After the last post, I was pleased to find David Jackman’s wisdom on this.
We spent the afternoon traipsing through Singapore’s CBD, gently sauna-ing in our office attire, looking for a venue for Easter lunchtime talks.
A late lunch was in order at the famous Hock Lam Beef Noodles (22 China Street, Far East Square), where we chatted about the church scene in Singapore, how small churches lack of economies of scale and contacts for “productive” and “efficient” ministry, and how bible teaching here somehow gets itself mired into a possibly distinctly Asian swamp.
Traditionally, teachers were held in high regard. And disciples were expected to be loyal to their teachers and identified themselves by whom they were taught. Although this is no longer the case in the modern Singapore school system, there are vestiges of that practice in the sports, martial arts, piano, violin, etc. worlds, and in evangelical Christian circles.
So it is a temptation for teachers to gather around themselves high-caliber individuals because that enhances their prestige and of course, then attracts other high-flyers. This success rate is then the basis for much foreign investment – churches in other (usually Western) countries see the statistics and rate of return, conclude that “good work” is being done and are eager to contribute talent and money to such ventures.
1. that faithful Bible teaching is now an idol. In a success-driven society like Singapore, Christians merely replace climbing the corporate/career ladder with climbing the evangelical circle ladder. How sharp you are at Bible exegesis and preaching are your tools for upward mobility. Your ability to tease out nuances in a book or passage is what people respect and commend you for;
2. that good Bible training is something kept within certain circles (although some crumbs are thrown out, so as not to appear selfish) and even if outsiders are let in, they are those who would be exceedingly grateful and show loyalty to the teachers;
3. that people who are not “good value” are neglected. Time is limited, say the teachers, so they will only nurture those who have potential to teach others. The rest are dropped like hot potatoes if they don’t fit the bill. Ill people or those struggling with their faith in difficult circumstances are prayed for and discussed, but not deeply cared for or pastored. And naturally, their disciples model such priorities in their own groups;
4.that the method of attracting good caliber people is to be dismissive of the faithfulness or godliness of the teachers/leaders of other churches. This is endemic in Singapore’s sports and arts circles where there is much bitching and cat-fighting, all subtly and elegantly done. Such self-righteousness is of course quite dangerous for the souls of Christians;
5. that whole generations (usually in their 20s) suddenly leave their churches to flock to whichever the current in-vogue church is (because they are persuaded that it is right and godly to do so), discouraging the younger generation (usually in their teens or in tertiary education) and causing dismay to the older generation.
Thankful for elder brothers who buy lunch and remind me that God is sovereign in human history and absolutely just in judgement.
At dinner, after chatting through Psalm 119:29-56, the John Smyth scandal came up. Having led on Titus Trust camps, we knew how intense they could be, what deep friendships could be formed, and so what wonderful opportunities for personal work (“a deep work in a few”) they presented. Yet living in this fallen world as still-sinful beings means also that these great opportunities for good are also great opportunities for evil.
In recent years, complaints of bullying and abuse were also made against the leader of a camp modelled on the Titus Trust ones. The trustees (who were all in other countries) dismissed the allegations without further investigation, suggesting that it was just a facet of that leader’s personality.
It seems, said my dinner companion, that where gospel work is being done and seems to be succeeding (ie. bringing in the numbers), others are reluctant to hold the goose that lays the golden egg accountable, afraid that any action will “bring the gospel into disrepute”.
But that fails both to (i) distinguish between the one who waters and the One who gives growth; and (ii) understand the implications of the gospel that one claims to value so much.
It is well past noon when we hurry down a dusty alley in Danang, Vietnam. On one side of the alley, bored women, sequestered behind their piles of brown dried meats and mounds of maroon meat floss, fan themselves in the afternoon heat.
Where the alley turns right into another row of bored dried-meat vendors, sits a bánh xèo institution. There is a ravenous silence around the sterile stainless steel tables as we stuff rice paper with fresh herbs and leaves and cool raw cucumbers and a tumeric-laced “crepe”, itself already bursting with tasty bean sprouts and shrimp and pork, and dip the whole fat roll into bowls of tangy satay-style sauce.
Little time for chit-chat. Much has already been said about external persecution – beatings and destruction of property and threats, and about internal strife – denominational division and sheep-stealing. Now we need to ride on to Hoi An to meet another group of brothers and sisters.
Hoi An will be our third stop. We are somewhat exhausted from bumpy roads and hard beds, but encouraged by God’s work.
That evening, after dinner, I speak about the importance of trusting God’s word in the Bible, of the Bible being both a divine word and a human word, and as a human word – capable of being understood by the normal means of comprehension and consideration of context. Context to be considered: literary context, book context, historical context, and whole Bible context. I see furrowed brows during the hour-long session and pray that God would use this poor dry attempt to somehow help his people.
God deigns to use his weak vessels. Over little piles of hến trộn the next day, brothers talk about how struck they are that God’s word is primarily about God and what he is doing in the world, and about changing our fallen view of the world – not about going off to do something; and sisters say how mortified they are that they’ve been doing character studies on the life of Joseph.
Oh, that they will see the stupendous banquet that awaits them as they dig properly and heartily into the Scriptures. How much firmer they will be able to stand, knowing that the unspeakable sovereignty of our Father and the eternal salvation wrought by his Son, and the glorious hope of the new creation.
And this we pray too, for ourselves.
New Year resolutions. Pithy inspirational quotes. A sudden boost in planning for the year ahead.
The 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.
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.
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.
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: 2 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)
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.
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.
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.
I am at my usual breakfast place – Keng Wah Sung (783 Geylang Road, at the junction with Lorong 41) – refereeing between an empty stomach and a sensitive nose. The rumbler wins. And the mask comes off as a coffeeshop uncle swiftly sets down teh c kosong ping (iced unsweetened milk tea), kaya toast, and soft-boiled eggs with a clatter.
There is Zechariah on a beat-up old iPhone 4S, but I can’t help casting back to conversations with Uncle S about See Kee Oon’s recent judgement on the City Harvest case.
(See oral grounds of decision in PP v (1) Lam Leng Hung, (2) Kong Hee, (3) Tan Shao Yuen Sharon, (4) Chew Eng Han, (5) Tan Ye Peng, (6) Serina Wee Gek Yin.)
Much has been written on the subject, including:
- Mark Woods, Kong Hee and City Harvest Church: How a music ‘ministry’ led to a megachurch pastor’s downfall (Christianity Today, 21 October 2015)
- What is round-tripping?
- Geraldine Sim, 9 Reasons Why City Harvest Church Was the Devil To Me
- Henson Lim, A Personal Response to the City Harvest Case
We need to not be hazy (as the Singapore skyline) about what exactly the CHC leaders have been found guilty of. The verdict isn’t anti-Christian, nor anti-megachurch, nor is it preventing anyone from evangelising. It concerns a law that protects people against the flagrant and deliberate dishonesty of those they entrusted with property – that is, criminal breach of trust (Section 405, Penal Code (Chapter 224 of Singapore)).
Now, of course much has been said by supporters about how “pure” and “godly” the motives of the CHC leaders were in (mis)using funds for their Crossover Project (or as some might allege: propping up Sun Ho’s, the pastor’s wife’s, attempt to make the big time in the music business). And questions have been raised as to whether these sanctimonious reasons are true given Kong Hee and Sun Ho’s lavish lifestyle that included a Sentosa Cove apartment (currently allegedly selling for S$10 million (£5 million)) and a Beverly Hills US$20,000/month rental.
Regardless, and in fact, giving them the benefit of the doubt, substantial error remains. While they have been found to have acted dishonestly with regard to their congregation (Judge See: discreet…”was merely a euphemism for a culture of insecurity mired in secrecy and opaqueness where asking difficult or awkward questions was taboo”), what is also incontrovertibly wrong is their intention to act deceitfully vis-à-vis the rest of the world – hoping to hide the gospel somewhere in Sun Ho’s music career.
Low view of truthfulness and trustworthiness
Gospel workers are to be as truthful and trustworthy as the God they worship and the message they bear. “Sure, sin is alright if you can get more people into the kingdom of God!” said no true messenger of God, ever. And so the apostle Paul says to the Corinthians:
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practise cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:1-2)
And again he says to the Thessalonians:
3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:3-8)
The openness and transparency, and solid integrity of God’s workers demonstrate, in a somewhat McLuhan manner, the characteristics of the God being proclaimed.
Low view of the goodness of the good news (the gospel)
How do you sell a treasure of infinite worth? You state its value plainly – because anything else would detract from its excellent qualities.
How do you tell people about an awesome God? You state his mind-blowing characteristics plainly, as set out clearly in the Bible – because anything else would be a blasphemy and an insult.
When would you hide your product under thick layers of packaging or make-up? Only if you thought it somewhat inferior, and were ashamed to be selling it.
But there is nothing shameful about the gospel. It tells us of our sin (which is obvious to any one who bothers to think about their day and read the news), of our being under the fearful wrath of God, and then holds out a free gift of salvation, that can be taken hold of by trusting that God’s promise is true – that Jesus’ death on the cross has paid for our sins, and that we can now escape his coming judgement. (See Two Ways To Live.)
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
Low view of God’s glory
What demonstrates the praiseworthiness of a thing more? That people have been deceived into purchasing it? That it has been marketed half-to-death on sell-a-vision so bored office drones hand over their credit card details while working the graveyard shift? No.
What gives God more glory is that he draws people to himself improbably according to the wisdom of this world: despite the ignoble death of his Son on a cross, and the sad not-Hollywood-worthy state of his messengers. It shows that he is the one at work and he is the one that is attractive, and not us puny humans.
Says Paul to the Corinthians again:
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke”, we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:7-18)
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.)
Now 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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. It 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.)
On 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.
“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.