Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reformation Day 2009

In conjunction with Reformation Day (Oct 31), I have just completed a 5 series introduction to Reformed Theology sharing to a Chinese speaking church planting team in Subang Jaya. We tried to explore how the history of Reformation (5 solas'), the emphasis on cultural mandate, the sovereignty of God and the doctrines of grace have implications in planting a church in and for the Malaysian city.

Much of the notes are taken from resources on the Internet especially by Matt Perman. I came across his articles long before he became the Desiring God ministry website anchor person and he is very lucid and helpful in almost everything he wrote - always pastoral and clearly, well-thought-out. Here are the notes I have compiled for the group:

An Introduction to Reformed Theology

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Helping Hands

In light of the recent natural disasters in Indonesia and the Philippines, the Johor Bahru Pastor Fellowship is initiating a relief project. Please help.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Lausanne Global Conversation

New questions are emerging which are different from the older, familiar ones. And the older ones are also taking on new forms. Think, for example, of the issues surrounding the massive rise in people movements over the past 50 years, and of the trends in urbanisation, and of the penetration of other faiths. Christians need to talk, and global issues need global conversations.

The Lausanne Movement is working in partnership with publications around the world in providing the 12 key articles by leading theologians on issues facing the global church. Each article will be published in the same month by everyone, to spark the conversation globally. These articles each have four commissioned respondents from different parts of the world and will be accompanied online by video and photo essays, and responses from people like you.

The Lord gave gifts to his church to share and, through Lausanne, the Africans can share their joy and perseverance, the Indians their wisdom on living in a pluralistic context, the Persecuted Church their precious trust of what it means to share in Christ’s suffering, the converts from other faiths their insights into ways of reaching those whose faith they once shared, the West its scholarship (which we should remember was once found in North Africa), and so on around the world. In ways unimagined, we can share these gifts even across different languages, through automatic translation tools. Those translation tools are not perfect, but, with a commitment of all to the authority of Scripture and a willingness to listen and learn, we will manage to understand one another. The work you put into the global conversation will be richly rewarded.

The Lausanne Global Conversation will include:
  • a series of 12 articles appearing in Christianity Today (and in dozens of publications around the world), plus parallel articles in the Canadian media and elsewhere
  • thought-provoking blogs, podcasts, radio programs and video discussion forums
  • interaction on Twitter and Facebook
  • advance written and multimedia presentations from CT2010 speakers
  • connections to related discussions on the web already underway
  • in-person interaction at Bible colleges, mission agencies, churches and theological institutions through the Cape Town GlobaLink

    Here is the very first article to kick off the whole conversation:
    Whole Gospel, Whole Church, Whole World by Christopher Wright
  • Saturday, October 10, 2009

    Living by Faith In Future Grace – John Piper

    As part of our initiative to encourage a reading habit and developing a Christian mind in the church, we are looking for volunteers to do book reviews. Here is a start

    By Davin Wong

    The full title of the book is “The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace”. The reason becomes clearer in the introduction: “the aim of this book is to emancipate human hearts from servitude to the fleeting pleasures of sin. Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God. No one sins out of duty. We sin because it holds out some promise of happiness. That promise enslaves us until we believe that God is more to be desired than life itself (Psalm 63:3)”

    His ultimate purpose: That God be prized above all things and the praise of the glory of God’s grace. According to him, prizing is the authenticating essence of praising. You can’t praise what you don’t prize. Therefore, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him!

    The author believes that behind most wrong living is wrong thinking. We nullify the words of Jesus because our conceptual framework is disfigured. Some of the inherited ways of “Christian” thinking are so out of sync with the Bible that they work against the very obedience they are designed to promote. One of such ‘wrong thinking’ is what he calls the Debtor’s ethic (Chapter 1). This is arguably most relevant for us Asians. The debtor’s ethic says, “Because you have done something good for me, I feel indebted to do something good for you.” This impulse is not what gratitude was designed to produce. God meant gratitude to be a spontaneous expression of pleasure in the gift and the good will of another. He did not mean it to be an impulse to return favours. If gratitude is twisted into a sense of debt, it gives birth to the debtor’s ethic – and the effect is to nullify grace!

    Here Piper is quick to qualify his statement. Make no mistake, I exalt gratitude as a central biblical response of the heart to the grace of God. The Bible commands gratitude to God as one of out highest duties…(Psalm 100:4). God says that gratitude honours him…(Psalm 50:23). In spite of being misused in the debtor’s ethic, gratitude is not guilty. He goes on by relating debtor’s ethic to our relationship with God and how we should repent of this mindset by embracing a different approach in our relationship with God.

    The book is spread over 31 chapters with the intent that the reader would spend some time each day reading a chapter for a month (hopefully, in unrushed reflection!) It also shows how living by faith in future grace is the way to prevail over the deceptive promises of sin in 8 areas of human struggle with evil – anxiety, pride, misplaced shame, impatience, covetousness, bitterness, despondency and lust.

    Finally, I echo John Piper’s words that it is where we end that matters. His prayer is that for every reader of his book will hear and follow the call to find their joy in all that God promises to be for them in Jesus. That the expulsive power of this new affection will go on freeing them from the fleeting pleasures of sin and empower them for a life of sacrificial love. This too is my prayer both for my self and for those of you who will read this book.

    Monday, October 05, 2009

    Christ Centered Preaching

    Dr. Bryan Chapell will be doing a series of expository sermons on Daniel tomorrow till Thursday. Rev Wong Fong Yang has kindly invited him to do a preaching workshop for some pastors/lay preachers in church today so it was a real treat for newbies like me.

    If you are thinking whether you should go, check out this sermon as a model of Christ centered preaching and I bet it would help a great deal in making that decision. Download "God is faithful to His promises and he is merciful - so we can endure (Rom 15:4)" sermon here.

    Here is a sampling of what I learnt at the workshop:

    What is the only reason that sin has any power in your or my life?

    B'cos we love it. Sin attracts and tempts us. That's why we sin even when we know we are not supposed to.

    Now, what does that tell us about the agenda of the gospel? The aim of gospel preaching week in, week out is not simply to give people more duty or doctrine (more things to do or believe) but a Compelling Love.

    - Love for God with all our being (Matt 23:37)
    - Love for Christ (John 15:14 - If you love Me, you will do what I commanded you)

    In other words, we do not obey in order to get God's love. God loves us first and shows us grace while we are yet sinners... therefore we obey.

    "The imperative is based on the indicative and the order is irreversible" (Ridderbos)

    Where does this love come from? We love God because He first loves us (1 John 4:10,19). The nature of his love is such that it is not based on our performance but on His goodness and grace. (Titus 3:4-5)

    That's a paradigm shift that changes virtually everything about how we do preaching in church/world. Check out Dr Chapell's free online homiletic classes in the Theological Resource Section of TheAgora.

    Friday, October 02, 2009

    Reflections on My Pastor's Retirement

    On My Pastor's Retirement

    rain water wind blows,

    plants fruit,
    in the garden of the minds,
    single water droplet falls,
    pond calm surface calls,
    in mind like living waters,
    ripple widens,
    outward forever flows.

    Nicholas Yeo has been pastoring Holy Light Church (English) for 36 years. He was appointed as preacher in the Presbyterian church in 1973 and ordained in 1979. He retired on 1st October 2009.

    author’s notes:

    “rain” falls on all persons. The bible states that God allows rain to fall on the “just” and the “unjust.” This also shows the extend of Nicholas’ ministry which extends to Christians and non-Christians alike.

    “water” signifies life. It is a life-giving work that Nicholas has been involved with all these years. Thirty six years is a long time. It reflects the character of a person and the strength of his calling.

    “wind blows” – the Greek for Spirit is pneuma which is often translated as breath or wind. This indicates the influence of the Holy Spirit in Nicholas’ ministry. As at times, the direction in which the wind blows is unpredictable, as does the direction the Holy Spirit has led Nicholas’ ministry.

    “plants fruit” shows the importance of investing in human beings. Plants are used to represent people in Nicholas’ ministry while fruit may be self-development of these people to fulfil their personal destinies. It also indicates the fruit of the Holy Spirit of their lives.

    “in the garden of the minds” is where the battleground is. His teaching and caring ministry may be likened to a gardener caring for a garden. The planting, tilling, watering, prunings are conducive to growth as in the light from the Son.

    “single water droplet falls, pond calm surface calls” is the imagery of a drop of water falling on the placid calm surface of a pond or a lake. A ripple forms and widens in concentric circles outwards. His ministry is like a drop of water in God’s redemptive plan.

    “in mind like living waters, ripple widens, outward forever flows.” No one but God will know the effect of each individual action or act of kindness. Like as ripple in the lake spreading ever outwards, causing secondary ripples and so on, Nicholas’ ministry has far reaching circumstances that no one will know.

    I dedicate this to the man and his wife who serve their God well.

    Johor's Longest Serving Pastor Retires

    State's longest serving pastor retires

    Roger Tan

    YESTERDAY saw the retirement of Johor's longest-serving pastor, Reverend Nicholas Yeo, 67, after more than 35 years of faithful service in one of Johor's oldest churches, Holy Light Church (English) (HLCE) at Jalan Gertak Merah, Johor Baru.

    Reverend Nicholas Yeo with  his wife, Lee Swee Keng, who faithfully supported his ministry for more than 30 years.
    Reverend Nicholas Yeo with his wife, Lee Swee Keng, who faithfully supported his ministry for more than 30 years.
    Reverend Nicholas Yeo welcoming Colonel Mustaffa Awang  for the Boys Brigade Awards Day on  March 20, 1976.
    Reverend Nicholas Yeo welcoming Colonel Mustaffa Awang for the Boys Brigade Awards Day on March 20, 1976.

    The Holy Light Church was founded by a young missionary from the Presbyterian Church of England, Reverend John Cook in 1886. Then, Cook was much assisted by a Scotsman, Datuk James Meldrum, who was the son-in-law of Reverend Benjamin Keasberry, a tutor to Sultan Abu Bakar.

    The church grounds in Jalan Gertak Merah were given by the late Sultan.

    At the time, the Sunday worship services comprised Chinese (Teochew) and English sessions, and many British civil servants and servicemen based in Johor Baru attended them.

    However, when Meldrum passed away in 1908, the English service also came to a halt. It was not until August 1952 that the new resident moderator of the church, Reverend George Hood, revived the English service.

    Between 1952 and 1973, foreign missionaries -- Hood, Richard Shad, Robert Elder, Derek Gill, Gilbert Lum, Cecil Gracey, Donald Elliot and Robert Irving -- continued to minister the English-speaking congregation as it was difficult to find an Asian who was prepared to serve as a pastor.

    Their prayers for an Asian to take over the ministry were finally answered in December 1973 when Yeo, then 31 years old and a former secondary school teacher who had just graduated from the Singapore Bible College, was inducted as a preacher of the English service.

    Hood, 92, who now lives in Scotland, later wrote that when the hopes of getting an Asian pastor were realised, it was like rain falling on dry ground, bringing new life and growth of the seeds that the foreign missionaries had planted.

    Then on Aug 31, 1979, Yeo was officially ordained as the church's first Asian minister.

    In his more than 30 years of ministry at Holy Light Church (English), the Batu Pahat-born Yeo was ably supported by his wife, Lee Swee Keng, who hailed from Klang, Selangor. Apparently, the couple met in 1969 at a Teachers' Christian Fellowship Conference and soon fell in love and were married on July 29, 1971 in Batu Pahat. In 1977, Swee Keng also gave up her teaching career to assist Yeo in their ministry at HLCE.

    Even though he does not undertake aggressive proselytisation, nevertheless the depth and breadth of Yeo's impact on the lives of the many who came to know him is a testimony of the pious life which he leads and a role model which he plays as an exemplary pastor to his colleagues as well as a religious patriarch to his congregation.

    Yeo possesses a multiplicity of gifts. He speaks and writes impeccable English, and has a mellifluous voice that always warms the hearts of the congregation whenever he sings.

    I find Yeo to be extremely humble despite the many honours and accolades paid him over more than three decades of ministerial service. I still remember how I once informed him that I should write to the authorities to nominate him for a Datukship especially when he was also instrumental in setting up the English Speaking Presbytery (ESP) within the Presbyterian Synod, and was the ESP's first moderator. Yeo declined, for he always seeks to please the God he serves rather than men.

    I also remember Yeo as someone who does not retaliate or speak evil of those who disagree or criticise him. Faced with a litany of accusations against him during a church crisis in the 1990s, there was never a single moment when defending himself did Yeo retaliate or attack his accusers -- a virtue of forgiveness which many of our politicians today seriously lack and ought to emulate.

    Perhaps his life and service at HLCE are best summed up by Elder Dr Koh Seong Kooi.

    "If you look at his life, he is a patient guy. He is kind and does not envy. He is not rude. He is not self-seeking. He is not easily angered," said Dr Koh, 56.

    "He does not delight in evil. He rejoices with the truth. He keeps no record of wrongs. He always protects; always trusts; always hopes and perseveres. As a shepherd looking after the flock in Holy Light, we have the best pastor with us."

    Paul Juby, 77, a captain of the Johor Baru 1st Company of Boys Brigade in the 1970s and who now lives in England, agrees.

    "I well remember when Nicholas came to Johor Baru when I was the Captain of the Boys' Brigade. He gave whole-hearted support to the Boys' Brigade and I know full well that he has been a great pastor for more than 30 years. He is a wonderful man who has done so much for so many people," said Juby.

    In his last official sermon to the congregation as their pastor, Yeo reminded them this: "While we move along with change, there are absolutes which we should not let go of. The absolutes are those of God -- do not change His Word which is steadfast as our life manual."

    In appreciation of their services, HLCE will hold a special retirement service and appreciation dinner for Yeo and Swee Keng at New York Hotel, Johor Baru, at 5pm on Sunday.

    To Pastor and Swee Keng who have been a great inspiration to many as well as my family and I, we thank you and wish you happy retirement and many, many more years of good health and happiness.