Rev Dr Amos Jayarathnam: WRPF 2015 church camp speaker

The camp speaker was Rev Dr Amos Jayarathnam and the theme of the camp was “Faith in the Face of Uncertainties.” It looked like we had to face the uncertainties right from the beginning when the advance party stepped into the hotel. They had a jolt with what they experienced. One had problem with room lights and another had problem with the bathtub. Will the people be able to accept this in addition to the hotel’s jaded look and facilities?

Avillion Legacy in Melaka is not exactly our ideal hotel except that this time we wanted to get a 4 days 3 nights church camp package for under SGD$300 pax for about 130 people. The hotel’s decor and colours are very ethnic Malay. It took a day to get used to. We were disappointed with the inadequate facilities. The swimming pool was the size of a badminton court. The hotel is an inconvenient 15 minute’s bus ride from the main shopping and food belt.

Nowadays, even with a strong Singapore dollar the hotels in Malaysia play hardball and charge a premium for church camps. Most hotels charge from $350 to $400. There are many churches in Singapore wanting to hold camps in June, and Johor and Melaka are popular places because of the relatively short travel needed. The hotels know this. Maybe the next time we should look farther afield at places like Bangkok.

What fell short in terms of facilities was made up for by great organization and the spiritual program. The organizers were young people: Huile and Tian En, with the steady and experienced hand of Ai Choo. I like it when there is an intergenerational team: “the young men and the old shall be merry” (Jeremiah 31: 13). This strict herding of youth from the adults is a sad homogenization that does more harm than good for the church. It may spur numerical growth in a few cases, but in most situations, it starves the church of the rich transmission of values, and the model loses the synergies that can be gained in an all-age congregational setting.

Rev Dr Amos Jayarathnam preaching the message
Rev Dr Amos Jayarathnam preaching the message
Mindmapping on the side for the primary school but others enjoyed it too
Aileen Goh mindmapping on the side for the primary school kids but others enjoyed it too
Lunch with Pastor Thomas, Pastor Amos, Agnes and Mark Chua
Lunch with Pastor Thomas, Pastor Amos, Agnes and Mark Chua

Rev Dr Amos is not new to us. He was in the WRPF family in the early years of his faith development. Now he is an internationally recognized prophet. He spoke on the theme in three sessions. His main point was that we need to learn to trust in God’s true character even in the face of circumstances and evidence that shows it is opposite. When things are uncertain, God is faithful and does not change. He spoke as one whose faithfulness and loyalty to God has been proven and tested. What he preached was seared into his life at great sacrifices, uncertainty and tears. Thus he was able to impart faith and courage and conviction. On more than one occasion, he risked his life and his family and was willing to die for the Lord. God saw that and entrusted him with great gifts and anointing. Despite that he is a very gracious, unassuming, and respectful man of God.

His God-given gift to give personal prophecies that were mostly accurate is priceless. Typically they described a person’s gifts and strengths and gave specific advice on pitfalls to watch and encouragement along the lines of their placement in the body. So typically after the message the campers went forward for prayer and ministry. Later we had to give out numbers on paper to campers as there were many more who had not been prayed for and he offered to pray for everyone.  After the message we dismissed all but the 20 persons to be prayed for in the queue. By the time we finished on the third and last session it was about 2pm and most have gone off for the free and easy shopping afternoon.

In the end it was a memorable camp and most went home contented and encouraged to have been blessed with the strong messages preached, and each with a personal word from the Lord as bonus. They enjoyed the shopping and the durian pig outs. For me the personal prophecy affirmed my role as spiritual father in the church, and affirmed and watered the idea of writing books.

Because the pastor said so

Ben drew a deep breath and closed his bank account. All that he had saved for the past decade of working in the premier Administrative Service is now in this cheque that he would put in the offering bags on Sunday. He had been saving to invest in a private property he had been assiduously evaluating. Now he wrote the church’s name on the cheque. There was hesitation, but once he put pen to paper it was quickly over.

He was not the only one. Many in his cell group from the church had already done the same thing over the last few months. In fact he was his usual cautious reluctant self – turning things over in his head till his mind was exhausted and drew a blank. It was not just a matter of copying others in the cell group, or the many other cell groups. The whole church had been feverish about being ready for this greatly anticipated event the pastor had spoken about. Now he has decided to dive in too with the rest of his friends.

The pastor’s words had reverberated in the corridors of churches in Singapore. As the messages were being broadcasted in other countries in the region as well, there had been a groundswell of hostile reactions in Facebook. Many heads of denominations and pastors have taken to pulpits and pen to write against the pastor’s prediction. “Heresy!” they declared. “Dangerous doctrine!” they shouted.

Ben, 34, had heard from colleagues about how other churches had raised the alarm about his pastor’s prediction. This must be how the early Christians felt when opposition battered them, he thought, shaking his head. The pastor had said it, with scriptural backing, scholarly argument and numerical precision too, and that was convincing enough for him. Like him, many in the mega-church, cannot accept what the critics have said, for their lives had changed and became better and happier as a result of being part of the church.

On August 4th, he was among the first to go to the top of the Marina Bay Sands to get a better view. All the earth will see and know, the pastor had said. It would be a spectacle that cannot be ignored by the world’s media.

Ben had not married, not even fallen in love once. He had wanted to travel more, especially to visit the Holy Land, but was too busy to have done so. He hadn’t even had a chance to vote once! Though he was high up there in the civil service, he had not even attended a National Day Parade in his life. As the elevator shot up, regret bit him as he thought of all the things he wished he had done.

He also wondered, How would his meeting with the Lord be? What would he hear the Lord say? He had mixed feelings about meeting the Lord in the air, but the pastor said it would happen on 4th of August, and he had done all he could to prepare for this day.

Because the pastor had said so.

the New Covenant Church: by grace through faith

New media networking

An exciting weekend gave me further encouragement to blog. The invitation to preach at the New Covenant Church came through the new media. Peter Sze had been reading blogpastor.net for two years and we became friends on Facebook. He announced one day that he was starting a new church and I politely mentioned that I would love to visit it when I visited Kuala Lumpur. He said, “Better still, why don’t you preach?” That was late last year, and now seven months later, the church has grown remarkably to an attendance of over 200. And I had preached there the Sunday before I had my own church camp in Glenmarie Holiday Inn, KL.

Warm Malaysian hospitality

Kenny, Alex and Karen with daughter

On the balmy Saturday evening of our arrival, a couple, Alex and Karen, two lawyers who had  just joined the church, brought me out to taste the best bak kut teh (pork ribs soup) in all of Klang valley. It was so good that it was sold out by the time we arrived. So we went next door to a restaurant designed to benefit from the spillover crowd….. folk like us. Nevertheless my wife and I tasted warm Malaysian hospitality that night and throughout our short stay there.

By grace through faith

The New Covenant Church is located in the suburbs of Petaling Jaya, in a shopping center that had seen better days. It was cavernous  for a new church plant, with a large fellowship hall, that had a staircase that led up to an auditorium that seated over 300. When you start with 30 people, leasing such a big space requires quite a stretch of one’s faith.

the new covenant church in worship

The service began at 10.15am. The songs were familiar and one was a song from a New Creation Church album, “I see grace”. Standing in the front, I noticed a little Indian boy lingering in the front to be held by the pastor. It was the third time the family had visited the church. Then it was announcements, testimony and the Holy Communion, which they served every Sunday. No offering was taken. Those who were moved could put their offerings in several offering boxes on the walls. The sermon I preached was titled, “The Church of the Prodigal Son”. There was a spiritual liberty and the message connected with the congregation, and we had an impactful time of prayer ministry at the altar. Thankfully, the message was well received. Lunch was food cooked by people and brought to church in trays and pots. There was no roster. People cooked as they were blessed and wished to contribute.

makan fellowship

No barriers of race, wealth or status

During  the fellowship, I had my first experience of meeting datuks at close quarters. I had supposed most datuks were unhappy, snobbish people but Datuk Tony and Datin Alicia, and another Datuk Roland, were all smiling and happy and without airs. This new church and the gospel it preached had drawn people from different races and social status together. The Nepali security guard may sit next to Chinese lawyers; Indonesian maids worship with businessmen; and the datuks lunch in the same hall with the struggling widow and the marginalized of society. What I saw there, was what Jesus came to form: an “odd” company of men and women fitted together by grace, indwelt and united by the Spirit. It can be called a Jesus community- like the people who gathered around him when he was on earth, a mix of disciples and seekers and needy.

Giving birth at 58

Fifty eight isn’t the right age for someone to birth a church. Then again, God is used to doing the exceptional. Peter Sze, a busy managing director of a large Malaysian company with a multi-national presence, had been a committed Methodist layleader for years. Together with external circumstances, something had been gestating in him to thrust a church is born!him out into planting a new church, but it was a confirmation through a prophecy  from “down under”, that propelled him to take immediate, concrete steps of faith. Having been convinced of the gospel of grace, Peter envisioned a  church that majored on celebrating the Christ and the finished work of redemption. Their early sermon series on “The New Covenant”, expository studies  on the book of Galatians, and currently a series on Joseph, reveal an sunday school attempt to be more systematic and expository in their approach to the message of grace. Even the small children’s church are being taught the “indicatives” of who Christ is and what He has done, rather than the typical moralistic tones of most Sunday School content.

No traffic jams

One of the reasons for the rapid growth of this church is that he does not face traffic jams in decision-making. Very quickly the church was set up: leasing, renovations, audio-visual system and musical instruments, stage, CDs duplication, and online presence through Facebook and a dedicated website with podcasts – all within 6 months. They have also begun to venture into missions partnership with workers in Cambodia and a missionary in Muslim Africa. He also has the kind of confident trust in God that enables him to make decisions without unnecessary dithering. The Kuala Lumpur traffic crawl is more descriptive  of those who prefer the traditional perfect will of God route, than the highway of God’s  love he is happier to travel on. Move in faith and the Lord will direct your steps. God is so big, there is nothing to fear.

Peter Tze, See Fen, Kenny, Jenny

Complementary partners

Peter and his wife, See Fen, are complementary in personality and ministry. One is into the big picture and the communicator, the other has great compassion for the down and out and demonstrates a down to earth love for members living in the margins. Their marriage was recently featured in the newspapers, and from what I read, the the engineer figured it out-1000 letters!engineering student inundated the “most beautiful girl in Segamat” with 1,000 letters and won Joanna- the daughter, with grandchildrenher over.  See Fen has this large reservoir of patience and love for the powerless and needy and this has rubbed onto Joanna her daughter, who at one time was working full time with the poorer Malays and Indons in the low-cost housing areas of Subang.

The future of this church is very bright from what I have seen. Its response to the message of the gospel is remarkably balanced in the breaking of distinctions of race, wealth and social class; its involvement in missions; its care for the needy; and its concern to preach and teach grace in a systematic, Bible based, and comprehensive way that included modifying the children’s curriculum.

I heard there are other “grace-based” churches in KL and Kuching. God willing, I would like to visit and blog about them too.

It’s fun to discover small churches and make them known, to give them a face and a voice. It gives the larger body a sense of the richness and diversity of the church of Jesus Christ. There are many great small churches of all denominations and sizes in the east coast and west coast of Malaysia doing unrecognized tasks for the kingdom and God willing, I’d like to visit them.

Church of our Savior with sails hoisted

COOS and my receding hairline

Visit to megachurch with a blogging friend

Daniel Ong drove me in his orange Suzuki to the side road car park in front of a former theatre. It was about 8 plus in the morning. He usually parked across the main road and MRT track in the multi-storey car park but in our banter he forgot and we happened to get an empty lot nearer. Never is easy to park in Singapore churches, both mega and small.

We entered the worship hall 5 minutes early and there were many empty seats. By the time worship began, most of the seats on the ground floor were taken but not the balcony. I noticed the planets mural were all gone. Missed them. The congregation were mainly folks in the second or third part of their lives. Nice worship, singing songs more familiar to me.

There was no sermon that Sunday but instead a report by their Harvest & Souls ministry- one that reached out to the poor communities in Redhill. I was impressed with the penetration into the dialect speaking world, the practical help they gave, the people who came to Christ, the cell groups they formed ( that met in the common corridor), and the children’s clubs they started (using the void decks). In the end, I had two messages from prophetic people, one on paper from Magdelene and another from my host. I also bumped into Dr Lorna Khoo but we had no time to catch up.

Prophetic painting

I had coffee with Paul, the pastor in charge of the creative arts- the drama, dance and now the prophetic painting ministry. I was of course curious about the latter and inquired about it.  They had picked it up from the Bethel Church in Redding, California, a church better known for its equipping and releasing of members to preach and heal the sick out where the people are. They are evidently very open to the winds of the Spirit and all His expressions through people, one of them being the employment of art in giving prophetic messages and in combination with words of knowledge and other gifts. Pastor Paul shared three stories of how God used paintings to revive a backslider and lead people to Christ.

Incredibly open to the winds of the Spirit

It struck me that the Church of our Savior has been incredibly open to the winds of the Spirit. It takes after its pastor Derek Hong, one of the pioneer and key Anglican priests, in the charismatic movement. He was an “early adopter” in the 70’s and his open innovative posture towards the new things God has been doing has never changed. His posture was “Dive!” or “Chiong”. He would hoist his sails and catch the wind whenever it passed, and that moved the church forward and kept it fresh. So it was no surprise to me then that while some people may have been debating about healing rooms, sozo, Bethel, and now prophetic painting, he had already gone full steam ahead with them.

Monthly COOS have someone painting prophetically on the stage as the people worshiped. I have read about emerging churches doing this but it’s probably the first and only church that does that in Singapore, with prophetic inspiration added. Probably this first in status will remain so for some years.

A few months ago COOS was associated with AWARE and the bad press from a bad press. Forget the past, and see what the Lord is doing in this new day!

Discerning what you “hear from God”

I had a friend from outside church who was always hearing from God. It seemed like he had a direct hotline to God, while all I had were smoke signals and myopia. Sometimes I envied the simplicity and  immediacy of his fellowship with the Lord, but most times I was cautious and doubtful. My reservations had to do with the content of what he claimed to have heard:  often messages of judgment on the world, or Singapore, or the Church, and what the church should do. Most times I listened patiently and occasionally I felt perturbed, and even irritated.

It is wonderful for anyone to have an interactive fellowship with the Lord, and for one to have experiences of dialogue and conversation with God. He can even share his personal experience, “The Lord said to me….”. But when he starts saying, The Lord says this about you, about the church, about the world, and this is what must be done, it is a different thing.  He has moved from the sphere of private experience to the public domain where his words can have implications and bind the conscience of others. Such claims to have heard from God need to be discerned (1 Thessalonians 5: 19-22). Discerning the voice of the Lord is important for otherwise it can hurt people,  the church, or bring the name of the Lord into disrepute.

Mexico HijackingSuch was the case with Jose Flores Pereiras, a Bolivian ex-drug addict pastor, who hijacked Aero Mexico’s flight 576. He threatened to bomb it unless he got the ears of President Felipe Calderon of Mexico. Jose Flores had “heard from God” that a great earthquake is about to strike Mexico City. It was an earthquake “like none there has ever been”.  Having tried for six months to contact the President without success, he had in desperation, resorted to a liquid laden receptacle with lights on it.  It took a pilot to persuade the pastor to release the 107 passengers unharmed. When the SWAT team arrested him, a few other passengers were mistakenly taken into custody too because Jose said there were three persons working with him. It later turned out  that Jose was referring to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit working with him on this unholy venture. And why did he chose 9/9/09 to hijack the plane? Because 999 turned upside down is the Satanic 666! By God’s mercy, he was not hurt. This story underlines the importance of discernment of God’s voice and the interpretation of apocalyptic scriptures.

The best people to discern the Lord are those who continually experience the unconditional love of God. I was meditating on the Gospel of John chapter 21. Jesus had called out from the shore in the early but dark hours of dawn, “Have you caught any fish?” And Peter and the disciples who had fished all night without success replied, “None.” Then Jesus said, “Throw your nets to the right side of your boat.” Which they did and they caught so much it shocked them!

Peter and the other disciples were too caught up in work to notice who was the one on the shore. But John alone perceived that the stranger who spoke was Jesus. Tellingly the text described John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. The inference I draw from this is that those best equipped to discern the Lord’s voice are those who have matured from having tasted and felt the length and breadth, and height and depth of the love of God over and over again. Children of the heavenly Father who have drunk deeply from the fount of God’s grace and love are most able to distinguish the voice of love. Like nets in the hands of hardworking fishermen, they have been mended and made whole by divine love. It is love and grace that distinguishes God’s voice from Satan’s and from ours.

The Holy Spirit speaks to us in our thoughts. These thoughts are so natural we think they are ours, but later on reflection learn to recognize that it is an inspiration from the Lord. He also speaks to us as we meditate or reflect on the scripture or experiences of the day as Peter found out: “while Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him….” (Acts 10). Such precious illuminations or ideas need to be journalled in a notebook or smart phone or e-journal to see if they persist and are of the quality of love we are familiar with. This way we learn more and more his gentle whispers.

Another principle of discernment is that it is best done together with the Christian community. “It seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit….” were the opening words of the final decision made by James and the elders of the Jerusalem Chrisitian community(Acts 15). The many scripture injunctions to be humble, teachable and submissive to one another, and to the leaders God has appointed over the church provide a healthy environment for hearing God. Collective spiritual intelligence is better than the lone judgment call. God has placed us in a body that grows and thrives because the members are inter-dependent for real growth to happen. Such  spiritual environment is where spiritual discernment can best be practiced as a corporate discipline.

Having mentors and spiritual friendships with others we can confide in and receive mature input and feedback is an important part of discernment. I have spiritual friends who have been immensely helpful in discerning with me what God is doing in my life. In addition, during prayer retreats I have had spiritual directors and found them to be insightful guides. The Roman Catholic function of spiritual direction has in recent decades regained some acceptance in the life of the evangelical church and this augurs well for future.

When I read the report about Jose Flores Perairas, I thought, “Oh no another Pentecostal-Charismatic wreckage….another horror story where “hearing from God” is put in a scary light”. More fodder for the mocking secular press. The report only served up another example of why it is better to stay in the boat rather than try to hear and obey a living Lord. Why risk being like Peter who almost ended up being known as the apostle who drowned?  Yet Jesus is the one who, in the midst of our stormy seas, lovingly coaxes and invites us to ride the storm, which is why hearing from God is an essential despite the attendant risks. Just do it with the discernment of one who is deeply loved and highly favoured, and discern God’s voice with the spiritually intelligent.