2010 Review / Preview 2011

2010 marks a number of important milestones in our lives.

In early Fall and in rapid succession, Alethea, Theodore and Emmett — our three lovely children — turned 7, 4 and 9 respectively. Meanwhile, I celebrated the 12th anniversary of my becoming a pastor. Earlier in August, New City Church celebrated her 5th anniversary. And right before that in July, Kathy and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary.

But perhaps the most significant anniversary of all went uncelebrated or even unnoticed.

As it turns out, 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of my first reading of the Bible — a milestone that becomes increasingly more significant as the years go by. It was in the summer of 1989, as I was leaving Hong Kong for the US, that I set my mind to read through the Bible cover-to-cover. And it was towards the end of 1990, during my sophomore year in college, that I completed my first reading of God’s Word.

Needless to say, that changed the path of my life for the next 20 years!

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From time to time, I would imagine myself to have been born “in a giant dark hole.” Within this hole I was raised, and within this hole I was taught the meaning / purpose of life. It was to dig and keep digging, pursuing various things one might accrue in the dark world. Now if my first 20 years of life were typified by “all the digging activities,” then the second 20 years were characterized by a gradual awakening to the “darkness of the hole” (under the illumination of God’s Word) and a slow but sure abandoning of “the digging activities.”

Over the past ten years, our struggles with “the hole” have further intensified, first with my entry into the pastoral ministry, and later with the births of our children. The constant interaction with the Word of God exposes more darkness — both of myself and the world, and as our children grow, we are confronted with the daunting and dangerous duty of raising them in a fallen dark world. What does it mean for us to live and bring our children up in the world but not of the world?
In a way, our accidental entry into homeschooling opened for me a “path of rebellion against my own past.” Having grown up in the “system,” I became increasingly skeptical about of both its methods and ideology. Oftentimes, I would describe my own childhood to the children. And more than once, I lamented at how I was “robbed of an education at the expense of good schooling.” While I attended all the good schools, I was never given a true education, let alone a godly one.
Thus I envy our children — for their great joy in learning, for their love of the books, but most of all for their daily exposure to the Word of God!

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Last night, I was chatting with Kathy and Doris. And when we began talking about the children, I could not help but exult in how blessed they are to be born in a covenant home! I realize that in the end, the true blessing of our homeschooling venture lies not in the things from which our children escape — the broken educational system, the rat race, the peer pressure and other negative influences etc. — but in the one principal matter they gain, namely a constant and extended exposure to the Bible.

The Bible — more than any other things — is the Christian parents’ gift to their children.

Therefore, at the core of Emmett and Alethea’s daily routine is a time of Bible reading. Both of them have been faithfully reading God’s Word, and our hope and prayer is that Theo will follow suit as he learns to read. Alethea is on track to finish her first Bible reading around the time she turns 8. And Emmett, with a gift of speed reading, is already on his 5th journey through the Bible. I deeply believe that all these frequent and constant exposures to God’s Word will have a profound influence on their lives and their future callings.

And together with our children, we are continuing our effort to “climb out of the dark hole” as God “fuels us” with His Gospel.

Like “Christian” in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, we are embarking on journey “from This World to That Which is to Come.” Jesus says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” To know God in His Word, to know Christ in the Gospel, to keep pressing on to know Him — that is the call of our lives! That is the only thing that matters. That is the only thing that brings true blessings. We are the people of one Book. We must master God’s Word and in turn be mastered by it.

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This journey “from This World to That Which is to Come” is a lonely journey, but it does not mean that we are to be alone.

Throughout the past years, we have been praying earnestly for a Gospel community to take shape in our midst. This community depends not on numbers, but on one common love and devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a community that feasts on Jesus — the Living Water and Life-Giving Bread. It is a community that delights in the Gospel and rejoices in the very thought of Jesus and His gracious kingdom.

It is the pursuit of this Gospel community that necessitates in me a profound change — from Martha to Mary, from activity to inactivity, from busyness to stillness, from urban mission to heart mission, from kingdom-centered prayers to Father-centered prayers, from certainty to uncertainty, and finally from grown-ups to children. It is a growth in the reverse direction as I shared back in August on the occasion of New City Church’s 5th anniversary. [The sharing has now been re-published in the Journal of Urban Mission.]

Now, this internal progress and breakthrough not only sets the tone of our present ministry; it will also set the direction of our ministry for the years to come. Instead of growing busy (and weary), we would fight to stay unbusy and rest in the Gospel. Instead of becoming concerned with numeric growth, we will focus on growing deeper and firmer in the Word of God. Instead of researching latest ministry trends, pursuing strategies and methods, we would stay still and fix our eyes on Jesus.

I do not mean that each and every pastor / church should adopt such ministry approach, but for me and New City Church, it is increasingly evident that this is only path for growth and progress — true growth and true progress.

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In the years past, many of you have been faithfully supporting Kathy and I through prayers and financial giving. By the grace of God, New City Church has weathered many storms and survived 5 years of constant instability. Meanwhile, we have arrived at a crossroad, and we have now chosen “a path less traveled” — a path that deviates from the traditional model and expectation of church planting.

Because of this significant and visible shift in ministry outlook, plus the lengthiness of this urban experiment, some of our donors have in recent years concluded their financial support for our work. We are not in the least disappointed with their decisions, provided that they continue to engage themselves in other worthy missions. For those who have continued your support, we want to express our deep appreciation for your love and care for us. Nevertheless, if at any given point, you become unsure about this seemingly neutral direction that we have taken, please do not feel obliged to continue your givings. We only ask that you do not withdraw your prayers which are far more essential and critical to us.

2010 is a tremendous year in which we deeply experience the grace of God as we grow deeper still into His Gospel. The coming years however will be even brighter as we strive to “climb out of dark hole,” breathe the fresh air of the Gospel, and place ourselves under the shining light of our Lord Jesus Christ. Rejoice, Christmas is almost here!

        For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”
            has shone in our hearts to give
                the light of the knowledge of
                    the glory of God
                        in the face of Jesus Christ.

        – 2 Corinthians 4:6

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