HILLSONG OR STING FOR CHRISTMAS?

As an Australian Christian it almost seems un-Australian to not appreciate Hillsong and the wealth of inspiring and God-glorifying music that they have given us over the years. Given indeed to the world. I am just returning home to Oz from the Philippines where, on one Sunday night, I endured a three hour concert where 4 invited worship teams seemed to compete with each other in replicating as much Hillsong as they could manage, complete with the same stage and audience mannerisms that make up the usual Hillsong DVD. I don’t blame the guys back in Sydney for that, but it does leave me with concerns and questions about the nature of modern Christian ‘worship’. How much of it is true worship and when does it just become soulish hype. And a pleasant experience on the plane on the way to Manila only served to heighten my concern.

 
I’m a great Sting fan. I love his music style and his skill with lyrics. So how great was my joy to find his Berlin Concert, complete with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, as part of the Qantas in-flight entertainment. It was a fabulous concert, filling up my senses and having me at times in tears. I watched it twice and told my wife that I’d love it for Christmas. But here’s the concern. A month earlier I had been into our local prison to facilitate the Sunday services and the lads in the first session had the latest Hillsong DVD which we used for a couple of songs. I’d not seen a Hillsong production for a while and so I was suitably impressed with the whole production, the smoky blue effects, the crowd angles, the music style, so professional, so drawing. I enjoyed it, worshipped to it and thought of some teenagers I’d love to get it for.

Have you already got my drift though? I don’t have any doubt at all about the integrity of the producers of the video BUT … when you put together a team of amazing musicians, skilful writers and a brilliant audio and visual team you have to finish up with a successful product that has all the dangers of leavings its participants emotionally high but not necessarily engaged with God in a life changing encounter that continues after the lights have faded. Especially when churches all over the country see Hillsong as the benchmark and are trying to replicate their style, all in the name of a spirit of ‘excellence’. So the push for talent in the worship team becomes a subtle mini version of Australian Idol and the expectations of an entertainment-driven generation of young churchgoers are catered for and driven higher. And we confuse the results for worship that pleases God.

And here I am reminded of David trying to bring the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6), on a ‘new cart’ (driven by the spirit of excellence?) replete with a plethora of professional musicians and skillful music that would surely rival heaven – but God was not in it. Indeed it was not until this new thing stumbled and God’s wrath burned against Uzzah for trying to keep it going, that the participants, as earnest as they surely were, were even remotely aware that their ’worship’ fell far short of God’s measure of excellence.

What was missing was the blood (verse 16). God’s presence is not brought down by highly skilled (and sometimes unknowingly ego-driven) musicians and polished performances but is carried each day by New Testament priests (ordinary believers) who are dead to performance driven religion and who’s worship is more about service than singing. Such worshippers do not need a professional song-leading team every Sunday and are quite satisfied with a poorer but sometimes more honest worship session when they do get it. Indeed such a genuine mixture of sacrificial service and heartfelt singing makes a big noise in heaven whether it is accompanied by excellence or not.

So will it be Sting or Hillsong at Christmas? Hopefully both. I’ve no doubt that God raised Hillsong for His purposes. And just as David “served the purposes of God in his generation” so I trust will they. May they do it though through a pathway of blood.

THE BARKADAS OF JESUS

MOLONG NACUADSC00521

The third apostle we met on our trip to the Philippines was Molong Nacua (pronounced naquah). I met Molong on the internet whilst surfing for house churches in the Philippines. His writings connected with my spirit and we finished up spending 5 wonderful days with him and his wife Lisa and their extended family on the Central Philippines island of Cebu.

The story of Molong (or as he says, ‘Long’ for short) is one of a gradual journey through traditional style church (youth pastor, worship leader) to traditional style homechurch (doing the same but in a house) to a less structured homechurch (but still based on attending a weekly meeting), to his current passion, simply building a company of disciples for Jesus.  While we were with him he coined the phrase ‘The Barkadas of Jesus’ to describe them – a barkada being a wonderful Filipino word referring to a company of friends joined in a common bond of friendship and loyalty. No set meeting times or programs but what he refers to as a life of ‘intention – relational discipleship’, mainly based on reading the Bible, learning to listen to the Spirit and learning how to disciple a friend for Jesus. We did a lot of listening and talking while we were with him but the highlight of our visit was an unintentional demonstration of the ‘barkada’.

It happened when a young recently graduated high school student, Jommie, turned up with his friend Julian, who he had recently invited to become a disciple of Jesus. Jommie had been discipled two months earlier, beginning with the same invitation, by Albert, who had been discipled by Molong. Albert had baptised Jommie the Saturday before we arrived  and now Jommie was ready to baptise Julian.

So we headed down to the sea to baptise him. Two days later however, the three boys turn up at Molong’s house with a new friend, Louey Dan, a not-yet-believer who they were working on. Over lunch the Gospel was explained to Louey Dan and an invitation given to become a disciple of Jesus. He was ready, having observed his young friends for some time. An hour later Julian, baptised only two days earlier, was praying over his friend as he baptised him into Christ.

Later, as we celebrated over Dunkin Donuts, I took the opportunity to quiz the members of this growing Barkada of Jesus about what they had done and how deep was their grasp of the Gospel. Each man impressed me with his grasp of repentance and faith, one of the most articulate being Louey Dan.  We finished our donuts and the boys hung around for a meal with Molong and Lisa and then headed home.

And three days later we headed back home ourselves, back to our own nation of Australia with a whole new understanding of what Jesus meant when He simply said (my paraphrase),

“Go and preach the Gospel, making disciples, baptising them and teaching them to obey me. And lo I am with you to the end … every day, not mainly on Sundays, not mainly in your meetings, not mainly via the Pastor, but moment by moment, day by day, until I come again.”

You can catch up with Molong’s writings at the new blogsite we are building together, The Barkadas of Jesus.  It’s still in in the building stage but you might like to bookmark it.  But be warned. It could change your thinking about the nature of church.

Here’s a Youtube of the new barkada.

THREE APOSTLES TO THE PHILIPPINES

I’ve just returned from one of the most significant trips that I have had to the Philippines. We (myself, my wife Esther and my good friend Carl Porter) went there to serve some churches with whom we had a relationship – and in the process finished up serving three apostles, three good Filipino men that Christ has given as gifts to the church.

FELIX DE RAMOS

One of them was Felix de Ramos. Felix has been serving as a father in the Philippines for the past 15 years and more, travelling around the country building up pastors and serving the Filipino church. He is one of the humblest, most unassuming men I know. His home church, Peace International Christian Church, sounds grand but meets in the basement of a house in Quezon City, Manila, hidden from view yet immensley influential.

Which is what true apostles are all about. Like the bones of the body or the foundations of the building they carry weight and give strength and shape but are hidden. It’s the flesh that carries the life and is seen. Felix, to my mind, embodies that principle and is a gift to the church.

LHOY EDANIOL

Lhoy and Venus EdaniolLhoy I’ve introduced in the previous post. He met me with tears at Felix’s church and we proceeded to Sapang Palay to meet the two churches that he was fathering in San Jose del Monte, a significant city in the hills above Manila. Five years ago God restored a very broken Lhoy back into ministry and gathered again the scattered flock that he had left – and added another battered flock to him as well. By the time we arrived Lhoy, with the enthusiastic help of his wife Venus,  had formed them into a couple of vibrant churches with equally enthusiastic workers reaching out among the poor and planting home based churches among them.

Part of the reason I went was to check that he had put into place some protections for himself and his family. Church planting is hard work in the Philippines, especially under old paradigms of ministry. I left him, confident that the safeguards are in place (before I came he had submitted himself to an older pastor in the area who loved him)  and confident also that God had restored him from the wilderness to be a key man in the city. For he carries an apostolic heart for the city, for the churches of the city and for the many other pastors who have fallen under the weight of ministry. God is making him a father beyond his local congregations. And I’m looking forward to being part of that process, raising some support back here in Yeppoon and dropping in now and then to strengthen him in a great work.

MOLONG NACUA

Then there was Molong.  But he definately requires a separate post … stay tuned.

BACK TO THE PHILIPPINES

philippines-mapOn Thursday Esther, Carl and I head off to the Philippines to catch up with I guy that I met on my first trip to Manila in 1992. I met Lhoy at a pastors retreat in Sapang Palay, a Smoky Mountain rubbish tip resettlement area in the hills outside Quezon City, Manila. He was pioneering a church that was meeting under a canopy of sewed together rice sacks and the rains had destroyed the canopy.

He was a talented IT technician who had given up his career and was trying to support his young family by selling sticks of garlic house to house while building a church. Over the next few years we built a relationship with him, bought him a motorbike and visited and stood by him as he built up Reaper of Christ Church, a church typical of many thousands of church groups throughout the Philippines.

However the financial struggle and the pastoral care struggles took their toll on him, on his marriage and the church and in 2000 Lhoy left to work in Saudi Arabia leaving behind a destroyed marriage and a disintegrated church. And I lost contact with him.

Continue reading “BACK TO THE PHILIPPINES”