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Junk Food ?!

May 30/31, 2020

From the Pastor’s Desk:   Rev. Simon Lee

 Junk food?!

Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,

I am not addicted to “junk food,” but at times, when I get started on some, I can see how it can be very addictive – you just can’t stop once you get started!  “Junk food” is exactly what it is, “junk!”  I guess we could ask the same question of why people are hooked on or prefer “fast food” instead of “fine food“ all the time (economics aside), because somehow such food is so enticing, tasty but mostly unhealthy (oily, high on sugar and salt).  Lest you think I am against all such so-called “junk food” because I am not, I do enjoy some sometimes between my meals.  What I cannot understand is why for some, “junk food” comes to replace “fine food” all the time because the latter is so much better in value, both nutritionally and quality.

Spiritual junk food?!

You can therefore understand why I am so surprised when I recently in my study came across the term “spiritual junk food!”  You must be kidding, is there “spiritual food” that can be regarded as “junk?”  Yes, the term appears in Eugene Peterson’s free translation in The Message (MSG) of 2 Timothy 4:3 – “You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food – catchy opinions that tickle their fancy.”

Interestingly, Peterson uses the same expression in an Old Testament verse: “Why do you spend your money on junk food, your hard-earned cash on cotton candy? Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best, fill yourself with only the finest.” (Isaiah 55:2, MSG)  Yes, why waste money on “junk food”?  That started me thinking and here is what I like to share from my reflection.

No stomach for solid teaching

The context is an exhortation of Paul the great apostle and mentor to young Timothy, his spiritual son, to encourage him to stay faithful to the preaching of the Word (the gospel), whether it is convenient or inconvenient (in season or out of season).  We believe in the “priesthood of all believers” and therefore it applies to all of us, that is, we need to be a faithful witness, no matter what.  Paul is warning that there will come a time when he will find Christ’s followers prefer “junk food” rather than “solid food” (sound teaching), but at such a time, he should all the more persevere and be faithful to “preach the Word.”  “No stomach for solid teaching” literally means “will not endure sound teaching.” (ESV)   “Solid food” is being given up and replaced by “spiritual junk food.”   Peterson expands on what he means by “spiritual junk food” with this qualifier – “catchy opinions that tickle their fancy,” which literally means “having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” (ESV)  In other words, there will be Christians who only want to hear what they want to hear, and therefore prefer teachers who do that rather than orthodox preachers like Timothy who will only follow the instruction to “preach the Word.”

Catchy opinions that tickle their fancy

These words sound so true even today, and explain why there is always a market for heresy and half-truths down through the ages till now, and why it is so hard to preach the Word of truth.  The question for all of us, even during this time of the COVID pandemic, is do we have an appetite for the solid food of God, or do we prefer “spiritual junk food” that will “tickle our fancy (own passions),” that are just good to our ears.  Peterson’s use of the term “catchy opinions” (vs. sound teaching) catches my attention.  This sort of “teaching” is “catchy” or palatable and attractive, and we are easily hooked, but nevertheless they are just “opinions” of people who say what we want to hear. In the past several years we hear the term “fake news” being battered around, and I am sadden to see how people are so gullible and so willing to accept them as “truths.”   Have you ever wonder why suddenly we now have such a flood of “knowledge”?

Applied to the Christian context, there is indeed a lot of “fancy teaching” that is unorthodox, that we need to guard against.  This type of teaching will only make them (and us) “turn their (our) backs on truth and chase mirages.” (v. 4. MSG)   That means, we “will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (ESV)   This may include false teaching about the end times.  Next time before we forward something to our brothers and sisters, make sure that they are not stuff that are against the truth of God.  They may be just “spiritual junk food.”

Keep the Message alive

Paul not only has a warning for young Timothy, he also has an exhortation for him and us all: “But you – keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.” (v. 5. MSG)  In another translation we have, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.” (ESV)  The question for us all, are we focused (sober-minded) on our service to God as God’s servants by keeping the Message alive?   There is so much good sound teaching that is available nowadays, including those from our own pastors and teachers.  Are we taking full advantage of this good teaching for our learning?  Let us go for “solid food” that helps us serves God better, keeping the Message alive in and through us.

Also can we “accept the hard times (endure suffering) along with the good?”  Indeed, we are all going through “hard times” because of the pandemic.  Our perseverance at this time will be a strong witness for Christ.  As Christians, are we as fearful and restless as our neighbours who are not Christians?  Should our trust in Christ and in the promise of His word make a difference?  If we are strengthened by the solid teaching of the Word, then our testimony will draw people to Christ, because people need the Lord.

Eat This Book

In his bookEat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, Eugene Peterson reminds us: “Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.”  Let us be the Book during this pandemic.

Your pastor in Christ,

Rev. Simon Lee

Senior Pastor, RCAC

垃圾食物?!

2020.05.30/31

作者:李耀全牧師

親愛的列宣弟兄妹,

我並不沉迷於零食或「垃圾食品」(junk food),但有時當我開始試食這些食品,就我會發現它非常容易上癮  ̶  一旦開始就無法停止!「垃圾食品」(junk food) 顧名思義就是「垃圾!」(junk)  也許我們可能都會問另一個類同的問題:為甚麼眾多的人一直都傾向喜歡「快餐」而不是「佳餚美食」(經濟因素除外),可能是因為這些「快餐」一般是美味無窮,但大多數卻是不健康的(例如,多油、高糖和高鹽)。別以為我反對所有所謂「垃圾食品」,我也不是完全拒絕的,間中我也會在正餐之間享用一點。但我不明白的是,為甚麼對於某些人來說,「快餐」或「垃圾食品」卻可以替代「佳餚美食」,然而後者在營養和質素方面都具有更高的價值。

屬靈雜糧?!(Spiritual junk food)

因此,您可以理解為甚麼最近在我的研習中遇到「屬靈雜糧!」這個名詞時,我感到非常驚訝!您一定是在說笑,真的有被視為「垃圾食品」的「靈糧」嗎?是的,該名詞出現在Eugene Peterson的 “The Message” (MSG) 譯本裡面,是提摩太後書4:3:「您會發現,許多時人們對純正的教導沒有胃口,反而會被「屬靈雜糧」那些動聽無稽之談的觀點填滿。」

有趣的是,Eugene Peterson在舊約經文中也有同樣的譯法:「為甚麼將金錢花在垃圾食品上,將辛苦賺取的金錢花在棉花糖上?聽我說,細心聽:「只吃最好的,只吃最上好的。」(以賽亞書55:2)《MSG》。是的,為甚麼浪費金錢在「垃圾食品」上?這引發我的思考,也是我想與大家分享的內容。

對純正的教導沒有胃口

該段經文是大使徒保羅作為導師對他年輕的屬靈兒子提摩太的勸告,鼓勵他務要傳講神的話語(福音),無論是得時不得時(無論時機是否完全適合)。我們都相信「信徒皆祭師」的概念,因此這也適用於我們所有信徒,也就是說,無論如何,我們都必須成為忠心的見證人。保羅警告說,將來的日子,在信徒中間會出現更喜歡「垃圾食品」而不是「有益食品」(純正的教導),這時候,他應該更加堅忍和忠心地「傳講神的話語」。「對純正的教導沒有胃口」直譯是「容不下純正的道理」(新譯本)。「屬靈真理」已被放棄,取而代之是「屬靈雜糧」。Peterson進一步解釋何謂「屬靈雜糧」及其含義  ̶ 「動聽無稽之談」,直譯即「耳朵發癢,隨著自己的私慾,增添許多教師。」(新譯本)。換句話說,將會有些基督徒只想聽自己喜歡聽的東西,因此他們會偏愛這樣投其所好的老師,而不是喜歡像提摩太等人,他們只會按「傳講神的話語」的吩咐而忠心教導。

動聽無稽之談

這些話語甚至在今天聽起來仍然如此,並解釋了為甚麼世世代代直到現在,異端邪說一直都有它的市場,以及為甚麼傳講真理是這麼困難。即使我們正處於COVID大流行,我們是否喜歡吃上帝純正的靈糧,還是我們更喜歡「屬靈雜糧」,「動聽無稽之談」,這些只是好聽的話呢?Peterson使用「動聽無稽之談一詞(比對純正的教導)引發我的思想,這樣的「教導」是「動聽」的或合人心意投其所好和有吸引力的,我們很容易著迷,無論如何它們只是說出我們歡喜聽到的「論點」。在過去的幾年,我們經常聽到「假消息」並對其意論紛紛,令我感到悲嘆的是,明知它們是不可信的,但又樂意輕信和接受當作「真實的」。您是否曾經想過,為甚麼我們現時彷彿突然有如此豐富的「知識」呢?它們值得我們相信嗎?

應用在基督教的教導下,確實存在許多我們需要提防非正統的「粉飾教導」(fancy teaching)。這種教導只會驅使他們(和我們)「放棄他們(我們)對真理的追求反而追逐幻象」。(第4節《MSG》)。意思是,我們「轉離不聽真理,反倒趨向無稽之談。」《新譯本》。這可能包括關於末世的錯誤教導。下次當我們將某些資訊轉發給弟兄姊妹之前,請確保它們的內容不是與上帝的真理背道而馳。它們可能只是「屬靈雜糧」而已。

持守真理

保羅不僅警告和規勸年輕的提摩太(Timothy),也是在規勸我們:「但您當時刻留心自己在做甚麼;接受美好的時光也同時接受磨練的日子;持守真理;做一個完完全全上帝的僕人。」(第5節《MSG》),另一個翻譯:「你卻要凡事謹慎,忍受磨難、作傳福音者的工作,完成你的職務。」(新譯本)。我們應問的問題是,我們是否專注(清醒地)作神的僕人事奉神,持守真理?今天坊間有許多美好和穩紮的教學,包括來自自己教會的牧者和老師。我們有否充分使用這些教學好好的學習?讓我們尋求「屬靈真道」,持守真理,幫助我們更有效地事奉神。

我們可否「接受美好的時光也同時接受磨練的日子(忍受苦難)呢?」。確實,由於大流行,我們都在經歷「艱難時期」。我們此刻的堅毅將成為基督有力的見證。作為基督徒,我們是否與非基督徒的鄰居一樣恐懼和不安?我們對基督的信靠和他話語的應許會否讓別人看出我們與眾不同?如果我們得力是憑著聖經純正的教導,那麼我們的見證就會吸引別人歸主,因他們需要主。

“喫這本書》(Eat This Book)

Eugene Peterson在他的著作《「喫」這本書:屬靈閱讀藝術的對話》,提醒我們:「基督徒不單單只是學習或研讀聖經,我們要將它消化、吸收,並分解及轉化成為我們生活的素質,例如愛的行動,一杯涼水,奉耶穌的名向世界宣教、傳福音、宣講正義;舉起雙手敬拜父神,學傚聖子為別人洗腳。」。在這次大流行期間,讓我們成為這一本「書」。

主僕

李耀全牧師

New Normal 2: Transforming threat to opportunity (新常態 2: 由危機轉化為機會)

2020.05.23/24

From the Pastor’s Desk: Rev. Simon Lee

Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC, Shalom,

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1, 2, ESV)

Crisis: Transforming Threat into Opportunity (危機:轉危為機)

Last week I shared with you some of my thoughts on the New Normal, focusing on the ideas of “Pause, play and no playback.” This week I hope to continue to round up my thoughts and hopefully provide some more directions on what it means for us at RCAC as we enter into Phase 2 of dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic in B.C.

I came across an article (Strategies for Winter) which I found helpful, and it describes what we are experiencing and what we will face by pointing to three key concepts: blizzard, winter and ice age (Leading Beyond the Blizzard). We have taken “shelter”(stay home) in the storm (COVID), we need now to dress warmly to go out and “survive” the long and bitter winter, and finally we need to “adapt and rebuild” as if we will be going into a new Ice Age. In short, we all need to adapt to the “new normal.”

 On the ground level, we hear in the news things like big motor car plants are now assembling not cars but making millions of mask. Another example I saw in the news was a high class restaurant owner giving out food to the needy. In the latest news (from Quebec) there was a restaurant owner who put some sort of mannequins in empty seats to separate the customers. These simple examples should tell us that “the new normal” is completely different from “the normal” three months ago. Life in Greater Vancouver will not be the same and nor will life at RCAC be back to our “old normal” anytime soon.

Many Church leaders have reminded us that “we need to take seriously not only our faith, but also science, as well as this virus, which involves appropriate social distancing. It’s all part and parcel of engaging effectively today.” (Pastor Mark, Beaverton)  We are also reminded that we are “ambassadors of Christ.” (2 Cor. 5:20)  The question for all of us at RCAC is, now that we are slowly moving from “stay home,” can we “stay alert”? Can we be true “ambassadors of Christ” and messengers of peace and hope to a world desperately looking for ultimate answers, and therefore step up instead of step down our missional efforts?  If “crisis”( 危機) always has two components: “threat”( 危) and “opportunity”( 機), then we should change threat into opportunity  and should now seize the golden opportunity to making our Church not just a place where people go to, but a Church that goes to the people.

After much thought and prayers I believe we need some fundamental changes in three directions:

  1. Transform and buildup the Church with more cell groups (「化整為零」:轉化教會建立小組)
  2. Transform and equip members to be “ambassadors of Christ” (「基督使者」:轉化信徒人人皆兵)
  3. Transform our Church community to a “Community Church” (「社區教會」:轉化群體深入社區)

 1. Transform and buildup the Church with more cell groups (「化整為零」:轉化教會建立小組)

We all long for the day when we can worship, learn, fellowship and play together, like before.  But it may be months before we can gather in large groups in the sanctuary, fellowship hall or the gym, even with the lifting of some of the restrictions. We understand that right now in Phase 2 we still can only have up to 50 people in the whole Church and we still have to maintain physical distancing of 2 meters between people. We will have to wait till Phase 4 of the Reopening to return to large gatherings.

However we have discovered that in fact during the past two months, many groups have been able to meet virtually with video conferencing (numbers vary up to 100 plus people based on number of devices connected to one event.) Moreover we have found that meaningful worship, real learning and good fellowship, fun and game can take place. Much of the security issues have been resolved and people are becoming more familiar and comfortable with going online to meet using different meeting apps.

Looking at it from the perspective of the “opportunity”, our experience has shown us that we can use these methods to draw our people together in ways that were not possible before. Therefore if we can encourage each member of our congregations to belong to at least one small groups, online or offline, such as fellowships or cell or study groups, we can serve our people even better than before.  In short, we want to be transformed into a Church that supports each other in small groups.  Secondly, even with full reopening, we will still continue to take advantage of all these means to draw us closer together.

2. Transform and equip members to be “ambassadors of Christ” (「基督使者」:轉化信徒人人皆兵)

We have discovered that many lay leaders have in fact become even more active in leading various activities and in reaching out to people to invite them to join our meetings. We believe in the “priesthood of all believers” and therefore we should continue our emphasis of “Equipped to serve” (theme last year) and trained our members to be “ambassadors of Christ.” We need to boost our leadership training programs even more to respond to the people needs exposed by this pandemic.

3. Transform our Church community to a “Community Church” (「社區教會」:轉化群體深入社區)

As a Church we have been shut down for over two months. The Church (ekklesia) is called by God out of the world to be “saints” and the community of God. But we are also sent back to the community, in fact to all the nations, that is, to the ends of the world, to be Christ’s witnesses, and to make disciples of all nations. The pandemic has impacted our Church community in many ways, but it has also awakened us to be the Church in the community, outside the four walls of our Church building.  We should be the light and salt of the world. We should learn to be “in the world and not of the world” and make ourselves and our faith relevant to the people of our community. In other words, we should be missional in our purpose and in our engagements with the people out there. Let’s rethink and reimagine our efforts in evangelism and missions, and transform our Church into a “Community Church.”

These are some important emphases that we should take heed as we move into “the new normal.”

In the words of Paul, “I appeal to you therefore …to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship,” we are urged to dedicate ourselves to God, because that is the only “spiritual worship” (reasonable service) that is acceptable to God.  Our transformation can only happen “by the renewal of … mind, that by testing…”and in the “test” that we as Christians have endured in this pandemic, our mind should be renewed so we may be able to discern the perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1, 2, ESV)  May we as individuals and as a Church live to please God.  Stay tuned.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Simon Lee

新常態2 : 由危機轉化為機會

2020.05.23/24

作者 : 李耀全牧師

親愛的列宣家弟兄平安

「所以弟兄們,我憑著神的仁慈勸你們,要把身體獻上,作聖潔而蒙神悅納的活祭;這是你們理所當然的事奉。不要模仿這個世代,倒要藉著心意的更新而改變過來,使你們可以察驗出甚麼是神的旨意,就是察驗出甚麼是美好的、蒙他悅納的和完全的事。」(羅馬書12:1-2《新譯本》)

危機:轉危為機

上週,我與大家分享了有關「新常態」的一些想法,重點是「暫停,重啟和非回復既往」( Pause, Play and no Playback)本週我繼續與大家分享並總結我的領受,希望藉此可以為列宣家,面對BC省冠狀病毒大流行重新開放進入第二階段時,提供更多嚮導。

我閱讀到一篇文章(《迎冬策略》Strategies for Winter),該文章對我很有幫助,它透過三個關鍵概念來描述我們正在經歷以及我們將面對的情況:暴風雪(blizzard),寒冬(winter)和冰河時期(《雪暴後的領導》Leading Beyond the Blizzard )。我們在風暴(COVID)中已找到「庇護」(留守家裡),現在我們需要穿上保暖的衣襪走出去,「應付」漫長而寒冷的冬天,最後我們需要「適應和重建」,就像我們將進入新的冰河時期。簡而言之,我們都需要適應「新常態」。

現實環境裡,我們從新聞中聽到,大型汽車工廠現在正在組裝的不是汽車,而是製造數百萬個口罩。另一個例子在新聞報道中看到一所高級餐館的老闆向貧苦大眾分發食物。來自魁北克的最新消息,有一家餐館的老闆,他特意把一些櫥窗模特兒公仔放置在座位上,藉此分隔顧客的距離。這些簡單的例子告訴我們「新常態」與三個月前的「常態」完全不同。大溫哥華地區的生活將不復從前,列宣家也不會很快回到我們的「舊常態」。

許多教會領袖提醒我們:「我們今天須要積極面對的,不僅是要對我們的信仰認真,還要有科學,以及認識這病毒,曉得要有適當的社交距離。」(Beaverton的 Mark牧師)。聖經提醒我們,我們是「基督的使者」。(林前5:20),作為列宣家群體來說,問題是,既然我們正從「留守家裡」(stay home)慢慢地轉移,我們可以「保持警覺」(stay alert)嗎?我們能否成為真正的「基督的使者」,將平安和盼望帶給世上正在感到絕望無助的人。因此,我們是要加強而不是放棄我們的宣教努力!如果「危機」具有「危」和「機」,那麼我們應該將危轉化為機會,現在應該抓住這個黃金機會,使我們的教會不僅是信徒聚會的地方,而且是走進人群的教會。

經過多翻的思索和祈禱,我相信我們需要在三個方向進行一些基本的改變:

  1. 「化整為零」:轉化教會建立小組
  2. 「基督使者」:轉化信徒人人皆兵
  3. 「社區教會」:轉化群體深入社區

1.「化整為零」:轉化教會建立小組

我們都渴望有一天我們能夠像從前一樣,一起敬拜、學習、團契和遊戲。但即使現時解除了一些限制,我們仍可能需要好幾個月的時間才能夠在禮堂,團契室或體育館集體聚會。我們明白,在目前第二階段,整個教會在任何時間最多只能容許50人聚會,並且仍然須要保持人與人之間2米的距離。因此,我們必須等到重新開放的第四階段才能返回大型聚會。 雖然如此,實際上我們在過去的兩個月,有許多團契及小組已經透過互聯網進行視頻會議(根據連接上的電子器材,人數高達100多人。)。此外,我們還可以舉行敬拜、查經、團契活動,甚至可以一起玩遊戲。許多安全問題經已解決,大家變得越來越熟練和習慣使用各種應用程式進行網上會議。

從「機(會)」的角度來看,憑這些經驗得知,我們可以使用這些方法將群眾團結一起,這是從前未必可以做到的。因此,如果我們能夠鼓勵每一個會眾最少與一個在線或離線的小組結連,例如團契,細胞小組或查經小組,那麼我們可以比從前更有效地彼此服侍。簡而言之,我們希望成為一個以小組形式相互支持的教會。第二,即使完全重新開放,我們仍然可以繼續使用這些在線或離線的方法促使大家更加團結。

2.「基督使者」:轉化信徒人人皆兵

我們發現許多已經退下前線的教會領袖現正在帶領各樣活動,接觸新朋友並邀請他們參加聚會變得更加積極。我們相信「信徒皆祭師」,因此,我們應繼續強調「整裝待發」(去年的主題),並訓練信徒成為「基督的使者」。我們需要進一步促進我們的領袖培訓計劃,以應付人們對這次大流行帶來的需求。

3.「社區教會」:轉化群體深入社區

作為教會,我們已經關閉了兩個多月。教會(ekklesia)是上帝從世界呼召「聖徒」成為祂的群體。同時我們也被差遣到不同的群體,直到地極,成為基督的見證,使萬民作主的門徒。大流行在許多方面影響了我們的教會,也喚醒了我們要成為人群中的教會、教會建築物四面牆之外的教會,我們要成為世界的光和鹽;我們要學習「入世而不屬世」,將自己和我們的信仰與社區鄰舍接連,換言之,我們應該帶著宣教使命去接觸群眾。讓我們重新思考和重新規劃我們在傳福音和宣教方面所做的努力,並將我們的教會轉化為「社區教會」。

這些是我們進入「新常態」時應注意的一些重點。保羅這樣說:「所以弟兄們…,要把身體獻上,作聖潔而蒙神悅納的活祭;這是你們理所當然的事奉」,我們把自己奉獻給上帝,因為那是「屬靈的敬拜」(理所當然的事奉),是神所喜悅的。我們要轉化只能「藉著心意的更新…,可以察驗(透過考驗…)」,我們作為基督徒在這次大流行中所經歷的「考驗」,我們的心思意念應該得到更新,以致我們能夠察驗神美好的旨意。(羅馬書12:1-2《新譯本》)。在新常態中,願我們作為信徒、作為教會,能夠活出更蒙神悅納的生命。

主僕

李耀全牧師

The New Normal: Pause, Play, no Playback

2020.05.16/17

From the Pastor’s Desk : Rev. Simon Lee

Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,

Reopening?

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been for two months under virtual lockdown and the order to stay at home, and we are thankful that here in B.C. the number of new cases has been comparatively low and have been steadily going down. We are starting to hear the B.C. government outlines plan to reopen. But right from the start, Horgan cautioned us saying, “It won’t be flipping of a switch. We’ll be proceeding carefully bit by bit, one step at a time.”  I take that to mean we had to abruptly hit the “pause” button two months ago, but we are now not simply hitting the “play” button but have to move forward cautiously. Also, lest we start to think that means going back to “normal,” because we are not, but may be actually going into a “new normal,” there is no “playback”?!  In the days ahead, the Church will be looking at when and how we can “reopen”, but it will be gradual. Stay tuned and be prepared.

It is not my intention to go into the details of the plans for reopening in B.C., but in general we know there will be a gradual reopening of businesses and services. By mid-May we will be going into Phase 2, and the target date for the start of Phase 3 is between June and September 2020, that is if transmission rates of the virus remain low or in decline.  The government will not let us move ahead until it’s safe to do so. The final phase, Phase 4, will only be achieved when vaccination becomes available and there is clear evidence of community immunity and so on, and that will not come anytime soon.  We need to note carefully especially the two variables that affect the risk of transmission: contact intensity (how close you are to someone and for how long) and number of contacts (how many people are in the same setting at the same time). Both these variables affect us enormously as a large Church community so we can only reopen very gradually.  I want to reflect with you and prepare for a new phase of coping with COVID, and ponder on the Premier’s word “It won’t be flipping of a switch,” I would like to share three thoughts with you: pause, play and the new normal: no playback.

 Pause

Yes, we have been in “pause” mode for at least two months and before we “flip the switch” or hit the “play” button, let us reflect on this period of “pause” and draw lessons from it. A Biblical word “Selah” comes to mind.  Biblical scholars believe it was a musical notation meaning “silence” or “pause” (intermission / interlude), among other things. It is found 74 times in the Bible (OT), 71 of that in the Psalms (39 times of that in Psalms with the title and instruction “to the choirmaster”) and 3 times in Habakkuk.

Unlike the Biblical “Selah” which were strategically placed in Scriptures to give us time to “pause,” we have been forced to “pause” in our lives and work by COVID.  Nevertheless we should take full advantage of this time to pause and pray, pause and reflect. We need to consider who God is and why we are where we are, and how we can reconnect with God. We need to review, reflect and renew our lives, so we can live differently and more meaningfully, for God our Saviour and Lord. For me, I am rethinking how I can be less busy “doing Church work” and find time to be more fully “a shepherd of the flock”. I encourage you too to do the same – pause and reflect, and live for God when you hit “play”.

Play

“Play” is not just a “flipping of the switch,” or not just “hitting the button.” Have we considered what we were “playing”?  Do we want to “play” the same old tune? Can we “play” something different (or at least the same but in a better way)?  What have we learned during this “pause” that will make our “game” better?  The action to restart is simple and mechanical, but it can also be meaningful and purposeful.

As you may see in what I am alluding to in “game”, I miss all the sports that I love to watch, the NBA, ATP, NHL… and long for the games to restart again. When they do, I know (or hope) I will not be disappointed because during this “pause” (unplanned break), the players will (should) most certainly be training and getting ready, so that when the season can restart after the COVID, they would already have a strategy in play to win. Yes, before we hit the “play” button, do we have a new “game plan”? For me, I pray that I will focus on the things that are in the heart of God, truly like David, with “upright heart and skilful hand.” (Psalm 78:72)

The new normal: no playback

What are we “returning” to when we press the “play” button?  Politicians and economists are warning us that we are not going “back to normal” (life before January, 2020) but going into a “new normal.”  That certainly includes greater personal and public hygiene, and the vast impact of continual “physical distancing” in our daily lives, but what will it be like? The simplest answer I can think of perhaps is, with the fear of a second (or a third?) wave of the virus, what we are experiencing right now (that we had thought would be temporary) will be ‘the new normal,” at least for the foreseeable future.

 From the economic perspective, economists believes that due to the pandemic, the current downturn is fundamentally different from recessions of the past decades, as we are not just in merely another turn of the business cycle, but a restructuring of the economic order. In fact, the term “new normal” was first used to describe the aftermaths of the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the global recession that followed (2008-2012). The term is now used in many socio-economic-political contexts such as ours.

 These are concerns at the macro level, but we are more concerned with what our daily lives are going to be like. How do we balance the need to stay healthy and the need to put food on the table?  Can the average businesses survive the new restrictions? How do we travel? How can schools be opened safely? Are stadiums and meeting places going to remain closed? Will we ever go back to the Church lives that we have treasured (or not) in the past? How do we maintain corporate worship and fellowships…?

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger in a recent articleWhat’s God’s New Normal for the Church in the Wake of the Coronavirus?” has this very perceptive statement:  “… I also have to come to terms with biblical reality: missional Christianity requires that we don’t look to go back to the old normal, but to operate within the new normal reality before us. God’s normal is always to engage the pressing challenges in our day and to invite Jesus’ church to join the Spirit on mission.” Put simply, whether our situation is “normal” or “not normal” according to our experience, as Christians, our normal is always “missional” .

In facing the current virus, Metzger refers to the words of Pastor Mark Nicklas of Beaverton Foursquare and says: “…People are forced to slow down, even stop, and ask what really matters when health and wealth are no longer perceived as givens?”  But don’t we all want to stay healthy, and don’t we all need at least our “daily bread”?  Again, the ultimate answer is found in the glorious hope we have in Christ.

My mind takes me back to an old book that is on my shelf, Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life (1957), which is based on his exposition of the first eight chapters of Romans.  The Normal Christian Life talks about the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and expound on the four steps of the cross of Christ.  This means the normal Christian life involves the way of the cross, in dealing with the ultimate problems of sin, pain and suffering.  We need to be wash by the blood of Christ, live by his resurrected power and to bear the cross daily.  As Christians, our new normal has always been centred in Christ, for we know that “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17)

We shall unpack these and other thoughts in the future weeks. Stay tuned. Pause. Play. No playback.

Your pastor in Christ

Rev. Simon Lee

新常態 : 暫停和重啟,卻非回復既往?! (The New Normal: Pause, Play, no Playback)

2020.05.16/17

李耀全牧師

親愛的列宣家弟兄姊妹,

重開(Reopening)

由於新冠狀病毒疫情蔓延的隔離指令,我們已經在家中被隔離了兩個月,我們也為著本省在新病例感染的數字相對較低,而且一直在穩步下降而感恩。我們正開始收到卑斯省政府提出的重新開放計劃。可是,從起首,省長賀謹已警誡我們,「本省不會立即全然開放。我們將逐步小心地進行重新啟動」。依我認為,這意味著,如果在兩個月前我們不得不突然按下「暫停」鍵鈕,我們現在不是簡單地點擊「重啟」按鈕,而是必須謹慎前進。 此外,免得我們開始認為這表示著回復「正常」,其實不然,因為我們可能實際上進入一個「新常態」,不會「重回既往」?! 在未來的日子裡,教會將探討於何時以及如何「重新開放」,但這將會是漸進的。敬請密切留意並作好準備。

我並非意圖詳細地介紹於本省重新開放的計劃,總括而言,據悉一些業務和服務行業將會逐步重新開放。至5月中旬,若病毒的傳播率仍然偏低或持續下降,我們將進入第二階段,第三階段開始的目標日期是在本年6月至9月之間。政府必須確保在安全情況下,才會容許繼續前進。最後階段,即第四階段,只在確保社區廣泛接種疫苗,或有足夠免疫證據,並不會快速地實施。 我們需要仔細注意影響傳播病毒風險的兩個變數:接觸強度(Contact Intensity:與某人的接近程度和接觸時間)及接觸次數(Numbers of  Contacts:同時處於同一環境中的人數)。作為一個大型教會群體,我們極為受這兩個變數所影響,因此,我們只能非常緩慢地逐漸重新開放。為應對新冠狀疫情的新階段作準備,並思量省長的話:「要恢復正常生活?還有一段漫長之路」。謹在此與各位共同思考並分享我的三方面想法 :暫停、啟動及新常態:不重回既往(不再一樣)。

暫停 (Pause)

是的,我們至少已有兩個月時間處於「暫停」 狀態,在我們「按開關制」或點擊「重啟」鍵鈕之前,讓我們藉這「暫停」作思考,並從中汲取教訓。聖經中「細拉」一詞浮現於腦際。聖經學者認為,這是一個音樂符號,意思是「靜默」或「休止」(間歇/間奏)。此詞在舊約聖經中出現74次,其中71次是出現在詩篇中 (39次是在有標題和指示: 「交與伶長」 的詩篇) ,另在哈巴谷書中出現了3次。

與聖經中刻意放置的「細拉」不同,我們被迫因疫情而在生活和工作中「暫停」。然而,我們應該充分利用這段暫停時間來祈禱,停步及反思。我們需要細想神是誰,神放置我們在此時此地之目的,及我們如何與神重新結連。我們需要回顧、反思和更新我們的生活,這樣我們才能夠以不一樣的方式、更有意義地,為著我們的神我們的救主而活。對我來說,我正在重新思考如何減少忙於僅為「完成教會事工」,並致力於抽出時間更充分地成為「羊群的牧者」。我鼓勵你也這樣做-在「重新啟動」前,暫停步伐和反思,為主而活。

重啟(Play)

「重啟」不僅指「啟動開關」,或不只是「按下鍵鈕」。我們會是有如過去般「重啟」嗎?我們是想照以往的一貫做法去「重啟」?抑或我們可以用不同的方式「重啟」或是以相同、但更好的方式「重啟」嗎?在這次「暫停」中,我們學到了甚麼可使我們能更佳地「重啟」?重新啟動的操作是簡單而機械性的,但亦可賦予意義和目的。正如您可能知道我在暗指,我所懷念的那些我熱衷於觀賞的運動賽事,如NBA籃球賽、ATP網球賽、NHL冰球比賽等,並期待比賽能重新進行。但在此突發的「暫停」休息階段,我不會感到失望,因我肯定地 (或盼望是這樣) ,球員正在 (應當正在) 作訓練和準備,在賽期可於疫情後重開時,他們可能已穩操勝券。誠然,在我們點擊「重啟」按鈕之前,我們有否具備新的「啟動計劃」呢?於我而言,我所祈求的就是能夠像大衛那樣,以「正直的心和巧妙的手」專注於以神的心為心的事情。(詩78:72)

新常態(New Normal):非回復既往 (不停留於過往)(No Playback)

當我們按下「重啟」鍵鈕時,我們究竟會怎樣「回復如常」?政治家和經濟學家警告我們,我們不會「恢復如常」(回復到2020年1月前的生活狀況),而是進入「新常態」。這當然包括更重視個人及公共的衛生,以及保持「身體距離」,造成對我們日常生活的巨大影響,但它將會是怎樣的?我所能想到的最簡單的答案也許是,由於害怕病毒的第二波(或第三波?),我們現在所實施的(我們以為是暫時的)將會持續成為「新的常態」,至少在可預見的未來會是這樣。

從經濟角度來看,經濟學家認為,由於這病毒的蔓延,目前的衰退與過去幾十年的衰退根本不相同,因為我們不僅僅是商業週期的另一個轉折,而是經濟秩序的重組。事實上,「新常態」一詞首先用於描述2007-2008年全球金融危機以及隨後(2008-2012年)的全球經濟衰退後果。這名詞現正用於如我們社會-經濟-政治情況的多方面。

這些是宏觀層面的關切,但我們更關心的是我們的日常生活將會如何。我們在如何維持健康和在生活飲食開支的需要上,怎樣同時保持平衡?一般企業能否在新限制下生存?我們能去旅行嗎?學校如何能安全地開放?體育場館和會議場所會繼續關閉嗎?我們是否會回到過去所珍惜(或許沒有珍惜)的教會生活?我們如何保持集體敬拜和團契生活… ?

Paul Louis Metzger 博士在近期的一篇文章 「神透過新冠肺炎病毒的新常態如何喚醒教會?」 其中深具真知灼見的陳述 -「我也不得不接受聖經的事實:帶著使命感的基督教要求我們不要期待回到舊常態,而是在我們面前的新常態現實中運作。神的常態,總是要我們在每天中接受緊迫的挑戰,並邀請耶穌的教會參與聖靈的使命。」我想這意思是,根據我們的經驗,不論我們的處境是「正常」還是「非正常」,作為基督徒,我們的正常總是以「使命導向」(missional)的。

面對目前的病毒,Metzger 博士引用美國俄勒崗州比弗頓四方福音教會牧師Mark Nicklas的話:「…當人們被迫放緩步伐,甚至停下來,自問當健康和財富不再被視為必然賜予時,真正重要的究竟是甚麼?」我們豈是不想維持健康嗎?我們仍需要「日用的飲食」呀!再次重申,最終的答案唯有在我們在基督裡所擁有榮耀的盼望中才可以找到。

我的思緒把我引帶回到一本擱在我書架上,倪柝聲在1957年出版的舊書-《正常的基督徒生活》,這書是根據他對羅馬書一至八章的闡述,論到主耶穌基督的寶血,並闡述基督十字架的四個步驟。意思是正常的基督徒的生活涵蓋著十字架的道路,在處理犯罪,受苦和痛苦終極的問題。 我們需要被基督的寶血洗淨,靠著祂復活的大能而生活,每天背負自己的十字架。作為基督徒,我們的新常態即要常以基督為中心,因為我們知道,「若有人在基督裡,他就是新造的的人;舊事已過,都變成新的了!」(林後5:17)

我們將會在未來數週內延伸探討更多有關這幾方面及其他思想的內容。讓我們保持在同一頻道上留意往後的討論:暫停、重新啟動、不停留於過往 (力求改進? 不再一樣?)。

主僕

李耀全牧師

Remembering my mother: Under her wings

From the Pastor’s Desk (On Mother’s Day, 2020)    

Remembering my mother: Under her wings

Dear brothers and sisters,

Mothers’ Day during COVID-19

This year most mothers’ day celebrations will probably be remembered more quietly, at least there will not be fancy meals in some nice restaurants, and most certainly no big multi-generational family gathering.  In our Church, we will not be able to show our traditional respect to our mothers with little token gifts from our children. Nevertheless, I am sure we will all remember our moms in our own special ways. Yes, we must treasure our mothers and fathers for all that they have done for us.

Remembering our mothers

During this COVID-19 pandemic, many elderly people unfortunately have to die alone largely unattended in the Seniors’ homes because no visitation is allowed. How blessed it is for those of us whose moms and dads are still with us and are healthy. Lydia’s mom is 102 this year, and for the last two months she has been shuttled between her Seniors’ Home and the hospital numerous times with deteriorating health. We pray that she can be spared unnecessary pain, and treasure each and every day she is still with us even though we cannot visit her at this time.

My mom passed away in Tawau, Sabah, Malaysia in June, 1998 when I was teaching at the Alliance Bible Seminary in Hong Kong. I remember it was in June because we were in the middle of the final exams at the School, and because of that I delayed visiting her when her health was deteriorating, thinking I could visit her right after graduation was over at the end of the month. It was not to be and I have regretted this ever since and often asked myself why I was not there for her when she needed me most,  all the more so because she was always there for me when I needed her all those years. Whenever I think of my mom, I remember her loving care, even right up to the time when I was a working young adult. Even though I left home when I came to Canada for university and had lived away from home since then, she would always write to me regularly, and I treasure each letter she painstakingly wrote because she never had the privilege of going to school when she was a child growing up. Yes, I felt so loved and safe when I was under her wings.

Under mother’s wings

The picture of mothers caring and protecting her children under their wings is a powerful imagery, and in fact one that is often used to illustrate the love of God for the children of God. We see this picture most vividly when Jesus lamented over the hypocritical Jewish leaders of Jerusalem who did not recognize Christ Jesus for who he was, but instead were plotting to kill him! He lamented, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” (Mt. 23:37; Lk. 13:34) Jesus came first to His own, his own people (before He reached out to the Gentiles according to the redemptive plan of God as promised to Abraham), but his own people did not receive him. (Jn. 1: 11)  We all know how much wayward kids hurt the parents’ hearts, and so we can imagine how Jesus must have felt when he was rejected by his own people, and condemned to die a painful death.

Eagle’s wings

The imagery of “eagle’s wings” to illustrate God’s protective care also appears frequently in the Old Testament. It was a safe place of refuge. Here are some examples:

“He will cover you with His pinions (feathers),
And under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. “ (Psalm 91:4)

“Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
That hovers over its young,
He spread His wings and caught them,
He carried them on His pinions.” (Deut. 32:11)

For this reason, the psalmists in their prayers and laments would often talk about  taking refuge in God, and in the shadows of His wings, especially when they are in danger and in all sorts of calamities (like David running away from Saul and hiding in the cave). Here are some examples:

“For the choir director; set to Al-tashheth. A Mikhtam of David, when he fled from Saul in the cave.
Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.” (Psalm 57:1)

Other examples are found in Psalm 61:4, Psalm 63:7 …(cf. Ruth 2:12).

The protection and warmth under the wings

In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, Psalm 91 speaks to us in a special way, as it refers to the pestilence (plagues and epidemic) (3, 6), the terror by nights and arrows (5) and the “falling” of people around them (7), situations that are similar to the devastation we are facing right now. So amidst all these fear and horror around us, in this Psalm one imagery (among others) of God’s protective care for the faithful (whether Gentiles or Israelite) is again that of protection under God’s wings:

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler

And from the perilous pestilence.

He shall cover you with His feathers (pinions),

And under His wings you shall take refuge;

His truth shall be your shield and buckler. (Verses 3-4)

The comforting imagery here is the feathers of the wings. But there is more than meets the eye when we look at a bird’s feathers which first appear to be light, fragile and unable to offer any form of protection. Apparently the feathers of a bird’s wings have a smooth part and a fluffy part. The smooth part of the feather actually has stiff barbs with tiny hooks that lock together much like the prongs of a zipper and therefore gives very strong protection. Naturally the fluffy part keeps a bird warm. Come wind or rain, the baby birds finds protection under the feathers of the wings of the mother bird. This picture is like a parent putting his or her arms around a child when he or she is scared. In the same way, God provides us with physical protection, emotional security and spiritual assurance.

We want to thank our mothers (and fathers) for their loving care to us. In a much greater way, God indeed is our refuge and we can find security and safety under his wings, and we should also thank Him. In this pandemic, we should learn to trust him even more with thankful and grateful hearts.

Your pastor,

Rev. Simon Lee

Senior Pastor

記念我的母親: 在她的翅膀下

2020.05.09/10

李耀全牧師

親愛的弟兄妹,

疫情中的母親節

今年大多數母親節的慶祝活動可能會更平靜地度過,至少不能夠在一些高貴的餐廳裡享受精美的菜餚,並且肯定不會有幾代同堂的家庭聚會。在我們的教會裡,母親們無機會從我們的孩子手裡收到象徵式的禮物表達對她們的尊敬。儘管如此,我相信我們都會以自己獨特的方式記念或孝敬我們的母親。

世上只有媽媽好

在這次COVID-19大流行期間,許多居住在老人院的老年人,由於不允許探訪,不幸的孤獨地離世。若我們的父母親仍然健在,我們該是多麼的感恩。師母美華(Lydia)的母親今年已經102歲,子孫滿堂,心存喜樂。但在過去兩個月,她的身體十分虛弱並且常進出醫院、情況時好時壞,令家人甚為擔憂。我們祈求神減少她的痛苦而更珍惜她仍然在我們身邊的每一天,即使我們現時無法回港探訪她。

本人的母親於1998年6月在馬來西亞沙巴斗湖市去世。當時我在香港建道神學院任教,我記得因為六月正處於學校的學期末考試,我推遲了去探望她,以為我可以在月底畢業後馬上回去探望她,但她的健康情況急劇惡化,數日內便安息主懷。直到如今,我都為此感到後悔,並經常問自己,為什麼在她最需要我的時候我不在她身邊,更甚的是,在我需要她的時候她總是在我身邊。每當我想起母親的時候,我都會記起她對我的痛愛,關懷備緻、無微不至,甚至我已經長大成人,出外工作,仍舊依然。即使我離開家園,遠赴加拿大升讀大學,她總是會定期寫信給我,我珍惜她辛苦地寫給我的每一封信,因為在她成長的階段,她從沒有機會上學讀書。的而且確,當我在她的翅膀下,我感到無比的被愛和安全。

在母親的翅膀下

母親在她的翅膀下照顧和保護自己子女的圖畫是一幅有力的圖像,並且經常用來說明上帝對祂的兒女的愛。這幅圖畫經常活生生的展現在我們眼前,當耶穌哀嘆耶路撒冷虛偽的猶太領袖,他們不承認耶穌基督的身份,還密謀殺害祂!祂哀嘆:「耶路撒冷,耶路撒冷啊,你殺害先知,又用石頭把奉派到你們那裡的人打死。我多次想招聚你的兒女,好像母雞招聚小雞到翅膀底下,只是你們不願意。」(太23:37;路13:34)。耶穌首先來是為祂自己的選民(在祂按照上帝對亞伯拉罕應許的救贖計劃伸向外邦人之前),自己的人卻不接受他(約1:11)。我們都知道孩子若的任性反叛是會領父母多麽傷心,所以我們可以想像耶穌在被自己的子民拒絕、譴責及要痛苦地死時會感到怎樣。

鷹的翅膀

舊約也經常出現「鷹的翅膀」的圖畫,說明上帝的看顧和保護是提供一個安全的避難所。 以下是一些例子:

「他必用自己的羽毛遮蓋你,你要投靠在他的翅膀底下;他的信實像盾牌,像堅壘。」(詩91:4)

「又像老鷹攪動巢窩,飛翔在雛鷹之上,搧展翅膀,接取雛鷹,背在自己的兩翼之上。」(申32:11)

因此,詩篇的作者在祈禱和哀嘆中經常談論投靠於上帝和他的翅膀的蔭下,特別是當他們處於危險難當中(例如大衛逃避掃羅躲藏在山洞),以下是一些例子:

「(大衛的金詩,交給詩班長,調用“休要毀壞”,是大衛躲在山洞裡逃避掃羅時作的。)

神啊,求你恩待我!求你恩待我!因為我投靠你;我要投靠在你翅膀的蔭下,直到災害過去。」(詩57:1)

其他有詩61:4, 63:7 等(參得2:12)

 翅膀的保護與温暖

在這次COVID-19大流行期間,《詩篇91》尤其是對我們說話,因為它指的是瘟疫(毒病和流行病)(3、6),黑夜和飛箭的恐怖(5)以及周圍的人「仆倒」(7),情況類似我們現在面對的破壞。 因此,在我們周圍的所有恐懼和懼怕當中,篇詩91篇的其中一個圖畫是神對信眾(無論是外邦人還是以色列人) 的看顧和保護,再一次說明在神的翅膀下的保護:

「他必救你脫離捕鳥的人的網羅,脫離致命的瘟疫。他必用自己的羽毛遮蓋你,你要投靠在他的翅膀底下;他的信實像盾牌,像堅壘。」(3-4節)

這裡令人安慰的圖畫是翅膀的羽毛。當我們觀察鳥兒的羽毛時,霎眼看起來是輕盈,脆弱且無法提供任何形式的保護的東西,其實內裡還有許多眼看不透的東西。表面看來鳥兒的翅膀的羽毛有光滑的表層和蓬鬆的內層。光滑的部分實際上具有堅硬的倒鉤和細小的鉤子互相緊扣,就像拉鍊的叉頭一樣,可以鎖定在一起,因此具有非常強的保護性。蓬鬆的部分自然地使鳥兒保持溫暖。不論風吹雨打,鶵鳥都會在母鳥的翅膀的羽毛下找到保護。這張圖畫就好像當孩子在害怕時,父母雙臂將他們緊抱在自己懷抱上一樣。同樣,上帝供應我們身體的保護,情緒的穩固和屬靈的確據。

我們要感謝我們的母親(和父親)對我們的關愛。從更大的角度來說,上帝確實是我們的避難所,我們可以在祂的翅膀下找到安全感,我們也要向主感恩。在這次大流行當中,我們應該學會感恩和以感恩的心更加信靠主。

主僕

李耀全牧師

From social distancing to spiritual closeness

From the Pastor’s Desk       May 2/3, 2020

From social distancing to spiritual closeness

Rev. Dr. Simon Lee

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, shalom!

From social distancing to physical distancing

“Distancing” has emerged as a key term in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic so as to “flatten the curve”. When the term first came out more than a month ago, it was called “social distancing” for a short while and then it was quickly changed to the more accurate term of “physical distancing.” Indeed, we have to practise “physical distancing” but definitely not result in “social distancing.” We as a Church have been practising physical distancing by suspending all services, fellowships and all gatherings.  Before that we have already avoided common greetings, such as handshakes. In everyday life we have kept the 2 metres distance from each other, and have followed the order to stay at home as much as possible.

From physical distancing to social closeness

But these measures mean that this is also a time when feelings of loneliness and a lack of closeness and community have gone up – especially among the elderly, it is therefore important to keep physical distancing but maintain social closeness. Psychological research tells us that isolation and protracted separation from other humans can cause depression, severe cases can lead to suicide. To curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus infection, physical distancing is absolutely necessary,  but on a psychological level we must do the opposite which is to encourage social closeness, and more importantly for us on a spiritual level, spiritual closeness.

Social closeness in our Church community

It is encouraging to see that many of our members are helping each other to use the internet, some for the first time, to connect socially, visiting the Church’s websites frequently. Teleconferencing is no longer just something people use to conduct business, but has become a vital tool for all to connect and communicate in our daily lives. Right now meetings using YouTube and different internet tools are applied to our worship services, Sunday school, fellowships, committee meetings, small group discussion and Bible Studies, and chats between friends and brothers and sisters, and so on. If you look at the number of devises that are tuned in on all our services, the attendance has in fact gone up and not down. We have been able to connect with some new friends also. People are calling each other more and exchanging greetings, and even share things like special recipes for cooking and baking. In a way, those who can connect this way have more social closeness than ever before. But we must not forget those who are not connected that way and therefore feel isolated, and must find special ways to connect with them, even in simple things like helping them with grocery shopping.

Being a good steward of our time in the pandemic

I am personally overwhelmed by the flood of “free” (some pretty good) entertainment videos and educational programs on our social media. We therefore need to be wise in selecting from among the plentiful offerings to find and consume appropriate amount of meaningful contents, and not just get sucked in, spending and wasting enormous amount of time before the screen. I am also finding it quite a discipline to be a good steward of my time when I now have to work from home 24/7, both in being faithful in my ministries as well as observing my Sabbath. One of my joys during this pandemic is to be able to use more time to do more writing, like in the past during my days as a professor. I am thankful that I can use this as a major medium of pastoral care in this difficult time.

From social closeness to spiritual closeness

At such a time as this, we need to move even from social closeness to spiritual closeness, with one another, and especially to God.  We need to check out on each other on how we are coping in this period of lockdown but also go beyond that (as we all know we are in similar difficulties), drawing closer to God together. We can share with each other how we have experience the faithfulness of God during this time of isolation. We can also share how the Word of God is a source of strength. Above all, we can pray together. John says the word of life have been proclaimed to us, “so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (I Jn. 1:3, 4) So this is the very reason why this word is coming to you from me, that all our joy in Christ may be complete.

For me, I have found the pandemic to be a big test of my personal as well as my pastoral spirituality. In term of pastoral spirituality, in the past, I have become so familiar with “doing” ministry, trying to be as effective as I could, in a relatively comfortable pastoral setting within a well-established Church.  I have become used to a regular daily and weekly routine that repeats itself efficiently. I have also become reliant on a very supportive team of elders and deacons/deaconesses, pastoral and administrative staff and many helpers. In short, I was, before the pandemic, well settled in my comfort zone at the Church. But I have discovered afresh and in a deeper way that to be a pastor is more than “doing” the busy (good) work of ministries. It is something I knew but now want so much to refresh, to be truly “a shepherd” watching over the flocks.  Now that there is no one in the pew, I am starting to understand Jesus’ parable of going out to look for that one “lost sheep.”

In term of my personal spirituality, it is inevitably and intimately interwoven to my pastoral spirituality because I am a full time pastor. But as mentioned above, with the blessed luxury of spending enormous time in the Word of God, meditating and contemplating, more fresh insights that speak to the current needs have begun to surface, and I find great delight in sharing the Word with others. I am starting to understand what the psalmist means by “Blessed is the man… (whose) delights is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”(Ps. 1:1, 2)  Apart from carrying on the regular pastoral work online, I have rediscovered the importance of teaching and writing as a vital tool for pastoral ministry and I am surprised by the new joy of this rediscovery. Also I find that even over the phone, we can pray for brothers and sisters, and my prayers have extended more substantially beyond my immediate context to include our brothers and sisters in different spheres, nationally and beyond, especially to the many friends including students I have in my network, many experiencing hardship and sickness.

Don’t waste the lessons you can learn in this pandemic

Could this COVID-19 pandemic be a blessing in disguise, notwithstanding the unfortunate death toll and devastation it has brought to the whole world? I am reminded of the words of Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:11-13)  Let us all move from social distancing to spiritual closeness. Amen.

Your Servant in Christ

Rev. Simon Lee

從社交距離到靈裡親近

2020.05.02/03

李耀全牧師

謹在主裡問候各位親愛的弟兄姊妹,願您們平安!

從社交距離到身體距離

“保持距離”已成為抗疫的關鍵術語,以減緩病毒傳播速度。當這術語在個多月前首次出現時,它被稱為保持“社交距離”。之後,很快就修變成了更準確的保持”身體距離”一詞。事實上,我們必須保持 “身體距離”,但絕不能導致 “社交疏離”。作為教會,我們一直在實行保持身體距離,如暫停各堂崇拜、所有團契和聚會。於此之前,我們已經實行避免彼此接觸的問候,如握手。在日常生活中也遵循了彼此需要保持兩米的距離,並盡可能留在家裡的指令。

從身體距離到社交親近

但這些措施,令孤獨感、缺乏與人連繫和接觸的情緒上升–特別是對長者而言,保持身體疏遠,會有失聯的感受,因此保持社交親密關係極為重要。心理學研究指出,我們與其他人的隔離和長期分隔會導致抑鬱,嚴重病例甚至會導致自殺。為要遏制冠狀肺炎病毒感染的蔓延,身體疏遠固然是絕對必要的,但在心理層面上,我們必須做相反的事情,那就是要鼓勵社交親近,更重要的是我們要能達到在靈性層面上,在靈裡的親近。

教會群體的社交親近

令人鼓舞的是,我們許多的肢體正在利用互聯網,建立彼此交流的聯繫,有些弟兄姊妹還是第一次透過網絡相交,或經常登入教會的網站。電話會議不再只限於作為商業用途,更是已成為日常生活中,人與人連繫和交流的重要工具。現在,使用YouTube和在互聯網上不同程式的開會途徑,正適用於我們的各堂崇拜、主日學、團契、職員會會議、小組討論和查經,以及與朋友和兄弟姐妹之間的交流。事實上,若就各堂崇拜登入的人數看來,出席的人數正在飆升,而不是下降。我們也能夠藉以和一些新朋友取得聯繫。肢體間亦透過電話互致問候,增加聯繫,甚至分享烹飪和烘焙美食的食譜。從某種意義上說,能夠以這種方式連接的人,比起以往任何時候,也更具社交親密感。但是,我們絕不能忘記那些不能藉這種方式聯繫而感到孤立的肢體,必須找到與他們聯繫的特殊方式,即透過一些簡單的行動,如在購買食物上作幫助。

在疫情大流行中運用時間上作好的管家
我個人有備受社交媒體上的資訊泛濫所淹蓋之感–如收到數之不盡”免費”娛樂視頻和教育程式等(其中不乏佳作)。因此,我們需要明智地從芸芸資訊中作出適當及有意義內容的選擇,而不是照單全收,在視頻上花費掉大量的時間。同時我也發現,在我必須以每週七天、廿四小時在家工作時,要在時間方面作好管家,作息有序有時,必須自律。在這次疫情蔓延中,我最大的樂趣之一,是能夠利用更多的時間寫作,就像過往我當教授的日子一樣。我很感恩能夠在這個困難時期,藉此作為牧養教會的主要媒介。

從社交親密,達至靈裡相親

在這新冠肺炎疫情下,我們需要從社交親密,達至靈裡相親,不但是人與人之間,更在於我們與神之間。我們在這隔離的困難時期中互相關心問安的同時,更進一步的是能在靈裡與神關係方面彼此勉勵進深。我們可以互相分享在這孤立時期中如何經歷神的信實;我們也可彼此分享如何藉著神的話語得到力量。此外,我們可以一同禱告。約翰曾說:“我們將所看見、所聽見的傳給你們,使你們與我們相交。我們乃是與父並他兒子耶穌基督相交的。我們將這些話寫給你們,使你們的喜樂充足。” (約壹1:3- 4) 。這也是我與您們分享的原因,讓我們在主裡面的喜樂可以滿足。

於我而言,我感到這次疫情蔓延是對我個人靈性(personal spirituality)及牧養靈性(pastoral spirituality)上的重大考驗。在過去的牧會方式,我習慣於竭盡所能地“完成”事工,試圖在一個發展相當完善的教會裡、相對地在較為安舒的情況下盡可能地達成果效。我已習慣於每天和每周內極有效率及重複地完成例行公事。我也慣於依賴一眾全力支持我的長老和執事、教牧團隊、行政同工和各部同工。簡而言之,在疫情蔓延之前,我在教會的安舒區中運作自如。但此期間我再度發現,作為牧者,我不僅是“完成”各範疇繁忙的善工。作為真正的“牧人”,應如何去看守羊群,這是我已既知,而又更深刻地理解及更新的領受。即管現時沒有會眾在當前,我更能逐漸體會到耶穌的比喻,跨步出去尋找”迷羊”的意義,一個都不可少。

由於我身為全職牧者,我個人的靈性,實在是不可避免地與我所牧養的靈性緊密連繫。但正如上述所言,這次藉著能夠蒙福地享用大量時間去默想和深究神的話語,讓我能有更深入及更鮮活的領受作為分享,以切合當前的需要。並且我更能體會詩人所言:“喜愛耶和華的律法,晝夜思想,這人便為有福!”(詩1:1- 2)。除了透過網絡進行經常性的牧養職責外,我也重新體現藉寫作和教學作為主要牧養渠道的重要性,我對這次重新體驗其中的樂趣感到驚喜。我還察覺到,即使通過電話,我們可以為兄弟姐妹祈禱,如此的祈禱已經大大超出了我當前的禱告範疇,包括延伸及我居於不同國家、地域的弟兄姊妹,特別也包括我在網路所連繫的,正在經歷困難和疾病的眾多朋友及學生。

切勿浪費在這次疫情蔓延中的學習

儘管新冠狀肺炎病毒的蔓延給全世界帶來了驚人的死亡人數和破壞,病毒的蔓延會否變相地成為祝福?我想起了耶利米的話:“耶和華說:我知道我向你們所懷的意念是賜平安的意念,不是降災禍的意念,要叫你們末後有指望。你們要呼求我,禱告我,我就應允你們。你們尋求我,若專心尋求我,就必尋見。” (耶 29:11-13) 。讓我們一起從社交的疏離達至靈裡的親近。阿們!

主僕,

李耀全牧師