We live what we think and feel – a discipleship key

Everything we do in church happens in a context.

Many of us agonise over the struggles in discipleship; but we ask the Q often in only programmatic terms and almost always remain superficial in our cultural analysis. We talk about busyness, distraction, short attention spans, break down of morals… all of which are valid to the discussion; but we need to talk further and deeper.

In Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, he highlights that modern society is a result of an important departure in human history: man turned towards himself for answers. We began to trust more and more in our technology and abilities. Today we may be a tad cynical of science to save us, but it seems we have found a substitute: Passion. Yes, the hopes of the world today lie in passionate people who will re-invent,  re-imagine, re-align us all !

So our discipleship and Gospel is veering towards Passion; which we think is the same as highly emotional, expressive and maybe some anti-establishment thrown in.  Passion is a little understood dynamic indeed.

Some of us are afraid of all these seemingly wild and potentially out-of-control scenarios and continue to hunker down on the good old days….

Psychology 101 has a useful way to help us here. We are all CABs, taxi-ing around as our Cognition (thoughts), Affection (feelings) shape our Behaviour ! This means what you see has deeper roots in thought or feelings.

Discipleship, the Bible tells us is a process of transformational growth in maturity. From futility of thought, we are made spiritually alive to engage in a life-long journey of having our thoughts renewed, proving the mind of Christ. {see Romans 1v21 which gets inverted in Romans 12v1-2!, then 1 Cor 2v16- wow!}

From wild, unruly emotions that hijack us, we are formed through habits of gratitude and worship to be more stable and generous hearted. {join me over at http://jennihh.blogspot.sg/ for a Psalm trek ~ a journey of honesty, worship and relief}

If this is what the Bible describes it takes, then our discipleship plans and strategies must address thought and feeling as the root.

When we scan the church horizon, we see that the different spiritual traditions and streams have strengths in different aspects of discipleship. The prayer for healing, the divine encounter, the receiving of gifts, the disciplines of spiritual formation are all wonderful resources we need to use over time to help each other mature.

Alas, the milestones of many churches in discipleship continue to stay at the level of behaviour: tithing, serving, joining… which at heart is both a call to conformity and a way to manage people.

Indeed if we think hard about it, effective discipleship requires shepherding, servant-leadership, mentoring – all relational deep, sacrificial processes we often don’t want to give the time to. Greg Ogden stumbled upon the power of such an approach when he used small groups of three to test a thesis he was working on. Three people committed to help each other grow – which calls for accountability, giving, honesty, peer mentoring – turned out to be a powerful discipleship structure. He writes about it in Transforming Discipleship.

We need seminars, conferences and great sermons to inform and inspire.

We need the safety of a small group who want to journey together to go deep.

We need the quiet of being alone with God to heal deep from our roots.

We sometimes need the prayer support and intervention of gifted persons to break free from bondage.

May we as leaders find a way to slowly, patiently build an architecture of discipleship through engaging minds and winning hearts with the glorious Truth of the Gospel, the gracious mercy of God, and the gifts of the Spirit.

 

What does it mean to honour God today?

First, a visual feast: haunting pictures of abandoned churches. {click on this}

Most of these images show one thing: at one time, man built great edifices which shone with artistry as a way to honour God. Most of these buildings would also have cost a lot. The downside of this was many such churches often turned to the rich and influential for their support. Along the way, these austere and beautiful buildings were also often unwelcoming of those who did not feel they could fit in.

It is certainly wrong to try to honour God and fail to honour each other – who are made in God’s image.

It is easy today to poo-bah these hallowed halls of worship as ‘traditional’ and even ‘political’. We move quickly away to functional structures where the ministry can be effective with specialized halls for different ages and uses. To the degree that these changes reflect a desire of the church to connect and be useful; there is good in it.

YET – God’s magnificience and splendour is something we want to contemplate on, and communciate with the world. The sense of wonder, of the fear of God who is high and holy is lost today from our buildings to our songs and language as we lower God to our level more and more. The average worship service, and church today looks like it exist to serve us.

Did God have something in mind regarding His honour?

The mobile tabernacle for desert use, and the temple Solomon built (though one must add that his personal palace was more elaborate) were attractive architectural pieces for their time, and required sacrificial giving from God’s people. They were also places that gave them a sense of identity, belonging and which allowed them to witness to who God is. The church however, is entrusted with a universal mission. God was not calling is to reduce the sense of His greatness; but to go beyond buildings of concrete, steel and gold – to the most delicate and beautiful of all structures: the human life.

As Jesus pointed out to the Samaritan woman in John 4; God is seeking worship of Spirit and Truth. This potent combination is not mere cliche but a long-journey of being transformed so that we carry truth in our minds, words and choices. It is an ongoing commitment to be led by and live under the authority of the Holy Spirit.

Some of us would be led to make music, write, build communities and buildings, start enterprises, fight unjustice, battle poverty and slavery… and on the list goes. Each of us then is a piece of this vibrant God-honouring House that moves, shakes things up, houses lives and heals hearts.

In these days, God himself is building His house of honour; and you and I are privileged to be invited to be a part of it; wherever we are, whatever little we bring. This is glory and greatness worth contemplating and when such high thoughts fill our minds, it will show on our faces and translate into graces.

 

 

Thoughts from reading Mark 1-4

My Bible reading at this point arrives at Mark. This short-action packed account of Jesus’s life is known for its high energy, high speed re-telling… which in most versions is found in the use of the word, “immediately”.

Well, i am reading the New Jerusalem version.. and these are some of my thoughts as i read:

1/ Mark uses ‘at once’ so often, i tripped over reading it and by chapter 2, I was tired of reading it! Peter the apostle may have supplied the material; but the writer certainly isn’t great with written expression. Mark the author is the same guy Paul the grand theologian-apostle felt wasn’t quite up to the task….and rejected him from his team at one point.

Reminds me those we get impatient with; the less polished, eloquent, knowledgeable… Yet what may God entrust them with? Mark got entrusted with telling the highlights of Jesus’ life!

 

2/ not all the instances of ‘at once’ are sad syntax. The way Peter, Andrew, James and John left their lives behind ‘at once’ holds tremendous challenge for us. They were called to leave their lives and loved ones behind – and they did; at once! I preached on this many years ago: that should we truly confront Jesus, I think there is some urgency of response required. His is not a call to a beach resort for u to mill around considering our options. This made me think how often today we live with a man-sized God; lowering God to what we are able to perceive and believe; rather than realize the Gospel is the good news that God has lifted us so that we can now be God-sized men (and women and children).

 

3/ the devils and the delivered were all asked to be quiet for Jesus wanted to be able to move freely. They of course cannot quite help themselves perhaps and soon Jesus finds himself crowded and worn out. His family, concerned thinks he’s gone overboard and tries to retrieve him! Ouch, Jesus is so intent on the new Kingdom’s agenda and values that –

~ he grieves over the obstinacy and closed-mindedness of the religious leaders

~ he lets his disciples break the rules of cleanliness and Sabbath

~ he openly eats and hangs out with the ‘undesirables’

~ he calls total strangers his mother, father, brother and sister (ouch!) in earshot of his concerned family.

 

4/ Jesus deeply believed in the truth and power of this new Kingdom which he describes as growing and sprouting, escaping obvious notice. Clearly, if one is going to be serious about this Kingdom, he must examine the soil of his heart and he must dwell on what is spoken and seek understanding; for Jesus spoke continually in parables which have meaning beyond the obvious – requiring that the hearer make effort to understand.

Yet today, we consider people too busy to think, study, reflect – and try to help them by giving them ‘applications’… because we belong to the pragmatic, ‘what works’ generation. Alas, faith sometimes doesn’t seem to ‘work’ – not in the way of easing all our pains and preventing or resolving all our problems.

 

5/ Jesus calms the wind and the waves!

I pray for the storms caused by our selfish, immature ways… Lord calm these!

Clueless Christianity?

‘Clueless’ is for someone who misses the moment. fails to notice the connections, isn’t aware of the details. We laugh at such a person (secretly).

But what if we are clueless in our faith where we…

miss the moment, not make connections and ignore details?

Clueless happens when we are going too fast, tired, distracted – or – uninterested {gasp!}.

Missing the Moment

We claim to believe in God Almighty, Sovereign, Present, Eternal. Where is God in your present moment? What is He trying to say to you? What is He working on? What is He inviting you to?

Many of us zip through our days clueless. We panic when we need to make decisions; forgetting that the big things always build upon the small ones. Brick by brick a statuesque building arises. Of course if you want a dull tall block; you can go the ‘pre-fab’ way: not much in the way of design or beauty or intricacy there..God of wonders surely doesn’t build that way!

We need to train our senses in order not to miss the moment. Do you know how to do that? Here’s an idea {http://jennihh.blogspot.sg/p/a-quiet-morning.html}.

Making connections

More and more, I see Christians living for a small faith of personal gratification. My God, my needs, my passions, my dreams…my, my, my.

We were never designed to live like this. We have what I call  没头没未 (no head, no tail) Christianity. We rarely teach on the grand theme of Salvation that unfolds from Genesis and culminates in Revelation. We don’t tell the whole story but offer sound bytes and instagram versions of the glorious Good News that is for ALL people!

We don’t connect people to the larger Body of Christ, many persecuted and martyred, starving and needy.

Notice Details

If there is no grand story, if we zip around hovering for a quick nectar-sip from any attractive preacher-bloom; then of course, we will miss the details: what is truly happening within my soul. What the Spirit is tapping on my heart-soul about? Where the wind of the Spirit is blowing?

So much is lost. To us. To our world.

We fail our mission and let our needy world down when we have a clueless Christianity.

LORD, have mercy.

 

New Revelations?

Perhaps it is the way our consumer society sets us up to keep expecting newer, better, faster. I find it creeps into our faith a lot. Christians everywhere seem almost desperate to find and grasp new ‘revelations’ that suddenly become the overriding meaning and truth. You have probably heard some of these:

 Anointing

Pauper Mentality

Rhema word

 

Often, the word ‘revelation’ is used to describe impressions for individuals and situations, at other times, for new insights and angles of Scripture. These ideas become so mega- in scope; they become the lens we see life and do life. Sometimes, we cling to these ‘revelations’ rather than to God himself.

I have personally been moved, ministered and encouraged by some of these understandings. In some ways, they have shed light and added dimension. But what troubles me is how Christians run after these things as if they are new, improved truths.

In actuality, each of these ideas is but a mere handle to Truth. They therefore act like ledges that allow us some grip so we can climb up and peer into Truth Himself.

 

The human heart hungers for truth, for God and will seek, search and devise truths to make sense of life. In a way, this is inevitable and each generation must find the language that frames Truth so that it can be understood.

But God’s Word actually tells us that Truth must be given to us. It’s a gift. It began with God’s covenantal initiative and culminates in the Person of Truth: Jesus Christ.

 

So while we will continue to gather ideas, inter-relate them to life and maybe invent fancy words; this activity must be submitted to something more core, persistent and basic: a growing relationship with God; not with ideas or the leaders who come up with them.

This means that everything we hear, experience must serve our relationship with God: in what way does it grow our love for God, expressed in love for our fellow humans? This is after all, God’s grand agenda: to rescue and form a people who each have a vital relationship with Him which makes it possible for them to have genuine relationship and share in a mission together.

 

When we bear in mind God’s agenda, and recognize we are being invited though we do not merit it at all – we can see all of our frenetic activity through this lens. Therefore, if our love for a Great and Compassionate God does not deepen, our desire to trust and submit to Him does not increase, our willingness to lay down our lives and embrace His will does not grow stronger; then I think it’s all distraction. If it does not show up in time spent reading the Word, thinking about God’s thoughts, reaching out to others, then I think it’s all nervous rhetoric and cliché.

Honestly, if we get too comfortable with the Cross and are no longer captivated by this God-man, who is our Life, then we may have settled for something less.

  “..but in these last days, God has spoken to us by His Son..The Son is the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of His being..” Hebrews 1v2-3

Preach the Gospel to the saved too!

I want to preach the Gospel in fresh, engaging, and impact-full ways regularlyto my converted flock.

Why? Well, after being a pastor for more than fifteen years and a Christian for more than thirty, I realize I forget. We forget the glorious truths of Grace, forgiveness, freedom and Kingdom purposes. We forget the daily ways we are to discover and live Life through dying and being raised up. We forget how temporal this world is, and how real God is. We forget to love God and others as the twin strands of our new life expressed; complicating it with many smaller agendas.

How do I know we forget? When I hear questions, concerns & fears such as:

– will I get to heaven?

– its not fair that God would save (this person)…

-he is beyond hope

-why not wait till I am near the end, then repent since God will forgive

– I didn’t enjoy the service (or sermon)

– must I tithe my gross or nett?

 

Or leadership agendas filled with:

– is this speaking to people’s felt needs?

– how does our pulpit communicate out (local) church vision?

Don’t get me wrong. As a leader, i know i need to lead. I know leaders need to be proactive, and act with foresight and courage. But it looks to me that in the coming days, declaring the Good News is going to need courage and more! It is clear too that whatever else we have to say to inspire, educate and reform, it only makes sense when it is built on the foundation of the Good News.

So I want to preach the Gospel! I will use the amazing resources we have today: videos, art, life stories, lights, movement, colours…  I will do it perhaps once a quarter. I want to preach it such that my flock know they need to hear it, look forward to it, and will therefore naturally fill up all the seats with friends and relatives. It will not be an event. It will be a major remembrance, a celebration, a corporate confession of desperation, a public declaration that Something and Someone has truly changed everything.

 After all, when i last checked, I was called to the Gospel!

When the feel-good factor creeps in

In today’s do what feels right culture, it is becoming increasingly uncomfortable and unpopular to talk about sin.

I am thinking particularly about how we have found so many ways to explain our conflicts, intractable situations and lack of spiritual vitality. We have come up with style, personality, tradition, experience as explanations – which make it acceptable for people to part ways, divide, or worse, outrightly fight ugly.

The world has given us a solid picture of how awry we can get when we believe God to be our side – suicide bombers are so totally out of their mind we decry.

Yet, can it be that underneath many of the real and ‘explainable’ differences, issues and struggles lurk something deeper: sin. It’s not unthinkable that pride, self-righeousness, insecurity and fear, unbridled anger and unforgiveness are the energies behind many of our issues and malaise.

If so, we have a wonderful recourse for God’s Grace and glory to manifest – if we are willing to admit one to another, confess our sins.. even as leaders…to each other because God’s glory and His love constraints us. Rather than hide behind all the respectable reasons we can summon, would not a raw contemplation and bold acknowledgement of sin be a far better conduit? What if God’s glory shows up at precisely those moments of truth-speaking-in-love? What if revival breaks out?

At what price have we maintained our personal, corporate and tradition’s ‘dignity’?

What has happened to the powerful Grace of God, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, and the strength and mission of Christ? At the heart, have we survived, strategised and striven according to our human ability? What of the power that breaks forth through earthern vessels?

If feels good that we are okay with each other. But that is not the same as loving each other, staying the distance, praying and humbling ourselves for growth that only God gives because the hearts can carry it and the lives can speak it.

We need time and more..

With two young children, and three pastorates behind us – we are not harbouring illusive expectations about church. In fact, somedays we have to fight the shadows of cynicism and often, weariness.

I suppose we are at the edge of falling over a precipice (a sense we have had for the last two years – we are resistant to tipping over, losing control) – where we say “It’s all about Him” and nearly understand it.

Because – so little is left in us and can be summoned that we know and know it is all Calling and Grace co-mingled.  And we fear: we fear we dilute this potent combination by adding effort, strife, and the all-present danger of failing to keep company enough with Him.

For the sake of His name, our integrity, and the flock – please  pray for us. Pray for all pastors who endeavour to follow the Call and lean on the Grace. That we hear, follow and trust well.

Blessings as you follow the Great Shepherd !

birthing a new church

So we are finally here- at the shores of vast and welcoming sea.

The idea was always there within us. The dream, the thoughts, the longing. We stayed and worked and learnt…accepting, rejecting, refusing, celebrating…the wonder known to us as The Church, the Bride of Jesus Christ.

We have been through heady excitement, deep pain, frustration, attachment, detachment.. but still, we know nothing can fully prepare us for this. It’s a vast unknown. Yet thanks be to God that we are embracing this as a gift- to learn to trust deeper, to listen harder, and yes, to work at it all over again…

Please pray with us and send along any encouragement.  Thank you.

PS. for a glimpse of the DNA and heartbeat of the new church, please visit www.birthinganewchurch.com

God’s servants in pain..

We are not strangers to pain. All of us know some kind of pain – losing an opportunity or a loved one, being mistreated and misunderstood, illness and injury…

But we never get used to it. And we should not. Pain is of course the sign of being in this world – tangled in its sinful structures and our sinful ways.

But there is a pain specific to those who serve God full-time that is like an inside story. It often comes and blindsides us: criticism, opposition, betrayal, lack.

From ourtight persecution to ministry messes, this pain strikes at the core of who we are: servants of God. It strikes hard because it hurts at the deepest possible level. The shock, agony and injury goes deep. We may be led to question if it’s all worth it. Some turn tails and run. Others mop and wallow…and end up with very distorted visions of self and of life.

We become suddenly sensitized to all kinds of pain: injustice, wickedness, malice…. and they hurt us afresh. We feel unsafe, even hunted – by questions, doubts, shadows, self-recrimination, anger, blame… and the familiar enemy comes close with his suggestions and accusations in blue-ray effect.

O God! where are you?

The Psalmist has cried this.

And if we care to imagine, our famous Bible people from Abraham to Paul must have uttered this at same time.

We learn afresh God’s ways and God’s Word. That his ways are higher become a fresh revelation.

We recognise afresh our pride, sinfulness, and hardness of heart. Our lack of faith, hope and love – the trio of endurance.

What do to but to cry out to God until all tears are spent. Until the LORD says, ‘get up’, as He did to David or Joshua or Moses. There is a time to cry, rant and suffer frustration. In the long dark days, God carries us through this valley of the shadow of death (death of a dream, vision, hope, team)..and brings us out to the other side.

But we must walk this valley road with Him or we may meander off to false oases and lose our destiny and experience of GOD Himself.

I do not fear reversals and reprisals as much these days. The few valleys I have had to go through shows me that God is great and good. After all, we are not good to the core. After all, my best intentions are always tainted. So God has every right to put me through a flood and a fire. For He is after the man more than the mission. He is after my heart more than my hands. He is after me. And i am humbled that God himself would pursue me so. And He does it with incredible patience. As i roil about in my pain; I am aware Abba is in the wings, watching and waiting…

In my hopelessness and helplessness, loss and pain, God can become more.

In fact I suspect that as the Bride is being readied, we can expect more. Our brethren being persecuted to point of death go through a different fire from us. But it’s still the same fire of the same consuming God.

We still don’t welcome pain. We must do everything to check our hearts and live in purity and serve with humility. But we will never as God’s servants – His choice instruments – be spared this specific pain of ministry. It is called the pain of following the Eternal, Transcendent God.