Sunday, 15 November 2015

I learn more from DJ See's oral judgment than Kong Hee's sermon.

I learn more about God and the Bible reading DJ See’s oral judgment (particularly, his conclusions) than listening to a sermon at a mega-church service. In April this year, I attended CHC (because my son’s classmate invited him and I thought it was wiser for me to follow him) and Kong Hee was preaching about taking pleasure in God. His sermon was entitled “ENJOY”. It was an acronym for Engage, Nurture, Jesus, Others and Yourself. 
Kong Hee, in suit and tie (without his trademark up-sized Starbucks coffee), was definitely charismatic, larger than life, and the atmosphere was electrifying, almost heavenly. They even had a peculiar fragrance all around that I carried a snitch of it with me until today. It had a deeply calming olfactory and nostalgic effect. Needlessly to say, the band did not miss a beat, the singers were impeccable, and the service went along with clockwork precision – as smooth as silk.
Then, I recently read DJ See’s oral judgment online. Nothing visual at least. It was all in black and white print. I was crammed up in my living room sofa in the early hours of dawn and was enjoying an over-ripe, oxygenated banana. I was surrounded by the smell of the most ordinary home environment and there was no accompanying music to gently usher in the morning read. No calming or nostalgic effect at all. In fact, the only effect I experienced was my incessant sneezing after coming out of an air-conditioned room for the whole night.
And just as an aside, I have appeared before DJ See on a few occasions, and he is no Kong Hee. He is nerdy, bespectacled, and looks at you as if he is examining an exhibit. But I can’t deny that he is one of the most pleasant judges in the courts today. He has no airs, is exceedingly patient, and his trademark smile, that sometimes looks more pained to me than disarming, makes every hearing before him goes as smooth as silk.
Yet, the difference between them, Kong Hee and DJ See, goes far deeper than appearances or stage presence. His oral judgment taught me more about being a Christian than Kong Hee’s sermon will ever do because words alone should never be the sole measure of a leader. His subsequent fruits must invariably follow thereafter. Ultimately, he becomes what he sows. And reading DJ See's oral judgment in the discomfort of my worn-out sofa and holding a blemished banana in one hand, I learned the following five lessons (and I’ll start each lesson with an extract from the oral judgment):- 
1) “The allure of power that can be exercised in secrecy is difficult to resist. When shrouded under a cloak of invisibility, much like the mythical ring of Gyges, persons in such positions of power have no fear of accountability and tend to become their own worst enemies.” (DJ See)
Every leader would do well to bear this in mind. While power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, true power is having the character to deny and resist that power. Sadly Kong Hee succumbed to it. He believed in his own invisibility and invulnerability. He is a fount of authority unto himself in his church. He is the head of his organization. He is held captive, even to a point of obsession, to a vision that is at the very least questionable. He does his own filtering and what gets passed is none other than the sheer will of man (and not of God). The Crossover project – with all its incredulous obscenity projected and liberties taken in the name of purity - exemplifies what men can do when they have decided to follow…their own ambition and unchecked appetites.
2) “But this may have also been the inevitable consequence of CHC’s election to carry out its affairs and operations relating to the funding of the Crossover in a discreet fashion. This was merely a euphemism for a culture of insecurity mired in secrecy and opaqueness where asking difficult or awkward questions was taboo.” (DJ See)
This is prevalent in all good organizations; churches or otherwise. What is often discreet is often about turning a blind eye to what is blatantly indiscreet. The culture of insecurity and fear is what keeps the sacred hierarchy in check only (and no balance). This is the insidious stranglehold of holy groupthink. Everyone is required to submit to authority. No one dares to ask difficult or awkward questions lest he or she is ostracized. It is a perverse inversion of “giving to God and giving to Caesar,” where the right order is subverted to taking from God so as to give to Caesar instead. And Caesar here refers to whoever is at the top of the Babelian pyramid of power.
3) “Where professional advice was sought, this was really mainly an attempt to seek out self-supporting confirmatory advice based on selectively-disclosed information. They omitted mention of the crucial fact that CHC remained in control of Xtron and would correspondingly control the use of the funds. They provided leading questions for belief confirmation and support from only those advisors whom they trusted to support the Crossover vision and were quick to reject or filter out any disconfirming information.” (DJ See)
This is where the culture of insecurity and fear reaches Leviathan proportions. When all information is filtered through a self-deluded confirmatory lens, and all sound, inconvenient and balanced oppositions are selectively rooted out, the leadership has full and absolute control of what they want to hear to perpetuate the subterfuge and not what they need to hear to do what is timelessly right. The danger here is that like the Titanic, no one wants to believe that they are heading for the iceberg until it is too late to steer a safe course away.
4) “…they convinced themselves that it was both morally and legally permissible to temporarily use the money from CHC’s funds when they knew it was not.” (DJ See)
I always thought that self-deception is oxymoronic. For how can you deceived yourself and not know? How can the one who creates the lie be the same person who takes the bait? Surely, he must know that what he takes as truth is nothing but a lie all along. Imagine talking yourself into buying a heater in the blistering equatorial city that is Singapore instead of an air-conditioner and then defending that purchase as if it was the best decision you’ve ever made! I guess there is no apparent contradiction if one applies morally questionable “means” (Crossover Project) to achieve a theologically defensible “end” (Great Commission) and then seeks refuge and justification in that end but remains blissfully oblivious to the corrupting influences of the means. It is a body-contorting mind game no doubt. But one that becomes second nature over time. It runs in largely the same logic as vices always pay homage to virtues, or in this case, hypocrisy always pay homage to authenticity. And the sad reality is this, I have never met a conscious hypocrite. Have you?
5) “It has thus been wisely said that the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light, and if they choose not to come into the light they do so for fear that their deeds will be exposed, as they surely will in time.” (DJ See)
There is always the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. But it takes many straws to do it. And each successive straw gets away with it until the last straw is innocuously added. That is where the camel succumbs and collapses. It is similar to a Ponzi-like pyramid scheme where the top gets away with it unscathed and those down the chain get burnt with great losses. 
When the leadership fails, the whole church suffers in the same way that when the head of the fish rots, the whole body follows. I believe that in the context of a Church, DJ See’s words can’t be anymore bitterly ironic. If Christians are called to be the light of the World, then the Crossover project is all about using darkness as a cover to pursue the light of truth. This is just about as effective as trying to drown a fish in water or engaging in shadow boxing and expecting a knockout. Stripped of all its celebrity’s stage-lights, the Crossover project is nothing more than the gospel of Success without making the Gospel a success. And the last straw in this case has always been that crossing-over moment when the leaders start to believe that they can do anything in God’s name and get away with it.
Let me end with this extract from DJ See’s oral judgment: “The accused persons chose to support the Crossover vision and to act and participate in acts in support of it. The Crossover became a comprehensive logic for justifying their beliefs and actions, and for doing whatever was expedient for its advancement. The pervasive mindset seemed to be one of short-term expediency; the use of means involving dubious methods was worth the risk to them if there was some hope of longer-term gain.” Cheerz.


Now, don't get me wrong. It was nevertheless a good sermon delivered by Kong Hee that day. It was sound as preached - even undeniably encouraging. But my point here goes beyond just presenting the gospel to the masses with cherries on top and bow-tie to boot. It is more about living it up in earnest. It's about the brokenness of humanity, not the greatness of their exploits. It's about our heart being broken by the things that break the heart of God. And not a heart that is resistant to all earnest attempts to break it simply because one refuses to admit - with a contrite heart - what he sees reflected back at him when he looks into the St. James' mirror (James 1:23-24). 

To me, the greatest tragedy of man is not to look into the mirror and see the face of a monster staring back at him. That ugliness is universal. No one in words, speech and presentation can ever correct that. However, the greatest tragedy is to look into the same mirror - confronting the same hideousness - and then turns away and forgets about it completely. Or worse, to pretend that all's well and swell. 

I guess the greatest challenge to our leaders today is not so much about sprucing up our public image before the masses. That's quite second nature to some leaders and some are surfing high on that image. The greatest challenge however is to confront one's private image, the hidden desires, the lust for fame and wealth, the envy and discontentment, and all the unmentionables, and then to look to Calvary - where the greatest travesty and hideousness were portrayed - for our source of brokenness, hope, direction and strength. I see no deeper and more enduring transformation for a man than a self-confrontation at Calvary rather than a self-projection before a crowd of adoring fans.


  1. Thanks for removing the spiritual fog out of something blatantly clear. Unfortunately, the world has greater common sense than we who supposedly possess spiritual wisdom. I guess, power is blinding. Absolute power blinds absolutely. Keep writing bro

  2. Amen! no fancy words just ,amen

  3. Thanks from the heart, Michael and Jessica. Humbled always. Cheerz.

  4. Invincibility, not invisibility

    1. No, the judge meant invisibility as in opaqueness and lack of light.

      “The allure of power that can be exercised in secrecy is difficult to resist. When shrouded under a cloak of invisibility, much like the mythical ring of Gyges, persons in such positions of power have no fear of accountability and tend to become their own worst enemies,” he wrote.

      The ring of Gyges is a mythical artefact that grants its owner the power to become invisible at will, mentioned in Greek philosopher Plato’s The Republic.

      Judge See wrote: “It has thus been wisely said that the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light, and if they choose not to come into the light they do so for fear that their deeds will be exposed, as they surely will in time.”

  5. very concisely put! hoping your analysis and comment will help some confused and hurt members of CHC as well as members of the Christian community who are in the habit of thinking that the end justifies the means....
    Keep writing for Jesus' glory!

  6. Thanks you! Very well written. I see the mirror in myself here.