2016: Another Year to Serve. BRIL.

New Year resolutions. Pithy inspirational quotes. A sudden boost in planning for the year ahead.

The Coffee Academics, Scotts Square, SingaporeThe Coffee Academics, Scotts Square

Plagued by chronic pessimism, figuring it’d be a waste of time joining the lemming rush, I was content to sit by the wayside (in a coffee shop) and think about the components of ministry and how one could get better at it. After all, the work of the Lord is far from pointless.

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:56-58)

The turkey-and-gammon-stuffed brain threw up an old gem from MY, fount of all pithily-packaged wisdom, though certainly not of the Hallmark variety.

The Coffee Academics, Scotts Square, Singapore

What makes properly fruitful Christian ministry?

B R I O

Bible, Relationship with God, Individuals, Oomph!.

(Or “BRIL” = Bible, Relationship with God, Individuals, Leadership.)

First, the Bible.

  • importance of the Bible

The gospel is not about we have done, but what God has done for us. This is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion in the world. But if the gospel is what God has done, then we need to know what he has done, is doing, will be doing. How can we know this? Through revelation, in God’s word – the Bible. Christian faith and maturity come from understanding what he has said in Scripture.

  • therefore, necessary primacy of the Bible in ministry

28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29)

 

Ministry is about telling people what God has said, so that people can be hearing and responding to what God has said. The job of the minister is to proclaim Jesus from his word.

The Bible therefore is absolutely fundamental to ministry.

But there is the temptation to move away from the Word. Why? Because there may not be any evident success in keeping with the Word. God works slowly – and what he does is not always spectacular; we may not see results soon. But only God’s work done God’s way will last. If we are not God-centred, we will be man-centred.

  • therefore, necessary familiarity with all God has said in the Bible

16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:17-18)

We need to be familiar with all that God has said in the Bible. The Bible is a compilation of books, but it is not a random collection of truth. It is a narrative – how God is saving a people to be with him in eternity. So we need to know how all the pieces fit together to contribute to that storyline.

26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:26-27)

We need to know what God has said with regard to some of the issues that we face. For example, the Bible has a lot to say about suffering. We must understand all of what God says about it – we can’t just select some bits, but must have some idea of the whole. So we can’t just say that suffering is normal now, without pointing to the new creation where suffering and death will be no more. Otherwise, there will be despair. Neither can we merely say that suffering will cease in the new creation, but neglect to mention that it is normal now.

To begin to get a good grasp of the Bible, we should get familiar with some of the key books of the Bible. We need to know a Gospel well. Romans is one of the best summaries of the gospel. Colossians and 1 Corinthians – are very important, and contain important truths. Starting with a few books begins to help us to get to know the Bible better. Over the years, we can then build up a portfolio of books that we can get to know. And over time, we can get to know the whole Bible. How very exciting! What alot there is to know.

Knowing the Bible is a lifetime’s occupation.

The Coffee Academics, Scotts Square, SingaporeTherefore, learn to handle the Bible correctly for yourself

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Timothy has been Paul’s right hand man for many years. Still, Paul lists some key things necessary in being a good worker for God. Why is rightly handling the Word so important? See above.

How do we get to know the Bible better and better? By handling the Bible better and better. How do we do so? By working at the text ourselves, and not going to commentaries.

There are so many commentaries around – how do you know which one is right? Also, if we use commentaries, our understanding is always going to be secondhand – we won’t be able to check what is being said. And we won’t have the freshness of God speaking to us; it will be stale. We will be bored because we will always just be relying on someone else’s insight. We will not be excited by the word.

Why do so many people start off with good intentions in teaching the word then give up? Because they have no sense of freshness, of seeing for themselves and saying “oh gosh!”, no extra depth.

The Coffee Academics, Scotts Square, Singapore
Therefore, learn how to teach the Bible to others

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

If you understand the Bible but you can’t teach it, it will be of no value to anyone else.

Teaching the Bible isn’t something you can learn from a book or talk. You learn by just doing it – trial and error. Just like learning to play a sport, to fish, or to ride a bicycle.

It takes a lot of time, and we might think that no one seems to notice. But cumulatively, over the years, this is what will most grow God’s kingdom. It may not seem glamorous or successful, but we must trust that this is the way God wants to do it since he says so in his Word.

———————

The Coffee Academics Singapore (facebook)
Scotts Square
Singapore

TCA at Scotts Square is the Singapore outpost of the much-recommended TCA in Hong Kong. But like the long slow process of training necessary for Bible teachers, it seemed it was still early days for their baristas when we visited.

The Coffee Academics, Scotts Square, Singapore

JWF Blend, ice-drip (S$14 (£7))

Described as a blend of rare Kenyan caracoli beans, the unanimous opinion around the table was that it was extremely citrusy (or sour, depending on how pained you were at having wasted good money). Not quite the “delicate fruity flavours” advertised. Perhaps it was underextracted and needed a higher bean:water ratio.

flat white. The Coffee Academics, Scotts Square, Singaporeflat white, TCA blend (Panama geisha, Columbia caturra, Ethiopian heirloom) (S$6.50 (£3.25))

Now any of these beans, by themselves, would have been excellent, so it was baffling why anyone would have decided to blend them. With the FW price index in Singapore hovering about the S$5 mark, the premium price seemed attributable to the brand-name beans rather than any corresponding increase in caffeine bliss.

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Haig Road Market Putu Piring and Letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to PAP MPs on Rules of Prudence

This made me forget I was eating very tasty Haig Road Market putu piring. (Oh, but how tasty. Not chewy in texture like Tan’s Kueh Tu Tu, but slightly delicately crumbly like idli. With melty coconut sugar in the middle. Festooned with sweet-salty shredded coconut. 5 for S$2.)

Haig Road Market Putu PiringNow Christian leaders are no strangers to the concept of servant leadership, and the idea that one must not just be godly but also must be seen to be godly so as not to stumble the flock. It was a pleasant surprise to see these things reflected in PM Lee Hsien Loong’s letter to the PAP MPs.

Surely common grace means that the sort of biblical wisdom found in the Old Testament isn’t just advantageous to Christians, but because God made all things, it is also the best way to live in this world.

Also, Isaac Watts!

PM Lee’s letter reproduced from here:

Letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to PAP MPs on Rules of Prudence

All PAP MPs

RULES OF PRUDENCE

BEYOND SG50

It is a tradition for the Prime Minister to send a letter on “Rules of Prudence” to all the PAP MPs after an election.  The context each time may be different but the subject remains constant, because integrity, honesty and incorruptibility are fundamental to our Party.  We must never tire of reminding ourselves of their importance.

2.        Our Party has won 83 out of 89 seats in the just concluded General Election, with all seats contested. Overall, the PAP won 69.9% of the votes.

3.        The people have endorsed what we have done in the previous term, and given us a clear mandate to take Singapore forward beyond SG50.  Now we must fulfil what we have promised to do in our manifesto. We must never break faith with the people, but must always carry out our duties to them responsibly, address their worries and advance their interests.

4.        Be humble in victory. As MPs, always remember we are servants of the people, not masters. Do not mistake the strong election result to mean that our efforts have succeeded, and that we can afford to slacken. Much work remains to be done tackling issues which concern Singaporeans, and finding new ways to improve people’s lives. Listen hard to voter concerns, help them to tackle pressing needs, and convey their worries and aspirations to the Government. Persuade them to support policies which are in their own long term benefit, while helping the Government to formulate good policies and stay in close touch with the people.

UPHOLDING OUR REPUTATION AND INTEGRITY

5.        One vital factor that has enabled the PAP to retain the trust of Singaporeans all these years is honesty and integrity. The PAP’s reputation for clean, incorruptible government is one of our most precious assets. As PAP MPs, your personal standing reflects this high standing of the Party as a whole. I cannot stress strongly enough that every MP must uphold the rigorous standards that we have set for ourselves, and do nothing to compromise them. Never give cause for allegations that you are misusing your position, especially your access to Ministers.  That would discredit both you and the Party.

6.        As MPs, you will come across many different sorts of people. Many altruistic, public spirited individuals will help you without wanting anything in return, spending time and money to get community projects going and to serve residents. But a few will cultivate you to obtain benefits for them-selves or their companies, to gain respectability by association with you, or to get you to influence ministries and statutory boards to make decisions in their favour. Gift hampers on festive occasions, entertainment, and personal favours big and small are just a few of countless social lubricants which such people use to ingratiate themselves to MPs and make you obligated to them.

7.        You must distinguish between these two groups of people, and be shrewd in assessing the motives of those who seek to get close to you. At all times be seen to be beyond the influence of gifts or favours.

8.        Be scrupulously proper in your contacts with government departments or public officers.  Do not lobby any ministry or statutory board on behalf of anyone who is not your constituent or grassroots activist.  Do not raise matters with public officers on behalf of friends, clients, contractors, employers, or financiers to advance their business interests.  Conduct business with government agencies in writing and avoid making telephone requests.  If you have to speak, follow up in writing to put your requests on record.

9.        MPs are often approached by friends, grassroots leaders or proprietors and businessmen to officiate at the openings of their new shops or other business events. They usually offer a gesture, such as a donation to a charity or constituency welfare fund. Though it may be awkward to refuse such requests, once you accept one, you will be hard-pressed to draw a line. As a rule, you should decline invitations to such business events. If you feel you should attend, please obtain prior approval from the Whip.

SEPARATING BUSINESS AND POLITICS

10.      Separate your public political position from your private, professional or business interests.  MPs who are in business, who occupy senior management positions in companies, or who sit on company boards should be especially vigilant.  You must not exploit your public position as Government MPs, your close contacts with the Ministers, or your access to government departments and civil servants, for your personal interest or the benefit of your employers.  Your conduct must always be above board.

11.      MPs who are employed by companies or industry associations may at times have to make public statements on behalf of their company or industry association.  If you have to do so, make it clear that you are not speaking as an MP, but in your private, professional or business capacity.

12.      Do not use Parliamentary questions as a means to lobby the Government on behalf of your businesses or clients. When you raise questions in Parliament related to your own businesses or your clients, be careful to first declare your pecuniary interest in the issue.

13.      You may, however, speak freely to Cabinet Ministers, who are your Parliamentary colleagues.  Ministers will listen carefully to arguments on principles, especially when they relate to the general policy of their Ministries.  But Ministers will not exercise their discretion to change individual decisions without very good reasons which they can justify publicly.  Parliamentary Secretaries and Ministers of State who intervene in their Ministries to reverse or alter decisions should promptly report the matter to their Ministers to protect themselves against possible accusations of misconduct.  The Government must always base decisions on the merits of the issues, and cannot yield to pressure from interested parties.

DIRECTORSHIPS

14.      MPs are often invited to serve on the Boards of private and publicly listed companies.  This is a sign that the private sector values PAP MPs’ integrity and experience, and reflects the high standing of the Party and of PAP MPs in general.  The Party permits MPs to serve as directors, provided you keep your private and public responsibilities rigorously separate, and your private appointments do not compromise your duties and performance as an MP.

15.      The public will closely scrutinise your involvement in companies, because you are a PAP MP.  Conduct your business activities so as to bring credit to yourself and to the Party.  Adverse publicity on your performance as a director, or lapses in the companies you are associated with, will tarnish your reputation as an MP and lower the public’s regard for the Party.

16.      You should not solicit for Directorships in any companies, lest you appear to be exploiting your political position to benefit yourself.

17.      You should not accept directorships where your role is just to dress up the board with a PAP MP or two, in order to make the company look more respectable.

18.      Some grassroots leaders are businessmen who own or manage companies.  You should not sit on any boards of companies owned or chaired by grassroots leaders appointed by you, so as to avoid the perception that you are obligated to them or advancing their business interests.

19.      If you are offered a Directorship, you have to decide for yourself whether to accept.  The Party is not in a position to vet or approve such decisions.

20.      Before accepting, consider the possible impact of the Directorship on your political life.  Ensure that the company understands that you are doing so strictly in your private capacity, and will not use your public position to champion the interests of the company, or lobby the government on its behalf.

21.      Make every effort to familiarise yourself with the business, track record and background of the key promoters of the company.  Satisfy yourself that the company is reputable, and that you are able to make a meaningful contribution.  Specifically, just like anyone else contemplating a Directorship, you should ask yourself:

a.         How well do you know the company, its business strategy, financial status, shareholding structure and the underlying industry?

b.        Do you know your fellow directors, the way the Board and its committees fulfil their responsibilities, the reporting structure between Board and Management and the relationship between shareholders and the company?

c.         Do you have sufficient industry, financial or professional expertise to fulfil your expected role and responsibilities as a Director?  Do you understand your obligations under the law and the Code of Corporate Governance?  Will you be able to discharge your fiduciary duties properly and without fear or favour?

d.        Will you face any conflicts of interest, and if so can you manage them? If in any doubt, you should decline.

22.      Once you have decided to take up a Directorship, please inform the Whip. Detailed reporting requirements are listed in the Annex.

PARLIAMENT

23.      MPs are expected to attend all sittings of Parliament.  If you have to be absent from any sitting, seek permission from the Government Whip.  Please inform the Whip if you have to leave the Parliament premises while a sitting is on.

24.      If you travel abroad, or need to be absent from Parliament for any reason, you must apply to the Speaker for leave, with copies to the Leader of the House and the Government Whip.  You should also inform the Whip where you can be reached while abroad.

25.      I have asked the Speaker to give all MPs, particularly new MPs, ample opportunity and latitude to speak in Parliament.  Your first opportunity will be during the debate on the President’s Address at the opening of Parliament in January 2016.  Following that, at the Budget Debate, all MPs should speak up.  Script your speeches or put your key points in note form to structure your presentation and help the media.

26.      The public expects PAP MPs to express their views frankly, whether for or against Government policies. During debates, speak freely and with conviction.  Press your points vigorously, and do not shy away from robust debate.  However, please exercise judgement when putting your points across, and do not get carried away playing to the gallery.

27.      Bring out questions and issues that Singaporeans and your constituents have concerns about, and grapevine talk for the Government to rebut, but avoid unwittingly lending credence to baseless gossip. This will show that you and the Party are in touch with the ground, and speaking up for Singaporeans. Bringing up pertinent issues and questions in a timely manner helps ministers to put across the facts, explain the reasons for policies and decisions, and maintain public confidence in the openness and integrity of our actions.

28.      Your honest, informed views are an important political input to Ministers when they formulate and review policies. Ministers will accept valid, constructive suggestions, but they have to challenge inaccurate or mistaken views. Over time, the public will see that PAP backbenchers are as effective as opposition MPs, if not better, at holding ministers to account, getting issues fully debated, and influencing policies for the better.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC OCCASIONS

29.      On certain occasions, like the National Day Parade and the Investiture Ceremony for National Day Awards, the whole Establishment, i.e. the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, will be there.  Those who cannot attend must have very good reasons.  Those who have accepted the invitation must attend, otherwise they leave empty seats, which does no credit to them or to the Party.

30.      At all public functions and constituency events, punctuality is of paramount importance.

GIFTS

31.      You should not accept gifts which might place you under obligations which conflict with your public duties. If you receive any gifts other than from close personal friends or relatives, you must declare them to the Clerk of Parliament who will have the gifts valued.  If you wish to keep the gifts, you must pay the Government for them at the valuation price.

FUND-RAISING

32.      Party Branches should not raise funds on their own without permission, for example by soliciting advertisements for a souvenir magazine or a carnival.  If you intend to raise funds, please clear it beforehand with the Organising Secretary.  When your branch embarks on a collective fund-raising activity, e.g. a Family Day or Walk-A-Jog, you must follow the rules strictly.

FINANCIAL PRUDENCE

33.      As MPs, you should manage your personal financial affairs prudently. Do not over-extend yourself or become financially embarrassed. This would be not only a potential source of personal embarrassment, but also a weakness which may expose you to pressure or blackmail.

34.      In particular, be careful about making major financial commitments assuming that you will continue to receive your MP’s allowance.  While MPs typically serve several terms, you cannot assume that you will automatically be fielded in future General Elections, or that if fielded you will definitely be re-elected.  There is neither tenure nor job security in politics.

DECLARATION OF INCOME

35.      For your own protection, every MP should disclose to me, in confidence, your business and professional interests, your present employment and monthly pay, all retainers and fees that you are receiving, and whether your job requires you to get in touch with officers of Government Ministries or statutory boards on behalf of employers or clients.  Office holders need not do so because you will be subject to the reporting requirements of the Code of Conduct for ministers. This should be done by 31 October 2015.

GENERAL BEHAVIOUR

36.      The PAP has held our position in successive elections because our integrity has never been in doubt, and because we are sensitive to the views and attitudes of the people we represent.  MPs must always uphold the high standards of the Party and not have lifestyles or personal conduct which will embarrass themselves and the Party.  Any slackening of standards, or show of arrogance or indifference by any MP, will erode confidence in him, and ultimately in the Party and Government.  New MPs can pick up the dos and don’ts from older MPs.  You should conduct yourselves always with modesty, decorum and dignity, particularly in the media. You must win respect, not popularity, to stay the course.

MEDIA PUBLICITY

37.      I am releasing a copy of this letter to the media so that the public knows the high standards we demand of our MPs.

LEE HSIEN LOONG

cc: Government Whip

Oxford Degree Ceremony, Stepping into the Cherwell, Christian Ambition

Oxford Degree Ceremony 2015

After the Oxford degree ceremony, where we laughed dutifully at jokes, and clapped to see graduands! (emphasis and exclamation courtesy of Vice-Chancellor) trading up their subfuscs (or other lower degree academic gown) for a more appropriate dress befitting their improved academic status, I said my goodbyes and went to sit at one of my favourite spots by the Cherwell.

Across the path from that tree stump, there is a good view of Christ Church on the other side of the meadow. Christ Church Meadow, OxfordIt is a relatively quiet place to read and think without being bothered too much by humans, though the ducks get precariously close, eyeing up my roast beef baguette (Alternative Tuck Shop (24 Holywell Street)).

One can never sit next to a river without thinking of dear old cryptic Heraclitus’

ποταμοῖσι τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν ἐμβαίνουσιν

ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα ὕδατα ἐπιρρεῖ

He has other delightful fragmentaries, like:

Θυμῷ μάχεσθαι χαλεπόν· ὅ τι γὰρ ἂν

χρηίζῃ γίνεσθαι, ψυχῆς ὠνέεται.

(“It is hard to contend against one’s heart’s desire; for whatever it wishes to have it buys at the cost of soul” or similar.)

Christ Church Meadow, OxfordOn this day of formal official change, of another batch of bright-eyes-and-bushy-tails wandering out into the wide world, I was thinking of the people coming out of OICCU and St. Ebbe’s, and of all the new graduates keen on making a difference for the gospel in the world.

In a sense, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change, the more things stay the same) seemed the more appropriate quote of the day.

In the last few years of participating in church life in Singapore, this seems to be the sad progression of events in many (not all) of the lives of keen young male graduates:

  • they are utterly convinced of the power of the gospel for salvation and are wanting as many people to hear about the good news as possible. They love the Bible as the word of God and are adamant about its power for the salvation of souls, and its necessity in the growth of Christians. There is joy and energy and potential;
  • somebody earmarks them for leadership of a Bible study group or they enthusiastically volunteer for the job;
  • a few years down the road, they start to get inexplicably sensitive about their position within the group and/or vis-à-vis other leaders of other groups. They view everyone who isn’t unequivocally supportive of them as threats;
  • if they have managed to gather enough support around themselves, it is a matter of dissing the other leaders and promoting their own ministry, all in Christian terminology of course. If they haven’t, then the alpha male of the group rounds on them, savages them, and by the grace of God and the ministry of friends, they pick the pieces of themselves up from the ground.

David Jackman, with God-given wisdom from his years of ministry, spoke to us about Christian ambition in February 2014. I’ve posted this elsewhere but am regurgitating for my own nourishment (ewww…): scavenging duck by the River Cherwell, Oxford

“Is my ambition directed towards being a table server or a table owner?”

In Luke’s Gospel, the dispute amongst the disciples as to whom was the greatest (Luke 22:14-23) is ironically sandwiched between the institution of the Lord’s supper where Jesus tells them that he will be giving up his body and blood for them (Luke 22:24-30) – even the most privileged moments are tinged with self-seeking, and Jesus warning Peter that Satan will tempt Peter to deny Jesus (Luke 22:31-34).

Romans 12 tells us that the battle with pride is in our minds (Romans 12:2), and we should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but to think with sober judgement, and in humility to count others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).

There are two things likely to derail the disciples: (1) power; and (2) reputation.

The kings of the Gentiles operate through power and through power, they get their reputation. The proof of the reality of what we believe is in our actions. Do we actively seek to serve others? The warning in 1 Timothy 4:16 for him to keep watch on himself and his teaching isn’t just about ensuring that he can tick all the right boxes in the doctrinal statement. There are subtle things that can get hold of us and mar our effectiveness for the gospel.

Ambition is not wrong per se. Competitiveness is ingrained in children in school. But we must remember that we all play before an audience of one. We all want to do well – but for whom do I want to be the best? How much have I imbibed the city culture of being the top dog? Are we still thinking clearly about honouring God? Is my ambition directed towards being a table server or a table owner? Only God can give us the right desire.

All too easily, we can be as concerned as the world about number-crunching and customer satisfaction. We can worry about where we are in the pecking order. We wonder what we will be doing next – looking to get up a rung in the ladder. Has ministry taken the place of God?

An Aussie preacher was once introduced by an effusive young minister as the leader of a successful church that was growing year by year. “Yes,” said the Aussie drily, “we have about 2 million people in our congregation and more being added every day. We run successful conferences and workshops. This is why we don’t need God.” “Oh dear!,”said the alarmed hapless young minister, “what should we say to that?!” “Just sit down!” shouted a voice from the back. This sort of wrong ambition tends to be self-perpetuating.

How then can we have a sober estimate of ourselves?

  • remember that we are not the Christ (John 1:20). We may think that there is only one Jesus, but we surely are tempted to be that Jesus. We are not omnipresent. There may be plenty of people who have plans for our lives but are we concerned with God’s plan for our lives? Do we have over-zealous ownership over our ministry work? Do we not want other people to get into the same work? Are we following our personal agenda? Are we aiming to be super-successful operators?We can’t do it all. God sets us free to be ourselves – that is, humans who operate locally. Christ’s kingdom is not about outward success but the quality of a life lived in service of others. A small rural church recently had a young couple from a good London church join them. The young man was always accusing the pastor of not making good use of the young man’s gifts – he wanted to lead and teach groups as he had done in his old church in London. But where was the humility?
  • remember that only God can give growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). It is not our service that is life-giving. We are dependent on God. Whenever we are tempted to boast of our success, remember that we are only human, only servants. We are merely clay vessels, or disposable plastic cups. What is required of servants is to be faithful.
  • remember that knowledge puffs up but love builds up. The ultimate test is whether there is self-inflation as the result of knowledge. The test is the quality of our relationships – whether they are servant-ly. Love is demonstrated and re-kindled at the cross. That’s why we have, everyday, to come to the cross. Resurrection power is in the Lord Jesus.

We have to say every day that we are only people who serve. We serve for God’s glory, in God’s strength, through the cross of his Son. Otherwise, we will always be on the edge, always looking at other people, always frustrated.