Holy Week – also known as Passion Week – represents the final week of our Lord Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. It is the most important season for Christians around the world. Passion Week is the main focus of every gospel. All the events captured in the Gospels prior to Passion Week are like long introductions to help us, the reader, focus on the events–the cross and resurrection. Indeed, almost half of Mark’s gospel is given to the final week of Christ’s life!
On Good Friday, there will be children’s programs for preschoolers and elementary school age children. Parents, please register your children at goodfridaykids.ecanaan.org so that we can get an accurate count.
March 13, 2014
Dear Canaan EM’ers and friends,
Tom was a natural leader. And he benched me!
One of the most difficult spiritual lessons I’ve had to learn is that I shouldn’t always have my way. In my home church in Brooklyn, New York, I was the pastor’s eldest son, a leader in our emerging English ministry, and an aspiring pastor myself. I was used to having my way.
But as a member of my church’s team in the Chinese Christian basketball league, I was not the leader. Tom was the captain. And I sat on the bench the majority of time during the tournament because it was for the good of the team. Even though I wanted to be a starter and play more minutes, I put aside my ego and followed Tom’s leadership. That year, our team won the championship! I scored the basket that sealed the victory!
The reason why this was an important “spiritual” lesson is because it taught me what “hearing the voice” of Jesus the Good Shepherd meant (John 10:3-4). Like me, you may have been taught that Jesus is a friend who always stands by and helps you. Almost every “Good Shepherd” image that I’ve found shows a kind Jesus gently and lovingly embracing a lamb. I discovered, however, that this is only partially true. As a shepherd, Jesus leads us – sometimes to places we would not normally go if we had our own choice. Yes, he wants us to flourish and have abundant life, but the green pastures are not often what we expect – initially, at least.
During our Lenten sermon series, we will look at Jesus as a shepherd. In his encounters with Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the blind man on the road, and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Jesus doesn’t only heal and affirm people, he also leads them into God’s truth and grace. Often he contradicts everything they think is right and good.
That’s why a distinction must be made between shepherding and counseling. Now, I believe in having a mentor, a life coach, and a spiritual director. I believe that seeing counseling is very beneficial. But insofar as these activities focus on just helping us discover our individual selves or gain personal well-being, they are not shepherding.
When I was a seminary professor, my job was to not only teach, but also to help future church leaders find their callings. So I enjoyed serving as mentor, counselor, and life-coach. But as a pastor at Canaan, I see my primary role to be that of a shepherd (even though, on occasion, I will mentor and counsel – and even play a priestly role during important life transitions). My main responsibility is to help all of us – together – to hear and heed the voice the Good Shepherd.
Shepherding is about guiding people towards God’s purpose even if it seems to be at cross-purposes with their own desires. After all, a shepherd is a leader, not a life-coach. And a sheep is a member of a flock, not a client. So biblically-speaking, to be shepherded means to yield to and follow a shepherd’s lead (Hebrews 13:7, 17).
In my previous church, I wasn’t usually interested in the activities that our leaders organized and promoted (they were designed mostly for teens and young adults). But I learned from my basketball experience to be available when called upon by our leaders. So I always showed up. By showing up, our members and I demonstrated the truth and power of the gospel. How? When visitors and people outside the church saw us show up in force and demonstrate our commitment to the church’s mission, the excitement was contagious. My sons were nurtured in an environment where the practice of high spiritual commitment was visible everywhere. Our little English ministry became a positive influence in our community!
But all this happened because a majority of our members willingly followed our shepherds’ lead. We made ourselves available when called upon. We taught each other that sacrificing our personal desires and preferences for the mission of Christ and his church was the holiest of all the spiritual disciplines (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). And God provided more than what each member needed (Matt 6:33). For example, when the young adults gave sacrificially to the church, God blessed them with good employment, marriages, and a baby boom. They are some of the happiest and most outgoing people I know (which is why my youngest son, Benji, is so committed to them). There is actually a sociological principle behind this – the more one gives and invests in community, the more one receives!
As I look back at my last four years with Canaan’s English Ministry, I am grateful for those who have continually displayed their devotion to the life and mission of our church. Those who felt “burnt out” prior to my arrival have had an extended “sabbatical” while I focused on involving new and inexperienced members. I thank God that some who felt “burnt out” have again made themselves available. God has brought new people into our community as well. All of these are good signs. But the best will come when a large majority of our people make themselves available when called upon, and, thus, demonstrate to the world that the gospel is alive and well at Canaan’s English ministry!
Tim Tseng 曾 祥 雨 :: Ph.D.
Pastor of English Ministries
March 3, 2014
Greetings Canaan brothers and sisters,
Thanks again for the kind birthday celebration and wishes yesterday. It was a great reminder of how much Betty and I have been blessed by each of you at Canaan. I pray that God has used me to build up your faith and service in Christ. I hope that he will continue to do so in the days ahead!
I’d like to make a very special announcement:
On March 23rd, our English worship service will relocate to the Ping Pong room on the first floor (next to the Fellowship Hall and Youth Room). The service start time remains the same – 10 a.m. Please help us transport chairs and equipment downstairs on March 16th. More information is forthcoming.
Some quick notes about this decision:
1. This is a “trial” relocation, with the hope of making the first floor our permanent worship area. Our leadership will be very attentive to the feedback and suggestions of our worshipers.
2. The decision was prompted by a number of factors:
- The prohibitive costs associated with remodeling the second floor space in alignment with San Jose’s newer fire safety codes.
- A felt need to be in closer proximity to the rest of the church community on Sundays. Not only would this be more convenient for volunteers who are setting up for worship, the move would be helpful for families with young children to be closer to each other. It also provides opportunity for our newer worshipers and young adults to interact with Taiwanese and Mandarin members of our church. In the end, it may help our English ministry worshipers feel a greater sense of “ownership” since we’ll be situated closer to the center of church life and have greater access to other rooms.
- Our church will be developing a “master plan” to remodel the first floor. It therefore seems to make sense for our English ministry to experiment with arrangements that would help us give input to the “master plan.”
3. Relocation was initially discussed among staff, the English Leadership Team, and the session. All three are supportive of the idea and eager for us to experiment.
If you have any questions or suggestions – and if you’d like to help, please speak to Torence Lu or me. Please pray for the relocation efforts, for God to be honored, and for our English ministry to bear even greater fruit as a result!
February 26, 2014
Dear Canaan EM’ers and friends,
A couple of quick announcements and then some thoughts:
1. This Saturday is Family Pizza and Game Night (5:30pm-8pm, Fellowship Hall) $2/person for food. If you haven’t registered yet, please contact Shirley Tai [email Shirley] immediately.
2. Christian rap artist Jason Chu will be performing a concert at Canaan on Friday, April 4 (8 pm) (sponsored by several churches). Jason is a musical artist who graduated from Yale University and is currently studying at Fuller Seminary. His ministry speaks to Asian American young adults yearning for identity and purpose. More information is forthcoming, but please come and invite your friends. We are looking for young adults to volunteer to promote the event and help out at church that evening. See:
* * *
“Brother, can you spare a dime?” God asks us
In America and East Asia, the wealthier we get, the stingier we become. Let’s call this the Ebenezer Scrooge syndrome. By the way, “Ebenezer” comes from the Hebrew Scriptures. It originally meant “stone of help” (1 Samuel 7:12). It’s interesting that Charles Dickens gave this name to the miserly curmudgeon from his 1843 classic novel, A Christmas Carol.
The Scrooge syndrome is not just about money. It’s also about availability. As we achieve greater status, do we find less time to spend with friends and family? When we have and raise children, do we become less available to our peers? And often, it feels like we can’t control our time since our employers and children demand so much of us, right? The older we get and the more responsibilities we’re given, the more miserly we become.
And more than our private lives are affected. The social impact of the Scrooge syndrome can be seen in the increasing economical disparity and the loss of community.
So let this be a lesson to youth and young adults: cultivate generosity and availability while young – it’ll be harder to do when you are older.
The Concept of First Fruits
God knows that the Scrooge syndrome is the fruit of sin that destroys individuals and communities. He knows that when we give the leftovers of our time and money for others, it rapidly shrinks when other things become priorities in our lives. For example, many students stop going to church temporarily to prepare for SATS or other exams; couples stop connecting with friends when they become more serious about their relationship, etc. Therefore, as we become more “successful” we feel like we can spare less and less for others.
To counter the Scrooge approach of giving away left overs, God invites the people of Israel to give their “first fruits” to him (specifically, to the temple of God). In Exodus 25:4-7, God instructed his people to offer “gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen…” Later, he chooses Bezaiel and Oholiab to give their artistic talent to embellish the tabernacle and the priestly robes (Exodus 31:1-11). Why? The offerings of the people were collected in order to build a sanctuary and to clothe the priests (verses 8-9).
Much later, when the people of Israel returned from exile to rebuild the temple and city walls of Jerusalem, they make a covenant, i.e., a mutual commitment, to sustain the temple (Nehemiah 9:38). In Nehemiah 10:35, they agree to “assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the Lord each year the firstfruits of our crops and of every fruit tree.” In verses 36-39, they pledge to bring the firstborn of their sons and cattle to the house of God; they also promise “to bring a tithe” of their crops.
There are other instances in the Old Testament where God commands his people to give their best first. While it would be a mistake to interpret the “first fruit” concept legalistically, it is important to understand the spirit behind these commandments. Nehemiah 10:39 explains the whole point of giving “first fruits”:
We will not neglect the house of our God.
By giving their “first fruits” to the temple, the people of Israel are able to reverse the Scrooge syndrome. How? God’s priorities are to care for the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the alien – which stands in sharp contrast to the economic disparity and loss of community that results from the Scrooge syndrome. When we offer our “first fruits,” we make God and his people our highest priority. And when that happens, God’s people counter the negative effects of the Scrooge syndrome and make a positive impact on the world.
First Fruits in the Church: Availability, not ability
What does the concept of “first fruits” look like in the church? Paul tells the Corinthians that they are “God’s building” and “temple” set upon the foundation of Christ (I Cor 3:9-11, 16-17). People who build the church can use a variety of materials: “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw” (verse 12). Paul says that in the end, “their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work (verse 13).”
As a pastor, I am responsible for building up our church by equipping God’s people for ministry (Eph 4:12). The 1 Corinthian passage suggests that my success depends on the quality of materials that are used to build up Canaan’s English Ministry.
So what are the “first fruits” (or the best quality materials) that go into building up a healthy and strong English ministry? Some may say that it is the gifts and talents of the people in our English ministry. But after four years at Canaan, I can safely conclude that our abilities are NOT the “gold, silver, or costly stones.” Rather, it is our availability that represents the “first fruits” of our sacrifice to God. So just giving our spare time to Canaan or to any kingdom-oriented activities would be equivalent to building with hay or straw.
God Sightings: Available People
This Sunday, a few of us will share testimonies of “God sightings.” We will make connections between Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt 17:1-9) and our observations of God’s presence. Seeing God is like whale watching. Most of the times, we don’t actually see whales even though we know that they are swimming by. But when they surface and we get a good view, it’s one of the most exciting moments in life!
For me (and every pastor I know), the most exciting God-sighting happens when people make themselves available for God. For example,
- when a member, like the Samaritan leper, is so grateful for her salvation that she takes time to thank Jesus in worship and prayer (Luke 17:11-19)
- when people don’t merely “go to church,” but take the time to “belong to church” (have a look at Christopher Smith’s blog; check out Tish Warren’s blog, too)
- when a member is available to serve and be “equipped” (i.e., takes time for deeper biblical study, training for a variety of ministry opportunities within and outside of Canaan – such as BASS, respond to invitations to volunteer)
- when a wealthy believer follows Zacchaeus’ example by making his wealth available to the poor or an important kingdom cause (Luke 19:8).
- when small groups do impactful outwardly oriented projects (e.g., start a non-profit, actively support a mission or social service, promote a kingdom cause, share the gospel with friends and co-workers)
I am so eager to see this God-sighting at Canaan English Ministry that it hurts when I don’t see it happening enough! So please pray that I’ll be frequently reminded that this God-sighting is like whale watching. It’ll all be worth it when it happens!
In turn, my prayer is that more and more of us will start giving our “first fruits” to God rather than our spare change. So when God asks us, “brother (or sister) can you spare a dime?” Our answer will be, “Take me. Take all of me.”
See you Sunday!
February 21, 2013
Dear Canaan EM’ers and friends,
Just a few updates…
This Sunday, Jennifer J. Chow will share her story and book The 228 Legacy during Second hour (11:30, WH3). She will also be signing her book during the lunch hour in the Fellowship Hall. Come and be inspired – bring friends and consider buying her book!
Next Sunday (March 2) we invite you to share a God-sighting during worship service. Please have a look at Matthew 17:1-9 and let me know by Tuesday if you’d like to share a short testimony. Also, the session will present a brief update about the latest news regarding our church’s remodeling plans after service.
The annual BASS Convention will be held on 3/6-8. All Canaan members (especially coworkers) are encouraged to attend. Registration fee has been paid for by Canaan; please contact education deacon, Nelson Lu [email Nelson], for individual registration and carpooling opportunity.
Join our Taiwan Summer Mission Team! (July 3-19) March 23 is the deadline to apply. Talk to Pastor Chris Liu [email Chris] if you are interested. The applications for STM are now available.
If you’d like to join Canaan as a member through baptism, confirmation, or transfer, please send your completed Membership Application to me by March 23 in order to participate in the April 20 All Church Easter Welcome Service.
See you Sunday!
February 12, 2013
Dear Canaan EM’ers and friends,
Oh no! Another Valentine’s Day is about to descend upon us! Let’s do our best to avoid superficial expressions of love.
Before I say more about this, I’d like to ask everyone two questions:
1. Would you be able to attend a lunchtime service on Ash Wednesday (March 5, 2014) at church? The 20 minute service will help us start the season of Lent and will be an opportunity to invite our co-workers and friends to eat and meet at Canaan. Bring lunch and join the service at 12:20 pm. How does that sound?
2. On Good Friday (April 18) would you like to have Living Stones Christian Church join us for Good Friday service (like last year)?
Please email, text, Facebook message, call me ASAP!
Now, about those superficial relationships…
Unfortunately, superficial relationships exist and hurt our Christian testimony. Who wants to be part of a church where people don’t really seem to care for one another? How can we experience more fulfilling friendships here at Canaan (or in any church)? The truth is that churches with very diverse life stages and cultures have a hard time cultivating deep friendships. Everyone feels like an outsider. Furthermore, many of us (including myself) are not good at or comfortable with deeper relationships. We may lack self-confidence, feel worn out by too many social interactions, or prefer to be alone. So what can we do?
Here are four very simple ways to begin developing deeper relationships with our brothers and sisters at Canaan.
1. Don’t expect more from others than you are willing to give.
So let’s be honest. Are we expecting more from others than we are willing to give? Do we blame others for not making us feel comfortable when we do little to welcome others into our lives?
In all relationships, it is always a good idea to consider how much we contribute the relationship before counting how much we are receiving. This is similar to what Jesus said about taking the plank out of our own eyes before pointing out the splinter in our neighbor’s.
2. Always give more than you receive.
Okay, so maybe you took the initiative to know someone better. But that person doesn’t respond the way you expected. Don’t dwell on it, otherwise resentment will grow. The thing to do here is to be joyful that God has given you a chance to show grace to someone else.
3. It takes frequent quality time
If you have a spouse, did you marry him or her the very first time you met? I hope not. It takes time for relationships to develop. During the youth parents’ meeting two Sundays ago, Tobi Chen shared a very insightful point: It took time for her to feel like she belonged at Everglow Youth Fellowship. She had to go regularly for several months before she felt like this was her community.
In the same way, deeper relationships require quality time and frequency. Just coming to Sunday worship service alone will not provide quality time for connecting with people even if we attend every week. Infrequent participation in high quality community opportunities (such as second hour, Small Groups, Everglow fellowships, mentoring meetings) will also keep our relationships superficial.
4. Always remember the big picture: it’s about the Gospel
Finally, keep in mind that all that we do (including our relationships) have been repurposed for the Gospel by Jesus. Canaan’s English ministry does not exist primarily as family center or social club. The friendships and community that emerge are by-products of our ministry together, not the end-product.
Spiritually healthy churches, by definition, are comprised of people from different life stages who are able to overcome their natural tendencies to avoid uncomfortable situations. Instead, these churches are filled with people who are committed build deeper relationships because they know that this is how the gospel advances.
In sum, superficial relationships will disappear when we are
1. gracious, generous, forgiving, and patient with each other.
2. committed to spending frequent quality time with others in Canaan.
3. able to see that all our efforts at building relationships are part of God’s mission.
Let’s make Canaan a church where there are no insiders or islands! Let’s stay focused on God’s big picture. This way, we won’t let our relationship “hang ups” prevent us from doing all we can to build up a healthy and strong community at Canaan.
See you Sunday!
Tim Tseng 曾 祥 雨 :: Ph.D.
Pastor of English Ministries
also check out http://www.facebook.com/APIChristianHistory
A quick reminder for tomorrow evening: The dinner will be held in the Fellowship Hall from 7:30pm-10pm. Again, we will be making our own dumplings as we celebrate Chinese New Years. All the ingredients will already be provided, so please bring $5 to offset the cost of food. Thanks! See you tomorrow! — Chris Liu