Friday, May 21, 2010

Should I care?

Why Bother?
by Ben KC Lee
Sunday, Apr. 13, 2008

"Are we a complacent people?" That was the question that I was asked recently. I wondered about this question. I asked two of my co-workers. Firstly it seems that we have all we need in Singapore. That's probably why expatriates don't get "hardship allowances" when posted here. Then because times are good we always expect them to be always good. Good times can lull us into complacency. After all we are told "Everything works in Singapore." We are reminded how efficient the civil service is. We look around and we see that Touch Community Services does a great job in the community. Many other churches and agencies also do a great service. Personally we have more than enough problems of our own. The Christian may say, "I am already so busy". It is not difficult for anyone to be unintentionally complacent and go into the "why bother?" mode.

Scripture tells us there is a direct link between a Christ follower and being actively involved in living our faith in the community. We need to serve the most disadvantaged as part of our witness to God's inclusive love. Jeremiah 29 challenges God's people to involvement, to seek peace and pray for the welfare of the city. Our role is to engage culture as Jesus did. We can't engage without direct involvement.

Here are some specific reasons why we should bother.

1. Keeping Families Together

Parents are busy working to meet the physical needs of the family. Kids are busy studying. Families are just not just spending much time together. Very often emotional needs are not met.

Parents are so busy they can't afford to take annual leave to see the principal when their child misbehaves. Many feel helpless with teenage kids that are described as "out of control".

Marriages are at special risk in this fast-paced society. There are several young families including us who live on our level at our apartment. A third of couples on our level are divorced. I understand that this ratio is about the national average.

As a church we are seeing this growing trend as we minister in the community and we are also seeing this with new people coming into our church.

The family is the central unit of society and marriage is the glue that holds it together. We should care about families and marriages.

2. Engaging Youth at Risk

Many at-risk youth come from dysfunctional, single-parent families or wealthy but emotionally-deficient homes. Youth cannot cope with separating or divorcing parents. They just cannot handle it when their mom brings her boyfriend home. They do not want to go home and see a stranger there.

Others don't want to go home because there is no one at home. They say they lack parental direction and guidance. Others tell us they have poor parental models. Smoking is one habit they pick up from home.

Many cite peer influence as a big influence in their life. They hang out with peers. Sometimes out of sheer boredom, they do acts of vandalism or shoplifting.

As a church we work with Hope Centre (S) on compassion initiatives. In a recent survey Hope Centre (S) conducted among North East youths, gangs and bullying (including verbal bullying and name calling) were rated as top concerns. We realise many youths join gangs for a sense of family.

Our young should grow up with a sense of purpose. We should care about the future of society.

3. Helping Low-Income Households

My wife and I were ministering in the US and Canada recently. We remember this ad, "I work for gas." It would have been funny if it was not true. Recently the top five US oil companies admitted that high fuel costs are hurting people but added their $123B in 2007 profits were "in line with other industries". Where is economic justice when capitalism goes wrong?

Back home the gap between the rich and poor just continues to grow. First it was the housing and rental market in a state of irrational exuberance. Now it is the global rise of basic food prices. Already food riots have broken out in the Philippines, Morocco, Yemen, Mexico, Senegal and Uzbekistan. The Haiti Prime Minister was just ousted due to soaring food prices.

Escalating costs are just increasing the already high tension in low-income and single-income families here. Two nights ago a brother and a sister came knocking at our flat. They were trying to sell us ice cream explaining they come from a low-income family. The brand of ice cream did not appeal much but we bought. This is the second time we have had school-going teens knocking on our door selling ice cream to supplement household income within a year.

Jesus' heart is with the stranger, homeless, poor, the sick and the prisoner. When we touch someone who is down and out we are touching Him. We should care about those struggling to cope.

In summary, I am still not sure if we are complacent. But I do know we should care.

Well I guess all of us can be complacent. That's why I remind myself that compassion is not an option. I remind myself that feeling sorry for the marginalised is not an act of compassion. And it goes deeper than giving a dollar to the beggar. We actually need to serve the underserved.

Christ followers share responsibility for the future of our society. Society will feel the consequences if we sit out. At the end of the day God is not asking us to live a heroic life or do miraculous deeds. The things Christ highlight is quite ordinary. He is asking for acts of kindness. Then He will take it from there.

First published in the Christian Post Singapore.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Ministering to Men

Manly Mondays
But Weren't The First Disciples All Men?
by Benjamin Lee

Monday night is Man’s Night in our home. Throughout the year 2006, seven groups of men, totalling 38 in all, would take turns to come to our home. While most were Singaporeans, we also had Filipinos, Malaysians and one from Hong Kong. My wife would prepare special treats and drinks and our twins would serve the guys.

It started in December 2005. On a plane trip back from Quito, God spoke to me about men. I thought we had already taught on manhood and our groups already had some men’s activities. But God seemed to say that I needed to make a more concerted effort. So I sat down with the church staff and planned for our first ever men’s conference in May 2006. Personally I would spend Monday nights with key men in church.

Let me start with my journey as a guy in church. I don't get the wedding picture. Ephesians 5 talks about the bride marrying Jesus. But I don’t want to marry a man. Besides, I wouldn't look nice in garters and lace. There is a song by HillSong which goes “Darling of heaven crucified…” It’s weird trying to relate to Jesus as “darling”!

Growing up in an Anglican church, I used to hear terms like “Ladies’ Fellowship” but don’t recall ever hearing about “Men’s Fellowship”. Many of my Sunday school teachers were female. Dedicated ladies gave us our earliest and deepest bonding with Bible stories. We learnt that Jesus was a nice boy, a polite boy, who always obeyed his mom, always brushed his teeth and always put the toilet seat down. I wondered why the priests wore frocks. This ‘feminised’ brand of Christianity was confusing.

So one of the first things I asked the 38 guys was, “Tell me some of the difficulties in discipling men.” Five themes came through:

Men like to apply. Sit-down singing and discussion seem to be more suited to women.
Men count the cost. They do this when deciding to serve. They think, “Ministry means less time to grow in other areas of life”. They feel their calling is their career. If there is a choice between a career-enhancing event and care group, or between getting 4 A’s and serving as care leader, the choice is simple. The career wins out every time.
Men are more practical. Everyone could be crying during worship but he does not feel much except out of place.
Men take time to bond. Many bonded with their mothers when they were boys. Dads were always busy with work. Those boys have grown up and they now say, “Only girls understand me.”
Men do ministry differently. They realise masculine submission and feminine submission to spiritual authority are different. Some rise up to serve but get discouraged - more than women do - when people don’t respond. They encounter guys who tell them, “I spend time at home so I am a godly example to kids,” which is not always helpful.

Then I asked about guys’ needs. The answers were fascinating. It was a combination of what they thought guys needed and what they felt they needed too. Four needs kept surfacing:
Men need spiritual victory. They need a God-thing personally and corporately. It is hearing God’s voice, receiving a prophetic word or healing.
Men need more mature men who are open to them. Then they learn to open up. We are inspired by role models. The church needs to make role models more evident. Guys need to see a man whom they respect, praying and taking Christianity seriously.
Men need to taste victory in ministry. Then they will want to do more for God. We are achievement-oriented.
Men need to taste close friendship. Most men change within the context of friendship.

The final thing I asked was the kind of guy-things that were effective. Sport is a big thing. Our guys do bowling, jogging, soccer, tennis and trekking. The younger guys do LAN gaming, PS2 and XBox. One group is into jamming. Many enjoy projects like helping people move house or planning a challenging event. One group scours the city for good eating places. One had an ‘Amazing Race’ with a rented bus to various locations for competitions that started at 10 pm and ended at 6 am. The one I liked was called ‘Ransom’. It was held on Pulau Ubin involving kidnappers, hostages and rescuers.

Here is the observation. God’s great outdoors often brings out the ‘man’ in us. There is something about corporate Singapore that can rob a man. He doesn’t get out in the fresh air. It’s more than sports and the fresh air. It's about getting outdoors, with people important to you. We need masculine places.

I have learnt a lot from Manly Mondays. More than ever, I believe men want to take Christianity more seriously. Men don’t want to play church. They want to be hot for Jesus. They want their hearts to pump with the things the heart of Jesus pumps with.

The Christian church started with men but currently there are more women in church. This can change. That’s my prayer.

This article first appeared in Impact magazine vol. 31 no. 4 (Aug/Sep 2007). Online: