Thursday, 29 October 2015

Let he who's without sin cast the first stone.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, so said the master. I kept mine. I had a few rocks that I wanted to cast. But I held back. I didn't want to be the first. Neither the last. I didn't want to make a scene. I was drowned out by the crowd and I saw many clenched fists.
Everyone was at first eager to cast their stone. But they too held back. Like me, I guess the ugliness they saw before them was the same ugliness, if not more so, in them. Their rage was disrupted. They hesitated. They pondered. And then, one of them left.
Everyone could see him leaving. Everyone knew him. He was the oldest among them. Their clenched fists loosened its grip. Their countenance fell. They began to waver. The old man must have seen it all. He must have caught something reflected back at him. He had lived long enough to know what it was. His experience was his indictment. His old friends of the past were returning, unbidden.
He felt that familiar anger consuming him before. He felt that craving for attention he thought he'd recently denounced. Most of all, just when he thought his action was justified, defensible, even authentic, he felt that sharp prick of hypocrisy and pride from the side.
He knew the sins intimately. They were sneering at him from where the woman knelt. He knew he was on trial instead. A trial where his heart stood accused. The searchlight was on him. The judge’s gavel was for him. He came to his senses. The stone fell from his hands, unknowing. He turned around and walked away, ashamed. Then, another left.
He was the next oldest member of the crowd. He knew the old man. He was a good friend. I guess he felt what the old man felt too. It was a deja va moment for him. He had seen it all played out before. Like the old man who'd left, he stood arraigned in a trial of his own. The role-reversal couldn't be more ironic as his accusers held the stones in their own hands. He even felt one or two hits as he bled from his temple. He begged for forgiveness before the crowd. He too relented and left, trailing behind the old man.
One by one, they left. The disquiet became quiet. The clamor dampened. The  vindictive spirit deflated. The men, the women, even the young ones, gave up their stones. They all knew self-righteous when they saw it.
Then, as the crowd thinned, I too caught myself in the accused. As she knelt there, partially hidden from sight by the master, I stood still, contemplating and broken. My grip also loosened. I have lost the heart to stone.
But strangely, I noticed that not all of them threw their stones away - especially not the oldest. Most of them kept one or two stones. Some even more. I then picked up some of my stones and gave chase. I ran up to the oldest and asked why he had kept them, the stones that is. He replied that they for him serve two purposes. One was to remind him of his own flaws. And a pause ensued. The old man took out a stone from his side and I noticed it had traces of dried blood on it.
He then stared at the stone and told me about the second purpose: "I train and discipline others better when I am being reminded." With that, the old man left.
I then returned to the place where the accused was and realized that the crowd had all departed. Before I too walked away, this was what I overheard.

Master: Stand up and look around you woman, where are your accusers? They condemn you no more. Neither do I. Go now and leave your life of sin.

Accused: (puzzled) But master, what sin have I committed?

Master: ....


Sunday, 25 October 2015

Kong Hee's apology.

Kong Hee did it. He finally said sorry. He stood before thousands yesterday and said: "Pastor is sorry." He then bowed deep and long in all three directions. He apologized for the "pain and turmoil" members of the church had to endure. He then said that "the church's future is secure, because of you and the new leadership (led by his wife) that has been put in place."

He added: "Out of the ashes, we will rise." For his apology, thousands gave him a standing ovation which lasted for quite some time.

Lesson? I really don't know. Do you? His apology cannot be faulted for sincerity. He is really sorry. You can hear it in his voice, see it in his eyes, and feel it in his long, full bow; thrice mind you and in all directions. I am not here to judge his heart. I am struggling with mine. We are all flawed.

But Kong Hee must have felt really bad about how the past 5 years of investigation and trial have taken its toll - emotionally and spiritually - on his members. It is clearly distilled remorse for what has happened and how the good name of Christianity got entangled in the prosecutorial dragnet.

Still, having said all that, how does one perform a post-mortem on Kong Hee's apology on stage? Should one read too much into it? Or maybe it is reading too little into it that's the issue. You see, I can take it at face-value and consider it a done deal. The man has admitted "wrong" full stop. And I can then be sold - heart and soul - to it (with a standing ovation) and let dead dogs lie. Or I can reflect a little more, deeper that is, maybe dissect it without splitting hair in the hope of unraveling what that apology comprises of and what it seeks to achieve.

If I am tasked to do an "autopsy" on his apology, I will start with these three questions:-

1) Did it go directly into the heart of the matter? This is difficult to say. I believe that an apology has to deal with the issue. The issue here is not wrongful gain but wrongful loss (to the church). The millions misappropriated has opportunity costs and for years it got funneled dubiously into a musical merry-go-round that bore rotten fruits. The church could have done better with the money (even if the same had been returned with interests). The notional loss with the aid of the corporate cover-ups, fabrication, and at best, leadership slipshod-ness, are the real issues and I don't think the three deep bows addressed them or at all. I stand corrected though.

2) Did it go directly to the change of heart? Again, I am not too sure. Was Kong Hee and his leaders truly remorseful? If asked, "Have you done anything wrong personally apart from putting members through pain and turmoil all these years?", I wonder what would be his earnest reply?
 Would it be a qualified sorry? Would it be an apology with caveats, conditions and contradictions? I believe the reply to that question - however couched - would determine whether it goes directly to the change of heart. It would determine whether the road to repentance is set afoot or the road of denial is set aloft.

And finally...

3) Did it go directly into the heart for change? One need not go any further if point 2 above is a flat "no". For how can there be a heart for change if there isn't a corresponding change of heart? Here I am befuddled. I am befuddled by the ordination of Sun Ho as the leading pastor of CHC 2.0. Is Kong Hee trying to keep it all within the family? Is appointing his wife a step forward towards real, deep and enduring change, or a step back? 

Now, I am not saying that Sun Ho will be an ineffective leader - but is she (being the one who is somehow embroiled in it all) suitable for the appointment? Where will she lead the church in respect of the Crossover Project? More worldly immersion? More secular music and suggestive dancing with the aim of worldwide evangelism? Will her worldly gyration bring about a godly conversion or a confusing suspicion? Is it even remotely effective since the world now knows about their agenda and would be weary about their motive? Will the sold-out congregation give of their time, trust and money to allow Sun Ho to do basically more of the same but this time minus the sham bonds, sham companies and sham assurances?

Or, by virtue of a road-to-Damascus experience, she might just surprise all the naysayers and critics by doing what Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus did not crossover to chat up and gossip about her improper associations and husbands. He stood firm. He told her in no uncertain term that he is the living water (not dark or worldly waters). Jesus did no song and dance about it. He didn't need to patronize her. He didn't need to join her to change her. Jesus just needed to present the love of God - unplugged - to her without the worldly glee, glam and glitz. Jesus used God's light to drive out darkness and not "darkness" to drive out darkness or to crossover into the world to bring the world out of the world.

Let's just hope that Sun Ho surprises us all then. If not, I am afraid that the only thing that will rise out of the ashes is more of the world and less of His light. Cheerz.

Prince's pronouncement of perfect health.

Pastor Prince has done it again, that is, brevity at the expense of clarity. Or over-simplicity at the expense of everyday reality. Here is his faith-mollycoddling social media sermonette.
"Pronounce Yourself Clean!
Matthew 8:3: "Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately his leprosy was cleansed...
Since the Bible is clear about God's willingness to heal, why do we still have problems with our health?
I believe that the answer is found in what Jesus told the leper to do next. He told him to go and show himself to the priest...And (the leper) was to hear the priest pronounce the word "clean" over him. (Leviticus 14:7)...
"But Pastor Prince, where can I find such priests?"
Who are the priests today? You and I. In fact, we have more authority to pronounce good things than the Levitical priests of the Old Testament. They were just priests. But we are king-priests by the blood of Jesus!
Beloved, God has cleansed you, so pronounce yourself clean! Right now, put your hand on your heart and pronounce good things over yourself. Say, "I pronounce myself clean, righteous, healed, whole and abundantly supplied by the blood of Jesus!" By your word as a king-priest, every assault against you shall be settled." The end.
Lesson? Oh dear God, what have I been missing all these decades being a believer? If all it takes is a sincere pronouncement by faith as king-priest, and all the assaults on my health shall be settled, just like that, what have I been missing Lord? Is the next pronouncement this, "You shall wait (and wait and wait) upon the Lord?"
At present, I can list at least three loved ones, and the most earnest believers I have come across, who are seriously ill, have gone under the knife, have been fighting valiantly in hope and perseverance in the faith, and have been prayed and pronounced over and over again (for the longest time) by themselves and others as "king-priests" would have it, yet the only so called healing they've received is the healing that comes with verbal consolation, encouragement and comfort. Not that they are not important, but I am sure no one would deny that they're not directly relevant right? Underscore "directly".
With all due respect to pastor Prince, does he really expect his pronouncement to be  unconditionally answered, without exceptions? Is that his understanding of this fallen world, the reality out there? Is it then fair (or appropriate) to throw it out onto social media indiscriminately without any clarification or qualification just so that the believing listeners would take that earnest bite and realize it was just not meant to be as per the pronouncement? Reality check or cherry-topping faith? Is this something like throwing a gospel grenade into the evangelism pond just to make a radical splash without considering its aftermath? 

(If the rejoinder here is to take it easy (lah), it's just an online encouragement (on the go). Then, the following questions come unbidden: Is it necessary? Does one truly understand his audience? Does one care? Is one being disingenuous (insincere)? What is one's true intention? Does it send the wrong message? Will it risk misinterpretation (for those who are in desperate need for hope)? Does it give false hope then? Is this God's "one-size-fits-all" will to and for everybody and everyone, regardless? (I can actually go on and on)
Honestly, does this even come close to the biting reality we are witnessing in our own lives, the immediate circumstances around us, and the global condition in this world? If all it takes is a pronouncement, then I guess all forms and methods of institutionalized healing would be made completely redundant, superfluous. Doctors can start folding their medical degrees into paper planes for high-rise aerial flight. And Christian pharmaceutical companies can just wind up their businesses and start pronouncing over their customers (and possibly charge them for it).
Here I am compelled to ask this: Is Pastor Prince for real? Does he really believe in the universality of his pronouncement? Is he trying to make a biblical splash while avoiding the reality bash? Is one the rosiest when he is furthest from the problem?
Of course, it is clear that Pastor Prince is not against modern doctors and medicine. No right-minded preacher today would rile against the established medical profession and their dedication. But what is not clear from the above message is whether his king-priest’s pronouncement takes precedence over modern doctors and medicine, or it complements (that is, runs parallel with) it. If it were the former (takes precedence), then it is not only reductive and simplistic but misleading. If it were the latter (complementary), then it confuses causes and effects, and it muddles correlation with causation, mistakes natural healing for miracles (which by the Catholic standard, ought to be "immediate", "complete" and "permanent" following prayer - examples? Jesus' ministry is a good start).  It is akin to shooting the arrow first and then drawing the bull’s eye around it later. In other words, the credit of any hit goes to the pronouncement and the blame for misses conveniently goes to the other human failings, including modern medical intervention.
You see, even if pastor Prince had the best of intention in posting that short message above, he should nevertheless have the sensitivity (if not sensibility) to appreciate the vulnerability of his listeners, the proper context and specific application concerning "king-priest" (assuming it was biblical), and the obvious oversimplification of its message. And with such sensitivity (or sensibility) naturally comes mature restraint and deeper consideration.
No doubt I believe that God is a mountain-moving God. But at times, it is not inconceivable that God doesn't want to cast the mountain into the sea (or to cast every mountain we face into the sea just because we ask - or pronounce over it). On the contrary, He plans for us to scale the mountain with Him together because what awaits us at the top after all the trust, faith and travailing is a perspective that is so transforming it would make every effort, tears and sweat worth its weigh in gold. Then and only then, will all pronouncements (of strength in times of weakness) be transformed into a resounding declaration of true, enduring and life-affirming victory! 
In the end, I guess without hope, we will all languish, before perishing. The reality is that faith, love and hope have proven time and time again to be the best survival and thriving posture we can take as against dread, disillusionment and discouragement.
While I stay positive and hope for the best in all circumstances, I am not going to take in everything said or preached over the pulpit (or online) hook, line and sinker. I am anchored on the Rock of Ages who has overcome and has assured me I will overcome too. He is my trampled Rose of Sharon who releases the fragrance of sacrificial love and resilient hope, and not the bed of roses I laze upon seeking only to be pacified, pleased and pampered. 

I know such message will never win the ears of the crowd, but I hope it will bypass that and minister deeply in their hearts, which is infinitely more enduring and meaningful. God knows the last thing I want to do is to swallow the words of man wholesale just because I really want it to be true. Because it's never about me, but it's about the voice of my Shepherd, the unmistakable Lover of my soul. Cheerz.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Pastor Kong Hee & Professor Michael Sandel

Today's straits times talks about two personalities. One is Kong Hee and the other is Michael Sandel. One is a pastor and the other is a philosophy professor. Both are deemed by society to be the custodian/exemplar of ethics, integrity and honesty. One is a church leader and the other started a very popular course entitled Justice at Harvard. However, their fate could not have been more different from their ennobled titles. Kong Hee was recently convicted for misappropriation. Professor Sandel is celebrated for his Justice series.

After a 140-day trial, Kong Hee was described by the Judge as "having a tendency to embellish or exaggerate." It reports: "Kong Hee maintains that he is a pastor and not an expert in legality. Judge See (then) said one did not have to be such an expert (in legal matters) to appreciate certain fundamental aspects of honesty, truth and integrity."

Lesson? Three, and it has nothing to do with Kong Hee. God knows that he is being dealt with by God himself in His own way as Kong Hee posted: "I have put my faith and my all in God, and trust that whatever the outcome, He will use it for good in His time and in His way." The lesson here is about the Church.

1) Professor Sandel commented, "When societies are desperately poor, there's a tendency to think that material well-being leads to human flourishing and the good life, but achieving true happiness requires that we pay attention to values that go beyond GDP."

Applying this to the Church, I believe that it is not about the money, or more relevantly, numbers. The church has to go beyond that. The problem here is that many equate growth with numbers. Aggressive evangelism is a Trojan-horse for bigger budget, bigger worship halls, and bigger attendances. These problems usually creep up unknowingly.

An oblique example here would be when Peter cast his net and the catch was so big it broke it. I know the lesson there was not about the size of the catch but what God can do through us. Yet, growth in numbers would still matter when the church becomes intractable, when the church administration takes precedence over members' lives, when the focus becomes obsessive, when the money comes with temptation, when church goal outpaces the maturity and responsibility needed to manage it, and when pastoral ambition - left unchecked - strays into questionable territory.

I recall an account about a foreigner who was out on a long journey with a village chief. He was eager to get to the destination and he naturally outpaced the chief. After a while, he looked back and saw the chief resting at one spot - not moving. He then walked over and asked him what'd happened. The chief replied, "I am waiting for my soul to catch up." Is the soul of the church lagging behind its growth in numbers?

2) Professor Sandel also said, "One of the great weaknesses of societies that are affluent, but lack social cohesion, is that we tend to identify ourselves increasingly as consumers and we forget the importance of other aspects of our identities, as parents, as members of our community."

I can see a parallel here with churches. This is where some churches, whether by subtle design or otherwise, immerse herself in man-centered pragmatism. One pastor Steven Lawson puts it this way, "In a radical paradigm shift, exposition is being replaced with entertainment, preaching with performance, doctrine with drama, and theology with theatrics."

We have thus become a multisensory church, harkening to and craving for many sensations and voices in the vain hope of filling our estranged hearts, instead of the one voice that our broken spirit cries out for, that is, the voice of the Shepherd.


3) Lastly, Professor Sandel concluded: "What I'm trying to do in my own way - and I don't want to exaggerate what a single writer or teacher can do - is invite people to reason together about what a good society looks like, what a good human life consists of."

Mm...I too wonder what a good church looks like? Let's face it, everyone wants his church to stand out. Kong Hee once said that he doesn't want CHC to be just another neighborhood church.

Of course, this post cannot possibly cram in everything I want to say, but I guess our contemporary churches run the risk of becoming what pastor Eugene Peterson calls "a company of shopkeepers."

This is how the master-writer puts it: "...the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper's concerns - how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money. Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sum of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it's still shopkeeping; religious shopkeeping to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same."

Sadly, some pastors have become businessmen, therapists, coaches, fun-loving, trendsetters, suit-and-tie, hip-and-hot, event organizers, yoga-like trainers and stage performers to their congregation - anything but a servant on his knees with a basin and a towel.

I will let pastor Peterson bring this post home with this quote: "The biblical fact is there is no successful churches (neither professional ones). There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week...all over the world...In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor's responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility to his community that he has abandoned in spades." Cheerz.