What does it mean for us to be in a community?
What is our vision for Life* Expedition?
These questions hung in my mind as I gathered my thoughts and mulled over all the insights that I have gained from my community retreat in the Dandenongs for Life* Expedition’s annual equipping weekend. The journey to the retreat centre from the city was smooth, and I had a lot of leg space in the van driven by Uncle TH. I arrived late in the evening with high anticipations of a good and insightful weekend ahead of me.
I unloaded my luggage and took them into the resort centre. I went down to the fireplace to discover that a group had already begun their worship session. Sinking into the comfortable couch sitting a fair distance from the fireplace, I got myself in the zone for a worship session before God. My thoughts shifted to the time of prayer and seeking God’s face that Chris and Nicholas led us in. As I was praying came these images of all of us as a community standing with in front of us, seeing Him face to face, lifting our eyes in adoration of His countenance, our voices in rapturous praise of His holiness, our hearts touched by His grace and love.
As the apostle John would write in the book of Revelations, “Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” I could feel the scene coming alive in my mind as I attempted to place myself in the shoes of the apostle, trying to envision what he saw on the day when he was in the Spirit.
Then I looked…
Those are brief, simple words that are just laden with meaning. These words call us to gaze at the wonder and the beauty of the Lamb. They call us to a space where the richness, goodness, grace, love, peace and joy of the Creator can flow into the core of our very beings. They call us to a space where we can marvel at the love of the Creator for His Creation, to gaze into the life of faith lived out by the Son, and to behold the glorious hope of renewal of the Spirit.
The renewal of our faith and our hope calls us to gaze upon our Creator and our Maker, upon His promises, purposes and presence in our lives. This is where our daily walk with God is important. Our daily devotion and reflections are vital to strengthen our faith and convictions such that when we are faced with the tides and currents of the world, we will stand firm in the midst of the storm and not be swept away by it. In other words, we are building up our spiritual muscle.
Our devotion calls us to a space where we can look and gaze upon our Creator and to reflect on God’s purposes for our lives. It gives us an opportunity to refresh ourselves with His word. As we set apart time daily to meditate on the word of God, the Spirit releases the stored up power of the word. As it explodes with such great force and hits us right in the face, we can experience new revelation and affirmation of God’s truth in our lives as well as the new burst of energy and insight springing up within us.
This is where many disciplines that we have in our community come into play: SOAP, Lectio Divina, PRAY. These tools revitalise us with a dose of God’s word and invites us to hear what God has to say to us, the insights that He is waiting to breathe into our minds, and the new revelations that He wants to pour out into our hearts. And the thing that is better than doing it is doing it together with other people. We are able to not listen to God speaking to us, but we can also share our spiritual journey with others and draw insights and encouragements from each other’s sharing. It is both a privilege and an encouragement to be able to share our spiritual journeys with one another.
and there before me…
God is there before us. We do not have to look to a distant land or to abstract ideals to grasp the presence of God amongst us. God has revealed Himself in His creation. The towering heights of cedar trees, the tender billowing of the summer clouds, the gentle drizzling of spring rain, the glorious radiance of the winter sun, the mysterious light of the moon, the calm susurrations of the autumn winds, all shout of His glory and His majesty. All of creation reminds us of the greatness of the God whom we serve, the love which He has poured out for this earth and the grace that sustains all life. The beauty and the wonder of Creation constantly remind us of His presence in the created order, of the fact that He has not and will not give up on this earth because He has magnificent plans for all of Creation.
Moreover, when two or three gather in His name, there He is amongst us. We do not find God sitting somewhere above, in a distant palace, waiting for the day on which He would come and judge the earth, but rather we find Him amongst us whenever we gather together as a community. When we gather as a community to worship God together, there He is among us. When we journey through life, wrestle through issues of faith, fight side by side to defend the truth that has been revealed to us, there he is among us! When we as a community gather together to refresh and revitalise, there He is, pouring out His Spirit unto us, strengthening us in word and prayer. When we gather as a community to cast vision on what lies ahead of us, there He is, speaking into us, planting into our minds seeds for innovations, ideas and insights that would advance His Kingdom on earth and sowing into our hearts germs that develop into fresh courage to step forth and new faith to push on towards the goal to which we strive to achieve.
And before us is a task which we are called to perform to bring God’s Kingdom onto this earth. We are called to turn simple faith into united action. We are called to take the faith that we have in Christ and turn it into a whole new way of living.
The first crucial step is knowing who we are. We do not identify ourselves by what we do well, or the things that we can see, like our meeting place, our ministries, or our talents. Rather, the basis of our identity should be anchored in Christ. We are people who have experienced the first resurrection and are called to live a radical life as a new humanity. We are sons of Abraham, a new breed of mankind who dare to step out of our comfort zones and temptations of the flesh to follow the leading of the Spirit to live out a life of faith, hope and love. The knowledge of our identity calls for a fuller expression of our Sunday celebrations. Sunday gatherings are more than a gathering of the church, as it is the celebration of God’s Kingdom on this earth. We celebrate the fact that God’s Kingdom has broken into the world, that His Kingdom has been inaugurated on this earth. However, we know that the fullness of the Kingdom has not yet been established now. Therefore, we also celebrate the anticipation of God’s Kingdom flooding the earth, that one day Creation will be restored to its full glory and humanity will be transformed to be clothed with imperishable bodies. In between that, we celebrate the Kingdom of God breaking into the world because we are in the world. We are privileged to see the Kingdom being proclaimed to the ends of the earth, the Good News being announced to all nations because we have a part in God’s plans, serving as signposts pointing to the Kingdom and witnesses testifying to the coming of the Kingdom.
The second step is knowing why we gather together. Our gatherings are not social events designed to get people to be friendly to one another, but they are windows of opportunity for us to grow strong in our faith together. Our gatherings serve as platforms for us to enrich our understanding of the word and strengthen our discipline of prayer. For this reason, we need intergenerational clans. It is through a mix of people from diverse backgrounds, each at different points in their spiritual lives that we see father-son interactions and mentoring relationships. Through these clans, we can be discipled by those who are further along their spiritual walk with God, while at the same time we too have the opportunities to care for younger members of the community.
The third step is knowing what we are called to do. Our mission on this earth is not to fix the problems of the world, but to represent the life of Jesus. As image bearers of God, we are called to embody the character of Christ within the community such that those uncertain about their faith can believe in the love that God wants to pour out onto this earth. We need develop educational programs such as Life* 101 to educate people on the need to develop a whole new kind of understanding on our missions on earth. Merely trying to train up a group of nice people doing good things will not deal with the evil in the world. Rather, what we require is to educate and raise up a new generation who knows what it means to live a life of the Spirit, carrying God’s purposes, promises and presence onto this earth and standing as influential representatives of the Kingdom gospel.
The fourth step is knowing how to do it. This step requires the integration of numerous things, including celebration, education, hospitality and ministry. To capture all of this and put it in practical terms, we need the establishment of a street-front hub, reaching out to other people through our hospitality and using our gifts to serve one another in our ministry. For all of this to happen, we would need faith, talk, energy and money but the most important element would of course be faith. We need a faith that dares to say “We must do this, we want to do this and we can do this.” We need a faith that dares to believe that God can do all things and we can have access to God’s infinite resources through faith and prayer.
To encapsulate the ideas into a pithy statement, our task is for us to be strong in faith in representing Jesus’ Life on Swanston Street (and the city of Melbourne).
was the Lamb…
The centre of our worship, the focus of our adoration, the heart of our devotion is the Lamb. However, the focal point of our worship is not only the gentle, meek Lamb who gave up His life for our sins (of course this is important!). We also worship a Lamb of power and of glory, who is given authority to “rule over the nations with an iron sceptre”. We lift up our eyes to the Lamb who stands victorious over the power of sin and death. We adore the Lamb who has overcome all the elements and principalities that enslave humanity to meaninglessness and purposelessness. Through His life, death and resurrection, Christ has ushered in the Kingdom of God. Through His life, Christ has demonstrated the righteousness of God, the ways of the citizens of the Kingdom of God. Through grace and laying down of His life, He has decisively defeated Satan and the disempowered his authority over mankind such that we can now live in the freedom that enables us to live out our calling to be sign posts that point towards the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, there can be no doubt that everything that we do should be centred on Christ, including our work and studies. Throughout the years, Professor Donald and Dr. Veronica have developed a course for a Master of Arts based on a Christian worldview and methodology. The course, the fruit of decades of labour, sweat and tears is one that is designed to integrate theology with other streams and vocations. The goal of this degree is to train up professional Christians rather than Christian professionals. The aspiration is for us to first be grounded in God’s purposes and character and to bring them into our profession such that we represent Christ in our workplace, displaying His goodness and character through our profession. This lies in contrast to the Christian professional, who is more a professional than Christian. While he may wear the title of a Christian, he really is no different compared to other non-Christian professionals.
Innovations such as this course are pivotal in light the rising corporatism. Nowadays in the world, we see more and more people being absorbed into mechanised and corporate thinking. People are treated as machines rather than holistic beings with purposes and destinies on this earth. And rather than living out the freedom that they are called to live, they are swallowed up by the wave of corporatism that is sweeping over the earth. We see big companies emerging, dismantling small communities where personal relationships flourish. Even in the medical world, the commercialisation of medicine has led to patients being treated as common “goods” that are packaged up along production lines in factories rather than unique, individual beings who bear God’s image on this earth.
Faced with the Beast of this new age, it is undoubtedly clear that we need to centre our life on Christ, we need to ground our faith in the life, death and resurrection of Christ and to live out our lives personifying the character of Christ. Paul tells us to “bring every thought captive to Christ”. Every thought that we have, we commit them unto Christ such that He can turn it to life giving thoughts that bring out the life of the Spirit. We truly need to foundational understanding of what it means to be followers of Jesus and to incorporate those truths into our line of work. We are called to be different. We are called to be nuisances that turn the world upside down for its own good.
standing on Mount Zion…
The imagery of Mount Zion is important because the mountain is a symbol of the nation of Israel, God’s promise for all of humanity. The mountain represents the promises of God for all nations. For us as the people of God, we celebrate the fact that God has already laid down the foundations for His Kingdom on earth and we hold on to the promise that He will bring it to full consummation.
Truly, one of the challenges for us as a community is how we live as people carrying a promise. God’s promise for mankind has always been raising up a generation of kings and priests, who will stand firm in the land and who will one day rule and reign with Him over creation in relationship with one another. In doing so, God’s desire has always been for us to come together as one people to take authority in the name to bring out His goodness, grace, love and joy to all nations of the earth. One people, One promise.
To truly be one people representing Christ on earth, we need to develop our relationships within the community, turning pseudo-community into real community.
In brief, pseudo-community is “the group where we meet together and smile, even when hearts are breaking, where we are polite and avoid conflict…and honesty and growth”. For a real community to be forged, we need to pass through chaos and emptiness. In the midst of the chaos and emptiness, we find God working good out of the situations and taking our community to a new level of intimacy and genuineness of relationship. Even in the midst of the chaos, we cast visions for the community, and there are several fundamental principles which we can be grounded on.
First of all, we are clear but uncertain. We are clear that God wants to work His purposes and promises on this earth, we are clear that God has love for this earth and for mankind, and we are clear that God is present among us through His Spirit. Yet, we are uncertain of how God’s promises for us on this earth will be manifested. We are uncertain of how the goals that we set our hearts to achieve will be realised or how the plans that we have for the community will unravel. Despite our uncertainties, we trust the Spirit’s leading and we commit all our plans and visions into His hands.
We can be right but wrong. We see weaknesses between us. We could point out another person’s weaknesses in our community and be right about the weakness. Yet, at the same time, we can be wrong because us being right displaces the righteousness of Christ. Our self-justification does not allow the life of the Spirit to flow through us. It stifles the work of the Spirit in bringing grace, love and mercy into the lives of the members of our community. Before explicitly hinting or severely criticising the weaknesses of others, we should bear in mind that we too have our shortcomings. The question that we should be asking is what kind of support we give to the people whose weaknesses we see. By coming to a point where we listen to the issues that they are facing, we allow the Spirit to speak grace into their lives and allow the Creator to work in them.
Next, we need opportunities that are big enough for our gifts to shine, yet small enough so that what we do is established in authenticity of relationship with one another. Our community is impregnated with a diverse range of talents, waiting to be tapped into. Our goal is to open up spaces and opportunities where those talents can be a blessing to the community. Yet, we also need to be certain that the intimacy and the genuineness with which we engage the opportunities that we are given are not lost. We do not use our gifting to serve impersonally, like machines. Rather, our abilities are to be used in service of others in light of the relationships that we develop with one another.
Finally, the future ahead of us is peaceful but chaotic. When we are in the front line of our callings, we will always face chaos, resistance, opposition to what the Spirit wants to do through us. Rarely will we find our plans being neatly structured and totally under control. In other words, there is always an element of chaos in our future. However, we who live as people of God know the peace of God that transcends all understanding. We engage the chaotic future with the peace in the understanding that God is in control and that He directs our paths and He has “plans to prosper us, not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future”. With that understanding of God’s peace, we can have the clarity to navigate through the storm and ultimately bring grace to every chaotic situation.
To help us accomplish these visions for authentic communities to be formed, there are numerous tools which can aid us as a community. Our spiritual leadership helps us to call the life of the Spirit out from the life of the flesh. It calls us to the present way of living a life of faith, hope and love. Our spiritual gifts are all the talents and abilities that we have surrendered to the work of the Spirit, and made available for the use of the Spirit for His work on the earth. Our spiritual listening calls us to be sensitive to the weaknesses and challenges faced by members of the community, and serves to help us speak grace and love into their lives. Lastly, our spiritual journey, our walk with God and the testimony of how He has worked in our lives, is the most powerful thing that we can offer to encourage, strengthen and edify the whole community.
The understanding of these principles and the use of spiritual tools that are readily available in our community can catalyse the shift from a pseudo-community to an authentic community of God’s people.
and with him 144,000…
144,000 is the multiple of 12 x 12 x 1000. 12 symbolises the completeness of the whole nation of Israel. 1000 represents a vast multitude. Therefore, this number represents the complete number of God’s people who will stand with Him as kings and priests who will rule and reign with Him.
All of God’s people will join together in one symphony to sing praises to the Creator and worship Him in His Kingdom. We will all come together as one church to sing praises to our King and we shall dwell with Him forever. This involves the wholeness of the body of Christ, not merely individuals who are “saved” by God. All who follow the guidance of the Spirit, all of us who have lived out the foundational truth with faith will stand together in His Kingdom.
In this, we as a community of God’s people are different from the rest of the world. We are different because we are grounded in the wholeness and truthfulness of God’s words and promises for us. We are different because we have the faith to live life in light of the Creator’s love for this earth and His grace for us that we are able to live in freedom, without guilt and shame. Hence, it is so pivotal for us to work out our worldviews, as this reflects our understanding of our truths and ultimately affects the way with which we live our lives on this earth and the ways with which we engage other people around us.
Most often, we live with an oversimplified theology and an overcomplicated context. We do not have sufficient understanding and clarity regarding God’s promises for us and for this planet, or we lack the faith and certainty of God’s grace for us, of His gifts, forgiveness and empowerments for us despite our shortcomings and weaknesses. On the other hand, we tend to overcomplicate details. We debate, argue and dispute over minute details. We try to extract passages from the bible to form into a list of formulae to apply into our lives. Yet, by doing so, we are missing the point. All these debates and disputes do not help us to be all that we are created to be. Rather, they might end up becoming bondages to us, barriers that prevent us from living free.
Therefore, it is essential for us to rework our foundational truths such that we can have the faith and the clarity to affirm God’s promises for us and for this earth. Rather than instilling rules and regulations to follow, we should be educating the younger generation of the foundational truths in God’s word, teaching them the Christian worldview. In light of this, a study guide can serve as an effective “leader” to guide people in their exploration of the Bible and to generate insights or thoughts to stimulate discussion, compared to an instructor, who is usually the one doing all the talking. The learning of the Biblical truth becomes much more enriching and effective with the aid of a study guide.
Having a strong foundation in the truth is truly important to pave way for a generation who lives in the guidance of the Spirit to bring wholeness and grace into God’s creation, a generation who will be part of advancing God’s Kingdom on this earth.
who had his name and his Father’s name…
We bear the image of God. We have the name of the Lamb and the name of the Father written on us. In other words, we are representatives of God on this earth, his ambassadors, called to proclaim His Kingdom on this earth.
The calling that we are given is no small calling. Jesus, before his ascension, called His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you”. In the same manner, God is calling us to go into the world to make disciples of all nations, to bring His Good News to the people and to represent His character to the people of the world.
The classic story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4 paints a practical picture of Kingdom proclamation and provides us with insight on how we as witness of the Kingdom can be empowered to step out in faith to speak our testimony of the coming of His Kingdom.
In witnessing to other people about Jesus, firstly we need to recognise the burden that is in our hearts. At times, the Spirit will give us a nudging and prompts us to witness to people. Hence, we need to be attentive to the movement of the Spirit and follow His leading as He guides us in our witnessing.
Opportunities will arrive along our “normal” line of duty. In our daily work and routine, God will open up opportunities for us to share the gospel with the people around us. We should be appreciative of the position that we are in, and be sensitive to the things that God is doing among the people around us.
The first point of contact is a natural one. For example, someone may come up and ask a favour from us, or it could be the other way round. We could be asking them a favour, like Jesus asking the Samaritan woman for some water (John 4:7). The amazing thing, though, is the fact that God enables us to show grace through common gestures or natural contacts. The Creator’s grace and love to the people whom we are communicating with can be embodied in our words and actions.
The next thing to note is that when the Samaritan woman asked Jesus a leading question in John 4:10, Jesus did not shrug away, act dumb and in doing so lose the opportunity to bring out the core of the Kingdom proclamation. Too often we are tempted to divert people’s questions regarding our faith. For me, when people ask me about the things I learn at church, I am tempted to brush off the question. In doing so, I know that I may have well lost an opportunity to share the Gospel with my friends. However, we are challenged, as witnesses of the Kingdom, to not back off when confronted by leading questions. We should instead step up and seize the moment. We should not be ashamed of the gospel, or of our faith for in it is the power of God’s salvation for all of humanity. Step out and witness, do not lose the opportunity! Carpe diem!
Jesus, in verse 14 of the chapter, challenged the woman that she can become a well of everlasting life. In the same manner, Jesus challenges us today that we, too, can become a well of everlasting life. The water in the well is transferable and should be passed on to others. It is only by opening up our wells and allow living water to flow through us that God is able to fill us again with fresh water. Otherwise, the water that we so selfishly keep to ourselves will just grow stale, or our wells will simply dry up. In light of this, we should be challenged to open up our wells and pour out the living water that God has given us to those who are thirsty and are in need of the same water, those who have yet to discover the Source of the water. In other words, be contagious! As we pass on the water stored up in our wells, we “infect” others with the foretaste of the beauty of the Kingdom and they too would want to seek the Builder of the Kingdom.
In John’s narration, by the time we read verse 15, we find that the woman was asking for the living water. She was eager to know more about the newness of life that is found in God. Similarly, in our conversations with others, we may reach the point where the person to whom we are witnessing will want to receive the redemption of Christ, and be part of God’s new Kingdom on earth. At this juncture, we should be prepared to present a testimony that draws out the goodness, love, grace and mercy of the Creator, the redemptive work of the Son and the newness of life we experience in the Spirit. We should be ready to offer a brief but concise testimony of the way God has worked in our lives and how he is continuing to bring out his goodness in us and on the earth. Be ready for the opportunity!
The fields are ripe for harvest. People may not be interested in Christianity or the church, but people definitely are searching for God. While people may be disillusioned by the structures of religion and the rules and regulations of the “church”, there is no doubt that there are people who hunger for greater meaning in life, whose hearts are yearning to be free, who are desperate to discover the One God who created them and in whom they find their purpose in life. This makes it more imperative that we ground ourselves in the knowledge of Christ and reflect on God’s work in our lives that we stand ready as solemn witnesses of God’s purposes and promises and signposts that lead thirsty souls to the Source of the river of life.
written on their foreheads
We have God’s name written on our foreheads. We have been marked by God, set apart for His purposes and promises. We bear the image of God, finding our identity in Him and embodying His character through the way we live as a community of His people.
We are called to be a community who carries His love, faith and hope wherever we go, in our interactions with the people around us. For us as a community of God’s people in Life* Expedition, this includes the way we interact with the management of Arrow on Swanston. Our challenge as a community will be whether we are able to work together with Arrow, us and them together as one, reaching out to the city of Melbourne.
The way we view Arrow shapes our perspectives of the management and the people involved, ultimately determining the relationship that is formed between these two entities. Is our relationship with Arrow founded on client/business type of relationships? Or is it established as home relationships? In other words, do we see Arrow as just a business that supplies us with the place that we need to hold our gatherings, all the equipments for our functions and the manpower for our events? If so, then we miss the point of what it means to be image bearers of Christ, living out the fundamentals of our faiths in light of the grace and love of God.
The banner that sits near the reception at the basement level emblazons these words “We don’t just build strong houses, we build strong homes.” It is time that we change our paradigms of client/business relationship with Arrow to a familial relationship, one that is built by mutual trust and love, not merely consumerism and corporatism. We should not view Life* Expedition and Arrow as two separate entities, rather we should see us as one single entity, cooperating with one another to bring out the love of the Christ to people of the city of Melbourne. In our interactions with the sometimes difficult staff, in our handling of issues that could possibly sour relationships, we allow grace and forgiveness to flow into the relationship. We allow the joy and the richness of God’s love for people to fill our conversations.
People have casually remarked that business and charity cannot coexist. Well, our challenge today as a community of Life* Expedition is to demonstrate that it can happen, that nothing is impossible with God. Through the radical way of laying down our lives for others, sacrificing our time and energy in building relationships of mutual trust with the team at Arrow, God can turn a business-oriented relationship into a beautiful life-giving, family relationship. And it is by demonstrating this life of love, hope and faith in our community that we bear the name of God in the city of Melbourne.
In the same way that we engage the people of Arrow, we also engage international students who come into our midst. We want to make them feel welcomed in our community. As they have journeyed far from home, they are faced with issues of settling into a community in Melbourne, dealing with the cultural differences as well as the radically different living environment. We as people who represent Christ on the earth have the opportunity to show the love of Christ to them, bringing out the goodness of God into their lives and making them feel welcomed into our whole family of God’s people.
I had much to think about as I rode home in Uncle T.H. and Aunt Quilin’s van. The sound of the light drizzle drummed as I was drowned in my personal sea of thoughts. The weekend had thought me a lot about the hope and the vision of an authentic community and had opened up my heart to dare to believe for a greater hope that genuine relationships can indeed be built in Life* Expedition as we embark on this exciting journey to discover the glory of the King. The plethora of issues that were passionately brought up by numerous members of the community have stirred the realisation that there is a growing desire to see our community develop into a thriving community, representing the character of Christ, living lives filled with faith, hope and love in the city of Melbourne. Every time I think about it, I can sense the excitement in my spirit that God will do something great in Life* Expedition.
Looking beyond the veil of rain droplets sitting on the window of the van, I see a long stretch of highway that would eventually lead me back home to College Square Lygon. And being able to spend time on the journey back home with Uncle TH and Auntie Quilin was encouraging and insightful as they had gone way ahead of me in their walk with God.
The scene reminded me of the long road on which we are treading that would eventually lead to the fulfilment of the purposes and the promises of the Creator, to the full consummation of His Kingdom, to the day when we will see His glory in full measure. And being able to share the spiritual walk with one another within the context of a community is truly amazing. I certainly would not want to journey on this road any other way.
Credits to Pastor Tim, Auntie Kim, Prof Donald, Auntie Quilin, Aun, Doreen and Isaac for their brilliant insights that have contributed to the writing of this post.
Written to inspire the community of God's people, especially Life* Expedition.