Every year, Christmas comes and goes. Chestnuts are roasting on the streets of Hong Kong. Starbucks changes their cups. Decorations are taken out of boxes and hung around homes across the city.
People scramble to get gifts for their friends and family; meals are prepared for fellowship gatherings; and Santa Claus makes his appearance in malls (and chimneys) around the world.
It really is a special time.
But this year, I’ve had enough. I’m cancelling Christmas.
Because I’m making everyday Christmas! No, I’m not going to leave my tree up all year long or sing Christmas carols in the summer. But Christmastime is a reminder that we have joy because of Jesus... therefore, I am going to remember this passage daily:
“As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love. If you keep My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:9-11
Our joy is complete in Christ, so I’m stretching Christmas from one day to 365 days! Let’s all remember the joy the Christ brings us on Christmas Day, and also on New Years Day, and CNY... and Mondays and Sundays and every day in between!
We are approaching the end of 2019 and what a year it has been for Hong Kong. These past several weeks have especially taken a toll on our city, our church, our families, and our hearts. But sometimes darker seasons also have a way of better illuminating God's blessings and our need for Him. We are so thankful that Island ECC has just celebrated its 20 year anniversary which we believe signifies God's faithfulness to us through every season.
If you weren't able to attend our special Sunday celebration earlier this month, we encourage you to have a look at this video in which Pastor Brett shares some of our history and the ways God has used Island ECC to impact our city.
Without your generosity and faithfulness, we wouldn't be in the place we are today, 20 years in, and now boldly taking new ground and new steps to begin a new chapter at a venue that can become home to even more people in Hong Kong.
So, thank you for continuing to partner with us in Bold Faith!
This month, we'd like for you to hear from Elaine Chow, our Bold Faith Development Director. Elaine has served with Island ECC since 2017.
In order to reach more people with a venue large enough to accommodate them, we need three things: your prayers, your (creative) generosity, and for God to open doors.
I want to speak especially to creativity in generosity, and how encouraged we've been to see people thinking outside-the-box for the Bold Faith Campaign. We are blessed to have received $180 million in pledges and giving through not only traditional means but also through, for example, the sale of handbags, jewelry, restaurant shares, cars and property!
We all have something to give; it's not about the amount or the means, it's about our hearts being yielded to God's larger story. This is so reminiscent of the church in Acts where believers were one in heart and mind, and shared what they had (Acts 4:32-36).
God calls ALL of us to this way of living, for His glory and our good.
Bold Faith Development Director
We plan to host an Art Appreciation Evening and showcase a collection of paintings from banker-turned-artist Kaven Leung - a beautiful example of creative generosity. We will not only learn insider tips on buying art, but you'll have the opportunity to purchase Kaven's works.
And over the next several months, Pastor Brett, Elaine, and the rest of the Development Team are excited to meet with you to update you progress overall, and to seek your support to make this project a reality. Our plan is to also find a few anchor supporters to fund the project (through giving, a pledge or financing) for a total sum of $400 million over the next few years.
Knowing your love for God and the community at Island ECC, we encourage you to pray about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There's no better time for Hong Kong to be engaged in such a gospel-led initiative.
Bold Faith Chairman
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27
In countries where conflict is a daily occurrence, the desire and quest for peace is strong, particularly among victims caught in between the conflict. The experience of conflict in Hong Kong over the last few months has brought this into stark relief: what was a generally peaceful and safe city has been turned upside down in turmoil, hence the resultant prayers for peace have been urgent and heartfelt.
When we talk of or pray for peace, what do we normally mean – that conflict will end, tranquillity will ensue and daily security will be restored? If so, then peace means an absence of conflict and most would agree with this. Or, in the midst of the noise of construction (a common feature of life in Hong Kong) or when overexcited children, at last, go to bed – we also long for peace – normally meaning the absence of noise (not the absence of children!). So, in effect, peace means the absence of something and this can turn prayers for peace into shallow wishful thinking rather than real hope.
This is the opposite of what Jesus means in the verse above – He means the presence of something.
Peace in scripture is associated with the Hebrew word shalom, now a common greeting in Israel. Shalom is a lovely word meaning much more than the absence of conflict or noise: it means wholeness, completion, and fulfilment. It is a peace that comes from being in the Presence of God – a peace of the soul. This takes us to a whole different level of understanding of peace as something that only God can give. When Paul says in Philippians 4:7, “then the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” he is praying that we will dwell in and practice the presence of God. The peace that Jesus and Paul speak of is shalom and is a manifestation of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit – it is something rooted in the very heart of God and should be deeply reflected in our lives, not just our prayers, especially at this time in HK.
Let us practice true peace by:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32 ESV
I have been asking myself, “What is happening to our city?” As I see the violence, the hatred in people, the broken relationships, and the lives lost, I am weighed down by emotions of anguish, sadness, anger, and confusion all at once. I feel like a surfer being pummelled by a giant wave, thrown into the ocean under a strong current, not knowing which way is up. It is easy to want to react immediately, but I remember a surf coach once advised to remain calm, pause, and look for the bubbles rising to the surface before swimming. If you act out of panic, you may be swimming yourself to the bottom!
Many of us feel like we are under an emotional current amidst the chaos, but we need to be careful to not let emotions or opinions cloud our judgment and lose sight of God’s truth. Like the surfer tumbling in the bottom of the ocean, we need to pause, and “look for the bubbles” and figure out our way up - to realign ourselves with true north before we speak or act.
In this verse, Paul is addressing the believers in Ephesus to encourage their walk as the body of Christ. He reminds us to be careful with our words, to speak with the intention to build up and encourage one another. He alerts us to get rid of all bitterness, anger, and slander, as these can critically hinder our rightful posture towards God and others. In the heat of our social tension, we need to be cautious not to let our emotions hinder us from living the way we are called to. As the body under the authority of Christ, we are called to be kind, gentle, empathetic, and forgiving despite our pain and disagreement on issues.
Our emotions can easily steer our actions; just in the past week, I confess mine have led to thoughts that are not of God. We need to be self-aware, and let our emotions settle, then look for the rising bubbles to guide our eyes upward, so to be confident that we are acting under the authority of God’s truth. Even our words have so much power (James 3); a text, a social media post, can sway people toward good or anger. Let us be cautious with our written or spoken words to build people up rather than setting them off. Let us be alert and self-controlled (1 Peter 5:8), and to regularly calibrate knowing that we are even more prone to sin in this tension.
Let us practice the pause and look for the bubbles by:
Let us come before Him with thanksgiving. Psalm 95:2
The anger and violence that has embroiled Hong Kong in recent months compounded with the typical challenges of everyday life can be overwhelming and easily cause us (or at least me) to put too much emphasis on the temporal rather than the eternal. But having just celebrated Island ECC’s 20th anniversary and with American Thanksgiving coming up later this month, I am reminded of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness and how He is Lord over all things (including, and perhaps especially, during the difficult times and seasons in life).
He is the God who fights for me (Exodus 14:14).
He is the God who comforts me when I am discouraged (Psalm 94:19; 2 Corinthians 7:6).
He is the God of details who knows and cares for me intimately, even down to the numbers of hairs on my head (Luke 12:7).
As I reflect and meditate on those and other characteristics of God, the worries and pressures of life decrease and my ability to worship and appreciate the Lord increase. It is a simple discipline and one that I need to practice regularly in order for my mind and soul to remember that God is in control despite the seeming chaos that may be swirling around me. I take solace and am thankful that His ways are higher than my ways and His thoughts are higher than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).
Let us practice a heart of thanksgiving by: