry CDs because he saw the potential in me to lead worship with a prophetic intercessory edge.
  • And the worship pastor who believed that God could use me in the city and on the mission field; and that God had given me a calling in intercessory worship for the nations.
  • And another worship pastor I met 7 years ago in a coffee shop who taught to me to dream big; to see worshippers coming together as gatekeepers for the release of God’s glory in the city.
  • And my old senior pastor, who taught me to value God’s Word.
  • And Pastor Benny too, who years ago taught me how to be a teacher of the Word! (To this day, my teaching notes still resemble the Arrows School of Ministry template!)

That’s the power of believing in someone! As Pastor Benny put it in his message today, we all need sponsorship. We all need someone to believe in us first.

I am convinced that Faith Community Church is about to enter a new season of growth as we connect, equip, mentor and release the next generation of leaders!

Pastor Benny concluded his message with a challenge to the sons and daughters as well. Not only is God turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, but also the hearts of the children to the fathers.

We all need to have a heart of spiritual sons and daughters, committed to the house of God, realising that we don’t pursue our own vision, but the Father’s vision; that we are called to build the house out of love, not out of duty.

In Pastor Benny’s own words: “We have to own the house!”

Those words really struck me. Having been a “son of another house”, a congregation in which I had been a part for 21 years, it was actually hard to let go of the past, to keep referring to that congregation as “my church” or “my old church”. I remember even in the first few months I was at FCC, I would say (referring to FCC), “this church” and “your cell group”. But I was convicted this morning.

I am now part of a wonderful, supportive, life-giving cell group with some awesome people and some of whom are only beginning to reach for their potential. My wife Ling has actively been part of the prayer and healing ministry. And yesterday, I started ministering in the worship team. So today, I draw the line in the sand. No, FCC is not just “Pastor Benny’s church” or “this church” anymore. Today, I am clearer that ever before: “This is our church, and I love our church!”

Blessings Reel – July 2012

At the beginning of the year, following Joseph Prince’s first sermon of the year, I posted that 2012 would be for me a Year of Unceasing Fruitfulness. Reflecting over the 7 months that has already come and gone, I am all the more convinced of this.

Last week, I was watching the movie adaptation of Dr Seuss’s The Lorax. I thought it as a kiddy film, but Ling wanted to watch it so we bought the DVD.

I’ve never read the book before, but essentially the film is about a completely synthetic society devoid of trees. Years ago, a young, ambitious citizen exploited the environment out of capitalist greed to produce something called a Thneed (it’s sort of like a snuggy-like product) and decimated the entire tree population. And so, the next generation grew up never having seen a real tree. (Yes I know, there seems to be a strong environmental agenda!)

The plot revolves around one boy’s quest to find the last remaining seed in order to regrow the tree population. And his attempts to thwart his arch-villain who tries to eradicate that last seed so that he can continue to sell air to the inhabitants of the town.

And the theme of the film centres around the word “Unless…” The entire motif is revealed at the end as the moral of the story:

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

As the movie was unfolding, and I was trying to figure what “Unless” was all about, my mind was led to another “unless” quote, this time, found in John 12:24 in the words of Jesus:

Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

I was struck by the significance of these two quotes together. In The Lorax, it took a boy to care a whole lot, to risk his life in order to plant a seed, so that society might be redeemed.

And then I think about how God cared about the world a whole lot, that He sent His son to lay down his life, so that humanity might be redeemed.

When Jesus was talking about the kernel of wheat falling to the ground and dying, He was alluding to His own death and sacrifice, so that many seeds would be produced; so that amongst other things, we can experience unceasing fruitfulness.

Paul says it this way in Galatians 3:16-18:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds” meaning many people, but “and to your seed”, meaning one person, who is Christ… For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise, but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

In other words, we enter into the inheritance and promises of blessings to Abraham not by our adherence to the law, but through the sacrifice of Christ in laying His life down (the seed falling to the ground and dying) so that many seeds, and ultimately, fruitfulness would be produced. Aren’t you grateful for the grace of God?

In this context, I want to highlight some fruitful blessings for the month of July:

First, I am grateful for the opportunity to spend a few days with my cousins, aunt and uncle from Canada, whom I have not seen for over 15 years! They’re all really blessed and doing well, but it was great to hang out with them and get to know them a bit better. They are really wonderful people!

Second, I believe that Ling is increasing in anointing in her healing ministry. She has always had an unusual compassion for the sick and this year, when we planted ourselves in Faith Community Church, Ling wanted to join the healing ministry even though she had for the longest time served in the music ministry. But over the last few months, she has read a lot about healing and actively taken part in FCC’s Healing Rooms.

During the time I was sick with the flu, I was coughing incessantly one night and by about 2 am, I was still awake coughing. It must have kept Ling up too, but I think she was more concerned about me! She turned to me, sharply rebuked the cough and then told me to breathe deeply five times and I would fall asleep. Admittedly, I am not too good with this whole healing business (I believe God heals, but sometimes my experiences don’t match up with what I’m supposed to believe) but I was too tired to argue, so I started breathing deeply. Once…twice…three times. By the fourth breath, Ling tells me, I was snoring away. What an amazing grace of God over Ling’s ministry!

And lastly, I was really blessed by Pastor Benny’s message about surrender versus commitment. It was one of the most profound messages I’ve heard in recent years, and it has impacted me deeply.

I’m excited about the next five months of unceasing fruiltfulness and how God will use me, even in some small way, to impact the world. I am blessed so that I can be a blessing.

Have you been blessed lately? If so, please feel free to share here.

From the 10/40 Window to the 4/14 Window

As a person who feels his calling is worship, I actually get simultaneously excited and intimidated by missions.  On the one hand, I believe that missions and worship are completely interconnected in the way that John Piper describes, that is, worship is both the fuel and the goal of missions. So it excites me whenever I hear about how God is moving in different nations around the world.  But it also freaks me out to think that one day, God may call me out into the field.

For now, I have reached a compromise.  I’m good to go on short-term mission trips to urban centres where there are at least some modern conveniences.  It doesn’t have to be a four-star hotel, as long as there is running water and I don’t have to bring a shovel.  So, I’ve been on mission trips to Hong Kong, Singapore and Sapporo, and yes, there are unreached peoples in those cities, would you believe.

Yesterday, I was really moved and excited when Pastor Benny Ho shared on “New Megatrends in Missions” as part of Faith Community Church’s Missions Month.  The message was prophetic, futurist and visionary, not only because Pastor Benny was able to clearly dissect the latest trends in missions, but because he put Faith Community Church right into the frame in terms of how, as a church, we can also flow with those trends.

One of the trends he shared was that the missions movement was shifting emphasis from “the 10/40 Window” to the “4/14 Window”.  This was the first time I had heard of the 4/14 Window.

Essentially, it was referring to the age group 4 to 14 years of age.  The idea here is that it is easier for a person aged 4 to 14 to come to Christ than an older person.  Allied to that concept was that a person’s effectiveness and impact in the kingdom of God shouldn’t be limited because the person was young.

Pastor Benny shared about the 8-year old preacher, Moko, from Sulawesi Indonesia.

In an area where persecution of the church is rife, Moko’s preaching is drawing crowds. Many are giving their lives to Jesus.  As Moko conducts his rallies, he is accompanied by another 8-year old named Selfin who is anointed in the working of healings and miracles.  So whilst Moko preaches, the preaching of the Word is accompanied by signs and wonders as Selfin ministers.  As a result of their ministry, communities in Sulawesi are being transformed.

I think for too long, the church has marginalised our kids. We relegate them to classes where they can colour in pictures, watch colourful performances and earn smiley-face stickers whilst they complete worksheets.  I think God is restoring the rightful place of children in our churches and giving them a mantle for ministry that will well excel those of adults!

I think about this in the context of worship.  Years ago, I was teaching on warfare worship at my church training school.  I observed that one of the trends in worship was that we would begin to “bring in the little ones” and realise their potential.

In the classic text on warfare worship in 2 Chron 20, the chronicler notes in verse 13 that all generations participated in worship and intercession before the Lord (to which God responded by routing the enemy forces):

 All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord.

This makes it very clear that “little ones” participated in enforcing God’s victory.

Look at Psalm 8:2:

From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise, because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

And Matthew 21:14-16:

The blind and the lame came to [Jesus] at the temple, and he healed them.  But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David”, they were indignant.

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.  “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise?’”

I can think of worse things children can do than to shout “Hosanna to the Son of David”. And yet, many churches today are like the chief priests and teachers of the law who see the children as disruptive, rather than leaders of worship (or any other ministry for that matter).

The word “ordain” means “to establish”.  My reading of this is that God has established a capacity to praise in people from a very young age. In fact, I believe that He has established the capacity not just to praise.  Jesus, as a twelve year old taught in the temple courts and astounded his hearers.  Josiah became King of Israel at the age of 8 and was a reformer of worship.  Despite his age, he was able to lead an entire nation in following after God.

I have seen footage of Indian children in an orphanage engaging together in militant intercession and travail.  I have seen pictures of children in the SuperKids Church in Malaysia laying hands on older folks and praying for healing.  And now, I have read about Moko and Selfin in Sulawesi.

I believe that the 4/14 Window is more than just a new megatrend in missions but that a revival is starting to spread around the world that will unleash a new harvest force of children whose anointing and spiritual impact will surprise us all.

 

From Cultural Christianity to Biblical Christianity

Pastor Benny Ho preached what I would call a “faith defining” sermon today, so I thought it was important to record here some of the main points and some reflections on it.

The passage he preached from was pretty obscure: Luke 7:31-35.

Here it is in the NIV:

Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.’

“For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

I’ve never heard anyone preach from this passage before; it’s not something that you immediately recollect from your Bible reading either.

But the key point Pastor Benny made was this: the people in Jesus’ day were trying to fit God into their own paradigm. John the Baptist came to them as a reclusive, other-worldly prophet and they said “he has a demon”. Jesus came eating and drinking with the sinners, and they called him a “glutton and a drunkard”.

Many in the church today are like this. Just as the people were divided as to their views of how God was manifesting Himself in their day, so much of the church today have tried to fit God into their neat theologies. In my view, this is the reason why there is so much division in the church.

In fact, I think Christians try so hard to fit God into their own theological mould to the extent that we can’t accept that God can work amongst Christians in other parts of the church that don’t believe the same thing as we do.

In the context of the Luke passage, for example, some Christians might hold fast to a Nazirite-lifestyle and we say they are legalists and performance-oriented. Then there are those who try to be relevant to the world, who eat and drink with “sinners”, and they are called “licentious”.

You might think it’s better to side with Jesus on this one, but even Jesus said that there is no one greater than John the Baptist. In fact, Jesus wasn’t going to tell you which theology is better. Rather, as Pastor Benny expounds, instead of our trying to fit God into our paradigm, we should be fitting into God’s paradigm!

And here is Pastor Benny’s clincher: “we need to move from seeking the God we want, to seeking the God who is”.

  • We were created in God’s image but we want to recreate Him in our image.
  • We don’t define God, but it is God who defines us.
  • We have substituted commitment for surrender.

The difference between commitment and surrender is the difference between cultural Christianity and biblical Christianity.

And it had me thinking about all the times that I’ve used God to get the things I want. “God, if you’ll bless me in my job, then I will serve You.”

I remember doing that years ago. I was sitting my university entrance exams, but unlike most of my peers, I decided to “double-up” my commitment to God through service. So despite doing a full load of subjects (and very difficult subjects at that), I decided to also keep serving God in the worship team and also as a youth leader. I fully expected that because I was serving God, He would help me get through my exams and reward me with getting me into the university course that I had desired.

You can see how wrong my thinking was! That’s an example of commitment: my choosing to serve God in order that He might give me what I want.

Quite amazingly, I failed the exam for the subject in which I had the greatest confidence. In fact, all throughout the school year, I was averaging about 95% in my marks, but in the final exam, I “achieved” a score of 49%. I couldn’t believe it.

Sometimes God has to get you to a place where you just have to rely on Him entirely. I learnt so much about what it means when Paul says “Your grace is sufficient for me”.

Over the next two months or so of waiting for university offers (and also waiting for an appeal to come through on the subject I had failed), I had to get on my knees to a place of surrender, realising that my whole thinking about why I was serving God and my relationship with Him had been completely exploded.

I can’t say that I’ve completely learned my lesson, to be honest. A good deal of me still lives a life of “commitment Christianity” rather than in surrendered faith. It becomes all the more real when you face the pressures of the marketplace and being a young working adult. Your peers are all trying to get ahead in life, build houses, buy nicer cars and climb the career ladder.

Despite this, I can attest to the fact that being a committed Christian can get you quite far in church circles.

People in the church like committed Christians. They are predictably hard-working and faithful, they dabble in multiple ministries, they attend a lot of meetings, they display a good deal of leadership skills. On the other hand, the surrendered Christians are actually quite rare. They are the ones like the guy I met the other day who is about to uproot his entire family to begin a missionary enterprise to an unreached peoples. Surrendered Christians are unpredictable and fearless. They live with audacious faith. They aren’t concerned with the consequences of following God’s call, of laying down their lives. They aren’t bound my investments, mortgages, and the question of whether and how God will provide.

I think the problem with being a committed Christian, a cultural Christian, is that once you have adopted the culture, it becomes pretty easy to stay committed and feel like to some degree, you have arrived. The church itself often perpetuates that sort of Christianity.

And that’s why I think it’s hard for me to live a surrendered life. I feel like I’ve already made significant progress in the commitment stakes even though I’m probably well at the bottom of the curve of the surrendered stakes.

Perhaps, to be fair, the transition from committed Christian to surrendered Christian is part of a spectrum. It’s an aspirational state that we may never get to, but at least we are heading towards it. I wondered if DL Moody, Hudson Taylor, Billy Graham or other heroes of the faith ever thought that they were completely surrendered to Christ to the extent that they could say “It’s no longer I that lives, but Christ that lives in me”. Perhaps they had doubts as well, or areas of their lives which could be more surrendered.

By the way, I still got into the course I wanted, but my marks for the subject I failed stood the appeal and it dragged my entire average score down. I only got into my course by 1.3 of a point. It was a “memorial stone” on my journey towards surrender.

And it’s something I’m still learning. Today’s message was an important rallying cry and reminder. We can be commitment centred and choose what we want to do and what we don’t want to do. Or we can be surrendered, and let God choose how He wants us to live for Him.

So my prayer for myself, and for His church, is that we will move away from cultural Christianity towards Biblical Christianity by embracing a life of surrender beyond a life of commitment. Let us not be a generation that worships the God we want, but rather worships the God who is.

Speak to One Another

As I continue my series on Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, I want to explore a common key thought in our two key passages: to speak to or admonish one another.

Here are the passages again.

Ephesians 5:18-20:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The Direction of Worship

The concept of speaking to, teaching and admonishing one another goes to the direction of our worship. It is surprising because you would have thought the primary direction of worship is God, not our fellow believers. And yet, when Paul talks about psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, he was concerned that the church should “make music in their hearts to the Lord”, but also, in the same breath, that the church should “speak to one another”.

In the many years I’ve been involved in worship ministry, worship leaders often get worried about loss of focus and they say something like this: “I feel the songs we are singing are getting too subjective. We should focus more on objectively praising God”. That is a very legitimate view, but somehow, I think it limits the work of the Spirit in worship. For example, as I mentioned in my previous post, even though the song “How He Loves” is very much me-focussed, it is ultimately God-glorifying. And I think it is true that sometimes, like Mary, Jesus is more God (if that’s the right phrase) when we are drawing from his sufficiency.

In the olden days, we used to sing a song called “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…” When I think about it, it was quite ludicrous that we would all stare forward towards the screen, look heavenward, and then sing these words to God and as if He needed to be reminded that He ought to seek first His kingdom! In fact, that was probably a prophetic song that we should have been directing to each other. Maybe it would have served its effect better if we had looked into each other’s eyes and sung it!

But it is clear to me from our two key passages that worship actually moves in two directions (and if we must rank them in order of priority, we would say it like this): worship is to God, but also for the people.

This correlation exists precisely because God is God. His goodness cannot be contained within Himself because God (by definition) must be the highest example of selfless generosity.

Tom Inglis put it this way:

“Worship is something that God cannot give Himself. When we give God what He cannot give Himself, He gives us what we cannot give ourselves.”

Jack Hayford in his book Worship His Majesty says this:

A worship service is convened (1) to serve God with our praise and (2) to serve people’s need with His sufficiency…. We gather to worship God. But now, without supplanting the worship of God, we add a second focus: man’s need and God’s ability to supply it.

Our blessing God, and His blessing us, is actually part of the same continuum.

So let’s not be too religious about this. It’s okay to expect God to bless us too! And you can expect this to happen this coming Sunday (or any other time for that matter) when you come to worship.

The Teaching Function of Worship: Being Filled with the Word

I have already touched on the fact that Luther was very astute about the role of music in teaching the masses.

This is why Colossians 3:16 says that we need to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us.

Well after you’ve forgotten the sermon, you might still be singing or humming Brenton Brown’s song “Our strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord / We will wait upon the Lord”. It’s completely scriptural and you don’t even realise you’ve memorised parts of Isaiah 40. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are actually part of the process that causes the word of Christ to dwell in us. Not just for our brains to process, but to actually “dwell in” us and become part of our lives and character.

There is a further implication however, and that is for ministers of worship to be Scripturally faithful. These days, songs are getting more and more fluffy and less grounded in Scripture. Which is fine to an extent, because as I have said, the Holy Spirit can use anything to speak to us. But if we are not careful, we could be wasting a wonderful opportunity to instruct and teach our congregations, rather than just to leave them with a good feeling.

In a sense, this is a call to songwriters to write songs which don’t only sound good and are catchy, but to responsibly teach the truths of God and to unveil Christ, through those same songs.

Being Filled with the Spirit

So we’ve looked at Colossians 3 and “letting the Word of Christ dwell richly”. It is interesting that whilst Ephesians 5 uses the same sentence template, Paul introduces a complementary foil to the Word of Christ, namely “to be filled with the Spirit”.

Recently, Pastor Benny has been preaching about activating the gifts of the Spirit in Faith Community Church and I think that there is a real avenue to exercising some of the gifts right in the middle of our worship. In fact, I have found that if we’d take the step of faith, there is no more conducive environment for healing, prophecy, tongues/interpretation and words of knowledge than in a corporate worship setting. This is because, as I have said, when we bless God, He stands ready to bless in return.

Have you ever had conversations with people who don’t stop talking? You think sooner or later, they are going to have to breathe, but it seems they have a ventilator or something strapped to them and they never stop.

Worship can be like that: we can get so caught up in a 30 minute routine of our non-stop ramming things down God’s throat and He is just waiting for us to stop saying stuff so He can respond. And I believe that if we will just give Him some room, His response might actually take our breath away!

So in our worship, I want to encourage leaders to make room for the Holy Spirit. Let Him speak through us and to each other through and in our psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. In our worship services, let us gather to worship God, but let us gather also that we might be taught and encouraged and blessed.

Living with Audacious Faith

Who is this Steven Furtick anyway?

I first heard about this young pastor when I was at the Hillsong Conference in 2011. He was advertised as one of the keynote speakers for the 2012 Conference.  So I did a bit of reading about him.

Now, I’m reading Furtick’s book Sun Stand Still and I like it a lot.  The book is all about audacious faith: a faith so bold, so radical, that would cause God to unleash the supernatural and impossible in the midst of our ordinary.  Like in Joshua 10, when Joshua needed more time to completely rout the Amorites and he prayed (in verse 12), “O sun, stand still over Gibeon”.  The result?  “The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.  There has never been a day like it before or since…. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel” (vv 13-14).

Furtick lives out his thesis.  When he was 16, he read a passage from Jim Cymbala’s Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire and was completely ruined by this statement:

I despaired at the thought that my life might slip by without seeing God show himself mightily on our behalf.

God then birthed a vision in Furtick to plant a church in Charlotte.  Somehow, he managed to convince 7 other families to sell their homes, change jobs and move their families to plant a church with him in apparently the most “overchurched” city in America.  Elevation Church was born.  Four years later, the church had grown to 6,000 people.

Last Sunday, Pastor Benny shared about the power gifts of the Holy Spirit:  faith, healing and miracles.  And he said that in these last days, more people will come to the saving knowledge of Christ through a release of miracles across the earth.

So what is “faith”?  According to Pastor Benny, it is the “God-given ability to believe God with certainty for the impossible in a particular situation”.

Pastor Benny highlighted 7 kinds of faith:  natural, historical, temporary, saving faith, faith in God, fruit faith and the gift of faith. I want to include in the list “audacious faith”.  Maybe it shouldn’t technically be a separate category, but when I think about it, I most of us probably live lives in which the incredible moves of God are in absentia.  Yes, we say that God was working in our lives in an invisible and subtle way where an outsider might try to rationalise it as a coincidence.  But where are the loud, obvious, in-your-face miracles of God that makes them say without a doubt, “God did this”?

Like Elijah on Mt Carmel in 1 Kings 18.  He drowned the sacrifice to make the miracle look even more incredible!  And when God finally answered with fire, the entire nation fell down and declared “the Lord, He is God”.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Paul makes a very strong point in Galatians 3:5.  He asks rhetorically: “Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”

Faith, not works, is the key to the release of miracles.

I don’t know about you, but I want to see more of the impossibilities of God invading the ordinariness of life.  And I think it takes our living out a vision bigger than what we are naturally capable of, and having audacious faith in God that nothing is impossible for Him.

Tonight I met a guy who was in the process of preparing to go on a long-term mission trip (uprooting his entire family) to a closed nation.  He shared about his plans and intentions.  I was there to help advise him on structuring his affairs.  But I was completely inspired by this man.  I jokingly told him that he was so selfless, it was disgusting.  But here was a guy who was moving out in audacious faith.  And I have no doubt that he and his family are on the threshold of some of the greatest miracles they will ever see in their lifetime.

 

The Day the Holy Spirit Fell

Pastor Benny Ho’s message on “Activating the Gifts of the Holy Spirit” today at Faith Community Church was amazing.

It seemed to me that God was orchestrating a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on FCC.

Pastor Benny began his message by sharing on the common theme of the four church camps from which he had just returned from speaking: the Holy Spirit. And I could sense that in today’s service, Pastor Benny brought with him the same spirit and passion of the camp meetings that he had just attended.

The message opened with a quote from DL Moody: “the key to a life of victory is not to suck out a sin here and there, but to be filled with the Spirit”.

It’s true. So often our Christian lives are so focussed on what we do with sin, and how to modify our behaviour, rather than to focus on Jesus and the life-giving flow of His Spirit. I heard someone once ask: “why do we emphasise so much on dying to self, instead of focussing on Jesus and His finished work?” What that person was saying is that, yes, there is a need to die to self, but I can choose to put my attention on myself, or I can focus it on Jesus. I think if a choice is to be made, I would rather fall into the arms of Jesus!

Anyway, today’s message was about activating the gifts of the Spirit in the life of Faith Community Church. I could sense Pastor Benny’s impassioned plea for the church to return to the Holy Spirit as the source of power, rather than relying on programs, skills and smarts.

There is definitely this sense I have felt since being part of FCC (I could be wrong of course!) that there was a time when the power of the Spirit was manifest and obvious, where you couldn’t say “maybe they achieved that because of good planning and great leadership tempered by anointing”, but rather that everyone would say “despite what we did, the Holy Spirit showed up”. There was a sense that in the near forgotten past, there would be prophecies and words of knowledge given right in the midst of the worship, rather than going from song to song in a structured way.

And so, I felt that today’s message wasn’t just about activating the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, although that would certainly be a by-product. Rather, the message was about hungering after and falling in love with the Holy Spirit again. When that happens, the church will become supernatural in orientation.

From a personal perspective, it seemed that God has been bringing me to this moment. For the weeks leading up to Pentecost, I had been reading Dennis Bennett’s Nine O’Clock in the Morning and more recently Vinson Synan’s An Eyewitness Remembers the Century of the Holy Spirit. What was obvious from reading these accounts was how revival took place every time the Holy Spirit fell, and how the church was irrevocably transformed to live out its purpose and impact the world.

For months now, I have missed that sense of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit which I was used to in my old cell group at my old church. We used to worship in a pretty unstructured way and give room for everyone to move in the gifts. I’m naturally shy and taking risks in releasing words was always scary, but there was also the exhilaration of being part of the what the Holy Spirit was wanting to do in the lives of your brothers and sisters. Having not been part of such a group for some time, I began to drift away from that reliance on the Holy Spirit. I think I became more assured in my own abilities and felt that sometimes my skills and planning had somehow usurped the place of the Spirit.

Today, something resonated in my spirit. It was as if the Holy Spirit was ready to be poured out afresh again, not only on FCC, but also on my life. That God would renew a hunger and passion for His Spirit once again.

So I went down to the altar for prayer and Pastor Daryl T’ng prayed for me. I don’t think I’ve met Daryl before (except through a Whatsapp tennis group, and even then we haven’t yet play together but as I was at the altar with my eyes closed, he began to give me a word. I was little creeped out at first when he mentioned my name because I didn’t recognise the voice (I only realised it was Daryl after the prayer time and I finally opened my eyes). He said that he saw me like a warrior who was tired and worn out and who had laid down my sword and shield. But now it was time to take them up again and make an impact for the kingdom.

Little did I know that at the same time, our friend (and an intercessor) June Yap had passed on a word she had for me to Ling: that she saw me as a tree that was charred but that when the Holy Spirit fell on me, the tree would become shiny and glorious. She saw fruits as well: fruits of many colours and that the fruits were shiny and were in fact jewels. This represents eternal impact. Wow! Unceasing fruitfulness!

I was really, really blessed today. I am really excited about what God is doing in my life in this season and in the days to come.

And I believe that in days to come, God will also reorientate FCC as we begin to dig up those old wells of the Spirit. We will be a skilful church, but also a supernatural church. Like Paul says in 1 Cor 14, when the gifts are in operation, the unbeliever amongst us will have the secrets of their hearts laid bear, and they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming “God is really among you!”