Proskuneo – School of Prayer and Worship

On 3-6 Jun 2013, about ten of us from my church, Bethel Fellowship, went to Proskuneo School of Prayer and Worship in Bandung, Indonesia. We are honored and priviledged that the school especially arranged for a special 2 days intensive sessions for us.

Proskuneo School of Prayer and Worship is started by Dr Niko, the senior pastor of GBI. Their vision is to raise up worship ministers who carry the presence of God and are also skilled musicially for the ministry to God as part of the vision to rebuild the Tabernacle of David. They have professional musicians who come to their school after their conversion to learn how to worship God through the gift of music. There are also those who do not have any musical background but desire to serve God through music. Their usual curriculum for local Indonesians is 2 months stay-in. For overseas students, their curriculum is one month.

The car ride from Bandung airport to Proskuneo was about 30min. Upon passing through the gate and into the compound, there is a sense of stillness – the quiet presence of God. Everything is neat and clean, well-organized. It is not in the anal meticulous manner but a sense that things are in order because they do it as an act of worship to honor the presence of God in the place.

Proskuneo Reception Counter. Photo by Andrew Cheok.

These students usually stay in their hostel bunks but they blessed us with lodging in beautiful houses in their compound. We went to look at their hostel bunks and they are really nice and neat (sorry that we didn’t remember to take photos of it). Each room can sleep 4 people. Instead of double-decker beds, they build a upper loft with 2 beds at ground level and 2 beds in the upper so that students don’t need to struggle climbing up the ladder to their upper deck beds. Each bed has a curtain around it for privacy and each room has its own attached bathroom!

Their hospitality is a demonstration of God’s love towards us. Every small details in hospitality is thought of, including fresh flowers in the bathroom and in the living area. They provided us with bottles of water and biscuits. These details awaken my other senses of worship to God, not only audio but smell, sight and touch too! The last physical sensory is taste. We had most of our meals in the school. They provided simple meals of 1 meat, 1 vegetable and soup with fruits. Each time I partake of the meal, I feel the love of God coming through the ones who prepare it as an act of worship. I was experiencing God in a different manner upon arrival to lunch even before the actual sessions started!

Proskuneo House – 4 houses in this wing of the compound. Photo by Andrew Cheok.
Each house has two rooms in each unit with a double and a twin room, including a bathroom and a living area.
Each house has two rooms in each unit with a double and a twin room, including a bathroom and a living area.
The Twin Room has a pull out bed that can sleep two persons. Photo by Andrew Cheok.

We had our first session after lunch starting with worship. The presence of God fills the room in the simple songs that we lift up to God. Pastor Joko, the principle of the school, was playing the guitar during worship. Pastor Esther, who is the wife of Pastor Joko, taught and gave deep insights. For the 2 days of teaching, the theme was Intimacy with God, which is so much needed in the fast-paced and task-orientated culture of Singapore.

Proskuneo Worship Session. Photo by Andrew Cheok.

Another interesting place in the Proskuneo compound is their prayer caves. Students and staff use these caves for their quiet time with the Lord. They have those who have lower ceiling (you can’t stand straight up in it) and some others with higher ceiling and thus if you can jump and stand in the presence of God.

Proskuneo Prayer Caves
Proskuneo Prayer Caves. Photo by Andrew Cheok.
Proskuneo Prayer Caves
Proskuneo Prayer Caves. Photo by Andrew Cheok.

How to Discourage Artists in the Church

This article is so well-written that I want to share this here. Original article is found in this URL: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/05/28/how-to-discourage-artists-in-the-church/

Philip G. Ryken|12:01 AM CT

How to Discourage Artists in the Church

Many Christian artists live between two strange worlds. Their faith in Christ seems odd to many of their friends in the artistic community—almost as odd as their calling as artists seems to some of their friends at church. Yet Christians called to draw, paint, sculpt, sing, act, dance, and play music have extraordinary opportunities to honor God in their daily work and to bear witness to the grace, beauty, and truth of the gospel. How can pastors (and churches) encourage Christians with artistic gifts in their dual calling as Christian artists?

As a pastor and college president, I have made a sad discovery: the arts are not always affirmed in the life of the local church. We need a general rediscovery of the arts in the context of the church. This is badly needed because the arts are the leading edge of culture.

A recovery of the arts is also needed because the arts are a vital sign for the church. Francis Schaeffer once said:

For a Christian, redeemed by the work of Christ and living within the norms of Scripture and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts. A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God—not just as tracts, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.

In this article, I am taking a fresh and somewhat contrarian approach by seeking to answer the question, “How do you discourage artists in the church?”

In preparation, I asked some friends for their answers to my question: an actor, a sculptor, a jazz singer, a photographer. They are not whiners, but they gave me an earful (and said that it was kind of fun).

Here is my non-exhaustive list of ways that churches can discourage their artists (and some quotes from my friends).

Treat the arts as a window dressing for the truth rather than a window into reality. See the arts as merely decorative or entertaining, not serious and life-changing. “‘Humor’ artists by ‘allowing’ them to put work up in the hallways, or some forgotten, unused corner with terrible lighting, where it can be ‘decoration,'” David Hooker told me.

Embrace bad art. Tolerate low aesthetic standards. Only value work that is totally accessible, not difficult or challenging. One example would be digital images and photography on powerpoint as a background for praise songs. Value work that is sentimental, that doesn’t take risks, that doesn’t give offense, that people immediately “get.”

Value artists only for their artistic gifts, not for the other contributions they can make to the life of the church. See them in one dimension, not as whole persons. Specifically, discount artists for leadership roles because they are too creative, not analytical, too intuitive.

Demand artists to give answers in their work, not raise questions. Mark Lewis says, “Make certain that your piece (or artifact or performance) makes incisive theological or moral points, and doesn’t stray into territory about which you are unresolved or in any way unclear. (Clear answers are of course more valuable than questions).” Do not allow for ambiguity, or for varied responses to art. Demand art to communicate in the same way to everyone.

Never pay artists for their work. Expect that they will volunteer their service, without recognizing their calling or believing that they are workers worthy of their hire. Note that Old Testament artists and musicians were supported financially.

When you ask them to serve through the arts, tell them what to do and also how to do it. Don’t leave room for the creative process. Take, for example, a children’s Sunday school mural: “Tell them what it should look like, in fact, draw up plans first,” David Hooker said. Discourage improvisation; give artists a AAA road map.

Idolize artistic success. Add to the burden artists already feel by only validating the calling of artists who are “making it.”

Only validate art that has a direct application, for example, something that communicates a gospel message or can be used for evangelism. Artist Makoto Fujimura answers the following question in an interview at The High Calling: “How then do you see art as evangelism?” He says:

There are many attempts to use the arts as a tool for evangelism. I understand the need to do that; but, again, it’s going back to commoditizing things. When we are so consumer-driven, we want to put price tags on everything; and we want to add value to art, as if that was necessary. We say if it’s useful for evangelism, then it has value.

And, there are two problems with that. One, it makes art so much less than what it can be potentially. But also, you’re communicating to the world that the gospel is not art. The gospel is this information that needs to be used by something to carry it.

Only, that’s not the gospel at all. The gospel is life. The gospel is about the Creator God, who is an artist, who is trying to communicate. And his art is the church. We are the artwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works. If we don’t realize that fully, then the gospel itself is truncated and art itself suffers.

Do not allow space for lament. The artist’s call is to face the darkness while still believing in the light, to sense God’s silence and sorrow. Ruth Naomi Floyd asks, “How can artists of faith trace the darkness and pain of Good Friday to the joy of Sunday’s Resurrection?”

I could go on. Here are some more ways to discourage artists in the church:

  • Not setting reasonable boundaries.
  • Not allowing artists to experience creative freedom.
  • Asking the input of artists and deciding not to use it without an explanation.
  • Not giving artists the gift of real listening.
  • Not preaching and teaching the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ.

But the last item on my list is, in general, make artists not feel fully at home in the church. Most of the items on my list reflect a failure to understand art and to let art be art as a creative exploration of the potentialities of creation. This is a crushing burden because artists already know that as Christians they will not be fully at home in the world of art—they don’t worship its idols or believe its lies. N. T. Wright comments:

In my experience the Christian painter or poet, sculptor or dancer, is regularly regarded as something of a curiosity, to be tolerated, humoured even, maybe even allowed to put on a show once in a while. But the idea that they are, or could be, anything more than that—that they have a vocation to re-imagine and re-express the beauty of God, to lift our sights and change our vision of reality—is often not even considered.

So will you make a home for Christians called to be artists?

Please do what you can to accommodate them, because they are pointing us toward eternity. As W. David O. Taylor writes in For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts:

Whether through paint or sound, metaphor or movement, we are given the inestimable gift of participating in the re-creative work of the Triune God, anticipating that final and unimaginable re-creation of all matter, space, and time, the fulfillment of all things visible and invisible.

* * * * * * * * * *

Editors’ note: For more on how pastors can encourage artistic gifts, read from Michael Wilder, dean of the Conservatory of Music, Arts, and Communication at Wheaton College. He presented together with Ryken in a workshop at The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference.

Philip G. Ryken is the president of Wheaton College and a Council member for The Gospel Coalition.

Breathe Your Breath – Spontaneous Song on Shavuot

This was a spontaneous prophetic declaration in the prayer room based on Ezekiel 37 on Shavuot (15 May 2013). I felt it needed to be recorded so I did it on my iPhone. It was raining while I was recording this explaining the background noise. Thought the rain has significance to the song and left it.

Breathe Your Breath
By Pauline Phoon © 2013

Verse:
Prophesy, prophesy to these dry bones
Hear ye the Word of the Lord
(Repeat)

Pre-Chorus:
Bone to Bone, sinews formed
Muscles to bones, with skin covered

Chorus:
Come from the four winds
Come O breathe of God
Breathe life on these dry bones
Breathe, O breathe Your breath O God

Bridge:
Breathe on us, Breathe on us
Breathe on us, bring us back to life

Worship Leading with a Message

worship hands

This is nothing new as most worship leaders training will talk about having a theme in your worship set. Some view the praise and worship time during a service as singspiration, as a warm up to the service, or time to help us focus on God before the real teaching or preaching comes forth. To me, God speaks and ministers to us throughout the worship service, even at the point of entering the church and shaking someone’s hand with the almost cliche weekly blessing to giving our tithes and offering. What more during the time of praise and worship when all focus is on God? The worship leader and/or the band are faciliators of worship and not the centre of focus which makes us totally different from a performance band. I love hearing about how God spoke and ministered to people rather than how well the band or myself did musically. The gauge of the effectiveness in worship leading is when the work of God in people’s lives has outshine the excellency of craft or skill. This is when we fade away and all glory goes to Him.

Every week when I prepare the worship set for the Sunday service, I ask the Lord what is His message to us or where does He want to bring us before I put together the songs. The music and songs are not the main focus here but the desire of God for the time spent with Him as a corporate body. Sunday worship is a very precious time where the body of Christ comes together to worship while eveyrone goes on their daily business for the rest of the week. Thus every moment of the corporate worship is precious to spend time to listen to, receive from and bless God as a united body in Christ. In my church, the worship leader and team are not given the sermon message topic or scripture references in advance. So I have to make it a point to practice waiting upon God to listen and act. There are weeks whereby the worship set and the sermon message are knitted so tightly that all we know that it can only be God! There are weeks when it is crystal clear and some weeks, a fuzz in the direction where the worship set is heading. I have learnt that it is not about knowing exactly where I am, but it is about trusting, putting my heart in His so that He can direct and lead freely. There are times whereby there are songs that I know must in included in the set before I receive any revelation of where God is bringing us to. It is in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit as none of us can dictate how and when God shows us His plans.

On the practical side, to have a message in the worship set needs disciple in building up one’s spiritual depth and resources. In spiritual depth, I mean the meditation of God’s Word in daily life and living in obedience to it. As one who has finished my Masters in Theology and a worship leader for about 15 years, I personally find the preparation of preaching or teaching a message is easier than that of the preparation of a worship set if I believe that God speaks to us during the time of worship just as He does during the time of a sermon. This means that I need a good grasp of the message of each song that I am planning to put into the set list, getting deep into the song in both the lyrics and music as each song brings us to a certain place of focus. The ability to grasp the message of the song also means the need to check its alignment to the Word of God. One thing I know from the weeks of ploughing, the deeper I go in this, there’s greater ease for God to take us higher. The process of getting deeper is like the strengthening of my wings and when the moment comes to soar, the Holy Spirit as the wind beneath my wings gives the lift and push. Because of the stronger wings, the easier is the lift and the greater the potential of going higher! Preparing for a worship set has another element, the music, to consider as compared to giving a message in speech too.

The other challenge to having a worship set with a message is also the songs selection. One of the other reason why it is more challenging to me in doing a worship set is because I am working based on songs that are already written while a message in speech is my own words and thoughts. It is the pulling together different songs by different songwriters from different time period to say a similar message. It takes a longer time to do a collage using materials from all sources to form a picture than to take a pencil and some colours to paint it according to what is in my mind. Yet, this is also the beauty of it all. The Holy Spirit is able to take the initimate experiences of different songwriters in their songs to create new ones for the congregation that is multiplied many times over! It is not just my voice or the songwriters’ songs that is coming through, it is God speaking. My song sets are hardly the same for each week and the songs can range from good old hymns to the latest released worship songs. Songs are a channel for God and thus the songs should not dictate where the worship is heading but God should. This means that resources is one thing that the worship leader needs to build up. Access to a good song database is one, but it is for the worship leader to seek out and worship with songs of different focus and of different songwriters in our personal time. These songs become part of me, although I do try to memorize which is quite a challenge, but they are in my spiritual bank. The Holy Spirit can pull the songs out when needed, but I do need to refer to the lyrics quite often though. I do understand the struggle between singing new and unfamiliar songs in congregational worship, and it is tough but possible to strike a balance with this.

Hope this rambling post of my own worship leading preparation process helps some of you out there! =)

Alabaster Jar

The first time I heard this song, its lyrics expressed what was in my heart and I connected with it immediately. On 20 Feb 2013, I was doing a 2-hour prayer watch at a prayer room in Singapore. This song came and it was a moment of renewing my love to the Lord for the year 2013. Thought I’ll share the live recording of this song at that moment in the prayer room and perhaps some of you may be led to renew your life to the Lord for 2013.

ALABASTER JAR

By Zach Neese © 2005 Zach Neese and Walker Beach / Gateway Create Publishing / Integrity’s Praise! Music (admin. by Integrity’s Praise! Music)

This alabaster jar is all I have of worth
I break it at Your feet, Lord
It’s less than You deserve
You’re far more beautiful
More precious than the oil
The sum of my desires & the fullness of my joy!

Like You spilled Your blood,
I spill my heart as an offering to my King

Here I am, take me as an offering
Here I am, giving every heartbeat
For Your glory take me

The time that I have left is all I have of worth
I lay it at Your feet, Lord
It’s less than You deserve
And though I’ve little strength
And though my days are few,
You gave Your life for me
So, I will live my life for You

Worthy, Worthy, You are worthy
Worthy is the Lord
Holy, Holy, You are holy
Holy is the Lord
Glory, Glory, You are glory
Glory is the Lord

Alabaster Jar

The Extent of God’s Grace in Comparison with Kavadi during Thaipusam

Indian man carrying Kavadi during Thaipusam

On 27 Jan 2013, a Sunday, I left home as usual to make my way to church for worship rehearsal. It slipped my mind that is was Thaipusam. To get to church from home, I need to pass through Little India and lanes of the roads were closed off to make way for devotees who were fulfilling their vows to their Hindu gods in their 4.5km parade on the roads. I was stucked. Traffic was not moving at all. While the clock was ticking away, I find myself complaining to God and almost demanding him to move the traffic so that I can get out of this festival that I have no intention of being part of. The droning drum beat was also giving me a headache. After almost 30min of my disgruntles before God, I heard a gentle voice within telling me, “look at the man”. I knew he was refering to the Indian man that was almost next to my window carrying the Kavadi. I heard the voice again saying, “look at him”. So I did.

My eyes were fixated on the spikes that pierced the body of the Indian man. At that moment, I knew God was teaching me a precious lesson. Immediately the verse Isaiah 53:5 came to mind and I was holding back tears of gratitude to my dear Lord and Savior.

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.”
Isaiah 53:5

Even though no pain was supposed to be felt by these men who were pierced, the amount of sacrifice required by their gods from them is such a far cry from the requirements of the God whom I worship. Jesus came and gave his life for humanity, to be pierced in our place. The love of God overwhelmed me. The voice continued to show me more.

Some of the Kavadis have portable altars at the top. I was reminded of the record of King David’s attempt to bring the Ark of God into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). In the first attempt, the Ark was carried by bullock cart and Uzzah was struck dead when he touched the Ark while trying to stabilized it. The Ark was only successfully brought in the Jerusalem when King David followed God’s instructions through Moses that the Ark was to be carried on the shoulders of Levites (1 Chronicles 15:15). The Ark, a represenation of God’s presence, has always been intended to be carried by human and not any other medium. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all followers of Jesus. The presence of God is now carried in us, the body of Christ. What a priviledge and honor!!! The sacrifice that these Hindu devotees made to fulfill their one vow to their gods is so high, while we stand in the position of grace and love.

The cost of eternal salvation is so high that none of us can ever pay for our own redemption. The God of Abraham knows that none of us can be saved unless He steps in to fulfill the requirement by sending His Son Jesus Christ. This leads to me think if I have taken for granted this grace that has cost God His beloved so that I can draw near to Him. Does my response to God reflect the extent of His sacrifice so great?