Make Him Known Among the Nations

This morning, I had the privilege of leading an epic worship time at Faith Community Church. Epic in the way young people use that word these days, but also epic in theological and prophetic scope.

Isaiah 12:4 says this:

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name
Make known among the nations what he has done
And proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things
Let this be known to all the world.

Too often, we practise a self-serving worship: a worship that, to be sure, focuses on God but then asks: what can God do for me in return? At the very least, we want to end our worship time feeling good. There’s nothing seriously wrong with that, because God blesses us as we bless Him. As Tom Inglis once said, worship is something God cannot give Himself. When we give God that which He cannot give Himself, He gives us what we cannot give ourselves.

But in Isaiah’s song, what starts as a personal act – of thanksgiving – must also end in proclamation: of declaring God’s name among the nations.

This month is Missions Month at FCC and today specifically, we were going to pray for the nations. I wanted to make sure that our worship this morning wouldn’t be “run of the mill” but that it would take our focus beyond our church and to the nations of the earth. I prayed that perhaps even in the midst of worship, God would awaken mission callings in the lives of His people.

John Piper says:

Worship … is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God.

So I challenged our team to play and sing prophetically; that our worship this morning would be a prophetic act of declaring God’s fame amongst people groups who wouldn’t know how, but we would stand in their place nevertheless in prophetic prefigurement of that day when those groups will stand before the throne of God in worship.

We were also privileged to have our missionary to East Timor join us on the worship team. I had asked if he could translate the chorus of one of the songs into Tetun (the native language of East Timor) and then I thought it would be even more powerful if he sang it on stage. As I told the team yesterday, there are two types of missionaries: program missionaries and presence missionaries. Program missionaries go to a people group to implement a program, e.g. a program of relief, a program of education or even a program of evangelism. Presence missionaries prayerfully and sensitively mediate the presence of God in the field. They don’t necessary go with an agenda, but they go in God’s Spirit and power. My brother was a presence missionary, a worshipping missionary.

Our set culminated in singing “How Great is Our God (World Edition)”, scripted in the languages of most of the mission fields targeted by FCC. Here are the lyrics:

The splendour of the King
Clothed in majesty
Let all the earth rejoice
Let all the earth rejoice

He wraps Himself in light
And darkness tries to hide
And trembles at His voice
Trembles at His voice

How great is our God
Sing with me “How great is our God”
All will see how great
How great is our God

Chorus (Noongar)
Borun Maarman Yira
Kwiyalakinda Borun Maarman Yira
Moort ginaning Borun borun
Maarman Yira

Verse 1 (Tagalog)
Walang hanggang Hari
Aming tinatangi
Lahat ay magpuri
Lahat ay magpuri

Verse 2 (Bahasa)
Terang-Nya bersinar
Kegelapan t’lah sirna
Sujudlah pada-Nya
Sujudlah pada-Nya

Chorus: Chinese
我神真偉大, (wo shen zhen wei da)
歌頌祢聖名, (ge shou ni shen ming)
真偉大, (zhen wei da)
全地都看見, (quan di dou kan jian)
我神真偉大。(wo shen zhen wei da)

Chorus: Japanese
Nante idai na
Warera no Shu arata wa
Zenchi wa shiru
Idai na Kami

Age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the end
Beginning and the end

The Godhead three in one
Father, Spirit, Son
The Lion and the Lamb
The Lion and the Lamb

Chorus: Tetun
Jesus Nia boot loos
Kanta ho hau  Nia boot loos
Hotu sei hare Jesus
Nia boot loos

BRIDGE
Name above all names
Worthy of all praise
My heart will sing, how great is our God

Here’s the setlist:

// We Speak to Nations (A)
// You are Good (Houghton) (A)
// Jesus Son of God (A)
// Prayer for the Nations by David Yow
// How Great is Our God (World Edition) (A)

Here’s the recording of this morning’s worship: 

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the amazing servants on Team 3 for facilitating such a significant time of worship this morning. May God continue to lift up our eyes to see the fields that are white unto harvest!

Adventures in East Timor – Part 3

It’s 3 January 2013 – the official first day of the mission trip.

We all got up bright and early, packed our bags and made our way to the All Seasons Hotel restaurant for an early breakfast, before loading up two taxis for the trip to Denpasar Airport.

Gary, our team leader, had already been in the village for a week.

When we got to the airport, we found out that our flight had been delayed, so we took the opportunity to have an impromptu team meeting, sans our leader, which kind of made it difficult to decide anything concrete about the program.

Bali

Even though our entire week had been planned out in the form of an itinerary, we were short on details and weren’t really sure whether the ideas we had proposed were actually suitable for the villagers. I was again reminded however of the maxim “blessed are the flexible”. We were just going to have to pray hard and just “wing it”.

Stef, our admin person, had nonetheless produced a very pretty colour-coded document, with each of us being designated our areas of responsibility. I have to say, I was really impressed by Stef’s maturity – for a person her age, her organisational skills and foresight were well beyond her years.

Bali2

We finally got onto the plane for the 2 hour flight to Dili, the capital of East Timor. I was actually quite nervous about flying Merpati Air (a subsidiary of Garuda). Surprisingly, the in-flight meal was pretty decent, which at least distracted me from my anxiety for a while. Ling was surprisingly calm, because in the past, she had been nervous about flying. Most of the time, she was more concerned about her seat not locking into the upright position and periodically leaning into Ernie, who was sitting behind her.

As our plane approached the airport in Dili, my anxiety grew as I realised we were coming in pretty fast. When the plane made contact with the runway, there was significant braking and when it finally slowed down and turned, I realised that we had actually used up the entire length of the runway. Good thing I could only see out the side of the plane until then!

East Timor2

When we had collected our luggage, we could see Agung and Gary on the other side of customs, smiles flashing to welcome us.

After a few customary words, Agung led us into the carpark of the airport where we laid eyes for the first time on our transport vehicle for the week. It looked, um, functional. Agung and Gary exhibited superhuman strength and great balance as they loaded 8 people’s luggage onto the roof of the Land Cruiser before the human cargo got loaded into the back of the SUV.

East Timor3

Then our first stop: the shopping mall!

Because this was going to be our only time in Dili until the end of the mission trip, we had to stock up on snacks and the all-important bottled water.

We often take things like water for granted. But we were sure that not only was the water in Timor unsafe for drinking, we were concerned that we couldn’t even brush our teeth or wash our contact lenses in it, so thank God for bottled water. And thank God it was only 30 cents a bottle.

East Timor4

Whilst we shopped for supplies, Wen, Ernie and Shi-En promptly hit the food court. They were hungry and it was only 4 pm. And here is an important spiritual principle which I shared with our team – when you are hungry enough, you can bring forward something reserved for a future time into your present!

After we bought our supplies, we drove to the centre of Dili where we (or rather, the rest of us) had dinner at a Chinese restaurant. It was pretty good Chinese food. Even in the remotest parts of the world, you are bound to find Chinese people. In fact, I think the shopping mall from which we had just come was Chinese-owned. Later on during the week, we would see a Chinese-owned general store right in the heart of the village!

After dinner, we made our way to Tibar Resort, where we would stay during the week.

On the way there, on the outskirts of Dili, we passed a large piece of land earmarked for Pelican Paradise – a six star resort being built by a Christian businessman. It’s great to think that even though what we were doing was very much relational and grassroots, on the other end of the spectrum, there were projects such as this which will ultimately bring socio-economic transformation to the nation on a large scale.

Pelican Paradise

We reached Tibar in the evening – a “resort” featuring 6 or 7 wooden huts built on the side of a hill, overlooking the ocean. The view was pretty spectacular and our individual huts were very comfortable. This is what we called a “soft landing” into missions. So far, so good…

View from Resort

After we all freshened up, we convened in my hut for a time of worship, prayer and ministry. This was for me a crucial part of why I was there. As I have said in previous posts, one of my life themes is Jeremiah 1:5-8, which is the calling of Jeremiah for the nations. And I believe, like John Piper says, worship is the fuel and goal of missions, so it is only appropriate that we begin a mission trip by focussing on God and worshipping. Over the duration of the trip, there would be many more times of intense worship and intercession, which not only brought focus, but also forged unity for us as a team.

And one of the things I began to learn about Agung’s secret is this: before he is a missionary, he is first a worshipper. You can tell by his posture of yieldedness as he worships.

Prayer and Worship

At the end of the day, worship always brings perspective. It puts God and His kingdom cause into a place of priority and whatever else we have to do becomes secondary. Lack of planning? Pssh…. With God, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Bring it on!

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.

 

A Brief Reflection on the Kong Hee Saga – Part 2

Today, I want to reflect on some issues which the Kong Hee saga raises as it pertains to the broader church. I want to look at it from two perspectives: first, as a lawyer who practises in quite a bit of charity and non-profit law; second, as a worship leader who believes 100% in the church and its call to impact and influence society.

From these two perspectives, I want to raise some questions, but not necessarily answer them.

Much of the Kong Hee saga has to do with two things: corporate governance and accountability on the one hand and the “Crossing Over” project on the other.

Let me preface my remarks with this: I am not intending to cast any judgment on what is going on in City Harvest Church. As I have said in my previous post, what is now very apparent is that one part of the body of Christ is hurting. We, as brothers and sisters in Christ, ought to uphold City Harvest and its leadership in prayer. If anything, this whole episode is a call for Christians to trust in God’s grace and His unshakeable desire to glorify His name.

What the recent events might do is throw up some questions about how we do church. Not so much about how City Harvest does church, mind you, but how the body of Christ in general, particularly those in the charismatic movement, does church. So I won’t be commenting so much about City Harvest, but using it as a launchpad for broader ideas.

My first thought then is about church governance and structure. One of the key provisions we draft pretty carefully in a church’s constitution (essentially the church’s rule book) is the “objects” clause. This is a lengthy statement usually at the beginning of the constitution that sets out what the organisation exists for. Most churches will include something quite religious, such as “to glorify God”, “to proclaim the gospel to the nations” etc. Very broad, churchy provisions. As a lawyer, I usually let the church include its churchy provisions, but then I try to couch it in some legalese as well, such as “to advance the Christian religion in the city of Perth”, “to teach spiritual principles to its adherents”, “to rent and construct buildings for the purposes of meeting”.

The second thing I am often asked to deal with is the issue of control: in other words, who gets to administer the day to day management of the church; who gets to make the big ticket decisions etc. I have seen some constitutions where the church runs as a “theocracy”, i.e. where the power is vested in a very small number of individuals, usually the senior pastor. This is based on what I call the “Moses Model” – one guy who goes up the mountain to receive from God and returns to ground level to mediate between God and His people.

Inevitably, the church begins to look very much like a corporation, where the day to day running is vested in a Board of a few powerful individuals.

This then flows down into the culture of the church itself. Instead of being a community and family, where the buzz words might be “share”, “care”, “concern”, “help”, “love” and “prayer”, our buzz words become “vision”, “direction”, “programs”, “surveys” and “protocol”.

Don’t get me wrong: I think some of the biggest churches around have achieved their numbers and in turn their social impact because they have embraced the corporate culture, but tempered still with some sense of family-ness. But I wonder how far a cry this must have been from the church that was described in the book of Acts (which is really one of the only biblical templates we have of what the church should look like).

Frank Viola said this in his book Pagan Christianity:

The practices of the first-century church were the natural and spontaneous expression of the divine life that indwelt the early Christians. And those practices were solidly grounded in the timeless principles and teachings of the New Testament. By contrast, a great number of the practices in many contemporary churches are in conflict with those biblical principles and teachings. When we dig deeper, we are compelled to ask: Where did the practices of the contemporary church come from? The answer is disturbing: Most of them were borrowed from pagan culture.

In fact, what is an apparent trait of the Acts church was that it was organic and “flat”, i.e. it did not have a strict hierarchical top-down structure; rather decisions were made by consensus (as per the phrase “it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit”). In other words, every one could hear God for themselves, but together they heard God (for want of a better word) corporately.

One of the advantages we have of the corporate church today is that we are able to raise so much more money, deploy a great deal more of resources and so to impact society on a greater scale. As an example, my brother told me that when he visited City Harvest the day after the Boxing Day Tsunami, the church had already deployed food, clothing and a team of doctors and nurses. They were probably able to act as quickly, if not more quickly, than government. That is really commendable.

But can we make the same degree of impact using a flat-structured, organic model? The book of Acts suggests that we can. After all, within a very short period of time, the organic first century church had already filled all of Jerusalem with Christ’s teachings, and it wouldn’t take long before Paul had now where else to preach in all of Asia.

Maybe it’s time for the church to return to being a real community again, one that organically lived out the call of Christ, generously sharing all they had with one another, and yet preaching boldly with the fire of the Holy Spirit accompanied by confirmatory miracles.

Perhaps where control is vested in the masses rather than the few, we are likely to have more transparency and accountability. And responsibility then lies with everyone, rather than the executives at the top if anything goes wrong. And by the same token, when things go awesomely right, we will know that it is not because of a wonderful leader that has got us there, but the efforts of everyone empowered by the Holy Spirit. There will be less emphasis on personalities, and more on the person of the Holy Spirit!

Now, onto my next thought.

As I mentioned earlier, the objects of the church are typically drafted quite broadly. I don’t think this is an accident. This is actually because the mission of the church is to impact society with the gospel at every level.

This brings me then to the phenomenon of “cross over”. We shouldn’t be surprised that a church like City Harvest has attempted to “cross over” on a grand scale. In fact, whether you agree with their methods, they should be applauded for their faith in taking such a big risk. We should be expecting them to take bigger risks and push boundaries.

“Crossing over” is really a modern restatement of the classic missionary enterprise. Churches have throughout history sent people into unreached people groups to evangelise, plant churches and ultimately with the goal of transforming those communities. What the “Crossing Over” project is is exactly that: a modern missionary sent into an unreached people group in the hope of reaching them through relevant means.

As a worship leader, I have always thought it’d be great if our worship music could reach more people. But I am also quite aware that (from my experience), the “if you build it, they will come” mentality doesn’t always achieve this end. I have dreamt of worshippers and the unreached standing together in large stadiums in awe of the presence and the glory of God. I have dreamt of how the unsaved run to the altar in repentance having encountered a God who exposes the very depths of their hearts. I have imagined what it must be like for healings and miracles to occur right in the middle of those meetings. But I dream from a psyche of a person who is very much in the church. Kong Hee and Sun Ho were able to dream beyond the church and take their message to the unreached through secular media.

Is that a breach of a church’s objects? On one view, possibly not. In fact, the church is fulfilling the very object drafted into its constitution: to bring the gospel to the unreached. And that is likely to be an object which a lawyer would happily include as well.

But I can see where the lines can get fuzzy. I can see where something might look so commercial that it ceases to be charitable. We wouldn’t complain if the church held prayer meetings in the market place, or tried to run cafes, or went about feeding the poor in our communities. We wouldn’t complain if the church sold worship CDs and earned royalties on them (in fact, we happily buy them). But it seems people would complain if a church sold non-worship CDs to a secular audience. That line isn’t as easy to discern as we might think.

So those are just some thoughts I had. I am not sure what the answer is, but I think at least the Kong Hee and City Harvest saga might start getting us to think more about how faithful we are to God’s blueprint for the church.

Worship is the Fuel and Goal of Missions

I’m reading John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad at the moment and have really been challenged by the depth of his thinking, particularly around the topic of God’s glory.

If you ever need a clearer statement about the intersection of worship and missions, go no further than the first paragraph of Piper’s treatise, where he says this (one of the most thought-provoking and challenging book openings ever, at least on the subject of worship):

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice, let the many coastlands be glad!” (Ps 97:1). “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Ps 67:3-4).

But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. Missionaries will never call out “let the nations be glad!” if they cannot say from the heart “I rejoice in the Lord … I will be glad and exult in you, I will sing praise to your name, O Most High ” (Pss 104:34; 9:2). Missions begins and ends in worship.

If the pursuit of God’s glory is not ordered above the pursuit of man’s good in the affections of the heart and the priorities of the church, man will not be well served, and God will not be duly honoured.

And that’s just the beginning of the book! I can’t wait to read more.

I think a lot of Christianity these days is about easy-fixes and simple solutions. I think it is important that the way we live our Christian faith should be tempered by a child-like approach to God. But it is also important that we have an intelligent faith that asks deep questions; that seeks to understand God’s ways (like Moses did).

Here, we see the importance of what I call apostolic worship. I don’t believe that we truly engage in worship until we grasp God’s desire to gather the nations, not that missions is the ultimate, but because the redemption of the nations is God’s will, and God’s will is ultimate. This is the overflow of God’s desire for His glory to be manifest amongst the nations.

As we encounter God in worship, let us, as apostolic worship leaders, seek to complete the circle: start in worship – go in missions – bring the nations, as Piper says, into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory in worship.