Sunday, 11 December 2016

God moment.

I wonder, what is a God moment? I guess it is different for different people. You may have a “God moment” convicting you to walk down that aisle in tears to accept Jesus. Or you may have a “God moment” when you hear a still small voice telling you that the woman sitting beside you is going to be your wife. Still others may have a “God moment” when they feel an affirmation from within that their interpretation of the scripture is the right one.

God moments come in many forms and I believe they are seldom in an audible voice. At times, it could be voices in your head nudging you to sign up for a mission, give half of what you have to the church, or resign from your daytime job to enter full time ministry. These are spontaneous moments that don't prepare you at all. They come like a sudden flash in the sky and sweep you off your feet to do or say things that are uncharacteristic of you.

God moment often changes you, inspires you, guides you, counsels you, encourages you, wakes you up, or renews you afresh. They are a jolt from heaven to transform the trajectory of your life from one of routine and schedule to one that is unprecedented and unplanned. So, here comes my point.

In September this year, during one of the hearings of the City Harvest Church  (CHC) appeal, a pioneer member, Teo Hsin Yi, “blogged about how one of the lawyers defending the accused, had a ‘God moment”.

Teo was there, seated, and in rapt attention when Tan Ye Peng’s lawyer (Mr Sreenivasan) told the Justices that he had visited CHC after taking up the case in order to understand the church better. He wanted to know how it was run, how the church conducted itself, what was in the mind of the members, and how they ticked on a typical service. And this is what was reported in Teo’s blog about Mr. Sreenivasan’s opening statement:-

“She explained how Mr Sreenivasan appealed to the judges to take a step back to understand that the way the church thinks and makes decisions may seem rather illogical to those outside the church – but that it did not mean that they are wrong. “He cited an example of how, when he saw his mother performing Hindu rites, his educated mind did not agree, yet the fact remained that she was not wrong in what she believed and did.” Mr Sreenivasan therefore urged the Court to not to use a secular yardstick to measure religious intent and actions.”

Well, I don’t know whether Mr Sreenivasan personally felt at that time that he was experiencing a God moment, but it was definitely a God moment for Teo.

She gushed: “My heart was moved. Here was a man who did not share the same faith as us, yet he spoke with such genuine understanding.” As the Court session ended, it reported that “Teo wished that those from the outside would make an attempt to walk in the CHC members’ skin and, “perhaps, see that in the light of eternity, the Crossover was never a loss but a gain.””

Now, to be honest, Kong Hee and Sun Ho have been busy evangelizing to thousands across Asia, in particular Malaysia, and even in Japan. Their efforts are tireless, and notwithstanding the legal entanglement and all, this pastoral couple is relentless in their focus, attention and ambition. And seen in that light, maybe Teo has a point to say that “in the light of eternity, the Crossover was never a loss but a gain.”

or maybe not?

Well, I am not here to judge about that, that is, whether it is a total gain, a net gain or even a net loss. Neither am I able to discern a God moment there. Maybe only time will tell. Like what LKY once said, and I paraphrase, that history will either vindicate or vilify him. Either ways, the die is cast, the deeds are done, and the words dispatched, and indeed, only time will be the final arbiter of what is right or wrong, what is black or white, and what is net gain or loss.

Here is an extension of my thought about historical vindication with passing time. Some historians are saying that Genghis Khan had unified China and the Central Asia tribes, and he is the greatest military strategist of all time. Modern civilization therefore owes him a debt. There is even a book published that credits him for bringing about religious flourish, tolerance and diversity under his brutal rule. It is also believed that some of the Khan rulers (who married Christian wives) may be Christians (of the Nestorian kind).

Yet, this is also the same man, the great conqueror of East Asia that is, who is believed to have uttered these words: “The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters.”

So, good luck trying to figure out the net gain and loss from the ripple effect of the Mongol rulership from then till the modern era. The scoreboard and verdict are still out there­­­­ I guess. And it really depends on who’s asking and who’s answering right?

If you fast forward to the recent Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, you will note that Donald Trump fronted it with this caption: “The President of the Disunited States of America.” Again, we will never know whether the era of Trump will be one of net gain or loss. And on this, I pray that time will be kind to us.

Now, going back to the Crossover project, what can I say about its long term effect? Is Teo right about the bountiful harvest that awaits? Are the pastoral couple the new name in evangelism? Have we misunderstood God? While some net gain is patently obvious like the seeds sown by martyrs who lived and died with their integrity intact, honor unblemished and sacrifice rewarded, others are less straightforward like the life and continuing times of Kong Hee and Sun Ho.

No doubt, their ministry has seen thousands of lives transformed for the glory of God, with testimonies after testimonies of gratitude, love and de­­­­votion.

But there are also others, many of them, who are disillusioned, discouraged and lost. Since the legal saga in 2012, thousands have left the church and no one can tell for sure where they went – that is, have they gone to New Creation Church or other mainstream churches? Have they backslided? Have they become atheists? Have they converted to another religion? Or are they still bitter and angry from the experience? If Chew Eng Han is anything to go by, I guess the scoreboard and verdict are still out there?

After all is said and done, and in the light of eternity, there is only one thing that each believer can be sure about, and that is his/her accountability to God. And this is personal and intimately so. Each of us is accountable. We are accountable for our gift, our talent, our words, our actions, our thoughts, our plans, and our execution. Lay persons and church leaders alike are all accountable. And I believe no matter how (positionally) justified we are in Christ, the sanctifying works of the Spirit that endures in our lifetime till our last breath will make sure that we are ready to give an account of the things we have done or not done, said or not said. And this is not legalism mind you, it's about personal responsibility.

So, whether it was a God moment or not, a gain or loss, Teo can't escape the conclusion that her pastors stand before the searchlight of God to give an account of the gift, talent and funds entrusted to them under their charge and responsibility. Some may stand behind Kong Hee and Sun and say that they have nothing to hide, everything they have done is above board, and their conscience is clear.

But others may beg to defer, and still others would find the couple’s obstinate fight for their innocence wholly incredulous.

Nevertheless, I would end here with Kong Hee’s own words. He once preached that “we must have a balance (between grace and repentance).” He quoted Jude 3 and 4 and said to the effect that “one generation after the death (of Christ), the Gospel of grace was distorted into something terrible and immoral. Some may have diluted the grace of God to accommodate their lifestyle.”

I guess we are all guilty of taking God’s grace for granted, misinterpreting it to suit our lifestyle at any one point in our life. It is really a matter of degree here (on the abuse of grace) even for the sincerest of believers. That is why Kong Hee’s call for a balance between grace and repentance ministered to me. And regardless of the result of the appeal, I hope this needful balance similarly ministers to him too, that is, the need to reflect deeply on the tumultuous trial and verdict, and what Judge See had said about the leadership of City Harvest Church (especially Kong Hee’s “personal dominance and deep insecurity” and the mythical ring of Gyges). Cheerz.

Undressing Room & Naked Ladies.

It is done. Undressing Room and Naked Ladies are out. They will not be screened in next year's line up of M1 Fringe Festival.
IMDA asked for re-submission when the "performance lecture Naked Ladies by Thea Fitz-James and interactive piece Undressing Room by Ming Poon had excessive nudity. Both exceeded the M18 rating..."
The plot seems interesting enough, provocative even. Undressing Room calls for an audience member in a spontaneously interactive act to undress in private. "The idea is to relate to a stranger without the "protective skin" of clothing."
As for Naked Ladies, it is a monologue (I guess) where a lecturer shares about nudity "to address public perception of the female body." There is a part where artist Fitz-James (see below) "inserts her finger into her private parts."
Now, it is not called the Fringe Festival for nothing. It is about pushing the edge of our public perception and social/moral norms. It is about daring to go where no imagination has gone before from an artistic angle (however crass in some views) and then returning hopefully with an enlightened understanding of the forbidden fruits (taboos) of society.
The two shows have divided society between what many may call the "self-righteous" and another group where others may call the "sell righteous".
While the former needs no further explanation (that is, "a Facebook page - on Nov 22 - called Singaporeans Defending Marriage and Family compared these shows to "a solicitation for a public sex act"), the spirit of the latter (that is, "sell righteous") is surmised in the M1 organisers' own words: "IMDA's assessment of both performances was ironic as the works make deliberate attempts to distinguish nudity from sexualised connotations. They added that the works were not lewd, nor was there any artistic intent to titillate."
In fact, the M1 organisers said that the works advocated "body positive messages as well as a sense of personal candour and community trust. Ultimately, the licensing process - along with the online furore surrounding these works - deems that society at present is not ready for these - cutting edge, intelligent works."
How's that for so-called "selling righteousness" in the name of artistic expression and education? Is IMDA then being hypocritical, cutting safe (instead of "cutting edge"), and apparently unintelligent or unintelligible to the artistic community?
Lesson? Honestly, since the two shows are cut from the festival next year, we will not know how "body positive" the message will be or in what ways the show aims to "distinguish nudity from sexualized connotations." Neither will we know whether it is anything but lewd, and that it was never the shows' artistic intent to titillate.
Alas, is our society (the adult - above 18 - section, that is) not mature and ready enough for such works where nudity, and what appears to be sexualized acts, are done in a professionally artistic and "non-titillating" manner?
I guess it all depends on how a society views sex. Some society endorses polygamy as offering children of such union with more parenting options. Others see adultery as pardonable if it is done on a business holiday - just don't do it in your own backyard. In yet other society, paying for sex is deemed culturally legit.
With such liberal (relativistic) mindset, we no longer take anything that seriously when it cuts against the grain of what we think is right, endurable or workable. We don't take the marriage vows seriously if monogamy turns out to be monotony. We don't take moral values seriously if it is too restrictive or if it doesn't move with changing times. And we don't take exclusive sex in the context of a lifetime marital commitment seriously if not having sex on the second date is considered as not expressing true love to the other.
The truth is, there is a shy hypocrite in even the most conservative amongst us. But the issue is not so much that we are all hypocrite in one way or another. The real issue here is, what are we as a cultural collective moving towards?
Is there a IMDA inside us that censures us from doing some things we will not want our kids to be doing? What values do we want to pass down to our children and our children's children?
In other words, in the name of love, artistic freedom and creativity, will we smash all boundaries just so that we may enlighten or educate, or will we preserve/protect some which are worth preserving, because they are what we want our children to respect and protect?
Put it in another way, is there other more enduring and meaningful ways of teaching body positive messages (though less artistic maybe) without us being exposed to values that we do not want our kids to be influenced by, and in the end, risk ourselves from being influenced by it?
So many questions....has anyone an answer(s)? Cheerz

Sunday, 4 December 2016

What does a pastor pray about?

I always wonder, what does a pastor pray about? What does he confess or admit to when he’s on his knees? What captures his heart?

Here I can expect the usual proclamations of faith, hope and love. I can expect the "Hallelujah!" and the "Thank you Lord!". I can also expect him to end every prayer with promises of victory, overcoming and the eternal hope.

But given all that, what other things would the pastor say to God? What other convictions would he share in the privacy of his own space?

Now, I am aware of the raw reality of pastoral ministry. I know that a pastor deals with people and with it comes people issues. These issues concern the matters of the heart and the human heart is above all deceitful and filled with hatred, envy, lust, greed, pain and sorrow. Mind you, the suffering of the people - their disappointment and disillusionment - is just as real as the love, peace and joy of the faith. When faith meets suffering, the gap in understanding often time overwhelms the pastoral heart.

So, what would a pastor tell God about his struggles when confronting with that which he does not understand? Will he be candid with his Savior, even argumentative? Will he let it out in protest? Will he allow his feelings, even honest and untempered ones, to be ventilated in full?

If the pastor would to put aside the proclamation that everything will eventually work out in the end, that oft-cited Romans 8:28 verse, what is his deep heart cry to the Lord concerning the unbridgeable chasm between human pain and human understanding? Will he admit to God that the mystery of evil and suffering is more than he can bear? Will he be open to having faith in a loving God, all knowing and all powerful, and at the same time, having doubts provoked by the inexplicable gratuitous suffering in this world that happens unceasing, unheeded, and unmitigated?

In other words, what would his lamentations be? Will he cry out to God to be more proactive, more involved? Or will he blame himself for being the one who stands in the way, for not believing enough?

If so, how would he then approach the subject of unanswered prayers? How would he deal with the issue of the seemingly capriciousness (or arbitrariness) of God in answering prayers with one healed instantly, another delayed, others forestalled with different outcome altogether, and still others bypassed and forgotten?

How does a pastor deal with uncharacteristic faithlessness in prayer? What emotions would a pastor attach to the vexing conundrums of faith? Or instead, will he - in the middle of their confession - rebuke, purge and cast that wimpy, spineless spirit of doubt into the darkest abyss of purgatory? Will a pastor treat doubt with a pair of toxic gloves?

And what would he tell God about the advancement of science that is attempting quite arrogantly to explain his Creator away and luring our millennial generation towards the slippery slope of humanism, atheism and agnosticism? Will he cry out for immediate divine intervention – something akin to the worldwide Noah-like floodgates of miracles - that would stun all into awe, repentance and redemption? Will such a plea be answered anyway?

What then should a pastor do with a postmodern world so convinced about their knowledge that God is a figment of one’s imagination, and driven into thinking that all beliefs are relativistic, that is, what works for you may not work for me – so stop imposing your belief on ours? And in a world where homosexual and heterosexual couples are walking down the aisle towards a sacred marital union under the legally-endorsed reason of equality, adult consent and love, what is a pastor to do and say in his daily prayers to God?

Or should the pastor be grateful to God for all the blessings that he, his family and his church have received, and make passing mention of the unmentionables that are happening outside of his church, with the closing prayer dedicated to the familiar assurances about persisting in the faith, casting our hope always on the second coming, and overcoming it all with patience, charity and thanksgiving?  

Alas, I guess I will never know what the confession, lamentations and petitions of a pastor are since they are all done in private. I may even be too presumptuous to write what I have written here. God knows a pastor’s heart is already burdened enough with the daily cares and administration of the ministry.

But whatever they are, I trust the pastor is discerning enough to deal with some of the issues I have raised here as I can't imagine him sidestepping them in his prayers on the belief that all things will just work themselves out eventually according to His sovereign plan.   
There is no doubt empowering truth in Romans 8:28, but at times, I believe the flock are not looking for answers in their most pressing hour of need. They are not looking for 5 steps to faith-building or 10 steps to salvational assurances. Neither are they looking for a magical eradicator to remove all doubts. Absolute certainty is reserved for omniscience for it is said that “he can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other.” (Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick).

And by extension, are we then in self-delusion or timorous of our true feeling when we insist that the glass on this side of heaven is already full, and we thus see all things with untainted clarity? For this reason, and this reason alone, it scares me to the innermost when a megachurch pastor stands before the crowd to tell them with absolute certainty that God only has one plan for them, and that is, to see to their own prosperity, materially and unconditionally.

Alas, the reality is, many of the mystery of faith has no answers and the attempts to burnish faith with pre-canned answers only deepen the desperation when one is searching for the inscrutable truth.

Here, I recall what the Trappist monk Thomas Merton once said, “faith is a decision, a judgment that is fully and deliberately taken in the light of a truth that cannot be proven – it is not merely the acceptance of a decision that has been made by somebody else.”

And in the face of our own imminent mortality, or when confronting a silent God, we as sheep on the narrow path may just be looking for a hint of the broken humanity that our shepherds may share with us as we journey in our search for an interim sense of enduring comfort to fill the void of understanding within before the perfect comes. Cheerz.

* image taken from "pexels."