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!

Like A Flood

During Influencers Conference 2012, Brad Bonhomme shared about Isaiah 59:19 (NKJV):

So shall they fear
The name of the Lord from the west,
And His glory from the rising of the sun;
When the enemy comes in like a flood,
The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.

He said we often read the passage like this: “when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”

Instead Bonhomme suggests that the translators have misplaced the comma; that we should read it as “when the enemy comes in, like a flood the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him”.

When we read it like this, it changes the whole meaning of the text.

Whenever we pray this passage during intercessory worship, the suggestion often is that the enemy’s destructive force is overwhelming. It is only when we are completely “under water” so to speak, does the rescue of the Lord come. But this new way of reading the text is different: whenever the enemy is at work, no matter to what degree or intensity, the Lord is ready to come at the enemy like a flood.

In natural terms, a flood is an unstoppable destructive force. We don’t have to wait until the attacks of the enemy become too intense. Rather, God is at hand ready to overwhelm the forces of darkness each and every time. That’s why 2 Tim 1:10 says that Christ has “destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” The word “destroy” in the Greek is “katargeo”, meaning to completely render ineffective.

John says it this way in 1 John 3:8 (NKJV):

For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy [katargeo] the works of the devil.

Jesus has destroyed the works of the devil, and we are on the winning side. We don’t have to wait until the tide of evil intensifies, but God stands at hand ready to enforce the victory. And the victory is an overwhelming one!

This reading of Isaiah 59:19 is entirely consistent with other translations. For example, the NIV simply says that God “will come like a pent up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along”. There’s no mention even of the enemy!

But what is really exciting about this passage is its context. Not only is God victorious, but He is also bringing the Gentiles from the East and West to worship Him, to revere His glory. The raising of God’s standard is not only to enforce His victory, but also to draw unbelievers to Him in worship.

Isaiah 49:22 says:

“Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations,
And set up My standard for the peoples;
They shall bring your sons in their arms,
And your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders;
Kings shall be your foster fathers,
And their queens your nursing mothers;
They shall bow down to you with their faces to the earth,
And lick up the dust of your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord,
For they shall not be ashamed who wait for Me.”

Today, the standard of the Lord, our Jehovah Nissi, our banner, is Jesus. For when He is lifted up, He will be our victory. He will destroy the works of the enemy. And He will draw all men to himself. It’s time to lift up the banner of our Lord in worship!

Worship That Changes the Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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