Thursday, December 29, 2005

Fresh Start in a New Year

What changes on the first day of the New Year besides the date ? Does God have a direction for me in in the new year? This is a good time to recap a New Year message I did two years ago. There are two pointers for a Fresh Start in a New Year.The first is:

1. Change Your Focus - Stop Looking Behind

If we want a fresh start, we can't dwell in the past. If we spend all our time looking over our shoulder at the past, we’ll miss what God is doing today. Stop looking behind means:

a) Avoid allowing past failures to paralyse you. We have painful experiences we need to put behind us. Sometimes you give your best shot and you still come up short. Study for a test and still fail. Work hard and still get retrenched. You may have had a financial failure, relational failure or a moral failure. We sinned. God tells us to be free of sin. Until we are free, we are stuck in the past.

This is the key. When we become God’s, the old life is over. God makes things new. Jesus said in Luke 4:18-19: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Christ came to set you free – if you let Him. He's already done everything He needs to do. We can only benefit from what Christ did when we personally trust Christ. New life can't be inherited, it must be experienced. To stop looking behind also means:

b) Avoid depending on past victories to sustain you. Going forward we also need to deal the good and fun bits of our past. That was then but this is now. God's about to do something better.

You need a new miracle, a new victory for a new day.

The second pointer for the New Year is:

2. Clarify Your Purpose - Start Looking Ahead

A new start is possible because God has a future in store for us. God's done many good things but He didn't stop there. Be clear on God’s purpose. God created us to love us and for us to know God. But we went our own way - so God’s purpose is to reconcile humanity to Himself. God's working this out in new ways. Know God’s purpose and flow with God. Start looking ahead means:

a) Look forward to the new things God has for you. God's doing something new in our midst if only we will open our eyes and ears, see and hear what He is doing. God has done a new thing even this morning. He has given you new breath. He has given us new mercies and compassions today. Looking ahead also means:

b) See possibilities as God sees them. This New Year can be a watershed year in your life. God will make a way when we think it is impossible. Let Him do a new thing in your heart, home, marriage, job, school or community. God’s new journey for us will write a new story for our journey of faith.

Perhaps you made unwise choices over this past year. You can stop making wrong choices and start making right choices. You can say no to habits that have trapped you.

I encourage you to seek a new vision and interest in the things of God. Allow God to bring direction and correction into your life. God's in the business of renewing, reviving and restoring people. God has great plans for you. Look forward to your fresh start in the new year. Rejoice - God's with you and He's put you in His church.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Recently a friend from Australia asked me to write an article about church and missions. I politely declined but he was persuasive. Since I have not posted recently I will adapt that article here. Here goes...

Our church has a love affair with local and global ministries. Look at the city of Singapore. It’s located on the Equator and over four million people live here. Non-citizens form a quarter of the population. For example I was born in Borneo, grew up here and spent a few years in Australia.

For us it started in 1997 when I sensed God’s leading for our church to turn the corner from being missions-minded to be missions-active. I started sharing this with our staff and leaders. It must have been at our church anniversary when I stood up and said, “We’re not going to be a church-with-missions anymore. We’re going to be a missionary church.” That was a bold vision but it resonated with the church. Our journey began.

It was especially challenging to build missions infrastructure. We knew how to grow Christians. Now we had to grow global Christians. A lot of things had to change. Members started to plan for exposure mission trips instead of annual holidays. Each cluster of small groups (of a hundred people) learnt to adopt and pray for a city each to start a church. We started to give to an annual mission fund. Staff learnt and designed training for potential missionaries. This included language acquisition, cross-culture lessons and entry vehicles. Once teams landed, we suddenly needed to pastor people spread across the globe.

The more we got into global missions, the more convinced we got that healthy churches reproduce themselves. Isaiah 55:10 tells us what is planted and watered ultimately becomes a source for future planting. We don’t just plant churches, we plant church-planting churches.

We made mistakes along the way but there was progress too. God and others affirmed our transition into a missionary church. In 2001, a book by a free lance writer here listed us as one of five missions ‘minded’ church in Singapore. This is in a city with over 500 churches.

The Spirit-inspired momentum continued. In 2002, members arrived in 16 different countries across 4 continents on short-term trips. More go teams landed in new continents over 2003 and 2004. My colleague, Cara told me that my ministry travel covered over 130,000 kilometers in the year 2005 alone. That’s the equivalent of circling the globe more than 3 times along the equator.

Much of Dinah’s and my time and focus are shared between local and global matters. We attempt to keep in touch as much as we can with members. Much of what we do relate to global work that we have been described as offshore missionaries.

With many members and churches spread across the world, we are functioning more like a senior pastor-at-large. This local and global dimension work sure makes life quite exciting. This is the fun of being part of a global city church.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Chronicles of Narnia

Today our church was asked by a local newspaper about the upcoming movie 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe'. I thought it might help to post our reply here since it may or may not be published in the press. So here is our response.

Q: Several churches have tried to book cinema theatres to watch Narnia, some have tried to arrange for charity screenings. Is Hope Church Singapore doing something like that? Why or why not?

A: Churches in Singapore (including ourselves) have been invited by cinema operators to have private screenings.

Corporately we have Christmas services and small group events planned for December. Our focus will be on Christmas celebrations. Some of our church members have expressed their interest to watch the movie, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (LWW).

Q: They also did so for Passion Of The Christ. Did you?

A: Yes we did arrange cinema screenings for the Passion of the Christ. We did so because the Passion of the Christ was based on an actual historical event. Then the timing of the movie was in line with Good Friday. Also it was an excellent visual portrayal for the last 12 hours of Christ.

Q: I also understand that many of your small groups are arranging to watch on their own time. What do you think is the appeal of Narnia?

A: Yes some of our small groups are arranging to watch the LWW together.

LWW is Walt Disney Pictures’ special-effects-filled adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s classic fantasy about four British children who step through a magical wardrobe into the land of Narnia. LWW director Andrew Adamson ("Shrek," "Shrek 2") and his screenwriters have constructed a well-told good vs evil parable that is enhanced by computer-generated effects.

The appeal is in its fantasy/family/adventure genre. It's a kaleidoscopic vision of fanciful and colourful creatures, fantastic landscapes, and laugh-out-loud surprises. The atmosphere and look of the production are reminiscent of the magic Walt Disney himself brought to his best productions. What’s more, this Wardrobe fits adults as well as kids. Those who don't know the book won't find anything amiss.

There is also the Father Christmas character who gives gifts to 3 of the children (which ties in with Christmas in the eyes of kids).

Q: Does the fact that it is infused with Christian values play a role in its appeal?

A: Narnia is certainly infused with positive values. CS Lewis was the author of the Narnia series. He made no effort to hide his Christian faith. Many viewers will fail to recognise any allusions to Christianity. It is best enjoyed as a symphonic, delightful and timeless fairy tale.

Q: Do you hope to see more movies like Narnia?

A: With more and more movies focusing on violence, gratuitous sex and profanity, it’s refreshing to have a quality movie with wholesome themes. Yes we do hope to see more movies like Narnia. It has been said that film makers are the cultural prophets of modern society. That is why it is so important for Disney and other movie makers to continue to make quality movies with wholesome themes.

Q: On one hand, it must be good that people are making family-oriented movies for a Christian audience; on the other hand, are you worried about the commercialisation that comes along with it?

A: This is a family-oriented movie but it is not for a Christian audience. Micheal Flaherty, who co-founded Walden Media, says the LWW film is the book, pure and simple. “For me, the main themes in the book are family and forgiveness. We made sure they were there in the film.”

Adamson, the LWW director, adds, “We approached it as a story that is very much about themes of betrayal, forgiveness and loyalty. It’s about a family who feels disempowered by the terror of World War II and then finds their power again in Narnia. It’s a story about four kids who enter this land where they’re not only empowered, but where they’re ultimately the only solution to the war in that land. And it’s only through unity as a family that they can actually triumph.” LWW producer Mark Johnson gave this, “I think audiences will take away the most positive messages of belief, strength and family.”

There is some commercialisation that comes with any movie. At the same time wholesome entertainment do help people enjoy life and it’s a perfectly legitimate avenue to make an honest living.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

In Ecuador

It's Monday morning and I say good bye to the girls before they leave. Then I say good bye to Terry and Julian drives me to the airport. The car gives us a few nervous moments on the way to the airport. Thankfully I check in before time and even get to have a drink with Julian. We say good bye and I enter the departure gate. My wife was at the departure gate having arrived from Santiago. It's our first time on TACA, the national airline of Costa Rica. We catch up on the over 2 hour flight.

The scenery at the Quito airport is spectacular. We clear customs and there waiting for us is Joshua, Hannah and Sharon. We give them the Latino kiss. They say Quito is 2,850 metres above sea level so to expect possible altitude sickness. We take taxis to their very bright and nice apartment. They have a glass cabinet with picture books of Singapore. Each bedroom has an attached bathroom. Later Gerard comes home. We keep catching up and forget to unpack. As Gerard and Hannah go shopping, Dinah chats with Sharon and I with Joshua. They serve us coca tea and we freshen up. Dinah is going to bunk with Sharon and I in Gerard's room.

The fish soup dinner is healthy. Wee Leng's brinjal dish is commendable. We have a long catch up session about Singapore and Ecuador. Later Dinah and I call the kids.

As I prepare to sleep, there is loud music and partying outside. There are 2 lorries with revellers. This party lorry is called a chiva. The chiva has a small 'band' with whistles, trumpets and drums and serve alcohol. Tomorrow is the 'Foundation of Quito'. The night is cold but the revellers are dancing and drinking. The tiredness helps me sleep despite the all-night noise.

It's Tuesday and I awake with adequate sleep. After some stretching, I read the Bible. Gerard is up early and we check emails. The rest get up and we have breakfast.

The team is not working today so we take the electric tram to Quito colonial town. The team take us to the historic town square. Being a public holiday, the town square's crowded with people. I was advised to conceal my wrist watch and beware of pickpockets.

We enter the San Francisco cathedral, the oldest church in Ecuador. Then we go up to Panecillo ('little bun' in Spanish). This is the Virgin of Quito on a hill overlooking Quito. Next is our tea appointment with Vinicio and Maria Soledad with their beautiful daughters. They have just started coming to our service. We have a great time together. Then we come home and then have dinner at a nearby Chinese place. We discuss the next day's plan. It's challenging to do mid or longer term plans here.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Lima's 2nd Anniversary

It's Saturday and we get ready for camp. I chat with Felix before we load equipment into the taxi. Then four of us collect the cake and get some groceries in Julian's car. This is a 30 year old Volkswagen. We drive over an hour through a wealthy district and hilly/dry district. The double exhaust pipe has explosion-type sounds. We finally arrive at noon. The Christian camp site in Cieneguilla is located between the coast and highlands. It's a desert-like terrain with dust. Afternoon is set up time. I become quiet before God reading Ephesians.

Later Terry translates for me as I greet campers. The Latinos are affectionate and warm towards foreigners. I meet Cecilia who came to know Christ in our Singapore church. She reminds me that I baptised her in Singapore and challenged her and German to return to Peru instead of migrating to Canada.

Night comes and the children and then the youth present special items. This starts the second anniversary-camp. Serene leads in praise and worship. Julian leads in the Passover Dinner. This is a unique anniversary celebration. Then I share a few words. After dinner we adjourn to the campfire. The evening ends and we rearrange the hall for the next day.

The Sunday dawn is broken early by the sounds of roosters and turkeys. It's good to have devotions with the scenic hills in the background. Terry and Lidia leads the morning exercises and at one point Terry almost falls over. He just makes everyone laugh with his antics and Spanish.

Breakfast is Tamar, corn with beef filling. Coffee here is light as Peruvians don't drink much coffee. We have great conversations. Felix leads morning worship. Then I do a workshop with adults, youth have a workshop and kids have their activity.

In the free time Edgar invites me to spend time with his family. His mom is Benedicta, a fascinating Christian from the highlands. His wife is Nancy. His sisters are Ester and Lidia. Benedicta sings Highland Christian songs for us. The highland melody is so unique.

Lunch starts with a potato appetiser (with highlands origin) and Peruvian chicken rice i.e. rice cooked in spinach with a piece of chicken. Over lunch I get to speak with Daniel and Felix. Later I reply to my wife who is in Santiago.

It's water baptism. Laura and Vanessa share their conversion testimonies. Then Julian, Serene and team lay hands on them. Then Julian and I baptise six people in the pool after praying prophetically for them. After the shower Terry invites me to pray for the church before we cut the 2nd anniversary cake.

Later it's great to catch up with German. We prayed for him to be baptised in the Spirit in Singapore. Soon it's time to pack up and take group photos. I am so glad to witness what God is doing in this country.

Then we say long good byes. I have never 'kissed' so many ladies before. Many members hold my hand and speak to me endearments in Spanish.

It's time to drive back in Julian's volkswagen. We unload the stuff and I do laundry for the wet clothes. We order in pizza. It's time for our last supper. It's heart warming as we encourage each other and thank each other. It's sad that I have to leave tomorrow.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Time in Lima

Thursday morning started very early for me. Think it's jet lag starting to hit. I call Dinah in Santiago. They are 2 hours ahead of Peru and she's having lunch with David and Pui See. Afterwards I do reflections. It dawns on me that I am so proud of Julian and Serene and the team Terry, Delia and Ailay. They have opened the way and established a model of church planting in South America for the rest of us. For me, it's pure privilege to see the team in action. This is so awesome.

It's time for Terry and I go to collect my visa. It's a cold day and another long wait. I get the Ecuador visa till 12 Dec. My flight leaves Quito on 11 Dec so the Consul gave me one day grace. For that I'm thankful. Next Terry brings us for a Peruvian lunch and we come home for a cup of coffee. Julian is working on the computer in his room preparing for camp. Then I notice Terry is reading the latest Hope Church Singapore Breakthrough testimony. He tells me he reads them regularly.

The guest room for me is on the roof top. There is a small, steel spiral stairway to the top. You walk through the open where the laundry hangs to the room. In the afternoon I find some bird feathers in the room as they are blown through the bottom of the door. I almost pick them up before I remember migratory birds and bird flu. So I pull the airline sticker tape from the suitcase and use it to dab/stick the feathers (just in case) and throw the feathery tape right into the bin.

Then I start to type what I have learnt from Lima. Next I reply to my wife's email from Santiago. Later in the afternoon four local leaders start arriving for mentoring sessions before the team huddle later. Tonight's huddle focuses on final preparations for the weekend anniversary camp. I can't stop yawning during the camp discussions. Jet lag is at peak level. Then the team practise action songs for the camp with me half-dazed. The actions cause me to begin to wake up. I only realise I have not taken a photo of the huddle when it's over.

Friday morning is waking up fresh. It's spring. The weather is cool in the morning and cold at night. Sometimes it's hot in the afternoon but yesterday it was cold. Every one is out this morning. There is time to read the Bible leisurely and pray. Then I spend time preparing for tomorrow's anniversary camp. Next Julian and I have a long 5 hour lunch. Then we come back just in time to pick up the team to go out. On the way, we laugh over the bar of soap that 'miraculously' lasts 6 months.

Tonight we have dinner at Pardos Chicken, a famous Peruvian restaurant. Here's the photo by Terry. The drink is chicha made from purple corn. The team insist I have anticucho which is cow's heart. It's interesting. This is exotic dining with good company. Then the girls offer to bring me shopping for gifts. This is our last opportunity as camp starts tomorrow then I fly to Ecuador. They have great fun helping me choose gifts as Julian and Terry stay aside for some manly talk. It's great to have shopping consultants from Singapore.