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.

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?

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.

Teaching in the Deaf Faith Fellowship

Teaching the deaf in the Deaf Faith Fellowship requires hard work. It is cross-cultural communications. The deaf is a sub-culture. This was what I found out when the pastoral team decided that we need to help the deaf pastor in teaching and helping the deaf with evangelism, prayer and emotional health.

I took the lead with a Sunday sermon on evangelism followed by an afternoon workshop after lunch. We were preparing them for the Celebration of Hope. Sounds simple right? Far from it.

We decided to subject ourselves to the scrutiny and input of the deaf pastor Barnabas and his part-time admin helper Mui Keng. I ran through the sermon and seminar with them and from their input and advice, I had to make quite a number of changes in content, presentation and methodology. I had to simplify the workshop and I had to add more powerpoint slides with pertinent pictures. I had to plan some role acting and drama into the sermon and workshop.

Preaching about Zacchaeus in the Deaf Faith Fellowship

As there were 40 of them and not sufficient interpreters, I went through all the material with the cell leaders and assistants the Sunday before, so that they could readily help the members do the workshop exercises.

They participated and were attentive during the workshop

I must say I quite enjoyed doing this double sessions and the additional meeting to prepare the cell leaders. This has been enriching and satisfying for me, and I do hope it was for them too.

During their worship I found myself quite charmed by the beauty of Sign Language and learnt quite a few signs like “Hallelujah”, “Jesus”, “Lord”, “overcome”, “save”. During the sermon I had Hui Bong to interpret my sermon and during the workshop it was Mui Keng. I observed that you need patience and love to work with the deaf, and these two had it in abundance. May God bless them.

Boston: stumbling onto Phillips Brooks

At the beginning of the Freedom Trail, waiting tor the tour guide after having clam chowder for lunch
Posing with the tour guide who was dressed in clothing of Boston past

Freedom Trail

We were in Boston and had gone on a Freedom Trail walking tour. Boston has a rich and significant history. Momentous events took place there and some of the buildings and graves testify to the fundamental way America has been shaped by those events. I loved the tour and would recommend it to anyone.

We then wanted to have fantastic hot chocolate at a popular café near the park where the Freedom trail ended. On the way to the café, I spotted a statue in front of a huge church building. I went nearer to look and saw an interesting thing.

Rt Rev Phillips Brooks

It was a sculpture put up in memory of Rt. Rev. Phillips Brooks, the famous preacher whose lectures on preaching I had read when I was in seminary. Phillip Brooks gave the “Lyman Beecher Lectureship  on Preaching” at the Divinity School of Yale College. The lectures now seem outdated but he had said some great, classic things about preaching. One of his often quoted sayings was his definition of preaching: “Preaching is the bringing of truth through personality.”

Beautiful Trinity Church (Episcopalian)

After tea, we went to take pictures in front of the sculpture. The sculpture was of Phillip Brooks preaching with his hands stretched out to make a point. There is a strange hooded figure behind him, with his hand on Phillip’s shoulder. Clearly the sculptor meant to indicate how Jesus anointed the preaching of Brooks, and how his effectiveness as a preacher depended on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Phillips Brooks and Jesus

Then we went inside the church to have a look. However, we needed to pay to go in and walk among the pews, the volunteers from church had told us. So I said, Forget it. Ping, my daughter in law, told the volunteers that I was a pastor and had read his lectures in seminary when I was young, and would love to be able to go in. That must have moved them to allow us to go in for free. Thus, we sat there inside the church, among the pews, and in silence I prayed for a fresh anointing and that I would give my whole heart to preaching.

The sanctuary was beautiful and awesome

That night I searched for a free download of Brook’s lectures on preaching and downloaded it. The next few days, I would open those pages and read them on my smartphone. I have gone back now to these lectures, but on my iPad so that I could highlight striking sentences and thoughts. God willing I will post these sayings of Brooks once I have finished reading the lectures.

Deaf Faith Fellowship: praying for healing and deliverance

So what is it like to preach to the deaf congregation?

This year, I made myself available to preach in the other congregations’ services. So I was given a date to preach in the deaf church. I would have a sign language interpreter. So I got the sermon on prayer ready and sent it to her so she could familiarise herself with the vocabulary. Actually, Mui Kheng was so good it was not necessary.

I found this out because at the last moment (on Saturday) I felt I needed to change the sermon and quickly sent her the new script. However she did not receive it but it did not affect her interpretation at all. She was that good.

The deaf worship is unlike what anyone would imagine. Its not silent worship. Its  almost an energetic dance with hand actions and loud drum rhythms. It awakens you. It shakes you up. You are amazed and puzzled: if they cannot hear why such loud drumbeats. I found out they can feel the vibrations and rhythm. Hmmm.

 

I preached about how Jesus cast out evil spirits from a man in the synagogue and how he came to heal and deliver people under attack from evil spirits. After the message, I read out a list of illnesses and ailments that I believed the Lord wanted to touch and heal. Many came out to the front for prayer. They were so open and hungry.

We took our time to patiently pray for each one, working with translators. I had requested Rev Mary and Ginny to be present to pray for the sick and they were gracious and eager to minister to the sick with faith and compassion. We formed three prayer teams, each of us with a sign language interpreter, and it took us 45 minutes to pray for everyone.

At the end of it we felt satisfied and glad to be used of the Lord to bless the deaf congregation. Even if all were not healed and some felt only some percentage of progress, we pray the healing work will continue in their bodies, and that at least they had felt somebody cared, and God cared for them.

PREACHING SYMPOSIUM @ TTC

The preaching symposium was held on 8,9 March 2018 in celebration of Trinity Theological College’s 70th anniversary. It was one of many other events to be held.

Panel to answer questions n the second day

I saw the publicity information, the titles and speakers at the symposium, and it perked my interest. Topics included: What is Preaching? The Bible and Preaching, Theology of Preaching, Preaching and Liturgy, Preaching as Pastoral Care, Preaching in a Pluralistic Society, and Preaching and Church Growth. The workshops included: Preaching on NT Genre, Preaching on OT Genre, Preaching a word from the Lord, Preaching by Listening to the World, Preaching as Evangelism, and Interest Groups: 1) Preaching to Children 2) Preaching to Youth.

As it turned out more than 400 signed up including the Mandarin version. The English-speaking version was held in the chapel while the Mandarin-speaking version in the multi-purpose hall. I hope the organisers see the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing his servants to this conference. There is a real hunger among pastors to be more effective and faithful in their preaching ministry.

I have always been interested in the craft of preaching and for many decades have read one book a year on average, and even more in some years. So I would consider this symposium as an equivalent to my annual reading.

Anglican Bishop Rennis Ponniah giving his talk

What I liked about it:

The topics were relevant and interesting. They were comprehensive but I came away wishing they had added something about “Preaching and Prayer” and look at the role of silence, solitude and prayer in the formation of the preacher, in sermon preparation, and in gaining insights on Spirit-guided applications. Perhaps another one on, “Preaching to Today’s Audience”.

The panel discussion that answered the questions from the floor were helpful and enlightening. One person asked about the way the preachers in the panel have seen themselves changed in the way they preached today compared to when they first started out. Another great question was about what sea change in the audience that the preachers have observed over their decades of preaching? One answer stood out: today’s church member is consumer-oriented unlike the members from the older generation, who were loyal to their traditions and churches.

The sessions were back to back from morning to late evening, with “no rest for the wicked”. I had to skip a few sessions as I felt over-saturated with information. I also found the session after lunch particularly difficult to pay attention to.

I met my friend Rev Vincent Hoon, an Anglican priest from The Church of True Light

On the whole I was glad with what I gleaned. I would have preferred a wider and comprehensive treatment of the topics. A few of the lecturers picked a key passage as a basis for the support of their talk. This narrowed the number and breadth of the truths they can draw from the limited text. If they had a topical approach, more insights and balance could have been shared about the subject as “all scripture” can be utilised to shed light upon the subject instead of one key passage. For instance the talk on “Preaching as Pastoral Care” used the text in Isaiah 40 where comfort was emphasised and what was communicated was a truncated form of pastoral care: comfort, consolation, support and tenderness. However, real pastoral care included reproof and rebuke, and even church discipline. What is the role of preaching in communicating and implementing discipline? That would have been a helpful facet to learn about!  This was missed out because an expository approach was employed and it was based largely on one passage. Good thing this could be clarified and explained during the panel question and answer. It was the same for the lecture on “Preaching in a Pluralistic Society’ which was based mainly on an exposition of Acts 17:16-24. Perhaps the organisers wanted such an approach as a form of demonstration of how good exposition should support whatever case you make about those subjects, so I do not wish to dwell too much on this issue.

I was impressed that they invited Rev Dr Naomi Dowdy, a well known Pentecostal preacher, former senior pastor of megachurch Trinity Christian Centre, and Chancellor of a theological college, to sit in the panel and share her wisdom. Another woman who made an impression on me was Rev Dr Maggie Low. Her lecture on “The Bible and Preaching” was basic understanding for preachers but her delivery led me to conclude she is one of the best women preachers in the city! She was articulate, passionate and connected well with the audience.

On the whole, I enjoyed it and wished they would organise more of these, more frequently. I applaud the organising committee and say a big thank you to Trinity Theological College for organising this.