Monday, October 20, 2008

Gather to Scatter

Almost all of us enjoy the idea of gathering together as a community to celebrate God’s presence amongst us, and to celebrate the Kingdom that He has inaugurated and that is being advanced on this earth. We enjoy the fellowship and the relationships, the conversations and the actions, the joys and the tears, the opportunities to bless and be blessed. Truly, gathering together in a community gives us a sense of security, belonging and identity.

But how comfortable then are we with the idea of scattering?

As much as God wants us to gather together to worship and to fellowship, God desires just as much for His children to scatter and go out into the world to carry His edict and to proclaim His rulership to all four corners of the earth.

The 8th chapter of the book of Acts presents an account by the Greek physician, Luke, of the scattering of followers of the Lord following severe persecution by the Jewish leaders. At the beginning of the chapter, we are told that the church in Jerusalem was severely persecuted on the day of the Stephen’s death, following his rebuke of the religious leaders of their stubbornness and wickedness. The believers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Saul, one of the major supporters of the genocide, went along his merry ways destroying the church that God was establishing and dragging every believer he encountered into prison.

It would seem that darkness was snuffing out the beacon of light that was planted in Jerusalem and in the arm wrestle between religiosity and the truth of God that the strong arm of religion was pinning down the hand of God.

Yet, we read later on in verse 4 that the opposite was happening. Instead of dying out like sparks removed from a bonfire, the believers ignited into new pyres wherever they went and became beacons of light to the people living in darkness. They proclaimed the gospel of the Kingdom and ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit. They cast out demons and healed the paralysed. They brought hope and salvation to the people who were living out meaningless existences. In other words, they were re-presenting Christ in their new environments, which certainly was no small feat.

When we scatter into our respective work or social environments, how actively are we re-presenting Christ? How actively are we proclaiming the ways of Jesus to the people around us, and living out the truths that we hold onto in the midst of communities who have different ideals and belief systems? That is a challenge indeed for us all, who have grown quite accustomed to dualising our work and our church worlds, setting up dividing lines between the two homogenous entities. We like being in the community and interacting in church, but we dread going out into our workplace and communicating with the people there.

This brings us to the snippet of the story in Acts. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard about these new colonies of the Kingdom that have been established, they sent Peter and John to minister to the believers in Samaria. The interesting thing to note is that the believers in their new environments still maintained close relationships with the community back home in Jerusalem, enabling the sharing of the new revelations, blessings and the harvest that God had given them. They were united by the same conviction – that Christ is the son of God and those who are in Him are new creations, living new lives that are led by the Spirit – and from that, a common mission – to proclaim the new way that Christ had demonstrated to humanity and to call people out from the old ways of sin and death into new and living ways of life. This would certainly have empowered believers back in Jerusalem that their faith was not in vain and that the attempts of the religious powers around them to crush and smother it would not triumph.

This brings us to the next challenge. When we gather together, what kind of relationships are we building so that when we scatter, our relationships with one another are secure and unshaken? Do we want to build purely social relationships, connected primarily by entertaining events, humorous conversations and social obligations? Or, perhaps pseudo-communities, where we are careful to say the right things while masquerading behind our holy facades? Or, do we want to build living communities united by a common conviction and a common mission – to re-present the faith, hope and love of Christ in every part of our lives? The relationships that we form within the community are vital indeed to ensure that when we scatter, we retain our purpose, identity and belonging as brothers and sisters together on a journey to be conformed to the full stature of the image of Christ and to preach the good news wherever we go. When we scatter, we go out to the fields where the harvest is ripe and when we gather, we share the fruits that we have gathered to nourish and strengthen one another.

Another challenge this brings to us is when we gather, how effectively are we building up ourselves and our brothers and sisters such that when we go out into the fields, we will be ready to receive the harvest that God gives to us? We need to be equipped to stand as a new people, in the promises that God has for humanity and the power of the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead.

In the next snippet, we encounter a sorcerer named Simon who was became a follower of Jesus and was baptised along with many other people in the city of Samaria. It soon became clear, however, that the motivations for his conversion were primarily for the acquisition of more power for himself, probably so that he can somehow astonish even more people with his magical talents. He was so desperate for it that he even attempted to buy the power of the Holy Spirit with his money.

This poses the next challenge for us as a community when we gather. Many times, we find that we rely on our own strength and resources. We are more inclined to devoting time to walking in our own strengths than being dependent on God, not only in our spiritual growth but also in our ministry and proclamation. At other times, the busyness of the moment clogs up our ears and blurs our eyes to the whisper and direction of the Spirit. As such, we become so focused on the task that we lose sight of the grace and providence of God.

This calls us to examine our motivations and our hearts. What is the source from which we draw strength and resources to press on? Just as Peter said to Simon: “May your money perish with you” (vs 19), are we ready to say to the flesh: “May the strength that you thought you could amass perish with you!” If we stubbornly refuse to change our ways and repent, we should not be surprised when God says to us: “You have no part or share in this ministry because your heart is not right before me.” (vs 20) The question, then, is “How are we disciplining ourselves such that our hearts are attuned to God’s?” This, arguably, is where fasting comes into play. It calls us to discipline our heart, mind, body and soul such that they are not driven by the flesh. Fasting provides the opportunity for us to break the power of the flesh and be dependent on the grace and the providence of God through His Spirit in us. It is when we can come to a place of brokenness and dependence on God that we are able to then be shaped and moulded into vessels that can contain the fullness of His purposes and promises for this earth.

So far, we have the scene of the community of believers in Samaria growing and receiving the blessing and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It would seem like an evangelistic success to Philip, who had chucked in quite a great deal of effort preaching and ministering to the people in the city. However, before he got to settle down comfortably in his new community, enjoying the harvest that he had laboured for, God once again called him to another place.

There, he met an Ethiopian eunuch, who was a passage in the Book of Isaiah. He initiated a conversation with the man, a conversation that I personally find very moving and inspiring.

Many of us might be asking – why scatter? When we can grow together and begin to embody the image of Christ within the community, why do we need to break up and go out into the world? I believe that the transpiring conversation provides insight to why this is so vital.

Philip asks the man, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

He answers, “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?”

After reading the passage from Isaiah regarding the suffering servant, he begs Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else? Who is this mysterious figure who so willing laid down his life for mankind?”

Similarly, there are so many people out there who are asking the questions:

“Is there any other way out of this mess that we’ve made?”
“Is there no greater purpose for which we as humanity stand for aside from all the meaningless games that we’re playing with one another?”
“Is there truly a God who cares for this planet and for us as mankind?”

We might happen to ask them, “Do you know about the gospel of a new Kingdom that is breaking free?”

Their response might be: “How would I, unless someone explains it to me?”

Although they probably would not explicitly say it, but it does not mean that they are not seeking. Indeed, there are so many people out there who are questioning the ways of the systems of the world, who are dissatisfied with the purposeless existence that mankind has fallen into, who are yearning for new way that brings life and fruitfulness to this earth and humanity. How can we idly stay comfortably in our own circles when there are so many lost ones out there who are longing to discover the love, grace and mercy of the Creator, and His glorious purposes for His sons? Are we actively stepping out in faith, responding to the Spirit as He leads us to these lost souls? We are called to step out in the power of the resurrection, bringing light, wholeness and holiness to the darkest corners of the earth. We are called to bring the hope that we have in our Creator to the nations that desperately need the revelation of a loving and sovereign God who has a vision that is far above the agendas of the beastly empires that are overrunning the planet, a God who will one day decimate all the powers that oppress and enact His uncontested rule here on this earth.

Again we have Philip, successfully preaching the gospel to yet another faithful believer. Before he gets to delight in his success, God moves him again! In the blink of an eye, he was led away by the Spirit to yet another place. Talk about God’s movement!

Perhaps we can indeed draw a powerful lesson from this. Often times, God calls us and leads us from one place to another, again and again. Just when we feel comfortable settling down in a particular job, he shakes us around and calls us to leave. Just when we are beginning to enjoy the comforts of serving in a particular ministry, He tells us to pack our bags and leave. It should concern us that God’s word can come unpredictably sometimes. However, when we are secure in the hope that we profess and the Source of that hope, we can respond readily in faith to His calling. The security that we have in what we know casts out the fear of what we do not know.

Although the eunuch encountered Philip only once in his lifetime, the moment made such an impact on his life that it changed his life forever.

Despite probably meeting most people only once in our lifetimes, what are we building or investing into that will make an impact on the community around us? It should challenge us to consider whether the things that we are putting our lives into will prepare the foundations for the next generation to build upon, or whether it will have any bearings on the people around us even if it means we will be led somewhere else before we get to enjoy the benefits of it. Also, it should challenge us to live lives that are radically different that one encounter would be enough for others to notice something different in the way we interact and engage with the world around us.

To sum it all up, we gather together to build our spiritual muscles, sharpen our convictions, polish our faith and revitalise our hope. We gather so that we can be train together to be people who can embody the faith, hope and love of Christ as a community of people knitted together by a common conviction and purpose. We gather together so that authentic relationships can form amongst us so that we can carry with us the sense of identity, purpose and belonging as part of the body of Christ that is advancing to cover all parts of the earth.

All this prepares us so that we can scatter to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Good News of the power and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Kingdom that He has begun amongst us and is now filling the earth. All this prepares us to be witnesses of His Word and to live out the truths of the Biblical story and the ways of Jesus in such a way that it makes such an impact to the people around us. All this prepares us to traverse new frontiers, opening up spaces and erecting beacons of light and hope where the grace, love and joy of the Creator can be found even in the darkest and most sinister place on the earth.

Ultimately, we gather to scatter!



Picture taken from


Friday, October 3, 2008

Two Sides of a Coin


Visions surfacing within my mind,

Instilling a new sense of hope and discovery,

Suffusing my being with wondrous delight,

In bringing purpose, and faith, and joyous belonging,

One glimpse of the Kingdom Christ came to bring,

Nullifies all fears, and hesitations and trivialities,

So let it be then, the vision that I bear.



A list of agendas runs through my mind,

Goals to be met, grace to be kept,

Ever pursuing this perpetual spiral,

Never stopping for small little tears,

Deaf to the sounds of joy and laughter,

Amidst the seas of high towering ambitions.

So untrustworthy have I become.


Two sides of a coin. It’s scary to think how closely they are related to one another. A head and a tail. Two opposing dimensions separated only by the viewing angle.

One flip of the coin. How easily things can change. What seemed like a winning coin toss might turn out to be just another losing bet.

Common visions and personal agendas. How alike they really are. Two opposing dimensions differentiated only by the eye of the beholder.

One flip of the coin. How easily things can change. What seemed a beautiful vision might turn out to be just another personal agenda.


Heads – The Vision

Do you believe in something greater for OCF?

Yes, I do.

What do you believe in?

That there will be a new generation that rises up to take their places on this earth to walk with faith, hope and love.

I want to really see a generation of believers who can rise up together to bring the goodness and grace, love and mercy of God onto this earth. Moreover, I want to see a generation rise up to stand in the purposes and promises that God has both for their lives.

I want to see a whole new generation of people who can share their life journeys with one another, empowering each other with their life stories and building each other up with their convictions and beliefs.

It dawned upon me after more than 2 weeks of wrestling with OCF. I had been rethinking my purpose of going to OCF. Spiritual growth wise, I am not really growing at all. Fellowship wise, I don’t think I am really connecting with the people there. The superficialities and trivialities of the relationships there sickened me. Many people talk about the OCF family, but I just don’t feel kinship ties being established there.

Beneath all the smiles and the laughter, is there really anything deeper that binds us together? Aside from doing things together, is there any common conviction that we hold on to?

Then I had this thought that perhaps the purpose of me being there was to bring newness to OCF, to bring about a change from within, to challenge the perspectives of my fellow brothers and sisters and to open up spaces for new convictions and beliefs to grow and flourish.

I do believe that each individual has their own dreams and visions that they want to pursue. I truly want to support them in their pursuit. I truly want to play a bigger role in other people’s lives.

But all I see is superficiality and triviality. It would seem that people are keen on talking about the latest movies than about their more recent visions that God has given them. It appears that people enjoy so much of the trivial conversations and empty chatter than sharing their faiths and their spiritual journeys.

Do you have the faith to pursue this vision?

I do not know. Only time will tell.

What drives you to continue to carry this vision?

I guess the hopes that God will do something to intervene in the situation.


Tails – The Agenda

I have come to realise that my relationships have been ridden with agendas. It just dawned upon me that the things that I do, the things that I say are all coated with a layer of goals.

Now I’m beginning to question that. Is it because I truly want to see my fellow OCFers grow and mature to become true Christ followers? Or is it because I want to impose my beliefs upon them so that I can have OCF run the way I think it is supposed to be run?

I really do not trust myself anymore. I no longer know what I am thinking, or what my real motives for going to OCF are. Only God knows.

What do you hope to see in the relationship?

To be accepted for who I really am.

What do you hope that other people will do for you?

That they will strike conversations with me and not wait for me to go up to them and have conversations with them.

How has that been for you so far?

Not very good. I still find it difficult to strike conversations with people or to share in the things that they enjoy.

Yet, I detect some sense of control within you. Are you sure that your motivations are purely for the growth and good of OCF?

To be honest, I am not that sure anymore.

Don’t you think that the fact that you are not mixing well may be because you’re not actually making the effort?

Well, I suppose so.

Or perhaps you already have expectations of others within a relationship?

Maybe that as well.

Is your vision, then, something with which to mask your personal agenda?

Perhaps that may well be.

I am starting to realise that some of my relationships with others have been riffled with goals and expectations. Perhaps one of my major flaws is that I am unable to adapt to the conversations that are going on in large groups. Perhaps one of the factors that I find it so difficult is that I lack knowledge of the most current hypes or entertainments. In fact, I don’t think that I have much interesting experiences in my life to share with others.

I think that the only way that I can really contribute to OCF is probably by teaching them or sharing what little knowledge that I have (if it is of any worth at all). Again, perhaps relationships aren’t meant to be built upon achieving goals or meeting needs. Ties are meant to be formed by the quality of time spent together and the sense of belonging to the people with whom we interact.

In that case, then perhaps I am in deep trouble. I find it hard to interact and mingle around in large groups, often times because I am reticent to share my thoughts in the midst of the conversations going on around me. I’ve discovered through the ages that I find it so difficult to blend in with their conversations, especially if it’s about the latest movies, or songs, or perhaps some funny experiences. It’s because I don’t really have any preferences or experiences in such things.

Or perhaps it could also be due to my expectations of others. In my mind, I already have ideas of where I would like the conversation to head towards. If it doesn’t turn out the way I imagine it would be, I draw back and the relationship would be scarred.


It’s shocking really how quickly a tower of security that I had built for myself could come crumbling down so quickly.

Do I dare to dream again? Do I dare to hold my hopes out high?

Do I dare to have new aspirations for OCF?

Which side of the coin am I on?

Am I leaning towards a vision for OCF? Or am I, in reality, lying flat on the face of my own personal agendas of finding comfort in the midst of my own insecurities?


I arose from my sea of chaotic, incoherent thoughts.

It was not easy immersing myself in the madness, but it had to be done. I had to let out all the bottled up frustrations and resentment that had built up within me. The immensity of the stream of consciousness threatened to rip apart my sanity and my emotional stability. An emotional and spiritual battle was actively fought in soul.

Suddenly there was calm. It dawned upon me the peace of mind to sift through the thoughts and ideas running amok in my head.

I do believe that the dilemma that I am facing now is partly due to the difficulties in changing the mindsets already engrained deeply within each person’s hearts. And I believe that applies to me as well. I had been reluctant to adapt to the circumstances in which I had been placed and I do believe that it is time to change it.

Another thought that came to mind was that of comparisons. I had been so busy comparing myself to others that I did not have the time to listen to the Spirit’s promptings and sense what God is trying to do in the lives of the people around me. I had been too busy trying to match up people’s expectations and trying to figure out what people like or dislike that there was no room for life and spontaneity to flow out from me.

I believe that it is time to make a change.

I may not be as much of a joker as some of them, or have as much interesting experiences in life as they do, but that certainly does not mean that I am any lesser than they are.

I am reminded once again by my PBL tutorials. The changes that came upon me really amazed me. Initially I was reticent and was unwilling to participate, but once I chose to step out in faith and join in the gang, it was smoother sailing for me. I believe that it would be no different in this case as well. If I choose to step out in faith, opportunities would definitely open up for me in my interactions with others.

I might not have the solutions to my current predicament, but I do believe that God will open up doors for me to step out and respond to His leading.


Ultimately, though, I need to ask myself.

Am I still flipping the coin? Or am I fixing my eyes off the coin to a higher power?

Am I still playing with personal agendas? Or am I pursuing a vision that is worthy of my calling?

And I believe that those are questions that all of us face – questions that demand a response.