Update on the New Covenant Church, Petaling Jaya

Breakfast with pastor Peter Sze

It was a good time of catching up with the founder of The New Covenant Church, Pastor Peter Sze. It’s been some time since I wrote about the church that I have tracked since it opened its doors almost 3 years ago. Here are some interesting and amazing facts about the new church in Petaling Jaya.

It is the fastest growing church in Malaysia. Starting with a few families and some friends it has multiplied and having maxed out their previous sanctuary, they recently expanded and leased a whole third floor besides the floor they were at.

Despite its size there are no full time pastors or administrative staff. Everyone chips in as they best can, including the pastor, who holds a busy managing director’s post in a Malaysian multi-national company.

Shangri-la sophisticationThe pastor was a Methodist lay leader who has “been there, done that” in every charismatic wave from spiritual gifts, church growth, worship, to prayer warfare, and missions and cell group system, etc. What finally liberated and gained a permanent grip of him was the message of grace which he first heard from Joseph Prince’s tapes. They ran with the message but at the same time made it uniquely theirs.

There is no personality cult and the pastor is a level headed, humble, unassuming and wise leader who also welcomes and allows others with gifts and maturity to help in the task of serving God’s Word and His people. He has built a strong team of preachers and teachers of grace.

He is discerning and wary of doing church the way he used to, having seen the futile and frustrating fruit of human-reliant efforts. So he observes the motions of grace and life in the congregation and facilitates their expressions, rather than imitate whatever is currently popular in the conference circuit, or merely adopt best practices of bigger churches. “Want to” instead of “have to” is one such sign of such movements of grace within the church. The church is growing naturally and organically and at a pace that does not become a yoke of burden.

The church does not teach tithing and believes that it is part of the Old Covenant but believes that new covenant giving comes out of gratitude and overflowing life and the amount given should be as a person decides in his own heart. There are no offering bags passed around but there are boxes located at different parts of the facility for those who wish to give.

They teach the Bible systematically in their services working through books of the Bible or topical themes and highlighting and explaining how the texts point to Christ, the new covenant and the grace of God.

They have informally networked with many other “grace-based” churches in Malaysia and are helping a network of churches in Jakarta, in addition to their partnership with Cambodia’s Barnabas Mam’s church planting movement.

You can read my other reports on the new covenant church in these links:

Jun 2010 report

Jan 2011 report

April 2011 report

From job description to the dictates of love

Law There was a man who employed a maid and gave her a job description. She was to wake up at 7 every morning and prepare breakfast for him and his elderly sick mother and make sure she took her medicine. Later she was to clean and tidy the whole house and do the laundry. After that she was to cook lunch for his mother and to make sure his mum took a nap. Later she was to cook dinner and take his wheelchair-bound mother for a walk in the nearby park. After dinner she was to iron the clothing and prepare his mum for bed. On Sundays she had her day off, and he would take care of his mum then. The maid did her best to follow the job description but she often failed and faltered, and she did her best to cover her failures.

The man fell in love with the maid and confessed his love for her. She responded in kind and soon they got married. After the wedding, the man took out the old job description and tore it away and said to her, “You are now my wife. We have a love and trust relationship with one another. We do not need a job descriptions. Do as your love dictates.”

The wife did everything she used to do for the man, now her husband, and his mother, now her mother in law. However she did even much more, giving them both much love, affection and she bore three children.  She did more than her old job description and with more love, energy, purpose, devotion and faithfulness.

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of written code. (Rom 7:6)

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.(Gal 5:18)

Dr Eugene Peterson on what he looks for in a sermon

Eugene Peterson was for many years James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College. He wrote many books on spirituality and pastoring, and he is probably most well known for The Message, his translation of the Bible in the language of today. Now retired from full-time teaching, Eugene has something significant to say about preaching. It should not be about what we should be doing, but what Christ has already done- “kerygma” or proclamation.

INCEPTION of the good news of God’s grace

InceptionThe plot of INCEPTION

The film INCEPTION, starring Leonardo Dicaprio, poses an intriguing proposition, and by extension an interesting spiritual application. The action film is science fiction with a tantalising idea: that ideas and secrets and technology can be extracted from people while their subconscious mind are at their most vulnerable- during dream state. So the hero is skilled at extracting secret industrial information from people, and is highly in demand by competitor clients, as well as a fugitive from those who have been milked. The tension is set when he was asked to plant an idea rather than extract ideas from a particular heir of a near monopoly. Its a tight fast-moving, suspenseful movie which ends with a successful conclusion and we are meant to assume that the idea bore fruition and the client who hired him reaped the harvest from the growth of that idea.

How is  preaching like INCEPTION?

Some people think that preaching is passe and ineffective. The monologue they say is doomed to failure in a world that is increasingly interactive, and that grew up on sound bytes, moving visuals and immediate gratification of senses. Young people and increasingly the older ones as well are having shorter attention spans than ever before. It used to be 20 minutes but I speculate that it is much less, perhaps a worrying 2 minutes! Is the sermon as a method of communication past expiry date?

Despite all this I still believe there is a place for the sermon. It does help to have power point visuals, or fill in the blanks outlines in the bulletin, or to keep the sermon interesting.  However, the sermon is not a lecture, or an interesting public talk. A sermon has life: it is impregnated by the preacher’s soul and the Spirit’s life-giving power. And the worship service is the equivalent of the dream state, when a person, with all his rational and spiritual powers intact (unlike in dream state), is most receptive to receiving an implantation of the eternal, life changing good news of Jesus Christ. With the implant of an idea, that God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself, and joined them to the life of the Triune God, the recipient would have received a word that would generate life and transformation, leading to a harvest of the Spirit, the fruit of righteousness.

INCEPTION means the beginning, the start of a process, a project and it does appropriately describe what can possibly happen through preaching of the good news of God’s grace, and its reception into the receptive, believing heart. When the Word is implanted it is just the beginning of a process, a project that will culminate in life transformation and the greater glory of God.

Preaching radical grace

tullian tchividjianTullian Tchividjian is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A Florida native, he is a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and a grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. What he has to share about sermons seasoned with grace is encouraging and enlightening. Read this extract from SermonCentral.com and if you like the article and want to know how he prepares his sermons, read the rest HERE.

SermonCentral:  How can pastors evaluate their sermons to see if they’re really preaching Jesus + nothing?  What kind of litmus test can we take to make sure we get grace right in our preaching?

Tullian: The litmus test that I use for myself is that if people walk away from my sermons thinking more about what they need to do than what Jesus has already done, I’ve failed to preach the Gospel.  The Gospel is the good news that Jesus has done for me what I could never do for myself.  And a lot of preaching these days is “do more, try harder,” like you said.  It’s behavior modification.  We come to church expecting God to give us a to-do list or the preacher to give us a to-do list.  As long as we are given a to-do list, we maintain some measure of control over our lives.  Just tell me what to do.

This message of radical grace, that “it is finished,” is difficult for the human heart, the sinful heart to grasp because we’re so afraid of control being wrestled out of our hands.  So we come to church saying, “Pastor, my marriage is in trouble…my children are going off the deep end…my business is failing…I’m coming to you as the expert to tell me what to do to fix my own life…”  And as a result, our lives get worse, not better, because we’re taking matters into our own hands.

So my job at the end of every sermon—and this is the grid by which I preach—I preach God’s law, and then I preach God’s Gospel.  Both are good.  The law diagnoses my need and shows me that my best is never good enough.  So I’m always trying to help our people realize that they’re a lot worse than they realize and they’re a lot more incapable than they think they are.  But the good news is that God is more than capable, that He’s already done everything we need for Him to do.  He’s already secured in Christ everything we long for.  So my job at the end of every sermon is to, in some way, shape, or form, encourage our people by saying, “Cheer up.  You’re a lot worse off than you think you are, but God’s grace is infinitely larger than you could have ever hoped or imagined.  It is finished.”

And what I’ve discovered is that the people who lean on “it is finished” most are the ones who end up being the most free and whose lives change the most.  It’s the people who constantly demand to-do lists and then preachers who capitulate to that demand and give them to-do lists, those are the people who get worse.  I’ve realized, and I’m only 39 years old, but I’ve realized the more I try to get better, the worse I get.  I’m just realizing I am a narcissist.  I think way too much about how I’m doing, if I’m doing it right, have I confessed every sin.  In other words, I’m thinking much more about me and what I need to do than Jesus and what He’s already done.  And as a result, I’m not getting better.  I’m getting worse.

I’ve come to the realization that when I stop obsessing over my need to improve, that is improvement.  When I stop obsessing narcissistically over my need to get better, that is what the Bible means by getting better.  That’s why Paul was able to say at the end of his life, “I’m the worst guy that I know, and the work of grace in my life is that I’m free to tell you that.”  I think the whole notion of what it means to progress in the Christian life has been radically misunderstood.  Progress in the Christian life is not “I’m getter better and better and better…”  Progress in the Christian life is, “I’m growing in my realization of just how bad I am and growing in my appreciation of just how much Jesus has done for me.”

The Gospel is for every day

We mistakenly think the Gospel is just the four spiritual laws. We further mistaken that the Gospel is only for accepting Christ, for conversion, for “crossing the line” and after that we lay it aside and go to deeper things. How wrong this is, and how disastrous it is for the church to think so. The pastor ought to bring the gospel of Christ and his finished work as much as possible into his messages because the people need to hear it often. They need the constant reminders and renewal in the Gospel both in Word and sacrament, because our faith in the good news must be kept fresh and dynamic to keep drawing down from our spiritual inheritance of forgiveness, enabling grace, peace, power, the benefits of justification, love, healing and much much more. Here’s a video by John Piper that says this:

The New Covenant Church: this is how church is meant to be

Pastor Peter and Kenny at Duck Inn, PJ

Grace happenings

Pastor Peter welcomed me warmly with a dinner on Friday evening at Duck Inn- a place where the lowly duck has gone four stars. Eusoffe and Joey and he regaled me with story after story of how God had been at work in the New Covenant Church. Changed lives, healings, answered prayers, and marriages in reconciliation. The last time I was here was January, but the stories they told animatedly were mostly fresh. From 8 we talked, or rather they talked and I wah-ed, till 10.  A distinct thought Eusoffe n Joeycame to mind – This is what church is meant to be. There should be wondrous grace happenings that are not cooked up by human shoving and whipping. Where Jesus was exalted, and the actors felt they were privileged to be in the front row to watch what God had done. This is what church is meant to be: people focused on what God was doing and not on what the church was lacking.

More grace happenings

The next day, Simon Yap brought me out for lunch. We wanted to eat from a famous K.L. “all black” Hokkien mee stall, but it was closed. As it turned out, we had food to eat that was better: stories of faith and God’s grace in action. He shared his journey and Kenny n Simon(how can a Spurs fan wear Barcelona?)some interesting grace happenings that took place some years ago and some as recent as a week ago. Ahh…another immersion in wonder.  God’s grace is amazing. Again I thought, This is what church is meant to be. Exciting. Christ-exalting. No one taking the glory. Believers who were deeply satisfied and caught up in one lovely surprise after another. When I sensed  a “cloud” of his presence settled, I told him- I want to be alone to process this and spend some time with the Lord.

Sitting quiet in the bible college apartment, I whispered – Lord, this is what church is meant to be. This is what church is meant to be.

Bow bent, string drawn

The rest of the day was spent to order the thoughts for the message for the church on Sunday. What have I to say to these people who seem to be experiencing the early showers of a book of Acts downpour. I was too smart to have accepted this invitation, I thought. Should have told Peter I was on sabbatical, period. However, by evening, all was ready, and the bow was bent, and the string was drawn.

Sunday, Facebook, and healing

At Sunday breakfast, Peter was sharing a pastoral case, as he didn’t want me to get the wrong idea that there were no problems. Being with the New Covenant Church was comfortable because I was there before and because of Facebook. Wanted to see friends I had added, but wondered if I would recognize them if they had not introduced themselves. As it happened, I could not.

praise team

The praise and music had progressed and there seemed to be an enriched sense of God’s presence. The worship leader, Karen, was Karen caught up in Himwith it, and in it, and caught up in Him. This was followed by holy communion, which they served every Sunday. Later Chermaine testified how she had been suffering from chronic pain after giving birth to her child twelve years ago. The piercing pain would shoot down her back to her legs occasionally when she stood up. One night she was prayed for and she felt a lasting warmth on her back. After a Chermaine: healed!!!few days she discovered she was completely well and could even jump about for joy. It was no small thing for her to be set free completely.

Baptized in the Father’s Love

The title of the sermon I preached was “Baptized in the Father’s Love” and I dwelt on two key passages: Mark’s account of Jesus baptism, and Zephaniah’s famous 3:17-

“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you in His love, He will rejoice over you with singing”.

It was a gradual build up, and their warm response to what I was saying, and the anointing, lifted me beyond self-consiousness, and I felt the message was getting through. I told the Sunday morning crowd, which seemed fuller than three months ago, This is what church is meant to be: where grace happenings fall like gentle rain week after week. We ended up with a beautiful response: we stood and worshipped, and the Lord  soaked us in His love.

Billy, Kenny, Alex, Simon, Amy

E-book

They served lunch every Sunday and I caught up with the people I knew like Aileen Tan, Billy, Simon and Alex. Talked for quite some time with Billy, an entrepreneur who had just recently ventured in an online business. What perked my interest was that he had already been selling an e-book and audio book online for some time, and I found out more. Lord give me an idea for an e-book.