Michael and Kat moved to Hong Kong from Canada and got involved in the many ministries at Island ECC, from Care Groups to Worship to Kids Club. They became drawn to the vision of Island ECC’s BOLD Faith campaign as they saw how God is using the church to write a larger narrative for Hong Kong. Kat has experienced God moving in such ways while she was in Toronto as an idea for a gathering of youth grew into something much larger. As a couple, they are excited to see how God will move through the BOLD Faith campaign as the church continues to pursue His vision for Hong Kong.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19
Do you relish change? Does the prospect of receiving God’s ‘new thing’ and losing your ‘old thing’ energise you? Or, does it stress you out? For each of us, the response will be influenced by personality, experience and circumstances, but personally I tend to get comfortable with my Old Thing, such as when I hesitated to take a new job I was offered some years ago.
Yet we know that God is always at work: wanting to transform and restore us and the world, and engage us in that process. While we love inspiring stories of renewal and transformation that are already completed with a happy ending, it is more challenging when the work is still in progress (and requires actual work!) to perceive the New Thing through exercising faith and persevering through times of unbelief or opposition.
We don’t generally think we live in a ‘wilderness or wasteland’ but we are closer to that than we think. In particular because of our worldly comforts and concerns, we can easily become blind and complacent by neglecting our own spiritual life and the physical and spiritual welfare of those around us. Out of that mess, God is always offering a new way for us and the world, for His glory and our good: He is always doing a New Thing, and inviting us to cooperate or participate in it.
So, what New Thing is God doing before your eyes that you have not yet seen? What is ‘springing up now’ that you have not yet perceived? For sure there is something, great or small. Are we closer to God now than a year ago? Will we be closer a year from now? What is He doing that is calling us closer, or asking us to help Him call others closer? How will we respond? Which comfort blanket does He want us to let go? Have we been delaying a particular response or action?
A New Thing may mean believing for and receiving a breakthrough in our own life, or in someone else’s life through making ourselves available in some form of spiritual or material outreach. This applies to us individually and is also at the heart of Island ECC’s mission collectively. So it is no surprise that the leaders of the church firmly believe the Bold Faith initiative, to acquire our own premises as a firm platform for growing our ministries to meet the various needs of Hong Kong, is a New Thing guided by God.
Once we have seen a challenging New Thing from God that lies ahead and validated it in prayer, we can sustain our faith by looking back at what He has done for us in the past. We can have that ‘bold faith’ not only from our individual history but also as a church when we consider how God has blessed and used Island ECC since its establishment.
It is always a privilege to be invited to participate in God’s New Thing, though it often stretches us. And anyway, continuing with our Old Thing is not always a long-term option: I finally took that new job I was offered and just a few years later my previous firm closed down after over 150 years in business.
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest… Hebrews 4:9-11
Ah, summer. School is out, or just about. Even if you don’t totally live by the academic calendar, the end of the school year is kind of a finish line of sorts. Usually by this time of the year, I’m tired, running on fumes and barely making it across that finish line. I don’t just look forward to a summer vacation, I need it. I need a Sabbath-rest.
But rest – any kind of rest, be it a summer break or annual leave at another time in the year or a regular Sabbath in each week – is elusive, especially in Hong Kong. We have unused Annual Leave days. There’s always something urgent and never a right time to go away. There’s a transition in your team or you go from one project immediately into the next, or you’re already behind and you’ll be even more so if you take time off. The list (of excuses) is endless.
We need to put aside the excuses and observe Sabbath-rest. Keep these points in mind as you think about your time over the summer or the second half of the year.
Rest is a spiritual discipline. The writer of Hebrews emphasises that we need to “make every effort to enter that rest.” It doesn’t come easy and it certainly won’t happen if we don’t plan it. If you follow a diet, if you exercise, if you have regular prayer and devotional time, if you tithe to the church and give to God’s work, if you prioritise family and life-giving relationships, if you work hard and also strive to have work-life boundaries in your schedule, then you are living a disciplined life. A life of discipline takes work and effort – and also requires rest in order to maintain it all. Remember that rest is not a break from doing all the other things – it’s a spiritual discipline just as important as the others. When you go too long without adequate rest, things (the other disciplines) start to slip and eventually break down.
Rest is an invitation. It’s hard for many of us to allow ourselves to rest. A friend who was near the point of burn out, recently confessed that she “wore busy-ness like a badge of honour.” Rest – especially Sabbath-rest – is not slacking off or being lazy. It’s not an extended break. It has a much higher meaning: it’s an invitation from our Lord Jesus. “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-29). If you were to receive an invitation from a head of state or some other VVIP, you wouldn’t turn it down. Jesus sees the situation you’re in and knows what’s best for you. Don’t turn down this invitation from Him to rest and lighten your load.
Rest needs to be intentional. Not all rest is created equal. In the same way that there are empty calories and unhealthy foods that satisfy hunger but aren’t good for you, rest is the same way. Binge watching your favourite TV show or having days of sitting on a beach doing nothing could be part of your rest, but don’t let it be the entirety of it. Plan to have some form of recreation and rejuvenation as well. This is the best time to turn away from the urgent and pressing things to make room for the good and healthy – and necessary – things that we don’t normally make time for. The passage from Matthew 11 above tells us that we find the greatest rest in Jesus’ presence when we respond to the invitation to draw near to Him. In your holiday or time off, don’t overlook your soul. What does your soul need in order to be restored and refreshed?
Rest reminds us that we’re not greater than God. God rested from His work. (What was His work again? Oh yeah, it was creating everything.) It’s easier than we realise to develop a Saviour complex. We think that it all depends on us, that things will fall apart without us, or that we’re the only one who can save the day. Sabbath-rest is an integral part of the created order of things and was built into the rhythm of life since the very beginning. God the Father rested and God the Son also rested. We are not following the example our Lord if we don’t make every effort to enter into Sabbath-rest. It humbles us, sets our priorities right, reminds us of the Lord of the Sabbath and is inextricably intertwined with worship of Him.
How are you doing, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually? Do you have adequate rest planned for the coming weeks or months?
Entering into Sabbath-rest is not just about taking a summer vacation. It’s about taking care of your soul all throughout the year.
Josh Chan was looking for a community in Hong Kong after he decided to stay. He found Island ECC and eventually its Ark Ministry, which got him plugged in. As he matured through the Ark ministry, he realised how much God loves him. He dedicates his life to God in a special baptism ceremony.
Felix and Lawrence got to know each other through middle school. Lawrence was going thorugh a very difficult time because of a skin affliction that was becoming worse. Felix saw how Lawrence continued to remain positive through those times, which had an impact on him. Finding Island Youth and walking with other Christian youth have helped them see how Christ is their personal saviour.