Community in Pilgrimage

Increasingly, I am convinced of the importance of how I relate and respond to fellow believers – in view of the challenges brought by the current Covid19 pandemic. In March, I sent the following to a few brethren

Indeed how we need to engage personally and practically to stir up one another, TO PERFECT ONE ANOTHER, as we see the day drawing near.

Heb 10:24,25 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

I have always been preoccupied with the purpose and practice of believers in community; and it becomes more pertinent, and more pressing, because I miss engaging with fellow brethren mentally and emotionally, more than the current social distancing. And to keep me focused, the scripture provides principles for relating as a community :-

  1. To perfect one another (stir towards love, goodworks) -Heb 10:24,25
  2. To protect one another daily – Heb 3:13 (from the world of evil, the works of evil, the workers of evil (seen and unseen), the wiles of the evil and the words of evil (compared to the words of life) that can corrupt and contaminate my faith.
  3. To provide for one another – socially, mentally (growing in concepts and convictions of Jesus), emotionally and materially Act 4:32
  4. To partner with one another in ministry Phil 1:27.

The above are doable and workable, when the community of believers involve and interact with one another practically and personally. The operational demands of megachurches have tended to distract from such community life practices to that of the culture and organisation of a corporation, and oftentimes with the pulpit replacing and displacing the community life.

The current pandemic has exposed the challenges and shortcomings of mega-churches, both in the lives of the believers, and in the physical properties which are being subjected to occupancy restrictions. Already, a few has mentioned to me that they discovered that they can live without the physical pulpit and church in these weeks of virtual on-line sermons. But we do not miss any personal community relationship, because there wasn’t any in the first place!

Francis Chan’s “Letters to Churches” impressed on a vital salient point – mega churches and mega buildings are not the building blocks of God’s kingdom. Mega churhces are stumbling blocks to the economy of God’s Kingdom. Excerpts from his book below:-

Funds Food and Faithfulness

Mal 3:8 “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.”  (emphasis mine)

Luke 12:42 “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?  (emphasis mine)

6 days ago, various church members (delightfully, I presumed) messaged that our church would be purchasing the lower retail floors of the Star Vista for S$296M, below the upper Star Pac belonging to our church, to protect the church’s interests. The news gathered wide interests as our church is quite prominent not only in Singapore, but also throughout the world.  (https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/new-creation-buys-star-vista-for-300m-9-things-to-know-about-the-church-pastor-prince-and)

Initially I was uncertain; but am now totally persuaded by the wisdom of it after the official announcement and clarification during Sunday’s service.

NCC has been blessed and gifted with council members who are extremely qualified and eminent in such matters – investment bankers, real-estate gurus, etc.  Additionally the church has appointed a team of foremost leading consultants in the relevant fields to do due diligence in this purchase.  The previous owner spent $477M to build the lower floors, and we are now buying it over for $296M! And the returns would be 5% per annum on the purchase, compared to 2% if invested via current financial channels.

But the talk and tête-à-tête flying around has been all about the scale of the church’s resources! The amount was staggering even to regular members!  And with church assets of $633M!

Anyway, I am fully behind this project, and have made it known.  The downside now is would members, knowing our resources, continue to give.  If the focus is on the earthly church amenities and operations, they may deem that we are self-sufficient; and then opt to cut back on giving.  I indicated that we must consistently and continually honor our Sovereign Saviour with our substance.

Consequently, a group of us calling ourselves “Learning Community” have not been meeting for months, and it was suggested that we meet tomorrow, and suggested that we should have a focus ie. the book of Malachi. 

Wanting to prepare, I browsed.  Here are my devotional meditations, (presumably the WOF hermeneutics use much devotional meditations for teaching) not doctrinal meat ie opinions, not even observations and conclusions.

Mal 3:10 – “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.”

When God indicted the Israelites for robbing Him, it wasn’t just about finances – it was about food for the relevant parties (Levites? Temple workers?, Israelites).  It could be the

1) existing workers were not well fed, or

2) there wasn’t any adequate budget to engage enough workers serving in the temple to teach and preach that they must remember God’s majesty, His mission, His message, His ministry; as the nation of Israel has been chosen to be a light to the nations. “Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.”  (Mal 3:12)

Yes, the nation of Israel was and is chosen to be a light; chosen as servants to the Almighty Sovereign, to bring the Bread of Life to the nations.  And God is returning to review the faithfulness of His appointed servants.

Luke 12:42 “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 

(Epiphany!)  Oh, stewardship, faithfulness in God’s household is about nourishing the people!

We have done extremely well in all due diligence with the tithe and offerings – in the dimension of investing the funds in structures, amenities for corporate worship, meetings, missions endeavours, community outreach, etc and other reserves for earthly returns. 

Would be great if there are adequate resources to equip all who labor in ministries, who would in turn equip the normal believer (Eph 4).  That there may be food in the house, and to give us our portion of food at the proper time.   Ministers (managers) who know each member individually (‘face to face’ 1 Thes 3:10) knowing what is lacking in our faith.  Or to allow, affirm and assist all the thousands who labor organisationally, operationally (logistics etc for years) etc to seek and be proficient and perfect in higher gifts.  (1 Cor 13:31)

[ I once accompanied a senior (long-standing) NCC lay volunteer worker one morning in visiting a member recovering from stroke. I brought up an observation – NCC could employ more full-time workers (pastoral and (teaching – to lead family groups). Her unforgettable reply- “It cost money to get more workers. Where is the money coming from?” Yet this key prominent lay person on another occasion in replying to another said if NCC were to be listed, we would rank amongst the blue chips in the stock exchange!
Why the dichotomy – not knowing God’s sovereign and supreme purpose, plan and program for Christ and His bride!
pray this would not be the mindset and experience of the leaders (the board and the pastors). ]

God wants our offerings that there may be food in His house!  That people will not only be nursed, but also nourished and nurtured (needs of lambs); and lives and character  be Christ modelled, mentored and matured (needs of sheep 1Thess 2).  Such tasks are best executed by people, not programs.  Is God being robbed, when resources are not invested to feed and equip the Kingdom citizens spiritually!

 

Lord, send us anointed, gifted labourers to feed the thousands in our midst – not just with finger food or fast food or platitudes, but with solid food; and to equip all to be Bereans, and to be sanctified continuously and completely.  Labourers (just like those so eminently qualified and gifted in the earthly financial aspects) who have the spiritual wisdom and revelation in knowing Jesus and the full counsel of God – to pastor, protect, provide, perfect and partner with your people belonging to the Kingdom Community!

RESPONSE to Radical Grace

GOD’S RADICAL GRACE and  my RESPONSE TO HIS GRACE

This morning I read the scheduled devotional passage in Luke 10.  And my imagination and meditation sort of swirled around this scenario.

The radical grace teacher asked the Apostle John – “Does a believer need to confess his sin frequently”.

The apostle replied “What is written in 1 John? How do your read it?”

So the teacher began.  “Positionaly, based on 1 Jn 1:9 addressed to non-believers,  the moment we confess our sin and that Jesus is Lord, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Henceforth we only need to confess because we are forgiven, not to be forgiven.  We can confidently confess “I am righteous in Christ Jesus” without any sense of self-condemnation.”

The apostle continued – “As our Master had said in Luke 10:28 – ‘You have answered correctly, do this, and you will live”.  “But remember and recognise the context in vv 6-7 ‘… practice the truth … walk in the light as He is in the light ….!’

    “Remember the pattern Jesus wanted us to pray in Matthew 6 ‘Forgive us our sins …..’.  We need to recognise our sin – how we are fallen from His absolute glory and purity, and  became foolish in our thinking; how we are ever feeble and failing in our self-effort; and how we are intuitively faithless in living apart from our Creator God Whose truth is about the unseen spiritual eternal world, unwisely focusing on the things of the secular earthly world!   Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride  of life – is not from the Father, but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires ….

   “Remember how the 5,000 (in John 6) were miraculously distributed the loaves and fish, as much as they wanted, and after they had eaten and experienced their fill and fullness (v12) even wanted to take our Lord by force and make Him King, but our Lord Jesus withdrew Himself from them.”

   “Remember how Jesus observed that the crowds sought Him out because they ate their fill of the loaves, but explained that He is the true Bread of life – how our Lord taught that we must not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.”

   “Recall how the Jews grumbled when Jesus taught about the things pertaining to the spiritual and eternal; and how they took offense and turned away from Him, and no longer walked with Him.”

   “Recognise how when our Lord asked whether anyone else would go away, follow the example of the apostle Peter who proclaimed ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’.

    “If Jesus were to ask the Jews why they turned away, probably they would have said ‘Lord, you only have words of eternal life.  We remember how You blessed us with the earthly loaves and fishes and we were filled.  But now you are teaching the words of eternal life – the truth and values about things that are spiritual and eternal We prefer the words of earthly life – the things about secular and earthly things of the world, about this life and success in this life”

    “Do remember the whole counsel of scripture – because you are strong in His grace and salvation, do let the word of God abide in you (1 Jn 2:14).  Already you are clean because of the word Christ spoke to you. Abide in Him, and He in you (Jn 15)”

Radical grace teaches me the power of the Gospel and my positional righteousness in Christ.  This truth is indicative.  The truth of radical grace is also the imperative incentive for me to fellowship in this new creation (enabled and empowered by the grace of Christ) to practice this truth and walk in the light.  Preachers who frequently major on radical grace need to continue on what the apostle John teaches “ … by this we know that we have come to know Him (who is grace and truth), if we keep His commandments.  Whoever says “I know Him, I am saved, I am the righteousness of Christ, but does not keep His commandments …. The truth is not in him.  Do not love the world or the things in the world – the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life – that which pertains to this secular earthly life – success.  No it is not about success – it is about sanctification.  Our experience of radical grace inspires and incites us to response to the imperatives for our new creation in Christ.

LONGEVITY – part 2

Presumably, the Sunday sermon on Longevity was well-received. Who wouldn’t want to live long; just as suggested way back in creation –

Gen 1:4  Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die”. 

It has been a deep seated intuitive desire and longing for survival, and eternal life.

Two months ago, a dear brother and ex-church elder from a previous church died.  Before he was admitted to hospital, at a church service, he told another brother sitting next to him that he was dying.  Both then talked about the coming upgrade to glory.  The latter told me that when he was in coma at the hospital, practically all who visited prayed for his healing, restoration to strength and health, in spite of his age (92 years); and having been in and out of hospital stay for the past few years. The other church brother wondered why believers cannot look forward to death; and refuse to accept its certainty.

One month ago, this same brother went to have a stent implanted.  His doctor, in due diligence wanted to tell him the risks involved.  But this brother responded “Don’t worry, I wouldn’t blame you if something happen.  I am prepared to go home, if my God so wills”.  The bible teaches us about salvation and living spiritually, not living successfully and satisfactorily (humanly).

I realised practically all fast growing churhes (mega churches) have a predominance to major on sermons on successful living rather than spiritual living.

Recently, a church member requested prayer for a parent who was hospitalised. All in the chat group prayed for healing.  I was the black sheep as I entreated for salvation – body soul and spirit, as the parent was likely an unbeliever.

Divine Healing

Yesterday I visited a brother (in his eighties) in hospital.  His wife has been constantly by his side in the ward taking care of him; attentive and alert to render assistance and support. I told her to take care of herself; she retorted that she cannot afford to fall sick. She has to be around to take care of him. What love and dedication? Labor and loyalty!

When I returned home, I read another article about the growing numbers of elderly in Hong Kong.  Over there, they are trying to recruit 150,000 foreign helpers to render care for the elderly.

150000 Elderly Carers

Indeed, a society pursuing longevity involves much, no actually – demands much social amenities and resources.  Society must have the social, political, financial, human commitment to ensure that those who live long live meaningful and relevant lives.  Not counting the days, but making the days count.

What about churches which name, proclaim and claim long life; refuse to accept death and dying, pray fervently for healing and restoration?  Would churches consider walking the talk? Would there be church sponsored Elderly Homes, Hospices, Retirement Homes, etc.  Would churches with mainly younger members in leadership ever consider the elderly, to nurse, nourish and nurture like a mother; and to model, mentor and mature one and all. Or is the unstated policy and perception that the elderly are not as energetic, committed, gifted, wise etc as those appointed.  I believe all members, including the elderly must be allowed and assisted to develop and exercise their giftings. Or would it be like the scenario as James wrote – not to ignore or to insult the poor – poor – those without youthfulness, status, standing, eloquence, popularity, etc to function meaningfully and not to marginalize? So churches which extol long and healthy life will need to introduce and implement deep and fruitful workings for long and lasting relationships and growth for all age groups, especially the elderly.

To follow through and walk through the talk. 

LONGEVITY

Yesterday, at the church service, I was stirred when my pastor enthused that he would speak on how believers should expect to live a long life, based on Psalms 91:16, rather than on Psalms 90:10.  The latter, written by Moses, (according to the sermon) attributed the 70 year lifespan to the Israelites being under God’s wrath, wandering in the desert :-

“The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty       years,”.  Ps 90:10

Yet, Moses lived to 120 years, and not 70 years, as Psalms 91 comes after Psalms 90 and refers to people who have been delivered from wrath. According to v16 we can believe that “God will satisfy us with long life …” as God can bless believers, who abide in God’s presence, protection and provision.  Hence, Moses, though he wrote Ps 90:10, lived 120 years.

Deut 34: Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished.

Moses 120yrs

 

Why was I stirred when my pastor announced the topic?  Earlier in the morning, I had read in CNN that Singaporeans have the 3rd longest lifespan in the world – at 85.2 years, with Japan coming in at 85.3years and Monaco at 89.4 years.  I turned to my wife and showed her the CNN article and quipped – we are already living well already!

LifeSpan CNN

Two weeks ago, I had enquired of my wife whether she noticed that the pulpit has stopped declaring that we shall live till 120 years. Her response, “thank God”. (I never asked her what she meant).

DEATH IS GAIN

The sermon went on to concede that Paul who set his heart and mind on things that are eternal, death is truly gain. But Paul had chosen to live on, to continue on with his ministry.  Hence, we as believers can chose to live long.  Even when saints were killed for their faith, and “others were tortured, they (actually?) did not accept deliverance.  (Hebrews 11:35).  Implying that since “death and life are in the power of the tongue” we could name, proclaim and claim long life for ourselves! And healing from diseases and death, sine God hates death.  Aaron died (Num 20:26-28) only after he stripped of the priestly garments that clothed and covered him in righteousness.  Likewise, we mustn’t let the devil take away our consciousness of righteousness.

(Curiously I wondered – what about those not clothed with the priestly garments, did they die?  Was I being a Berean or a bible- policeman; inquisitive or ironic?)

After the service, my wife shared her meditation –  Deut 34:7 convinced her that Moses was gifted with a long life with excellent sight and stamina to pen down the books of the Torah – laboriously, and arduously written. That would indeed be credible and convincing for any who doubt whether Moses did write the first 5 books of the Old Testament!  I cannot fathom the painstaking task, without the aid of paper, typewriter, or a electronic pad.  Yes, long life with excellent sight and stamina.  Indeed she has a very convincing point.  Moreso than others who may use anecdotal narratives to establish teaching truth!  E.g. explaining how the people in Hebrews 11 were tortured and died because they chose not to be delivered.  My mind turns to Stephen in Acts 7, or James, whom king Herod killed.  Did they choose not to be delivered?

I am both amused and appreciative that my wife is becoming more like a Berean (Acts 17:11).  And Paul facing execution, told Timonthy –

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

Yes indeed Paul mentioned the primacy and priority of sound doctrine and truth, not teachers.  Personally, I’ve been guilty making mistakes in interpretation.  In the eagerness to be clever and creative, have strayed off into exegetical fallacies which so easily creep into my meditations.

Exegetical Fallacies