Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ecclesiology: Humble Service In The Body of Christ

Let’s do a brief exercise today. Find a person next to you preferably someone whom you seldom talk to. Spend two minutes each answering these questions:

What is one thing you can be thankful for in CDPC Puchong this morning? “I am very grateful to God this morning that though we are many, we are one body in Christ. It’s always enriching to worship together with brothers and sisters from diverse culture, language, nationality, age group and ethnicity.”  

Maybe today is your first time here. If you are our guest this morning, just share what is your first impression stepping into this place?

It’s great to see the church and especially children in Sunday School writing thank you notes to their teachers and to God for the blessings of being part of this community.

Humble Service in the Body of Christ

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

CDPC Puchong was born on 21st March, 2010. It’s easy to remember her birthday: 321.
She will turn 4 years old this coming Friday. Look at how fast our children have grown: Rosie, River, Andrew, Lee Yi, Yoong Zhen… They are about same age as this church.

4 years of worshipping and living together as a community in Christ…
4 years of sharing of our joys and sorrows, the ups and downs of life together.
4 years of serving Christ and building His church together.

Today I would like to look back on our journey so far and remember with you what God has done in our midst. We want to celebrate and give thanks for what His sovereign grace has wrought in this church. There is much to be grateful for. And it’s also a good time for us to look ahead to where we want to go in the year ahead. And there is much to look forward to… (We look forward to rejoicing with Yih Khai and Jessica as they tied the knots this coming Saturday) 

In the Scripture passage we read a moment ago, Paul is laying out what it means to live in light of the gospel. What are the practical implications of the good news? In earlier chapters, Paul wrote that we know of God as Creator, we perceive His power and moral law yet we exchanged His glory to worship lesser things. But instead of punishing us, God gives us a righteousness that comes not by observing the law, but through faith in Christ. Christ became an atoning sacrifice for our forgiveness. When we turn away from sin, we look outside of ourselves and we look to Christ who justifies us (He declares us as righteous). We look to Christ who sanctifies us, making us righteous through His Spirit and one day, He will return to bring us to glory. It’s all about Christ, not about how good we are.

In light of that good news, Paul says: By the grace God has given me as an apostle I say to every one of you: “Don’t have too high estimate of yourselves but rather think of yourself with sober judgment. Have an accurate, balanced and humble evaluation of who you are. But how? How do we have a sober judgment? Well, you do it by reference to the faith which God has distributed to each of you. It could mean that God gives different measure of faith to different people, and since it is God’s gift and not of our selves; there is no room for boasting or envy. But the phrase “in accordance with the faith God has given you”… may also mean that you have sober estimate of who you are only when measured by the faith… the gospel is the real yardstick of who we are… only by the cross, we can measure how deeply broken and sinful we are because God himself has to die to redeem us… and only by the cross, we can measure how deeply loved and treasured we are because God himself would die for such as us. Only through the cross, we see ourselves as we truly are… both saints and sinners at the same time.  

CDPC Puchong… what does that mean for us as a church? Coming to our fourth year as a church plant, it’s good to do a sober evaluation of how far we have come. We are who we are because of God’s gracious gift. So we can look back and give thanks. We can also accept our shortcomings with hope for change.

When you step into CDPC Puchong, you’d probably observe the sofa arrangements, a wonderful children’s library, storybooks and toys lying around and a feeding room. There’s a monthly kid’s talk. There’s a Sunday school and English language tuition ministry. There’s also a Rosie fan club. You’d hear children running around, making lots of noise. You get the feeling that this is a family-friendly place, don’t you?

Last year, we focused on building strong families (and healthy marriages). Every month, we watched a video together on “Sacred Parenting”. We learnt from Gary Thomas that God uses our children to shape and mold us to be more Christ-like. Parenting is not a distraction from following Jesus. It is the means of our spiritual formation and the instrument by which God shaped us to be a disciple. We had the chance to share what we learnt in small groups and pray for each other as a family. Huey Fern and Sook Yee also started a covenant group for couples to build strong Christ-centered marriages.

That’s how we lived out the letter ‘L’ in our SIMPLE DNA. These are not just words on our website. They are guiding values that are important to us.

The other DNA that we focused on last year was I – “Integrating faith and work”. If you hang around for some time, you’d notice that almost every week we have a unique conversation with various people on how their faith makes a difference in the marketplace. We pray for our sister or brother as they follow Jesus in a fallen world with very real challenges and temptations. We lay hands and send them out as a truth-telling journalist, as a student-witness in the campus, as a lecturer who doesn’t only lecture but be available his students and so on. Through sermons on how the gospel transforms culture, movies, politics and spirituality at work, we remind each other that Christ is Lord of every area of our human life - be it in the factory, classroom, home or office.

Each church has her unique character, strengths and weaknesses. And we are no different.  So over the years, you begin to sense these SIMPLE values begin to shape how we do things here in worship, at home or at work.

For “S” (Seek and Celebrate God), we are grateful for the unassuming, faithful excellence of our worship team. Their creative arrangements breathe new rhythm into old hymns and our PA team that ensures the sound system works and the sermon podcasts are available on the website. The ethos of our worship is a blend of old hymns and new choruses. Even though worship leaders have their own styles and personality, we seek to have one thing in common: Our worship tells a story. We want to tell the gospel by the way we worship. So as we worship week in week out, this liturgy… a pattern of adoration, repentance, assurance of forgiveness and dedicating ourselves to God’s purpose reshape our hearts and minds to pursue Him with all our hearts.  

For “M” (Making disciples), we are grateful for the opportunity to share Jesus and do a Bible study on the gospel of Mark with students from various parts of the world. We are grateful that Mandy could share the Christmas story with children from the library. We can also see how people are transformed and their discipleship deepen when they commit to one another and feel safe to share their lives with each other in a covenant group.

Last Monday, Uncle Lawrence (our sister Janet Tan’s father) went home to be with the Lord after a brave fight with cancer. Pastor Wong and other members of the church went to Penang to attend the funeral and mourn with her family. Even when he could not speak, Uncle Lawrence encouraged so many people including the doctors with his inspiring trust in Christ that overcomes fear of death. I could only wish that I could stare death in the face with similar confidence. Janet has shared with me how the community, especially her covenant group has been a source of courage and support during this time.

And that’s what church ought to be like. It’s not a social club. It’s not a multi level marketing company. Though we are many, we are one body in Christ. If our hand is hurt, the whole body shares the pain. Our eyes tear up, our mouth cries out, our face becomes contorted. We belong to one another.

Unfortunately I can’t tell you what a covenant group is like. You have to experience it for yourself. We are encouraged to see signs of growth, community life and leaders emerging from these small groups. But it’s not something that has permeated the entire church yet. Some of us still go through tough times in silence and alone. Others remain as an observer, rushing off right after the service. You may wonder if there’s more to church than this.

So let’s talk about other areas where we can improve. Last Sunday, Steven shared from his heart about how we could neglect prayer and relying on God’s strength in the midst of our busyness and activities. We could certainly be more intentional and effective in reaching out to others with the gospel. For ‘P’ (DNA for “Plant churches”), who is aware that there is a church plant being planned in KL? Various individuals like Ian, Micah and Pastor Wong are part of that conversation. But it doesn’t feel like something that we as a church have actively owned it through our prayers, financial support and growing/sending out leaders. Many of us are probably not even aware of it. So for that reason, I think we have yet to cultivate a missional church planting culture in our midst. It’s probably something that we should work towards over the next few years.

When it comes to “E” (Embrace Reformed theology), we have been committed to no-frills expository preaching from Scripture, aiming to be Christ-centered and letting the gospel shape every corner of life. That’s something we desire. But we could probably help each other improve in our preaching through mutual feedback and sharing best practices. Personally, I take it as a good sign if members are comfortable to invite non-Christian friends or eager to share sermon podcasts online because they know that church is always a scene of evangelism. People are confident to bring friends because no matter what Bible text we preach on, every message is ultimately pointing us to the gospel of Jesus and applied to people’s heart. We’re not there yet but that’s the goal we aim for.

That in a nutshell is where we have come so far. As we reflect and pray and look forward to the year ahead, we see the need to major in the major and minor in the minor. If we focus our time and energy on a few priorities like evangelism, discipleship/spiritual care and raising leaders, it would make a big impact on the church as a whole.

You may ask: How do we measure signs of growth in the church? How do we know if we are going in the right direction? What is our Key Performance Indicators (KPI)?

Sometimes you hear it said that “God requires faithfulness, not fruitfulness.” But the reality is that God requires both faithfulness and fruitfulness. When the seed of God’s word fell on good soil, it grew and produced fruit – some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold and some a hundred times. There is no category for unfruitful good soil.

The question is not whether you will bear fruit. The only question is: How much? What kind of fruit are we expecting?  If we make disciples, if we become disciples ourselves: What kind of growth are we seeking for? How do we measure spiritual growth?

When you look into the life of this church, our spiritual growth can and should show up in all sorts of ways. I think Romans 12 paints a beautiful picture of how that is going to look like. Scripture says: We have different gifts… We have different functions according to the grace God has given.
You see, the church is like a body with different gifted members. The big idea is not to have ministry of a few, but to empower ministry of every member sitting on the pew. Speaking the gospel in people’s life and making disciples is not only the job of full time ministers. All of us play different roles as God’s people in loving, serving and building each other up, Sunday by Sunday. We all have a one-to-one ministry of the people, by the people and for the people of God. Each of us can be a disciple-maker in our own way.

If that’s your understanding of what the church is…if that’s your ecclesiology… As you step into church, your thinking will not be: “Where should I go for lunch after service? Bak kut teh in Klang or Kungfu steam fish in Puchong? Or will Wee Lern play my favorite worship songs this morning?” You won’t think like a consumer or a customer. Instead, we will pray as we come: “Lord, where should I sit this morning? Lord, please guide me this morning to someone who needs encouragement, whom I could show friendship and hospitality. Would you lead me to someone whom I could pray for and serve this morning?” I know of a sister who visited our church and on her very first visit, she sat next to our Indonesian sisters and translated the sermon to them in Bahasa… Nobody asked her to do it. She just intentionally sat next to them and humbly served.

If CDPC Puchong makes progress in this area, we would go a long way towards obeying Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations. If we make progress in this area, we would see signs of different members exercising their gifts in this way. So think of your own role in this journey together as we look at the spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12.

If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith. None of us is divinely inspired like the prophet Elijah or the apostle Paul. None of us can tell the future infallibly. We cannot prophesy in that sense, but there is also a sense that prophecy in the early church refers to “telling forth something that God has spontaneously brought to mind that we would not otherwise have known”. And this must always be measured by what the Scriptures say. It cannot contradict God’s written word. For example, a friend recently had a mental picture of a house perching precariously on a rock, about to fall and then the word, "family" came. He sensed the Lord urging him to ask the person sitting next to him: “How is your wife today?” The person replied: Why you wanna know? So he shared that it seems that the Lord put that impression on his mind. And his friend goes: “Wah! So you can see one ah?” (bomoh with bamboo binoculars) and so he shares that his wife has left him recently. That opens up a chance for him to counsel this person.

There is also another sense in Revelations 19 that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Testifying about Jesus is also a kind of prophecy, forth-telling His truth. We see spiritual growth in CDPC when more people rise up and say: “David, I’ve enjoyed sharing the gospel with the students from overseas. I wonder if God is calling me… Or I love to invite my Omani friends to church, could the sermon address some of her apologetic questions and existential concerns? Instead of top-down programs and events, people spontaneously come up and say: “Pastor, I want to start an evangelistic Bible study with young people but I’m a little nervous. Would the church please pray?” 

If it is serving, then serve. Steven and Han Meng serve as deacons in managing the church’s finances and well-being of our church premises on top of spiritual care for the congregation. Constance and the Kopitiam team serve us today in preparing food and even the dish-washing because there is no water supply today. Sophea served us by baking a nice cake for the anniversary. They would need your help to serve in setting up the tables for Kopitiam after the service. I think we see signs of growth when members make personal and even career sacrifices so that they can serve others. For example, we hope to hear stories like: “Hey, did you know Tom turned down a promotion three times at Sunway College so that he could continue devoting himself in the college ministry?”

If it is teaching, then teach: We see signs of growth when parents intentionally disciple their children in the faith. That’s what Mandi and Sandy will help us do in the “Family Worship” covenant group. It’s encouraging to see people step up to be Sunday school teachers to teach and equip our kids in catechism, Bible study through songs, activities and crafts. It becomes ever more important to clearly teach and equip our young people, not just to entertain them. If our children who have grown up in church know more about how to sing “Kumbaya” or they get more excited about Justin Bieber or Katy Perry, than they do about Christ, the Scriptures or how to wrestle honestly with doubt, then we have a huge discipleship problem.

If it is to encourage, then give encouragement: We can measure growth when regular members sense a fresh sense of their responsibility in encouraging newer members. When after service, we gather for conversations and prayers that build up and encourage each other in our life struggles and problems. We begin to think: “Hmmm…Who is new to CDPC in the last 6 months? Do they hang around after church service? Maybe I should invite them to come over for lunch?” Like Steven said last week, the hour after service is a key window of opportunity when personal, one-to-one spiritual care and discipleship happens. If everybody rushes for the door after the benediction, we’re in trouble.

If it is giving, then give generously: We cannot measure growth by the size of our budget but sacrificial cheerful giving is a sign of discipleship. We hope to hear husbands and wives having this conversation even in times of rising costs: “Darling, the Lord has provided for our needs. We have enough to live by. Maybe we should plan how can we cut fifty ringgit from our monthly budget in order to support World vision?” In every revival, there are generous givers behind the scene who provide resource so others can proclaim the gospel. Behind the Great Awakening revival was a wealthy Lady Huntingdon… behind the first translation of the English Bible was funding from a businessman named Humphrey Monmouth… behind the ministry of Jesus were supporters like Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Suzanna… They were unsung heroes, visionary, risk-taking, and generous men and women who were active partners in great spiritual movements. They often chose to remain anonymous. CDPC Puchong has also been blessed financially by such gospel patrons… I could name some of them but I want to honor their decision to remain unknown.

If it is to lead, do it diligently: For a church to be healthy, we need godly and able leaders, elders, pastors and deacons. We need gospel-centered fathers and mothers to lead a family. Last year, we are so encouraged to see Doris and Victor leading our young people in the Christmas play and Sandy/Mandi leading the children library Christmas program. When we see more covenant group leaders being trained and stepping up to serve others, that’s a great sign of healthy spiritual growth.

 If it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully: There are brothers and sisters in our midst who are in need. Some are being persecuted for their faith. Others are in need of support raising children with special needs or dealing with marriage issues. There are less privileged children who need education to escape the poverty cycle. We can see that the gift of joyful mercy happening in the English tuition ministry for the Enggang Flats kids. I think we can measure growth when we see more members share their time, energy and resources to show practical help cheerfully to each other.

So as we celebrate our fourth anniversary, we are reminded that because of Christ’s broken body and shed blood, we are now one in Him and we belong to each other. We have seen some signs of spiritual growth and unity in CDPC Puchong. So we give God all the glory. And we look forward to more growth and adventures ahead as we continue to humbly serve each other in the body of Christ. We need everyone to be on board.

It’s easy to see if we ourselves are following Jesus. The spiritual life we have will multiply, reproduce and bear fruit in making other disciples.  We will see that passion rub off on others. Others will catch the fire if we are on fire. 

Let us pray. 


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