Week 5 Chronicles: The Worship Leaders’ Living Room

In our church, we try an experimental worship format once every quarter, during a month when there are 5 Sundays. The reason for this is that we used to roster four bands on worship, i.e. a different band each week and took the opportunity to try something different when there was a fifth Sunday. We’ve stopped rostering by band, but we still try to push the envelope of how we do worship during these months; to add freshness and to teach the church that worship is more than a band-driven 30 minutes of singing.

Over the last few months, Dave and I have been doing mentoring with worship leaders and worship leaders-in-training in our church. These guys come from the youth ministry, campus ministry, young working adults and adult zones of the church, representing nearly every demographic in the church.

Every time we gather to worship in my living room for mentoring, we usually start the session with a time of worship, followed by some constructive critique for the worship leader – the idea being that we are in safe space and can give useful feedback to help each other improve.

What I had noticed was that every time we worshipped together, there was such a sweet sense of God’s presence. All we had was an acoustic guitar and voices joined together (often with harmonies) and a real sense of freedom – not having to really worry about leading any congregation, but just enjoying God’s presence together.

And then I thought: wouldn’t be awesome if we could transport the times of worship we had in my living room so that the church could experience it too? So the idea came: a Sunday worship set which would be led with all 13 worship leaders in our group accompanied by piano. Simple, pared-back, free-flowing but above all, intimate.

So last Sunday, we had our worship leader’s mentoring group lead worship, with Delany on the piano. It was a beautifully refreshing time, with lots of great feedback from the church.

The set began with Pastor Dave explaining the vision behind the concept, and then we just flowed from song to song with space for plenty of free worship before ending on a couple of declaratory hymns. We experienced, as Matt Redman once called it, “the friendship and the fear” – intimacy and awe.

Here are a few thoughts from last Sunday (as well in the planning leading up to the session):

1.  Whenever you try something different, it stretches your faith.

When I announced to our group that we were going to do this, I was told it would be difficult. How do we mix 13 voices together so they sound good? And wouldn’t having so many leaders on the team be like herding cats?

In John 6, the crowd had followed Jesus up the mountainside to hear His teaching. Sensing that the crowd was getting hungry, He said to His disciples, “where should we buy bread to feed them?” Philip responded with logic, “even 8 month’s wages won’t get us all a bite!” But I love what Andrew does. He brings a boy to Jesus and says, “Here is a boy with five loaves and two fish, but how far will they go?”

Andrew hadn’t figured it all out, nor did he have complete faith. But he took a forward step. He says in effect, “I’m not really sure, but maybe Jesus, just maybe, you can work with this?” And Jesus does – because He is the bread of life.

Sometimes we don’t have to know how it will all end and what the result will be. God just needs us to do something, anything, to respond to His call.

2.  Sometimes vision is best achieved with good counsel from friends.

I’m not technical. Far from it. I just sense something and go with it; and I can’t honestly hear technical problems. Someone on the team asked me, “what happens if we make a mistake?” and I responded, “well, the only people who will really know and complain about it are already on stage!”

But I remained open to suggestions. I wanted to go with completely no structure, but some of us started suggesting that we should include some structure so that the rest of us knew, for example, how many times we would do a song and so we would know where to build.

Ultimately, the vision got modified and I’m glad we included some structure but still made room for spontaneity.

Be prepared to modify your vision. Sometimes, you don’t see the full picture. Be humble enough to accept suggestions from the people you trust.

3.  The best team is a team of leaders

I always say that all the members of our worship ministry are worship leaders. I don’t think it’s truly sunk in for everyone yet, but that is where we aspire towards.

If everyone saw themselves as leaders, they would take initiative, be courageous and innovative, and not hold back. But we would also be sensitive enough to submit and support.

We experienced some semblance of this last Sunday.

And I loved that the congregation didn’t have any one leader to look to for guidance; just a stage full of leaders until it seemed, there were really no leaders at all, but just the Holy Spirit.

Here is the recording of last Sunday’s worship, artfully mixed by our awesome sound engineer, Senny.

And here is the set list, which by the way, came about literally as the group worshipped together in the living room the Sunday before:

// Sinking Deep (G)
//  Set a Fire (with additional verse by Tae Kim) (G)
//  I See Grace (G)
//  Forever (G)
//  Crown Him (Majesty) (A)
//  How Great Thou Art (A)

Enjoy!

Taxi Rank Tribulations and the God Who Restores Time

In my post The Year of His Restoration, I said that this year, God will restore time that we have lost. And when God restores, He does so in quantity, quality or both.

This afternoon, Ling and I ended up in the Singapore CBD to buy dinner for her parents. Getting stuck in the CBD at peak hour however is no laughing matter.

We debated about the best way to get back home. I thought that we should take the train closer to home and then catch a bus. My male logic said that trains didn’t have to compete in the traffic jam and the schedule was certain. Ling wanted to take a taxi.

We ended up at a taxi rank with only four other people in the queue. It looked promising. But as time passed, it became apparent that this wasn’t a popular pick up point amongst taxi drivers.

After waiting about 40 minutes, I said to Ling that we should cut our losses and take the train. She prayed and looked expectantly down the road.

By this time, we were at the front of the line.

She said, “We are already at the front of the queue. We are first in line.”

“We might be first in line, but we are first in a line of nothing! Come on, let’s go to the subway,” I muttered tersely.

“But what if the next taxi comes just as we leave?”

“It’s fine. Just go and don’t look back.” (I thought I could demonstrate my biblical prowess and therefore the correctness of my position with an allusion to Lot’s wife).

“Here’s a taxi coming!”

“That one is on call. None of the taxis are stopping here.”

“You pray!”

(I stayed silent. I was too annoyed to pray).

“There’s another taxi turning into our street.”

“This is the last one. If it doesn’t stop, we are leaving and catching the train.”

The taxi immediately picked up someone further up the street.

“Okay, that’s it! Let’s go!”

Ling stood still, obstinately fixing her gaze to the start of the street.

And just as I was ready to turn around and walk away in frustration, a taxi with a green light on the roof miraculously cruised up to the rank.

Ling opened the door, I looked down and humbly climbed into the taxi and we were on the way home. She managed a smile as to say “aren’t you glad I stuck to my guns”, whilst resisting the impulse to gloat.

Even though we lost a good 45 minutes or so, the Lord redeemed our time. We got home in the same amount of time we would have taken had we caught the train. We didn’t need to walk, change train lines, transfer to a bus, and get caught in the rain. Instead, we sat down and rested in air-conditioned comfort.

And in an ironic twist, as we got onto the freeway, we noticed a decal on the taxi drivers’s windshield – the New Creation Church logo!

I’m sure the Lord had a bit of a chuckle over this episode. It took a woman of faith to persevere in prayer. And I was blessed despite my lack of faith!

Faith, Doubt and Authenticity

My friend Darren and I were meant to have a “Doubt Night”. But we haven’t had time to do one yet.

In our cell group, we’ve been talking about Timothy Keller’s message The Prodigal God. And the concept of how the younger brother was self-motivated. He is a model of a person who wanted to find meaning through self-discovery. The elder brother was a person who based his life on moral conformity.

But Jesus says that both are lost. In both cases, they were trying to find a way to get the Father’s things. They weren’t interested in the Father Himself.

There is a “third way” – the way of relationship. The third way which Jesus wants us to see is the one where the person of the Father is valued above the Father’s things. This is how gospel-centred Christians should live.

And yet, I have found that often in church settings, we tend to fall into the error of moral conformity. To allow a person to rely solely on a relationship with God makes that person very difficult to control. After all, a relationship is incredibly unpredictable.

This is how unpredictable a relationship is: the longer you are in a relationship with someone, the more predictable they become in terms of expectations, behaviours, stimuli and reactions. But then, when predictability becomes the norm, we say the relationship is in a rut, and we need to introduce new elements of unpredictability to breathe fresh life into the relationship. And so the cycle of unpredictability continues.

The institutional church likes predictability and control. And the only way to do that is through moral conformity.

A culture of moral conformity however only causes us to become performance-orientated Christians. We try hard to perform to the required level, to look like we’ve got it all together, to tick all the moral boxes of the expected “Christian norm”.

By the way, I heard someone once say that “normal” is one of those words that have lost its richness of meaning through common usage. These days, “normal” means “average”. Originally however, the word meant “upright”, “or 90 degrees against a plane” (as measured by a plumb line). In that sense, a “normal” Christian life means one which is infused with the righteousness of Christ – the only righteousness that is perfect and pure and that can restore us to right relationship with God.

So back to my point: a culture of moral conformity means we can seldom express our doubt. Because if we do, we are seen as questioning that which is accepted. At best, we might be seen as exhibiting weakness in our faith.

I actually think it is healthy to express our doubts. Hence, the idea of having a Doubt Night. I was going to trial it with Darren first, but the idea is to have a night when people can just come and express doubt. Others can provide a perspective, or attempt to address the doubt, but we won’t guarantee that there would be any resolution. We will openly discuss hard issues without judgment. It will be a place where we can be transparent and no one will/should think “what’s up with that? That guy must be a messed up Christian”.

In conventional Christian culture, faith is celebrated. Doubt is frowned upon. But in my view, faith cannot exist without doubt. Doubt is in fact the context in (or the process through) which faith emerges.

In The Reason for God, Timothy Keller says:

A faith without doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it…. A person’s faith can collapse overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.

Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts – not only their own but their friends’ and neighbours’. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide grounds for your beliefs to sceptics, including yourself….

I love the authenticity of the man who cried to Jesus in Mark 9 “I do believe, help my unbelief!”. I love that when the resurrected Jesus challenged Thomas to believe, He still responded to Thomas’ request for more evidence. Sometimes, the church is more afraid of doubt than Jesus is.

I think it is high time for our contemporary church culture to entertain doubt again. When we can authentically express our doubt in a safe environment without fear of judgment, we will not only express beliefs because we have inherited them, or because it seems like the right behaviour to display, but we will emerge with stronger grounds for our beliefs. In other words, we will grow a stronger body of authentic, sold-out believers. So bring on Doubt Night.

Setlist: Deborah Company “Light Up Your World” Conference (22 June 2013)

I have the privilege of leading worship at Deborah Company’s “Light Up Your World” Conference this Saturday 22 June 2013.

As I was preparing for the session, I really sensed that God would do a couple of things during the worship time. Firstly, an increasing of faith to believe that God can use ordinary men and women to transform their cities and nation. And secondly, an intercessory cry for awakening, for a renewing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, churches and cities.

And I have the privilege of serving with an awesome band with musicians from Faith Community Church and Influencers City Church. It’s going to be awesome!

Here are the songs. If you are coming to the conference, why not familiarise yourselves with the songs beforehand?

// Your Love Never Fails (Jesus Culture) (A)
// Nothing is Impossible (Planet Shakers) (A)
// You’ll Come (E)
// I See the Lord (Chris Falson) (E)
// Hosanna (Brooke Fraser) (E)
// Your Presence is Heaven (D)
// God of this City (C)

Here is a link to Your Love Never Fails, which is the opening song on the day.  Enjoy!

Now That’s Radical Church

This week, we had dinner with some pastor friends of ours and we caught a glimpse of how the disciples must have felt on the Emmaus Road as Jesus was talking and they had felt their “hearts burning within” them (Lk 24:32). I think that’s the sense you get when a vision that has captured you is finally articulated and given “legs” (so to speak) and made real and practical.

Our pastor friend was sharing how in a church he had previously pastored, they had just done the tithes and offerings. After counting the collection, he said to his staff team, “do you believe this is God’s money?”

“Yes,” they replied.

“Well,” my friend said, “I believe God wants to give it back this week to the people in the church who are in need.”

“But traditionally, the communion week is when our offering is the biggest, and if we lose this week’s offering, we won’t make our church’s monthly budget.”

My friend looked his team in the eye and issued the challenge: “If this idea is truly of God, then God will help us meet the budget. If He does, will you promise me to be open to obeying the Lord, even if it means doing something we are not used to? And if we don’t meet the budget, then I will never ask us to do anything like this again.”

The leaders conferred and reluctantly agreed.

At the end of the service, the pastor put all the offering onto a table at the front of the church and he told the congregation that if they were really in need, they could come up to the front and take money for themselves. As a warning though, he told them that they could lie to people and to him, but they couldn’t lie to God. But, if the need was real, then they were welcome to take from the collection.

People from the congregation came up to the front, with tears streaming down their faces. That week, God used His very own people to supply the answer to prayer. It was like the book of Acts when the disciples sold everything and distributed it according to those who had need. In those days, they didn’t have budgets and sophisticated accounting systems – just obedience, faith, passion and a sense of justice and equality.

I’m not saying that our advances in technology and methodologies are necessarily wrong – but we should always hold them up to the mirror of the Word and be ready to obey the prompting of the Spirit.

What happened to my pastor friend? Well, miraculously, that month, the church met its budget twice over.

It was a salutary lesson in faith and obedience.

And when I came home after our dinner, I could not stop thinking about what my pastor friend had shared. Ling and I kept talking about it even as we lay in bed. Our hearts were burning within us.

And I thought – now, that’s doing church radically. That’s revolutionary faith.

Steppin’ Out: Reflections on Global Day of Worship

Global Day of Worship1

It’s now the 364th day of the year (sorry I started writing this on 30th December and I’m only finishing it on the 31st).

Today, I was challenged as I went to New Creation Church (I’m in Singapore at the moment) for the final service of 2012. I was there during the first service of the year (watching it via livefeed in a movie cinema) on 1 January 2012 when Pastor Joseph Prince announced the theme for the year: Unceasing Fruitfulness.

Today, the challenge was from Psalm 90:12 – that God might teach us to number our days because there will be days that aren’t lived for God and which will be completely lost. God can (and does) redeem those days that were lost, but only in today’s terms.

I can say that 2012 has been a year filled with God’s fruitfulness in my life.

One of the highlights for me was the privilege of being able to organise Global Day of Worship for Perth this year.

The story was one of God’s orchestration, because frankly, I had never organised something like this before.

It all started a few months earlier as I was on Facebook posting a photo (as I often do) of something I was about to eat. At that moment, my friend Wendy Yapp Facebook-messaged me and joined me into a conversation with Global Day of Worship director, Eunice Barruel.

Within minutes of our chatting to each other (via the keyboard and my dessert’s subsequent melting) we struck a chord and Eunice asked if I could coordinate GDW in Perth.

I was hesitant at first.

I’m sure you’ve all had that feeling – when faith and doubt fight it out and you are left really not sure of what to do. So I said to Eunice that if I could get a team together, then I would do it.

When I said “team”, I meant “musicians and worship leaders”, which really was quite short-sighted of me. Not long after, it became quite apparent that the task was bigger than just getting musicians together to facilitate worship: there was venue hire, logistics, marketing and a whole lot of other peripheral (but important) things to organise too.

But within a week, some of the core group of musicians had agreed and so I guess I had to eat my words and commit to organising GDW.

One of the things I learnt was that sometimes we need to just step out in faith. Hebrews 11:8 says that “by faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”

I think we seldom understand the gravity of what Abraham was doing. If you think about it, it was much more than a man going after God’s promise by faith. Can you imagine what Abraham must have gone through?

  • He was being asked to change his religion.
  • He was being asked to abandon his culture.
  • He had to leave behind his extended family and his property.
  • He had to move a lot of people and possessions; presumably he had to explain himself to a lot of people who were questioning what he was going to do.

And for what? The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham had no idea where he was going. He just knew that God had promised him a city with foundations whose architect and builder is God. And so, in faith, Abraham stepped into the unknown. In that same step, he also left everything that was known.

I’m not saying that I have experienced anything that dramatic, but organising GDW was a step of faith. I had no idea how it would work out. People used to ask me “how many people are you expecting to come?” and I would say, “I have no idea. I haven’t even really thought about it. I suppose, a hundred?”

But beyond just a worship event, and beyond the fact that we would be participating in a world-wide 24-hour continuum of praise, I believed that GDW had to be something which was also a step towards unity amongst worshippers in the city.

So part of the process of assembling the team was also about getting musicians and worship leaders from different churches involved.

We had some anointed worship leaders with whom I had worked in the past, but then more prominent worship leaders came on board, including Mel and Daron Crothers and Michael Battersby. In the end, there were musicians from 10 different churches on the team. This was only something God could have done!

And I believe that this is just a stepping stone to further expressions of unity amongst worshippers in our city.

As GDW drew near, I was re-reading some of my old posts, and I came across this in my very first post:

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 felt the call to unite chuches in worship. Can it happen?

I didn’t know what to expect when I wrote that on 4 December 2011.  But just a year and 150 posts later, God showed me that it can happen!

I could not for a moment imagine that on the night of GDW, over 250 people from different churches would show up in passionate, rousing worship and intercession, inviting the rule and reign of God into our city.

It was more than the night of course: it was also the brothers and sisters from different congregations appearing out of the woodwork, offering help with planning, promotion, advice, logistical support and prayer cover. It was indeed a team effort!

If there was any doubt that God was a covenant-keeping God who is able to fulfill his pomises and plans, one of the worship leaders also shared with me before one of our rehearsals a passage of Scripture that (unbeknownst to her) had been a life theme that I had carried ever since I was baptised in 1991. It was from Jeremiah 1:5-10:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with youand will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

This passage was actually prophesied over me during my baptism by the mother of one of the worship leaders on our team 21 years ago. The next I heard it declared over me was in 2007 when I led a mission team to Japan to conduct a worship seminar. And now, here was the verse again. I knew that what we were doing with GDW was not only significant for the city, but it also significant for the nations.

To hear that Word released at such an opportune time was overwhelming – I sensed that God was reassuring me even in the moments when I was constantly asking the questions: who am I? and why am I even doing this?

I have a lot more to share about GDW, but I will probably leave it for another day.

But I will conclude with this: we are all on journeys and I have definitely not arrived by any sense of the word. But I’m glad that God often marks our lives with milestones to remind us that He has plans for us and that He will fulfill the dreams He puts in our hearts. Being part of GDW was one of those moments.

Here’s the video again if you missed the event:

Photograph courtesy of DTW Photography and Darren WoonVideo courtesy of Peter Liddicoat and Visual Reality Productions.

How Do We Have Great Faith?

Someone gave me a bookmark once which had a little sample of mustard seeds laminated onto it. I was surprised how tiny the mustard seeds were.

In Matthew 17:20, Jesus said “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you”.

Really? How can an extremely tiny amount of faith (mustard seed-size) cause such a tremendous result (moving mountains)?

I am currently reading Tim Keller’s new book Center Church and he makes this observation about faith and salvation (which I think is equally applicable to whatever circumstances we might be facing):

It is not the quality of the faith itself that saves us; it is what Jesus has done for us. It is easy to assume that being “saved by faith” means that God will now love us because of the depth of our repentance and faith. But that is to once again subtly make ourselves our own Savior rather than Jesus. It is not the amount of our faith but the object of our faith that saves us. 

Imagine two people boarding an airplane. One person has almost no faith in the plane and the crew and is filled with fears and doubts. The other has great confidence in the plane and the crew. They both enter the plane, fly to a destination, and get off the plane safely. One person had a hundred times more faith in the plane than the other did, but they were equally safe. It wasn’t the amount of their faith but the object of their faith (the plane and crew) that kept them from suffering harm and arriving safely at their destination.

After I read that, it clicked.

We can have the smallest amount of faith, as long as we act on it (in this example, get onto the plane). When we do that, the result is entirely up to God because it is not the volume of our faith, but the Person in whom we place our faith that matters.

That’s why even a tiny amount of faith in God can cause mountains to move.

Recently, I was asked to organise the Global Day of Worship here in Perth. Of course, Wendy Yapp encouraged me to do it, but all I knew was that it was important that worshippers throughout the city join together to form a stream for unity. To be honest, I was daunted by the task of organising the event. I just like to worship together with other people, and I could happily just slip in and be part of someone else’s event. But to actually organise something myself – well, that made me feel so, uh, responsible.

And to be honest, I didn’t have much faith. I said to the team when we met up recently that I’d be happy if even a handful of people showed up. I was sharply and rightly rebuked! My teammates said I should expect the auditorium to be filled and that in fact, I should expect it to overflow until people would have to be turned away or might have to worship from outside. And the troops rallied around to try to make this vision into reality.

Now, just a couple of weeks later, all sorts of things are happening with promoting the event that I could not even have planned for or dreamt about. A Christian bookstore, a Christian radio station and some well connected network leaders are all on board to promote the event. Other Christians in the city have come alongside me to offer their help. It’s just been an amazing journey.

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus said that the mustard seed might be the smallest of seeds, but when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants (Mt 13:31,32).

How you start may not always be how you end up. If we place our faith in God, no matter how much (or little) our faith, God is able to produce the results. It’s all about Him, not about us!

To Know the Exceeding Greatness of God’s Power

I’ve got quite a few thoughts to share today, and they are probably quite random. However, if there is to be a common thread, it is to be seen in Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesians 1:17-21:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strengthhe exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Rev Margaret Seaward, an 81 year old missionary and church planter, shared on this passage during today’s service at Faith Community Church. She made two main points.

First, we need to “know” Christ. It’s not a head knowledge, but a knowledge rooted in experience. In the Message version, Eugene Peterson renders it as to “know him personally”.

Second, God wants us to experience his incomparably great power or (again as Peterson puts it), “God’s endless energy and boundless strength”. This is the same power which raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the heavenly realm. As Rev Seaward puts it, it is a power that defies the laws of nature, the laws and edicts of man; and the power of the demonic realm.

Rev Seaward preached a fairly simple and straightforward message, but it was peppered with loads of her own stories and experiences – and you could see that this was a woman of God who has personally experienced God’s power in her life. I was inspired to hear from a believer who had walked in the ways of God for decades. I hope that when I get to 80 years old, I would have had even half of the number of God encounters to tell to the generations to come after me.

Today was also significant because it was my first time back serving in a Sunday worship band in a church. I was actually quite nervous, not having been part of a church worship team since March 2011. In fact, I felt a little out of my depth.

But everyone on the band (known as “Team 3”) was really friendly and welcoming so I didn’t end up feeling too uncomfortable. A photo of the awesome Team 3 is above.

I was absolutely blown away by the size of the team; their heart for worship; and the quality of their musicianship. From a singer’s perspective, each of the singers on our team blended really well with each other and everyone could do harmonies too. It’s like being part of a dream team. And as we worshipped, there was such a powerful sense of God’s presence as we declared His greatness. It was a great start to my time in FCC’s worship ministry.

The only sad thing for me was knowing that the bassist Jon Teoh was about to relocate to Melbourne and that today was his final time playing in the band. I actually only met Jon in May of this year when he stepped in to play bass for me on one of the Converge teams I was leading. I was instantly struck by what a nice guy he was because after rehearsal, he asked if Pastor Yoy wanted to catch up with him and he was actually prepared to drive quite a distance to go have supper with Yoy. I quietly thought that Jon was a really decent person.

More than that, I had the privilege on being on another band with him and also found out that he does the interpreting for the Chinese congregation. This was a guy who was after God’s heart and served God with all he had. So, I was hoping to work with him more, but I guess our loss is Melbourne’s gain!

I share all of this in a way to say that these experiences are part of all our respective journeys in knowing and experiencing Christ more. Be it my own journey, or Jon’s or Rev Seaward’s, Christ is being revealed to us more and more. Again to quote Peterson’s paraphrase of verse 19: so that we can grasp “the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers” and “the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!”

One final thought, and this one is funny. Last night, I was celebrating the birthday of a good friend of mine, Darren. I love sitting down and talking with him about life, worship, God and all sorts of other things. But in the midst of all the good food and the fun we were having, he started to share with me some thoughts on the Christian life which he gleaned from cellaring his expensive wines. I hope that he will guest blog these thoughts shortly, but one of the things he said went something like this:

Darren: have you ever thought about the verse “Ask and it will be given to you”? I know that God gives me all the little things, like I can ask for a car park spot and I’ll get it, but there are other things I ask for, bigger things, and it doesn’t seem like God answers. Maybe it’s like good wine. Maybe when you ask for these things, God has already given them to you; except that they are in your cellar. God knows that if you open it too soon, the wine won’t taste like what it could have had it been cellared for its full life.

What a profound thought, I said to myself. I also thought “I don’t remember God giving me a car park spot when I’ve asked…”

And then this afternoon, after church, a few of us were going to Fremantle Market after lunch in Ling’s car. She was wondering where to park and logically, I thought we should park in a big car park where there is ample parking. But Ling decided to turn into a very small car park right in front of the Market, and to me it looked full. Without batting an eye lid, she said “I’m going straight into that car park and park the car.” My immediate response was “how can you be so sure?” She drove into the car park anyway and just at that moment, a lady appeared out of nowhere and walked to her car. As Ling signalled, the lady reached into the car, walked over and without saying a word, gave Ling her parking voucher which still had 45 minutes of unexpired time left on it.

God not only supplied the parking spot, He also supplied the parking voucher!

And I was reminded again: if God did not spare his own Son, how much more will He give us all things!

In big things and in little things, we are experiencing God’s exceedingly great power! This is the immensity of the glorious way of life which God has in store for His followers!

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.

 

Blessings Reel – June 2012

I know we are already well into July, so reflecting on June has come just a bit late.

Last week at cell group, as we were ending the worship time, one of the cell members blurted out an extempore prayer reflecting on God’s goodness and our need for perspective. “Perspective” is an important word because it often goes together with “faith” (another important word that I want to talk more about in my next post because it links nicely with what Pastor Benny Ho preached last Sunday at church).

As I have said in previous posts, I really believe that this year for me is the Year of Unceasing Fruitfulness – a theme which God impressed upon me during the first church service I attended at the beginning of the year at New Creation Church when I was in Singapore. I believe that in the course of this year, God will continue to help me bear unceasing fruit even in the midst of drought and that each month, I will have a different kind of fruit to thank God for.

To be honest, I struggled a bit to try to think of what the fruit for the month of June would be. I had gone from the exhilaration of Converge to long hours at the office trying to sort out all the 30 June deadlines. It was a trying month.

But during cell group last Thursday (and I believe the Holy Spirit was really orchestrating a move amongst us), another cell member shared that we often approach God with a spirit of complaining rather than thankfulness, particular in relation to our job when we’ve been in the same job for a long time. Rewind to the days when we didn’t have a job, the job we’re in now was the biggest miracle and a long-awaited answer to prayer. But (for me, 6 and a half years later), it’s almost like the presence of God had left the office (yes, I know, that last sentence wasn’t theologically sound, but that’s how I felt).

So, as I reflect on the month of June, I’ve decided to shift my perspective.

I am grateful for the blessing of my job. I get to help people and be a godly influence in the workplace. God uses my job to help me pay my mortgage, living expenses and provides financial resources for me to pursue a lifestyle of generosity. When I look at it this way, as a matter of perspective, my job has a been a huge blessing from God. It’s not just a once-off blessing, but a continuous, sustaining blessing from the hand of God. And for that I am grateful.

And I am grateful for the end of another financial year!

And I’m also grateful, as I reflect on being unceasingly fruitful, my fruitfulness has nothing to do with my own efforts and righteousness, but by Christ’s efforts and His righteousness. There’s an old hymn that goes like this:

I dare not trust this sweetest frame

But wholely lean on Jesus name

Dressed in His righteousness alone

Faultless to stand before the throne

If the blessings of God were due to my righteousness and doing, I’d be one of the most unblessed people ever!

But as I was watching Joseph Prince’s Grace Revolution DVD the other night (recorded live at Lakewood Church), Prince shared a really interesting thought about God’s irreversible righteousness.

In Genesis 12:14ff, Abraham had gone down to Egypt and had lied to Pharaoh about Sarah being his sister. Pharaoh then took Sarah into his household. The result? God inflicted Pharaoh and his household (not Abraham) with serious diseases. And Abraham and Sarah were then sent away with sheep, cattle, donkeys and servants. In other words, Abraham was blessed and prospered despite his sin of lying.

And then in Genesis 20:1-17, the episode repeats itself with Abraham doing the exact same thing, this time to King Abimelech. In verse 3, God appears to Abimelech (not Abraham) and says to him that he is as good as dead because he took Sarah, a married woman. Abimelech then sent Abraham and Sarah away with sheep, cattle, slaves and 1000 shekels of silver. Again, Abraham was blessed despite what he did.

This so grated against my performance-centered conditioning that it was hard to take in. I have been taught for a long time that God’s blessing accompanies our obedience, our doing the right thing.

Galatians 3:5-9 says this:

Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

What an amazing revelation! God doesn’t work miracles and blessings in our lives because we observe the law, but because we believe! Because we believe, we are children of Abraham and are blessed along with him. And as we are blessed, we can also be a blessing!

Lastly, I am blessed to be able to say that this post is my 100th! Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that this humble blog would have gotten this far!