Thursday, 14 July 2016

worth-ship

My first impression of SBC was the weekly combined chapel. I can’t remember exactly why I was there (I wasn’t a student yet nor was I intending to go to seminary then), but I remember feeling as though I had caught a glimpse of what the new creation would look like.
The tempo of the hymn was appropriate and I didn’t find myself mouthing off words in a rush, the music was played by only a piano but with excellence that lead the congregation, and the song leader incorporated elements of different nations into the hymn. Two main languages were used — English and Mandarin at the same time — yet everyone sang with such conviction and gusto that the different languages still resounded as one. Different faces, different skin colours, different backgrounds… But they were one Body of Christ worshipping the same God in one voice.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
(Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)

When I joined SBC itself, the experience became enriched with actually knowing the people in the community. Singing together took on a new meaning, as I worshipped God in song surrounded by people whom I knew and love. Songs were mostly carefully chosen and appropriately arranged to reflect the creativity of our Creator God — there was space created for joyful noises and deep lament, for voices by different tribes on top of the lingua franca, and for humans created in God’s image to express themselves and bless others with the gifts of the Giver.
One year after graduating, I greedily lapped up this precious time of refreshing, to join the mighty chorus in a tongue I was comfortable with, and also rejoice in the inauguration of our new principal — a family friend who once carried me as a kid and a scholar-pastor whom is a huge source of inspiration.
The theology of corporate worship is duly needed in our churches today, where the understanding of worship is becoming a personal and consumerist entity — an antithesis of who we are created to Be and Do as worshippers and image-bearers of our Triune God. That said, I deeply appreciate the School of Church Music’s continuous efforts to appropriate music in worship theology. I truly pray we don’t lose sight of good theology and its place in worship. Lord have mercy.

Monday, 11 July 2016

失控 煽动 燃烧的火汹涌
时空 恶梦  环绕在脑海中
这个不能平复的心情
继承世界边缘的呻吟
生命 掌控 谁手中

始终 有你 陪我走

Friday, 10 June 2016

lightning

Your face briefly lit up, and I
Thought I saw your heart 
clearly but as quickly 
The gleam disappeared, and I
Was left in the dark
To the echoes of
your rumbling laughter
Mocking my naïveté

Thursday, 19 May 2016

set up

Using "settled down" to describe a married person is a misnomer. On one hand, it damagingly implies that a single person cannot be stable, and on the other, creates a false expectation of marriage and a married person. Singles have been prevented from taking up greater responsibilities (especially in church, sadly) because of their status (crippled further by an acontextual reading of a passage in 2 Timothy). Married people are mistaken for maturity and misplaced into important roles, further causing rifts in their family life. It gets worse when families are left to themselves to settle their own business, since the assumption is that parents "are matured enough to know what to do". 

We must stop using a person's marital status as a yardstick for maturity, so that the individual also removes false expectations from oneself and embraces communal accountability. We must instead offer love and support that each person needs in their various stages of life.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

post-pre

The true test comes after the curtains come down. -- JPhilips

The preaching experience this time was different. Well, it is always different each time, and as I reflect upon the process, I'm once again filled with thankfulness and humbled.

I wish I had the ability to prepare my sermons in a much shorter time. But so far, it is still a one-month process, although I somehow feel that this time I didn't put in as much as I previously would. I didn't pull out any Hebrew nor Greek and go through the passages with my original languages training, but went straight to the commentaries after my own hermeneutics and meditation on the passages. The commentaries did the exegetical legwork for me.

Would I have come up with deeper conclusions should I have done original language exegesis first? Perhaps, but it would probably have been more edifying for myself as the scholar, and not as relevant for myself as the preacher. Then again, I can't know for sure. The process is important, regardless, and since I don't preach so often and have more luxury of time, I should spend more time honing and maintaining the languages.

But through the month-long process, reflections were made on things around me and they nicely fit into the sermon. God granted me the creativity and inspiration to craft them together into the sermon, that was delivered today with much fear and trembling.

For the first time too, lay congregation members told me what they felt with a little more detail than the previous, non-committal "thank you" and "good job". One lady told me that she was surprised that for someone so young, so much heart came through. That really touched and encouraged me, and taught me to remember that our congregation listens not just with their ears, but with their hearts.

The next sermon is in June; that will be challenging. It will be to a congregation I don't know, but some friends will be there too. Will be praying for the right topic to minister...

All for Jesus, and soli Deo gloria. Not unto us, but for Your glory, honour and majesty!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

woe, man


Woman. Can anything good come out of her, apart from the fact that she gives birth to the very kind who instead oppresses her with words, with violence, with actions?

#SarcasmInside 

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

triggers

If I cut off my nose, will I be able to breathe again?
If I lose my mind, will I be able to think again?
If I die to this wretched flesh of mine, will I be able to live again?

O Lord, still, this does not give me amnesia from the past.
So give me that renewed body and mind, that I may live in You,
even if it hurts.

Kyrie eleison.

Friday, 19 February 2016

philopreachy

Dug up one of my papers that I had to write on my philosophy towards preaching in my final semester. It was a good reminder for myself.

"I have been asking myself this question for the past few years — why do we need preaching? What is the end goal of preaching? Having grown up in church the moment I was born, I have heard or been exposed to at least 821 sermons, not including the ones I heard when I was in my mother’s womb. But of these 821 sermons, I can only remember being impacted by less than 20 of them. And out of these 20, some impacted me because of how bad they were. I have also wondered about the pulpit joke favourite that just 15 minutes after a church-goer listens to a sermon, the retention rate of the sermon goes down by 25%. Thirty minutes later, 50% remains, and once lunch is done, 5% or none are left. Sadly, I have found this true of my youths, and even myself. During the preaching itself, I have observed the attitudes and postures of both myself and those around me. When the preacher is unable to capture the audience, a few things happen — fidgeting, daydreaming, dozing, and gaming. But when the preacher manages to capture the audience, it does not mean that what is preached is always faithfully expository. In the church where I grew up, the almost-lecture-like sermon is widely celebrated by the vocal majority (an intellectual crowd), yet on the ground few are actually able to follow the sermon, and these people fall through the cracks. And going by the reactions of the intellectuals, I see little affectual impact on them, apart from them relating mentally (complication goes further when intellectuals are also post-modern/post-literates). I have come across too few preachers who have been able to balance the two well; even so, there is such a wide spread of types in the congregation — so how are we able to capture all fronts — effectually and affectually — whilst remaining faithful to the Text? It is such a immense task and art to do so indeed. 

But back to the deeper question: Why do we need sermons to be preached? In the first place, what is the place of preaching in the church — starting from the Biblical times? 

The first time an idea of a “preacher” appears in the Bible is in Ecclesiastes, where the Hebrew noun, Qohelet (קֹחֶלֶת) is translated in English as “the Preacher”. The HALOT definition of this word is leader or “speaker of the assembly”, from the root verb קחל, which means “to assemble, call together, meet together”. In Ecclesiastes we see that the Preacher brings us on a lengthy discourse of life using wise sayings, the Torah, proverbs, self-reflection. Even in Ecc 12:9-10, it is noted that the Preacher also “taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight and uprightly he wrote words of truth”. In fact, other references to “preach” (נתף) in the Old Testament are sparingly found in the prophets and appear to carry the meaning “to drivel, foam at the mouth”, a metaphor of prophesying ecstatically. The prophesy that is heralded contains "Word of the LORD" (cf. Jer 1:1, 4; Mi 1:1; Mal 1:1; Eze 13:1 etc) and this is also being "drivel-ed" precisely because it is a message the LORD wants the people to hear — with a response required. In the New Testament, “preaching” is translated from the Greek word κήρυγμα (kergyma), which according to BDAG is also similar to κηρύσσω, which means “to make an official announcement”, or “make public declarations”. Jesus was proclaiming the Good News (Luke 4:18-19) and teaching Scripture in synagogues and also among the crowds, and the disciples in Acts stood up in the midst of those gathered to explain the Word of God (cf. Acts 2:16-36; 3:12-26 etc), very specifically "teaching the people and proclaiming  in Jesus the resurrection from the dead". Paul’s letters also take on a homiletic nature as he addresses issues regarding heretics and various theological themes using the rhetorics of his day that adopts the Aristotlean rhetoric of ethos (character of the speaker), logos (content of the speech) and pathos (connection to the listener). In biblical times, then, we can first have a preliminary understanding that preaching in the OT involves preaching to a congregation of people the word of God to exhort and put forth a call to action, i.e. repentance in Nineveh, "turn back" in Jeremiah; or proclaim imminent judgment or warn of potential judgment — and in the NT involves mainly explaining the Scriptures to show how Jesus fulfils Scripture with His resurrection from the dead, or as a form of apologetic or exhortation. What is common is also the presence of a call and response, brought forth by a messenger and carried forward by its recipient.

Moving to the early church fathers briefly, as the Bible was canonised it was only available in Latin, hence only those who were trained were able to read and expound on it. Preaching especially in an illiterate society perhaps took on a top-down approach; the Preacher of the Scripture had ascribed authority, and the allegorical preaching styles of the likes of Augustine  and even Spurgeon filtered down to the masses, yet that was largely accepted. However, I do recognise that they spoke with their understanding of Scripture and context, and would not be too quick to immediately put their preachings down. I grew up with the preaching style of lecture-like, verse-by-verse exposition style, which is most common among Singaporean Presbyterian churches. With the Presbyterian church being one of the oldest traditional forms of Christianity, it is no surprise that such a preaching style remains the same. Yet Sunday school and Bible studies have become prevalent in today’s post-literate Singaporean society, I find that such a type of preaching only continues to reinforce what is in the head but not what is in the heart. The need of preaching, then, seems to exist not really to take the function of teaching per se, but through the presentation of the Word edify and build a group of people/congregation when it gathers corporally. Preaching is also largely done by people who hold a certain authority in the ecclesiastical life, equipped and gifted to do so; it addresses an observed need and invites a response. David Wells states that ministers are to be able to “expound the Word of God and bring its truth into vital relation with the modern world in such a way that moral character is formed and Christian wisdom results”. He or she should “bring the congregation into the presence of God through His truth and by His Spirit”. Since there is a message that is to be brought across meaningfully, preaching may hence also take place in a variety of forms, as long as faithful exegesis is done beforehand, and edification and building up of the people of God in a congregational setting is the aim.

After exploring the above, these are three main thoughts I arrived at that will form my first, still-developing philosophies as a budding preacher:

Firstly, a Preacher teaches behind the pulpit, preaches from the pulpit, and reaches off the pulpit. We would usually reckon authority to the place of the pulpit, a platform or raised structure — in spatial terms, a place that lifts one up in authority, and in this sense, also the Word. The Preacher who “teaches behind the pulpit” is one whose teaching authority lies behind the Word, allowing the Word to lead him or her, and not vice versa. The Preacher “preaches from the pulpit”, bringing forth the Word of God, and “reaches off the pulpit” reminds one not to purely be staying on a high position of authority but to also reach the congregation and walk and talk with them to know and attend to their needs. As Ravi Zacharias said, “Yes, if truth is not undergirded by love, it make the possessor of that truth obnoxious and the truth repulsive”. The Preacher needs to be known not just as a possessor of truth, but one who truly loves.

Secondly, preaching includes teaching but teaching is not preaching. As I was wrestling to figure out the difference between the two, it came to mind that perhaps preaching includes faithful exegesis of the Word, but does not necessarily plainly present the exegesis itself. Preaching, if I may, is like performing a piece of classical music. It flows as one song as the pianist plays, after the pianist has on his or her own gone through the interpretation of the written score, practiced the technical aspects of piece (often in parts), then putting the entire piece together and presenting it to an audience. The pianist does not explicitly tell the audience how the technical aspects are applied during the piece, yet the audience is able to enjoy the piece as expressed by the pianist. In the same way, preaching presents to the congregation careful exegesis, interpretation and crafting of a sermon, then presents the message to the Church today. A well-written tune is also a memorable tune that speaks to the audience, albeit the Christian melody goes one step further to reveal God through Christ. There is a caveat here, however: to be able to understand (and therefore appreciate) a piece of music, it is necessary for the audience to be educated on how to listen. Otherwise, the music may become very subjective and the audience will only tune in to what they enjoy. The nuances and technicalities that allows one to understand and properly appreciate different types of music will be lost. In the same way, if the Church does not know how to listen to a sermon, they may end up only wanting to be entertained — if they come across a sermon that does not suit their liking, they will not be able to chew on the meat and spit the bones out. There will also be little desire to be able to articulate why and how the sermon preaches to them, and hence little motivation to respond concretely.

Finally, to summarise with a final, rather flawed attempt to describe the part of preaching in the Body of Christ (I do intend to falsely dichotomise the mind and the heart but just for analogy’s sake): Preaching is the brain’s work to inform ears of the Church (where the Holy Spirit indwells); it hits the heart and the head of her Body and leads her to behold the glory of God, smell the fragrance of Christ, and in turn speak forth the Word of God into the world, move her hands to do justice and feet to walk after Christ.


May the Lord continue to guide me and be my wisdom in all of life."

Thursday, 14 January 2016

almost 6

I'm still a fledging preacher on this delicate journey with my Lord and His earthly Church. It has always been my prayer that I speak not loftily nor concern myself with stringing together a confusion of concepts and miss the heart of the Word, and the heart of the listener. But, 6 months in, I do know this: When stripped of any need to please the ones that fill my earthly coffers and fleshly self-worth, I find my Lord speaking into my life and moulding me in areas where I need the most work. Painful, yet joyful. Each time I'm to preach, everything that happens around me and to me comes together to drive my sermon into my splagchna, my inmost parts. Painful, yet joyful. And I'm never the same. The preacher has no one but herself to preach to first and foremost; however the words eventually leave her lips to those who have ears is of secondary importance (to her, at least). Although off the cuff articulation, crowd pleasing, smooth-witty-repartee with detailed wonder of the Word is not my forte, at least, as I open myself before my Lord in preparation of every sermon, the Words that resound in my mind's eye (usually in writing) cut my very heart. The dross burns, I'm strengthened in faith, restored in Spirit, and reminded to Preach unashamedly the Words of Life. And to live it in Grace and Truth.

May the day that I'm numb to the Words of Life in a frantic bid to churn out humanly impressive ideals never come. Lord have mercy.

Friday, 1 January 2016

2015 fin.

Time never stops and the "new year" is really atemporal markers in time that provides us with a way to keep track of how things age. And also an excuse to allow ourselves to start afresh and hit the reset button since it's, well, a "new" year after all.

But it is also an opportunity and motivation to reflect, reprove, and refresh ourselves. So take it, we will.

Friday, 20 November 2015

where even the most beautifully strung melodies failed,
an imperfect presentation with the correct Words from God
opened the floodgates to my soul.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

sea that

he told me:
one step was all i needed to get out of
that boat into the waters that raged around
my heart telling me that the tempest is
greater than the tidal wave in
my stomach making the sea spray look
like ephemeral translucent butterflies
that flutter and embed themselves into
my mind (i still haven't taken that
one step)

Monday, 3 August 2015

silence is golden

until i can say a word to you that i can safely attest does not carry any intention,
i'll stifle my utterances till your shadow passes this country

i've thought too highly of myself

Saturday, 18 July 2015

fleur

flowers
that one scent that
harkens life
beckons love
reckons death
brightens life
extends love
heightens death

history

tells you to stop imagining the past.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

awareness

"There is no such thing as a dispassionate ethicist. Writer and reader alike have histories of sexual experience or inexperience, of hopes realised or deferred, of longings or aversions, of fulfilment or frustration, of fears, anxieties, delights, regrets. Our histories condition our beliefs. Each of us has an inbuilt bias towards a belief system that justifies our history, like 'the adulteress...[who] says, "I have done no wrong"' (Prov 30:20). Even individuals who do not enjoy or desire an experience or who feel that it is wrong, may develop more favourable attitudes as a way of rationalising their own previous choices or situation as an attempt at dissonance control." 

— Loc 360, Christopher Ash's "Marriage: Sex in the service of God" Kindle Version.