Concentrated on the ministry of the Word

The church today needs the word and men set apart for prayer and preaching the word. Too often the pastor is distracted by other urgent tasks that draws attending to prayer and word. This temptation and pressure is of course not new to modern times. It happened then too.

The infant church of the first century grew through the apostles’ preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ. However, after some time an internal problem arose that could have derailed the momentum of the infant church. The Greek-speaking widows were not being well cared for by the church. Pastoral help and administrative distribution of welfare fell short. It was a glaring gap in the Spirit-filled church.

There was pressure on the apostles to set aside their prayer and preaching times and made time for distributing food.  However by the grace of God, spiritual wisdom and order prevailed. The apostles declared, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables….. (pick out reliable men we can entrust with this task –italics mine)…….But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Act 6:2-4 ESV). So other spiritual men, all Greek speaking, were appointed to the task of serving the pastoral and administrative need. It proved to be a wise move for the next verse described the outcome: “The word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (verse 7).

Why is the ministry of the word so vital? Well for one thing, it builds faith, hope and love. For another, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16,17). Pray that the ministry of the Word will prosper and be given prominence in WRPF, and anointed people will be set apart to focus on this work of grace.

The task that energizes me

On the subject of equipping, the three main tasks of a pastor are to feed, to care and to lead. Feeding entails the teaching of God’s word to God’s people. This is done through Sunday sermons, facilitating study groups, through cell group learning, and through the equipping stations. God’s people grow by feeding on the explanations and applications of God’s word. It is the hundreds of home-cooked, wholesome meals over many years, and not the occasional Michelin standard restaurant meals that grow you physically. In the same way, it is not the occasional inspiring, moving sermon that grows you spiritually but the faithful interpretation, teaching and application of the sacred text over many years.

On a personal note, the teaching and learning process is my preferred equipping task. It is what God gifted me for and what energizes me. There are pastors that find this task draining. Not I. True, the challenging and exciting moments of selecting a passage, allowing the Spirit to illuminate it, poring over what others have said about the passage, and preparing a message, can sometimes be tense and a struggle. However when all is settled, and the message is delivered and you trust the Holy Spirit to show Himself strong though a sermon that is often “five loaves and two fish”, it gives you pleasure, humility and peace. God’s word has resounded among God’s people and for another Sunday they have been strengthened in the faith, encouraged to hope, and renewed in love. It is fulfilling.

Worship services that facilitates the Spirit’s transforming power

photo credit: YKThe presentations I had to do went well today and now I can pause to write before I continue working on my Sunday sermon and the post-campus assignment.

One of the interesting readings of this module is a  Christian Education Journal article (3.vol4, No.2) titled “Teaching Bible for Transformation” by Jackie L. Smallbones from Northwestern College.

Transformation inextricably linked to purpose of Bible

Smallbones’ big idea is that to teach in such a way that people’s lives are transformed we need to take seriously the primary purpose of the Bible. The Bible primary purpose is to reveal God, and only secondarily to show us how to live. The way the Bible is used popularly today,  both from the pulpit and in the small groups, the secondary purpose has supplanted the primary. Preachers and people move too swiftly into the applications that focus on what we should do and how we are to apply the truth in our life. Not sufficient time is given to let the text speak and reveal who God is and what He has done. The anthropocentric focus often deters a theocentric priority.

“Transformation is God’s business”

For Smallbones, transformation is a radical change that comes from deep within a person and is lasting. It  is growth in Christ-likeness. For her,  “Transformation is God’s business and not our own” (Smallbones, 2007) and it often takes place by grace, despite our efforts or teaching methodology. To Smallbones, the secret of transformation lies in having a dynamic, living, interactive relationship with God. No self-disclosure, no friendship; no friendship, no transformation. God’s desire to reveal Himself and have a transforming friendship with us is embedded in the purpose of the Bible. Therefore we need to teach it in such a way that it reveals who God is and what He has done, and elicit a response of gratitude, worship and faith. It makes you want to have a friendship with God, one that in the end would empower you with the grace to do all that a response of faith entails, and one that will transform you beyond surface behavioral cosmetics, and touch you at the roots of your personality.

Exploring a worship service that facilitates transformation

I like what I read in the article and there are many more stuff she has written that is thought provoking and resonant of what the Lord has been teaching me these several years. The question that begs to be answered then is what would a worship service look like that reveals God and invites us into experiential and living encounter and growing friendship with Him. Well for one, the lyrics of the songs we sing would be theocentric. They will exalt and reveal who God is and what He has done, and is doing.  Some time could be given for “testimony” where someone could share how God has been real to them.  The sermon should constantly have a theocentric focus that exalts God, and should lead people naturally and finally into deep trust, adoration of God, and experiential communion with Him. Instead of focusing on the faith of David, the cowardice of the Israelites, and the blasphemy of Goliath in the sermon, focus on the God who honors His covenant, and waits for someone to dare believe in Him, in order to deliver His people. See Christ defeat of Satan in David’s defeat of Goliath and how we are more like the people of Israel who rejoiced at the victory, than like David. We sat in fear, darkness and oppression until the One greater than David appeared and set us free (got this idea from Graame Goldsworthy).

Silence and holy communion

Another way to create space for the Lord to transform by friendship is the use of silence. Silence is the womb of communion. So have silence before the service begins; or a silent pause or two between or at the end of singing praises; at the offering time; silence for the gifts of the Spirit to manifest; at a pregnant moment in the sermon or a longer silence after the sermon; or during the Holy Communion; and hey, why not a long pause just before the benediction. And of course talking about Holy communion, that visible ritual that proclaims the Lord’s death until He returns, why not do it more often than the conventional once a month.

NUS or NTU business school: which is better?

nusI asked an on-line friend, Darryl Chen, his opinion on which business school is better: ntuthe National University of Singapore or the Nanyang Technological University? This is his comprehensive and well written reply. If you have any opinions to add, feel free to add your 2 cents worth…

“Hi Pastor Kenny,

Anyhow, yes I did go to NUS Business School. Here’s my personal & unbiased(as much as possible) opinion about both schools….My feel about NTU is that it offers a more technical(because they start specialising in the 2nd year) grounded type of approach toward business education, whilst NUS tends to offer a more generic strategic(because they only start specialising in the 3rd year) type of approach. The good thing about NTU is that it offers direct honours to those who qualify, i.e. they don’t have to spend an extra year just to get their honours, whilst NUS has its students(those that qualify) spend one year on academic research to come out with a thesis to be awarded honours. Qualification is based on attainment of a certain GPA(grade point average, maximum 4) or CAP(cumulative average points, maximum 5). NTU uses the former whilst NUS uses the latter. However, I’m not sure if there has been changes in the systems in either schools since I have left NUS for about 4 years coming already. (Whoa! I didn’t know it was THAT long ago!)

I do not think that employers in Singapore today favour NUS over NTU, or vice versa. I verified this with a couple of my HR colleagues as well. From personal experience, when I was hiring 2 graduate interns in my job 2 years ago, I did meet with some NUS and NTU business graduates. My opinion from the employer side of the table, based on those interviews, was that the NUS students were more able to handle themselves in a professional manner and their responses to my questions tended to be slanted more “big-picture”. The NTU students, on the other hand, tended to be more reserved and did not leave as strong an impression as the NUS students. I’d like to think that this is an unbiased opinion, because my manager agreed with my assessment as well, and she’s from NTU. (Hahaha….)

But having said that, I don’t think either school is stronger than the other….they just offer different approaches to business studies. Your son should go with his heart and he’ll be fine. But just out of curiosity, did your son also consider SMU? I understand they offer a very good business program as well and based on the few SMU graduates I know, I’ve been quite impressed and I also heard good feedback about the program being offered there, although they do tend to be slightly pricier than NUS/NTU.

As for becoming CFA, I don’t think going to either school would aid or hinder him from getting that qualification. It shouldn’t, since CFA is a professional qualification and it is strictly based on a seperate set of coursework to be done, and I believe either NUS or NTU would give him the appropriate grounding. I always think that its most important to enjoy yourself while studying because that’s when you won’t drag your feet to school and you’d avail yourself to be receive whatever your professor has to impart. So, go with the heart….that’s what I say….

Thanks for writing. Hear from you again and see you around soon…

Cheers,
Darryl

p.s. your son should do well in Uni….i have very high esteem for people who go from the poly into university because they’re very hardworking people yet humble and capable. I always enjoy working with them in my uni days.”

(Re-posted from old blogpastor file dated 9th May 2007 for the benefit of those applying for university entry next month)

Singapore churches are preaching the half gospel

Lord anoint your servants to preach the good news of JesusI find Michael Horton’s books invigorating. I have read his “Putting the Amazing Back into Grace” and “Power Religion” of which I would warmly commend the former. But I have not read his more recent books titled Christless Christianity and the Gospel-Driven Life but they should be thought provoking stuff.Michael is currently the  professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California, and the author of many books. Recently he was interviewed by Mark Galli from Christianity Today.

I am posting excerpts from this interview on some issues raised in these recent books to strengthen my claims that preaching in Singapore is too man-centered and imperative-driven and needs to return to being God-centered and indicative-driven or gospel-driven. What people have been receiving is a half gospel. The interview will clarify what I mean.

Here are some excerpts from there:

ARE OUR SERMONS IN CHURCHES TODAY CHRISTLESS:

What is at the core of the temptation to practice a Christless Christianity?

When the emphasis becomes human-centered rather than God-centered. In more conservative contexts, you hear it as exhortation: “These are God’s commandments. The culture is slipping away from us. We have to recover it, and you play a role. Is your life matching up to what God calls us to?” Of course there is a place for that, but it seems to be the dominant emphasis.

Then there is the therapeutic approach: “You can be happier if you follow God’s principles.” All of this is said with a smile, but it’s still imperative. It’s still about techniques and principles for you to follow in order to have your best life now.

In both cases, it’s law rather than gospel. I don’t even know when I walk into a church that says it’s Bible-believing that I’m actually going to hear an exposition of Scripture with Christ at the center, or whether I’m going to hear about how I should “dare to be a Daniel.” The question is not whether we have imperatives in Scripture. The question is whether the imperatives are all we are getting, because people assume we already know the gospel—and we don’t.

But aren’t many churches doing good preaching about how to improve your marriage, transform your life, and serve the poor?

The question is whether this is the Good News. There is nothing wrong with law, but law isn’t gospel. The gospel isn’t “Follow Jesus’ example” or “Transform your life” or “How to raise good children.” The gospel is: Jesus Christ came to save sinners—even bad parents, even lousy followers of Jesus, which we all are on our best days. All of the emphasis falls on “What would Jesus do?” rather than “What has Jesus done?”

Why is this such a temptation for the church?

It’s our default setting. No one has to be taught to trust in themselves. No one has to be taught that what you experience inside yourself is more authoritative than what comes to you externally, even if it comes from God. Since the Fall, it has been part of our character to look within ourselves. And it is part of our inherent Pelagianism to think we can save ourselves by following the right instructions.

In such a therapeutic, pragmatic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps society as ours, the message of God having to do all the work in saving us comes as an offensive shot at our egos. In this culture, religion is all about being good, about the horizontal, about loving God and neighbor. All of that is the fruit of the gospel. The gospel has nothing to do with what I do. The gospel is entirely a message about what someone else has done not only for me but also for the renewal of the whole creation.

ON WHATS A GOSPEL-DRIVEN LIFE (IS HE TAKING A DIG AT THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE?):

What specifically do you mean by “a gospel-driven life”?

Because I live in San Diego, I think of a sailboat decked out with all of the latest equipment that tells you where you are and where you need to be. It plots your course, but it’s a sailboat, so you need wind in your sails. You start out, and it’s a beautiful day with wind in your sails. You’re out in the middle of the ocean when the wind dies down. You’re just sitting there dead calm. And your radio tells you that a hurricane is approaching. But all of your sophisticated equipment will not be able to get you to safety. What you need is wind in your sails.

A lot of Christians, especially people who have had dramatic conversion experiences, go sailing out of the harbor with wind in their sails. They are so confident in Christ and what he has done for their salvation, and that gospel wind is in their sails. Yet after two years, they have heard just one imperative after another. They have lots of course plotting, lots of books on how to do this and that. They’ve read every manual on spiritual disciplines. They have heard their pastor tell them they need to pray more, to read the Bible more, to evangelize more. Now they are dead in the water. There’s no wind in the sails.

Paul calls the gospel “the power of God unto salvation,” and I don’t think he meant the power of God just unto conversion. The gospel remains the power of God unto salvation until we are glorified. Calvin once said we need the gospel preached to us every week, and the Lord’s Supper to ratify that promise, because we are partly unbelievers until we die.

‘Paul calls the gospel “the power of God unto salvation,” and I don’t think he meant the power of God just unto conversion.

In The Gospel-Driven Life you use news as a metaphor. Why?

I stole it from the apostles! Their dominant metaphor for the gospel message is “good news.” The content is that God has done all the saving, no thanks to us. Someone asked Martin Luther what we contribute to salvation, and he said, “Sin and resistance!”

The gospel is not even my conversion experience. If somebody asks me what the gospel is, I’m not going to talk about me; I’m going to talk about Christ. All of the testimonies we find from the apostles’ lips are not testimonies about what happened in their hearts. They are testimonies about what happened in history when God saved his people from their sins. That’s the gospel. Although the gospel makes all sorts of things happen inside of me and gives me the fruit of the Spirit, the gospel itself is always an external word that comes to me announcing that someone else in history has accomplished my salvation for me.

Someone comes with instructions and says, “Here’s what your life could be like if you do x, y, or z.” Good news is, “Let me tell you what has happened!” The gospel is not good instructions, not a good idea, and not good advice. The gospel is an announcement of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

So what is the first step in living a gospel-driven life?

Become a recipient again. Mary and Martha, the two sisters and disciples of Jesus, had different relationships with Jesus. Martha busied herself with many tasks, and she was getting mad at Mary for making her do all the work. Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, learning from him. Jesus rebuked Martha for criticizing her sister and said Mary had chosen the better part.

First and foremost, disciples are recipients of Jesus Christ’s teaching. His teachings are really teachings concerning his person and his work. He has accomplished our salvation. He has accomplished our redemption. So first, allow the gospel to soak in again.

Then allow the imperatives that arise out of that to be our reasonable service. Instead of trying to live the victorious Christian life, instead of trying to get into God’s favor by following tips and formulas, let’s receive the gospel and then follow the commands of God’s law when it comes to directives. Then our sailboat is perfectly equipped. Now we have the wind in our sails—the gospel—and we also have God’s own wisdom to guide us in that gospel-driven life.

If we understand what Michael Horton is saying in this interview, we will understand why our churches of full of tired Marthas running around on an empty tank in the kitchen, and who will end up in churches that cater for Marys.

For the full interview go to Christ the Center article in online Christianity Today.com.

And read a related article which I posted recently on the indicatives and imperatives of the gospel.

Teaching and writing

Jesus writingThey say the early manuscripts do not carry this pericope but I am unreservedly captivated by it and more so last Sunday as I meditated on it and was struck by the timely insight that the gifts that God uses in my life were strongly figured and exemplified in Jesus’ ministry in this passage in the gospel of John chapter 8. You know the woman who was caught in adultery and the teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought her to Jesus as he was TEACHING, and asked him a trap question, ” What should be done with this woman. The Law stipulates that she should be stoned.” The word “teach” got underlined and highlighted as I notice that all throughout my life I have had a passion and anointing to explain and apply spiritual insights from God’s Word to people’s lives. And I have always had good feedback about the clarity and impact of what I teach. So over the years I have become convinced that this is the Lord’s spiritual gift woven into my life to build up the church.

Jesus not only taught by speaking. In this case, He demonstrated the forgiveness of the Kingdom through action, firstly by stooping down to write. Some said he wrote on the floor the ten commandments, as the Law made the accusers conscious of their sins and they left in shame one by one when Jesus said, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”  I am Pentecostal, so I am biased to a Pentecostal twist as to what he wrote. I think he wrote on the ground the specific sins of each of the accusers with great accuracy and the Holy Spirit convicted each one of his sins. Anyway what struck me is that he WROTE. My dad did not encourage me much and tell me what I am good at, but I remember him saying that I can express myself well in writing and so it has been a strength I have been sort of conscious of though I have never intentionally developed it. However four years ago, a step of faith into blogosphere has helped me to see writing on the web as an extension of my ministry, a modern means of communication that surpasses books in its reach and impact, and one that is geared to the new generation of internet savvy young people. I have since begun to see writing as a gift of increased value, and which I need to develop deliberately and deploy faithfully. I am also mindful as I meditate on this passage that the first and only recorded incidence of Jesus writing was combined with his teaching ministry to eradicate shame, fear, and condemnation by a declaration of full and free forgiveness available in Him.

I was blessed by the meditation, as I have been focusing more and more as a leader seeking convergence, so that all my experiences, and training and skills, and my understanding of what God had been doing, and is currently doing in my life, is moving towards the sharp tip of the arrowhead hitting the purpose the Father had painted. Our giftedness and anointing always point to our destiny and purpose of being. I feel focused, enthused and confident.