The Year of Jubilee!

Leviticus 25:8ff says:

Count off seven sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you…

This year, 2017, is the year of Jubilee. Not only in the spiritual sense, but as a matter of fact. The last year of Jubilee was in 1967, when Jerusalem fell into the hands of the Jewish people after the Six Day War.

It is incredibly significant that I’m now living through a year of Jubilee.  But it is also significant that Peter Tsukahira from Israel is coming to Perth to speak on the subject of “Jubilee for You”.

And I am so privileged to be part of the amazing worship team for the conference with musicians and singers from different congregations around Perth:

Vocals: Me, Julie Hollett (New Life Freo), Sunray Zheng (Faith Community Church), Tim Loy (Kingsway Christian Church)
Keys: Julie Hollett
Electric Guitar: Tamon Nishikawa (Nations Church)
Bass: Johanan Ling (Kingdom Light)
Drums: Shane Wee (Faith Community Church)

Here are the details:

I’m just brushing up on all the Messianic songs now. It will be a blast!

Why Some Christians are No Longer “Born Again”

For the longest time, the church has misused the term “born-again”. Evangelical Christians have long used that term to refer to the conversion experience, probably because it appears a couple of times in John 3 in close proximity to Jesus’ famous words in verse 16 (“For God so love the world…”). If John 3:16 is the ultimate summation and crown of the Gospel, then obviously being “born again” must refer to a person’s conversion to Christianity.

Such an understanding of being “born again” actually undermines and misapprehends the whole process of spiritual formation – it assumes that conversion is a “once-off” event rather than a process worked out over time.

Don’t get me wrong: some people do have sudden conversion experiences. The Saul-to-Paul-Damascus-Road thing comes to mind. But then what about the journey that Paul undertakes (including a period in obscurity) before he finally becomes a great spiritual powerhouse and influencer? That takes time!

I, for one, could not tell you when I became a Christian. It just kind of grew on me. I started going to church and over time, integrated into the Christian community and learnt more about God and started to put my trust in Him. Over two decades later, I still haven’t arrived. And so when people ask me when I became a Christian, I can point to a date written in my bible, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the real date I became a Christian. To be honest, there wasn’t a moment; it was more like a process.

I think that’s why the early church spoke of Christianity as “the Way”. You start going on the Way, and you continue on the Way. This is better than seeing conversion as a “line” of decision that you must cross. What if you start believing in Jesus but haven’t yet “confessed with your mouth”? Are you still saved? What is the formula?

So, I think the idea of being “born again” as a conversion experience is way too simplistic.

Last Sunday at Faith Community Church, Peter Tsukahira preached a mindblowing message about “Change” which gave me a completely new perspective on John 3.

He said that traditionally we look at Nicodemus as a confused old man who was too embarrassed to approach Jesus publicly, so he came to Jesus in the dead of the night so that no one could see him.

Actually, in the context of the passage, Nicodemus was shown to be a powerful man. Verse 1 says that he is a Pharisee and a “member of the Jewish council”. At the time, the Sanhedrin was delegated power by the Romans to rule over Jerusalem. The main ruling party was the Sadducees. The Pharisees could be considered the opposition, so in today’s parlance, Nicodemus was a powerful member of the opposition party.

And Nicodemus’ approach to Jesus wasn’t to satisfy some niggling religious curiosity. He addresses Jesus in verse 2, saying “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come fro God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” At this time Jesus was already popular with the crowds, so what Nicodemus was doing was actually buttering up Jesus so that he could broker a deal with Him. He was saying “we could work together and shift the balance of power”.

Instead, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again”.

This statement takes Nicodemus by surprise. What Jesus was in effect saying to Nicodemus was that if the kingdom of God was to be realised, it would take a different mindset. Nicodemus wanted to see the kingdom of God as a political force and institution – perhaps together the Pharisees and Jesus could overthrow the Sadducees and who knows, even the Romans – but Jesus was saying that Nicodemus needed to adopt a new paradigm because everything was going to change: the temple, the priesthood, the nation. But it wouldn’t be a political phenomenon – it would begin in the hearts of people.

So, according to Peter Tsukahira, to be born again means to “start over”. To be “born again” is an entry point to a life of unpredictable change; to be carried by the wind of the Spirit which blows wherever it pleases.

God is always doing something new, and we need to jump into the flow of those new things.

Tsukahira makes this observation about the 24 elders constantly and repeatedly bowing before the Lamb in Revelations 5. They surround the throne, gazing at God. And every moment for eternity, as they look at God, they see something new and even more magnificent, and it causes them to again throw themselves down in adoration. Therefore, to be in the presence of God is to experience continuous change.

That day, Nicodemus, having encountered the presence of Jesus, started on a new journey. It culminated In John 19, where we see Nicodemus at Jesus’ tomb. He had brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus’ body. In the end, Nicodemus worshipped!

And this is why I say that a lot of Christians are no longer born again. They might have been once. But they have gotten comfortable with their Christian walk. They are content with more of the same and more of the old. Churches love the comfort of tried and true familiarity, rather than the faith adventure of risk-taking and forging new ground. The wind of the Spirit is blowing, God is doing new things, and yet, we are not prepared to take new steps of faith to keep in step with Him.

As we encounter God’s presence over and over, may we always see something new and more magnificent than before and be prepared to start over as He leads.

Recovering the Priesthood

I’ve just had a really massive weekend.

It started with the Shabbat Dinner on Friday night in the lead up to the “Unleashing the Elijah Legacy” conference; then starting at 6.30 am to set up for the Conference worship on Saturday, going the whole day, starting at 6.30 am on Sunday for worship at FCC, then another round of Conference in the evening. I think we finally left last night around 10 pm. I was exhausted! But it was worth every moment!

I had the privilege of serving in the Conference worship team with a team of amazing musicians.

One of the themes of the Conference was a new paradigm of the kingdom of God. Ancient Israel was the prototype of a nation that was ruled by God as her King.

It is interesting that in Exodus 19, when God was establishing His kingship over Israel and devising the nation’s laws and institutions, His intent was that Israel would be a kingdom of priests. Now, in the New Covenant, 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that God has called us, the church, to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation to show forth HIs praises!

As Peter Tsukahira shared during the Conference, for the church to move into the new paradigm of the kingdom, we must recover the priesthood of believers. Even though 500 years ago, Luther had signalled this as part of the Protestant Reformation, it was only in concept, rather than in practice and reality. If the entire church would only live out the priesthood of believers; if all of us would live out God’s calling in our lives in true sonship; if we would activate the gifting that God has designed and inbuilt into us; then the kingdom of God would surge forward powerfully in our generation!

It was significant that the worship team for the Conference consisted of worshippers from different congregations in our city. A house divided itself cannot stand, so how much more must the church be united!

Frankly, if the priesthood of believers was recovered, we would cease to talk about worship leaders. We would just have facilitators of worship, because every part of the body would not need to be led into worship. They would all come ready! But whilst we await that moment, worship leaders continue to serve this important role of helping people encounter God in worship.

Now, if we truly worshipped, then we would truly worship. I know that sounds elliptical and confusing, but let me put it another way. If we truly can come into God’s presence through praise (“worship” in the narrow sense), then we would understand how to truly offer our entire lives as living sacrifices (“worship” in the broad sense) so that we can truly live out His calling as priests. And we will then see the priesthood of all believers come to pass; and we would fulfill God’s agenda of being a kingdom of priests.

So this weekend,what the worship team did wasn’t just to provide musical preludes to great messages. We were prophetically modelling the fulfillment of God’s design for the church and facilitating the church in Perth’s journey towards recovering a powerful truth.

It was an honour to serve with some of the boldest and prophetic and technically excellent musos around (in that order!). I am so privileged to be part of what God was doing over this weekend and will continue to do until His kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven!

Elijah Legacy Worship TeamHere’s the team:

Worship Leader/Keys: Karen Davis (Carmel Assembly, Israel) | Music Director/Drums: Audrey Tang (Church of our Saviour Singapore) | Vocals: Stephanie Truscott (Mt Zion Aussie Indigenous Church), Lisa Palm (Kingsway Christian Church, Joel Lim (Nations Church), me (Faith Community Church) | Electric Guitar: Tamon Nishikawa (Nations Church) | Acoustic Guitar: Luke Tan (Faith Community Church | Bass: Johanan Ling (Kingdom Light Christian Centre) | Violin: Paul Jansz (St John Lutheran Church) | Sound: Ansen Soon (Faith Community Church) | AV: Mary Lynn Chee (Faith Community Church) | Coordinator: Mabel Chua (Kingdom Light Christian Centre)

Thanks guys for the amazing time we shared over the weekend!

And here’s the recording for the opening session.

Blessings Reel – August 2012

Ephesians 1:11-12 says this:

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

The Message paraphrase puts it this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship in the Heart of the Perth Cultural Precinct – Part 2

Last week, I posted on an idea I had about doing a worship event right in the middle of the Perth Cultural Precinct.

I have lots of crazy ideas, but sometimes I wonder whether many of these are actually from God. So, as I prayed through this idea, I started articulating it with some fellow worshippers in our city, just to see whether it resonated with them.  Surprisingly (or maybe I shouldn’t be surprised?), they all got excited about the idea.

Yesterday, I attended a conference on “Israel and the Nations” presented by David Davis and Peter Tsukahira from Kehilat haCarmel in Israel.  I was really impressed by how God was fulfilling biblical prophecy in our lifetime as it pertains to Israel and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

One of the things that really struck me was how pedestrian our concept of spiritual warfare can be compared to our Israeli brethren who are daily in the literal line of fire.  As David Davis was teaching, he said that one of the keys to advancing in spiritual warfare was public worship.

And it made me think about how worshipping publicly in the middle of Perth’s cultural precinct might not only be a display of God’s glory in our city, but might also somehow be a means to advancing God’s kingdom.

One of the things that is becoming more clear to me is that when we do this worship event, it will be just that: worship and nothing else.  Yes, we will be musically excellent, but we won’t worry about impressive riffs and intros.  We won’t worry about choosing “seeker friendly” songs.  We will be focussed solely on exalting the name of Jesus publicly in our city.  And as we do, we wait with expectation that God might answer with the fire of His presence and turn the hearts of the lost to Him.