Vicar Writes


All 2017 July Vicar Writes

30 Jul 2017

Pastor Bill Hybels boldly declared. 

It is hard to dispute that. I am a firm believer in the local church and this is one reason almost the whole of my working life has been invested in her. This conviction is not over and against para-churches or inter-church organisations/movements, as these have their role. 

The reasons are many, whether biblical or anecdotal.

Our Lord Jesus Himself focused on small communities. And 12 was indeed very small. The biblical letters in the New Testament were mostly addressed to small local churches. Some can be as small as the Connect groups we have in SAC today. And then, there are seven letters in Revelation... 

The almost daily community in prayer and mutual accountability is second to none. In the local church family, you don’t get to choose who you like to be with. In love, humility, grace and lots of forgiveness, you learn to work together. There is no back door. At least that has been so for me and no matter how difficult the conflicts can be, we learn to love and accept one another. Through that we truly grow.  

In the local church, we eat, sing, pray and sit to listen to sermons together. New believers are added from time to time, but the company remains very much the same. Same pew, same hall and more or less, same pastor. Boring? Maybe. Fruitful? Absolutely. Time and constancy produces deep and lasting results.

Think of Missions. While there are the occasional lone rangers, some of the most lasting work was done by local churches. We sometimes forget, but the Anglican Church herself is a missionary movement that has planted parishes which are deeply integrated into societies. The same can be said of an Assembly of God or Methodist Church. 

I served for a stint as the National Director of Alpha Singapore. I saw some amazing ministry in the workplace and prisons, avenues which the local church is not directly involved in. And yet, it is always small groups in long and rich accountability which bear lasting fruitfulness. At some point, I realised my calling was in the local church and decided that the best way I can help other churches to do Alpha well is for the parish to be a good model. 

  It has been 41 years since I first joined a local church. But by His grace, I still wake up each day, excited about what He is doing through her. Whether based at Dover Road, Holland Road or St Andrew’s Road, the parish grows more savoury and luminous with time. 

It is undoubtedly my personal calling to be a local church pastor. I find that a great privilege. Do join in the journey. It may be generally pedestrian with occasional bursts. And journeying together has its own stresses. But walk long enough, and you will experience the richness of a faithful community that grows up together over many generations. 

She is, indeed, the hope of the world.

23 Jul 2017

The response to our current Alpha Courses is encouraging, both at LYnC (youths) on Saturday and the regular one on Wednesday evening. We are offering our friends and walk-ins an opportunity to explore the Christian message in the context of small group conversations and friendship. Christians can also choose to participate in this Course to clarify or refresh their faith. Being held in the city, it is convenient for office workers to pop in for dinner, hear the talk, get into small groups and leave by about 9.30 pm. For this and other reasons, we put in more effort to offer “home-cooked” meals. These always open up the hearts of our guests and incentivise everyone to participate in the dinner where the conversations begin every Alpha evening.  This small group experience continues if they do join the Baptism and Membership (Confirmation) Courses and the Connect groups. This small group track complements the large group Worship Services.

We are also in the process of forming a Worship and Creative Arts Ministry, which includes music, dance, drama, audio-visual (sound) etc. It can help to give support for better coordination of the various teams, groups and activities at both the CNS and Nave. There are Cathedral-wide events which can be better organised and supported. As creative arts are also used for evangelism and missions, this will be another aspect for this ministry to look into. 

One of our LYnC leaders and staff serving at CITY Community Services, Kenneth Ernest has started the 6-month Youth Pastor Discipleship Training Course conducted by YWAM Singapore. Joshua, who has served a year in a southeast Asian city, is also  participating in the Course. Do pray for them as we continue to train and prepare those who are considering serving in the full-time ministry for the longer term. 

According to statistics, we have at least 1 million followers of Christ in this city. As most of them are active in their faith, try to imagine the amount of Christian or faith-inspired activities daily and weekly. I have learned long ago that when it comes to the Lord’s work, release and encourage rather than control will bear much fruit in the long run. This is also in keeping with how the world has changed these past 30 years with the advent of the Internet. We have progressed from communications through sound waves (radio), airwaves (TV), audio visual via storage (i.e tapes, movies, DVDs) to wireless digital. So what is so special about the Internet age? Isn’t wireless digital only another step of progress, a change in degree and not in kind?

One word - interactive. Radio, TV and movies involve only active participation of a few and make the majority passive consumers. But the computers and now, smartphones empower the individual to “create content.” Encyclopaedias are now almost obsolete with the advent of digital-pedia. We now have millions of writers, thinkers, speakers and so on, all creating their own connections and sub-groups. The exponential people to people connection and empowering of the individual to contribute actively means that traditional forms of centralised control, leadership and management are no longer the only ways to get things done, or the most efficient. In the Church, having both a unified and led vision (for the sake of unity, community and synergy) and an environment where individuals can thrive (for the sake of creativity, initiative and personal ownership) is vital. SAC herself has to navigate through some of these societal changes but as always, we know the Spirit is leading His Church. 

Sister Judy Teo officially retires in July. She has served in the Cathedral for 27 years. Retirement is never an easy thing but I trust that in the church community, we can approach this differently for all the good reasons. Let’s continue to show our support and appreciation for our dear sister who has served us so well and will continue to do so in other ways.

16 Jul 2017

“The Kingdom of the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants…” Jesus in Matthew 13:32

The G20 nations have been meeting the past week. We ask whether the lives of every citizen on planet Earth is being affected by a meeting comprising a small group of leaders. After all, they are all very human, shaped by their own culture, experience and background, which is always way too small when it comes to the complexity of our world today. The ignorance sometimes is at a very basic level: a first world leader thought that PM Lee is the President of Indonesia! 

They do have a role. Perhaps they can slow down the the rate of increase in our sea water levels (a possible challenge for our future), reduce the chance of more violent conflicts in our region, or make decisions that could improve our business environment, thus improving our personal capital. Perhaps. 

But one thing we can be very certain about is that the factors that will influence your life the most will be those around you: your family, your friends, fellow members in church, etc. In a globalised world dominated by the media, we are sometimes led to think that the ordinary John Doe (or Ahmad?) has no real influence or importance in this world. To really have influence, you have to do big things or be big yourself. 

Wrong. History, if we are to examine it carefully, showed that individuals can have real influence, even if the person is not important to the media or of any public interest. 

Consider: “The greatest of these is love”, St Paul proclaimed in 1 Cor 13:13. Indeed it is, in this life and forevermore. The love you show to another and vice versa, will have lasting consequences. All the political systems, may it be a state-driven (communism, socialism) or capital-driven (capitalism), find their limitations because the timeless reality is that for individuals, families and communities, it is love which matters most. 

Here is why we need to remind ourselves that the church community - and the values we share together - matters. And love, in the smallest of areas, matter. How we truly love Christ and one another, everything that we seek to do as a church, be it evangelism, missions or worship, will have lasting fruitfulness. When we are connected to each other, able to hold each other accountable, value friendship as much as tasks and doing work as a
team, we are being a people as God has created. 

In other words, let’s make Cathedral a safe place for everyone seeking for acceptance and true love. Let’s ensure that ministry springs out of community, instead of fracturing it. Community before tasks, not the other way round. And yes, community before missions. It is a rich Christ-filled community that will truly change the world. An apostle or missionary is a “sent one” precisely because a community is behind every missionary endeavour. 

After all, didn’t Jesus Himself say, “By this shall all man know you are my disciples…if you love each other as I have loved you.” (John 13:34,35)?      

G20 decisions may not change the world. But we can. 

9 Jul 2017

In the tradition of the Church, this beatitude has been interpreted in three ways: ascetic, mystic and moral.

The mystical interpretation focuses on the vision of God. Gregory of Nysaa taught on our need to contemplate on God and to purify our hearts from any worldly ties or distraction. By clearing our hearts, we will be able to see God more clearly. Later, Saint Bernard said, “Purify your heart, free yourself from all things, become a monk, that is, become singular of heart.”

The ascetic interpretation focuses on chastity. This is the most common interpretation today and understandably so, in our highly sexualised societies. If one can live with temperance and abstinence from immoral expressions of the lusts of the flesh, he or she will be able to see God more clearly. Experience-wise, we know this to be true as guilt and shame often stand in the way of our sense of God’s presence. 

This may surprise us, but this interpretation was not very common in the early centuries of the Church.  Instead, the moral interpretation was the most common, where the focus is on one’s intentions. It fits the best in the immediate context of the Gospel texts. Jesus taught that what determines purity or impurity of an action - whether in praying, fasting or giving - is located in our intention. Likewise, sin starts not so much with an act but intention e.g. anger that leads to murder, and lust that leads to adultery. 

Jesus was an excellent example of one who is “pure in heart.” In Mark 12:14, the Jewish religious leaders observed, “We know that you are true, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men, but truly teach the way of God.” Jesus’ strong rebuke of hypocrisy is another reflection on what “impurity of heart” means. 

St Augustine taught clearly on this. He said, “All our works are pure and well-pleasing in the sight of God, when they are done...with a heavenly intent, having that end of love in view...It is not therefore, what one does, but the intent with which he does it, that is to be considered.” 

I believe all three interpretations have some truth in them and taken together, take us deeper into this beatitude. But I would like to call attention to the moral interpretation of intention as this is more easily missed today. In our social-intensive lives, where so much is determined by how others view us, we can all too easily slip into an ‘acting’ mode. A lifetime of ‘acting’ can form or ‘deform’ our hearts in ways which we know are neither pleasing to God nor fits well into our aspirations to be better human beings.

Like the ancient prayer, we need to constantly ask, “Search me O God and know my heart today.” It is a lifelong aspiration to be what is pure, good and God-like, and to ensure that we grow inner qualities of love, humility, purity of intentions, integrity and so on. These qualities are universally recognised and when seen in us, attract people to God.  May we live for the audience of One that one day, we may hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

2 Jul 2017

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up...” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

We had a blessed time at the Cathedral Family Camp in June, where 200+ members gathered for 3 days of learning, worship and fellowship. We were blessed by the ministry of Wee Hian, his son, Andrew and Andrew’s son, Benjamin. It was apt for the theme “Living a Legacy”.  

We were challenged in many ways, including the need to learn to embrace the principle of blessing and encouragement. It is true that in a perfectionist city like Singapore, there is an unspoken tension of not just striving for excellence, but a daily avoidance of mistakes, imperfections and weakness. A psychiatrist told me that many Singaporeans are struggling with not so much OCD, as in Obsessive Compulsive Diosorder but OCP, the last word being Perfectionism. We walk around with hearts like tightly wound-up springs ready to explode at the slightest agitation. 

I will be the first to admit that I sometimes exhibit OCP symptoms in my leadership. I can be quick to point out errors, ungracious and discouraging to my fellow leaders, something which I need to constantly apologise for. Email communication is often an avenue which reflects our inner unpaused thoughts. I write and speak in a way which I often regret. 

I sometimes wonder whether the mixture of our own Asian migrant survival instincts, Singaporean values and a high-morality based evangelical Christianity has produced a certain approach to life here. It is no wonder that churches that preach strongly on grace are attracting so many as it offers a needed alternative, even if many regard their teachings as unorthodox Christianity. But I challenge us to reflect deeper on Scripture and our society and ask the right questions. It may be that churches that claim to be orthodox are in need of change themselves.

In fact the Oxley Road saga has made me ponder on these thoughts as well, if you were to reflect deeper on it. The way we are, as in the culture we grew up in is not changed in a day. But we can be more intentional in looking at His Word and if discipleship is change, seek to change in this area, even if slowly. Here is where as a Church community, we can help each other. If we are to be salt and light for the city, that should be about contributing a deep value change in our society. They need to hear the Gospel, and that is correct. But the true Gospel changes. And it blesses.

Perhaps one place to start living the principle of blessing is to gather to praise and pray. The Cathedral is more than just an Anglican Institution. As many have said, it is a ‘National Church’. That is one way of saying that it belongs to the Body of Christ. It is indeed a right thing that we are opening it daily for Christians to gather to pray for our nation in this 40 day period from 1st July to 9th August, from Monday to Friday 12.30pm to 1.30pm. Don’t come because you want to please someone or live up to the expectations of others. But do it out of joy for the Lord. Embracing the daily discipline of prayer and worship is something you will not regret, an ancient gift which God has given to His people that they may live life to its abundance. 

Prayer is one activity which nourishes and gives us energy for life. Indeed, we do not live on bread alone.