Blessings Reel – April 2012

It’s amazing to think that a third of the year has just flown by. And not just any year, but the Year of Unceasing Fruitfulness.

I like the idea of fruitfulness, because it has got nothing to do with what you do and what you can achieve; rather it has to do with where you are planted.

Think about it this way: a seed grows into a tree because all the potential has already been put into the seed. We have been created by God with potential. And not only potential, but unique potential. And yet, none of that is activated unless we are planted in good soil. The soil makes all the difference!

As we abide in Christ, we bear fruit naturally. We are blessed with fruitfulness. And our fruit becomes a blessing to others. We are blessed to be blessing!

Last month, Pastor Benny began sharing from the book of Ephesians. The first chapter of Paul’s epistle says this (v7):

In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

I like that God is a lavish God. He always does exceedingly abundantly above all we can ever ask or think. But I also like that even though God lavishes His grace and favour on us, He’s not indiscriminating and random. Rather, He lavishes with wisdom and understanding. A father who indiscriminately gives everything to a child spoils the child; a father who gives with discernment provides the child with what is best for the child.

April has been a full-on month for me and many times I’ve felt like maybe I wasn’t cut out for doing the whole Converge thing! Yes, I’ve always thought it’d be cool to have a day of worship, but organising one is something else! Thankfully,the program is now finalised. I’m really glad that many ministries have put their hands up to serve together on the Day of Worship.

And I’m also grateful for my cell group. I’ve really enjoyed going to cell group and even though I’m usually quite introverted, the people in my cell group have really included us and made us feel at home. God is blessing us with some great friends! And I’m really inspired by my cell leaders. My cell leader Ernie is really balanced and wise and Wen is an eternal optimist, able to see the best of every situation. I’m glad that God has planted us in this cell group for this season to inspire us to be better people!

So God has been looking after us; and even though we’ve worked hard and I’m a bit tired now, I know that I am blessed!

I’ll finish off with a tweet from Nicky Gumbel:

Happy moments, PRAISE GOD

Difficult moments, SEEK GOD

Quiet moments, WORSHIP GOD

Painful moments, TRUST GOD

EVERY MOMENT, THANK GOD

Amen and amen!

Authenticity Attracts

Here is another brilliant thought from Pastor Benny Ho’s sermon yesterday at Faith Community Church:

Authentic people attract.  Weird people distract.

And he was talking about the church!

I think we’ve all seen our fair share of weird Christians.  I certainly have, especially because in most of my early years growing up in the church, there was such a pervasive performance mentality in the church that it just forced people to pretend they had it all together.  It was almost like no one wanted to admit to any shortcomings in case it reflected on their spirituality (or lack thereof).

But the more I became secure in the grace of God, the more open I was to being authentic and transparent.  I don’t think I can say that I’m completely transparent yet.  But I’m certainly less bothered by people’s shortcomings and sin than I used to be and I’m more open about my own struggles and shortcomings.

I wonder whether, when James said “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (Jas 5:16), he was talking about a transparent and authentic lifestyle amongst believers, rather than some form of liturgical confession done behind a closed booth to a church leader.  Maybe if everyone was more open to talking to each other about the sins they struggle with, they might not need to struggle alone.  And maybe if the Christian community was more willing to really acknowledge that all of us fall well short of God’s glory apart from Christ that we will be more willing to accept people – especially fellow believers – as they are and be less ready to judge.  Perhaps then, we might find healing for our souls.

And then maybe, just maybe, the church will once again be an attractive force for those who are wounded and broken, knowing that there is no safer community on earth than the body of Christ.

The Church in Visible Unity

Last night, I was chatting to a friend of mine who is part of the worship ministry of a young thriving church.  He told me how he took a phone call from the worship coordinator of a small church who had a heart for worship ministry, but struggled with manpower and resources.

We were actually talking in the context of how excellence inspires growth in our teams.  The problem for this small church was:  how do we grow a team when you have very few people, let alone those who are skilled.

There’s obviously no easy answer for a small church, and I don’t think we could have solved the problem talking theoretics around the dinner table, no matter how good the wine was!

But it got me thinking:  what if larger churches shared their resources with smaller churches as a show of unity?

What I’ve found (and I could be wrong on this) is that most churches “hoard” their resources.  I don’t mean that in a mean or critical way.  But that’s just the way it happens.  Team leaders have to look after their members first.  Further, their members have signed up to serve God through their local church, and local churches have already set programs in line with the commitments of their personnel (or at the very least what they think is in accordance with their congregation’s volunteer capacity).  So for people to look beyond their own local congregation is difficult.

But I said to my friend that if I had a team say of three bands, I might free up one band to be a resource to smaller churches in need of help.

Have you ever been on a mission trip?  I’ve been on three now (not a massive record) but I’ve found that each time, it’s helped me to know the people on my team a lot better and also exposed my weaknesses a lot more.  Inevitably, you become vulnerable and authentic.  Being on a mission trip grows your character.

I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that those on the mission team are brought into focus around a particular purpose.  Contrast this to serving regularly week in, week out during Sunday services.  People begin to coast and start taking things for granted, including the need for personal growth.

What if every now and then, you send one of your bands out on a project to help another church build its worship team and gain some traction in its worship services?

It would help the smaller church to be sure, but ultimately, it also brings growth to your team in terms of character, attitude and skill.  As they say, the best way to learn sometimes is to teach.

Today at Faith Community Church, Pastor Benny smashed another sermon out of the ballpark.  It made me laugh and (nearly) cry all at once.  But one thing he shared at the beginning brought me back to my conversation with my friend last night.  For God to bring transformation; for Christ to reconcile all things to himself (in terms of spiritual, ethnic, gender, marital, family and marketplace reconcilation), the church must stand together in visible unity.  This is more than Christians saying they are united in spirit.   It’s more than just sharing the same beliefs and ethos.  I think it means Christians joyfully and practically working together to bring transformation in our communities.

I just think about worship and liturgy.  How many churches and denominations have split over things like infant baptism, communion, worship styles?  In the context of worship, what if instead of being divided, we started to unite and heal?  What if we overlooked differences in style (and dare I say even theology) and start working practically together towards the common cause of Christ’s glory?  And not just once a year towards one big event, but regularly?

If we had that mindset, my friend might have been able to say something like this to the small church worship coordinator:  “well, I don’t know how you will solve your problem in the long term, but what if I helped kick start the solution and send a team to help you, and in turn, inspire your church members to serve?”

That would be a show of visible unity.  Even if it’s doing it in only a small way.  Imagine if that happened all over the city of Perth – churches sharing resources with each other across different ministry areas, until one day, we all come to the realisation that there really is only one church in the city consisting of many congregations.

In Christ Alone

Darkness.

Doubt.

Fear.

Broken promises?

Death.

Silence….

Stillness.

And then the stone moved. Light came bursting forth from darkness!  Silence was broken with angelic shouts of victory!  Promises fulfilled.  Hope replaces despair.  Doubt to faith.  Fear to freedom. Death to life.

Jesus is not here.  He is risen!  See the place where they laid Him.

Those pivotal events over two thousand years ago changed the course of history.

Today, as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead, we participate in Christ’s victory over death and we share in the spiritual blessings in being adopted as children of God.

We had a great service today at Faith Community Church, with Pastor Benny starting a series on the book of Ephesians with this central thesis:  God’s plan, executed under God’s power will achieve God’s purpose!  And none more true than in relation to the plan of God, the mystery hidden in Christ through the ages, poured out on the cross, revealed as Christ’s body was torn open by Roman spears.  His death and resurrection changed everything!

Now we have the privilege, as Pastor Benny shared, of being “in Christ”.

I want to record here some of the thoughts that Pastor Benny preached today about being “in Christ”:

  • “God placed everything in Christ and gave us Christ so we can have everything.”
  • “Everything that happens to Christ, happens to us.”
  • “God didn’t just give us a new start in an old life, He gave us a new life to start with!”

This is our spiritual heritage of being in Christ!

As I was thinking of these thoughts, that modern hymn by Stuart Townend came to mind, so I will finish off by reproducing the lyrics below:

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

Have a great Easter!

Blessings Reel – February 2012

I’m a few days late, but reflecting on the month that’s passed, I am amazed by the goodness of God in our lives.

As I have said, this year is the year of Unceasing Fruitfulness. And like the Tree of Life in the book of Revelations which bears twelve different types of fruit, we can expect twelve different manifestations of blessings each month of 2012.

A fruit has its origin in the seed. Once the seed is planted, it germinates and grows into a tree. When the tree is mature, it begins to bear fruit. The DNA of the fruit however is in the seed. In other words, an apple seed can only bring forth apples.

Our seed however is Christ, for in Him and through Him and to Him are all things.

Galatians 3 says that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for “cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (v13). Paul goes on to say that Christ redeemed us in order that we might receive the blessing of Abraham.

In verses 16ff, Paul says:

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.

The blessings of obedience to the law is now available to us through the Seed, i.e. Christ, not because of anything we can do, but because of God’s grace through faith. So we can expect to receive blessings of health and healing, prosperity, peace, salvation, favour, divine help, guidance, wisdom, God’s presence, joy etc through Christ, the originator of all blessing.

For me February has been a month of closures. On one day at work, I had three complicated cases come to closure, the most spectacular of which was a guy who had claimed that he was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of his ex-wife. When the Immigration Department assessed his claims, they said that he did not have a strong case. To be honest, I didn’t think he had a strong case. But I responded to the Department’s concern the best I could. After several weeks, I was still not optimistic; I thought his case could be rejected at any time. But to my surprise, and quite miraculously, the Department agreed with my submissions and granted him permanent residency. He was so happy he started telling everyone what a great day it was, including the guy who made us coffee at the coffee shop!

But the greatest closure for us was the fact that we had finally found a church to belong to after 7 months of wandering. And we sense that as one chapter closes, a new door has opened for us in Faith Community Church and we are excited as to what the future holds.

So I’m thankful to God for the blessing of new beginnings.

As we move forward in this chapter, I want to finish off this post by acknowledging some wonderful people who have walked alongside us, supported us, encouraged us and dialogued with us over the last 7 months, in no particular order: Ps Daniel Ho, Ps Judy Low, Shaw Cheong, Wai Kin and Anna, Joanna and Dan, Bernard and Vicki, Pastor Yoy Alberastine, Pastor Binh Nguyen, Pastor Benny Ho, Wendy Yapp, Cao, Cindy, Joe, Jos, Louis, Mons, Stephanie Truscott, Derwin, Derek, Jenn Yong, Joy, Samson, Addie, Sharon, Adrian and June, Esther, Matthias, Dave and Yvonne, Juls, Jade, Esther, Bryan, Clem, Drew, Amy, Alan, Adrian, Matt, Jess, Pastor Koon Hee and Jin, Darren, Chi Yen, Edmund and Sharon and so many more of our friends who had coffee with us, hung out with us, served with us and just generally poured into our lives during this last season: even if it was just over a meaningful meal together. We learnt a lot and heard your hearts. Thanks so much for sharing in the journey!

Blessings Reel – January 2012

Okay, I admit the title to this post is a bit tacky, but I’m in a tacky kind of mood.

I actually can’t believe that it’s February and January 2012 has already come and gone.

During the first sermon for 2012, Joseph Prince shared on “Unceasing Fruitfulness” and one of the things he mentioned was that the tree of life had 12 fruits. These fruits speak of 12 different blessings for each month of the year. Looking back over the last 31 days, I can say that I’ve experienced the blessings of God.

It’s a bit difficult to say which one blessing is the one fruit for January, but here’s some of the things that I’m grateful for in the last month:

  • First day of the year: a brilliant sermon at New Creation Church on “Unceasing Fruitfulness” to set the scene for the next 364 days (actually 365 as this year is a leap year). In the year of drought, I can experience unceasing fruitfulness as I meditate on God’s word! Amen.
  • Ling and I had a great time in Singapore for holidays, with plenty of eating and shopping and spending time with her side of the family.
  • At work, I won a difficult appeal in the Refugee Review Tribunal for a Coptic Christian from Egypt. The Tribunal accepted that Australia owed my client protection obligations. The Immigration Department is now processing the remaining requirements and I expect that this client will be granted permanent residency in the next couple of months. I don’t care what people say about the refugee situation in Australia, but when you sit across the table from some guy whose life is on the line, all the ideological grandstanding about boat people and border protection goes out the window. This guy is extremely relieved!
  • We got to go to the Influencers Conference (or parts of it) and heard some inspiring preaching. A friend of mine had booked for the entire conference and wasn’t able to make it, so Ling got free use of his pass for a whole day!
  • We had a great jam session with some old friends from Full Gospel Assembly.
  • We had the opportunity to meet with an apostolic leader in the city and I sense that God is starting to open new ministry doors in 2012 (even though I feel a bit disenfranchised at the moment not being part of a local church). I’m also privileged to be able to serve alongside Shaw Cheong and Judy Low in some developing projects as part of Grace and Fire MInistries.
  • We started going to Faith Community Church for the month and I was completely floored by Pastor Benny Ho’s sermon last Sunday. I’m on the way towards building a strong, consistent devotional life.
  • My blog is going well. It’s only been going since December and as at 31 January 2012, it’s recorded 1353 views! (Okay some of that was me looking at the blog myself, but most of it was legit!) I hope it’s been a blessing to others so far!

And to cap it all off, on the last day of January 2012, a friend told me that Pastor Benny Perez had tweeted my blog. In fact, his church had tweeted it first, and then Benny Perez retweeted it. What an honour. I’m actually not sure how twitter works exactly, but I’m thankful that at least on this occasion, my writing has gone half way around the world!

So looking back through January, I’m thankful for all that God has done for me. I’m deeply loved, highly favoured and greatly blessed!

One Thing is Needful

As some of you may know, we’ve been spending a few months now visiting different churches throughout Perth. Since the start of the year, we have made a more concerted attempt to settle in a home church so for the last couple of weeks, we have started going to Faith Community Church (FCC) to absorb a little of the culture there.

Because it’s a church full of South-East Asian migrants, the congregation has been at about half strength. This week, Pastor Benny Ho returned to the pulpit after a three-week break.

The service was extraordinary. We liked FCC at half strength, but today the worship was pumping and Pastor Benny hit the sermon out of the ball park.

I’ll get to the sermon a bit later, but one of the things we have been looking for in a church is a strong sense of the presence of God in worship. Now, apart from the manifest presence (e.g. cloud, gold dust, unusual miracles etc, which seldom happens now within a contained Sunday service in the Western church, except maybe at somewhere like Bethel Church in Redding), I appreciate that it is very difficult to gauge the strength of God’s presence in any church setting. There are many different things that trigger that “sense” in you, and what does it for me may not do it for everyone. But I’m wired a particular way, and the elements in FCC’s worship today simply pushed all the right buttons.

I was completely engaged and I can say that it’s been a while since I’ve been able to just jump and close my eyes (not at the same time of course, as that would be dangerous) and just focus on God. At the end of the worship, I realised my car keys had flown out of my pocket onto the floor 2 seats away!

Here’s one of the songs they did that really spoke to me: Here in Your Presence by New Life Worship:

After the worship, Pastor Benny preached on “Realigning Your Relationship with God” from the following passage in Luke 10:38ff:

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Now, before I talk about the sermon further, I want to make a quick comment about sermons these days. Recently, I attended the Influencers Conference. Now, I only went to two night sessions and I also heard a Sunday message streamed from Paradise Church on Sunday. Whilst the types of messages I heard were really inspiring, I found that they were almost devoid of Scripture. There might be one starting passage, and then one keyword becomes the springboard for a number of tangential thoughts the preacher may have. A lot of what ends up being shared are great life principles which could just as well have come out of a motivational book. Now, I’m not saying this is necessarily bad, but what I’ve found is that I am personally more inclined to more Bible-based teaching.

Joseph Prince is a brilliant example. Whilst he is sometimes controversial, and I don’t always agree with everything he preaches, no preacher I know uses as much Scripture as Joseph Prince. That is comforting because if he errs, he is less likely to err spectacularly.

So back to FCC. What I’ve always admired about Benny Ho is his ability to combine both Scriptural exegesis and personal application with inspiration, conviction and a good smattering of humour as well for good measure.

Opening with the text in Luke 10, Pastor Benny said that most people interpret this passage to suggest that waiting on God is superior to working; that Mary’s example ought to be extolled above Martha’s. But Pastor Benny refused to believe that, so he studied the Scripture further and he concluded that in fact, the passage doesn’t teach that one is better than the other. Instead, the passage is about the many things that distract us; the some things that are necessary for us to do; and the one thing that is needful.

The one thing, being a strong devotional life, helps us determine what the some things we need to do are so we are not distracted by the many things. Wow, what a great reading of this passage.

It is out of a strong devotional life that ministry is released, i.e. ministries are not built; they are released.

In that context, it is possible to be completely rested even whilst we are working because resting is not a physical posture, it’s a condition of the heart.

I loved how Pastor Benny illustrated the point by flipping the story on its head: imagine Martha serving out of a place of rest; joyfully cooking, greeting guests etc. Mary may be sitting at the feet of Jesus, but if she is not at rest, she might start to criticise or resent Martha in her own mind. Who is at rest in that scenario?

Pastor Benny makes the point: “I like Martha before dinner, and I like Mary after dinner!”

Pastor Benny then concluded his message with a powerful prophetic word from Genesis 2:10-15:

A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris [Hiddekel]; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Eden (meaning “pleasure”) was the place God had planted Adam and Eve to work. There can and should be pleasure in ministry! But the streams that feed the river are significant.

  • “Pishon” means increase;
  • “Gihon” means to burst forth;
  • “Hiddekel” means powerful and strong; and
  • “Euphrates” means fruitful.

This resonated with me with the theme of this year preached by Joseph Prince at New Creation Church: in the year of drought, we will experience unceasing fruitfulness. But not only that, it’s increasing fruitfulness that bursts forth and is replete with the power of God.

The key is a strong devotional life, or as Joseph Prince says, godly meditation for good success. I am challenged to build a strong devotional life, so that Godly empowered ministry will flow from me for the edification of others! This year is going to be a great year!