Thursday, December 31, 2009

Interview with Patrick Fung

Interview with Patrick Fung from Urbana 09 on Vimeo.

Patrick Fung is currently the general director of OMF.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

How sweet the day when Christ was born
When God Himself took human form
He came to wash our sins away
Our death to die, our debt to pay

How sweet the day when Hope appeared
The One who frees us from our fears
He came to break the power of sin
And give us power to follow Him

Oh sing for joy, lift up your voice
Let us sing for joy, the whole earth rejoice
Let us sing for joy to the Son
For Jesus our Savior has come

How sweet the day when Christ returns
We’ll see the One for whom we yearn
Then we’ll look full upon His face
Our hearts will burst with songs of praise

Come, Lord Jesus, come

© Stephen Altrogge / Sovereign Grace

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009


It's been an interesting year, I guess. Ignoring my current state of limbo for the moment, I still sometimes pinch myself that I get to do what I do. I am extremely privileged to work for a great gospel-centred, mission-minded church, firm in its convictions yet generous in its partnership. I can obviously tell you of its failings as well - I'm part of it aren't I? - but of the 3 churches I've been a part of in the UK, it's still this one which I truly regard as my home church away from home. They just need to overhaul their website. :-p And working for them has only deepened my appreciation. When I was wrestling with the decision to pursue an apprenticeship, I said to God, (for a variety of reasons) this is really more or less the only place I'll consider doing it. And to my disbelief, God opened the door and said, here you go!

What are some of the things I've learnt and struggled with? I think one of the hardest things is the blurring of lines between what constitutes work and non-work. In one sense, that's a good thing, because it encourages a more integrated, "holistic" if you will, approach to life as opposed to compartmentalising it, a feature of modernity. That's one of the central thrusts of the missional movement, to consider the rhythms of our day-to-day life through the lens of mission. But it's hard too because sometimes you need to switch off but you can't. For the layperson, it would never cross their minds to consider church as "work". For me, it is and isn't, if that makes sense. It does mean learning to rest is very, very important. I now have an inkling what burnout might look like, having veered dangerously close to it in February. And like it or not, being a "full-time" worker also changes the dynamic of your relationship with others as well.

I find one-to-one work rewarding. There's nothing like being able to teach and read and listen and wrestle with God's word together, encouraging someone to grow in grace, to see how God's word and their world might intersect, to pray, and to talk about life together. Of course it can be frustrating. Often I think you don't actually get to see the results of your work. But it's great nonetheless.

Some of my other highlights: the conference I went on right at the beginning of the year, one of the best. The student conference where I was a leader. 2 hours in an ice-cream parlour where it seemed right to follow an important conversation about grace rather than take out my pre-planned Bible study. Money not being a problem this year because of generous friends. A mission trip which I was apprehensive about beforehand but which turned out to be absolutely worth it. Giving talks for the first time. 4 Person of Christ lectures which stretched my mind. Going to watch All-England Championships: Lee Chong Wei! A new Christian going great guns.

Lowlights: Cultural stress. Loneliness, for ministry inevitably carries some of that. A wish for more parental support (although relatively speaking, I think my problem is probably quite mild). Friends who don't want Christ. Orlando Magic losing to LA Lakers: well not really, since I didn't expect them to make the Finals in the first place! :) Of course, visa woes. If the UK Border Agency was a person, I really want to strangle it now. Strangle it! MUAHAHAHA....*looks around sheepishly*

I've got far to go when it comes to depending on God, but hopefully 2009 is yet another small step forward.

'Cause this is a healing song, oh and I've got a heart that fails
But love is pushing me along, I'm lifting up above this veil
This is a healing song, oh and I don't know if you can tell
But love is pushing me along
I'm pressing up against the rail, pressing up against the rail

...You and I, we've come so far
We've come so far, we cannot look back

- Healing Song, Bebo Norman

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

The wrap makes a return

I don't think I've done an around the web post this year at all. Here you are then:

304,358 Malaysians migrated from March 2008 till August this year. That's a lot, so it's no wonder the debate has been rekindled. I think over half of my classmates from secondary school days are now overseas. Tay Tian Yan exhorts us to wake up to this reality. Farish Noor has the commentary: migration as protest. The follow-up. Helen Ang also has this must-read article analysing demographic trends in Malaysia. Don't miss that one. Finally, for a Christian perspective, Bishop Hwa Yung's article Should Christians emigrate?, first published in Kairos's Emerging Church Issues and reprinted here in NECF's newsletter, is a worthwhile read.

Jared Wilson usually has good gospel-centred stuff. 10 things good pastors say. Don't Waste Your Calvinism.

4 questions with D.A Carson.

The Gospel Old and New - Kevin DeYoung. Helps articulate some of my dis-ease with a few currently popular gospel presentations, although I hope we're humble enough to be aware of our own weaknesses as well.

Brothers together in Christ. Learning to love each other as Christian men.

Self Knowledge for godliness and ministry from Mark and Jennie Baddeley. I look after their kid in Sunday School btw, although they don't really know me. :) I linked only to part 6, but you can access parts 1-5 from this post. Worth reading, especially their reflections on personality tests in parts 3 onwards.

The 50 biggest movies of 2010.

Thought-provoking article examining friendship in the age of online social networking.

What were your worst books of the decade? I'm glad some people felt the way I did about Vernon God Little. Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist wasn't bad but disappointing as I had high expectations for it.

Shattering the Tiger [Woods] dream. Lessons learned.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

(Sovereign Grace) Music

We Sing from the album Sons & Daughters - starts properly 45 seconds in

We’ve come together in Your name
We’ve come together to proclaim
How great You are
Once we were going our own ways
Now we’re a people for Your praise
How great You are

We sing as sons and daughters
Sing to God our Father
All because of Jesus
We sing, His blood has bought us
Sing, Your mercy called us
All because of Jesus we sing

Jesus, You’re powerful to save
Jesus, You’ve risen from the grave
How great You are
Your blood gave us peace with God
Your love has broken down our walls
How great You are

By grace we have been saved
To be Your dwelling place
You took our curse and made us one
It’s nothing we could do
Our only boast is You
So we rejoice in what You’ve done

© Joel Sczebel, Pat Sczebel, and Todd Twining

I really like what Sovereign Grace Music is doing - great lyrics with great congregational singability. I own and love Songs for the Cross-centered Life and Valley of Vision. Even their older album All We Long to See, which I listened to online, didn't quite sound as dated as I expected; enjoyed it too. Still, too little people know about them, so doing my little bit here to commend them. One song Malaysian Christians might recognise is written by a Sov Grace writer before they became Sov Grace: I stand in Awe (You are beautiful beyond description).

Some of their strongest songs: I Will Glory in my Redeemer, Jesus Thank You, The Glories of Calvary, O Great God, Let Your Kingdom Come, their reworking of the hymn Before the Throne of God Above.

Other recent music
My favourite British Christian musician Matt Redman
We Shall Not Be Shaken - Review, Interview

Paul Baloche, who is pretty popular I gather
Glorious - Review, Interview

Sara Groves, singer-songwriter; I should really own at least one of her albums!
Fireflies & Songs, Review, Interview

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Thinking through ministry and parents

[This is a bit more of a personal post]

The past month has been difficult. I've felt really disheartened at various points. I've had a few...battles (the word doesn't seem quite right. Disagreements? Skirmishes?) with my parents once they realised that ministry wasn't just some passing fancy I'm into at the moment. While I didn't start my church apprenticeship 15 months ago by announcing to my parents: "I'm going to be a pastor/church planter/missionary for the rest of my life!", I think just doing the apprenticeship signalled that I was definitely exploring the call to full-time paid gospel ministry (thereafter I will simply use "ministry" or "full-time ministry" interchangeably to refer to this). When I sought counsel about the way in which I should engage my parents, the advice I receive was to keep them informed and to gradually open up to them some of my plans, so that it wouldn't be a bolt out of nowhere. I still think that was sound advice. And I believe that for the most part I have. I was up-front, for example, with the fact that I went to talk to a pastor in KL with a view to future options nearly a year ago now.

An apprenticeship is meant to be a testing ground to explore the call into full-time ministry, and simultaneously a stepping stone should it seem as if that call is to be pursued further. And to be honest, everything seems to be pointing that way. The work is very hard, make no mistake, but I love what I do. I appear to have teaching and preaching gifts, even if they still need to be worked hard at. Character, that most important of traits, is harder for me to judge, but I haven't been pulled aside and told that I have such serious transgressions as to be disqualified, if that counts for anything! :) Which is why I'm thinking about this seriously.

But it's hard to communicate with my parents about all this. My parents don't fit neatly into any box - on some fronts, they seem like very traditional Asian parents; on others, they have proved to be more open-minded. I'll say, for instance, that they were more positive about me embarking on my apprenticeship than I expected. Still, they've got a very different worldview from mine. And to be fair, the only models they have to go on are those in Malaysia. I noticed, for example, that they just don't seem to understand, despite me trying to explain it as clearly as I can multiple times (and believe me I've tried!), that people do get paid for this stuff, as yes, they do get paid enough to cover their basic needs at the least! Now, to be honest, I don't know much about pay structure and things like that in Malaysia for those in full-time ministry, but I am realistic enough to know that it's pretty low. (If you know more, please enlighten me in the comments!) In some harder situations, for example, a pastor will have to go bivocational. But that's not going to happen with me with the current options I have. I do think it will be hard. I come from a middle-class background, as is obvious from being able to go to university in the UK. So nice holidays abroad, for example, might no longer be easy to come by on a salary of your average full-timer. But it's not the end of the world.

There's also the "you can still work a full-time job and do ministry on the side" argument: this seems to be a favourite of Asian parents everywhere, as some of my other friends in ministry testify. Well, I had to explain the "full-time" in "full-time ministry", and the value of ministry of the word, but how do you do that when their worldviews are so different? It's made even more complex when I naturally advocate every-member ministry, i.e full-time ministry does not make you more inherently spiritual; there is a sense in which every Christian is full-time. But then to say that there is also a sense in which some people are set apart for full-time ministry. Regular readers of the blog will remember that I preached from Ephesians 4:7-16 over a month ago, which touches on this very issue. Frustratingly for me, it seems as if every church member apart from my parents understood what I was going on about!

And then there's the "you should gain experience in the real world first" argument. This one I've thought about long and hard, because this argument has validity. After all, I am very young. And I think every young person thinking about full-time ministry must wrestle hard with this. In the end, though, I think this one has to be decided on a case-by-case basis. Why? There are quite a few reasons. Firstly, it isn't always the case that you must experience something to be able to minister effectively into that situation. After all, no one person will ever experience the full range of possible experiences. If you get married and have kids, then you have traded off the experience of being single into your old age, and vice versa. Would you say the married/single person has nothing to offer the person of different marital status simply because he or she has never had that experience? Now, that's not to say experience in the working world is not valuable, and it could definitely give you unique insights that are not available elsewhere. What is it like to work for a prickly non-Christian boss? When everyone is busy handing out duit kopi? But I'm trying to say that it's not the clinching argument. For some, they will benefit from time in the working world. For others, it's not necessary.

Also, I do sometimes bristle at the fact that Christian ministry isn't the "real world". I've met up with a non-Christian managing director of a publishing company at least 10 years, if not more, older than me to read the Bible together and to talk about life. I've sat with a homeless person and warmed up his sandwich. I laughed together with PhD students and discussed pressing academic matters. I work in a cross-cultural situation as the only non-Western staff member of my church. Granted, my experiences of the world look different, but is this less "real-world"? The other thing to consider is the difference in age and how that dynamic works in an Asian culture. I've thought about it. And I think this means that it's definitely true that I probably won't gain a hearing from them initially. But does that disqualify younger ones like me automatically from ministry? No, it means I have to work hard at every aspect of my godliness, to be a bit more tentative in some of the things I say, to be quick to listen and slow to speak to older heads.

You probably think from my above two paragraphs that I've already made up my mind to go full-time straight away. Believe it or not, I haven't. I spoke to our long-term mission partner, who is a British-born Chinese (Malaysian and HK parents), when I was on a mission to X Country in the summer. He has first-hand experience of parental opposition. And he offered really good advice. One reason in favour of working a "secular" job is simply to grow up a bit. Now I think sometimes I am in need of that! But he cautioned against taking a secular job simply to "earn credibility". That advice takes on renewed force now that I know some of my mum's friends have been whispering amongst themselves about the son who went to a highly esteemed university but is thinking about taking a job that doesn't command much respect! (These are professing Christians, btw, and I confess to dreaming up some rather unChristian retorts). But that has made me pause about completely rushing in. At the same time, since I've been back, one thing that has been hugely emphasised is the urgency of the task. Malaysia is really lacking in full-time Christian workers, and more than one person has independently expressed their concern to me about the next generation and whether we lose the ground that was so hard-won. So there is definitely a part of me that simply wants to press on and not dither.

Oh, and of course, there's the classic Ephesians 6:2 argument, a favourite of all Asian Christian parents. I always think, how about verse 4? But what has helped early on is recognising honouring your parents does not mean obeying them in everything. Of course, we have to be careful - that doesn't suddenly mean you can justify your every disobedient action! But v.4 does provide supporting context. It's not just that parents are not to exasperate their children, but that they are to do so by instructing their children in the ways of the Lord. And so to honour your parents is to walk in the way of the Lord, in line with the task God has set them, which can sometimes mean not going with their every whim! (The mission partner I mentioned earlier also had some interesting exegetical support from Exodus, but I'm not sure I can completely recall it now so don't want to put words in his mouth).

Wow, you're probably thinking I've been so calm and reasoned! Trust me, I'm not. I have been upset with myself that I have gotten argumentative and defensive with my parents so easily and quickly! And I don't want to paint my parents as the veritable bad guys. I have to understand how their worldview and life experiences has impacted them, and I am actually confident that in the long term, they will be supportive. But it's been very disappointing not to feel their support now, though it was expected. And it is quite hard when you're treated like a kid when others treat you like an adult! They seem to think I've been very gung-ho when really, my temperament (and more importantly, the fact that God surely doesn't like impetuous fools) militates against it. Instead, I've been torturing myself with "should I or shouldn't I?"

Well, I was going to write more on some of the more disheartening moments in the past month, but those are nothing to do with parents, so that will have to be for another post. Comments welcome.

† Expand post

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Anyone wants to play secret Santa?

Thought I'll indulge a little and post a partial book wishlist - partial, because a complete list will probably be never-ending! :-p I'll also just stick to Christian books on this one. Now, who wants to buy me any of the following, or at least contribute an Amazon gift voucher...

If it's in italics, that means that given the opportunity, I'll be sorely sorely tempted to get it.

  • A good evangelical NT intro - this is the one I'm eyeing.
    Beginning to think that having an NT intro would be useful, and people have been nothing but positive about this one by Kostenberger et al.; at the very least, on par with Carson/Moo.

  • FAQS, ed. Alison Mitchell
    Youth work is definitely a possibility for the future, but I've never really done any reading in this area. This is apparently a very good intro book.

  • Making sense of the Bible by H.H. Drake Williams III
    An intermediate-level book tracing 10 themes (eg. covenant, Holy Spirit) through Scripture.

  • God the Peacemaker by Graham Cole
    Latest in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, looking at the impact of the cross at both personal and cosmic levels.

  • The Power of words and the wonder of God, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor
    The theme of the Desiring God 2008 conference in book format

  • The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne
    Brand new from Matthias Media on the nature of Christian ministry and discipleship-making.

  • Anything by Tim Keller
    I actually don't own a single Keller book. His latest, Counterfeit Gods, is near the top of my wishlist, but any Keller book, I reckon, is worth owning.

  • Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh
    I've actually been following the development of this book for a while now about a topic I'm very interested in - I've always hoped to write a long post/series of posts about this at some point. I've even entered a draw hoping to win a free copy (results pending), but if I don't get it, I'm sure I'll still buy this one.

  • Christ's victory over evil, ed. Peter Bolt
    To be honest, this book might be too heavyweight for me at the moment, but I reckon this will still prove valuable at some point.

  • A book that has yet to be written, to my knowledge...
    A thoughtful, insightful look into parent-children relationships from an Asian Christian perspective. To be fair, I do know someone who is at the moment working on a project that might explore this.

    OK, I'll stop here, already feeling guilty over book envy.

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