Hell: its for real!

My colleague Alvin Lim preached an impactful sermon on Hell. He spoke on a topic which pastors seldom, if ever preached. I remember having preached about it only once. Mentioning it in passing whenever it was a part of a story, parable or text: yes, quite a few times. But as a main topic exploring different aspects of it, once in 38 years of ministry. Not a very good record. Now why did I not preach more about Hell? Well, it is not good news, not positive and probably offensive too. It’s not a topic members will get excited about. I think it has to do with warfare too. If there is one topic Satan hates it is mention about his final and eternal abode.

Alvin did a great job. First he described hell – what it looks like, what it feels like, who will be there. Then he went on to describe the fruit of the teaching about Hell. For those who are lost, it can spur them to repent and seek God. For those already saved, it could deepen their appreciation of grace, spur them to the fear of God and holy living, and motivate them to share Christ with the lost. He also went on to explain how to share about Hell to the lost. For older traditionalist, the existence of Hell is more or less accepted and to talk about it is not problematic. But to reach the younger ones with this message, it has to be argued. Young people value tolerance and believe if you are good you will avoid Hell. They find the Christian idea of hell too exclusive. We have to show them that Christianity is more tolerant and inclusive. The Heaven they prefer is exclusively for those who are good. That leaves a lot of people out. But the Christian Heaven is for those who believe in Jesus even though their past had been terrible. This means it is more inclusive, because all kinds of exes will qualify: ex-prostitutes, ex-robbers, ex-deceivers, ex-convicts, ex-self righteous religious, ex-adulterers, ex- cheaters and the list goes on and on, regardless of race, language, or previous religion, or age, or gender – as long as you trust in Christ for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Jesus is the prophet who preached more than anyone about Hell. He did so because He knew Hell was a horrible realm for He created it for Satan and the demons. Never meant for people. But those who follow the prince of darkness will also end there. We preachers, followers of Christ, should follow suit and preach more about Hell.

Church camp 2019 in downtown Bangkok

Feeling very good

Perhaps I experienced a tiny bit of what God felt when it was said of Him in Genesis, “And God saw everything that was made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). That was how I felt about the WRPF Church Camp 2019 in Bangkok: it was very good. Like a gentle spring in my soul, I felt the stillness of peace and a joy that quietly bubbled up throughout the days of the camp. There was no hurry: no huff and no puff, no rush from meeting to meeting. I felt a welcome restfulness throughout the camp. It was very good.

The hotel in downtown Bangkok was hosting us a second time

Fed fresh Bread

To sit back and receive fresh truth from heaven and be in presence of Christ felt like I was a mobile phone seated on a wireless charger. The invited speaker was Leslie Quahe. He was enlightening, edifying and entertaining. He stirred me, stretched me, and seized me with his humorous, riveting and transforming proclamation of His Story and his stories. I felt very blessed. At the end of the four sessions, I felt energized 100%.

Leslie Quahe

I heard of Leslie Quahe from theological college days. He was one year my senior. My only image of him was of him playing soccer, and him with his motorbike. Thus when my sister in law Baby asked if I would like to meet him, I did not hesitate. Why not? We met in his home in Bangkok and got to hear about what he had been doing all these decades, and his stories amazed me, and I concluded this guy can potentially be our camp speaker in future, but I should first invite him to preach a sermon one Sunday when he was in Singapore. He duly did so, and that’s why he was our camp speaker.

With Leslie Quahe the camp speaker

Church encouraged, leaders affirmed

I was encouraged when he affirmed and prayed for the leadership at the last session, releasing what I believe to be prophetic words that confirmed that our last six years of emphasizing on intimacy with God through walking ancient paths of prayer; of emotional health and growth, were on the spot with what God had wanted for WRPF’s destiny as light to others of what first love is.

It is tough to slow down and to wait and to listen to God in prayer.  We are a society that values productivity and obviously silence, waiting and prayer seems highly unproductive. We had to be strong in conviction in order to resist the pressures and temptation to be like other churches and the rest of society. “Do you love Me?” was Jesus question to Peter who had been scarred by the failure of his activism and self-sufficiency. It was not, “What have you done for Me?”. To have this heavenly assurance when you are going against the current of worldliness, is an approving nod from the Master.

Hotel food

The food the hotel served was better than any of the church camp foods I have had over many decades of church camps in Malaysia and Batam. The food was delicious and we had long meal-times of one and a half hour or more, so that people could mingle and fellowship at leisure. No need to gulp your food to rush to an afternoon workshop! No afternoon sessions – they are all free and easy.

Missions component

I was happy we had a missions component and we were greatly helped by Ruth Center in Bangkok who organized three activities for us to serve the residents of the slum. Some went about visiting the elderly poor with rice packets and prayed for them. Some went to play games with the younger ones who lived in the slum. I joined the construction crew whose assignment was to build five platforms with water cisterns. This was laborious work and I loved seeing how the young people did the main bulk of the work. They were awesome in strength and power. It dawned on me that I was not of much use, not even for photography, so I helped minimally in carrying concrete slabs, and spent most of the time chatting with Simeon Siau, another person who shouldn’t be there. We were kindly and tactfully excused from the rest of the afternoon while the rest of the construction crew finished the job!

I loved the idea of creating mission platforms so that men with more practical skills and know-how (like Bezalel and Company who built the tabernacle of Moses with the help of the Holy Spirit) can serve God with their gifts.

Camp organizers

Yes, I do rate this camp with five stars. I was very pleased with the organizing committee and I hope they too were very satisfied when they saw that their hard work made possible the spiritual and eternal impact we felt at the camp!

Rev Dr John Sim

This morning my Tung Ling Bible School classmate came to preach  in the church service. He is John Sim and we renewed contacts through Facebook a few years back. Rev Dr John Sim had been in the pastoral ministry for at least three decades and currently lectures and administrates at Vanguard University, California. He holds several theological degrees, including the MDiv and MTh(Princeton), and a DMin (Fuller). He is featured in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in Religion, and Who’s Who Among Asian Americans. John works at Vanguard University, a Christian Liberal Arts university belonging to the Assemblies of God, where he teaches Bible and Theology. We met up after our Facebook contact, and I have been inviting him to take the pulpit whenever he came to visit family.

This would be the third time he preached in WRPF but this time I added two afternoon lectures. He preached on the subject, “Can I trust the Bible?” during the Sunday service, and in the afternoon he lectured on “The Land of the Bible”, which explained the significance of knowing some geography to better understand the Bible.  We were blessed and enriched by all the sessions.

John, myself and Ben at a cafe in Jurong

Before this, we had met for lunch, three of us, all classmates from Tung Ling Bible School when it was still situated in the borrowed premises of the Church of Singapore, Marine Parade. There was John, myself and Benjamin Foo, who studied in Moody Bible College, planted a church locally while working in the Stock Exchange of Singapore. We talked a little about everything: the past, the Celebration of Hope, our families, the future, and what we were currently doing. We met for a meal and fellowship every time John is around. It was a blessed and encouraging time.

 

Focal points for Good Friday and Easter

Lovely creation using cloth: black symbolising death and white symbolising the righteousness of God.

I must admit to feeling regret that this year I had not paid as much attention to Lent and Holy Week, particularly Good Friday and Easter. I sighed and felt drawn to some of the pictures I received on WhatsApp. These are pictures that demonstrated careful attention to aesthetics in worship. These arrangements inspires us to draw near to Jesus. They seem to draw us towards greater devotion and adoration because they point us to a pivotal turning point in salvation history. They point us to God we can relate to easily and who gives us hope: a suffering and victorious God.

Easter – the risen Christ carrying us on His shoulders

The traditional churches are much better at this. There is something we can learn from them. In the liturgical calendar these would be the high points of the year, requiring much preparation and inspiring longing and anticipation. It could be viewed as an annual corporate means of grace for renewal. The repentance and prayerful devotion of Lent, leading to meditation on the passion of our Lord, will lead us to humble ourselves and renew our first love for Jesus. And Easter is when we allow the resurrection power to revive us afresh to new life. 

Good Friday: For God so loved the world He gave us His Son!

Above are some of the beautiful arrangements of worship focal points in the main sanctuaries or other halls. They are all from the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary branch in Australia. How lovely  are Thy dwelling places!

(Photo Credits: Juyoung )

PREACHING A SERIES ON OUR PENTECOSTAL DISTINCTIVE

Missing from Pentecostal pulpits

It is not uncommon for Pentecostal churches to shelve preaching on Pentecostal distinctives as they seek relevance with a contemporary audience. Addressing felt relational, emotional and felt needs of church members take priority over church’s distinctives. This can happen because the Pentecostal doctrine of baptism of the Holy Spirit can be an offence to today’s young adults. Yet it must be talked about or we will lose our heritage, our identity and one of God’s greatest gift to his church and his greatest resource to reaching the world for Christ.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

I announced and planned a series on the Holy Spirit. I initially planned something that began with the works that the Holy Spirit would do according to the teaching of Jesus in John 14-16, and then talk about the Baptism of the Spirit, and finally a session on Speaking in Tongues.

However, as I proceeded to prepare, with the Lord’s influence, it began to be (1) The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, covering the five incidents in Acts when the Spirit was poured out as initiation experiences/encounters. After feedback from members, newbies and mature ones, I slowed down and stayed with Acts 2 the Day of Pentecost and drew most of my observations and conclusions from Acts chapter 2, after painting a picture of what happened there, giving the Bible background of the passage. I also brought in two persons, one of mature age, and another younger person to share their experiences of being baptized with the Holy Spirit and how the gift of tongues had blessed them.

At the end I gave an invitation for prayer for fresh anointings and healings, and invited those who wanted to be filled with the Spirit to meet at the conference room after the service. Three adults in their 50’s showed up. After giving them a briefing, several of us laid hands and prayed for them to be filled and remarkably they were granted the gift of tongues within fifteen minutes, and we spent the rest of the time praying, prophesying, anointing with oil, and singing in tongues for another 20 minutes or more.

My Cry and Prayer

It was a blessed time and gratifying. My only disappointment was that not many of the younger age group were there desiring and thirsting for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. I am praying that God would stir the hearts of people who had been content with what they have experienced of the Christian life thus far, with a holy discontent that wants more, indeed ALL of what God promised and intended for His people. May we have a people with hearts aflame for the passion of His name.

I wonder if it is the same with the church you worship in. Do they preach about their distinctive? How often?

Ash Wednesday and Lent for a Pentecostal church

Ash Wednesday was on Wednesday 6 March 2019. It marked the beginning of Lent – a period of 40 days of preparation for Good Friday and Easter.
The church tradition is that this period of 40 days, similar to Jesus 40 days of fasting, is for soul care – taking time to slow down, reflect, pray, fast and repent. The period of seeking God would lead to personal revival and ascend with a church celebration of Christ’s resurrection power in Easter.

As a Pentecostal I am not used to observing Lent. It was Trinity Theological College that exposed me to this. It took a long time for me to appreciate the values of having a rhythm to the church year. Observing Lent, Good Friday and Easter, and Pentecost are good practices that embeds the centrality of Christ in the church’s worship and plans. May I encourage you to do some of the following as the Lord leads:

PRAY
Give a half day to God in reflection and prayer.
Pray for unsaved family members, friends, neighbours and colleagues.
Pray in tongues for 15 minutes each day for a whole week.
Meditate on the passages of the last week of Jesus and use them as a springboard of prayer.
FAST
Skip a meal and use that time to humble yourself before God, acknowledging your shortcomings, powerlessness and need of Him.
Go vegetarian for a week and give up sweet stuff.
Fast from negative words and complaining and gossiping.
Fast from social media for a whole day.
REPENT
Seek forgiveness and forgive where necessary.
Speak kind and appreciative words to family members.
Repent from worrying and entrust specifically your burdens to God.
Visit and honour your aged parents or grandparents.
Listen to someone’s story without judging, or interrupting or offering solutions.
Pay attention to those who may need your help.

Have a meaningful, reviving, enlightening Lent. How would you like to use Lent for your own soul-care?

Preaching Psalms 95

How do you preach the Psalms faithfully? The Psalms are prayers that are sung. Some call it the prayer book of Israel. They are Hebrew poetry and is designed to move the heart. Although there are wisdom psalms that may be more logical and cognitive in impact, most of the psalms touch our emotions and desires. How can I preach it and reproduce a similar impact? I find this difficult. I find myself dissecting, and analysing by breaking down and then synthesising and re-organising the material in didactic, conceptual and systematic. And what is meant to move the heart loses its power and fails to move the heart. In a way, it misses the mark.

A case in point, on Sunday I preached Psalm 95. It is a psalm that celebrates God’s greatness as King, Creator and Shepherd and why he deserves to be worshipped appropriately. It is punctuated with shouts of joy, and notes of “come let us”. Then it suddenly shifts into a poignant warning to about what true worship really is – a surrender to God’s will and voice. From joyous exaltation and call to worship to an unexpected warning to listen and obey.

However, the setting explains that sudden shift. The Psalm was to re-assure the Israelites in exile that God is great even as they ended up deported to Babylon and the Temple laid in ruins. It was meant to explain that they ended in this state because like the generation in Moses time, they too had not listened and obeyed God’s voice. Very hard-hitting and sensitive issue. It should anger the hearer, raise defensiveness or produce repentance. The question is how do you preach this text in such a way that it had the same impact that it originally wanted to achieve? True exposition should not merely bring out the real meaning of the text but to also seek to reproduce the original impact intended.

Here is the Psalm 95 in ESV:

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”

I came up with a title (GOD IS WORTHY OF WORSHIP) and an outline that was more targetted to the mind than the heart:

  1. We worship because God is worthy. (He is our King, our Creator and Shepherd).
  2. We worship with praise and adoration. (Expressions of praise: sing, shouts of joy, thanksgiving. Expressions of adoration: kneel, bow down, prostrate. We move from praise to adoration – which includes a loving reverence that obeys)
  3. We worship together. (The fivefold repetition of phrase “come let us”)

How do you think this could be preached to have the same impact on emotions and conscience that the psalmist originally intended? I would love to hear your opinion.