Source/Author: Bishop Dr Ong Hwai Teik
Warm greetings to everyone in our Methodist Family as we come to the close of the year and celebrate Christmas. We still rejoice and are filled with joy as we remember God’s love in sending His Son, notwithstanding the prevailing unprecedented circumstances we face today.
We can never forget 2020 with its unexpected and up-ending unprecedented events that have created a “new normal” for not only Malaysians, but for the global citizenship! The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our everyday norms and our socializing culture that cut across our old way of life to cause massive and probably permanent change.
This has impacted the universal Church as the people of God struggle to make the necessary adjustments in our spiritual culture and ministries to align with the “new normal”. The question of how much of the current change or the “new normal” is permanent is on all our minds. Following up on this query would be, “what must I/we stop, continue or start doing in terms of life and ministry?” To push it further for the church, we need to ask in the light of the Great Commission [Matthew 28:18-20] – “what would we do if we as a church want to start/ plant a new church/ congregation?” God’s people will need to ask God for the wisdom promised to those who ask “faith-fully” in NLT James 1:5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”
Today, in such an unprecedented situation, we turn to God’s Word in Matthew 16:15. The Lord Jesus had asked His disciples – “But who do you say I am?” in contrast to “Who do people say that the Son of Man [ie Jesus] is?” [v. 13]. Peter was quick to answer - “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” [v. 16]. We must remember to remember the Lord Jesus’ reply to Peter in verses 17 and 18, especially during this critical moment of test posed by the pandemic - 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Our self-revealing God remains in control as He continues to grant us wisdom and knowledge from above to respond to this current unprecedented season we are facing with its many stumping questions. We must remember to remember that where Jesus’ Church is concerned, He remains her undefeatable Builder – “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [v. 18] – including facing the onslaught of up-ending, unexpected, unprecedented and colossal chaos causing viruses and pestilences.
During Paul’s ministry about 3 decades later after that crucial core encounter, he had this to say to a fledgling church of struggling believers. He advised them to leave behind their “old normal” life of comfort and security once they chose to follow Christ. Paul had to help the Colossian Christians to remember to remember Who Christ is. So we hear that majestic Everest-like declaration in NLT Colossians 1:15-20: Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, 16 for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see — such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. 17 He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. 18 Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. 19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20 and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
That was a “breakthrough” moment for both Peter and the disciples as well as for the Colossian believers: they came to realize that just as in a game of chess, one must not make the mistake of considering pieces on the board as indispensable, not even the very powerful queen. ONLY the king is indispensable for it is the very highly prized centre piece! The game can ONLY be ended with the defeat or capture of the king. To put it simply and unequivocally, ONLY the King of kings is indispensable – not politicians or pestilences or pandemic!
In this “double whammy” season of the COVID-19 pandemic and political uncertainty in Malaysia - the muted commercialization and deep humbling realization of “only God can help us” will make this Christmas one that will be more authentically celebrated; a celebration where Christ is clearly seen as the indispensable Centre piece of Heaven and Earth!
What the angel proclaimed is just as true as ever. NIV Luke 2:9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
In this last article that I am writing in the Episcopal Office before stepping down at the end of this year, let me sincerely thank all in our beloved Methodist Church in Malaysia Family for your prayers, support, partnership and ministry. Let me express my heart-felt thanks to all who had laboured this past eight years with me in the General Conference Executive Council, GC Councils, Annual Conferences, especially our Presidents, Lay Leaders, Ministers, Pastors, church staff and the many church members who serve our Lord faithfully and tirelessly – many doing this, year in and year out! I want to also thank all the staff in the General Conference and Area Executive Council office for their many services. I bless the Lord for each of you as we stood together under His sovereign leading – through thick and thin! Many of you have especially responded to this season of unexpected and unprecedented need with great diligence and exhausting efforts – to ensure that the ministry of God, the care of His beloved people and reaching out to the poor and needy - are adequately and properly carried out. You did all these notwithstanding the tremendous challenges and pressures posed by the unknown and uncertain new normal that unexpectedly and powerfully crashed onto us.
I also want to take this opportunity to wish you, the congregation and your loved ones an intimate, refreshing and faith renewing personal encounter with the One Who is “Christ the Lord, the Son of the living God”– during this Christmas season which is like no other!
A holy and blessed Christmas to all in the Methodist Church in Malaysia Family!