Chua Wee Hian’s Notes & Quotes April/May 2018

 

Looking again at Scribes and Pharisees

I recently heard a gripping sermon where the preacher described “scribes and Pharisees” as cautious and concerned people, not as demons.  We meet many of their contemporaries in our churches today. Some are looked up as pillars of the church, custodians of the faith etc. They are regarded as upright, respected stalwarts of the community.  Thinking of my own spiritual journey, I used to keep company with them. I made sure that those who exercise leadership cross their “t” and dot their “i” correctly O how we love to take theological or moral swipes as those who do not sing from the same hymn sheet as us or march out of step with our version of the Lord’s army. And we frown at those who do not do things according to our tradition.

Different perspectives on church growth

When I became more open to the Spirit and allowed him to re-mould my mind-set and values, grace rather than a rigid law governed the way I made my decisions and related to people. It reminds me of the words of a radical Christian friend who said, “Christianity is not about drawing within fixed lines but expressing our faith with a riot of colours.”

My encounters with modern scribes and Pharisees surprisingly lie in the issue of church growth. When I assumed full time responsibilities of Emmanuel Church in 1991 in London, my passionate goal was to grow and multiply our congregation. I longed for it to be international, reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of London. I still recalled an elder coming to me and urging me not to beat the international drum. I was astounded when he brazenly released what he called “hard words”.  “If we have more folks coming from the black community, think of how Chinese parents will feel if blacks were to marry our daughters. Do we want to produce a hybrid church?” He was well intentioned. I didn’t see demonic horns sprouting out of his head. His racial prejudice, however, could have easily destroyed the dream of establishing an international faith community. Thankfully he left our church a few months later and our congregation did become international.

How the Church Grows

When we hit 200 adult members mark and with an enlarged property of our own, we chose to grow along the lines of cell groups. We aimed at growing numerically and qualitatively. Cells were not groups that gathered to sing, study the scriptures and to enjoy warm fellowship. They incorporated evangelism and discipleship; each cell adopted the goal of multiplying itself within 15 to 18 months. We were growing. You would have thought that we were all thrilled. But I was receiving complaints from the scribal quarter. “We use to spend at least an hour in group Bible study. What a challenge it was to interpret the passage and getting firm grip of biblical truth. In our new cell agenda, we are only given 40 minutes to study the scriptures.”  They were not warming up to the priority of praying for pre-Christians and seeking to win our pre-Christian friends to the Lord. All they wanted was to have their warm fellowship grouping.  Then there was a verbal tussle with another church leader. I remembered him accosting me. “I don’t like the cell framework. When we were a church of 150 nearly everyone was invited to a church wedding. We were one close family. Now only cell members plus a few others are invited. Such a pity.”  Church growth from conversions and reaching out became a threat for him. He preferred operating in a cosy family-size set up. That was his comfort zone and newcomers made him uncomfortable.

Why one Local Church did not Grow

Close to our church in Westminster is a local Baptist church.  The minister had been pastoring there for 50 years. One day, he invited me over a chat. He had just celebrated his 90th birthday. We had been in our new church premises for nearly a year. This old saint grabbed my hand and began to sob, much to my embarrassment. “I don’t get it. Do you think it’s fair? I’ve been serving here in this church for five decades and my church attendance is dwindling. We are fortunate if we get 30 folks to our morning service and 20 to the evening.  You have just moved into our ‘parish’ and your church, I learn, is growing by leaps and bounds. See the organ behind you? I turned round. He continued. “We’ve been singing hymns faithfully accompanied by that organ. No guitars. No drums. Besides, I have unswervingly preached from the King James Bible and never shied away from a gospel appeal.  And yet our numbers are declining.”

I thought he might ask me why our congregation was growing. But he didn’t. He simply wanted to air his frustrations.  After a while, he composed himself. “Thanks for listening. I suppose the bottom line is faithfulness. In the parable of the talents, the master commended two of his servants for their faithfulness, not their success.”  I was going to challenge him by pointing out that the Lord commended them for their faithfulness because they were successful. They had invested wisely, worked hard and were therefore commended. I bit my tongue. I felt rather sad for this old pastor. He wasn’t a winner; he was not willing to learn and adapt to effective ways of pastoring.

Both Faithfulness and Success Commended

Reflecting on my life and ministry, I’m so glad that the Lord wired winning and success together with faithfulness in me. I’m a firm believer in Romans 8:37, where the apostle Paul assures us that “we are more than conquerors through Christ”. He himself reminded the Christians in Corinth that his goal was to run, fight and win. (1 Cor.9: 24-27)

Winning does not mean that we have terrific physique nor does it mean that we pray and do nothing else. Stephen Hawking the renowned astro-physicist, given only two years to live in 1964 when was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, did not cave in to his physical limitations. He did not subscribe to the victim complex.  In his wheelchair, he continued to write, research and lecture and his book A Brief History of Time” sold over 10 million copies. What I admire most about him was his ability to inspire and influence countless students to be captivated by the wonder of the cosmos. Many mourned his passing last month; his body is now interred among other famous men and women in Westminster Abbey.

On 4 April this year, millions remembered a great champion – Martin Luther King Jr. He was tragically assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee 50 years ago. Why is his death commemorated? He was a man who courageously fought inbred racism not with the weapons of hatred and violence but with truth and love.

QUOTES

Timely Quotes from Stephen Hawking

I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these “how” or “why” questions. Occasionally I find an answer.

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.

Look up at the stars and not at your feet.

We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special.

The rate of progress is so rapid that what one learns at school or university is always a bit out of date. Only a few people can keep up with the rapidly advancing frontier of knowledge, and they have to devote their whole time to it and specialize in a small area. The rest of the population has little idea of the advances that are being made or the excitement they are generating.

Stirring Quotes from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

I still believe that standing up for the truth is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end (purpose) of life. The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.

Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.

I have decided to stick to love….Hatred is too great a burden to bear.

When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, when our nights become darker than a thousand midnight’s, let us remember that there is a creative force in the universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil – a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays  into bright tomorrows.

In the midst of outer dangers, I have felt an inner calm and know the resources of strength that only God could give. In many instances I have felt the power of God turning the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope.

Winners with Alastair Campbell

Alastair Campbell is well known as the man who helped Tony Blair to launch New Labour and to win three terms as Prime Minister of the UK. He is much sought out speaker and strategy “guru” He spent years interviewing winners in politics, business, fashion and sports. In his book, Winners, he summarises winning traits.

Winners think big and bold. They are ambitious.

Winners have a plan and where possible stick to it.

Winners pay attention to details, knowing that it is in the constant iteration of planning that that winning objectives can best be met.

Winners never give up. They embrace pressures and setbacks,

Winners turn disappointments into progress. They learn from their mistakes.

Winners always want to improve; the desire to improve leads to innovation.

Winners focus on the next win, not on the last one.

Winners know that the physical and the mental are always connected.

Winners have the will to win; this not the same as wanting to win.

Winners care about their reputation and building it never stops.

Winners hate talents being wasted.

Winners hate losing.

Winners win, because they have to.

Campbell noted the winning secrets of Haile Gebrselassie, world champion long distance runner from Ethiopia:

  1. Use your background
  2. Use your talent.
  3. Love doing what you do.
  4. Have role models.
  5. Have a good team around you .
  6. Always maintain discipline.
  7. stick to a schedule
  8. Prepare properly
  9. Focus on your next win
  10. See the broader significance of winning.

OTHER QUOTES:

ELBERT HUBBARD

The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: Be satisfied with your opinion and content with your knowledge.

The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticisms without resentment.

Cultivate habits that you are willing should master you.

ARISTOTLE

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.

JOHN DRYDEN

We first make our habits, then our habits make us. 

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