When the darkness sweeps in

“1 dead, 19 injured after crash”

This is the sort of news that is becoming routine in our world today.  Here, a car barreled into non-violent protesters. We would link it to a terror attack, except this is not. It happened in the US of A – the land of the free and brave.

Some say it is getting darker. Most deplore the darkness. Some evil seem so obvious, like ISIS.

Many are eager to expect others to condemn and speak up. We look to leaders, spiritual and political to hand out answers and police the situations. But the news essentially never changes.

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We need to keep praying for courageous leaders to emerge. Power is an attractive thing, and the good are often not drawn to it.

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Other influencers, educated, powerful men and women, can become blind to the darkness in their hearts so that the darkness in each connects and coagulates and becomes a huge blob that snuffs out sense and light.

We need to pray for philosophies and practices that are driven by greed and fear to dismantle.


But it isn’t just the folks who rule. 


Each of us is a little kingdom to our self, and we each have influence, often greater than we ever considered.

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The Bible tells us that darkness lurks in all our hearts. With the speed of information spread today, and little time for journalists to do deep research, many of us are agreeing too quickly on shaky facts, and often we are adding to the vitriol. Much of it seem harmless: voicing our opinions, defending our positions, highlighting our preferences.

This is why any teaching that does not call each of us to account for our thoughts and deeds is far from the truth, and will never enable us to grow into our calling to be peacemakers.

From systemic darkness to personal demons, there is a way to understand this:

“…the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient…gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.” ~ Ephesians 2v2-3
It is personal.

There is a personality behind darkness.

This is the personality of actual human leaders. It is also the personality of a sinister and strong force that is against all that is light, good, truth, hope.

It is an opportunistic being that weighs in on our human ambition, the desire for revenge, payback for injustice suffered, our need for recognition and applause…. riding on what seems reasonable, the darkness embeds into our souls. When given time to grow beneath the surface, it can erupt as rage, murder, rampage, genocide.

We under-estimate the reality of darkness and ignore the forces of evil that lurk beyond our physical senses, to our peril.

The Bible does not whitewash this harsh reality. It refers to moments and a cataclysmic time:
“when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” ~ Ephesians 6v13
Has a day of evil come upon you?
There will be dark and incredibly difficult days ahead.

Thankfully, we are asked to do what we can: stand.

There are days when evil can come suddenly to plow us down.

At such times, all that is required of us is to stay standing.

Recently I was at a passing out parade of several platoons of soldiers. The parade wasn’t very long, but I remember my own days when I loved to march as a member of the Girls’ Brigade. The pride of marching however, dissipated quickly when the sun beat down, we felt thirsty, our stomachs growl and our legs begin to buckle. Only two things kept us standing: knowing we could not walk away, and trusting that we can actually do this or the officers would not require it of us.

Will we walk away when it gets hard?
Do we trust that the tough times are still a part of God’s good and perfect will?

It seems to me, as old songs have a tendency to float back into my consciousness unbidden these days, that we took these challenges far more seriously in the past. We had songs like “this world is not my home, I’m just a passing through”. But some of our luxuriant homes and lifetsyles (pastors included) makes me wonder if we have not sold our passport to heaven coz’ it’s just got so good here on earth.

Sir Glubb’s* prescient essay about the rise and fall of great nations names ‘the good times’ as that which undermines our ability to stand and stay true, and so to give way. Wealth and ease weaken us.

God actually has a strategy for this, which we need to recapture in our homes and churches.

1] Accountability for personal growth: unless we will be open and vulnerable, we cannot help shine light and dispel darkness. How many are feeling lost, lonely, afraid. far from God – even as they may go through the motions of faith?

2] Contemplation for spiritual resilience: unless we fill our hearts and minds with things above, all of our senses will hold us hostage. How many are battling emotions and thoughts that weigh them down and cause confusion and a loss of vision for life?

3] Encourage each other: this is not merely gathering together to reinforce our platitudes such as “God is good, all the time”. It is a serious effort to share our possessions and resources so that we can together enjoy God’s bounty towards our needs. How many are struggling to make ends meet and wondering if God has chosen not to bless them?

This A.C.E. strategy is very hard to teach and implement. Yet it is also really very simple and powerful. The best place to start is to live it ourselves, in increasing measure.

And then, we must pray for our leaders in all fields, so that we may live our lives with godliness and dignity.

Sir Glubb’s essay as referenced on Today paper

Look up! Look up often!

Paul wrote to Timothy, his mentoree and spiritual son because the latter was facing some huge challenges, his health was weakening probably due to the stress; and both his personality and youth were liabilities it seemed at a time like this!

If I was Timothy; I would wish Paul returned back quickly to set things right. We all hope someone can appear to make things better. Churchlife! seeks to be an instrument toward that end – whether it is helping pastors and leaders navigate team dynamics, pressing issues, raising leaders or clarifying goals and setting strategies.

However, no matter how hard we try; the very real limits are found in two things: our hearts, and our vision.

If our hearts are worn down or filled with negativity or fear; no amount of planning and working would change much. Many great men and women will say honestly that they do not consider themselves the smartest or fastest; but they will readily admit to one thing: they have set their heart to the task and it means so much, they won’t back down.

How does one get such a heart?

It comes from the second: our vision.

All of us leaders know that it isn’t about hammering out some nice-sounding statement that a vision is birthed. Indeed, Oswald Chambers used to say,

“When God gives a man a vision, he takes him down to the valley; and hammers him into the shape of the vision” (adapted).

The vision that Paul cast before Timothy was that of his own life. Paul recounts for Timothy his own history and God’s unlikely call and amazing transformation of his life. He writes with such conviction that it crescendos with a doxology ~

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever, Amen. {1 Tim 1v17}

Then Paul pulls Timothy up from his spiritual slack, urging him to fight the good fight.

Faced with loud, contentious voices; issues that won’t resolve easily, maybe even personal attacks, all leaders can crumble within.  What gives us strength is recounting God’s call and gracious equipping – and trusting that even now, even this, God will be King, eternal, immortal ! Although he is invisible to our physical eye; God can become consuming in our spiritual sight and loom larger than all our present troubles.

And when we sit and wait, our trust growing deeper – God will assert His kingship and lead us down the path to take. This is the best shield and defense for the leader called by God.

 

From self-awareness to God-awareness: a huge difference indeed!

These are common things we hear:

These is not my area of gifting

I am not wired this way

My strengths and weaknesses are…

 

These are also the common lines we use to decipher and decide what we do, where we serve; and how joyful we are in our circumstances.

Self-awareness is very important.  The self-aware person is the one who can restrain himself and choose the more godly way because he knows well his weaknesses and tendencies. But I venture to say that speaking of gifting, wiring and abilities do not add up to self-awareness. They belong to the realm of self-knowledge: things we know about ourselves after we have taken an inventory (personality profile tests) or gone through some experiences (I really enjoy working with the elderly).

Self-awareness goes deeper. It is not so much about what we can or like to do; but about what truly motivates us, what engine is humming within our souls.

 

King David was on a roll: military success, kingdom expansion, secured borders, repute, and several wives. But he did not recognize that a hunger still lurked within him. He forgot how easily his heart is turned on by beauty. In the devastating episode of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and the subsequent abuse of his power to cover up his sin, God would need to bring him to a full accounting. No excuses for the high and mighty, anointed king of the land. In that famous Psalm of repentance, we read this —

For You desire truth

In my inward parts – Psa 51v6

 

How many layers and levels of truth are there? To God, the truth that matters most is the one that sits deep within the folds of our soul.

 

David came to realize that he was not invulnerable. It is not a comfortable truth to accept.  Indeed; he recognized this frailty for what it is and can do, and he is undone! David was brought to an awareness he did not have previously.

 

Alas, this is often the way we must travel to come to see ourselves truly – through failure and brokenness. We are tempted to despair – if – our confidence is in what we have to offer.

 

Self-awareness happens when we are cultivating God-awareness. We discover the contours of our soul and the shape of our hearts as we come to God and ask Him to reveal it to us. After all, we do not like to admit to our brokenness, our neediness and our darkness. We have been well trained to present our best face and put our best foot forward; so much so our hearts are often so hidden from our own view.  We need God to show it to us.

At times, what we are shown is so stark that we can only cry –

Create in me

A clean heart! – Psa 51

 

And strangely at these moments, we do not feel the heavy hand of judgment but the tender draw of acceptance and lovingkindness.

 

As this happens, we clamber over the walls of self-knowing and self-definitions – which are really walls of self-protection – and are now ready for the vast vista before us, and join the ranks of many who knows what it means to be a servant of the Most High.

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“St Paul did not want to be an apostle to the Gentles… He wanted to be a clever and appreciated young Jewish scholar, and kicked against the pricks. St Ambrose and St Augustine did not want to be overworked and worried bishops. Nothing was father from their intention. St Cuthbert wanted the solitude and freedom of his hermitage on the Farne; but he did not often get there. St Francis Xavier’s preference was for an ordered life close to his beloved master, St Ignatius. At a few hours’ notice, he was sent to be the Apostle of the Indies and never returned to Europe again. Henry Martyn, the fragile and exquisite scholar, was compelled to sacrifice the intellectual; life to which was so perfectly fitted for the missionary life to which he was decisively called. In all these, a power beyond themselves decided the direction of life. Yet in all, we recognize not frustration, but the highest of all types of achievement. Things like this… convince us that the overruling reality of life is the Will and Choice of a Spirit acting not in a mechanical but in a living and personal way; and that the spiritual life of man does not consist in mere individual betterment, or assiduous attention to his own soul, but in a free and unconditional response to the Spirit’s pressure and call, whatever the cost may be.”

~ Evelyn Underhill

 

God no doubt knows all about our gifts, talents as well as the motivations and fears we have. Intent on our salvation; he will take us through the terrain that must be trod for all of these to surface and be handled rightly. Can we His servants learn to trust Him more deeply to tutor and shape and prepare us for the road?

 

John Wesley’s prayer may help us here ~

I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,

exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine.

So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven.

 

So wait on the LORD patiently, endure, serve with gladness and know that your reward, your satisfaction and your highest aim in life is not the perfect church/ministry; but the perfect God – and Him you already have.

 

Also be not afraid of changes large and small that may come to upheaval all you have worked to build and sacrificed for. Be not afraid of doors that close or small tight spaces. Be not afraid of new winds blowing and invitations to consider something new. For nothing is hidden from His view and if you walk in the Light, you need not stumble even if the trail turns a sharp corner and you feel you may fall off the cliff.  Hold on to Him, walk closer to the Light and find that God already has you.

Thoughts from reading Luke 21: a discipleship paradigm perhaps?

Thoughts from reading Luke 21

Here is a record of contrasts.

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Temple as build by Herod

Jesus and the twelve arrived at the Temple in Jerusalem; and they notice very different things.

Jesus straightaway sees an old widow’s generous gift and points it out to his disciples. The however are transfixed and start talking about the impressive temple architecture. They see what is right before their eyes and are taken in by earthly displays of power, wealth, influence.

Immediately Jesus interjects and throws a spanner into their conversation: this temple? It won’t be standing.

Like the disciples, our immediate response to bad news is: when is it going to happen (tell us so we can avoid, prevent or stay far from it please!).

Jesus’ words at this point?

“watch out that you are not deceived”

If there are candidates for being easily duped; the disciples are already showing signs of qualifying. From the time they step foot onto the temple grounds; their sight and imaginations were already captured by what seems obviously so right: we are a proud people of God; just look at our grand temple even though we are ruled by Romans! Just think how wonderful things will be when we are free from Roman oppression!

 

Seriously, how many of us day-dream like this all the time? We want God to come and zap our troubles away and prove that following Him was the best decision – right in our enemy’s face. We prosper, peace comes into our homes, our bodies are healed and we fuel up on spiritual highs.

 

Jesus then helps the disciples with a mindset shift. It’s not a comfortable message at all. In fact, it goes contrary to what they really want to hear. They are sick of being run by Gentiles. What they want is freedom. But Jesus prepares them for persecution.  There is a huge difference though. The exile and the Roman oppression are part of God’s discipline of His people. The persecution to come is part of God’s redemption of the world; the destiny of His people  (yes, who has ever taught us that?). Listen to what Jesus is saying:

“this will result in your being witnesses to them”

“all men will hate you because of me”

“your redemption is near”

“you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”

 

Our destiny is to have Christ so pre-eminent that we are willing and thus enabled to stand with Him against the world.

 

Perhaps, as we witness some of what Jesus described in this passage; Luke 21 can become a discipleship paradigm for us as leaders. We need to teach and prepare our people to be people of destiny; who will have Christ pre-eminent, who know His words to us at such a time:

 

“do not follow them” v8

“do not be frightened” v9

“make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict” v14

“stand up, and lift up your heads…” v28

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life” v34 

“be always on the watch and pray” v36

 

God have mercy on us; and help us raise such a generation.

 

 

Spirit-led Leadership: reflections from pew & pulpit no. 1

Starting with a broken heart

I will never forget my first pastorate. The anticipation and apprehension imagined will never match the actual experience. Those who interviewed and assessed me had been convinced, as I was, about my calling. God had provided for what He called me towards.

But I began with a broken heart. In fact, I expected the interview to be difficult. After all, just months before, I was shocked when my own church had rejected me as I was not who they wanted: a happily married man in his forties with years of experience. I was a single woman of twenty-eight.

 

Trudging alone

Once in the thick of ministry however, I realised that my calling, critical as it may be as an anchor for my soul, cannot help me forward. I felt like someone had shoved me centre-stage and my eyes were blinded by the bright stage lights. Everywhere I turned, I smelled expectation; and God seemed to have left the scene.

My gender did not help me. I looked around desperately for models but there were so few. Those who were in close enough range were struggling as I was.

The plot thickens when churches today seem sloshed with notions of leadership; and women, are traditionally, not considered leaders. A female colleague of mine found that she had to explain how she could lead a congregation, which her husband was a part of, and not be the leader at home. Minefields were waiting at many turns.

My own experience proved leadership gurus right: I was duly addressed as ‘pastor’ when the person needed prayer, but causally referred to by my first  name otherwise. Respect was not automatically handed to me with my appointment. Respect and fellowship appeared when providence cleared the way through my involvement in the person’s life, that is, a member was willing to come to me for help, and felt helped.

The terrain was truly formidable. Hence, over time, it became less and less shocking to receive a call from a friend or colleague who was in distress and the verge of calling it quits.

 

Clearly, we have to make sense of this. I didn’t want to ‘get used’ to something that is more human foible than Kingdom norm. So I continue to think, pray and make notes as I go.

Our self-understanding and how we lead is intertwined with our congregations, traditions and current challenges, no doubt; but leaders and pastors have the unique privilege of bringing definitions and clarity – if we ourselves are clear.

Let me share with us a series of notes I have taken in the foregoing years on the person and role of the pastor.

1. Which comes first ?

It appears that  our calling – to serve – has been hijacked by the use of titles which usually equate power and authority. So we become confused and we guard those titles and positions. Coming from an Asian context, relational security and seniority become added dimensions to contend with. It is easy for a church to consider an older person who has ‘more friends’ to be the better choice; only to find that in the end, the person may have the title, the seniority and even strong relational ties,  but not the needed competencies. The Peter Principle of management has crept in once again: we have over-promoted someone.

Indeed, even competencies cannot provide the entire lens for our understanding; as our current fascination with numerical growth and leadership practices tend to lean us. The entire dimension of servant-hood – Jesus’ poignant and dramatised last words to those who would succeed him in leadership – is often missing, when it should be the background canvas for our brush strokes.

 

If we are truly taken by the theological understanding that to lead is to serve, it would revolutionize our meetings, our ordinations proceedings, and certainly, it would open wide the tight gates of ordination to sisters.

 

Titles are needful for they place us; but we must not forget that the purpose of titles is what they call forth from us.

Pastors and leaders who do not convey the substance of their office have this effect on the flock: members retreat into a personal piety that is not outreaching or kingdom focused. But a pastor who leads in order to serve, cannot possibly get the order of things wrong.

 

 

On Kingdom.Jubilee.Israel – some initial reflections

Thoughts on the Kingdom: a post Summit reflection

More than 500 Singapore pastors, mission, and ministry leaders gathered at the annual Prayer Summit in January 2014. Our theme this year was “Jubilee!”. The focus of our teaching sessions was the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God. Looking at the movements of increasing emphasis on the Kingdom, God is certainly bringing everything under his feet (Eph 1v22).

At an individual level, our personal faith must in time get stretched to include church, family, vocation and even larger issues like greed, wealth and global warming!

This expansion is paralleled in the church – at a corporate level God matures us too to embrace His worldwide agenda; and we do well to follow our God, Master and King to the poor, the oppressed; and grapple with the pressing issues of our day.

This is why at the recent Pastors’ Summit, there was such a buzz and energy as we sat and listened to Peter Tsukahira expound on the Kingdom of God. There is no escaping the theme of the Kingdom, indeed, it is a central theme in the Bible. There has, and always will be, a need for us to discover more of this Kingdom by listening to the heart of the King.

At this Summit though, Ps Peter who has been living in Israel for more than thirty years, brings a particular lens for the Kingdom; a corrective in a way. It begins with understanding that God once established a physical, real, concrete model of this kingdom in the people of Israel. Thus, Israel is a real life, historical, visual-aid and spiritual chess piece for us. He then goes on to unpack more of what this meant and why it is so important.

He begins with a very inviting picture: Revelation is like entering a 3D experience where we can participate in what is now made known. We can be shown a 2D picture of a garden; but it is very different to actually walk into one. Revelation is being led into the garden! {love this analogy!}

Then he goes on to several main themes across the four sessions:

1.      Prophecy is the Word of  God being verified on human stage. It is word+event. In this regard, the Incarnation is the foremost prophetic Word-Event ever. Jesus fulfils more than 200 prophecies.

Another major prophecy pertains to the people of Israel. The OT prophets’s words  are coming to pass, for eg. Ezek 36. It is pertinent to note that the fulfilment of prophecy proves God’s character as a faithful covenant-keeping God and so showcases his glory. What is to be our response to this?

2.     Israel. Looking at Rom 9-11, Ps Peter suggested that the context was a leadership crisis between  Jew-Gentile church leaders. Paul therefore needed to help them understand their relationship of inter-dependence in God’s purpose of salvation. The Gentiles are blessed as a result of the Jews’ fall; but when the fullness of the Gentile turning comes about, the Jews will be restored in faith. Practically, this means that our faith response or lack thereof impacts others. There has consistently in history been a recurring anti-Semitic force that surfaces; such as the Holocaust which was sanctioned by the church of Germany then. Christians need to be aware of this and be careful that we do not consider that we have replaced Israel. (this is what is known as Replacement Theology).

Using the analogy of a movie, Ps Peter reminds us that Christians today must remember that we have entered the story/movie midway. We need to go back to how it started to appreciate the whole movie! This is crucial for us to grasp a more complete picture.

3.      The theme of God’s Kingdom began in the OT in Ex19. It is a simple notion of a people who are ruled by God. It is an impossibility which God brings about and shapes as a motley disorganized group responds in faith and obedience.   When Jesus enters the scene, his message is about the Kingdom too, and as Jewish listeners, his disciples and the crowd would have a background understanding plus a longing for the fulfillment of this kingdom.

Indeed, his disciples asked him post-resurrection: when will the kingdom be established?

 

4. The Kingdom has laws that govern all areas of life. But when Israel rejected God as king (1 Sam 8), they began a slippery descent into increasing lawlessness culminating in the exiles. God’s laws are universally applicable and we contravene it at high cost. Ps Peter cites Singapore as an example of a lawful society that thrives. In a way, in our geo-political context, Singapore’s history is really an anomaly. He suggested that this is because we are basically a lawful society, our founding fathers being trained in British law which had a Christian foundation.

 

5. In the New Covenant, we have the twin pillars of Law & Grace. According to  Jer 31v31  we will have God’s laws on our hearts. Jesus speaks of fulfilling/perfecting the Law. For a long time, this was understood as Jesus meeting the judicial requirement and turning God’s wrath away with the Cross while the ‘hypergrace’ move tends to teach that the Law is no longer relevant. But Ps Peter suggests that when we read Matthew 5, Jesus refers to specific instances of laws and is talking of raising the bar – and expecting his listeners to meet whole new levels of holiness. The answer to this is Grace. God did not do away with the Law, God has supplied the Grace for us to live up to it.

The Law is not mere proposal or suggestion. It is defining. It establishes boundaries and order.

Thus, we are to recapture the spirit of the Law and rise up as a people who ‘do’ faith and not just have a ‘belief’ faith.

We have been called/chosen/gifted/anointed. We need to rise up. Pastors need to recognise that our call is to equip our people to rise up as kingdom builders.

There is so much to glean from this themes!

The passion for the Kingdom has been evident for more than a decade in Singapore. What is new in this is how we are asked to look right to where the movie began such that we

~embrace our Jewish brethren and acknowledge God’s role for them.

~we see the Law with fresh eyes and study them for an application to our lives and societies today.

honeycomb pieces

From what I see in Scripture, the Law was never given as a requirement. This has probably been the gravest mis-step for us. God had already called Abraham and delivered Israel. The Law was God’s way of defining His relationship with the people. The way to the relationship; the acceptance and mercy of God, was given first. The Laws represented God’s heart; it is a value system that reflects heaven and restores imago Dei (God’s image in us). The opposite of Law is not Grace but lawlessness.

The Kingdom of God is certainly the big vision we are after. But questions swim around in my head. Perhaps we can begin a discussion on it here.

–          What exactly does it mean and what does it take? Do we all study the Hebrew language and begin a serious review of the Torah (and the 613 further laws developed in the Inter-testamental period) since the Kingdom is defined by its laws?

-Evangelical teaching has tended to spiritualise the Kingdom; but are we in danger of swinging to the other end by trying to actualise it?

–          How do we usher in the rule of God in a world bent on rejecting that rule? What price must we be prepared to pay?

– The New Covenant is both continuous with and beyond the Old Covenant. Should not this same principle apply to the Kingdom? For one, the kingdom we are looking to and helping build is multi-cultural, multi-generational, trans-national. It also operates with different offices.

– While we want to return to lawfulness and be a people of transformation; bringing change to society, how do we go about this? As Ps Peter rightly pointed out, the current economic system for example will not agree to the ‘reset’ button of the Jubilee where all debts are canceled. (although there is this: http://jubileedebt.org.uk/)

So, I wonder if there are more ‘clues’ within the Gospels and then in Acts for us. I read my Gospels each year and each time, I feel a certain distance from what Jesus says.

I have come to notice that due to our sociological realities, much of evangelical interpretation is often really the reinforcement of a middle-class way of life. If we take what Jesus and Paul said seriously, many of us may well have to change our lifestyles. Some Christians in the world live in communes in order to help each other live by Kingdom values; such as the Bruderhof.

I remember learning about Bishop Oscar Romero in theological college. He had a vision of the kingdom where his people could live without oppression. He spoke out courageously against their oppressors. In the end, he was assassinated. I have often wondered what it takes for a Christ follower to grow to have such vision and the courage to match. I agitate over the petty things that make up so much of our lives today. As a pastor (even though I have mostly been part-time since the birth of my children); I question how much of what we do contributes to this singular vision of learning, growing and replicating the Kingdom through communities of faith.

If we are to seek first the Kingdom, our model par excellence is Christ.

For years in evangelical faith, we have been taught to be like Christ – interpreted mostly in terms of certain character traits as seen through a cultural lens. For many Christ was a sterile, always calm figure. When I read the Gospels more closely, Christ shook me up. He felt different from what was described to me. I found myself praying audacious prayers to be like him: to drive out demons, teach with authority, make decisions after prayer and live by convictions even it meant ending up with a cross on my back. I am not sure where I stand; but Jesus Christ continues to draw me and remains the focus for my life and ministry.

I feel immensely responsible for my own sake and the sake of my flock that I lead them in the ways of Truth and Spirit. The declining state of church in many places is instructive for us, and a grim reminder of the importance of laying hold of spiritual truths aright.

 

What came together for me at the recent Summit was: hearing the stories of other pastors, reading about YWAM’s foray to seek out the homeless, the teachings, the gentle work of God upon my own heart rekindling a fire for Him… In the end, the kingdom must begin first- within each of our hearts – …. as the old song goes, “LORD prepare me to be a sanctuary”; and not in a cutie-pious way but a –

robust, not afraid of dark, evil, or despair way

a selfless, courageous, out-of-box way

a persistent, insistent, consistent way

– for this is an unshakable Kingdom we are to be a part of and help build!

 

I hope that descending from the Summit, we will not hit the trenches too quick that whatever the Spirit wants to say to the churches ends up a distant whisper.

But of course,  we have personality weaknesses, dark fears, sometimes unhealed hurts… and these can sabotage us.

Can a pastor fail? – and, why we must stand for each other.

Based on the many promises we find, the clear answer is no.

1 Cor 15v58:  says our labour is not in vain.

John 15:  for example speaks of our fruitfulness as being an organic process- and that our bearing fruit is a gift of grace as we stay connected and dependent upon Christ. Isn’t that the default posture we all ought to have? Isn’t that simply the way we are – grafted, given new life, called and anointed? So we cannot fail, right?

Yet –

a pastor can fail:

To be diligent

To be vigilant

The Scripture too calls us to these two postures we are to take: to be diligent and to be vigilant. We are to work hard and follow through; we are to be careful and alert. We are to lead ourselves before leading others.

But of course,  we have personality weaknesses, dark fears, sometimes unhealed hurts… and these can sabotage us.

Or — we   may   feel   like   we  failed:

…. when our flock doesn’t respond.

…. when our weaknesses and limitations are not acknowledged and we are not protected; but expected to perform like another pastor.

This has become more real for us as we enter a different phase as pastors. We are now part of a church-plant, we have young children, we live in a crazed-paced society that demands quick results. There are days when the enemy would love for us to believe we have failed and to bail out. We also see and hear stories of other crestfallen pastors who feel like they failed because all they hear is the critic.

agape

~ unconditional love ~

If you are a pastor, listen:

yours is a high, holy, and difficult calling.

And sometimes you will feel the worst of all of life because it is made precisely worse for the community you build is not the community you can count on. This is not biblical, but it is real. You allay other’s fears and burdens and there seems no one to do the same for you. You reach to love others’ children and there doesn’t seem so many who love yours (especially if they are special or challenging). You are bleeding and you need to attend to and bandage another’s wounds.

In times like these, we must run to Jesus our Author and Perfecter, our Redeemer, our Prince of Peace, our Mighty God, our Everlasting Father…. and more…

In times like these, there is one more thing to do. We as pastors must be tender-hearted toward each other. After all, who can understand the woe and weal of the pastoral life better than another pastor?

But I have been a lonely pastor. I have seen many lonely, wounded trying to soldier on. I wonder if we do not reach out to each other perhaps because –

~ we are not reconciled with our calling and our pains?  Most of us at some point are literally shocked at the Cross we are called to bear. Recently, i heard a missionary share how she riled against God for putting her through so much, how she wondered if it was worth it, if her faith was real… these are genuine struggles we go through and our average member may not bear this burden with us. We are then left to stoically press on and perhaps even end up living in some form of denial or avoidance.. ..and as a result, maybe we choose to avoid other pastors because it just reminds us too much?

~ we are too busy building our own enterprise and forget that this is God’s Kingdom and we are all assigned a part; and it takes all of us to see the grandeur of it all?  Our fix-it tendency is to focus our energies fixing ourselves and our problems, rather than sit with a brother or sister and pour our hearts out. The latter seem so fruitless. But we so wrong. Spiritual conversations and burden sharing belongs to the royal law of love. Pastors need community, safe places, safe people.

Our pastoral calling is going to stay. The reality of biting sheep and hemorrhaging congregations is going to persist. We have to find a healthy, godly way to navigate this.

What is yours?

As you think about it, maybe this article can help:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2014/march-online-only/friendless-pastor.html

Sticking to our convictions..what Paul can teach us.

Leaders make loads of decisions. People expect them to. They need to.

But leaders also make many personal decisions.

Paul made a decision to go to Jerusalem. At this point, he has made significant impact all through West Asia and Southern Europe. We read in Acts that his decision was called into question twice.

Fellow believers in Tyre “through the Spirit” urged him to abort his plan (Acts 21v4). Later in Caesarea, a prophet named Agabus shared that Paul would be captured and subjected to godless men. Again fellow believers tried to dissuade Paul but he refused to budge so that they had to admit, “The Lord’s will be done.” (Acts 21v14)

The rest of Acts is a record of Paul’s tumultuous trip to Jerusalem, the severe troubles he faced there which led to his arrest first in Jerusalem then to Caesarea; and finally to Rome after a two-week long storm. The episode ended on this note:

“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Did Paul make a mistake by insisting on going to Jerusalem? He had consistent trouble with Jews who saw the gospel as an aberration and threat to the Jewish faith; but to walk into the headquarters of Jewish religiosity seems foolhardy. We can speculate about what greater good would come about if he continued with his missionary efforts rather than wait around for justice  – first under Felix’s, then Agrippa’s charge. More than four years of waiting for a proper trial.

But many scholars believe that it was this last period of house arrest that afforded Paul the time to compose his many epistles. In the letter to the Christians at Philippi, Paul refers to the many he talked with while under arrest; including members of Caesar’s household.

We do not know for sure what happened to Paul.

apostle_st_paul-400

William Barclay in his commentary:

And so the Book of Acts comes to an end with a shout of triumph….Now the tale is finished; the story that began in Jerusalem rather more than thirty years ago has finished in Rome. It is nothing less than a miracle of God. The church which at the beginning of Acts could be numbered in scores cannot now be numbered in tens of thousands. The story of the crucified man of Nazareth has swept across the world in its conquering course until now without interference it is being preached in Rome, the capital of the world. The gospel has reached the centre of the world and is being freely proclaimed…. (“The Acts of the Apostles,” 193)”.

The grand narrative of God’s Kingdom pushes on forward. Paul’s personal narrative is part of this. We may never know how things would turn if Paul listened and changed his mind. But God’s grand narrative will march triumphant on.

As leaders, we sometimes follow our convictions and find ourselves in hot soup. We may even struggle with shadows of ‘what-if’ and wonder if we have listened to all counsel etc.

Our hope lies not in our ability to decide with full accuracy, for it is not possible. However, we can learn from Paul that choices require conviction, and sometimes others may not support our convictions. We also learn that our choices and decisions – when it is to obey God – can take us to surprising and hard places. But our heart’s desire must remain unmixed, and we must not waver: we must continue to proclaim the Kingdom.

This means it is good that we do not fixate on our decisions and choices as much as we watch our hearts to stay committed to the core of our calling. If we are faithful, we shall be fruitful.

 

 

 

When it boils down to ‘me’.

With our eyes firmly in front of us, our natural gaze is outward, and ahead. We are born and raised to look out. What is going on outside of us therefore becomes the focus of our attention. We are led by what we see. Can this be the reason Jesus exhorts us to mind what we set eyes on, for it enters us and often takes root deep within us.

The eye is the lamp of the body. if your eye are good, your body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness…“~ Matt 6v22

These words are spoke in relation to the truth that whatever we set our heart on becomes our treasure; and that we were created to need a Master, and it will always have to be just one master. There is a clear connection between what we set our eyes on, what occupies our heart, and thus what we are truly serving.

What we focus on – becomes our priority – becomes our God.

This does not apply just to the prohibitive things we mustn’t allow our eyes to wander to, the temptations that lurk everywhere. Dealing with temptation is a needful part of the faith life.

But it isn’t just temptations that can rock us. Often, as leaders who feel the responsibility for others, we can be deeply affected by what we see too: frustration, a lack of zeal, sloth, division, problems of life… .

This is why in the end leadership boils down to ‘me’: we need to ask this question often: “what has my attention now?”.

In our typical problem-solving mode, what has our attention are often problems, issues, difficulties. Is it any wonder that leadership is such a tiresome thing?

We cannot escape from the reality that there are issues and challenges to work at; but we need to have a way of seeing them that will not burn us up! We need to ruthlessly deal with –

a/ wrong ideas. you may have heard common semi-truths such as “God helps those who help themselves”, “the buck stops here”, “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me”. These ideas have some kernel of truth but that’s all they have. In fact, the come from a very humanist standpoint and though they sound noble, they effectively edge the Sovereign God out of the picture.

b/ bad habits. we are when stripped to bare essentials, creatures of habits. Most of us have bad habits that simply do not help us to stay God-ward in orientation. We may fritter away time, indulge in gossip, refuse to rein in our emotions and our thoughts (often very right to us).

These cloud us and hinder us from developing healthy, God-ward perceptual capacities.

One of the best ways to develop spiritual sight is to ask questions, such as,

i. where is God in this?

ii. why am i reacting / responding like this?

Asking such questions and waiting for the answers to surface require time, discipline and solitude. But these are questions that pierce the fog and invite the rays of the sun to shine.

In that sense, it does boil down to ‘me’ – but a ‘me’ in God’s hands, before God in prayer, waiting on God for answers, knowing God carries the burden with us. This ‘me’ that is is thus led by God is better able to see, discern and decide – better a leader.

Link: A story of learning to see better: I fly away!

http://jennihh.blogspot.sg/2013/05/i-fly-awayliterally.html

http://jubileedebt.org.uk/

More than 500 Singapore pastors, mission, and ministry leaders gathered at the annual Prayer Summit recently. Our theme this year was Jubilee! The focus of our teaching sessions was the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God. Looking at the movements of increasing emphasis on the Kingdom, God is certainly bringing everything under his feet (Eph 1v22).

At an individual level, our personal faith must in time get stretched to include church, family, vocation and even larger issues like greed, wealth and global warming!

This expansion is paralleled in the church – at a corporate level God matures us too to embrace His worldwide agenda; and we do well to follow our God, Master and King to the poor, the oppressed; and grapple with the pressing issues of our day.

This is why at the recent Pastors’ Summit, there was such a buzz and energy as we sat and listened to Peter Tsukahira expound on the Kingdom of God. There is no escaping the theme of the Kingdom, indeed, it is a central theme in the Bible. There has, and always will be, a need for us to discover more of this Kingdom by listening to the heart of the King.

At this Summit though, Ps Peter who has been living in Israel for more than thirty years, brings a particular lens for the Kingdom; a corrective in a way. It begins with understanding that God once established a physical, real, concrete model of this kingdom in the people of Israel. Thus, Israel is a real life, historical, visual-aid and spiritual chess piece for us. He then goes on to unpack more of what this meant and why it is so important.

He begins with a very inviting picture: Revelation is like entering a 3D experience where we can participate in what is now made known. We can be shown a 2D picture of a garden; but it is very different to actually walk into one. Revelation is being led into the garden! {love this analogy!}

Then he goes on to several main themes across the four sessions:

1.      Prophecy is the Word of  God being verified on human stage. It is word+event. In this regard, the Incarnation is the foremost prophetic Word-Event ever. Jesus fulfils more than 200 prophecies.

Another major prophecy pertains to the people of Israel. The OT prophets’s words  are coming to pass, for eg. Ezek 36. It is pertinent to note that the fulfilment of prophecy proves God’s character as a faithful covenant-keeping God and so showcases his glory. What is to be our response to this?

2.     Israel. Looking at Rom 9-11, Ps Peter suggested that the context was a leadership crisis between  Jew-Gentile church leaders. Paul therefore needed to help them understand their relationship of inter-dependence in God’s purpose of salvation. The Gentiles are blessed as a result of the Jews’ fall; but when the fullness of the Gentile turning comes about, the Jews will be restored in faith. Practically, this means that our faith response or lack thereof impacts others. There has consistently in history been a recurring anti-Semitic force that surfaces; such as the Holocaust which was sanctioned by the church of Germany then. Christians need to be aware of this and be careful that we do not consider that we have replaced Israel. (this is what is known as Replacement Theology).

Using the analogy of a movie, Ps Peter reminds us that Christians today must remember that we have entered the story/movie midway. We need to go back to how it started to appreciate the whole movie! This is crucial for us to grasp a more complete picture.

3.      The theme of God’s Kingdom began in the OT in Ex19. It is a simple notion of a people who are ruled by God. It is an impossibility which God brings about and shapes as a motley disorganized group responds in faith and obedience.   When Jesus enters the scene, his message is about the Kingdom too, and as Jewish listeners, his disciples and the crowd would have a background understanding plus a longing for the fulfillment of this kingdom.

Indeed, his disciples asked him post-resurrection: when will the kingdom be established?

 

4. The Kingdom has laws that govern all areas of life. But when Israel rejected God as king (1 Sam 8), they began a slippery descent into increasing lawlessness culminating in the exiles. God’s laws are universally applicable and we contravene it at high cost. Ps Peter cites Singapore as an example of a lawful society that thrives. In a way, in our geo-political context, Singapore’s history is really an anomaly. He suggested that this is because we are basically a lawful society, our founding fathers being trained in British law which had a Christian foundation.

 

5. In the New Covenant, we have the twin pillars of Law & Grace. According to  Jer 31v31  we will have God’s laws on our hearts. Jesus speaks of fulfilling/perfecting the Law. For a long time, this was understood as Jesus meeting the judicial requirement and turning God’s wrath away with the Cross while the ‘hypergrace’ move tends to teach that the Law is no longer relevant. But Ps Peter suggests that when we read Matthew 5, Jesus refers to specific instances of laws and is talking of raising the bar – and expecting his listeners to meet whole new levels of holiness. The answer to this is Grace. God did not do away with the Law, God has supplied the Grace for us to live up to it.

The Law is not mere proposal or suggestion. It is defining. It establishes boundaries and order.

Thus, we are to recapture the spirit of the Law and rise up as a people who ‘do’ faith and not just have a ‘belief’ faith.

We have been called/chosen/gifted/anointed. We need to rise up. Pastors need to recognise that our call is to equip our people to rise up as kingdom builders.

There is so much to glean from this themes!

The passion for the Kingdom has been evident for more than a decade in Singapore. What is new in this is how we are asked to look right to where the movie began such that we

~embrace our Jewish brethren and acknowledge God’s role for them.

~we see the Law with fresh eyes and study them for an application to our lives and societies today.

Indeed, the Law was never given as a requirement. This has probably been the gravest mis-step for us. God had already called Abraham and delivered Israel. The Law was God’s way of defining His relationship with the people. The way to the relationship, the acceptance and mercy of God was given first. The Laws represented God’s heart; it is a value system that reflects heaven and restores imago Dei (God’s image in us). The opposite of Law is not Grace but lawlessness.

 

The Kingdom of God is certainly the big vision we are after. But questions swim around in my head. Perhaps we can begin a discussion on it here.

–          What exactly does it mean and what does it take? Do we all study the Hebrew language and begin a serious review of the Torah (and the 613 further laws developed in the Inter-testamental period) since the Kingdom is defined by its laws?

-Evangelical teaching has tended to spiritualise the Kingdom; but are we in danger of swinging to the other end by trying to actualise it?

–          How do we usher in the rule of God in a world bent on rejecting that rule? What price must we be prepared to pay?

– The New Covenant is both continuous with and beyond the Old Covenant. Should not this same principle apply to the Kingdom? For one, the kingdom we are looking to and helping build is multi-cultural, multi-generational, trans-national. It also operates with different offices.

– While we want to return to lawfulness and be a people of transformation; bringing change to society, how do we go about this? As Ps Peter rightly pointed out, the current economic system for example will not agree to the ‘reset’ button of the Jubilee where all debts are canceled. (although there is this: http://jubileedebt.org.uk/

So, I wonder if there are more ‘clues’ within the Gospels and then in Acts for us. I read my Gospels each year and each time, I feel a certain distance from what Jesus says.

I have come to notice that due to our sociological realities, much of evangelical interpretation is often really the reinforcement of a middle-class way of life. If we take what Jesus and Paul said seriously, many of us may well have to change our lifestyles. Some Christians in the world live in communes in order to help each other live by Kingdom values; such as the Bruderhof.

I remember learning about Bishop Oscar Romero in theological college. He had a vision of the kingdom where his people could live without oppression. He spoke out courageously against their oppressors. In the end, he was assassinated. I have often wondered what it takes for a Christ follower to grow to have such vision and the courage to match. I agitate over the petty things that make up so much of our lives today. As a pastor (even though I have mostly been part-time since the birth of my children); I question how much of what we do contributes to this singular vision of learning, growing and replicating the Kingdom through communities of faith.

If we are to seek first the Kingdom, our model par excellence is Christ.

For years in evangelical faith, we have been taught to be like Christ – interpreted mostly in terms of certain character traits as seen through a cultural lens. For many Christ was a sterile, always calm figure. When I read the Gospels more closely, Christ shook me up. He felt different from what was described to me. I found myself praying audacious prayers to be like him: to drive out demons, teach with authority, make decisions after prayer and live by convictions even it meant ending up with a cross on my back. I am not sure where I stand; but Jesus Christ continues to draw me and remains the focus for my life and ministry.

I feel immensely responsible for my own sake and the sake of my flock that I lead them in the ways of Truth and Spirit. The declining state of church in many places is instructive for us, and a grim reminder of the importance of laying hold of spiritual truths aright.

 

What came together for me at the recent Summit was: hearing the stories of other pastors, reading about YWAM’s foray to seek out the homeless, the teachings, the gentle work of God upon my own heart rekindling a fire for Him… In the end, the kingdom must begin first- within each of our hearts – …. as the old song goes, “LORD prepare me to be a sanctuary”; and not in a cutie-pious way but a —

robust, not afraid of dark, evil, or despair way

a selfless, courageous, out-of-box way

a persistent, insistent, consistent way

– for this is an unshakable Kingdom we are to be a part of and help build!

 

I hope that descending from the Summit, we will not hit the trenches too quick that whatever the Spirit wants to say to the churches ends up a distant whisper.