Back in Sydney

I am in Australia taking an Easter vacation in Sydney. It had been good to see old friends and we clicked right away. I can’t believe a friend who I haven’t seen me in the past year can still read me so well. A bunch of us have dinner together and it was good time. I like our fellowship, our candid talk and it was just nice. 

Yesterday, there was the Good Friday service and I was a little surprised at how empty the sanctuary was. It was a little depressing. I was staying with a friend and I didn’t know this but my friend who grew up in the church haven’t been going to church for a year. I was a bit shocked because their whole family have been going to our church for the past four decades or so and my friend’s family are all very devoted Christians. 

There is no growth, people were just older. We have just become very inclusive I guess. 

It is sad. I feel sad. It is especially sad for the sisters who don’t have much to choose for life-long mate. I think this is something the church, the congregation really have to do something about. I am very sure that they know about this problem, many of the leaders struggle with this as well. 

I feel like there should be some kind of events to have people mix with Christians from other churches. The church really have to reach out to guys. It seems to me that other than the US, male leadership in church is really weak in Hong Kong and Australia. 

If a church is not growing, it’s probably dying a very very slow death. 

There is a sadness because this the church I grew up in. This is like my home church. I know this people for decades. 

I am also meeting up with people who left the church later today. There is some bitterness and anger in me when I think about how some people have left and people who I wouldn’t be able to see again. There is anger and a sense of lost and grief. 

My buddy knows about my situation at my Hong Kong church and he told me it’s just another Chinese church. 

But to say it honestly, apparently, the English congregation is not doing too well either. I also feel that the Chinese and English congregations are not that connected. It’s weird. And I think it started several years ago when I was back for my master. 

Church camp was no longer together but separate. I don’t think it is one-sided. I am not really sure why. I feel like there is a little of English congregation wanting to get away from the parent and be more free but at the same time, the Chinese got their own things going. It isn’t like yesteryears when we were like this one big family. 

I still feel like the Chinese and English Congregation should be a team and be able to compromise and learn from one another, working together for God. We will be doing different ministries but it will be in the same team, striving in an overall direction under a united leadership. Often, there are things with the Chinese that the English don’t know about. 

I often think that it is very very possible and not really a big task to unite a church and have people be happy and natural together. I experienced a short time of that in my Hong Kong church. We had it at this Sydney Chinese church. 

Things fall apart when a small number of people started to make bad decisions and behave stupidly and started to do things not from the Bible. Good, godly, united leadership is just so hard to come by. 

Distressed at Logical Theology

I got really distressed last night as I talked with a brother from church after a wedding. He was telling me how logical he is from this test, what kind of person he is. He was saying how he, Jay and Jo are all these same type of people. “Logic and reasoning is the steam engine of our faith…” I was like, this is really weird. I asked him, “Where do you get this from?” 

“Jo”…Oh my gosh, I was like “What?!” What the heck is this. Thank you logic king Jo. I asked him when? When we had our brother group lunch 2 weeks ago. Oh my gosh. 

I think this is part of his deacon campaign and he was preaching his logic emphasized theology to the group. I am distressed by two things: 

1. Jo is preaching and influencing these young brothers with his faulty logic theology.

2. These guys, who have been coming to church for 7+ years are still very immature, shallow and can’t tell what’s right and bad. They are still babies. 

Ephesians 4:14

New Living Translation
Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.

 

Ephesians 4:14 describe them. I would put Jo into it as well. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about but he was a deacon, has a great chance of being a deacon again and is a very influential person at the church. I was angry and upset at Jo and very disappointed at this brother despite all the time he has been at church, been under care of a pretty good Christian circle at church…and he’s thinking of studying theology.

He said he’s humble and often compare himself with others, saying others are not doing well…but in truth, I think he’s a bit prideful to do that. I think it would be good for him to take some Bible class because there is just not enough good teaching at church right now.  

But the biggest problem is, he, this brother is actually one of the better one. He’s motivated to learn the Word of God. A bit prideful, but he’s still willing to be taught. He’s not solid yet but his heart is there to learn. What he needs is good teacher to guide him, a good environment. However the biggest problem is how we are nurturing, or Jo and others are nurturing people with really faulty theology and it just have to stop. They are ruining people. I am contemplating writing a letter of concern to the deacon board about him being deacon. I don’t want to but I feel responsible to. It’s going to hurt me really bad. People are going to hate me. People are going to back stab, say all kind of things behind my back, they might even yell at me but I think it just got to stop and this issue has to be faced in the forefront.  

Deacon Candidate Campaigning

I found recently that several deacon candidates have been doing some campaigning. The campaigning usually involve food either they would have people coming over to their place to eat or they would go somewhere to eat. And food is just a very very attractive thing for Chinese. It’s really what Chinese is about. There is a saying in Chinese, 以食為天. Straight translation would be, “Consider eating as the heaven.” It phrase basically emphasize the importance of eating.

I don’t think there is anything I can do at this church. Jo is a candidate for deacon and I really can’t understand someone who knows he lied again and again to allow himself to be up for deacon. What’s going on there? I just don’t see what I can really do. I can write a letter not recommending him, but what would be the point? Maybe he wouldn’t be deacon for a year but is that going to I also find having Jo’s wife be the executive secretary while he’s going to be a deacon to be a very bad idea. Jo might become vice-chairman and his wife would be the executive secretary of church. Is that a conflict of interest? And the deacon board make decisions on budgets and his wife’s salary. Give me a break man.

I wonder about how to deal with these people. So smart yet so destructive. I wonder if there was any other thing I could do. I always let things sit down for a while before I do something, and at times I feel like I am too slow.

If there’s trouble, I think you should raise it up as soon as possible. Don’t let it sit there. I feel like I sat for too long, hesitated for too long, thinking about whether it would be good for everybody to raise concerns, problems and troubles and wrongdoings. By the time I find out that I am being squeezed, it’s already too late.

And I really wonder at why bad, misdirected, ill-willed people can be so effective whereas the good people really just hide. Bad people are crafty. Good people are not, good people wouldn’t try as hard and usually are less effective, and we go by the rules.

There is a sadness as I watch a church get covered by darkness. It will be even harder for the next church pastor.

The same is actually for Hong Kong as the Beijing central government has quickened its pace to limit our freedom of press, speech while making different maneuvers to check out autonomy.

I am grief stricken. I feel very powerless. And I think that’s the intention really, that’s the knocking punch. It is when you realize defeat, realize that there is nothing you can do.

However, as Paul said, it’s about finishing the race. It’s about doing your very best and leaving the rest to God.

So dear God, please remember your church, please remember your people, remember me.

Nehemiah 13:22. 30-31

22 Then I told the Levites to make themselves free from sin and come and watch the gates to keep the Day of Rest holy. Remember me for this also, O my God. Be good to me because of Your great loving-kindness.

30So I made them free from the sin of other nations. I gave the religious leaders and the Levites their duties, each in his work. 31 And I saw to it that wood would be brought at the right times, and also the first-fruits. O my God, remember me for good.

Guilt

I think recently my posts have been very raw. They are almost like rant. I guess what is happening is that I am experience things, incidents, events that are affecting me on many different levels. I may not understand all of them and one of the functions of this blog is that it helps me to digest, comprehend and understand all that is happening around me.

I realize that when somebody or a group of people have done something wrong and shame of, there would be several reactions:

1. Stay silence and quiet

2. Deny

3. Make up lies how it is not what it seems

4. Attack

And I have experienced all of the above.

Let me give some examples.

1. Some people, and I would say those people who have some conscience or faced with something they just cannot deny (so they have some decency) would stay quiet and silent when you tell them about the wrongful doings. It happens with people who know it is wrong, feel a bit bad about it and they probably don’t want to give anymore information.

2. Some people are in denial an they are tricky to deal with. They just say no, I didn’t do it. I find that these people have hardened heart as described in the Bible. They have somehow overcame their conscience to have any remorse. But the guilt is in there, and I find that you can get reactions from triggering that guilt or fear of being found out. I think that these people are the ones where you have to confront them with several people and lay down all the evidence and have them face the wrongdoing upfront. These are usually people with strong character and ego.

3. Lying. This is kind of like 2, making lies. However, some of these do admit to the wrongdoing but they would make excuse while saying sorry. For example, he might even put the blame on you saying that something you do made him do wrong. She might make more lies to cover it all up. It really doesn’t work because usually after confronting these people and they would just lie and lie, and eventually it would come to a point where the lies contradicts what they are saying, it just doesn’t make sense. But I still get astonished at the lies people can tell. They can be so outrageous that you find it hard to believe that they would say such a lie, and even more unbelievable is that some people would believe them. For example, “I never lied.”

4. Attack. Some people would go the attack mode. There are several ways they would attack, the more honest ones would attack you outright and worst ones attack you behind your back. Fearing that you would expose them with their guilt, they would destroy your credibility by spreading rumours, gang up with their friends against you, start a character assassination campaign, isolate you, not telling you about meetings, take you off service positions and etc. It’s vicious. And it really leaves very little response for the target, it either leave or confront back which would mean a lot of ugliness because they would do everything to destroy you. They will pick you apart from the smallest things and blow things out of proportions with half-truth or complete lies. And there are people, very small number of people who are very good at manipulating others, masterminding character assassination campaign. 

Sadly, at my church, I have experienced all of them, and at times several of them together. For example, you may confront a person and he would do 2 and 3, and then attack you behind your back at the same time. He could also do 1 and 4. There are many different combination.

The average church goers don’t know about how to handle these things and really, nobody want to handle these issues. Most Christians are simply not trained to deal with these vicious acts. And I really don’t blame them because even experienced elders, pastors and Christian leaders have a lot of difficulties dealing with these things. And I think even by following the Bible, the result or the outcome would not be what people desired.

The church is not a perfect place. Trouble and conflict will happen. The important issues is how we, Christians, view them and deal with them.

I believe that Christians must have strong theology, strong practice of Scripture and be taught what is acceptable and what is wrong and must be confronted. As the world gets crazier, these training becomes essential to a healthy church.

Deacon Candidates/Conflict of Interest

I wonder if there is something against having the wife of a deacon be the church secretary as well. The church secretary knows everything. I find it a bit problematic. Yi was the secretary for the pastor when Jo was vice-chairman of deacon board. I think this might be a conflict of interest. 

She also had a salary that was higher than the other secretary we hired. She said it was God’s calling and thankful for that but after about half a year, she switched to part-time. And then she left and it became and on and off thing. I am never sure if she is the secretary now or not. And I wonder at if this is God’s calling really because she was in my small group and she did mention that her previous job in the government was too busy and that being the secretary at church would give her a better schedule to take care of her only child. 

What I know from Jo is that he is a controlling person. He is a very crafty, smart, cool, poised man. He has a doctorate degree. He is an administrative officer for the government, which is a pretty high standing job, earns quite a lot of money and oversee many decisions in the government. 

I find it to be a conflict of interest.

The other thing I noticed later, after thinking about it is, Jo’s sister in law is also a candidate for deaconship. So we could see three family members who will be in the inner-working of the church. I find that a bit scary. So we might have Joe as a deacon, his wife, Yi as the secretary, and the sister of Yi and sister-in-law of Jo as another deacon. 

I know all of these people and I am a friend of Jo’s daughter-in-law. We are in good term but I can see what could happen. I think we are entering dangerous territory. I really don’t think there should be a rule against full adult family members from being in the deacon board together now, at least not when there’s just two, but I think there needs to be some precaution about this. It’s just scary.    

Why I Quit Church (and the Surprise That Brought Me Back) by Matt Chambers

Found a nice article from http://www.churchleaders.com/ . Usually I find their articles not all that great but this one speaks to me and I find it very honest,real and offer a great perspective. 

Why I Quit Church (and the Surprise That Brought Me Back)

About 16 years ago, I pretty much gave up on church.

Because I was a preacher’s kid, and it would have caused an international incident, I couldn’t stop attending … but I gave up.

Why?

Well, I was 15 at that point, had been going to church functions since I was in amniotic fluid, and somewhere around the age of 11, I started realizing that a lot of the Christians around me were … well … jerks.

I would read about Jesus and how he treated people, then I’d look at Christians, and the two just didn’t match up.

Sometimes, we’d go by the church to surprise my dad in the middle of a workday, and there’d be someone in his office yelling at him for changing the carpet or not using the choir robes.

 

We would receive threatening anonymous letters at our house … certain church members would interrupt the service to call meetings.

They wanted to edit sermon content.

They hated the music.

They controlled the finances.

They cursed.

They slandered.

They schemed.

They humiliated … just like Jesus would have done … right?

But there was one event that still sits in the front of my mind that gives me much pause to this day. At one point, my father decided to use a smaller lectern to preach from instead of the large, ornate, traditional pulpit. Of course, the backlash from a select few was outrageously harsh.

Finally, in one uproarious meeting, the statement was made that when my father had removed the larger pulpit, he had also removed God from our church.

It took me a long time to be able to look past the theological idiocy of that statement to what the person was really saying.

A few years ago, I got to meet one of my heroes, Frederick Buechner, who was in town for a series of lectures at a local college. During a Q-and-A session, someone asked Rev. Buechner where he attended church. I’m sure his answer wasn’t quite what anyone was expecting:

“I don’t always attend church, actually. Because not every church is alive with the Spirit of God. I only attend where and when I know the Spirit is.”

That certainly was not what people were hoping to hear, but it was the truth.

In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Gandalf writes a letter to the hobbits. Included in the letter is a poem that cryptically refers to the return of Aragon, the King. That portion of literature may not be all that well-known, but there’s a line from the poem I hear and read frequently:

Not all who wander are lost.

Indeed.

But I would add this: Not all who wander are lost … but all who wander are searching.

 

When the judgment was given that God left our church along with the pulpit, I knew I was finished there, and I began to wander.

I never gave up on Jesus Christ, but for years, I washed my hands of the church. Because, I told myself, if to follow Jesus means I end up looking like those people, I don’t want any part of it.

To be quite honest, I’m still not convinced I’ll ever stop wandering, searching.

At least, I hope not anyway.

A Bible passage that comes up when I have this kind of conversation is a line from the letter to the Hebrews, 10:25, that says we must “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together … .”

And I agree, but I also don’t think we as followers of Jesus should gather simply to gather. The Hebrews passage also talks about doing things by a “living way” … encouraging each other toward “love and good works” … our assembly must be a living assembly.

Church isn’t a weird, secret club; it’s a feast, and there’s room for everyone at the table. (And I do mean EVERYONE.)

Either what we believe is alive or it’s not. Flash, hype and clever manufacturing can’t make a dead thing alive. Only the Spirit of Christ can do that.

Growing up, as questions about faith, life, doubts and fears took center stage, the people around me were so busy arguing about whether drums in church were satanic, I never got a chance to ask.

In 2004, I was ordained as a Christian minister. I can “marry and bury” as they say.

But I still wander.

I still search.

I believe Jesus is alive, and a faith marked by Him will also be alive.

I believe grace changes everything.

I believe doubts are a part of our journey.

I believe church should be a safe place, not a place where we pass out masks as people walk through the door.

I believe wandering must be a part of following Jesus, because the more we wander, the more we meet people to invite to the feast.

Now I’d like to share why I went back.

It wasn’t what I expected. (It never is.)

 

I was living next door to a guy, we’ll call him Caleb, who personified nearly everything I didn’t want to be known as. He drank too much. Couldn’t keep a job. Made his own drugs. (True story.) Loved strip clubs.

Keep in mind, I had been raised in a conservative Christian home, was homeschooled for a while and didn’t see my first PG movie in a theater until I was around 12 years old. Caleb was a shock, to say the least. I didn’t quite know how to handle or interact with him, and most of the time, I didn’t have to—my life happened during the day; his life happened late at night.

Our relationship was odd, but always cordial. Sometimes, he’d even share war stories from his late nights out. They were … fascinating. Like they happened in a world only a few people could experience. He was funny, adventurous and possibly one of the riskiest people I’ve ever met.

Oh … and he hated Christians.

That was the confusing part.

He didn’t have a Christian family. Didn’t hang out with many Christians publicly. Didn’t ever go to church.

We’d talk around religion sometimes, but never discuss it directly. Finally, one day, I just had to know.

“Caleb, you’ve tried all kinds of crazy things … why don’t you ever think about trying Jesus?” (I’d never use that verbiage now, but that’s how I understood things then.)

It was a simple enough question. Usually, the person answering gives some passive response or promises to “check it out sometime.”

But not Caleb. He knew exactly why … and I wasn’t ready for what he said next.

“Matt, when I go to the strip club, sometimes there’s another group of guys there. They say all the same things I say to the women, but during the day, they’re in class studying to become pastors. Why do I need to believe what they believe when we all end up at the same place anyway?

I’d like to tell you Caleb and I talked late into the night about the things of God. I’d like to tell you he converted and turned his life around. The truth is, that didn’t happen. In fact, I have no idea where he is today. His answer to my question left me speechless, but it also left me with no choice.

I had to go back.

But not to the same place.

 

In my pre-wanderer days, I knew everything … or so I’d convinced myself.

My original journey back to the family of God was a pretty arrogant one. I was going to “fix church.” I helped my father plant a new community in Central Florida. Then I went and led worship for a small church in Tennessee. Then I started a fairly successful college gathering in a coffee house. Then I went on staff at a much larger church. That’s where I finally began to break under the weight of trying to rectify how to deal with a special needs child and why none of my “fixes” seemed to take.

So while I was on staff at a large church with what any other person in their mid-20s would have considered a dream job, I began to run. (That’s a post for another time.)

Along the way, I bumped into people who time and time again served as blockades of grace that helped me slow down until I finally realized this:

What Christ laid out in the gospels doesn’t need any improvement.

In fact, if we just did those things, I think we’d be OK … it’s all the extra stuff we’ve added that causes problems. Sometimes, it feels like our churches are working much harder to keep systems in place than actually connecting with people (like Caleb).

Sometimes, I wonder what would happen if Jesus came into our temples of today. Would he overturn the tables like he did in the ancient days? Heck, what if he came into the temples of our very lives? I’m sure there are many parts of me that come off like a den of thieves.

I don’t know any of the clergy-in-training Caleb frequented the strip club with, but I know the church is supposed to be a safe place for people to be laid bare. To show their scars and ugliness without fear of being pushed away, kicked out or told to go elsewhere. And this isn’t a denominational issue; this is a perspective issue.

I’m back in the church. To stay.

And when my children look at me, I want them to see hope instead of cynicism. I want them to see a dad who gets it wrong a lot but knows where to turn when I fall.

Because we don’t need more people trying to fix the church; we just need people to be the church.

—–

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

Happiness Marriage

I realise the happy people are the simple people. They don’t expect too much, they are not too picky. They have safe friends. They fall in love, they keep it private. They have good friends around them.

They are simple. I think people were looking at the wrong things, chasing after the wrong stuff. Maybe sometimes we care too much about what the world think. Sometimes people just missed looking into the other person’s character. We can distracted by the shinny stuff, the riches, the body, the nice car, the glamour, the fancy clothes and restaurants, and forget about what’s most important.

I envy those young people who found love and married early, and didn’t have to date around so much and didn’t have to go through so much heartaches and baggages. Really. Most of the time, those people are really pure and of good character. Just good people, good natured people. I know a few couples recently who fit the type and I just can’t be happier for them.

I think happiness is being with friends, doing what you like with people you love and who love you.

Choosing good friends is important. Friends who is going to think of your best interest, who will stick by you and even rebuke you in love.

Maybe it is time to move on. I just went to my friends’ wedding. Fantastic and beautiful human beings. The couple is kind, gentle, loving, pure and I hope they keep it that way.

While going to the bathroom I bumped into a sister who I haven’t talked to for a month or so. She wanted to talk. She wanted to see why I haven’t been to fellowship the past 2 weeks or so. She was wondering if it’s because of those people. We basically talked about the fellowship and church topic we always talked about when we talk about these things. It’s getting a bit old but I like it that at least we were talking. And then her mentor came along and she was intimidating me a bit, she was pushing me a bit, making some assumption. She was a ex-deacon who ousted my dad so I know her background. I was a bit nervous but I basically just told her what I had told some other leaders about the problem at fellowship and I was being really up front about it. I threw it back at her and asked her she would do about it? She told me she would think and pray about it. I was like what? It’s been years now. She talked to me about conflict resolution and I knew it better than her, she thought I don’t know nothing because I wasn’t there at the talk by Rev Chung but I got the Powerpoint and I researched the topic a bit with all this happening at church so I actually corrected her on that. I hammered it to her that the leadership’s behaviour is sinful, against the Bible, against God, against biblical principals and the whole nine yard and what the Bible and Rev Chung said we should deal with it.

It came to a point where she exhausted herself when someone said hi to her.

I am afraid of one thing though, that they might stop asking Rev Chung to come give talk after finding out that I have contact with Rev Chung.

Earlier that day I went to the Evangelical Seminary for basically a full day event for people who are thinking about serving full-time. It was a very good day. I had a great time. At first it was a bit awkward because we didn’t know anybody and I felt like I should talk to people and be friendly. During the morning tea, I started small talk with this middle-aged guy who tried to be friendly but he really wasn’t a talker. I wonder if he could be a pastor, probably not, maybe at Christian organisation.

I was set up to talk with the headmaster, Rev. Kwok, who is someone I admire and is one of my favourite preachers along with Don Carson and a few others. He’s in my top five. I was hoping that he would be the one I get to talk to and we did, I was very candid and he knows my dad. We had 20 minutes. He told me to introduce myself. I didn’t know how to, was it an interview. He said I look sad. I told him I am nervous and thinking. He told me that it’s good to see that although I know all the problems at church, I am still eager to learn and has the heart to serve. He told me that many PKs left church and are very difficult to deal with because of all these things. I told him I know, I have friends who did.  He said that it should be better for me to serve more at church and if I can’t at my current church, changing church is not a bad idea. But he also told me that it would take a while to start serving at a new church. Well, I am very different. But at the same time, he really shown me some real practical problems with going to a church where I get hit by the leadership so much. I was being very up front and honest with him. I find him to be a good man.  We didn’t have enough time, one of the students knocked on the door and told us it was time for lunch.  He said he was sorry, asked how he should address me and which group I was in, group two, and said he would like to talk to me more later.

Our group ate together and we warmed up with one another with one of the teacher leading the discussion. Lam and I were the more talkative ones. We had a nice group and as we did the campus tour we warmed up with one another and started sharing. I started by asking all of us to introduce ourselves while we were waiting. It was fun, things opened up. I really enjoyed learning about how others’ were “called.” Lam was very enthusiastic. There was a glow around him. He was getting marry this year and going to seminary next academic year. And he told me that he waited too long to respond to the call and wished he did maybe a few years earlier.

Before I left I exchanged phone number with Lam and Ah Fai. I had to run to the wedding of the people I mentioned above.

I left and Rev Kwok was just outside the hall, I told him I have a wedding to go to and said goodbye. I wonder if I could talk to him again. I thought about asking him how I can contact him, but I didn’t.

So I am back to my situation at church.

I know it doesn’t help you focus when you have these things happening to you. I spend a lot of time just thinking “what if…”. IT seems that you can’t do much when someone or worst, a group of people has decided to attack you.

It’s not because I done anything wrong but it’s because of their guilt, their insecurity. They associate me with someone that consider to be disruptive to their plan, their way of doing things.

For a long time I didn’t do much, but I just wondered why people were changing their attitude towards me. But there seems to be nothing I can do. I feel like the more I do, the more hurtful I get. Of course I think it’s part of my responsibility to confront them, but I have already done that to a few. I have said my concerns to several deacons and leaders.

I know that staying here is bad for me in the long term. It’s a hurtful experience, but humm. I don’t know. I think things will eventually turn well, but I might not be able to enjoy it.

Today, Sunday I went to the Sunday School teacher retreat. The seminary intern said that it’s good that our church have people of different age gap. I thought to myself, well, it wasn’t like this, we tackled it and my dad led people, started and planned the whole youth ministry so that this is so much better today. I lot of people think it’s Beethoven who’s getting most of the credit. He deserve some but he was never the leader to start something. Sigh~

Looking at old photos, I would ask myself, “What the fuck happened?” Sorry for the language but I don’t know any more appropriate word. “What the fuck happened?” Why did we just blew up?