In celebration of Ministers Fellowship International Singapore (MFIS) Thanksgiving Dinner, on Thursday night, 23 November 23, we were blessed with a sumptuous dinner complete with roast turkeys from Goodwood Park Hotel (courtesy of Mr & Mrs Luar Eng Hwa). We had about 120 pastors and leaders from some 45 churches coming together at Harvester Community Church in Geylang. The program started at 5pm and ended at 8pm. No one was bored, everything flowed according to schedule. We had a great couple Tom and Ethel Cannon as our emcees.
We were particularly blessed by the opening speech by Apostle Patrick Low (Founder & Apostolic Overseer of Christian Community Chapel). He started by asking all of us this question, “What are we thankful for?” We are to give thanks for all the blessings we have received in 2023, but we also need to give thanks for our trials and sufferings. Suffering, is a sign of the true apostolic church. Besides the working of signs & wonders in our ministry, how we handle difficult times in our lives, speaks as loudly as our works. I felt that this is a word that we all need to hear for this season and to prepare God’s people for the coming season.
There was a good time of fellowship, and the evening ended with powerful prophetic prayers and proclamations, led by four pastors across the generations. And of course, the celebration highlight was for the birthday boy, Rev Chua Hock Lin, who has been a dear elder brother who always cared and pastored MFIS pastors these few years. He just turned 80! The following landmark announcement was also made by him: “Before I share the message the Lord has put on my heart, I have a short announcement to make. Earlier this year, I felt my time as the first Chairman of MFIS would be over by end 2023. Time for us to transition to a younger person. I shared this with the leadership and they concurred. We also agreed that Ps Sam Gift Stephen, Senior Overseer of Life Centre, would be the next Chairman of MFI Singapore. Ps Sam is on a family vacation and will assume this role on his return. I want to thank Ps Han, our Lead Apostolic Elder, the Apostolic Elder Council, Apostolic Leadership Team and all the members of our Fellowship Teams for their encouragement and support during the last three years. I believe the next season, with Ps Sam at the helm, will move us to a higher level for the mission of MFI Singapore”.
To God be the glory, for Pastor Gabriel Han and the Harvester Community Church team who worked to put this together for us. We praise the Lord since every good and perfect gift comes from above. We look forward to 2024, the year ahead of us, a year closer to the return of Christ.
-A report by Pastor Lawrence Lee (former Senior Pastor of Glad Tidings Church)
I had this big box from buying a Philips all in one cooker. I decided to use it to store all my journals because the current box was too small. Since I was transferring it I decided to specify the years on the spines of the journals. The earliest existing journal was 1982. I had journals from an earlier period but I had somehow discarded them. The earlier ones were mainly devotional notes of my Bible meditations. On a whim, I picked up the oldest and began to read it. Surprisingly I could not put it down as it was so fun to read. I put some up on my Instagram story, and sent some to relevant individuals to affirm them, and stir pleasant memories.
I noticed that 1982 was a year that displayed some spiritual fruit ten years after the revival of 1972 caused my home church, World Revival Prayer Fellowship, to be formed. The significant fruit was the number of people who heard and responded to God’s invitation to them to serve Him in different ways. My journal recorded them.
Examples of revival fruit
There was Simeon and Jacob, two brothers who joined the Discipleship Training School of YWAM. The former went on to serve in a YWAM in Taiwan, and as a leader in two big Asian regions. It has been about 40 years, with more years to come. My journal jotting on 28 July 1982: “We prayed for Simeon Siau. The Committee sat down together to pray and seek the Lord’s will. I felt that the harvest is great but workers are few and the Lord wants to thrust him forth as a gift to the nations.”
The latter, Jacob, joined YWAM Calcutta on staff (see my actual journal entry below), and then YWAM Nepal where he got arrested with a YWAM team and spent a few days in prison for “preaching the gospel”. Later on, he returned to our home church to serve in a church plant, and later to return to the workplace. This is revival fruit.
My journal jot for Thomas Tan on 27 June 1982 was a mere 11 words: “We sent Thomas Tan with the blessings of God upon him”, but he has been serving the Lord the last 40 years. He joined Operation Mobilization Pakistan land team for two years. This was followed by WEC Missionary Training College, and then seven years with Frontiers, reaching the unreached Pushtun people group in Peshawar. After that, he returned home and has since been serving in the local church as a pastor. This is revival fruit.
My sister Joyce was not sent by the church but she felt a call to enter into the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary to live in community and service. She has taken her vows and her new name is Beryl. She served in the Australian branch and returned back to the mother house in Darmstadt, Germany. I jotted in my journal on 20 May 1982: “Went to Crest book room to buy a Bible for Joyce before she leaves for W Germany next week. There was none suitable so I decided to give her the money $200 as a gift from us.” She has been serving with the sisterhood about 40 years now. This is revival fruit.
I was called into pastoral work in 1979, and that very year attended Tung Ling Bible School. However, it was in my third year of theological education (1982), that I was officially installed as assistant pastor to Pastor P.J. Johney. Later, on the 9th March 1986, I was ordained. I served my home church for 40 years. This is revival fruit.
There are many others in my home church who went on to serve the Lord before and after 1982. Revival fruit.
Evidence of true revival
When the Spirit is poured out in mighty streams of living water, the lives of many are transformed. The desire to serve God is pervasive and is very strong and lasting in some individuals. It is like fire in the bones and it propels them into His service in the local church. Over the years of faithfulness, their spiritual gifts and strengths are identified and developed, and the passion is narrowed down and more specific. The flame does not die out, it keeps energizing them and carrying them over obstacles. When they fail it drives them closer to God and deepen their life. They respond to God with enduring faith. This is a significant fruit of true revival. Lasting fruit is one of the marks of a genuine revival. Going viral on YouTube does not qualify as revival fruit.
My journaling journey seemed to have begun as Bible meditation notes. It was Rev Brian Bailey of World MAP, who encouraged this practice of writing down the insights one gathered from Bible meditation. Then it went into simple diary-like reports of what I did and what happened around me, without much reflection of where God had been present or what he may be saying to me. This was what my 1982 journal was like. I wonder how my journaling evolved. I do not know if I will go on to read a few more journals, maybe in 5 year intervals to get an overview of my journaling journey. This sounds like an interesting project, but I do not have time for this right now. God willing, I would like to do it.
It was a joy to preach at Shekinah Assembly of God on Mother’s Day. Blessed to return to in person worship and fellowship. I was told that they have moved their services to the Holiday Inn Singapore Atrium, along Outram Road. We seldom speak of Covid-19 positively, but thanks to it, they had a good, blessed rental arrangement and terms with the hotel management. The location and facilities suited their needs perfectly, to the praise of God’s provision. It reminded me of those days when the church I served had to sojourn from hotel to hotel, till the Lord gave us a resting place in Geylang.
I rejoice with all Christians and churches everywhere in Singapore. What a joy to be back to in person worship services! Yes, we had to wear masks but we were allowed to sing aloud! Certainly, we can worship without singing aloud, but it was good to be able to vocalise our praises again. I was blessed by the worship. I preached about “Real Faith” using the story of blind Bartimaeus to illustrate the four aspects of real faith. We could even have time at the altar for prayer and ministry. I pray all churches everywhere will allow for 5 to 15 minutes at the end of the service, in front of the stage, for people to pray and to be prayed for. We should trust God to visit his people with a fresh touch of the Holy Spirit. It is time for people to return to intimacy with God and authentic fellowship with their church friends. Spiritual social distancing has to end!
My wife was also given the Mother’s Day gift package of two bottles of Scoop tea leaves. This is a generous church and Pastor Hock Cheng and his wife Camelia hosted us to a Japanese lunch at Great World City.
The quandary of the Mother’s Day sermon
The Mother’s Day sermon usually lands the pastor in a quandary. The sermon has to recognize the importance and contribution of mothers, without forgetting the fathers (they will have their day weeks later). The quandary is that single men and women are also present in the church service, both young and mature, and they are important to the church too, but there is no Single’s Day. Maybe churches should initiate a Singles Day to celebrate these people’s freedom from anxieties; and extol their ability to give undivided attention to pleasing the Lord (1 Cor 7:32-35).
Ways to preach Mother’s Day sermons
I have preached quite a few Mother’s Day sermons. Some of these sermons focus on the important role, influence and virtues of a godly mother. This is usually the time people like Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah, Jochebed (remember her?), Hannah, Naomi, Mary, and some lesser known unnamed female characters in the Old Testament and the gospels get the spotlight on Sunday. Other sermons deal with the more didactic passages like the famous (or infamous) Proverbs 31, that makes most mothers feel they are failed mothers or have fallen short of the glory of God. Other sermons compete with Reader’s Digest to give practical tips for mothers to upgrade their parenting skills.
These are certainly a few ways to go about developing the Mother’s Day sermon. However, the pastor needs to be conscious of the brokenness, discouragement and stresses that modern mothers face today. They need encouragement, affirmation and refreshment. We need to point them to the privileges, blessedness and resources of mothering. We need to point them to the grace, wisdom and power of God available to them as they love and form their children into godly adults. No mother should have to leave the sanctuary crestfallen, feeling condemned and a failure as a mother. They should leave feeling assured of God’s forgiveness, inspired with fresh hope for the calling, and certain that God will faithfully watch over and work on their children, despite all their parental shortcomings and regrets.
Directed at mothers mainly
The pastor does not want half or more of the congregation feeling the sermon is largely irrelevant to them, so for such sermons he needs to use general truths and principles that are just as applicable to singles and fathers as well. For example, the pastor can talk about how Mary the mother of Jesus pondered over significant events that accompanied Jesus’ birth, and while mothers will find it specially relevant, it can be used to exhort the whole congregation to be more attentive and reflective about what God may be doing and saying to them through the significant events that dot their lives.
Directed at all God’s people mainly
The other way, which I prefer, is to preach a sermon that applies to everyone but with a few sermon applications and references towards mothers. This helps gain the attention of all God’s people gathered for worship, and defuses or reduces feelings of irrelevancy or being slighted. Such a sermon could dwell on the attributes of God, or kingdom virtues like faith, hope and love revealed through a biblical event, teaching or character. I chose to do this in Shekinah Assembly. I preached about Real Faith and made a few applications to mothers.
The middle path is of course to use a variation of both approaches during alternate years. Whatever is written here applies to Father’s Day as well. I forgot to mention that it would be wonderful to make some truths relevant for non-Christians in the audience too, as they sometimes visit the church during such special days, but preaching with an evangelistic slant is another topic for another day.
If you are interested in visiting the SHEKINAH ASSEMBLY OF GOD, their website is HERE, and I wrote about them in an earlier blogpost HERE.
It was a joy to preach to the “embodied” church again after mostly doing pre-recorded or online services in most of the last two years. Most of the members have begun to return to the worship gatherings since the government gave the green light and loosened restrictions recently. The timing was good too, for the holy week, Good Friday and Easter services. Most of us were happy to be back and to be able to chat after the service and have two hours lunch fellowship to catch up with people.
The young people have returned too and that is a great comfort to me. During the off and on, back and forth of constant change from online to in-person services, and vice-versa, young people got frustrated and tired. Restricting meals to two persons killed the joy of being with other young people. Now even five or more can sit around a table and have a meal in the coffeeshop or hawker center.
There was excitement in the air and people were generally enthusiastic about worship (now they can sing with masks on), and receptive to the message. Preaching to real people I know and not a totally online audience is refreshing. You are able to see how listeners are responding to what you are saying. You can sense whether you are connecting the truth with their lives, whether they were attentive or lost in other thoughts, eager or jaded, wanting more or saying with their body language, Please end. Preaching is not all about delivering all you have prepared. You can make immediate adjustments to the content, adding new inspired ideas or completely cutting off a whole main point.
During the Easter sermon I preached from Matthew 28 about the two Marys. I never intended to dwell on their devotion to Christ. In my notes were two main ideas: how God keeps his word and is trustworthy; and the different responses of people (the two Marys, the religious leaders, the soldiers who guarded the tomb) to the greatest event in history: Christ’s resurrection. I found myself speaking about the devotion of the two Marys. I ended up expanding on this line of thought as the Spirit gave me words to speak. A whole main point was added on the spot. It was a pleasant experience of the Spirit’s hand upon me.
This freedom to add and subtract is a healthy freedom. It is not a license to ramble. It gives space for God to inspire and lead me in surprising ways. This can be risky, but exciting. It makes me feel that God is actively involved in the delivery of the message, that he cares enough about his people to intervene to enhance and enrich whatever I have prepared.
Giving space to God
Two things help me to give space to God to move and inspire new thoughts in the sermon. One, I do not use powerpoint presentation. This way I do not feel a need to complete and use everything I have prepared. I can change the order, the content, and the length of the message without distracting the people listening to the Word. I have other reasons for not using presentation slides for sermons but it is not the subject here.
The second thing I do is to preach without looking at my notes too much. I have all the main truths, background information, illustrations, applications thought through, and the main stuff are in note form. I memorise the main points and the illustrations and applications that belong together with each point. I go over them in my mind, rehearsing them mentally. Then when I am on the pulpit, I trust the Spirit to guide the delivery. Some information I researched is unused, some I had read about but discarded, the Spirit brings to mind. I trust that what was subtracted was not meant to be heard, and what was added was meant for someone to hear. If I get stuck or got lost along the way, I go back to my notes and look at the underlined main truths to re-calibrate the route to the destination.
The joy of preaching
Preaching is more fun now that it is not so frequent and I have no other pastoral and administrative cares to attend to. I remember that when I was pastoring, a lot of good intentions, commitments and promises made to people and ministry got buried or neglected by other important and urgent tasks, by my own inner turmoil, or were simply forgotten. Usually I gave the highest priority to preaching preparation, including prayer. “Devote yourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word”, was the apostolic priority (Acts 6). I did not always succeed in this, because urgent ministry matters overwhelm important matters. If a funeral suddenly falls on your lap, or there is an administrative deadline to meet, I found my sermon preparation challenged. I no longer have these things to distract or harass me as I prepare my messages, praise the Lord!
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.
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.