Vicar Writes

Vicar Writes


All 2016 November Vicar Writes

27 November 2016 | Vicar Writes

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. (John 3:8)

There’s a wind a-blowin’, all across the land
A fragrant breeze of Heaven, Blowin’ once again
Don’t know where it comes from, Don’t know where it goes
But let it blow over me
Oh, sweet wind, come and blow over me

David Ruis’ song captured the imagination of many in the 90’s. Living in a highly technological world where we seek better control all the time, there is a work of the Lord that is mysterious, often unpredictable and catches us by surprise. 

Being an avid student of the church in her rich 2,000 years of history, I have become more aware of the modern influences which have reduced Christianity to a “bobble head”, where faith has become nothing more than just cerebral ideas and concepts. I was at a renowned evangelical church when I was in Toronto for my Sabbatical. The passage was Acts 2 and I was flabbergasted to hear the preacher reducing the work of the Spirit to just “reading the Bible.” There was a short Q & A and some clarification was sought and it was obvious to many that there was terrible exegesis done that morning. But the denominational line has to be toed. In my 40 years of Christian living , I have never heard Acts 2 treated this way. God was reduced to printed words, literally and even in that, He can be found only in the right Bible versions. It was a form of Christian agnosticism.   

With that I turn to a significant start and launch this weekend (not my cookbook!): that of the eleven:30 Service. In the first few months of my ministry in the Cathedral as a Vicar, I was approached again and again to do something for the “dechurched”: youths, our sons and daughters who have either left the church or the faith. Bishop Kuan had alerted me that this is one of the priority areas which I need to look into as a new Vicar.  Apparently, the Cathedral is not a relevant place for the young and if they want to grow or be community-connected, they should find it elsewhere. That begun a few weeks of praying and sensing: O Lord, what can we do? 

When I was at the CITY Leaders retreat, the Lord dropped a word in my heart, “If the young in the Cathedral are important, why is the work reduced to the fringe? Why don’t they have a primetime slot?” In any discussion of a possible new Service, only slots outside of Sunday morning could be considered because “it is full everywhere.” 

And so we turned our focus to the perimeter facilities around the Cathedral. Is there a suitable Hall which is walking-distance from SAC? Yes, there are but we have to be prepared to pay. And even then, we needed to be prepared to live with inconvenience as it meant that we would have to set up and repack after every Service. While we were in the midst of searching , we realised that the Prayer Hall was actually available, that is, if we can find alternative space for the Sunday School groups meeting there. 

That was what we did. To make the space suitable for a Service, like a blank canvas, we could renovate this Hall from ground up. We might as well invest in doing so, and the same Hall can be used of course for many other meetings throughout the week. So, the venue is secured. Hallelujah.

The next step was to build a leadership team and core group. How can we bring young people together when we have had such a chequered experience in the past? Furthermore, various groupings of youths and young adults have sprouted. Building a common vision will not be easy. 

And so, the preparation needed to include a gathering of the core community who will serve in and anchor this service. Ably led by Pastor Hali and  a very dedicated and prayerful staff team, we have seen the “wind a-blowin’.” Service Pastors have been very encouraging too and did what they could to support it. As the Service launches this week and we remember St Andrew’s Day, the core team has indeed done what they could. From here, we will continue to work and serve to build up this Service but always mindful of the presence and work of the Lord. And more than just a Service which gathers at eleven:30, it signals one more frontier for ministry to reach the unchurched. 

Not every young person or young adult needs to be at this Service. Many are comfortable worshipping and serving in the other Services. Please continue. The task of this new Service is to reach out, especially using the Alpha Course-Service combination, to those who are out there.

It’s exciting. Pray with us and may the wind of the Spirit continue to blow.

20 November 2016 | Vicar Writes

This is a phrase which I first heard Revd Chris Royer mention in our Cathedral Missions Conference last year. It is a phrase, like a spring that is so tightly wound up that to open it suddenly, somebody might just get hurt. Such is its force, and its potential needs to be harnessed carefully.

The thing is, Anglicans worldwide are learning to be a Church. Our history is short and our birth wrapped up with the intrigue and politics of 16th Century England. Once begun, it became a river with floods and droughts, earthquakes and new beds, dams and bridges, that shook and rattle the Church and the world. Some of that is still felt today. We aren’t sure if these are earthquake aftermaths or perhaps, we are right in the middle of a major one.

“Though with a scornful wonder the world see her oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,” somehow the Church marches on, clinging on the promise, “I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Perhaps more than others, we exhibits some of this “brokenness.” It is good that we have this sense of our flawed genesis and identity as we relate to the world and the wider Body of Christ. I like what Archbishop Michael Ramsey (1904-1988) once said:

“While the Anglican Church is vindicated by its place in history, with a strikingly balanced witness to the gospel, to the Church and to sound learning, its greater vindication lies in pointing through its own history to something of which it is a fragment. Its credentials are its incompleteness, with the tension and travail in its soul. It is clumsy and untidy; it baffles neatness and logic. For it is sent not to commend itself as the “best type of Christianity”, but by its very brokenness to point to the universal Church wherein all have died.”

We offer this same brokenness as we seek to plant new churches and ministries in our Deaneries. We do not want to increase competition or fragment the Body of Christ further. In humility, we seek to bring unity, cooperation, reasonableness and collegiality in the way we do church. The way we do it is in itself a testimony. Many of our deaneries are led by multinational teams. We want to be respectful of other cultures and refrain from importing divisions that are prevalent elsewhere.

Protestant Churches have an inherently fissiparous nature (there is always something new to protest against!), and some of these competitive “we are more biblical than you” continues to this day. I still hear of pastors, eager to grow their own churches, saying things to the effect that theirs are the kind of churches Christians should flock to because of whatever they are focused on (i.e. preaching expository or preaching prosperity). I wish pastors can think long-term, broader, kingdom-minded, church-based but not church-bound, care equally for the city and wider Body, and have less a tendency to form cultural bubbles or spiritual ghettoes. But history keeps repeating itself, especially with newer churches, some of which are influenced by foreign movements with blinkered agendas.

Anglicans need to continue to think longterm and learn from the past as we seed new churches in our Deaneries. To this effect, there are encouraging signs and I am encouraged by the Deans and their teams. They are not sowing seeds of divisions but everywhere Anglican work goes, we bring a holistic message of Christ which we pray, can continue to unite and bring healing to the Body.

Give Him a Hundred is a good opportunity to show your love and encouragement to those labouring in the deaneries. Do contribute on the weekend of 27th November. 

13 November 2016 | Vicar Writes

“There are many who follow our Lord halfway, but not the other half,” said Meister Eckhart, a German theologian and mystic who lived in the 13th century. We obey, but only up till a point.   

I will say, by experience, that living the Christian faith halfway can be miserable. But oh the joy of unreserved obedience. When such a commitment comes in a human life, God breaks through, miracles are wrought, society-renewing divine forces are released and history changes. 

There is a degree of holy and complete obedience of joyful renunciation and sensitive listening that is breath-taking. It is not just a difference in degree but kind, when one follows Him with the second half. Jesus said it poignantly, “You must be born again.” (John 3:3) and St Paul repeated it,“If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature.” These are not half-way images. It is not both this and that. It is either or. “Choose you this day, whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15)  

It is a call to a life of deep peace and joy, filled with the light of God. Jesus said, “When your eye is single, your body is full of light.” (Luke 11:34) Everyone of us desires to live this kind of life. 

It starts with a deep work of God, what we may call an experience of God (the subject of last Friday’s musical) or encounter with Him. “All Thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.” (Psalms 42:7). His love sweeps us into His loving centre - away from a dark, self-destructive and contorting world -where marks of glory are on all things, and the marks are blood-stained and cruciformed. When one beholds, one sighs, as did Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28) When we see God, as Moses knew, death comes. Death to self, the giving up of the other half. St Paul, when he saw the vision of Christ, was so transformed that he declared, “The life I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.” (Gal 2:20)

We need this flaming vision, without which, the Christian life is a moral drudgery. From this first step, we move to the second of obeying now. Begin where you are, in the little things, obey, submit, yield. Live every moment in His presence, something which the Bible sometimes call “ceaseless prayer.“ This internal communion with God and continuous prayer is essential. Whether at home, in school or work, it can be carried out day and night. “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart, be all else but naught to me, save that thou art; be thou my best thought in the day and the night, both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.

If you do fall, pick yourself up and start again. Don’t wallow in the mud. Let the Spirit convict and submit to His grace. Broken-ness is the path to healing. Relax and let God take control. Don’t grit your teeth in self-determination. Let the Holy Spirit blow through every fibre of your being.      

Further note: This piece of sharing is inspired by Thomas Kelly’s “A Testament of Devotion”, a book which I can only digest a few pages at a time. Such is its spiritual immensity. This book, written more than a century ago, needs to be read as we seek to follow Christ in modern urban life. While the piece above may seem to over simplify the challenge of a devoted life, the book needs to be read in entirety to be fair to the author’s message. And we do need to reflect on how we may apply it in our modern and hedonistic (dominated by self and sex, ego and ecstasy or pride and desire) culture.

6 November 2016 | Vicar Writes

The 8 am and 11.15 am Services last Sunday opened with the hymn, “Rejoice in God’s saints.” I wonder whether we fully appreciate the lyrics of this hymn. We can indeed find joy in thinking about those who have inspired us with their faith and commitment. “Saints” acquire a larger than life image in our minds and history and the passing of time has a way of magnifying that. 

The late Frank Teo serving in Pakistan

However these were very ordinary humans like us, with faults, warts and all. But the grace of God worked through their obedience. And they, not unlike those in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews chapter 11, encourage and inspire us. And so the hymn goes:

Rejoice in those saints, unpraised and unknown,
who bear someone’s cross, or shoulder their own:
they shame our complaining, our comforts, our cares:
what patience in caring, what courage is theirs!

We would like to do a bit of that in this year’s Missions Month. We want to rejoice in God’s saints, many who are “unpraised and unknown” (at least to most). These are the faces of our Missions work. We think of the late Frank Teo (in photo), one of the early local Anglican missionaries who laboured in Pakistan. His wife, Mabel and their two children, Amos and Aaron, and his parents are still actively worshipping and serving in SAC. We rejoice when we think of Susan Goh, who has now served for 11 years in Cambodia, loving, caring and teaching the many students under her care in Project Khmer H.O.P.E. She served together with early retirees Yvonne Chew (10 years), and Choo Beng Geok, Kang Beng Gek and Caroline Lim (6 years each). Or Lim Sok Chin, who has served 25 years in Africa with Wycliffe Bible Translators. We can also thank the Lord for young adults like Hannah Chee and Han Qiang, who spent some years serving in the Deanery of Thailand. Or someone like Barnabas Sim, who spent 4 years serving in Hanoi.   

Yes, these are all our very own, missionaries from the Cathedral, who sensed the call and went in obedience. This list is by no means exhaustive.  

Indeed “a world without saints forgets how to praise.” But they should inspire us, not just with their heroic deeds. For they “bear someone’s cross, or shoulder their own.” There is daily, a cross we need to bear (Luke 9:23). To take up the cross is to walk as Jesus walked. St Peter called it following in the steps of the Master (1 Peter 2:21). It is about walking with Jesus, saying ‘no’ to sin and pride, living in brokenness, forgiving and being forgiven. It is about loving God. A saint walks with God and from that wellspring of relationship, bears fruits in the world (John 15:5). All very biblical language, as biblical and “old” as the term ”saint,” but a helpful and needed reminder.