PASTORAL PERSPECTIVE

My last perspective was a reflection of the crisis in Hong Kong and today is my personal response to people I know who are sentimental to the unrest in Hong Kong. I’ve no answers to such a crisis even though the Christian communities in Hong Kong is trying to sort out a theology of protest. While the song Sing Hallelujah to the Lord has become a popular anthem of the Hong Kong protests against the extradition bill, its association with Christianity means that Christians can easily become the scape-goat as seen by how the Chinese government turned some of the protest scenes into a propaganda campaign against Christianity in Hong Kong (see https://youtu.be/ZdSycS5CHf8).

For the Christian, it is important to discern whether protesting is solely a Western value or is there also some biblical justification. As much as there is a place for God’s people to protest against wickedness, the Bible is clear that Christians are never to engage in riotous behaviour, violence and damaging property. For example, the Bible condemns those who formed “a mob, set all the city in an uproar…” as “evil men” (Acts 17:5).

Since Jesus taught us not to attack our enemies but to pray for them and to turn the other cheek, then surely Christians have no place in protests that end up with looting, disrupting the public order and obstructing traffic such that ambulances and fire trucks are prevented from reaching the victims whose lives depend on a timely response. Even if one decides to identify with the cause of the demonstrators, we should be mindful to do so in a peaceable manner and for a just cause.

Given that the recent demonstrations have taken on a more belligerent tone, the Christians in Hong Kong need to do some soul searching. Should they continue to join the crowd or should they take a step back and turn to prayer instead? It also does not help that with the long drawn protests and extensive media coverage, many seemed to have become numb to the demonstrations. Where once a protest was enough to capture the attention of the nation, now most merely glance at the screen and then return to their normal routine.

It is important for Christians to understand that we have dual citizenship. We are citizens living here and under an earthly government, but we are also embody here and now our “heavenly” citizenship. Navigating this dual citizenship is tricky, and Christians will not always agree on exactly how it should be done. But I take it as non-negotiable that the Christian’s first allegiance is to God and God’s kingdom.

Indeed, God did not “save” us not so that we can escape from this fallen world but so that we can help transform it. The Westminster Catechism starts us off with this question: “What is the chief end of humankind?” and it answers, “To glorify God and enjoy God forever.”  We need to understand that the gospel changes people — changes their hearts and minds. And it’s hearts and minds that change a culture.

 From Paul’s letters, we learn that even though he was a Roman citizen, he was very mindful that his true citizenship lies in heaven (Philippians 3:20) The kingdom Christians are about is to be the one where we pray to God “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Our number one priority is to be instruments of manifesting God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven,” and that is a full-time calling that requires much wisdom since it is to transcend political parties and politics.

In my opinion, the key question will always be, “Against what things should Christians offer a protest?”  Here we can learn from our Protestant forefathers what they were passionately contending for. The term “Protestant,” of course, comes from the Latin protestari, which simply means to “declare publicly, testify, protest.” 

That original protest was best captured in the five “solas” that came out of the Reformation:

  1. Sola Scriptura: We protest against any authority that sets itself up as higher than the word of God revealed in the Bible.
  2. Sola Fide:  We protest against the idea that there is any other instrument apart from faith by which we are declared righteous before God.
  3. Sola Gratia: We protest against the idea that our own good works are the meritorious basis for God bestowing his favour upon us.
  4. Solus Christus:  We protest against any other “god” who sets itself up as a more sufficient redeemer/saviour than the Lord Jesus Christ.
  5. Soli Deo Gloria: We protest against any idea that prevents God from receiving all glory for our salvation (or for any other thing).

Needless to say, protesting these five things won’t get much media coverage.  But, regardless of whatever else we might protest, we cannot fail to protest these five things lest we lose the heart and soul of the Christian faith. Indeed, if you identify yourself as a Protestant today, you are effectively a “protestor”.

Whatever else we may be passionate about, let us learn to put the Gospel to work for good in our current social, cultural, and political context. Sow it deeply into the soil of our society and culture and pray that our witness will serve as a compelling preview of God’s coming kingdom. Let us never tire in our efforts, praying that God would give us humility and boldness even as we go forth to be peacemakers, carrying out this ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Rev Tan Cheng Huat (Non-resident Missionary to SQ)
October 13, 2019

Around this time 3 years ago, I lost a good friend. After battling cancer for some years, she went home to be with the Lord. The moment she found out that she had cancer, her first question to the doctor was “How much time do I have?” She was given 6 months to live but by God’s grace, she went on to live for another 3 years and even saw her grandson being born.

During the last few months, we spent a lot of time talking about many things in life and what struck me about her was that she never once questioned God. In her words, “If God wills it for me, there is no point asking why but I want to know how much time I have so that I can spend time meaningfully and return to Him.” She was a simple woman but contended in life. She assured her family that she was ready to meet her maker and ensured that she spent time with them as much as possible.

As I reflected on her last few months, what surprised me the most was that she never once prayed that God would heal her. It might seem strange but she accepted it from the day the doctors broke the news to her. She said God was kind to her and had very few worries and cares of this world. She was neither holding a very high paying job nor living in luxury. She only prayed that she would live the rest of her life doing what God wants her to do. She reminded of David in Psalm 63.

David was in the desert and running away from his own son Absalom who was after his life. One would imagine that David’s immediate prayer would be for water and a restored relationship with his son. What is surprising is that David prayed for neither of these. Instead, he prays

“O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
My soul thirst for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
And behold your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
My lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
And in your name I will lift up my hands.”

Despite going through physical thirst and the hurt of strained relationship from his own son, David reminds us that our deepest longings are actually for God. Our deepest longings can only be met by God’s presence and experiencing His love which is actually better than good circumstances or even life itself!

As human beings, our immediate instinct would be to pray that God would change our circumstances- to take us out of the desert and restore our strained relationship with our loved ones. If we look at our prayers, most of our prayers are actually for such circumstances. I admit that my prayers are like that too. Although it is not wrong to bring such prayers and petitions to the Lord, the Bible teaches us there are higher things to pray for. God’s thoughts are definitely not our thoughts! There may be times when God may not change the circumstances for us so that we may be drawn to Him, the one who will satisfy all our longings!

It is no wonder then that a believer’s prayer and response ought to be different from those who do not believe in God. We will go through many circumstances in life until we reach the heavenly shore. Meanwhile, God’s presence and His love would be enough to help us go through the desert and the painful circumstances of broken relationships in life. As a believer, my friend responded to her sickness differently and taught me much.

As she neared her death, she prepared all of us and yet when the time came, it was truly hard. I had to lead worship at her wake services and it was one of the hardest things to do. Throughout the wake services, I was holding up and making sure that her wishes were carried out as we sang the songs she chose for all the services. When everything was over and we returned from Mandai, the reality of her passing on hit me very hard. I was overwhelmed and broke down. It was at this juncture that my son came to my side and asked if I remembered the song that says “Dead are raised to life; Finished the victory cry.” I realized that if God were to heal her, she would still die one day. Without God, there would be no end to all our longings because our deepest longings and affection can only be satisfied in Christ alone. As believers, we have hope in Christ. He has conquered death and is able to help us in our doubts, trials and afflictions. One day, all our deepest longings and affections will find its ultimate fulfillment when our Risen Conquering Saviour returns! As we await His return, may the church sing triumphantly Thine is the Glory!

Thine is the Glory
Written by: Edmund Budry    Translated by: R. Birch Hoyle

Thine is the glory,
Risen, conquering Son;
Endless is the victory
Thou o’er death hast won.
Angels in bright raiment
Rolled the stone away,
Kept the folded grave clothes
Where Thy body lay.

Refrain:
Thine is the glory,
Risen, conquering Son;
Endless is the victory
Thou o’er death hast won.

Lo! Jesus meets us,
Risen, from the tomb;
Lovingly He greets us,
Scatters fear and gloom;
Let His church with gladness
Hymns of triumph sing,
For her Lord now liveth;
Death hath lost its sting.

No more we doubt Thee,
Glorious Prince of Life!
Life is naught without Thee;
Aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conqu’rors,
Through Thy deathless love;
Bring us safe through Jordan
With Thy power and love.

Pr Loliro Sani
October 6, 2019

   If you were in church last Sunday, the above three words would ring a bell because I kept mentioning them in my sermon. Afterwards, I continued to mull over how I can rejoice in my salvation, stand in wonder of the privilege of being included in God’s kingdom and be grateful for what Christ has done for me so that I can have eternal life – a relationship with God that gives much purpose and meaning to my earthly existence and a relationship that continues beyond physical death. Join me in my reflection and perhaps you too can rejoice in and be grateful for the salvation that you have in Christ.

   Whenever I think of the price Jesus had paid to save me from the condemnation of my sins, I am astonished and astounded! It was a hefty price that continues to blow my mind, that the Son of God should stoop so low so that I could be lifted up. Christians often sing songs about the death of Christ, and his dying on the cross for us, to the extent that it can sound rather sentimental, but in reality dying by crucifixion was a very cruel death to die by. There aren’t many details given of that process in the Gospels because everyone back then would already be familiar with the gruesome details. In one of the sessions of the ASK classes that I conduct, we would watch a video of a trauma surgeon describing the harrowing time Christ went through in the final hours of his life when he was unjustly given the death sentence. ‘Unjustly’ because Pilate couldn’t find any basis for charging Jesus yet he succumbed to the pressure of the masses (Luke 23:20-23).

   We are told in the Bible that Jesus was scourged (Matthew 27:26). This was a typical practice before sending the person to the cross. It was all in a package to inflict maximum pain and shame. A short whip with metal pieces or animals’ bones wrapped in leather straps was used so that when it was lashed out on the back, shoulders and legs of the victim, it would tear at his flesh. Once the outer layer of skin and fats was worn out, it would get to the muscles and the tendons. You would be losing blood the whole time. I remember not being able to watch beyond this point in Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of Christ” because there was just so much gore. It is no surprise why some could not even make it to the cross; they were dead by this stage.

   Since the charge against Jesus was that he had claimed to be the King of the Jews, the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns for his head so as to taunt him (Matthew 27:29). These were long thorns and having them shaft into the scalp which is one of the most vascular portions of our bodies where a huge supply of blood flows, it would again have resulted in a lot of blood loss. People can bleed to death because of a scalp injury!

   Up until this stage, it was only part 1 of the torture. Jesus now had to carry his cross to the place of execution. This meant carrying the cross bar, the horizontal portion. It weighed about 50 kilograms so it wasn’t light. If you fall down with your hands stretched out against the bar, you would definitely require help to get up. Such a fall could result in cardiac injury, especially if his chest hit the ground. He must have fallen at least once because while the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus carried his own cross (John 19:17), the other Gospels record that Simon the Cyrene was ordered to carry Jesus’ cross (Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26). Jesus must have been too weak to carry on carrying his cross so Simon was made to help him. When I went to Jerusalem and walked the Via Dolarosa, believed to be the route that Jesus took on the way to his crucifixion, it was pointed out to us that Simon took over the cross when the path started to slope upwards which would have made it even more difficult for Jesus to proceed.

   Then came the nailing when he finally reached Golgotha and this would be the most gruesome part. Can you hear metal hitting against metal as the hammer hit the nail? Instead of driving the nail into the palm, which would tear out of the hand under the weight of the body, it was hammered into the wrist which served as a more solid point of fixation. This would result in the destruction or impingement of nerves creating a tremendous amount of pain. Every breath you take would be an agonising one because you would be pushing down on spiked feet which of course hurt and hanging on spiked arms, alternating from excruciating pain to excruciating pain. The person hanging on the cross did not die of pain but of suffocation when he no longer had the strength to push himself up on spiked feet; his whole body would weigh down on his lungs, causing him not to be able to breath. In order to expedite the death, soldiers would break the person’s legs but it is recorded that when they came to Jesus, they didn’t have to do so because he was already dead (John 19:33) but one of the soldiers did thrust his spear into Jesus’ side and out came blood and water (John 19:34).

   This last act would definitely put the nail into the coffin. That thrust was a lethal one because the loss of water and blood would have come from a rupture of one of the pulmonary arteries or the aorta or the heart itself. No one can survive those kinds of injuries after a few minutes if no medical help is given. Christ as God could survive anything they threw at him but he chose to manifest as a human at that point in time. In his self-limitation to remain as a human, he would not have been able to survive those injuries – he died!

   He did not just die physically. He died spiritually too when he was separated from God the Father. Bearing the weight of the sins of the whole world, past, present and future, he cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – has always been tight from eternity past. For this fellowship of the Godhead to be broken was something unfathomable. No wonder when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest, Luke tells us that Jesus sweat blood (Luke 22:44). This is a medical condition known as Hematidrosis where little blood vessels within the glands burst under tremendous emotional and physiological stress. Jesus must have anticipated the agony of the cross and prayed that, if it was possible, he be spared the cup of suffering, yet he was most willing to submit to the will of his Father.

   “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).It is for our sake that Jesus made this ultimate sacrifice to pay the penalty of our sins. It is out of his love for us that he did that so that we can be forgiven and be drawn into the fellowship of love that is shared by the Triune God – oh what a wonder that we have been given this privilege! I pray that we will never forget this act of amazing love that we have been shown. Christ our Saviour who died but who also rose on the third day and is now seated at the right hand of God will be coming back again. He deserves our worship and obedience and so to him we offer our lives as a living sacrifice, and we do so out of a grateful heart that is filled with joy and wonder!   

Rev Lee Kien Seng
September 29, 2019

“I follow the Moskva/ down to Gorky Park/ listening to the wind of change.”

Klaus Meine wrote these lyrics to the rock ballad Wind of Change in 1989 after returning from the Soviet Union. He was the lead vocalist and songwriter of the German metal band Scorpions, and they had just played at the Moscow Music Peace Festival, alongside American and Soviet bands. That Western rock/metal acts were permitted to play in capital of the Soviet Union for the first time since the start of the Cold War was a significant development, no doubt a consequence of Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost (“openness”). What Meine felt in Moscow as he sailed down the Moskva river to Gorky Park were the winds of change.

    While political ideologies may be idle talk for many in our context, Meine experienced first-hand how destructive they could be. As a West German, he had grown up in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. In 1961, the East German (GDR) communist government erected the Berlin Wall and closed the border between the two Berlins to prevent East Germans from defecting into West Berlin. The Wall cut across neighbourhoods, streets, and even houses, and overnight, family members and loved ones were separated; many working across borders lost their jobs; and the West Berliners found themselves walled in within Soviet territory. To the world, the Berlin Wall was the physical symbol of the Cold War – the embodiment of a “sudden and dramatic separation of one continent into two camps.” It also symbolized the division of one humanity by political ideologies and their ideologues, and the suspicion and fear of “the other” produced by such a division.

    As Meine sailed down the Moskva with the Scorpions alongside other American and Soviet bands, he felt a touch of transcendence: he saw people from opposing factions in the Cold War fraternizing freely. Later, he said of the experience, “Everyone was there: the Red Army, journalists, musicians from Germany, from America, from Russia – the whole world on one boat. It was like a vision; everyone was talking the same language. It was a very positive vibe. That night was the basic inspiration for Wind of Change.” As large crowds of young Russians later cheered them on as they played at the 100,000-seater Lenin Stadium, he was hopeful that the hostilities of the Cold War would soon come to an end.

    What he felt in Moscow he put into Wind of Change, and the song became a world-wide hit upon its release in 1991. It immediately connected with the Germans following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. Germans soon adopted it as the unofficial anthem to this momentous event. With its message of hopeful change and human solidarity, it also resonated deeply with listeners beyond Germany who had to live through the tensions of a divisive period in history (Gorbachev himself loved the song and it was performed for him at his 80th birthday gala). After selling 14 million copies worldwide, Wind of Change was chosen as the “Song of the Century” in 2005 by viewers of the German television network, ZDF – a testament to its notes of transcendence.

“The world closing in/ did you ever think/ that we could be so close like brothers.”

From a Christian perspective, Meine’s song captured the innate human desire for universal solidarity. In creating humanity in his own image, God imbues our being with a desire for communion, not merely with him but also with each other. We remember that God does not exist in solitude but in the fullness of deep inseparable love within the Godhead; he is a “tri-unity”, the Father and Son being in perfect communion with each other in the loving bond of the Spirit. Likewise, humanity has been created for relationships. The fact that the most primordial and fundamental human relationship is that between the different sexes – the man and the woman – tells us that humans are meant for communion across differences.

     However, ever since the Fall, humanity’s incurvatus in se (inward curving of the heart), has marked “the other” out for violence. Whatever nature desire in the human for communion across differences is overwhelmed by the sinful desires of power, greed, lust, and fear. This is most evident in the 20th century: with two horrific world wars, the Holocaust, the Cold War, genocides of Armenia, Cambodia, and Rwanda, the apartheid of South Africa, regional intramural violence, and not to mention the local race riots of 1964. Yet, that desire for communion, so innate and so fragile within fallen humanity, is never completely obliterated by sin. It bursts through in moments of transcendence – for Meine it happened in Moscow – and engenders in people a hope for a better future: a future without divisions and conflict. No wonder then, that Wind of Change would resonate with many in the final decade of a bloody century.

    While this hope has manifested itself in the formation of intergovernmental organizations for peace and cooperation like the UN, the persistent global conflicts show us that its fulfilment remains elusive. This hope finds fulfilment only in Christ, in his church. Incorporated into one body of Christ by one baptism, and partaking of one bread in one Spirit, the people of God are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of their Creator such that “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.” (Col. 3.11) Within the body of Christ, all differences in gender, age, ethnicity, language, and class status are set aside in the bond of the Spirit, compelled by the self-giving love of Christ at the cross. The more heterogenous a local body and the more readily Christians interact with brethren unlike themselves, the more faithfully this hope is held.

     If a love for “the other” is the orientation produced by the Spirit, then it cannot be confined within the walls of the church. Christ has died for all without discrimination and the church is to love likewise. In a world where powers and principalities exalt discrimination against “the other”, Christians must be continually be open to “the other”, embracing and cooperating across racial, religious, and socio-economic fault lines, building bridges and not walls. This is pertinent in our multi-ethnic and religious context. Despite our society’s diversity, a recent survey by data and consulting firm Kantar ranked Singapore second worst out of 14 countries for workplace diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices. What can Christians do to make a difference in our workplaces? Senior Fellow at IPS Mathew Mathews has found that conservative Protestant clergymen are reluctant to participate in interfaith-dialogues or cooperate with other religious groups in humanitarian projects out of suspicion and/or fear of compromise. Is such a stance necessary?

    The final wind of change will come when Christ returns to bring about the consummation of his kingdom and all will be subjected to the perfect rule of God. Then will our hope be completely fulfilled, will peace pervade across difference, and will our swords and rifles be beaten into ploughshares. Until then, let the church be led by the Spirit in the work for peace and unity of humanity, so that – in the words of Meine – the balalaika may sing what the guitar wants to say.

Mr Png Eng Keat
September 22, 2019

This summer we were blessed when our family in Singapore flew over to visit us for a short time. During their stay, we rented a car to travel around Kyoto and parked it at our house for a night. Unfortunately, the car was larger than the carpark space and stuck outside of our boundary into the road when parked. The next day, one the neighbours explained to me that by parking my car this way I was inconveniencing others and that some of them had been making a fuss about it. Japanese are normally quite patient and tolerant, so this direct message meant that they had become quite angry over how the car was parked. I felt very embarrassed and ashamed to have made my neighbours so upset and apologised to the neighbour who had spoken to me. Inside I blamed myself for damaging these relationships by not being more conscientious.

In the following days, I noticed a difference in my neighbour’s attitudes towards me. I felt that they had all gotten much colder. Whether real or imagined, this took a heavy toll on my spirit to the point where I dreaded going out of the house just because I couldn’t bear to see them.  Despite much prayer and a desire to let go, my heart was still racked with many doubts and fears. I also agonised over how responsible I felt for this foolish mistake and how unfairly I was being treated.

It was at my deepest point that God intervened and opened my eyes. He showed me how preoccupied I had become with needing to be accepted by my neighbours and how this desire had slowly taken precedence over my identify as a follower of Christ.  I then recognised the pressure I felt to be a model neighbour so that I could build relationships with the intention of evangelising them. God had humbled me yet again through this mistake reminding me that it was not my job to create openings for the Gospel but His alone. 

In His mercy, He also erased all my fears and doubts and reminded me that He had called and sent my family and I to Japan and that He would continue to sustain us no matter what happened. I have also forgiven my neighbours for my perceived hurts and have asked the Lord to help them in forgiving me and for chances to restore the relationship. Unfortunately, the opportunity to rectify the situation is now long past and so this will have to serve as a valuable lesson for the future.

This episode reminded me of a similar incident back in Singapore when we first moved into our own apartment. We had an unpleasant encounter with one of our neighbours that lasted for some time.  Their actions seemed so unreasonable to us and no matter what we did, we could not appease them.

Compared to our neighbours in Japan, it should have been easy to work out our differences considering we both share a common culture and language. However, months of giving us the cold shoulder proved otherwise. It was only through a timely intervention from the Lord that peace was finally restored and hardened hearts softened. The 180 degree turn in our relationship still amazes us because if God had chosen not to intervene, we do not know if we would still be living in a broken relationship with them today.

Several days after the incident with my Japanese neighbours, God spoke to me further through the verse in Luke 8:16

“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light” – Luke 8:16

My role as a Christian is to keep on shining the light of Christ in a darkened world whether in Japan or Singapore. However, it is clear that I could never have won over my neighbours to Christ by my good behaviour alone. Yet now in Japan, without language skills to communicate and without even the desire to meet face to face, how am I to let the light of Christ shine through to those living around me? I have learnt that is simply by praying for them and for myself.

If I cannot speak to them or meet with them then I will have to rely solely on the intervention of the Almighty God to bridge the gap. I can think of no greater way to do so than through prayer. As it is recorded in John 14: 13-14 that Jesus is the one who will do it and not us.

“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

In Japan, God has taken from me the ability to communicate deeply with those around me. Being a foreigner here, I have also given up my sense of belonging within a community. However, in Christ I have received a far deeper sense of belonging, a hope for eternity that will never perish. And through prayer I have a direct connection with the Most-High God and carry out His works as He extends His kingdom here on earth.

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To our dear Brothers and Sisters in True Way, thank you so much for all of your prayers and thoughts as they mean so much to me and my family. We thank God for your love and support which encourages and comforts us constantly. May the grace of our God be with you all now and always.

Sean Tan (Missionary to Japan)
September 15, 2019
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