Appreciation Sunday for Cell Leaders

Praying for the cell leaders
Praying for the cell leaders

Today’s Sunday Worship Service was devoted to encouraging and affirming and blessing our cell leaders for their works of faith, attitude of hope and love for God’s people. We had a meaningful, wonderful and inspiring morning. These were some of the things we did:

  • We let everyone know that we were going to appreciate the the cell leaders and reaffirm the importance of cells in spirituality.
  • The 25 minute sermon on Matthew 6:34 was a word in season for the cell leaders and members. A sermon about the purpose of cell groups is so hackneyed we decided not to do it. Ps Thomas spoke on “Living in the Present”, an exhortation to live fully in the present, and not to be stuck in the past, or to live in anxiety about the future.
  • A new member, Suling, shared with the congregation her thoughts about why the cell group was so beneficial for her growth.
  • Our youth worker Ethel Cannon-Shin shared how the new commandment of Jesus in John 13:34,35 should be the bedrock of the cell and how participation in a cell provides community.
  • We showed a video that stitched together every cell groups’ words of appreciation for their cell leaders. This was a clincher and it affirmed and energised every the cell leader.
  • We called all the cell leaders out to the front and asked all the cell members to gather around them and pray for them. Each cell leader received a gift of appreciation.
  • We had some special light refreshments: ang ku kueh, with a tortoise impressed upon the cake, to symbolise longevity. We do hope the cell leaders will be sustained by the grace of God, and the support of the cell core team, and will continue serving and leading for many years.

How does your church recognise, appreciate and celebrate the cell leaders’ contribution to church spirituality? Do use the comment box.

Cell appreciation from Tom Cannon on Vimeo.

 

A.M. Mathew has gone home to his Lord and Master

I saw a follower by the name of Timothy Mathew on the church’s Facebook account. Is this the son of A.M. Mathew the founder of World Revival Prayer Fellowship? I found that he was and so I asked about his father. A.M. Mathew had been living in Toronto, Canada for close to 40 years and was in his late eighties. I asked about them and it was sad to learn that he had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease and his wife had dementia. I brought this information to the church and we prayed for him. I got them to pronounce the Aaronic blessing on A.M. Mathew which we then posted on the church Facebook account and over in Canada the son could show it to his dad. We were glad that we did that but soon after that we received news that the Lord and Master of A.M. Mathew has brought him home to glory on the 21st of September. It was a sad loss but it certainly freed him from terrible suffering of pains in his body. It was so bad that despite palliative care, he could not sleep well, wracked as he was in much pain. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away”(Rev 21:4). I informed the church of this and we prayed for the bereaved family. I adapted the death notice from the cemetery website and put this in the church bulletin:

 

A.M Mathew with his wife Saramma Mathew
A.M Mathew with his wife Saramma Mathew

Rev Arranghat Mathai Mathew (November 12, 1926 – September 21, 2015) – passed away peacefully on the morning of September 21, 2015 at his home in Mississauga, Ontario at the age of 88. Beloved husband of Mrs. Saramma Mathew and loving father to Josephine Mary (Dr. George Abraham), Rachel, Sara (Mr. James Havlik), and Timothy, and a devoted grandfather to Elizabeth (Andrew Douglas), Ruth, Benjamin, Stephen and Joshua. He will be greatly missed by his family, who cherished his kind and loving spirit and are grateful that he has gone home to glory to be with his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. A.M. Mathew leaves a memorable legacy, having founded World Revival Prayer Fellowship in Singapore in 1972, and later beginning a Canadian chapter in 1978 upon his move to the Greater Toronto Area with his family. Through Brother Mathew’s tireless efforts, his ministry eventually extended to Jamaica, Bangladesh, the Himalayan foothills of Assam in North India and Tamilnadu, Kerala State, India and the Six Nations Reserve in Ohsweken, Ontario. Brother Mathew made it his life’s mission to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it was clear to all who knew him that he was an unashamed witness for the Lord. Please remember his bereaved wife, children and grandchildren before the Lord.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

The family at the Paya Lebar Airport leaving for Canada.
The family at the Paya Lebar Airport leaving for Canada.

I was never close to A.M. Mathew. I was probably anonymous and inconspicuous in church in the early formative years of WRPF. Reserved and shy, I did not easily socialize, and deferred and respected leaders from a distance. My personal impressions of A.M. Mathew was his bold witness for Christ, and an overriding passion to prepare the church to be that spotless Bride when Jesus comes again. To this effect he would preach doctrines Sunday after Sunday. I remember being taught regeneration, baptism, baptism in the Spirit, holiness and sanctification, the Lord’s Supper, the second coming of Christ, the church as the bride of Christ, and the book of Revelation. He gave out notes on the doctrines. I still recall his openness to the power and gifts of the Spirit, and yet knowing that his gift and forte was teaching the word, which he did with passion. Interestingly, I am currently preaching through the book of Revelations. On the Sunday I preached about 144,000 and the countless multitudes of white robed saints of Revelation 7, Zach Wong, a pioneer member from the original first eight who were baptized, came to me and remarked, Now that brother Mathew has gone home, you have taken over his role of preaching Revelation, his favourite book. I was slow to take in what he said and respond. I could only smile. Now that it has sunk in, I pray I will be able to preach it with the same passion and love for it, and to do it with interpretative skills I have learned from seminary and years of preaching. Yes, may I be able to deliver Revelation Made Simple with a similar passion and greater insights. I am sure he would want me to do it better than him.

FGB Gatekeepers’ 40th Anniversary Dinner

Beautifully laid table in Fullerton Hotel ballroom
Beautifully laid table in Fullerton Hotel ballroom
Wonderful gathering of people many of whom have served side by side with each other in FGBMF Spore
Wonderful gathering of people many of whom have served side by side with each other in FGBMF Spore
Celebrations began appropriately with songs that harked back to the heydays of FGBMF Spore.
Celebrations began appropriately with songs that harked back to the heydays of FGBMF Spore.

The new face of FGBMF Singapore
Full Gospel Business Gatekeepers Singapore: this is the new name of what was once the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship Singapore ( FGBMF Spore). They were celebrating their 40th anniversary together with the launch of a book titled: UNFOLDING HIS STORY. The dinner celebration on 2nd September was well attended at Fullerton Hotel with most receptionist and volunteers manning the tables under 40 and most people attending the event over 50 years of age. On the stage that night the old and young represented the future of this middle-aged organization injected with a new zip in its movements. This partnership of young and old, hand in hand, is the new face of a miraculous but God-supervised transformation (or as businessmen would term re-invention) of the mid-lifer that was FGBMF Spore.
From dry bones to mighty army
The FGBMF Spore was at one point dehydrated and lacking vitality, if not moribund and breathing its last breath: words I dared not use if the organization was still like that today. It was like an organization that had lost its way. They had done their God-given mission so well that the churches they touched were so strong they did not need the organization’s help any more. Their heydays  were in the 1970s and 1980s. They were the bearer of the transformative experience called the baptism in the Holy Spirit. As people touched by the Lord returned to bless and strengthen their own churches, the role of FGBMF Spore became like the remains of a charcoal pit, covered with glorious ash, but needing some stoking for the fire to be reset. They needed a new purpose and that was found in the outworking of the theology of the kingdom of God in the world, the marketplace. Once a valley of dry bones, it’s now an inter-generational army infused with a clear mission and strategy. Thus they have changed their name to Full Gospel Business Gatekeepers Singapore to reflect the new mission. Some FGBMF national organizations in other countries are coming to Singapore to catch this fire too.

THE UNFOLDING STORY about to be unveiled and launched with prayer
THE UNFOLDING STORY about to be unveiled and launched with prayer
The book with photographs of the newspaper stories of speaking in tongues among students and several WRPF photos is inside
The book contains valuable photographs of the ST aritcle headings of speaking in tongues among students and several WRPF photos
Pictures of my predecessors: Pastor Johney and Bro A.M. Mathew (seated L-R)
Pictures of my predecessors: Rev Dr Johney and founder pastor Rev A.M. Mathew (seated L-R)

Unfolding His Story: new book
The highlight of the celebration was the launch of an interesting book titled UNFOLDING HIS STORY, written by a father and son team, Georgie and Galven Lee. It is the story of the charismatic movement in Singapore with a special eye on the contribution of the Anglican Church and FGBMF Singapore. Even though the writing team directly involved was father and son, it was a pleasure to see the whole Lee family, including the mother and daughter, involved in the production of this book.

With Galven who did a
With Galven Lee who did his NUS research on the charismatic movement in Singapore and was conferred a first class honours for his work. Unfolding His Story used the extensive, thorough research of his dissertation.

I remember being interviewed by Galven Lee, one of the authors. He was then a NUS history research student with a voice recorder and notebook. I shared with him what I knew of our story in the meta-narrative of the charismatic revival of the 1970s. It had to do with many students of many schools being filled with the Spirit. Our little story started with the Holy Spirit pouring out his power upon a group of students behind the science labs of the lowly Dunearn Tech Secondary School, along Bukit Timah Road. What began as students speaking in tongues behind the science labs became a crying revival and finally became the church, World Revival Prayer Fellowship. This not insignificant event was mentioned in the book.

With Rev Michael Teh, Vicar of Chapel of the Holy Spirit
With Rev Michael Teh, Vicar of Chapel of the Holy Spirit

Enjoyable evening
At my table, I sat beside Rev Michael Teh, the vicar of Chapel of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican church that was planted as a result of the spiritual renewal among the Anglicans in the 1970s. We had a nice chat and could connect easily. He is the pastor of the church which originally started in the Lee family’s home. The fellowship was good and so was the food and service but later during the meal I had cold Coca Cola spilled over me. I left for the restroom to clean up and on the way back to my table there was the apologetic head waiter and the waitress apologizing profusely and offering free dry cleaning service. Wished they offered me a free night’s stay at the hotel with breakfast. Good thing I was wearing a Mandarin collar long sleeve not a jacket. It was a long but enjoyable night.

May the Lord continue to bless the FGB Gatekeepers. I have nothing but good things to say about them now and what they have to offer to churches. If you wish to learn more about how they train people to make disciples in the marketplace you may want to read this blogpost I wrote earlier about one of their programs.
THINE IS THE GLORY, THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE.

Biblical Turkey & Greece Pastors’ Familiarization Tour 2015

Hagia Sofia: church turned mosque turned museum
Hagia Sofia: church turned mosque turned museum
Gymnasium at ancient Sardis (city of one of seven churches in Revelations)
Gymnasium at ancient Sardis (city of one of seven churches in Revelations)
Beautiful chapel that celebrates Lydia's conversion in Philippi (Greece)
Beautiful chapel that celebrates Lydia's conversion in Philippi (Greece)

Packed itinerary

We landed at dawn and began with a one day tour of Istanbul. It was a wet, windy and cold day. However we toured the main tourist sites and still managed to squeeze in an hour of shopping at the grand bazaar in the late evening. We visited the ancient ruins of the cities where the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation once existed. They are all in modern day Turkey. Then we crossed over to Greece by bus and visited holy sites, ancient ruins and museums in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth. From Athens, we flew and transited at Istanbul, and flew back home.

We stayed at eight hotels in ten days. That should say something. It meant living off our suitcase. It meant early morning calls that mercifully became sane morning calls in Greece. It also meant being on the road on average about 2 hours between sites. We all expected it as this was a familiarization tour and they were trying to give us a sampling of as many different religious sites as possible within the limited time-frame. This survey would then help us to choose from a wide range what we think is suitable for ourselves if we want to lead a tour from our church in future.

The group picture taken at ancient Laodicea
The group picture taken at ancient Laodicea

Personal highlights of the tour

The fellowship was wonderful. There were 39 participants in all – mostly pastors from different denominations and background. There were Methodists, Baptists, Assemblies of God, Independents, Brethren, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Vietnamese Alliance. As there were about 25 meals we had together I got to hear many inspiring stories of pastors, and how they were called and what their churches were about. A few of these pastors had successful careers. But they heard the call and became pastors in mid-career changes.

Fellowship over meals
Fellowship over meals
Baked fish
Baked fish
Salads
Salads
Soups
Soups
Lamb cuts and other meats
Lamb cuts and other meats
Sweet desserts
Sweet desserts
Old friend Pastor Richard  & Nancy Loh of Queenstown Baptist Church
Old friend Pastor Richard & Nancy Loh of Queenstown Baptist Church
Renewed fellowship with pastors' prayer group leader Rev Sng Chong Hui and wife Irene
Renewed fellowship with pastors' prayer group leader Rev Sng Chong Hui and wife Irene
The ladies enjoyed the fellowship
The ladies enjoyed the fellowship
Pastor Ezekiel giving the devotion at site of Lydia's conversion at Philippi
Pastor Ezekiel giving the devotion at site of Lydia's conversion at Philippi

Naturally the pastors were deployed to give devotions at the major sites. It was edifying to hear God’s messages to the seven churches in Revelation come alive with probing relevance and power across the centuries. I was blessed. For me it was like a personal invitation from the Spirit to look more deeply at the book of Revelations and consider preaching it through in the church. The book lit up like a burning bush.

Sela, boss of tour company humouring us in the bus
Sela, boss of tour company leading us in the WI-FI equipped bus
Excellent informative guide telling us about ancient Ephesus toilets that St Paul probably used!
Excellent informative guide telling us about ancient Ephesus toilets that St Paul probably used!

This subsidized tour was well organized and packed. The tour guides that were handpicked for us were very good in terms of their expertise, people skills and humor. The Bible Society of Singapore and the Omega Tours and Travel did a thoughtful job of planning all these and selecting the local tour companies to partner with. We had our meals at restaurants and most breakfasts and dinners were in above average hotels. Not sure about the cuisine, but I preferred the Turkish meals to the ones in Greece for the greater variety. There were salads in every meal and I never ate so much vegetable in any ten days of my life till now.

Short cut on the ferry to and from the European and Asian parts of Turkey
Short cut on the ferry to and from the European and Asian parts of Turkey
At Parthenon, ancient temple dedicated to goddess Athena, in Athens acropolis
At Parthenon, ancient temple dedicated to goddess Athena, in Athens acropolis
Admiring ladies hairstyles in the Acropolis Museum, Athens
Admiring ladies hairstyles in the Acropolis Museum, Athens

If I were to plan a pilgrimage/study tour for the church I would concentrate on Turkey. I would do the Istanbul bit, fly to Tarsus, get lost in the Cappadocia caves, do the seven churches circuit, and have a day cruise to the island of Patmos (part of Greece). Such a pilgrimage/study tour would focus on the book of Revelations and the relevance of its message to us. I feel the Revelations tour can be impactful. And add some restful elements like staying to linger an extra day in a city, and having some fun shopping or hot air ballooning. Adding Greece in would be too much. Have a separate pilgrimage for Greece, probably with a missional slant.

My favourite sites: the ancient Ephesus site, and Parmukkale“cotton castle” in Turkey; and the Meteora in Greece.

Taking a selfie at Ephesus ancient library ruins
Taking a selfie at Ephesus ancient library ruins
Ephesus amphitheatre
Ephesus amphitheater
Pamukkale: cotton castle World Heritage site
Parmukkale "cotton castle": a World Heritage site
Soaking our feet in the mineral water supplied by hot springs
Soaking our feet in the mineral water supplied by hot springs
Natural hotsprings and beautiful terraces of carbonate minerals
Parmukkale: natural hot-springs and beautiful terraces of carbonate minerals
Monasteries built on top of rock formations - cool
Meteora - Greek Orthodox monasteries built on top of rock formations - cool
Monks and nuns in those which permit visitors and tourists
Monks and nuns in those monasteries which permit visitors and tourists
How heavy loads are carried up in the old days
How heavy loads were carried up in the old days

The New Covenant Church: recent developments

Observing this young church

Our 2014 church camp was held in Everly Hotel in Putrajaya. I decided to visit my favourite church in Petaling Jaya, the New Covenant Church. My friendship with the pastor, Peter Sze, was started and maintained by social media via this blog and Facebook. I have been a keen observer of this grace-based church that has taken Joseph Prince’s melody of grace and made the song uniquely theirs. It has been nothing short of amazing what God has done, and I have been observing the development of this young church since its formation. You can read the various posts I have written by doing a search on the top right hand of this blog.

Hosted warmly by the family

With Yew Juan and tallest tissue prata in PJ
With Yew Juan and tallest tissue prata in PJ

On Friday afternoon while church campers went home to Singapore a Mercedes Benz shuttled me and my wife off to the pastor’s home where we received a warm welcome from Seefen, the pastor’s wife. Pastor Peter is a managing director of a company and flew back from Singapore late in the afternoon. By around six, he and his wife had to go launch a new community group of the church. Running a company and leading a church requires bi-vocational stamina and passion. Meanwhile we were brought out for an evening meal in IPPUDO at the Bangsar Shopping Centre. Filled up with ramen and pleasant conversation with Yew Juan and Suzanna (the pastor’s daughter), we then had dessert at a kopitiam: roti tissue tower, teh tarik, and chendol – calories for tomorrow’s hike, that’s how we justified our intake.

the tncc regular hikers of Gasing Hill
the tncc regular hikers of Gasing Hill

Hiking Bukit Gasing

Pastor Peter hiking with us
Pastor Peter hiking with us

It was about seven in the morning on Saturday when we got ready and went for the morning’s hike up Bukit Gasing (literally “hill top”). The hill is located on a narrow sliver of green,  smack in between Kuala Lumpur (federal territory) and Petaling Jaya, a city of Selangor. At 160 metres tall it is the small brother of Bukit Timah Hill’s 163 metres. There was a group of hikers from the church who regularly hiked here. Many had climbed Mt Kinabalu recently and some had stories of weight loss and better health as a result of regular hiking.

We enjoyed the hike. It had interesting features like a watch tower, a suspension bridge, and various detours from the main route. One of the steeper slopes was tougher than the toughest slope in Bukit Timah Hill. It was a good workout and we adjourned for breakfast with the group while Pastor Peter had to rush off for a meeting with his leaders. He was busy but had accommodated our desire to hike. If not for us, he would probably have had opted for sleep, glorious sleep. That afternoon we talked shop over lunch and coffee at One Utama.

Recent developments in the New Covenant Church

The New Covenant Church used to have a mid-week fellowship that meets for teaching of the word and small group interaction. Now in addition to this they have developed home fellowships for the caring and belonging of community. I thought this was an important development for as the church grew to its current 600 in attendance, feeling a sense of belonging can be easily lost. These home groups that met fortnightly for fellowship are spread over more locations, making it convenient for members to attend. The increase of such groups will certainly increase body ministry and participation, develop shepherds and leaders, and give the church a greater capacity to assimilate and initiate new guests or converts into the life of grace. It will lay foundations for further growth in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus.

TNCC Educenter

Another interesting development I got wind of was the formation of the TNCC Educenter. The stated mission was to provide an education alternative for young people at affordable costs. They use a programme called Eduseeds. It is multimedia-based online learning combined with classroom interaction. It is done at the pace of the student. And it prepares students to sit for the Cambridge IGCSE. It is done as a community service too. Pastor Peter shared how the Lord opened the door for them to start this and provided the right contacts, champions and students.

Ian and Charmaine, the worship stalwarts
Ian and Chermaine, the worship stalwarts

On Sunday I saw the large auditorium that tNCC uses for its worship services. This was their third one and it seated 800. I preached there on the new covenant way of finishing well, and gave an invitation for sick people to be prayed for with the laying on of hands. Nowadays, I find that my doctoral research on ageing and spirituality have crept into my preaching and writings. I guess this is inevitable and I do not mind if that is relevant to the text my message is based on, which it was, as I spoke about the biblical Caleb, that senior with great faith, and how he finished well.

Christine, Aileen, and us
Christine, Aileen, and us

Catching up with Aileen and Christine
I couldn’t book a return bus ticket for Sunday and I asked Aileen, who attended our church when she lived in Singapore, for help. She invited us to stay in her home on Sunday and book a ticket on Monday morning. We had a lovely crab dinner near her place and then we visited her daughter’s new start-up café. It was in a glass house situated in a university, and we loved the coffee, lava cakes, macaroons and decor. On Monday morning, we slurped up fish porridge at a local coffee shop, and left for Singapore on First Coach at One Utama.
What an enjoyable and blessed weekend of ministry, fun and fellowship.

Pentecostals and Charismatics: the main difference

Pentecost: come Holy Spirit
Pentecostals and charismatics carried along by Spirit

“In 2011, there were an estimated 584 million Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians worldwide. They made up 8.5 percent of the world’s population and 27 percent of all Christians. There were 279 million Pentecostals and over 300 million Charismatics. Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity is second in size only to the Roman Catholic Church.” (Source: David Barrett, “Christian World Communions: Five Overviews of Global Christianity, AD 1800-2025,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Volume 33, No. 1, January 2009, 31.)

Pentecostals are Christians who believe that the gifts of the Spirit described in the New Testament like the gift of tongues, healing, and casting out demons, are available and expected to be experienced by God’s people today. Our worship is characterized by lively responses to a palpable sense of God’s presence. We are so named after what happened to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (read Acts 2) and our insistence that the essence of such experiences are to be normative for today.

Charismatics are believers who originally worship in mainline churches such as Methodists, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. They had Pentecostal experiences and hold almost similar beliefs and practices as Pentecostals, but continue to attend and serve in their traditional churches.

Admittedly, there is considerable overlap in usage of both terms and such strict definitions have become porous and interchangeable in the recent decade or two. Who cares anyway? Probably the theologian and the researcher.

Reminder: 8 June is Pentecost Sunday.

Neglected Pentecost

Pentecost: come Holy Spirit
Pentecost: come Holy Spirit

Why do we neglect Pentecost? We celebrate Good Friday and Easter, and even Palm Sunday. We have Lent but do we have “Pent”? The mainline churches have the church calender and lectionary that give at least a nodding acknowledgement to Pentecost Sunday. The shame is that it is the independent and Pentecostal churches that ignore this important opportunity to shed light on the vital and vitalizing ministry of the Holy Spirit, and to rejoice and give thanks for their precious heritage. I plead guilty. Perhaps we need to start a “Pent” – 10 days of waiting expectantly and praying for the Spirit’s empowering. Here are 10 suggestions:

  • We could encourage members to take extended time to pray in silence every day for 10 days until Pentecost Sunday.
  • Or encourage that members follow a 10 days reading plan that include all the relevant Scriptures in Old and New Testament about the coming person and work of the Spirit.
  • Be on the alert to the Spirit’s prompting to share the good news of grace to anyoneHhe directs during this period.
  • Be sensitive to give a prophetic word of encouragement, comfort and strengthening to someone who is weary and burdened.
  • Meet with other Christians in school, homes or workplace to pray with during the 10 days.
  • Reflect on your spiritual gift and how it has developed and how it has been deployed. What is God doing through your grace-gift?
  • Exalt Jesus in worship because that’s what the Spirit came to do. Use the gift of tongues, spiritual songs and hymns.
  • Pray for 10 nationalities living or working in Singapore: Vietnamese, Chinese and Indian nationals, Thais, Myanmese, Indonesians, Malaysians, Bangladeshis, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Taiwanese, and whoever else.
  • If you are a pastor, how about preaching a sermons series on the Holy Spirit and open the altar for prayer at the end.
  • Write a personal letter to the Holy Spirit appreciating Him for his faithful help and presence in your life.