Sunday, 29 October 2017

Upon this Rock.

When Jesus told Peter that “upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it,” Jesus could not have made it any clearer about who is to be the Chief Architect of the Church. Let me break down the mandate into smaller bites here.

He started with “I will build My Church.” To avoid any doubts, the “I” here refers to Jesus and the “My” here refers to His Church. Christ is the head of the Church and her guiding light. Jesus therefore leads the way. He calls the shot – so to speak. He makes things happen in His time and in His way.

It’s His Church and He will build it. It is an ongoing process. It is not built in one day.

But make no mistakes, the church is made up of human believers who are fallible creatures of doubts, fear, greed, insecurity, and at the same time, it is also made up of transforming vessels demonstrating enduring faith, hope, sacrifice, courage and love.

As such, there is no perfect Church, because Jesus will complete it all one day. The perfect has yet to come. 

Needless to say, there is no ultimate Church, as one ex-City Harvest leader was led to believe about his own church, because Jesus is not embodied in a building. Neither is He contained in one location, one address, one Christmas program, one Easter service, one leadership structure, one evangelistic outreach, one dynamic praise and worship service nor one internationally adored Christian music band. 

On this, you can thank God that Jesus wasn’t referring to Peter as the human rock upon which His Church was to be built – though Peter’s name meant “rock” in ordinary parlance.

Jesus was not looking for a man or woman as the foundational stone for the Church. He knew better. The Rock was “Petra” – a feminine form for rock, and not a human name – and Jesus was bearing the Church on his back as her firm foundation, and not on men’s back as its main attraction.

It was the same burden he placed on Himself when he bore the Cross and carried it on his bruised and bloodied back on the road of grief.

As such, if the church can be reduced to one objective metanarrative, it would this: We are called to count the cost, carry the cross, die to self and rise with Him in victory.

Some preachers will downplay the Cross and cost part, undermine the death-to-self part, and frontload - with cherry and prosperity toppings - the part about rising with Him in victory. I call it the distortion-for-maximum-attraction gospel.

Here I recall the saying that God comforts the afflicted (with the hope of glory) and afflicts the comfortable (with counting the cost).

So, beware of any gospel that does the reverse, that is, one that comforts the comfortable (with the promises of prosperity as a mark of divine approval), and afflicts the afflicted (by emptying pockets to enrich the few in church who are shamelessly living in relative opulence).

Alas, at the last supper, Jesus reminded us that there will be trouble in this world but take heart, he has overcome it. He didn’t tell us to forget about the trouble, brush them aside, and just rush headlong to the part about having already overcome it all. Like a well-brewed cappuccino, all that foam latte art floating on top is not gold - it is not what makes the coffee, or its taste.

No doubt we are called to appropriate His victory, His righteousness, and His blessing at Calvary, but we are also called to do so by confronting life, the temptations and challenges, the good and the bad, the pain and suffering and all, and not deny, avoid and pretend they don’t matter, or don’t exist as we reside in the bubbled world of our faith.

Mind you, Jesus carried the Cross to the end – fulfilling all His promises in uncompromising obedience. Should we then leave ours behind to keep our journey light, pleasant and perpetually happy?

Here is a quote from journalist Malcolm Muggeridge about the power of the Cross and not the way it is understood today in some prosperity quarters:-

“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seven-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, where pursued or attained. In other words, if it ever were to be possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo jumbo as Aldous Huxley envisaged in Brave New World, the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable. This, of course, is what the Cross signifies. And it is the Cross, more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ.”

Like it or not, Muggeridge is preaching a very unpopular gospel in this day and age. It is a gospel of redemptive suffering, of travailing, and of unshakeable growth via trials and tribulations.

Some churches have kept themselves away from such unpopular messages. It is too negative to start with. It is too jarring to the faith. It just doesn’t gel with the spirit of the time, or the revised and improved message of Calvary under the banner of an ever-generous God who is quick (even loose) to dispense with success, riches and a long life if we only exercise enough faith to ask for it. In other words, it is road towards personal enrichment masquerading as personal redemption. It reminded me of the Roman guards busy biding for Jesus' robe as he hanged above them struggling in agony.

The reality is that some churches have undergone an image makeover. It is faithfully keeping up with the times with a form of reflexive religiosity. And instead of being ministers of salvation, they have become engineers of attention.

They have therefore turned the personal salvation experience into a cinematic, multisensory experience just so as to cater to the consumerist appetites of the congregation. It is fast becoming a religion of emotions rather than a religion of quiet devotion and penetrating discernment where the believer is empowered with the moral courage to stand for what is right, regardless of how unpopular it can be, and to always oppose what is wrong, or accessibly convenient.

One author aptly describes the religion of emotions in this observation during an altar call service:-

“Those who had sought the Redeemer did not appear to be very redeemed. There were some sincere converts, yes, but the vast majority of those who came down front were not changed at all. Most did not continue attending church. They wanted the sensation. They wanted to feel powerful feelings. They wanted – gasp – a kind of entertainment that (the preacher) provided. They wanted the stories that carried powerful feelings, the sensations of rapture.” (James B. Twitchell – “Shopping for God”).

And the celebrity pastors are giving what their congregations are asking for.  They are pandering to their needs. They are attracting the masses with a cherry-picking, Calvary-lite gospel to please everyone, or as many as it is possible. It's the number game that seems to count now.

If the bait hides the hook, then the bait here is a faith that promises the believer everything good and the hook here is the deluded belief that Jesus had paid the price and carried the Cross, so He has done all the heavy lifting for us. As such, a lifetime of sanctification is thus forever subsumed into that moment when we utter the sinner’s prayer - the rest is a pampered, feel-good, unreflected Christian life.

Let me end with these sobering words by Pastor Eugene Peterson that every pastor (not just in America) should pay heed to. Here is the full extract.

“American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationery and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have done for most of twenty centuries…

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns – how to keep their 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. The marketing strategies of the fast-food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepreneurs…

The biblical fact is there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. 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 his responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.” (“Working the Angles – The Shape of Pastoral Ministry”)     
Alas, if the church were abandoned to men to run it, they would subject the gospel to the success of the church. But if the church were surrendered to Jesus as her cornerstone, the success of the church would be subjected to the gospel. 

And the enduring difference here is that the things of this world, all its riches, glory and fame, will grow strangely dim hidden by the shadow that the eternity of Calvary casts upon it.   Cheerz.

* image from ""

Sunday, 22 October 2017

The flawed leadership of CHC 2.0.

When Sun Ho was ordained as the leader of CHC 2.0 in the end of 2015, right after the sentence of the six accused persons, I shook my head in disbelief. I still do. There and then, I whispered to myself this: Has the church learnt her lesson?

If the Crossover was the brainchild of Sun Ho, and was also the main cause for the fall of the church leadership, then isn’t ordaining her directly endorsing the theological legitimacy of the Crossover?

But what is the theological legitimacy of the Crossover then? Does the church still believe that it has any redeeming quality after the debacle? Is it really God who asked Sun Ho and her husband to pursue this unusual evangelization project, which later turned into a win-at-all-cost gambit, or is it merely a cover to develop one’s beloved music career with evangelism as a tag-along goal to lend it some sheen of legitimacy?

For we know that if you tell the church that you have God as your divine patronage for your personal dream, the funds will flood in like a tsunamis of unchecked generosity. (As an aside, the problem with the Crossover is not the evangelism aspect of it, but the convergence and concentration of all effort and funds on an individual that derailed it completely)

In a recent Court of Appeal case, namely, Chew Eng Han v.PP (2017), Andrew Phang JA delivered the judgment with a good summary of the history of this Crossover obsession. The first thirteen pages spell it all out and it gets more desperate as the deception burns deeper.

The start was innocent enough. The culprit was a whistle-blower named Roland Poon. He would not keep quiet about the misuse of the church building funds spent on buying up Sun Ho’s albums.

So, the CHC board was quick to react by issuing a written response to Roland Poon in The Straits Times, stating that “the church funds had not been used to purchase Sun Ho’s albums or to promote her career.” This was clearly not true.

To confound matters, the version that the executive members were told was that the funds came from the wealthy family of a church member, Mr Wahju Hanafi.

After the Roland Poon incident, CHC leadership knew that they had to be discreet with their Crossover financing. They didn't want any hiccup to derail the plan. 

This was where the sham companies came into being. They were sham for three reasons.

First, the main goal was to get the Building Funds ("BF") out of the church without raising any Roland-Poon type of suspicion. Second, the only way to do so was to set up these companies like Xtron Productions to receive the BF via loan or bond subscription. But the bonds were not genuine investments because the CHC leaders controlled both the church and Xtron with its directors as mere figureheads.

The point is that at that time, the church didn't know the details of what the bond investments were for as Xtron was not set up to pursue legitimate business objectives but individual goals (which turned into an obsession) called the Crossover. 

And third, the BF loaned out (via bond subscription) by the church was done so at a loss because CHC could have loaned out the people’s money at a higher interest rates. At that time, the Hong Kong Citic Ka Wah was offering a loan of $9m at an interest rate of 16% per annum.

However, the bonds that Xtron purchased from CHC only paid the church 7% per annum (and at subsequent bond issuance, the interest rates was adjusted to 5%).

In other words, the BF could have earned a higher interest rate but because of the Crossover obsession, the church had to settle for much less over time. There is thus wrongful loss suffered by the church contrary to what the church leadership wanted the church members to believe.

That is not all. The deception ran deeper.

When Xtron was set up in June 2003, the executive members of the church were not informed of Xtron’s existence. Neither were any of them informed of Xtron’s source of funds. They only knew of the whole truth in an EGM seven years later in 2010 when CAD started their investigation.

As such, during these seven years, millions of dollars from the BF were secretly transferred to Xtron (and other sham joint venture) via sham bonds to finance Sun Ho’s music career.

You would recall that the leaders vehemently denied that the BF was used for Sun Ho’s music career in response to Roland Poon’s probe in 2003. My god, they even published in the Straits Times to insist on it. Talk about lynching the truth to pursue an obsession!

In mid-2008, the auditors in a similar Roland-Poon-like probe inquired about the sham bonds and their expiry date, and the Crossover obsession compelled the leaders to hide the paper trail with an amended bond subscription to borrow more money from the BF to extend the first Xtron bond subscription from 2 years to 10 years. 

The goal was to delay the full redemption of the bonds. Alas, the lies just piled up to cover up more lies.

Again, that’s not all. The deception was needlessly perpetuated.

When Sun Ho wanted to expand her music in America, more funds were needed. Manufactured fame exacted a high worldly price.

So, in another bond subscription known as Firna bonds, money again flowed out of the BF into Firna; the latter was a glass factory business. But the money was not used to invest in Firna business. It was secretly channelled into Sun Ho’s music career in America. It should be noted that some of the money went not only into the Crossover project but they were also used to enable Sun Ho to live and travel lavishly like an international superstar.

And even up to this date (that is, 2008), the executive members were led to believe that the BF was used exclusively to invest in property like the Riverwalk and not in the Crossover. They were largely kept in the dark about the above transactions and the detailed source of financing (that is, from the forbidden BF - so much for Straits Times publication to project a false impression).

In 2009, the auditors again questioned about the transactions (Xtron and Firna bonds) and this was where the deception mutated into convoluted forms known in the trial as round tripping. You can read paragraph 23 of the CA Judgment to try to follow the convoluted process.

But one deception puzzled me most and it involved Xtron using the CHC’s BF to purchase a building for CHC’s benefit. And when Xtron became the owner of that building, CHC (the lender) was made to pay advance rental to Xtron (the borrower) to lease the building for CHC’s use…?

Mind you, the lease was for 8 years and the advance rental for those 8 years that CHC had paid to Xtron was a whopping $46.27m (excluding S$7m for security deposit). And you’ve guessed it, part of this money (S$21.5m) was used to fully redeem the bonds it had issued to CHC.

So, in one round-tripping manipulation, Xtron actually used CHC's money to purchase a building for CHC’s use in return for CHC’s payment of a one-off advance rental payment of S$42.27m to Xtron so that Xtron could use that money to pay off the bonds that Xtron owed to CHC. Just writing that confuses me already.

Well, it is all good if the bond/loan were genuinely invested in the building by Xtron and the lease was transacted at a profit for Xtron and proper market rate interest for the bonds was paid to the church.

But since it's all sham, the money was used to cover the CHC leadership's misappropriation scheme. This was done to perpetuate the Crossover obsession, keep the church, executive members, and auditors at bay and in the dark, and ensure Sun Ho attain stardom fame at all costs. So much for the theological legitimacy of the Crossover!

Alas, if the Crossover were ever the genuine mandate of God, it must have been both a highly convoluted and surreptitious enterprise that has effectively re-written the rules of evangelistic engagement and business investment in an entirely bewildering manner for me.

Mind you, there are other deceptive ways that the CHC leaders employed to further the Crossover project, but the end of it came on 1 August 2010. This was where the CAD commenced their investigation.

In desperation, CHC leaders convened an EGM in August 2010 “where the executive members retrospectively approved CHC’s use of the BF to (a) subscribe to the Xtron bonds; (b) subscribe to the Firna bonds; (c) pay the advance rental and security deposit to Xtron...The executive members also approved the continuation of the Crossover.” Underscore "retrospectively" - not Crossover, but Cover-over.

Among the many deception, the last deception was the sloppiest.

In the CA judgment, Andrew Phang JA wrote this about the EGM to cover up their tracks:-

“However, as the courts below found, the executive members were misled as to the true substance of the transactions. At the EGM, it was falsely represented to the executive members that: (a) CHC subscribed to the Xtron bonds because they offered a good interest rate (they did not); (b) the Firna bond proceeds were intended as a commercial investment to help Firna’s business (again untrue) and Wahju had made an independent decision to use part of the funds to support the Crossover...(another lie to cover other lies).” 

These were the words of Justice Phang that really bite:-

“The truth was that the Xtron bonds were entered into without any consideration as to their commercial viability for CHC, while the Firna bond proceeds were controlled entirely by Kong Hee and the other accused persons, and the decision to use the Firna bond proceeds to fund the Crossover was made by them.”

And mind you, this is supposed to be the "ultimate church" (as CEH once believed), "more than just a neighbourhood church", and the  City (harvest) on the hill...

Phew, I am done with the background here. Here comes my commentary. Strap up.

But first, Mike, why exhume desiccated charismatic bones from a 7-year legal graveyard since the parties involved are currently serving their time and paying the price, and the leader had apologised for his leadership flaws on the eve of his imprisonment term in April?

Well, for some it may well be long dead and buried. The church in fact said that the leadership is not perfect. It's only human to fall. (Somehow, I agree with that to a large extent with a caveat below for this case).

And some even said with spiritual conviction that if there were a Crossover 2.0, they would still support it 100%. Go figure.

But for many, it is still a haunting nightmare where faith, trust and families are destroyed.

And this brings me to the ordination in November 2015 (which I started this post with). It is a fact that the one who started it all is now leading the church where many have paid the price for her decade-long obsession.

I know we Christians are big hearted when it comes to forgiveness and we lead the world in ushering the lost down the aisle to a certain altar-call repentance. Even the modern spin on the doctrine of radical grace would have convinced us to forgive and possibly forget and move on. Healing of the soul supersedes all, doesn't it? (That's the problem with the church these days - they too readily "forgive" in order to get onto the good side of God. But the only good side of God is to abide by His truth...and that is a straight and narrow road).

In fact, I understand Roland Poon himself declined to comment, and according to his daughter, she said in end 2015 that her father had been waiting for this day of vindication. She added: "Now, he can sleep in peace."

Of course, I have never been a member of the church and I ought to be the last person here to comment since those directly affected - both spiritually, financially and existentially - have kept to themselves. Most of them would rather let dead dogs lie and walk away from the disappointment and disillusionment.

What's the point right?

What's more, todate, CHC 2.0 has firmed up accountability, corporate governance and responsibility, the six accused persons have received a lifetime ban (on top of sentences being served), and the church is bouncing back from it all with Sun Ho at the helm. You can say it's back to business as usual. So, let's move on?

Ultimately we should. The past leadership of CHC has dragged the church and faith for far too long, fighting to the end, even before the High Court of Three Judges, which is de facto Court of Appeal minus the broader powers of the CA, and incurred an obscene amount of legal fees in doing so.

Their incredulous insistence on their innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence demonstrated their guilt in all possible angle, whichever way you see it.

True, we are therefore all undeniably jaded, members or non-members.

Bearing all that in mind, I however started this post with this question: Has the church learnt her lesson? Alas, with the ordination, I seriously doubt it.

For me, learning one's lesson in this context requires the current leadership to confront her past - not sweep it under the rug.

Now, let me clarify that I am not saying that Sun Ho shouldn't lead CHC 2.0, but leadership does not exist in a vacuum either. Leadership calls for a higher standard of accountability, honesty and integrity.

CHC 2.0 has yet to give an account of the Crossover Project. All we know about it is that six accused persons were jailed for it, more than half of the congregation had left CHC after and during the course of the trial, which lasted for more than 140 days, and Sun Ho took over the helm of CHC 2.0 after the verdict without officially repudiating the Crossover as the work of a man's plan and not God's.

So, it bears repeating here, is the Crossover the handmaiden of God or the work of a very expensive delusion?

Next comes honesty. The current leadership of CHC 2.0 has avoided the subject altogether. Although the six accused persons are paying for their crimes, Sun Ho has not been truthful to her members. Many are still kept in the dark as to what the true cost of the Crossover is?

Apart from the legal costs and the bleeding membership, the question is, Did the church suffer wrongful loss? Were the use of the building funds even justified in pursuit of a personal dream that has neither benefited the church nor advanced the primary goal of evangelism? Was there really full restitution?

Is the church even interested to give an honest account of what went wrong not in the legal sense (as we have more than 570 pages of judicial decision to justify convicting the six accused persons beyond a reasonable doubt), but in a church leadership sense, that is, by reflecting on these questions:-

How has the church leadership failed her members, past and present? How can such unchecked obsession be prevented in the future besides setting up good corporate governance (for we all know it is the leaders that set the rules)? What are the hidden dangers of pursuing a worldly agenda under the auspices of the cultural mandate for an alleged purpose of evangelism tainted by blind faith, conflict of interests, abuse of power and one deceit after another?

And all this brings me to my final point, the issue of integrity. 

This integrity has got to do with a hole that Sun Ho has yet to fill with a standard of leadership that is benefitting of the most high God she claims to worship. This hole was referred to in a Blackberry message on 5 April 2010 about a contrived special audit, and it reads:-

“Sun (ie, Sun Ho), one of the main reasons why I proposed the Special Audit is to buy us time to fill up the hole. We don’t want all the issue to grow to the extend (sic) that the authorities step in BEFORE we fill up the hole. By appointing our auditors, it will be easier to talk and get things done. If the report turns out to be lacking in some areas, we will improve and change. They can help us. That’s why to me, it is important to let the relevant authorities know that we initiate a special audit. They will at least not do anything till the report comes out. By then, the hole is filled.”

Truth be told, the above is the main reason why I entitled this post “The flawed leadership of CHC 2.0”. It is flawed because it lacks integrity.

First, by appointing Sun Ho, they have put convenience above accountability. Second, by glossing over the Crossover as if it never happened, they have put personal image above standing by the truth. Third, by being silent on the immense costs incurred with the Crossover and its untold extravagance, they have put cowardice above moral courage. Fourth, by filling the hole created by their blind ambition with more lies and deception, they have put interest of self above interest of the church. And fifth, by refusing to confront their past mistakes, to formally apologise for them and to earnestly repent thereafter, they have put worldly values above God. 

So, I doubt the leadership of CHC 2.0 has learnt her lesson. By virtue of the ordination, it is more a denial of any wrongdoing than an admission of it. Cheerz.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

I dream...but what I have.

I dream of a life of great impact,

But what I have is my daughter's hug.

I dream of a legacy others will marvel at,

But what I have is my son's respect.

I dream of a world that will remember me,

But what I have is a night with my wife so free.

And I dream of fame and riches I can touch.

But I think you've guessed as much.

For what I have is a walk with my daughter down the aisle.

Alas, my reality seems to have missed my dreams by a mile.

They are so different from the dreams I wanted so bad.

For they are the dreams that have kept me awake and fully fed.

But I know now it's not my reality that has missed the mark.

It's my dreams that have kept me in the dark.

For they have led me away from the things that matter.

And held me to a delusion wishing for something better.

In the end, I do not want to miss the forest for the trees.

I do not want to chase dreams that will never appease. 

So I'll not trade my reality for a dream.

And hold out for a mirage somewhere upstream. Cheerz.