Time for Breakthroughs

I love what God has been doing in our church lately. The only way I can put it is that God is bringing us into a season of breakthroughs. Glass ceilings are being broken through. Things which we thought could not be done are being done – and so naturally as well, without strain or striving.

Micah 2:13 (MSG) says:

Then I, God [the Lord of the Breakthrough] will burst all confinements and lead them out into the open. They’ll follow their King. I will be out in front leading them.

When God breaks out in front, he clears the way for us to simply follow Him into the open, into new territory.

For me, it began just before the end of the financial year, when our worship team had its team night. Dave Wong, our then worship director, was just about to be appointed worship pastor. Just before that, he and his girlfriend had, through what can only be divine orchestration, been asked to feature on a Sony Asia youtube commercial about long-distance relationships.

Here is the commercial:

And here is the full version of the song used in the commercial, which was actually written by Dave.

The commercial has already had over 540,000 views at the time of writing.

I told our team that it was significant that this happened on the eve of Dave’s installation. It was a prophetic moment for our ministry, because our worship pastor had broken through the song-writing barrier for us. We knew that if Dave could write a song which got recorded by Sony (!), then the idea of our ministry writing songs for our congregation, and eventually recording them, would not just be a pipe dream.

Next, came Children’s Sunday, the culmination of a three day Children’s Church camp. During the camp, the kids (with Cathie and Brandon Clancie) had written a song about Jesus being their superhero! And they led the congregation in the song that Sunday! And more surprising still, an eight year old girl had also written her own song which she performed in front of the whole church.

Not only that, our eyes were opened to the fact that the children could indeed minister as an adult would. I think for many, the limitations that we had put on kids ministry was lifted!

Then last week, our Young Working Adults zone hosted its very first Perspectives Conference: a whole-day conference about Christian engagement in the marketplace. Over 300 people, many from other churches and even unchurched people, came to hear notable Christian leaders in business speak. And we began to dream about what transformation in the marketplace might look like. It is probably the first conference of its type in our city. Yet another trailblazing moment. (I’ll write more about the Perspectives Conference shortly).

To top it all of, on the weekend just past, I had the privilege of leading worship at church. It was probably one of my favourite sessions so far this year. As you may know, I’ve been mentoring worship leaders in our church, and as part of the practical component, Dave and I have been getting them to co-lead worship with us on Sunday.

Last Sunday, I had Sunray Zheng and Ritchell Lim co-lead with me. It took away so much pressure to know that others were sharing the load. And the band just brought it. It was just an amazing time, with Ps Benny coming up to give an exhortation towards the end. The whole worship set lasted about 50 minutes!

Here is the recording:

 

I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us next!

Music in Its Rightful Place: The Importance of Capacity and Context

In our last worship leader’s mentoring session, we talked about the role of music in worship. In the modern worship landscape, music and worship are almost synonymous. Of course, the more informed amongst us are keenly aware of the separation, but often struggle to articulate the difference or to hold the tension.

I posited seemingly disparate themes to the group:

1.  Music and the Heart of Worship

For many of us who were around in the 1990s, the role of music in worship was beginning to reach dizzying heights. The praise and worship movement which began with grassroots, organic musical expression began to mature until we got to the point where we began to exalt musicianship and excellence above heart. Musical servants gave way to worship artistes.

Against this background, Soul Survivor Church’s Mike Pilavachi wrestled with the idea that the church had become connoisseurs of worship, rather than participants in it. So, he sacked the band. Until  the church learnt how to bring its own offering of worship, there would be no musicians on the platform.

Out of this context, Matt Redman’s song “Heart of Worship” was born. It spoke out of, and to, a church in a particular season where worship did indeed become a spectator sport. Pilavachi challenged us to all be performers of worship – for the audience of One.

2.  The Power of Music

Music is inherently powerful, either within the context of worship or otherwise.

We all know this instinctively. When we watch a horror movie, the best way to dampen the suspense and sense of encroaching fear is to simply block your ears. Once that happens, the tension and stress of a scary scene is almost immediately lost.

Plato once said:

Give me the making of the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws, I will control its people.

Historians say that the music of the Beatles, broadcast from the West, penetrated the Iron Curtain and helped spark the collapse of communism. Mikhail Gorbachev said “it taught the young people of the Soviet Union that … there is freedom elsewhere.” The music of the Beatles catalysed a political and cultural revolution. This is the power of music.

Pioneers of church worship recognise this power, too. Lamar Boschman said:

Music is one of mankind’s most fundamental avenues of communication, and one of the most successful because it transcends the conscious mind and reaches the subconscious.

Music affects us; it moves us; and it stirs our emotions.

In the context of worship, the question is: where does the power of music end, and the power of God’s Spirit begin?

3.  Music and God’s Presence

We often hear worship leaders say something like this: “we enter into God’s presence with singing”; or “God inhabits our praises”; or “as we play and sing, the Holy Spirit is going to move in our midst”.

The suggestion is that somehow, musical praise might somehow bring down God’s presence.

We might ask the question this way: did the sound of the trumpet bring down the walls of Jericho?

Harold Best says:

Whenever we assume that art mediates God’s presence or causes him to be tangible, we have begun to trek idol territory. Our present-day use of music as the major up-front device for worship is a case in point. We need to ask ourselves if we, as worship leaders, are giving the impression that we draw near to God through music or that God draws near because of it. Is music our golden calf?

Can we worship without music, and if so, why don’t we? Why do we put ourselves in the way of temptation?

4.  The Scriptural Impetus of Music in Scriptures

Despite the inherent dangers of music and the risk of idolatry, it would seem clear that the Bible mandates the use of music to accompany worship and sacrifice, even if the Bible doesn’t clearly define the relationship.

We see example after example, such as Miriam’s celebration song after the Exodus; David’s establishing of musicians and singers to minister around the Ark; the use of musicians when Hezekiah restored temple worship; Paul and Silas’ singing hymns in the prison. Even the largest book which sits in the middle of the Bible is a collection of sung verses.

Holding It All in Tension

So, how we do hold it all in tension? We know that music is Scripturally-mandated. We know it has something to do with God’s presence. And yet, we know it is dangerous and can often steal our hearts. It causes us to mistaken emotional hype and sensation with God’s tangible presence.

Music must be given its rightful place. Worship is first and foremost about the heart. Music is a tool. But it is an effective tool.

Here are some thoughts:

  • Music gives structure. It unifies the gathered church to sing one melody to one rhythm; it moulds us together out of our disparate thoughts and focuses us back to God.
  • Music engages us. It beckons us and calls us away from our own burdened souls; it moves us emotionally and gives voice to our innermost cries.
  • Music affects us. It moves our faith beyond the realm of the intellect to something which is felt.

Ultimately, music is not the end of worship, God is. Music and the musicians are merely servants.

Good Music versus Bad Music

If music is an important tool (and I think it is), then the question is: what of good music and bad music?

In my church, we are blessed with a pretty decent group of some 50 or so musicians and singers and we are always pushing ourselves to only get better at our craft. You might say, well, if music isn’t the end game, should we care how excellent we are?

And what of the small church down the road with hardly any musicians, all of whom have plenty of heart but less so musical competence?

What of quality?

This is where, as my wife pointed out to me (because she always has lots of revelation) that context and capacity matter.

If music is used to serve the people, as no doubt it must, then we must ask: what people are we serving? If we are serving a church full of musicians in Nashville, then mediocre garage band quality might just not cut it. Even now, amongst our church musicians, some of them get easily distracted with the slightest hint of off-pitched singing or imprecise rhythm. (Thankfully, God has gifted me with musical dullness so I can’t hear all the imperfections!).

On the other hand, a small home group will be much more forgiving on the musical technicalities, and be easily led by a display of heartfelt (but off-tune) praise.

Capacity then looks at what you, as a church, can afford, and what level of skill, as an individual, you can offer. As worshippers, we ought to only give God the best offering we can. If you have more to give, then give more. If you can afford a more lavish set up, then by all means bring it before the Lord as your sacrifice of praise. Don’t skimp on quality or even expense. But be prudent about it. If your congregation can’t discern the difference, then you might be a better steward to deploy your resources to other ministries which serve the congregation better.

I like how Mike Cosper, in his book Rhythms of Grace thinks about the role of music in worship. He uses the catchphrase, “Worship: One, Two, Three”. He says:

  • worship has one author and object, that is God;
  • worship has two contexts, that is, worship scattered as we go about worshipping in our everyday lives; and worship gathered, whenever the church comes together to instruct and edify each other;
  • worship has three audiences: God, the church and the watching world.

When we think about worship with three audiences, instead of One, context and capacity becomes all the more important. We understand that our musical offering is first and foremost service unto God, but we must also hold it in balance as it serves and teaches our fellow brothers and sisters, and then as it draws the seekers amongst us. Seeker-friendly and Spirit-friendly are not mutually exclusive, but part of the one continuum.

Worship for the audience of One was right for its time, but I believe now, faithful musical offering requires us to balance capacity and context to serve three audiences.

Some Darn Good Questions for Young Marketplace Ministers

I have noticed that Singapore Christianity is pretty cutting-edge in terms of harnessing community transformation principles.

Years ago, Singapore was used as a prototype for a massive city-taking campaign. The argument went that if you could see the city transformed, then the nation too would be saved given that, in Singapore’s case, the city is the nation.

Whilst still a work in progress, an artefact of the campaign is that unity amongst churches is greater than in most other developed nations and the ways the church have sought to engage the marketplace is amongst the most innovative.

Last week, after walking around a bit, a group of us went into a cafe for a drink. The cafe was located in the Singapore arts precinct which meant that there were a lot of young people around.

The cafe was called Food For Thought. Apparently it was started by a group of young enterprising Christians from different churches with the goal of “transforming community spaces and bringing people together to enjoy Good Food for a Good Cause.” Through the vehicle of the cafe, they try to bring awareness of social justice issues, contribute to various causes, engage cafe-goers into action by education and to inspire change.

Check this out which we saw on the wall:

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Have a read of their website at www.foodforthought.com.sg

Everything in the cafe is geared towards its cause. Within 5 minutes of our sitting down and ordering our drinks, the various posters on the wall had already sparked our group into discussing marketplace ministry and how our own church could engage the marketplace in a more meaningful and concerted way.

Here is one of the posters:

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Over the past year, I have become more aligned towards marketplace ministry than ever. For the greater part of my faith journey, I considered worship my primary ministry. But worship must necessarily extend beyond the walls of the church. What better way to do this than through the marketplace? And so I’ve seen God extend my influence not only in my own office but also in my broader profession especially amongst the younger practitioners.

Food for Thought has put together a series of seminars called “Things I Wish I Knew When I Was 20”.

Here are some of the questions which they seek to answer as they pertain to marketplace ministry:

// Is it foolish to chase my dreams?
// May I have a job I give a damn about?
// How can I afford the life of my dreams?
// Should I try to be my own boss?
// Do I really need a masters degree to succeed?

What great questions! And how well framed! Even though I’m no longer in my twenties, they had my attention!

This would be a great series of seminars to put up at your local church to equip your young people for the marketplace. Wouldn’t it be great for experienced mentors to share their experiences with you in those areas?

What other questions should we ask? What other ways can you think of to engage your people in marketplace ministry?

Honour and the Heart of Worship

No Other Name

It was good to be back home after being away for nearly a month, with two weekends spent in Sydney sandwiching the Hillsong Conference (which was pure amazing) and then ministering last week at another church.

Maybe it was the sense of missing something that made me appreciate it more (like being on a diet and then rediscovering ice-cream), but there was something about yesterday’s service at Faith Community Church that really excited me.

Normally, when I prepare to lead worship, I would find out what the preacher was going to speaking on. But having been absent for a while, I didn’t really keep up the comms with Ps Benny, so I just had to wing it (I mean, prayerfully put together the songlist). Having come back from Hillsong Conference however, I just had to introduce the song “No Other Name”, so that became the focus of the songlist. I think those of us on the band yesterday who had come back from the Conference were also brimming with excitement at the prospect of playing that song. I could tell because they brought in the midi computer.

As the service unfolded however, what became apparent was how apt that choice of song was to what Ps Benny was preaching. At times like that, you just have to thank God for how the Holy Spirit orchestrates everything even when those who lead different aspects of the service don’t communicate.

Ps Benny preached from Malachi 1:6-14 on “Setting Our Hearts to Worship”. He said that a principle of true worship was to have a heart of honour. The word “honour” had the meaning of giving weight and reverence to something or someone. He then went on to describe how having a heart of honour should affect the way we serve God in church and the offering that we give Him. Do we offer something which is just outwardly impressive but without the corresponding attitude of heart? What would happen if we were to take this teaching seriously? Do the musos, for example, just come a few minutes before the service starts without practising during the week, or do we prayerfully and consistently prepare and rehearse so we can execute with excellence? What if every ministry in the church approached our service with the honour that’s due God’s name?

It was a sobering and hard-hitting message. But for our church, I think it was a timely one. And Ps Benny pulled no punches. He said that if we like expository teaching (as indeed our members do), then this is message the prophet Malachi was trying to get across and we would have to accept it, even if it does touch a nerve.

And here was the convergence point of our service and offering – to give to God what is due His worthy name.

“My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord (v11)

“For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations” (v16).

In the words of Joel Houston and Jonas Myrin: “one Name holds weight above them all”. Indeed, it is because there is no other name but the name of Jesus.

I came out of yesterday’s service feeling inspired and excited, with the hope that our whole church will get a revelation of the privilege and weightiness of serving the greatest One of all. May his fame and renown be the desire of our hearts!

Here is the setlist from yesterday’s service:

// Nothing is Impossible (A) (led by Joseph Wong, Vibe Worship Director)
// Our God (A)
// 10,000 Reasons (G)
// Prayer for the families of the victims of the MH17 disaster (Ps Benny)
// No Other Name (G)

And here is the recording of the worship sesh.

A big shout-out to Fantastic Team 3 for living out the principles Ps Benny taught. I am so blessed to serve with a bunch of people who truly set their hearts to honour God in their service!

Should I Be Enjoying the Worship?

Last night, I held our first mentoring group meeting: a cosy group of guys in the worship ministry hungry to grow together and learn from each other. We had really interesting discussions, sharing our journeys, our dreams and our understanding of worship as we began to work our way together through Bob Kauflin’s book, Worship Matters.

The whole thing was actually initiated by the youngest in our group. I actually didn’t know him very well, but he came up to me one day after our church service and asked if I could mentor him. I looked at him and thought: “first, I don’t really know this person; but two, what a display of courage and humility to ask such a question of anyone”. And so I said “yes” and then we got a couple of others along and that’s how we started our group.

Anyway, last night we were talking about how worship as a lifestyle and the traps of idolatory and one of the guys asked: “is it worship when I’m playing FIFA?”

Good question.

If I believe that the whole of our lives offered to God is worship, then I suppose the answer must be “yes, I am worshipping when I’m enjoying playing games on my console”. Perhaps the issue is one of intensity rather than direction.

Of course, excessive FIFA-playing may easily cross the line into idolatory – just don’t ask me when that line is crossed.

The natural progression is to then ask this (in the context of corporate worship during Sunday services): “is it okay for me to enjoy the worship?”

I remember a worship leader who used to ask the question: “church, did you enjoy the worship?” and when everyone resounded with a mighty “Yes!”, he would say, “Wrong! Only God should enjoy the worship”. Darn, a trick question! I hate trick questions, especially after I am feeling enthused after a great time of worship which I genuinely did enjoy.

I’m now pretty sure that whilst our worship is for God to enjoy, our enjoyment of our own worship completes the cycle of God’s pleasure in our worship.

This is apparent in the Westminster Catechism, that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever”. No point glorifying and not enjoying. Otherwise, it’s just forced, or as they say, a duty rather than a delight.

John Piper says this:

Because God is unique as the most glorious of all beings and totally self-sufficient, he must be for himself in order to be for us…. His aim to bring praise to himself and his aim to bring pleasure to his people are one aim and stand or fall together

CS Lewis said it this way: 

We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.

In other words, our enjoyment of God is in fact the starting point for our expression of praise, but then our satisfaction in Him itself brings pleasure to His heart. And so the cycle of enjoyment continues.

With this fresh understanding, I started to enjoy the worship – guiltlessly! And so should you!

Worship: The Centre of Existence

It’s been a while since I last posted. Life has just gotten really busy. But I recently had to do some assignments for Metro Worship Academy. I haven’t written assignments in years! My friend Kelwin says that they should call them “adventures”, rather than “assignments”. We will see…

In an interview with the Canberra Times[1], former lead singer of KISS, Gene Simmons, professing to once being religious, reveals his objection to the worship of the Christian God. “Why,” he asks, “would this God who is very non-human want to hear his name repeated? … Now that’s a really frail characteristic.”

Simmons view discloses a perverted understanding of worship by projecting a human trait on a Being who is beyond and before created things. God’s passion for His own glory is in fact at the very core what it means to worship.

Harold Best calls it the “centre of existence”:

Worship is at once about who we are, about who or what our god is and about how we choose to live…. [A]t this very moment, and for as long as this world endures, everybody inhabiting it is bowing down and serving something or someone.[2]

The question then is: who or what do we choose to worship? Simmons failed to understand that, by virtue of His being God, God necessarily must exalt His name and glory above anything else and that “His first and central love is Himself”.[3] This singular fact is the foundation and fountainhead of created order: for the individual, society, the nations and the cosmos.  Giglio observes:

When God makes His glory the centre of all things and the center of our affections, he gives us Himself – the very best gift He could give us, and the ultimate expression of His love.[4]

In other words, it is only when we understand the centrality of God in our universe that we can fully realise our personal destiny and the destiny of our cities and nations, undergirded by the love and generosity of God in His divine mission to reconcile all things to Himself.[5]

God’s desire and passion for His own glory, manifested in His goal of reconciling all things to Himself led to Jesus’ death on the cross, which is also for Christians, the starting point of our worship.  Paul says this:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.[6]

To offer our bodies suggests that worship must be an all-consuming, continuous act (in other words, “worship as a lifestyle”) but the use of the word “offer” (in the present continuous tense) requires a direct act, a sacrifice. In one sense, whole-life worship can be very much an unconscious reflection of the way we have chosen to live, manifested in our daily choices and actions. But there is also a place for direct, intense adoration and praise.  James Macdonald observes:

We are frequently told that making a meal for your family or cleaning your car or helping your neighbour are all acts of worship. When these acts are the outgrowth of our love for God and done to demonstrate that love, I would agree that they are “worshipful”…. Worship is the actual act of ascribing worthy directly to God. Worshipful actions may do this indirectly, but when the Bible commands and commends worship as our highest expression, it is not talking about anything other than direct, intention, Vertical outpouring of adoration.[7]

So in light of this, the question we ask is: how do we worship? We must understand that worship begins with the heart, from our affections. God is not focussed on “outward appearance … but the Lord looks at the heart”[8]. Jesus puts it another way: God is seeking worship that is “in spirit and truth”[9], that is, worship that is initiated within our spirit by the Holy Spirit, and worship that expresses (and is consistent with) an inner reality.[10]  That does not mean that outward expressions are not important, for indeed the actions of worship themselves (singing, kneeling, bowing, raised hands, clapping, shouting) hold great spiritual significance[11]. The point is that outward expressions originate in inward attitude.

The result? Worship transforms us. We become like what we worship.  The Psalmist says that “those who make [idols] will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”[12]  Hibbert observes that “worship not only changes our inner lives, it also affects the expression of our faith and service to God in the world around us”.[13] God uses us to change our community and cities, but in the midst of worship, God also supernaturally and metaphysically brings about transformation on the earth.

In Revelations 5, John has a vision of the Lamb who was slain, encircled by the 24 elders, standing as the answer to the question: who is worthy to open the scroll? As the elders worshipped with the harp and the bowl of incense (signifying prayer), the Lamb began to open the seals of the scroll. The scroll represents a will and testament, by which God bequeaths His divine destiny to the earth and all creation.  Through the means of worship therefore, God ultimately reconciles all things to Himself to the praise of His jealously-guarded glory.

 

[1] Peter Karp, Untitled Article, Canberra Times, 12 September 1999.

[2] Harold Best Unceasing Worship (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2003) p 17.

[3] Louie Giglio I Am Not But I Know I Am (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2005) p 162.

[4] Id, p 165.

[5] Paul states in Colossians 1:19, 20 (NIV) that “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Note: all Scripture references are to the New International Version unless otherwise stated).

[6] Romans 12:1.

[7] James MacDonald Vertical Church (Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2012) p 168-169.

[8] 1 Samuel 16:7.

[9] John 4:23,24.

[10] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance #225: “alethia”. The word translated as “truth”, according to Strong, means “signifying the realty lying at the basis of an appearance” and also “sincerity and integrity of character”.

[11] An analysis of the various expressions of worship and their significance are beyond the scope of this post.

[12] Psalm 135:18.

[13] Vivien Hibbert Prophetic Worship (Michigan: Baker Books, 1998) p 147. 

Adventures in East Timor – Part 6

It’s Sunday, the 6th of January – Day 4 of our mission trip – and it was the Sabbath!

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I was looking forward to this day because Amos, a youth leader on our team, was going to deliver the Sunday message. I’m always up for hearing fresh preachers. Sometimes we are used to the same old preachers, the way they structure their sermons, the illustrations they use. You can almost predict what they are going to say. Sometimes, you’ve even heard their recycled sermons.

Some churches now do a “Young Guns” series: a couple of Sundays a year when new (usually young), upcoming preachers in the church get to preach a short 10-minute sermon on a topic of their choosing. It’s amazing what young people can do when given the chance. It’s also a great way to raise the next generation of preachers.

We had gathered at Agung’s place in readiness for our Sunday service. I was going to do the worship, Ernie would administer the communion and then, the main event – Mossy’s preaching (I don’t often say that preaching is the main event since after all, every part of the service is just as important – but just for that day, I was happy to make the concession!)

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We began our time of worship and once again, I felt a great sense of God’s presence as we moved into intercession for East Timor. As usual, Ling prayed through her tears.

After communion, Mossy took us to his text for the morning – Isaiah 6 – as a reminder for us to remain faithful to God and His call on our lives, even when we can’t quite yet see the fruit of our labours.

Isaiah 6 has always been a favourite passage for me as a worship minister, because it describes how Isaiah encountered God’s presence and how the glory of God filled the temple. For me, the passage had always been about how our encounter with God through worship empowers us to go forth into the nations – “here am I, send me”. But Mossy didn’t end there, and that’s when I received a fresh revelation of this passage.

Even though Isaiah willingly gave of himself to the cause, God’s response to Him in verse 9 was that the people he would preach to would ever be hearing, but never understanding, seeing but not perceiving. Imagine being called to such a tough gig! I think many of us might have given up or questioned whether we had heard God correctly in the first place. But Isaiah remained faithful to the call, and in the course of his ministry, penned some of the most profoundly beautiful verses of prophecy in the entire Bible, many of which prefigured the coming Messiah.

And even though Isaiah didn’t seem to be bearing immediate fruit, the fruit of his ministry ultimately lasted through the ages.

After an awesome Sunday service, it was time for lunch.

We then had quite a bit of free time before our next program, the Sunday afternoon cell meeting.

Originally, we were meant to use the time to prepare a skit, but frankly a lot of us were feeling quite spent. We managed to convince Gary that we shouldn’t do the skit. Thankfully, he agreed!

So instead, Gary got his face painted, some of the us made bead bracelets for the village girls and I started to restring Agung’s old guitar.

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The beads looked like fun, and eventually, I got to string some beads together too, but I struggled to tie the knots with my fat fingers.

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Lynn did a great job of painting the Timorese flag on Gary’s face.

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The time of rest was gratefully savoured by all. And it couldn’t have come at a better time because nothing could have prepared us for what was to come next.

When you and I think about cell group, we think, maybe 12 to 15 people sitting around in a circle, singing a few songs, sharing a testimony or two and doing some Bible study. Boy, were we in for a rude shock.

Three round trips in the Landcruiser later, a whopping 53 people had gathered – many of them children. You might call it cell group – I’m thinking it’s more like the beginnings of a full-fledged church!

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After everyone had gathered, everyone was split up into different age groups, with the adults staying in the “auditorium” for a more “traditional” cell group time, whilst the rest of us were left to herd the children into various areas – a very strategic divide-and-conquer tactic, I must say.

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Ling, Wen and me ended up in the equivalent of “creche” – kids who were around 6 years old or younger. I remember doing creche duty when I was growing up in church – you just sit there with the kids and play with the toys. Easy.

Except this time, there were no toys! There were no books either! How were we going to entertain these kids for the next hour?

We brought out our stash of balloons and quickly began making balloon animals. The $2 pump and the bag of balloons were looking like a very wise pre-trip investment.

However, our limited skills meant that there were only so many permutations of animals we could make (in fact, we could only make three variations) and before long, we realised the kids weren’t super-impressed with the animals so much as being intrigued by the pop of exploding balloons when they bit on them hard enough.

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Meanwhile, in another room, it seemed like the older kids were calmly playing organised games. How nice…

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Outside, on the porch, it looked like they played more organised games.

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And look how well behaved the parents were in their cell group setting – probably singing together in lovely harmonies.

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They probably also politely took turns to speak and pray for each other. How serene and peaceful this all was.

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Look at the wonderful time of sharing and edification that was going on in the auditorium.

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Meanwhile, back in the creche, it was fast descending into chaos. At one point, I saw a look of sheer desperation on Wen’s face. This was the first time I’ve seen her look that way.

Whilst Wen and Ling scurried to find other things for the kids to do, I was given one instruction only – keep making those balloons! So I did, and I even got one of the kids, Abo, to learn to make one with me. I have to say though, my balloon dog was so much more well-formed than his.

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Later on, one of the mums, Anita, came into the room and the atmosphere toned down somewhat, to our relief. We taught Anita how to make balloon animals as well. She learnt it all after one demonstration. We had a future children’s church worker/minister on our hands, so the next day, Anita inherited some of our pumps and a few of the extra balloons. Good riddance that I will never have to see a pump and balloon ever again.

Photo 15

After over 2 hours(!), we were told the cell had concluded and that we should go to the auditorium to pray for the various families. We had been granted our parole, and as we left the creche room, the air could not have smelled any sweeter.

Photo 16

After praying for the families, it was time for dinner – for 53 people.

Photo 17

It had been a chaotic night. And I was knackered. It was quite late by the time we got back to Tibar, and having a nice shower and getting into bed never felt so good.

But that evening had left a lasting impression on me. I had had a foretaste of the future church of Liquisa. What we had seen was embryonic – imagine what it would be like when the church reached full maturity. No doubt, a big part of the church would be an army of passionate, praying and worshipping children, strong in the Word, and with a penchant for balloon animals.

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!

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.

Hip-Pocket Worship

I like money. There! I’ve said it. (Hopefully, I don’t love money). If you were honest, you would more likely than not admit that you like money too.

Why? Money makes life more comfortable and convenient. It helps you meet your basic needs, but can also supply you with some of life’s luxuries as well, depending on how much of it you have.

Money in itself, of course, has no value. In most countries, it’s a crumpled piece of paper with special ink printed on it. In more sophisticated countries, it’s difficult-to-tear plastic. But even then, it’s inherent value is negligible. It’s value lies in what it can be exchanged for.

At cell group last week, we were discussing why God puts so much emphasis on money, giving and tithing. One person thought that it was important for us to bring our tithes “into the storehouse” to support those who do the work of ministry within the church. Now, I admit that there are some verses in the Bible that talk about collecting funds for the priests, leaving things behind for the poor etc.

But if we think of money just as resource, i.e. a means to fulfill God’s work, then I think we underestimate just how powerful and unendingly resourceful our God is. Put simply, God doesn’t need our money to accomplish His work!

I believe that, at its core, God puts a lot of emphasis on money because it goes to the root of who or what we put our faith in, and therefore, it is entirely an issue about our worship.

We can put it another way: money is the currency of the world. Faith is the currency of heaven.

The writer of Hebrews tells us plainly: “without faith, it is impossible to please God” and that God “rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb 11:6).

In Luke 16:13, Jesus puts money into the frame as far as worship is concerned. He said:

No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

The last sentence there is almost a non-sequitur. Why didn’t Jesus just say you can’t serve God and your career, or your comfort or your self-image? Instead, he posits money right in the centre of the issue, and no less, “Money” with a capital “M”.

The reason is this: the more we rely on money, the less we will need to rely on God.

I had a friend who recently left a salaried job to start his own ministry. My immediate concern for him was how he was going to support himself and his family. I’m sure he wrestled with that issue at a greater level than I ever could imagine. But at the end of the day, he decided he would live by faith; he would put His trust in God to supply his needs. His job was to simply answer God’s call and to obey.

Since stepping out into this new ministry, my friend has had all his needs met. He was sponsored on a holiday, invited to speak at various events, asked to provide consultancy services to a church. God lined up all the work for him without his having to solicit money or opportunities from people. God is paying him to do a job he loves (or we could say, as the writer of Hebrews says, God rewards those who seek Him).

In 1 Chronicles 21, David had just sinned against the Lord, and a great plague had broken out against Israel. The Chronicler describes how David went to Araunah to buy his threshing floor so that he could offer burnt offerings to God there and arrest the plague. Here’s what transpired (vv 23ff):

Araunah said to David, “Take it! Let my lord the king do whatever pleases him. Look, I will give the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I will give all this.”

But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”

Now, I don’t think that 50 shekels of silver really made a dent in David’s hip-pocket. After all, he was the most prosperous king Israel had ever had. But David knew that giving wasn’t all about the hurt and the pain of sacrifice. David understood that giving went to the heart of worship.

After the sacrifice was made, God answered with fire from heaven and the plague stopped. But more importantly, this site, the threshing floor of Araunah, would be the designated site for the temple which David has blueprinted and which Solomon was to build. The foundation of worship is giving.

This same site goes by another name: Mt Moriah. Generations ago, in Genesis 22, God tested Abraham’s faith by seeing if he would sacrifice his son, his only son, whom he loved, on the mountain. When Abraham demonstrated to God that he was prepared to freely give, even the thing most precious to him, God provided a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. And Abraham called the place “the Lord will provide” (Jehovah Jireh).

Isaac, the only begotten and beloved son, and the substitutionary ram caught by the thicket are, of course, types of Christ. Our giving to God can never overshadow His generosity towards us in giving us His Son to die in our place. And so, our giving is rooted in God’s overwhelming generosity. Freely we have received, so freely we give!

And God makes it abundantly clear. When we are prepared to give, He stands ready to provide for us and to reward those who seek Him.

At the heart of the issue of money, giving and worship then is this: will Money be our provider, or will Jehovah Jireh be our provider. Who do we trust more?