SIB Grace: abounding in grace

SIB Grace English service

Elder Thomas teaching the WordSunday worship service

We entered an empty spacious basement car park of the Crown Towers, an office building. SIB Grace leased the 9th Floor auditorium and halls. There was space for 500 but a third of it was used as a fellowship area, while the rest were filled with seats. The attendance ranged from 150 to 200 every Sunday. The newly started early morning Mandarin service, and the Sunday school each has 50 in attendance. The English service started at 11.30am. After the singing and communion, Elder Thomas, taught the Word verse by verse. The topic was the stewardship of the Master’s goods and the believers’ progress. The offering was taken, notices given and a closing song wrapped up the service. There was a sense of restfulness about the service, with no one straining to pump up adrenalin, or make things happen, or worry about “Were the people touched by God during the service?”.

A stunning miracle

The lunch area overlooked a lovely view of the Sarawak river. Over snacks we met Bartholomew, a male nurse who worked in the city’s hospital. He could not attend services as regularly as he would want to because of his shift duties. However, he prayed for patients in the hospital, and had seen a few answers to prayers for healing. Improvements in leg movements and the pain of patients as a result of Jenny, Kenny, Bartholomewprayer. Other times, he prayed audaciously for patients who died to rise, but they never did……until recently. He shared with me, “The doctor had declared a sick patient dead, and the distraught family had cried over him. I was sent to get him ready for the mortuary. I prayed a simple prayer for God to raise him. To my utter surprise he came back to consciousness. The doctor was called back and was shocked to see it. Later, a church elder visited the patient as he recovered in hospital.” This was a sign and wonder. This low-key but stunning miracle reminded me of another memorable story of a brain-dead member who came back to life in the deaf fellowship of World Revival Prayer Fellowship, where I pastor.

Re-installed by grace

Elder AlexLooking for empty seats at the Kuching food festival was difficult. When we finally did, and others went to order different food, elder Alex, who does most of the preaching in church, shared with me about his journey. During the charismatic revival in Kuching in the 1980’s, St Faith Anglican church was the center of action among the Anglicans. There was so much intensity and activity during that revival. The next two decades saw many who suffered burn-out, including himself, a committed youth leader. On one of his trips to Singapore, his cousin brought him to his church, NCC. There God ministered to him through the message. When he returned to Kuching he wrote to the church and it sent him 22 cassette tapes. He studied all the messages. Alex had severe asthma so that even the air-conditioning of a car could result in an attack. After hearing the tapes, he was completely healed!

Jenny, Kenny, elder Alex, Alan, Penny, Richard

Church gripped by a message

Later, Alex met with Thomas and other acquaintances of the charismatic revival. They met above the Crossway Christian bookshop, and had energizing discussions about the books and tapes of Joseph Prince. From there the idea of starting an SIB preaching point began. That preaching point grew and after persevering through difficulties, became SIB Grace, a church that abounds with the grace of God.

(Footnote: The Borneo Evangelical Church or SIB (Malay:Sidang Injil Borneo) is one of the largest evangelical Protestant denominations in Malaysia with membership at about 500,000. SIB Grace is part of this denomination.)

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Small and mega churches: living in a land with giants

Gritty days ahead

in the land of giantsThe  Saturday’s Straits Times special report by Lee Siew Hua and Susan Long was an excellent analysis of the church scene in Singapore, albeit with a slant towards the currently newsworthy megachurches. Reading the well researched and eye-opening articles can give the majority of small churches a feeling of creeping muscular dystrophy. There are giants in the land and they have no time for the small. The mega churches in cavernous expo halls or high up in the city centre, cast vast shadows over the middle earth of small and micro churches. It generates an apprehension of imminent dark creatures and clouds about to devour all things small and micro. It will take hobbit-like qualities, a strong fellowship of the small, to survive, indeed to triumph, in such gritty days.

God’s kingdom

We need to start off with a biblical perspective. In God’s kingdom all kinds and all sizes have a place. The Creator God who factored variety and beauty into the universe he made knows this better than us. To reach people of different cultures and personalities, the world needs to have churches of all kinds and sizes. So God said, Let there be all kinds and all sizes for we need them all. As small and micro churches we must walk upright with the assurance that the Father wants to give the kingdom to the little flock as well. The small and micro churches, outwardly as short and whiny as hobbits, has a significant role to play: they can reach and disciple people the megachurch cannot reach.

Close the manhole

As we read the articles, we can easily trip into the open manhole of comparison. The reader who attends the megachurch feels superior. They have the better everything: bigger crowds, building, budget. Theirs the inspiring vision, the charismatic leader, the touching worship, the professional operations, the longer queues. The 90% who worship in smaller churches can feel discouraged, inferior, and critical. Some leaders of small churches will stupidly think, “If they can do it, we can do it too!” They are like parents who think every child can be a President’s Scholar: just have the right vision, strategy, motivation and implementation and ….boomz!

The Straits Times articles stated that the megachurches hire full-time professionals to be their musicians. That’s why they have such technically excellent music. Can the small church compare with that musical standard and ever hope to get there. More likely she would be discouraged and self-condemned before she even starts.  And this is just the music. What about the administration, the aesthetics, the multiple ministries, the charisma, the critical mass of young people, and all the bangs and whistles. Comparison in whatever form is a fall into a deep, dark stinking hole.

Leverage on the strengths

Small churches should remember their strengths and leverage on them. Small churches need to take a page from the epic movie “The Lord of the Rings”. The hobbits were focused on a clear purpose. they were authentic, close-knit, loyal, and incorruptible. The small church needs to focus on making disciples. Preaching  the Gospel to the pre-believers and and teaching the Gospel systematically to the baptized is crucial for the process of disciple-making. Making disciples, not en masse, but one by one, each personally and lovingly handcrafted, like Swiss watches (not like  the mass produced plastic Swatch).  The  disciple will be authentic and believes he can become all that he already is in Christ. The small church should also leverage on its natural strength of being more like a loving family than an unfeeling, bureaucratic corporation. It can major on delivering intimacy and community. Furthermore, very hobbit, I mean every disciple, in the small church can be equipped and deployed to function in his God-given role in the fellowship, unlike in the megachurch, and this is a big advantage the small church has in helping disciples find discover purpose.

Apostolic mentality

Yes, I have intriguingly cast the mega churches as Lord Sauron and all his army of followers as those dug from the gravel, and made alive by magic. There’s a twist in the story. The real truth is that Lord Sauron is Satan and his minions, and the Fellowship of the Ring includes the big guys and the small guys. The big guys are the mega churches, and the hobbits, well, they are the small churches. We are bonded like an imperfect family on this journey to defeat Satan. There will be distrust, fear, greed, misunderstanding, and suspicion as we move along towards our destination. Only together and by His grace will the job get done. We know this will definitely end in a climatic consummation when Jesus comes in glory and final victory is established on this earth. This is apostolic eyes: seeing mega and small and micro as one church of Singapore, the way God sees it. We are not competing; we complete each other.

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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 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.

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Century Christian Fellowship: love endures all things

CCF seated in heavenly places

An extension of the Chapel of the Resurrection

This was one of the many extensions started by the Chapel of the Resurrection. It was started in April 1991, with two house groups sent out as the core of a new church. It has been twenty years now and they now have about 60 members. Once they were once the verge of achieving “parish” status (120-150 attendance and 3 consecutive years of financial stability), but some setbacks held them back. This extension church has gone through some challenges including nomadic moving from one location to another. They deserve a reward for their doggedness and perseverance. May the Lord fill them with renewed grace and power.

John and Joyce Seet - CCF die hards

A rare breed: die-hards

They still have members from the original house groups sent to plant the church:  John and Joyce Seet, Christiana Tan, and Susan. These veterans are what we call “pah see buay chow”(die hards). We need such people in every church.  They are a rarity – perhaps an endangered species in these modern days. May their tribe increase!

New pastor : Peter Chang

The current leader is Pastor Peter Chang. Before full-time Christian vocation, he Pastor Peter carrying grandson Darrylwas a sales and marketing manager in the software industry and had worked in  China too. CCF had been without a pastor and had managed with lay leadership for close to a year, but with his appointment, there is a fresh stirring of hope among the people.  Peter and I got to know each other in a CRMS Focusing Leaders Network Retreat. When he invited me to give the talks at the camp I readily accepted and saw it as an open door to ministry to the larger body of Christ.

my favorite piece of claywork

Camp talks and experiences

giving insights into God's heartFifty people were at the church camp held at the Golden View hotel near Batam Center. It was a tight schedule: starting on Vesak Day and ending on Sunday morning. There were 5 teaching sessions and I spoke about how the church was deeply loved and accepted, transformed by grace, made righteous in Him, and called to serve with towel and basin, with God-recycled dreams. The teaching felt like I was downloading some new or updated drivers into their laptop so that itfeet washing can function better. I shared about my home church’s experience of revival. We also had some experiential moments of interaction with God in some creative prayer using clay. And a bonding and healing experience which involved  feet washing. During ministry, the Lord confirmed His word with his presence, power and prophecy. My wife received a word and I gave it to them, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

In my intoduction talk, I told them my home church prayed for them to experience revival and anointed me to go. My continuous prayer for Century Christian Fellowship is for her to be filled with a surplus of His love, and to experience a revival of living loved, and giving love.

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Dreaming of a certain kind of Annual General Meeting

agmI dream of an Annual General Meeting where the accent is on affirming and encouraging the work of leaders: both pastors and layleaders. Taking some time to celebrate what God has done, instead of a time to grill leaders, place blame or gripe over what happened or didn’t happen.

Church pastors and leaders do not need policing. If we elect leaders or appoint pastors, then we need to trust them, encourage them and pray for them. If you don’t trust them and have to police them, why appoint them in the first place?

When things are not doing well, leaders feel bad enough as it is. They don’t need more “awareness”, condemnation and discouragement piled on them.

Otherwise, we are no different from the world system: silent when things are fine; but a deafening, draining cacophony when things aren’t.

There are enough check and balances in any organization under the Charities Act.

God is the biggest check and balance and nothing escapes His eyes and He will balance all accounts on that Day, if not earlier.

I dream of AGMs where the silent majority who appreciates what the leaders are doing will speak up and not be silent. Its been too long that the floor is dominated by a vocal minority. The angels will be on tiptoe to listen in when such a choir of faith-full and hope-full voices is heard.

Some say that God is grieved when he sees the way AGMs are conducted. Others say God stopped attending AGMs long long ago because they are so far from what the church was meant to be. They say He has better things to do, and many young people feel the same way He does.

Business has to be done. The AGM is a requirement. I know, and let’s do it.

I just dream that it can be infused with a spirit of love. That there will be a display not of fireworks but of honor for the office of the leaders who serve the church.

I dream of a day when members realize the way they treat pastors reflect how they treat Jesus, and Father God.  Jesus had said, “He who welcomes you, welcomes me, and he who welcomes me, welcomes Him who sent me”. Yes, its that simple.

May the spirit of Caleb and Joshua lead the way when it comes to approving the budget. After all, the soundest logic, the most thoroughgoing financial prudence, is the one that factors in the greatness of God. This was what stumbled the ten tribal leaders that Moses sent to spy the land:  GOD’S PROMISES were not factored into their calculators.

Many a young man’s dream of being a pastor have probably sunk on the shoals of rocky AGMs. Young people are smart and they figure, “This is not the way to do the church, and this is not worth giving up my life for”.

And one day in the same AGM we will be talking about why many talented, smart young Christian people would rather be lawyers, doctors, and accountants, rather than be pastors.

Yes I dare dream of a day when unpleasant AGMs are a thing of the past, and the church has AGMs where members enjoy( not endure) attending, and are safe for young people under 18 to attend.

“Wake up, wake up.”

“It’s 8 already, better get up and go to work”.

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