Category: Church


Experiencing the Trinity

Is there a case for suggesting that evangelical Christians have forgotten the Trinity? Some have lamented the neglect of this important doctrine in the church. Others have criticized the posturing of gender biased leadership on the basis of the “eternal subordination” of the Son and the Spirit to the Father. The early church fathers debated, discussed and finally determined that a credal statement of faith on the Trinity was vital to the church universal. Hence, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381AD.

The mystery of the Trinity relates to the Christian life in matters of prayer, worship, mission and discipleship. We recognize the crucial importance of a Trinitarian Faith for spiritual formation and congregational life. The faith passed down through the centuries by the apostles and prophets has clearly celebrated the glory of the Trinity. We worship, love and serve the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our faith is Trinitarian. Anything less is unbiblical and heretical.

We are drawn closer to the Triune God by the Father’s eternal love through the Son and by the Spirit. Being made in the image of God, we bear the likeness of the Triune God as persons in relation. The eternal relation of the Three Persons indwell and interpenetrate in perfect community of the One God. Therefore, we are adopted by the Father into His family, transformed by Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our identity in Christ is essentially defined by our relationship to the Father as sons and daughters, confirmed and sustained by the Spirit dwelling within us so that we can call God, Abba Father. Consequently, our experience of the Trinity is manifest within the community of faith in terms of loving, grace-filled relationships energized by the Spirit.

There are some valuable resources available for further reading and reflection on the Trinity. Here are my recommendations:

Brian Edgar, The Message of the Trinity (2004 IVP)

Millard J. Erickson, Making Sense of the Trinity (2000 Baker)

Millard J. Erickson, God in Three Persons – A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity (1995 Baker)

Darrell W. Johnson, Experiencing the Trinity (2002 Regent College Publishing)

Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity – In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (2004 P&R Publishing)

Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith (1988 T&T Clark)

Thomas F. Torrance, Trinitarian Perspectives – Toward Doctrinal Agreement (1994 T&T Clark)

In addition, please consult the classics written by the Church Fathers – Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Hilary of Poitiers, and John Calvin.

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True worship

In the OT, David is fondly remembered as the great king of Israel who was strong in courage and sensitive in heart. Apart from kingly work, David was inspired to compose music and psalms in praise of God. His gifts and talents were used of God to shape the worship experience of Israel. The Book of Psalms, which includes 73 attributed to David, have historically served as the prayerbook and hymnal for the People of God. We read, pray and worship with the Psalms.

When the Samaritan woman at the well enquired about worship, Jesus assured her that a new era had dawned when God’s People would freely worship in diverse places. In reality, Jesus promised: “But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24 NLT)

True worship is not defined by culture, tradition, rituals or location. Jesus directs our attention to the Father who initiates worship by seeking out true worshippers who engage in spirit and in truth. By the Spirit of God and by the Word of God, worship is an act of submission and devotion to the Father. We are invited to worship with our whole being and with our whole life. Therefore, true worship exalts the Triune God and edifies the People of God. True worship is deeply personal and spiritual. But it is also communal and sacramental.

As we reflect on our current experience of worship, perhaps it is timely to review our practices and expectations. What affects your personal engagement in worship? Are you sensitive to the style and genre of music? Are you inspired by the beauty of the sanctuary? Are you edified by the preaching? Are you able to focus on who God is and what He is communicating to you? Are you encouraged to pray and to praise God? Do you contemplate the presence of God and remain open to His Spirit at work in your life? Do you come prepared to worship and to offer your gifts to the Lord with a grateful heart? Do you sense the joy, unity and celebration of faith in the company of God’s people? Do you feel energized to live the rest of the week as an act of worship to God?

Jesus emphasizes the priority and significance of worship. We need to realize that the Father is looking for true worshippers. Therefore the question is not “Do you enjoy corporate worship at WVBC?” but “Is the Father pleased with our worship?” The former question is prompted by a consumer mindset while the latter is guided by a heart of devotion and discipline.

The Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 28:18-20 begins with the declaration of Jesus’ power and authority to send forth his disciples into the world:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We are empowered to make disciples of all people, to baptize them and to teach them the Gospel according to Jesus. Our mission is premised upon obedience to Jesus in the way we make disciples which includes baptism and apprenticeship with Jesus. We are called to baptize believers in the name of the Triune God. We are also called to train and to equip believers in living the Jesus life.

Growing up in a Christian family, I received instruction in the Bible, participated in the local church and engaged in spiritual practices. I was baptized as an infant by my grandfather who was a Presbyterian minister in Singapore. At the age of 13, I made a personal commitment to give my life to Jesus and was confirmed in the local Presbyterian church. After many years of ministry and service, I was invited to undergo baptism by immersion. I am grateful for the exemplary faith of my parents and grandparents. But I also felt a strong desire as an adult believer to submit to water baptism. My journey of faith in Jesus has been blessed with many sacred companions who guided me and encouraged me through the years. When I received baptism by immersion as an adult in 2001, it was a declaration of my personal faith in Jesus and a renewal of my heart’s commitment to give my life to Jesus. Unlike my infant baptism, it was a personal decision acted out in faith and in conscious obedience to Jesus.

Let us recognize the importance of Jesus’ commission and the privilege of water baptism for believers. Jesus has given us the authority to make disciples and to baptize each believer in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are called to teach this command of Jesus and to ensure that every believer in our congregation understands the meaning and significance of water baptism.

Sacred Space

In a beautiful book by Margaret Silf titled “Sacred Spaces,” she retells the story of Jacob’s dream as described in Genesis 28:

The sun had set, and Jacob stopped to find a place to sleep. The ground was not very inviting, so he lay down where he could find a place, and took a stone for a pillow. He had a dream. He dreamed there was a ladder that began on the ground right there where he was lying, and stretched all the way up to heaven. Angels were going up and down the ladder all the time. Then God was standing next to him, talking to him in his dream. “I am the God of your whole story and your people’s story,” God told him. “I am giving you this ground you are lying on. It’s yours now. It is the space where your story shall be told and the story of all the human family. This is the earth of your own experience. It is the infinity of all human experience, from north to south, from east to west, through all time, for as long as human life shall last on Earth. You can be sure that in every part of this experience I am with you. Wherever you travel I will keep you in my care, and at the end of all your travelling I will bring you safely back to your truest self and your eternal home. I will never be apart from you, ever. You have my promise.”

Jacob woke up with a start, and exclaimed, “Truly, God is here, and I never realized! This little patch of stony ground is a place of wonder, where I have felt the presence of God! This little corner of Earth is nothing less than the dwelling place of God and the gateway to heaven!”

The next morning, overwhelmed by the deep truth his dream had opened up in him, Jacob took the piece of stone he had been using as a pillow and placed it upright as a marker for all other travellers. He poured oil over it, as if to anoint it. He declared it to be sacred space.

Jacob’s encounter with the Living God in that sacred space became known as Bethel, the house of God, the dwelling place of God with His chosen people. Likewise, when Moses heard the voice of God on Mount Horeb, he approached the burning bush with caution and curiosity. The Lord God spoke these words: “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) There in that sacred space, God revealed His name, His goodness and His intentions for His people.

Have you ever experienced profound moments of divine encounter? Have you ever felt the powerful connection between heaven and earth when God met with you and spoke into your life? Have you sensed the sacredness of that moment and the sacredness of that space? Perhaps, you recall a dream or a visit to a sacred place or a worship experience. Perhaps, you remember the embrace of a loving God holding you and healing you. Perhaps, you realize the powerful significance of praying in a church sanctuary which has become your sacred space. Though we are surrounded by urban materialism and secular culture, yet we have the unique privilege of gathering at WVBC in a beautiful sanctuary set apart for worship and prayer. This place is God’s House for the people on the North Shore. We give thanks and celebrate God’s gift of sacred space. Therefore, we honour God by respecting sacred space and by reverencing His holy presence among us whenever we are gathered in His Name.

Last Sunday, I spoke about the need to re-vision church as the community of the Holy Spirit; as the community of divine love; as the community of people loved by Jesus Christ. In our re-visioning, we must realize the change in perspective and the shift in paradigm begins in our heart and mind. If we hold on to our traditions and past memories of what church means, we will resist the changes. If we remain entrenched in our positions and insist on our preferences, we will not be genuinely open to what God intends for the church.

We begin to experience change by acknowledging our stubborn ways and by repenting of our past sins. By God’s amazing grace, we have been forgiven in Christ Jesus and so we may call upon His mercy and love with humility and obedience. Next, we invite the Holy Spirit to come fill us. The Lord has promised in Isaiah 44:2-4

“The Lord who made you and helps you says: Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, O dear Israel, my chosen one. For I will pour out water to quench your thirst and to irrigate your parched fields. And I will pour out my Spirit on your descendants, and my blessing on your children. They will thrive like watered grass, like willows on a riverbank.”

The Spirit will quench our thirst and water our parched hearts. The Spirit will refine us like fire and purify our minds.The Spirit will heal us for fruitful relationships. The Spirit will motivate us to serve with passion and courage. The Spirit will teach us the way, the truth and the life of Jesus. The Spirit will transform us into the spiritual community that God intended for His people from ancient times to the present. Thus the church will no longer function as a religious organization or operate like a social enterprise. Instead, the Spirit will empower us to live out the Gospel in real and authentic ways. We are characterized by the Spirit’s presence.

As we embody the love of God in our relationships and as we embrace Jesus’ love for us, we will be set free to worship, to pray, to witness and to serve in the power of the Holy Spirit.  But we also need to realize the Spirit is not confined to what happens within the boundaries of a local church. In reality, the Spirit mobilizes us to engage with the world and to seek a radical renovation of cultures. The work of God’s Spirit is both intensive and extensive. The Spirit moves freely and powerfully in all places and in all situations. We are not in control but the Lord, who is the Spirit, remains sovereign and He will direct the church to missional faithfulness right where we are and certainly beyond to the furthest reaches of the world. From Vancouver to Kigali, we are connected with our brothers and sisters around the world in the one community of the Spirit, serving the same Lord Jesus and fully committed to the Father’s eternal purpose.

My dear friends, we are called to pray with confidence in the Spirit for the break-throughs in people’s lives; for the break-down of barriers and differences; for the break-up of Satan’s monopolies; and for the break-in of God’s Spirit upon congregations and cities. Pray for a change of heart and for the vital shift in paradigm. Pray for a movement of God’s Spirit across our nation. Come, Spirit, come.

The local congregation is a microcosm of what it is like to experience a sense of belonging together in the Body of Christ, His Church. When young and old alike are relating to God and to one another, we discover the joy of knowing one another as people loved by God and valued by the community of faith. Each person has a unique opportunity to belong and to connect with others. Each person is God’s gift to the community and the community is God’s gift to the individual. In the NT, the church is described as the body of Christ which is a metaphor for the spiritual community connected together. Each member is an integral part of the body, functioning in an organic, symbiotic relationship with other members. We are members one of another. But the whole body is more than the sum of the parts. As each member uses his or her gifts to serve others, each member will discover their place and purpose within the body of Christ. The Church is the whole people of God actively engaged in acts of service and love for the sake of God’s Kingdom. As Jesus Christ directs and inspires each member by His Spirit, we experience a spiritual ministry that emerges from our giftedness and from our genuine love for one another.

One of the unmistakeable characteristics of a healthy church is the holistic engagement of every member in ministry that is not defined by position or status. Instead, every member has a ministry of service that is determined by spiritual gifts and personal commitment to the wellbeing of the community. Everyone in the local church has a vital function and can make a vital contribution. Everyone in our congregation is called to serve as God’s agent of grace and love for the benefit of the community. In other words, we are no longer spectators or consumers of religion. Instead, we are called to be followers of Jesus and not simply fans of Jesus. Therefore, we are each empowered by the Holy Spirit to manifest the life and love of Jesus in all our relationships and activities. A healthy church is alive with people who practice grace, forgiveness and hospitality. A healthy church is empowered and transformed by the Holy Spirit. A healthy church is engaged in acts of mercy, love, compassion and justice. A healthy church is marked by the spirit of humility, authenticity and integrity. A healthy church is a symbol of God’s love and presence in the world.

Good News according to Jesus

The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan has become a greater disaster than anticipated. It seems the experts underestimated the dire consequences of a nuclear reactor failure because the structure was not intended to withstand an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale. Now Japan and nations beyond are nervous and fearful of the outcomes.

What do you fear most? Nuclear disasters and terrorist attacks? Environmental crises and toxic contamination? Global economic meltdown and financial chaos? Personal health challenges and emotional upheavals? Rampant violence and evil atrocities? Spiritual brokenness and persistent anxiety?

Throughout the Gospels, we hear Jesus speaking the powerful words of assurance to the disciples: “Do not fear. Do not be afraid.” In the face of uncertainties, Jesus promised that He has overcome the world; that He will give us a peace that the world cannot give. But how can we experience this assurance of peace and hope when the world seems to be convulsing in pain, crises and disasters? Not a single day passes without hearing news of conflict, trouble or human suffering. Is there good news for a world in turmoil?

As we prepare for Holy Week and Easter celebrations, let us remember the Good News according to Jesus Christ. We recall how Jesus faced the cross with deep anguish and powerful resolve. He overcame the temptation to find an easier solution to human sin and misery. He embraced the necessity of death and sacrifice because he was sent by the Father to establish once for all the triumph of divine love and goodness. Jesus fulfilled his destiny to be the perfect lamb who takes away the sins of the world. He suffered the agony and pain of a cruel death. But Jesus also mediated divine forgiveness and reconciliation by the power of the resurrection. One day the Lord Jesus will return as the glorious King, establishing His Kingdom on earth and people from every tribe, nation and culture will gather in worship and praise. As the hymn summarizes so eloquently:

Living He loved me,

Dying He saved me,

Buried He carried my sins far away,

Rising He justified, freely forever.

One day He’s coming,

O glorious day.

With the Apostle Paul, we now declare confidently: “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-32, 38-39)

There is an amazing connection between our faithfulness in prayer and the faithfulness of God in accomplishing His purposes. The more we learn to trust and to depend on God, the more we will experience His power and provision. All things are possible with God.

In the Scriptures, we observe men and women who dared to pray with passion and persistence. We can learn to pray like them. Indeed, we can pray using the Psalms as our prayerbook. Consider the exemplary testimony of prayer in the following:

  • Abraham – Genesis 18:23-33 (intercession)
  • Moses – Exodus 15:1-18 (praise); 32:11-14 and 33:12-17 (intercession); Numbers 11:10-15 (complaint); 14:11-19 (pleading)
  • Hannah – 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (praise)
  • David – II Samuel 7:18-29 (thanksgiving); I Chronicles 29:11-20 (praise)
  • Solomon – I Kings 3:6-9 (for wisdom); 8:22-53; 54-61 (praise); II Chronicles 6:14-42 (praise/petition)
  • Hezekiah – II Kings 19:14-19 (intercession)
  • Jeremiah – Jeremiah 32:16-25 (praise and questioning)
  • Ezra – Ezra 9:5-15 (confession)
  • Nehemiah – Nehemiah 9:5-27 (praise and petition)
  • Daniel – Daniel 9:1-19 (confession and petition)
  • Habakkuk – Habakkuk 1:12-17 (questioning)
  • Mary – Luke 1:46-55 (praise)
  • Zacharias – Luke 1:68-79 (praise)
  • Simeon – Luke 2:29-32 (praise)
  • Early Church – Acts 4:24-30 (praise and petition)
  • Paul – Colossians 1:9-12; Ephesians 1:1-23; Philippians 1:9-11 (praise and petition)
  • Church Triumphant – Revelation 4:8-5:14 (praise)

We are challenged to pray together as God’s People because:

  • we desire to see God glorified whatever the circumstance;
  • we affirm God’s sovereignty;
  • we praise God for His grace and mercy in Christ;
  • we thank God for His grace and mercy in our lives;
  • we yearn for the gospel to be proclaimed among all peoples; and
  • we recognize our total dependence on the love and power of Christ alone.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. The first three petitions focus on the Father—his name, his kingdom, and his will. The last three deal with our human needs—for provision, for pardon, and for protection. At the heart of this prayer is the passion to pray more for God’s glory and less for our own gratification. Praying Jesus’ way leads us into the consciousness of desiring God for who He is and not just for what He can do for us.

When the people of God pray the Lord’s Prayer as a paradigm for prayer we begin to see our life together and as individuals in Kingdom perspective. We learn to focus on the priority of God’s mission for the church and for the world. As we discern the needs of people, we pray for them with greater confidence and conviction that God will intervene and act graciously in their lives. We pray with intensity and audacity for God’s glory and grace to be demonstrated because Jesus gave us the authority to ask for anything in His Name.

What does a praying church look like? What are the marks of a house of prayer? Cheryl Sacks, in a practical book on “The Prayer Saturated Church,” identified the following seven signs or marks of a praying church:

  1. Most members have a strong devotional prayer life and are committed to praying for others.
  2. Church members have a biblical understanding of who God is and how they relate personally to Him through prayer.
  3. Leaders are praying people and set an example of prayer for the congregation.
  4. Prayer is a way of life throughout the church. Prayer permeates every ministry.
  5. Corporate prayer meetings are given high priority in the lives of the church leadership and congregation.
  6. Spending time in the presence of the Lord produces humility, purity, unity, compassion, and Christ-likeness in people’s lives.
  7. God’s presence fills His house. Perhaps the single most distinguishing characteristic of a “house of prayer” is that it is filled with the tangible presence of God. Spiritual hunger and spiritual yearning motivates the congregation to seek God in prayer.

Are we unChristian?

What is our reputation as Christians on the West Coast of Canada? Every now and then, I hear comments from people who remember “Walk to Bethlehem” when I mention my role at WVBC. Indeed, this Christmas pageant has made a positive impact on the community. Young and old alike found the story of Christmas attractive and interesting as they walked through the various sets. It seems residents on the North Shore have appreciated WVBC’s contribution to the Christmas season for several years.

In a recent study by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, published in “Unchristian,” they present survey results that indicate a serious image problem for Christians in North America. For many young people, Christians are perceived as largely unlike the one they claim to follow. The overall perception is a serious indictment of our reputation and status in society at large. The authors report that a high percentage of young people perceive Christians as anti homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, sheltered (boring, out of touch with reality), too political and too concerned about making converts (insensitive to others, not genuine). In other words, the generations after the boomers, namely the Mosaics and Busters, generally do not observe Christians who embody service, compassion, humility, forgiveness, patience, kindness, goodness and love.

Should Christians be concerned about their public image? Should we care what people think about Christianity in general and about Christians in particular? If we have been unChristian, and if there are good reasons for this perception, then we should be deeply concerned. If we no longer look like genuine disciples of Jesus, what should we do? If the perception, rightly or wrongly, creates barriers in our witness and in our communication to the younger generation, how do we become more Christ-like?

Kinnaman and Lyon offer a timely recommendation: “To shift our reputation, Christ followers must learn to respond to people in the way Jesus did. In other words, to reverse the problem of unChristian faith, we have to see people, addressing their needs and their criticism, just as Jesus did. We have to be defined by our service and sacrifice, by lives that exude humility and grace.”

Regardless of our vocation and cultural identity, Christians have been transformed into  ambassadors for Jesus Christ, demonstrating the love and generosity of the God who reaches out with healing and forgiveness in a broken world. The Apostle Paul describes the creative change for anyone who is Christ: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!…We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17, 20) We are called to live for Jesus and to act like Jesus in a world desperately seeking for truth, reconciliation, justice and compassion.