Visit to northern India and Myanmar

Together we give praise, honour and glory to our Heavenly Father, who in Christ Jesus is building and strengthening the church.

In the past two weeks, I have been honoured and blessed to have witnessed and shared first-hand in Godís wonderful work amidst faithful and humble people in both Mizoram (in northern India) and in neighbouring Myanmar. My visit was voluntary, somewhat “unofficial”, although I am well aware of my service as Secretary for the International Ministerial Congress. I was simply encouraged by a growing friendship, fellowship and further prompted by written invitations to the Golden Jubilee in Mizoram, as well as to the graduation of nine theology students in Myanmar. My intention was simply to bear an open heart of encouragement with the right hand of fellowship.

Arriving in Aizawl, Mizoram, northern India, on February 3, 2017, I was warmly welcomed at the airport by a delegation of Church of God (Seventh Day) leaders and youth. It was good to again see old friends. What was surprising was to see a large white cross at the airport with the words in red, “Thy Kingdom Come”. On enquiring, I learned that the population of Mizoram is estimated to be over 90 percent Christian Ė whereas the rest of India differs as being estimated at about two or three percent.

I immediately experienced the great love and faithfulness of Godís good and long-time work in this remote part of the world, meeting brothers and sisters in Christ, many of whom had travelled significant distances and who warmly welcomed me with repeated affirmations of gladness and joy.

Further welcomed into the Golden Jubilee celebrations, over the next few days I met elders and leaders of various church ministries, as well as a vibrant, energetic youth group. I was delighted to further affirm a beautiful understanding among the youth of Godís grace extended to us through Christ.

After discussing the aims, goals and efforts to serve our growing church community throughout the IMC, I presented the conference with the churchís ten statements of “Who We Are In Christ”, as handcrafted by my wife Rebecca from selected fine cloth. It was then hung from their main podium. The message I shared on the second day of the Jubilee was titled “The Word of God” Ė as spoken, written, codified, personified in Christ, internalised, never returning empty and ultimately transformed into glory.

The church bell was tolled 50 times by 50 different people, each representing the past 50 years of church life. This was followed by the unveiling of a commemorative Golden Jubilee 50 year stone. Another highlight of the event was the baptism of a young woman.

The Jubilee celebrations reflected an encouraging and wide variety of roles and services, equally shared by men, women and youth. Worship was vibrant, joyous and wholehearted, reflecting enriching local cultural traditions with newer, contemporary forms of music. The love of God, and a willingness to listen to the practical living of the gospel of Jesus Christ was reflected by leaders, elders and members from near and far Ė and from what I experienced and could see, the organic and grass-roots efforts for reconciliation between two conferences that operate separately there, has, in my opinion, already begun.

Following the Jubilee, together with a group of elders, we visited two remote village churches Ė and again I was delighted to share in their enduring love and faith. Many expressed a great joy as we shared in fellowship. With prayers and affirmations, our brothers and sisters were gladdened to hear that they are loved by Christ and throughout our international church family, as reflected in the IMCís heart and mission.

One gracious and gifted young man from Aizawl, stepping up into youth leadership and service, said that he had prayed for something like this catalyst visit since he was eight years old. For him, his answered prayer meant more than he could have anticipated.

In the fellowship activities that followed the Jubilee, through various meals and opportunities, I was able spend occasion in earnest and brotherly conversation with elders and leaders. By Godís grace, it was a time for heart to heart, eye to eye, side by side, with occasional arm on shoulder conversations.

It is a blessing to share in strong, mature and genuine fellowship Ė for which we can praise our God for the great favour He has granted and sustained us with. The Jubilee symbolises grace, forgiveness and release from debt and slavery, and in discussing the unique issues facing the church there, we noted that Godís grace can be defined as, “God treating us better than we deserve”.

Throughout the Jubilee, I was delighted that two or three other Churches of God, local and remote, were represented. This resulted in several behind-the-scenes conversations building bridges, with affirmations of Christian love for each other with the added mutual urgency for reconciliation. Leaders of other conferences joined in the joy of worship, community dance, and finally speeches further affirming the seeds of reconciliation. Speeches and acknowledgments expressed a desire for more cross-pollination of speakers, events and fellowship anytime and always.

Thanks to various contacts and fellowship on Sabbath, as well as a phone call or two, I was blessed to spend an entire day with another part of the Church of God (Seventh Day) family and their conference leaders, meeting first of all in a hotel lobby and later in their churches. Again, with the right-hand of fellowship and brotherly love, we spent many hours together sharing and listening. All their ten or so leaders asked sincere questions, requesting clarity on a number of issues.

In the afternoon, with the conference leader and their pastors, I enjoyed spending time in their two church buildings. We prayed together, took numerous photos, and I was again asked to share a few words of encouragement to their leadership and pastors. We also laid hands on those requesting healing. Throughout the day, there were many joyous and memorable moments of deep and shared fellowship.

On February 8th, 2017, several car loads of Church family from Aizawl joined the convoy as we travelled the winding, narrow road to the airport to wave our final and affectionate goodbyes. I will always cherish their the great love, hospitality, faithfulness, and love for the Lord (LALPA) Ė many of whom travelled significant distances on arduous roads to be at the Jubilee. Of course, they would all now like to meet my wife Rebecca.

Flying from there via Kolkata and Bangkok, I was met at the Yangon International Airport in Myanmar by the conference leader there and dear brother in the faith.

I thoroughly enjoyed our time together with brothers, including two friends who had flown in from Cambodia, sharing many occasions for fellowship and reflection over the next few days. The worship and fellowship was again tremendous. On the Friday, we baptised seven people, and after Sabbath worship in the morning, the afternoon was spent at the graduation ceremony of nine young men into church service from the Asian Christian Theological Seminary. The planning and dignity of the graduation service was impressive, with speeches, prayers, presentations and the level of protocol and excellence one might expect to see at a major university.

Again it was delightful to witness and affirm Godís good work among His faithful and loving people living in Yangon, Myanmar.

The following day, after seeing our brothers off at the airport on their return to Cambodia, we boarded an overnight bus for the eight hour ride to Mandalay, from where we caught a flight to the Kalay Valley. There, several faithful, thriving congregations live and work, and who abundantly reflect the love of God and an overwhelming gladness that theyíd been visited again. Many in Myanmar remember with appreciation previous visits by representatives from the International Ministerial Congress.

It was enjoyable being “among family”, sharing in mealtimes, worship, and warm brotherly conversation, with several opportunities to share greetings from the churches in Australia, from the international Church of God (Seventh Day) as well as personally from every IMC Officer. I again shared the message “The Word of God”.

On our final day together, a group of us travelled by motor scooter to a mountainside lookout giving picturesque and sweeping views over the Kalay Valley, before we concluded our time together at a huge dam water reservoir.

I really enjoyed time spent in Myanmar. Their conference Secretary provides gifted and warm leadership throughout Myanmar, as well as continued visionary investment in training and growing the church there.

I came to Mizoram and Myanmar on the basis of fellowship, friendship and by invitation. What a great joy to have witnessed Godís good work in these two countries enriched with similar cultures and traditions but of one Spirit and faith. We have much to be thankful for in the grace and fellowship we share in Christ. Thus, so much more do I look forward to, by Godís grace and providence as He wills, to one day return (with my wife Rebecca) perhaps at the close of the Jubilee in a yearís time, and again affirm and share in the blessings of Christ-centred faith, fellowship and family.

A special thanks to so many people (you know who you are) who gave so generously in order to make this trip at all possible.

In the next few weeks I plan to begin work on two short documentary films, retelling in song, narration and events of Godís abundant grace and truth growing in both Mizoram and Myanmar.

John Klassek
Secretary 2016-2020, International Ministerial Congress

The 2nd Reformation

Jesus has called us to share his good news to the people of this 21st century. Itís a task that apparently needs†further defining, given Christianityís varied and mixed history.

To initiate this mission some 2000 years ago, Jesus chose twelve young men, probably not much older than twenty years of age, nurtured and mentored them, before commissioning and empowering them with, “Go, and make disciples of all nations!” They then healed the sick, preached the gospel, cast out demons, and baptised in Jesusí name. Thus they were instrumental in perpetuating and deploying more disciples in Jesusí image.

Since then, the followers of Jesus have both survived and thrived. Christianity† across the Western world steadily grew. Its significance was felt to the “ends of the earth”. That is, until now, because followers of Jesus largely in the West†find themselves living in what is now called the “post-Christian era”. How times have changed.

For hundreds of years, Christianity significantly influenced the thinking and ethos throughout the rise of the Western world. Great cathedrals dominated its skyline. The clergy were held in high esteem. Churches yielded power and influence, often consisting of two classes Ė priests and laity. But, now, the demographics are rapidly changing. The previous model of ministry doesnít any longer seem to be working. In fact,†our focus†will require rethinking and recalibrating if we’ve any chance of continuing†past momentum,†as the fruits of our current marginalisation†is increasingly evident Ė†at least here in the largely secularised West. (It is worth noting that Christianityís redemptive message, however, is still taking root in other parts of the world, such as in Africa and Asia).

Thus, given the challenges we face in a generally suspicious if not hostile environment, we must explore being part of a new, second Reformation, a journey initiated by the first but which largely remained unfinished. We must follow Christís leadership through what†portends to be absolutely unprecedented times. The bygone age of grand cathedrals, of Christianised ethos and law, of the “Lordís Prayer” recited in schools and government, and of respected clergy, can and will never be revisited in this age. From high esteem, many clergy are now, for example, under cross-examination by Royal Commissions for institutionalised paedophilia! Modern Christianity seems irretrievably tarnished!

Nonetheless, Jesus is still building his church. And, we need to embrace and align our energies with his vision of the future. It seems we need a different paradigm to what was manifest in previous centuries Ė one that was, of course, that Jesus himself modelled.

Today, however, old practices die hard. Still too many pastors are operating under an outdated paradigm, acting as chaplains and care-givers, and often rushing off to meet the needs of the bleating sheep. Thus, they inadvertently perpetuate a model of dependency. God, however, has†called us not to remain infants in the faith, but as his followers become empowered by Jesus to be equipping leaders of other leaders. We are not called to passivity, but to an active faith!

The dynamic of the second Reformation is emerging and evident not only throughout parts of Christendom, but also in greater clarity in the Church of God Sabbatarian community. Twenty or so years ago, at least in my personal journey, the prevailing church paradigm I was accustomed to began to crumble. Its exclusivity and significant awkwardness with the person of Jesus had reached the end of its course. Did Jesus step in and “remove the lampstand”? It certainly sounds like it. But thatís another story.

Today, we increasingly see different parts of the Body of Christ, albeit under different administrations, but sharing a common faith and heritage, working and worshipping together in unity and grace, extending to each other the right-hand of fellowship. Thus, weíre experiencing a revived model of Jesus leading the church. This†is manifesting in some refreshing changes. Pastoral care is changing from “one size fits all” exclusively doing corporate ministry, to equipping and empowering others for ministry, utilising their spiritual God-given gifts.

The momentum for this “new” ministry model finds its roots and authenticity in the first century. The old Pharisaically-driven paradigms would never allow the equipping of all to discipleship and ministry according to their spiritual gifts. Pastors must continue to shift from fostering dependency to an equipping model.

The old covenant with the hierarchal Levitical priesthood ceased when Jesus was crucified, evidenced with the tearing of the temple veil of separation. Access to the Holy of Holies, symbolic of our direct access to our heavenly Father, became freely available. Jesus is now our High Priest. The new covenant accordingly ushered with it the priesthood of all believers, something that must be understood and embraced in the new reformation!

Pastors begin “teaching” the word of God, and then continue equipping and coaching all believers to ministry. While Jesus said “Feed my sheep”, he also expanded it with, “Make disciples”. This is the model Jesus commissioned his disciples.

The church no longer consists of two classes, ministers and members. Weíre all saints. Weíre all brothers. Weíre all children of God. All are called to ministry. And weíre all encouraged to develop and utilise those spiritual gifts.

Jesus reminded his disciples, against the model backdrop of the Pharisees, “Donít be called Rabbi, for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.” (Matthew 23:8) We are called to grow up in Christ’s fullness and stature, and less dependent on human leaders.

Paul further developed this in his letter to those at Ephesus, when he said, “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service [ministry], so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach the unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)

The dependence model doesnít any longer work under the terms of the new covenant! The lament in letter to the Hebrews bears this out: “By now you ought to be teachers, but youíre still in infancy, dependent on the milk of the word”. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

A baby is dependent on†his or her†motherís milk. Given thatís where we all started, it’s not a state we want to stay with. Weíre called to spiritually grow beyond infancy.

Thatís where Jesusí gentle and humble words beckon us to empowerment, if weíre only willing to listen. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened [from the Pharisaical-modelled version of old covenant ministry], and I will give you rest,” says Jesus. (Matthew 11:28-30) Jesus wants us to take his yoke upon us Ė something that fits us right, matches our spiritual gifts, and is really as weíre meant to be.

Someone once said that, “A man makes the dream, and then the dream makes the man.” Therein lies a powerful truism. Love and passion can drive us to great heights. The seeds of Godís kingdom have been sewn in our hearts. “Seek first His kingdom,” says Jesus.

So you have a passion, a gift, a skill? Follow that dream. Develop your gifts. Grow your ministry Ė to the glory of God and in the name of Jesus. Remember the wisdom from an old proverb: “A manís heart [his God-given gifts] plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

God bless you in your service in the body of Christ.

 

By John Klassek

 

Radical Commitment to Christ

George was 17 years old when he was dismissed from his dream job. His employer demanded that he work Friday nights, but George wasnít willing to compromise Sabbath rest. Though devastated at the time, this young man could not have known that embracing such a decision would in time set him on a path that would lead closer to Christ and deeper into His will. It was a defining moment.

Years later, as George experienced a greater distinct call to discipleship, a sceptical friend in the Christian community quizzed him about his understanding of Matthew 6:33. It seemed to George that believers were to “seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness, and God will provide for all those physical needs” [my paraphrase].

“Get a job that pays well,” chided his friend, further quoting the national minimal wage. What he was saying, really, in his opinion, was that you canít rely on a literal understanding of Jesusí words that God would provide all our needs.

But George saw it differently. Thatís what Jesus had said. Surely He meant it, especially in the light of His pre-incarnate words of, “Put me to the test and see if I will not bless you”. (Malachi 3:10) [my paraphrase].

God desires that we are generous with all our resources. This is particularly true with our increase, our time, talents and desires. Echoes of this generous giving appears in the book of Acts where faithful believers, wanting to step up in service to Christ, donated their land and valuables for the sake of the Kingdom. Those who feigned generosity, who lied to the Holy Spirit, paid the ultimate price.

Godís model for generosity begins at ten percent, but a willingness to give under the terms of the New Covenant knows no bounds. Thatís where, for many people, the challenge exists in the words of Jesus as recorded in the gospel of Matthew. Do we trust God with our entire lives? Can we trust Him, for example, with a greater portion of our increase? Thatís a radical reliance and an extraordinary step faith. For the sake and call of the Kingdom, these are important commitments to consider.

Most of our prayers are spoken in secret, so perhaps itís reasonable that most of our alms ought also be done in secret. Have you ever considered putting aside, for example, seventy percent of your time and resources in deployment for Christ? Of course, make sure your heart is right Ė thereís no room for pretenders. Start a ministry. Join an existing ministry. (In his mid-thirties, thatís exactly what George did). Do what youíre naturally gifted with, and live every moment prayerfully. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide, counsel, comfort and help.

And donít bother trying to do the maths, for such calculations would not have helped the widow with the abundant flow of olive oil from her one small jar during those days of trial and drought (2 Kings 4). Such small steps of faith begin to reveal a powerful truth in Jesusí words. More than we can perhaps know or understand, this is our Fatherís world. He calls us to trust Him.

George may have lost a promising job early in his career, but through the experience gained his life in Christ. His initial loss was, in reality, a divine calling-card that led to a radical reliance and trust in his Heavenly Father!

By John Klassek