On Returning To In-Person Worship Services

It was pleasant to meet up with Pastor Peter Sze, to see his boyish smile and hear his cheerful voice. He is one who always bothered to arrange to meet people and friends whenever he was in town. Although he had retired, he is still the pastor of New Covenant Church, a grace-based church in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. 

Lunch was in Din Tai Fung at Suntec City and we caught up about family, church and, of course, frustrating Malaysian politics. Peter has three daughters and a son and a blessed total of eleven grandchildren. The pandemic has meant more times of family togetherness – one of several meaningful and happy outcomes. 

Church During Pandemic

The pandemic in Malaysia has affected his church just as it had affected churches in Singapore during the few periods of tightening and loosening of pandemic regulations and restrictions in the last two years. The church has had to respond quickly to the ever-changing situation. The church’s media team had to learn to pre-record services while keeping to the government restrictions. It learned to be resilient and quick to respond to changes. It had to be able to shuttle between online, on-site and hybrid models of doing worship services. 

The church conducted more meetings on zoom and when it offered mid-week online Bible studies the attendance was much better than when it was done in-person in the past. They have also found that the online presence of the church now saw visitors from other countries viewing their worship services and messages and with a few emailing letters of appreciation. 

And Now?

Now the church has a hybrid model and restrictions have been loosened. Members are returning to the services. However, like in Singapore, church members are creatures of habit. It will take some time before all the regular members and attendees turn up for the in-person services. 

My take is that two years of watching mainly online services have enslaved the people of God to the idol of convenience, and made us spectator worshippers with special multi-tasking powers and lazy bones. Without judgmental and holier-than-thou attitudes, while being sensitive to special situations of some members, we need to pray for God’s people to be freed from this digital captivity, cross the Red Sea, and return to embodied community and worship, where one can be more fully attentive to God and one another. 


As for me, the online worship had been a blessing. Having retired I felt compelled to be away from church so that the new pastor of the English congregation, Ps Alvin Lim, can freely establish the new dynamics of his leadership with members. With the church going online, I had the joy of remaining in contact with my home church, and did not need to look for other church services to attend. It has now been a year and a quarter since I retired, and I feel it is a good time to return in-person more often but keep a low profile.

Last Sunday, I found it a joy to be together with God’s people, singing, listening to the preached Word, and having lunch with members. Being able to sing, albeit with masks on, was a bonus.

What is it like for your church with the loosening of restrictions? Let us know by making a comment. It would be enlightening to know what’s happening in churches in Singapore and Malaysia.

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DUMC raid: it’s about what’s right for the marginalized

Shock at DUMC raid by Jais

Already there had been issues that had risen in the recent decade with rights of Muslim converts to Christianity to change their designation on their ID, the Alkitab issue, and the accompanying bomb blast at a Kuala Lumpur church. Last week, with shock I read that the Damansara Utama Methodist Church(DUMC) was raided by 20-30 Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) officers. Just June, last year, I had been at dumcthe Petaling Jaya megachurch. The church’s community arm, Harapan Komuniti was holding a dinner event to thank its donors, leaders, volunteers and the beneficiaries of the NGO that assists the poor and the needy, including women, children, and victims of HIV/AIDS and natural disasters, regardless of race or religion. Most governments would be happy to see volunteer organizations raise funds and mobilize volunteers to help needy citizens. But reportedly, having received a complaint, the religious officers had gone to the Aug 3 event at 9.45pm to check if there were Muslims present which is not allowed under the Syariah Criminal Enactment (Selangor) 1995.

The Singapore way

Without patronising or saying that we have a better way of managing such matters in Singapore, or that I endorse it, inter religious harmony legislation has been accompanied by comprehensive pre-emptive monitoring of the relations between the religions. It is common knowledge among pastors of megachurches and mullahs of popular mosques that in their audience there may be plainclothes intelligence  officers taping and listening for speeches that may incite inter-religious trouble. Complaints from the public are followed through judiciously. Phone calls and appointments have been made to give caution. Hands have been slapped before, public warnings have been issued, but never an intrusion of such expression nor proportion.

Searching for political capital instead of the capital’s marginalized

When the politicians came into the picture to squeeze some capital out of it, the issue seemed to have developed a life of its own . It is certainly fascinating for a Singaporean like me to follow the ongoing news reports, though for a Malaysian it would probably be viewed with consternation and frustration. To have an idea of how different parasites are feeding off this situation, read Wyngman’s obsevations in his blog post of how six “blinded” parties “see” the raid: The DUMC raid: are we forgetting someone?

He concludes with a poignant appeal for everyone to focus on the real issue, and he is right:

In a word, the politically motivated see only what they want to see. But what they can’t see is that segment which they must be most responsible for i.e. the least of ‘the people’. I’m talking about the homeless, the AIDS victim, the drug addict, the retarded, the orphan, the widow, the handi-capped i.e. the very people for whom the DUMC dinner was thrown – who sees them? Only, it seems, DUMC and Harapan Komuniti.

The drug addicts and homeless are those which society doesn’t enjoy seeing, so all the more reason why our leaders must take a good hard look at how they came to be. The orphans are the ones for whom GE13 will make hardly a whiff of difference, so it’s critical that voters make a difference at GE13 bearing these children in mind. The handicapped are the ones who will continue to suffer after the media shit’s been cleaned (off the fans and the surrounding ‘areas’), so we need to bring them to the top of our political priorities lest it makes our talk of justice and a ‘high-income society’ full of shit.

A Muslim cleric who sees more clearly

Blogger James Lim in a blogpost cited a report by the Malaysian Insider that Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, an influential Muslim cleric and former Perlis mufti said it was not a sin for Muslims to receive aid from non-Muslims and questioned the efficiency of the distribution of zakat(alms) to the poor. He is reported to have said:

“Where have all our wang zakat (alms) gone? Collections of hundreds of millions of ringgit are announced every year,” said Asri in an essay sent to The Malaysian Insider today.

“Is it not enough to help the poor get out of their poverty without them having to ask others for help?” he questioned.

“Why is there so much red tape blocking the poor from getting alms? There is so much red tape just to get even RM100 to RM200. This is despite the zakat offices looking opulent, the high salaries for officers and bosses, and advanced equipment,” Asri lamented.

“Is the high cost meant only to find donors, but without sufficient willpower to find suitable recipients?” he asked.

“It is the right of anyone to help whomever they want. As long as rules and laws are followed, one can help another regardless of race or religion,” said Asri.

“There are many questions that Muslims must ask themselves before blaming others,” said Asri.

True religion

The tragic fact is that after all have been said and done about this issue, people are going to assert that they are in the right and others are wrong, and the marginalized will continue to be the neglected marginalized. But it’s not about who is in the right, but it’s all about what’s the right, compassionate thing that Malaysian society are going to do about the marginalized. Will all currently interested parties step in to contribute their abundant gifts of energy, time and money to help them?

Only they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Galatians 1:10)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to9 keep oneself unstained from the world.(James 1:27)

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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


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.

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The Alkitab (Malay Bible) issue: different Malaysian Christian responses

Allah in AlkitabOur Malaysian brethren across the causeway are a united body and I do admire their solidarity and united responses to many of the issues of government and religious encroachment and intrusion that they have experienced in the Muslim dominated federation of Malaysia. However this issue about 30,000 Alkitab (Bahasa Bibles) unlawfully stamped with “For Christians Only” has stirred different reactions from Malaysian Christian bloggers. This issue can be viewed from so many angles: legal and constitutional, theological, ecclesiastical, historical, religious, socio-political and global and I find it too deep and wide for me to wade into.

Admittedly, as a Singaporean bystander, I have been indifferent to the  fracas. Its like overhearing some family squabble in some neighbour’s house. You feel perturbed, and you pray for peace to prevail, but you wouldn’t want to knock on the door to try to help. Who are you to do so, and how are you qualified? However, we are the body of Christ, and when one member suffers, other parts of the body should feel the pain, or at least should seek to understand or sympathize or pray with the Malaysian brethren. So I have come up with a list of links in an order that will help us learn from our Malaysian brethren, and think and feel about the situation and at least pray:

Dr Ng Kam Weng on Desecration of the Holy Bible: what if this is the spirit of the antichrist?

Alwyn Lau on Desecration? Really?(which also contains Dr Alex Tang’s comments)

Bishop Ng Moon Hing : Official position of Christian Federation of Malaysia

Dr Tony Siew on Malay Bibles in Malaysia

Sze Zeng on Stamping of Malay Bible (Alkitab): how to approach this issue?(he assesses other’s positions too)

Clara Chooi’s report on Arab Christians express concern about Malay Bible row

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the New Covenant Church in KL- from strength to strength

new worship premises at Wisma TA

improved worship dynamics and equipment

In about one year, the New Covenant Church, in Kuala Lumpur  has outgrown the premises at Atria Shopping Centre and has moved to the Wisma TA on the 1.1.11. They seem to have nearly doubled in six months.

The improvements were visible and audible. The four forbidding video cameras, theIan Chong mood-shifting lighting, the projection systems and the understated tasteful interior. So has the music, with a worship leader with stage presence, and bold and anointed vocals. These certainly increases the appeal of this church to working young adults. And there were visibly more of them than six months ago.

Saw some familiar faces from Facebook and my previous visit. It was nice just to meet Simon Yap, and catch up with Alex and Karen. This church preaches the Alexgospel of grace but has many “law”-yers. Alex remarked that since experiencing God’s radical grace, he has been more excited, blessed, more active in ministry, and gave more than he had ever in his whole Christian life. Talking about giving, this church does not pass offering bags around and nobody is paid. There are offering boxes around, but giving is a low key thing. Even when they needed more than RM$600,000 to move to this new premises the amount was raised within three weeks without much drumbeating.

Barnabas Mam preaching

The message blessed my heart. It was pastor Barnabas Mam from Cambodia who gave a verse by verse expository message on New Covenant transformation. It was enlightening, helpful, inspiring. Interwoven into the explanations and catchy outline were stories from the church planting fruitfulness of Cambodian indigenous church planters trained and supported by the institute, and regularly  supported by the New Covenant Church through teaching teams and finances.

Kenny, Barnabas, Peter Sze, Simon Yap, Yew Chzon

Later, we had a relaxed sharing over coffee with pastor Peter and his daughter, Joey. Barnabas was amiable, perceptive and unassuming in person despite his stature as one of the notable leaders of the Cambodian Church. Peter and I talked quite a bit about the church. When asked about what caused the recent growth spurt, he replied that it was God’s grace. Whatever humanly analysed factors you deduced would be of no use if not for the grace of God. In another place or time, with the very same factors present, the growth may never materialise. He was concerned that tNCC became a community, not just a large collection of individuals. He felt that’s an important element in any church that preaches the gospel of grace. That also came across strongly in the course lectures and interactions in class about making disciples I had been attending. The culture in a Christian community is so strong it influences and shapes the groups and individuals in the church: it disciples them.

The Sze extended family of 4 generations

The extended four generations Sze family celebrated the one year birthday of Esaias at a country club. Well my timing was good. Four nights confined in a hostel room reading and doing my assignments had made me shamelessly bold. So I joined them for makan and they later graciously sent me back to Kuang, not Kluang, not Klang, but Kuang.

Now driving me back was something because Kuang, as I now know, is not part of Kuala Lumpur, but is a town north of the city. The Malaysian Bible Seminary bought over this country farm/golf club and it is located in an ulu kampong area (countryside) that needed three Szes, a Volkswagon and an iPad to locate. The daughter Suzanne was driving to spare the tired father; her husband, Yew Juan was navigating with the iPad; and Peter should have stayed home to rest, but accompanied me. So how do you think it made me feel? I wasn’t even the preacher!  Like the labourers in the vineyard who came to work late but got the same wages, I got what I did not deserve.

“Should I feel guilty or what?”, I asked Peter. “Just be grateful to the Lord”.

And I was, as I laid my head on the stiff pillow at 1am that night.

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