JESUS’ PASSION WEEK DEVOTION – DAY 3/6 – The Passover Meal

This week’s devotion of the Passion Week from Jesus’ Perspective. The devotions are written as first person, from Jesus’ perspective, like His personal journal of his thoughts and words gathered through Scriptures as the scenes of the Passion Week unfolds.

There are a number of references to the Song of Songs to get a peep into Jesus’ love for His people. As there are many symbolism used in Song of Songs, the list below helps to explain some of them that are found in the verses quotation in this week’s devotions.

  • Shulamite symbolizes Israel and the Church
  • The Beloved symbolizes Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom King
  • Spikenard symbolizes worship
  • Myrrh symbolizes death

This devotion emphasizes more on the heart and the spirit, rather than knowledge.

  • Take time to read the devotion slowly to allow the scriptures and events to go deep into you, beyond your mind.
  • It helps to read it several times, asking the Holy Spirit to bring you deeper.
  • Highlight the portions that jump out at you and write down your thoughts under “Personal Reflection” and also put into writing the response or even commitment that you want to make before God.

Day 3 – The Passover Meal

Read: Luke 22:7-38; John 13:1-30, 17:1-26

(The Beloved To His Friends)

Eat, O friends!
Drink, yes, drink deeply,
O beloved ones!” – SOS 5:1b

This day of Passover is finally here. With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. Today the lamb is to be slaughtered. Remember me. Remember me. This matzah, the unleavened bread, will be a reminder of my body. It is without leaven and pricked with holes, just like my body is sinless and is broken for you. This cup of wine is a sign of my new covenant with you for I will fulfill the requirements of the old. By partaking of the wine in my remembrance, you are sharing in my suffering and my victory. You are mine.

Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse,
With me from Lebanon.
Look from the top of Amana,
From the top of Senir and Hermon,
From the lions’ dens,
From the mountains of the leopards
.” – SOS 4:8

Here we are in the upper room all set and ready. This is the last Passover with my twelve disciples who have followed me the last three years. It troubles me deeply that Judas is going to betray me. I have extended my full love and grace over Judas regardless of his stealing and wandering heart. I have washed his feet with the same love as I have for the other eleven after we came into this room. I have bared my heart to him. He has no remorse when I prophesy that he is my betrayer. My end is determined with or without his betrayal. Yet he has chosen the thirty pieces of silver over me. I will not stop him and he has to do what he set out to do. Peter you will deny me trice. Remember this, I have not once stopped loving you despite your weaknesses. I have prayed for you. I have loved my own and loved you to the end (John 13:1b).

Know that I have given you a kingdom, just as My Abba has bestowed one upon me (Luke 29:22). This kingdom is different from that of the world. I have set an example that servitude and humility is the way to greatness. I served you and washed your feet even though I am the greatest. In this way, there is no competition for the first or best.

Abba, I pray that “they all may be one, as You, Abba, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” – John 17:20-23.

JESUS’ PASSION WEEK DEVOTION – DAY 2/6 – Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

This week’s devotion of the Passion Week from Jesus’ Perspective. The devotions are written as first person, from Jesus’ perspective, like His personal journal of his thoughts and words gathered through Scriptures as the scenes of the Passion Week unfolds.

There are a number of references to the Song of Songs to get a peep into Jesus’ love for His people. As there are many symbolism used in Song of Songs, the list below helps to explain some of them that are found in the verses quotation in this week’s devotions.

  • Shulamite symbolizes Israel and the Church
  • The Beloved symbolizes Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom King
  • Spikenard symbolizes worship
  • Myrrh symbolizes death

This devotion emphasizes more on the heart and the spirit, rather than knowledge.

  • Take time to read the devotion slowly to allow the scriptures and events to go deep into you, beyond your mind.
  • It helps to read it several times, asking the Holy Spirit to bring you deeper.
  • Highlight the portions that jump out at you and write down your thoughts under “Personal Reflection” and also put into writing the response or even commitment that you want to make before God.

 

Day 2 – Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Read Luke 19:28-44 & John 12:12-19

The day has come for me to enter into Jerusalem. This familiar holy city is where I will finish my mission on earth. My Abba’s plan and purpose for me will be completed soon. Looking at the backs of the two disciples running off to prepare the room and get ready the donkey, the time has come to fulfil Abba’s Word through Prophet Zechariah (Zec 9:9).

O Jerusalem, my beautiful holy city, you feel so different today. As this young colt struts down Mt Olives into the city with me on its back, the people wave palm branches in great celebration shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest”. Here is a welcome to their king whom they do not know. I am coming for you my holy city. You will be mine, wholly mine. You will see my beauty and kingdom come. You cannot see my kingdom in your flesh, but only in the spirit.

I have to silence the Pharisees objections to this welcome. This is due to me, in my city. The stones in my city will cry out if the people choose not to. My heart is wrenched by your blindness. The pride of your religion I will tear down, and none of the stones in this temple will be left unturned because you do not know the time of my visitation, rejecting me in my own city.

Shulamite to the Beloved

Until the day breaks
And the shadows flee away,
Turn, my beloved,
And be like a gazelle
Or a young stag
Upon the mountains of Bether
(meaning separation). – SOS 2:17

I work miracles. I heal the sick. I chase out demons. I clean up the temple of vendors that exploit worshippers. I teach in my temple. I reveal my heart and power to you. You should have recognised me. I am going to the lowest pit before I ascend to the highest throne. You will treat me like the prophets and all who are sent to you. I am not only a prophet but the Son of God. Soon, at least you my disciples will understand when you see me gloried.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” – Mt 23:37-38.

 

 

Jesus’ Passion Week Devotion – Day 1/6 – Jesus Among Friends

This week’s devotion of the Passion Week from Jesus’ Perspective. The devotions are written as first person, from Jesus’ perspective, like His personal journal of his thoughts and words gathered through Scriptures as the scenes of the Passion Week unfolds.

There are a number of references to the Song of Songs to get a peep into Jesus’ love for His people. As there are many symbolism used in Song of Songs, the list below helps to explain some of them that are found in the verses quotation in this week’s devotions.

  • Shulamite symbolizes Israel and the Church
  • The Beloved symbolizes Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom King
  • Spikenard symbolizes worship
  • Myrrh symbolizes death

This devotion emphasizes more on the heart and the spirit, rather than knowledge.

  • Take time to read the devotion slowly to allow the scriptures and events to go deep into you, beyond your mind.
  • It helps to read it several times, asking the Holy Spirit to bring you deeper.
  • Highlight the portions that jump out at you and write down your thoughts under “Personal Reflection” and also put into writing the response or even commitment that you want to make before God.

Day 1 – Jesus Among Friends

Read and meditate on John 12:1-11

Supper with my dear friend Lazarus at Bethany brings much comfort to me. As usual, Martha serves us a great feast as a good host. It blesses my heart to see Lazarus, my dear friend, who went through death’s hell as a sign for what I am about to do. Those who witness your resurrection bear witness of me. People still come to your home to verify for themselves your coming back to life and some are here when they know that I am also in the house. This is a foretaste of what is to come. Mary, who always loves to sit by my feet knows that this visit is different. She is at my feet again. But this time the smell of spikenard fills the room as she anoints my feet and uses her hair to wipe them. Such extravagant and fragrant worship that blesses my heart!

I have to silence Judas’ response to Mary. She understands something that you Judas do not – my impending death. King Solomon writes, “Do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases” and no one should stop Mary. This is Mary’s expression of love. This is a preparation for my burial, my sacrifice. She will not have any other opportunity to do so after this.

“While the king is at his table, my spikenard sends forth its fragrance.
A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me, that lies all night between my breasts.
” SOS 1:12-13

I will pour out way beyond the worth of this spikenard. What is a year’s wage compared to the world’s eternal wages of sin? I will pour out my glory, my life and my all. My body would be broken like this spikenard jar. My blood will flow just as the spikenard. In my breaking, the fragrance of Life in my blood will flow as a perpetual sacrifice before the throne of God. You cannot fully comprehend it now but one day, my disciples will lay your lives when your eyes are opened.

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. Like a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” (Song of Songs 2:1-2)

James and Peter, my invitation for you to follow me is still open and I know that you will follow me to the end (John 1:39). I pray the same for all the other disciples too. You will rise up and follow me to the end despite me going to the lowest place for the victory.

Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” SOS 1:10 & 13

Christmas in Changsha and New Year in Guang Zhou

Christmas is not a public holiday in China as it is in Singapore and many parts of the world. Although New Year is a public holiday, it is not as important as Lunar New Year. So both days are subculture holidays.

There were 3 adults (Nic & wife, Hillary and myself) and an almost 2-year-old baby (Maranatha) on this trip. Our luggage weighed 75kg because we hand carried a brand new set of electronic drums for HBI (Hunan Bible Institute) for use of their weekends outreach trips to the various churches outside of the city. We nearly missed our high-speed train from Guangzhou to Changsha. In our mad rush, one of our luggages (thank God it is not the one with the drums) tumbled down the long escalator. The long escalator was completely empty as ALL passengers were already on board the train! We made it in the nick of time. Once we stepped into the train, the doors were locked and it started moving. Phew! Thank God for his protection as Hillary is 5months pregnant carrying the 2 year old Maranatha in the rush, and Nic was carrying the electronic drums (weighing almost 40kg).

CHANGSHA

Christmas in Changsha was a very different experience. First thing was the weather! Temperature was around 0 degrees. Although there was no snow, but the wind was bone-piercing cold and extremely dry. I completely lost my voice on 27 Dec!

The students of HBI put up an amazing evangelistic Christmas Concert on Christmas Eve. With little resources of time, manpower and finances, the concert was extremely good and makes me wonder if we in Singapore are able to match up to them if given the same amount of limitations. The hall was packed to the brim with many squished at the doorway throughout the evening. I didn’t keep my seat and was standing all the way taking photos and videos using my iPhone (eventually ran out of memory)! I was actually too excited to sit and just so very very proud of each of them! I am so blown away by the demonstration of their love for God through the hard work they put in to perfect their presentations that evening. I was told they only had about a month or so to prepare for this concert. About 30 people accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour that evening. Praise the Lord!! You can see snippets of their performances in the video.

2013-12-29 09.23.05
A group photo with HBI students after the Christmas Eve Concert. The atmosphere was super joyous!!

Part of the plan of our trip is to track down Hudson Taylor’s mission work in China. Quite a large portion of his work was in Changsha, the inland, which is why his ministry was first names, Inland China Mission. To our surprise, on 23 Dec we were told that Nantang Church (南堂), which was the church planted by Hudson Taylor and is the appointed custodian of Hudson Taylor’s archives in Changsha, invited us to lead worship on 25 Dec evening during their Christmas concert. The church leaders never met us before. Blown away by the grace of God we gladly rushed through the preparation. We are so thankful for the full support by HBI. With the limited resources, and students all spread out to various churches/events doing various work, HBI staff and students brought sound board, cables, instruments, and the basic necessary equipment to support the 30min worship. The team went to the church at 12pm to assess what was needed and brought in the equipment past busy and jammed traffic on taxis. Contemporary praise and worship is very new to this church. I salute the whole team in tearing down all the equipment within 10min immediately after the worship to clear the stage area for the Christmas program after, also HBI needed the equipment for other events that same night! We praise God that the church’s ministry worker Mr Jiang was so appreciative of the session. Last minute I was roped in to play the piano for a solo item by their choir master who is about 70 years old who initially was going to sing acapella. A little fearful but am glad I can serve the Lord in this small way. 

Playing the Piano at Nantang Church for the Choir Master’s Solo
IMG_4042
Photo taken after the Christmas concert at Nantang. On the extreme right is Nantang staff worker Mr Jiang. In the middle is Esther who runs a travel agency that focuses on trips to Israel. Extreme left is a 2nd-year student at HBI and Nic, second from the left.

We also visited another key city church Changsha, Beitang (北堂) Church. The Taoist architect of the church building is a very good example of missions that is sensitive to the local culture and arts. Possibly a heritage left by Hudson Taylor, a missionary who ate local, dressed local, spoke local and even behaved local.  Praise God for a good relationship built after a nice long chat with their senior pastor (although I didn’t have any voice to speak!).

This is the side of the church building. I would not be able to tell that it is a church if I was not informed.
This is the side of Beitang church building. I would not be able to tell that it is a church if I was not informed.

We did a very short teaching on 27 Dec morning in HBI. The students were all tired from the Christmas events and also needing to prepare for their exams in January 2014. We spent more time fellowshipping over meals with a few of the teachers, students and friends, which we did not manage to do this September due to the packed teaching schedule. I am filled by the time in Changsha, overflowing with God’s love and grace! What an awesome way to spend my Christmas.

GUANGZHOU

We took the high-speed train to Guangzhou with a lot less luggage and without rush on 29 Dec. Guangzhou was intended to be a vacation stop and to meet with a few friends there. One of them was a graduate from HBI, Pastor Ou. We also met a lovely musician couple, Gong Zheng and wife. Gong Zheng is a flutist who plays not only the mainstream Chinese wind instruments but also some of the almost lost indigenous instruments from Yunan. You can enjoy a musical piece by Gong Zheng at the end of the video.

New Year Eve was spent having hotpot at a friend’s place, Canto-style. It was a good time of making new friends too! I will say that it was a quiet crossing into the New Year from a position of rest. I was still fighting an inflamed throat at that point so we basically rested, walked around the city and ate. Such a blessing! What more can I ask! =)

Elders and Overseers

Qualifications of Elders

5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, 6 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnaciousnot fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitableloving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. 10 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. 12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. – Titus 1:5-15 (emphasis mine)

The Bible is very clear about the qualities of elders for appointment. Elders carry with them spiritual authority, which includes strategic and pastoral leadership. This means that the person needs to have a functional amount of IQ (Intellectual Quotient), EQ (Emotional Quotient) and SQ (Spiritual Quotient), which I personally believe that the last is most important, followed by the second. Eldership, as the word suggests, is usually made up of people who are senior in physical age. Looking at the criteria that Apostle Paul gave to Titus, the characteristics of a qualified elder does require a person to yield to God’s teachings in application over time for these qualities to be imprinted in their character & the way they deal with people. Yet, being senior in age does not mean that these qualities are present, implying that the most senior in age may not qualify to be an elder.

The SQ maturity is measured in their understanding in the Word of God resulting in sound doctrine. Sound doctrine builds up and exhorts the people under their care, bringing life of Christ. As a double-edged sword, the Word also brings rebuke. Interestingly, it does not mention about being able to hold a good debate in the interpretation of a Scripture, but how it is applied to the building of the Body of Christ. The fruit is in the people around that has been built up. IQ is not emphasised here because the revelation of the Word can be simple with deep truths that grows people. A Bible school student in all his studies still may not have the revelation of the Word if it is only the mind exercise without having our lives being transformed by it. The role of teaching and using the Word is so important that the life of an elder has to reflect it, therefore the requirements of a family to be in good order. This is very much in line with the requirement of an elder being sensible. Sensibility of a person is measured by others around and visible by others response to them.

The EQ requirements are slightly more and specific. It is almost like the tangible aspects of the fruit of the spirit in action. The church is about a community of believers and thus as elders and leaders, the EQ qualities play a significant role in ascertaining who is suitable for such a position. Below is the list of qualities from the Bible passage rewritten in a listed form.

  1. not self-willed
  2. not quick-tempered
  3. not addicted to wine
  4. not pugnacious (not quarrelsome)
  5. not fond of sordid gain
  6. hospitable
  7. loving what is good
  8. sensible
  9. just
  10. devout
  11. self-controlled

I don’t think I need to go through the list one by one as we know what these qualities are when we see them in someone. When it is lacking, we can tell too. No one is perfect and the person described here seems like a perfect person. I believe what it is referring to is someone who is already exhibiting these traits even though it is not in full measure. No one on earth can every reflect these in full-measure at all times except Christ. Well, I guess it will help to use the opposites to know those who are not to be considered for the position of eldership or leadership. Those who are self-willed, , quick-tempered, an alcoholic, quarrelsome, involved in questionable businesses, insensible, loving what is evil, unjust, noncommittal and without self-control are not suitable to be candidates for eldership.

The guidelines are so clear and there are instances whereby the church is weak because of the appointment of elders or leaders that are contrary to this list of qualities. I do not know what can be done except to obey the Word of God and set it right. Elders should not be appointed because there is nobody else or the person has potential. If the person has potential, train him/her. The greatest fallacy is to give a person authority without instilling truths that build character, and having leaders who can’t tell what is right or wrong that leads to their eventual falling away.

sheep-with-shepherd

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.

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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.

Shavout – Pentecost 2013

Pentecost

Shavout (a.k.a. Pentecost), Biblically referred to as the Feast of Weeks (Exo 34:22; Num 28:26; Deu 16:1-16; 2 Chr 8:13) is the Feast of the First Fruits of the wheat harvest. This is seven weeks from Pesach, the Passover (Deu 16:9). This year Shavuot falls on 14-16 May 2013 (6-7 Sivan). Most churches in Singapore celebrates Pentecost Sunday on 19 May 2013.

The church celebrates Pentecost in memory of Acts 2 which marks the day in which the Holy Spirit was poured out to the believers who were waiting in the upper room, empowering them in the fulfilling the Great Commandment given by the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the fulfulment of the prophecy of Joel:

‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,
‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.
‘And I will grant wonders in the sky above
And signs on the earth below,
Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke.
‘The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood,
Before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.
‘And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
– Acts 2:17-21 quoting Joel 2:28-32 (NASB)

The Jews, on the day of Shavuot, also commemorates that giving of the Ten Commandments by God to Moses for the nation of Israel. Although it is not specifically recorded in the Bible that this pivotal event happened on Shavuot, the strict oral tradition of the Jews, especially for such a significant historical event, can be reasonably considered as accurate. The giving of the Law represents that of the Word. God gave the Ten Commandments and the Law (Exo 19-20) on Shavuot.

In the Old Testament, the Word was given on Shavuot. In the New Testament, the Spirit was given on this same day. We as the church now has both the Word and the Spirit because of these two events.

This year during passover, I was impressed that 2013’s Pentecost is important as God will open up the heavens and pour out his anointing for the new season of growth for his church in greater measure.

Last Sunday, as I led worship in church remembering Shavuot, we indeed experienced a fresh outpouring and the presence of God weighed heavy in our midst. Thus I will like to humbly encourage you to also take time to come before God to ask Him to pour His Spirit afresh on you again for the next season! Grab hold of this window of open heavens and receive the fresh empowering!

The Spiritual Gifts

This might be a little controversial to some but the discussion at the Biblical Studies class last Tuesday taught by Rev Dr John Tay triggered some interesting thoughts. I am only sharing parts of the discussion that I think are key points as this is quite an extensive topic.  The key passage is 1 Cor 13:8-12.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” 1 Cor 13:8-12

Some have believed that the Canon of the Scripture is the moment in time “when the perfect comes”. In Greek, “perfect” (τὸ τέλειον) is in neuter. The Word (ὁ λόγος) and Christ (ὁ χριστός) are masculine. It is not possible that the “perfect” refers to the Word of God or Christ when this passage is read in Greek. A possible clue as to what perfect means is from the term “face to face”. The phrase is only applicable in the context of 2 persons and therefore the interpretation of perfect as the Canon of the Scripture is eliminated. The only option left is to come “face to face” with Jesus Christ and this refers to the Second Coming of Christ. Since we are still waiting for the glorious return of Christ, this implies that the gifts mentioned in this verse should still be active in the community of believers as we are in the “partial” and not yet in the “perfect”.

There are 3 gifts mentioned in this passage, prophecy, tongues and knowledge. Nobody in this generation will dismiss knowledge as this whole modern society is driven by information and knowledge – perhaps an over-saturation. Weekly sermons, Bible studies, and other teachings that come forth from the church are ways in which knowledge is imparted to believers which I believe most churches have never cease doing. Yet prophecy and tongues are 2 gifts that have received much less attention and emphasis. It does not seem possible that one out of the three are actively present but the other two have ceased or become inactive. I will leave this as a thought so that those interested can search the Bible for deeper understanding in this.

Here is an account of my own personal experience that totally blew my mind away. This happened when I was in West Timor, Soe. You can read my testimony in how I ended up in Soe in another post. On a Sat evening I was in the car and my host was driving me to the prayer meeting where I was to preach and minister like every other evenings. Prayer meetings happen in many places every evening in Soe. Little did I know that I was going to the home of the highest ranked government official in Soe. I delivered the message and strangely I felt deeply convicted to break out in tongues over the microphone. It is not my practice to break out in tongues when I am preaching as I am fully aware that I need to speak in intelligible language, at least to my translator who then can translate it to Bahasa Indonesia, so as to edify the body of Christ. As I was speaking in tongues, I realized my translator was also speaking in Bahasa Indonesia at the same time. The Lord gave me understanding of the tongues and with my less-than-amateur Bahasa Indonesia, it sounded as though my translator was translating my tongues into Bahasa Indonesia through his microphone. I did not feel led to give the interpretation of my tongues using my own words as I was fully aware that an interpretation is needed. I do not always understand the tongues that I speak and it is definitely for a reason why such clear understanding was given to me then. I asked my translator to read Ezekiel 47 which was what the tongues were about. When my translator was reading the passage, I saw the bewildered and amazed faces of my translator and all those who were present. I was not fully certain of what happened at that point in time but only suspected. I closed the meeting in prayer in English with translated Bahasa Indonesia as I usually do.

After the meeting, I asked the translator if he was interpreting my tongues to Bahasa Indonesia. He affirmed it and shared that this had never happened to him before! It was the first time experience for him and that he supernaturally knew that he understood my blabbering tongues. The reading of Ezekiel 47 was a confirmation for him that he was indeed interpreting my tongues and it was a testimony to the listeners too. All present witnessed the demonstration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work, yes, even the official who was participating in the meeting from a hidden room.

“Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.” –  1 Corinthians 14:5

I have never witnessed the gift of interpretation of tongues in the corporate setting before this! I was speechless when I realized the magnitude of what God demonstrated in that evening. This translator continued to translate my tongues in other meetings. To God be the glory!