Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Unforgettable Night

Listening to Frances Hesselbein’s keynote address was most refreshing. Frances Hesselbein, (Chairman & Founding President Leader to Leader Institute & Former CEO, and Girl Scouts of the USA) a diminutive and frail looking woman spoke gently and yet with authority at the podium. She challenged the Christian leaders of New York City who gathered at the Launch Dinner of The New York City Leadership Center to lead the city with courage, integrity and mercy. She embodies the spirit of volunteerism and summons leaders to give their time, energy, creativity and talents to be volunteers to serve society. Hesselbein was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor, in 1988. She was also the Founding President of the Drucker Foundation. The audience gave a standing ovation at the end of her speech. This is the woman who walks the talk. She had led the Girl Scouts of the USA from 1976-1990. She took over the helm of the Girl Scouts movement as Chief Executive Officer when it was fast declining in numbers. She was able to bring the movement forward and did so with much courage and wisdom.

Hessebein had neither led an academia or big corporation. Leadership is, as far as she is concerned, expressing oneself through one’s character. The late Peter Drucker spoke admiringly of her: “This is one woman who knows what she is called to do and where she is going. She will not deviate from her calling.” She does her work with excellence, courage and wisdom. She was a volunteer and probably was not paid to do her job.

The moment Marie Barlow Martin stepped forward to sing a repertoire of Broadway songs; the audience was mesmerized by the beauty of her voice. You could hear a pin dropped on the floor. Marie is an international singer who has performed before hundreds of thousands in over 30 countries for theatres, orchestras and churches with a voice described as a “national treasure.” She responded to God’s call recently and left her very successful career living in Manhattan as a musical theater singer and actress in the Broadway community to begin a music ministry with her husband Gordy. She felt that she could express her faith more fully now than ever before. I was simply bowed over by her voice.

I was not supposed to be there at the dinner event. I was invited by RCPC as a guest and it came as a surprise. Listening to these two outstanding women, one through speech and the other through songs, both equally compelling and forceful, not by brute strength but by sheer elegance of their character, commitment and courage, I knew God showed up that night.

Outside the Marriot Hotel, thousands of New Yorkers have to go through nights of uncertainties. Many lost their jobs because Wall Street stock market suffered its biggest fall since 9/11. There were groans, howling, moans as many lost their lifesavings. Outside the Manhattan headquarters of Lehman Brothers Holding Inc., Geoffrey Raymond, a 54-year-old Brooklyn artist urged passers-by to sign his latest work, a painting of the bankrupt investment bank’s chief executive, Richard Fuld. New Yorkers filled the canvas from edge to edge with comments about greed and comeuppance. He was paid handsomely as CEO but the lack of character led to his downfall.

It was an unforgettable night for many.

“Leadership is simply an expression of what one does through his or her character” – the wisdom of Frances Hasselbein rings loud and clear.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Gospel DNA

Redeemer Presbyterian Church is a mega church with 5000 members in its multiple services. The worship services are traditional and contemporary depending which service one attends. I found that both traditional and contemporary worship services of RPC convey the sense of the worth and beauty of God through thoughtful liturgy, kingdom-centered prayer, Christ-centered preaching and joyful music. The worshippers are not particularly expressive type. Given the intellectual culture of Manhattan and the professorial style of preaching by Dr.Tim Keller, Redeemer church naturally attracts the professionals, the academia, and the college students who appreciate content rich sermons. It is not a Charismatic church and yet the growth is phenomenon.
I interviewed a few members of the church to find out what made them want to come to RPC and the consistent answer I got is this: “Tim Keller’s sermons touch our lives. Redeemer has a balance gospel ministry. The church is able to reach out to secular people. RPC knows how to engage the culture without condemning the evilness of the culture.”

So what is the real secret?

Tim Keller is able to make the truth of the gospel clear and real. His expository preaching consistently shows how all Biblical themes climax in Christ and his work of salvation. His teaching on the gospel of grace is a death blow to legalism, moralism and relativism. If gospel is clearly preached, the church will not produce self-righteous, judgmental, self-centered Christians.

Secularism tends to make people selfish and individualistic. Religion and moralism in general tends to make people parochial and self-righteous.

But the gospel however humbles and affirms us at the same time, since in Christ, we are simul iutus et peccator. In the oft repeated famous phrase of Tim Keller “At the same time, we are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope” Such gospel truth moves people to holiness (not legalistic, pharisaical self-righteousness type of holiness) and service out of grateful joy for grace, and out of love of the glory of God for who he is in himself.

RPC has a ministry called Diaconate where the deacons and deaconesses carry out the ministry of help and mercy to those needy members in the church so that there are no needy persons among them. The volunteers serve joyfully out of a deep sense of gratitude to God’s redemptive grace in their lives. The artists and musicians convey truth, beauty and excellence in their professions. They express their creativity through music and worship service in such a way that the beauty and worth of God is seen and felt. The members are passionate about justice issues and engage the New York culture with the aim to transform with the power of the gospel.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church is certainly impacting Manhattan and other major cities of the world. My 6 weeks here with Redeemer Church Planting Center will certainly be and has already been a life and ministry transforming experience for me.

God in his graciousness has given me this exposure to see how Tim Keller builds that kind of church that impact and influence the culture of cities and nations.

CDPC already share many aspects of the DNA of Redeemer Church. We need a united and strong team who share the same vision to take CDPC to another level.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The three men who influenced me

Looking back the last three decades, I could see the unseen hand of God moulding my life for his purpose. He used three men in different periods to shape me to become the kind of person that God wants me to be. I am grateful to them and thankful to God.

Dr. David G, a protestant, was my first ‘boss’ in church. He was the first church leader I worked closely when I came back from UK. He had helped to shape my spirituality and mission consciousness. He demonstrated quiet and gentle leadership, no less impactful in Christian ministry than charismatic and forceful leadership. One does not need to be platform leadership and yet can be greatly used by God. His love for mission is infectious. He loves mission because he loves the God of mission. He taught me consistency and resilience. He was a skillful dentist.

Chong Nik Seow, a Catholic, was my boss in engineering department when I started my first job. He showed me how as an uncorrupted government servant, one could be a blessing to contractors. He taught me thoroughness and meticulousness in engineering work without which it could have serious consequences. He did his work well and set high standard. He was a skillful engineer.

Dr. Chuck Lowe, my lecturer in SBC and now a good friend. He taught me exegesis. He is a first rate theologian. He is skillful as an exegete of God’s word. After having served God in Singapore for 16 years, he moved back to USA and settled down in Boston and worked as a pastor in a Chinese Church. Travelling 23 hours in the plane was tiring but the confined space and enforced time gave me the opportunity to reminisce 30 years of my life to Sarah. I outlined the three periods and the influence of these three great men in my life as the plane sped on at 960km/hr. Having landed and collected our luggage at the baggage conveyor belt, I saw a man from a distant walking toward me, instantly I recognized him. Balding, putting on weigh, Chuck looks more like a business man than a pastor-theologian. The last time when we gave him the farewell was 8 years ago. This is the man who imparted the skill of exegesis. He reinforced further what Chong Nik Seow had done the significance of thoroughness and meticulousness. This is amply seen in my research. We had great time talking. We talked about church works, we discussed theology, and we ate Tuscanini ice cream which is better than Haagen Dazs ice cream. We walked for more than one hour just to look for the Tuscanini ice cream (because I told him that Haazgen Das is the best ice cream). New York Time declared that Tuscanini is the best ice cream in the world.

All these three men share common traits: hardworking, good workers, thoroughness, skillful in their trades, great love for God, uncorrupted, men of integrity, faithful men, and willingness to impart skills…

I am indebted to these three men.