On Feb 3, 2015, Dr AR Bernard, the advisory committee chairman of City Harvest Church delivered a watershed message to the leaders of church.
“I want to speak to you prophetically and apostolically to strengthen you in this particular time. I will tell you in my prayer time before the Lord, this is really your home stretch. This is kind of the last lap for you and that’s why you have to be strongest when you’re running toward the finish line…You need the momentum that will carry you and the church through. Please keep that in mind as any opportunity to be weary comes your way; be strong. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”
It was with these words that Dr AR Bernard opened his address to his audience at the leaders’ meeting on Feb 3 at CHC’s Jurong West church. Those in attendance were cell group leaders, ministry leaders and staff of the church, along with the pastors.
Bernard’s biennial Tuesday night leaders meetings are highly anticipated events for this audience, mainly for the reason that the senior pastor of Christian Cultural Centre in Brooklyn, New York—recently ranked by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential Christian leaders in America—brings an increasingly deep, though-provoking and challenging message each time.
This particular meeting was, however, unique, both in content and spirit. Bernard’s messages to the leaders tend to go deeper into the principles he has set out during the weekend services. This time, he built upon those messages while drawing from a message he had delivered to this same group of leaders two years ago.
“At a Tuesday night meeting like this on May 9, 2013, I shared with you the difference between the Philippian church and the Colossian church,” he told the room. “This past Saturday I shared with you about different lenses that people see through and the importance of having the right lens.
“When I teach, I teach layer upon layer, block upon block. I review certain things then. My reward is when I see the lights go on in your eyes and you experience that ‘Aha!’ moment. I understand my role in the last 15 years I’ve been coming and speaking into your life. I’ve been reviewing messages since August 1, 1999 when I first came, up to now. It’s some 60 to 80 sermons and messages.”
It was from the journey that these messages have taken the church that Bernard preached this night, bringing the congregation to the point that his 15 years of ministry to CHC has reached.
Bernard drew from the story of Jacob in Genesis 28, where the Bible hero fell asleep and dreamed of a ladder that connected Heaven to Earth, and angels ascended and descended upon the ladder. Through that one dream, Jacob’s lens was completely changed—when he awoke from his dream he realized that his whole concept of reality had been radically changed. He said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” (Gen 28: 16)
“Jacob discovered what was real wasn’t necessarily visible,” said Bernard. “There was another invisible reality exercising influence on what is visible. Without the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God cannot be made real to us—it changed the way Jacob saw God, the way he interacted with the natural world. When you experience that kind of experience Jacob had, it has a profound impact on the way you think, hear, see, everything around you. Circumstances and situations are no longer divorced from the hand of God. But you begin to see all of your circumstances and situations attached, associated by God’s hand moving through the universe, ultimately to bring humanity to a very specific beginning and ending in mind.”
The preacher called the leaders of the church mature believers who could comprehend these deeper things of God. Unbelievers and those unskilled in the Word of God would not be able to understand that God is in control. “From a spiritual perspective, out of Daniel 2:20, we understand that it’s God who changes the times and seasons—He is in control of history, He determines it,” preached Bernard. “He sets up kings, He removes kings; he sets up leaders, He removes leaders. History happens. We step back and try to make sense of it through the light of Scripture… The Scriptures reveal God’s intention for humanity.”
“We can’t say, ‘Lord we just want happy times and no pain, because we’d be removing all the elements that cause us to grow. We grow through crisis,” Bernard pointed out. “Bible says, ‘Every branch in me that bears fruit, I will purge it.’ To purge is to cut away those things that are unproductive so that the things that bear fruit can grow.”
“When I was here with you that Tuesday night in 2013, I drew a distinction between the Colossian church and the Philippian church,” Bernard reminded his audience. “Two ministries under the leadership of Paul, but two very distinct lenses through which they saw Jesus.”
The Colossians saw Jesus as a powerful leader: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” (Col 1:15-18). The Philippians, on the other hand, saw Jesus as the Lamb: “Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil 1:5-8)
Bernard reminded the leaders: “Your image of Jesus will determine your relationship with Jesus Christ and it will determine the image of yourself in relation to Jesus Christ. And you’ll live out your Christian life based upon that image that you have.
“I want to reflect because the lens is critical, the lens through which you understand circumstances and situations. After Jacob had that experience, how he judged what was going around him changed dramatically. He no longer saw it one-dimensionally. He saw it two-dimensionally. He saw the natural and he also understood there’s a spiritual side to what’s going on in the natural. I will say for every spiritual activity there’s a natural manifestation, a natural expression.
“All the circumstances and situations you’ve been through is your history. You don’t pick and choose history, but history happens. And it happens when social forces, political forces, spiritual forces effect changes in the world, in a society, in a community, in a church. We went through certain crises in Christian Cultural Center and grew out of it in incredible ways. I didn’t understand that when we were going through crisis and I asked, ‘Lord, what’s going on here?’ And you start looking at your prayer life and everything you’re doing, as though that has something to do with circumstances and situations that come into your life. We all know, you can pray and something bad can happen. But we have a different awareness that there are forces around us affecting our lives, our world. That’s where the Colossians image versus the Philippians image comes in: it’s not either-or. It’s both.”
Bernard reminded his audience that in the Book of Philippians, they saw Jesus as a humble servant. “He became subject to the powers—social and political institutions. Remember when Peter thought he was going to help Jesus out and pulled out his sword? Jesus told him, ‘Put away the sword. Don’t you know that I can right now call to my Father and He would send a legion of angels and wipe out this little regiment? Don’t see that I’m helpless or powerless. I’ve got an army that would put the Roman army to shame. I’m here to, as part of the plan, subject myself to the political situations that are in power.’
“So the scribes, Pharisees, the Herodians—people who hated each other—got together to put Jesus away and destroy all He was doing. But He said ‘Look, if I engage my power when I purposely came to subject myself to the power, how will the plan play out? How will the things God intends to work through this, happen? I’m going against the bigger picture.’
“So Jesus operated and functioned in awareness that this was part of something much bigger much greater. We operate as believers, part of something much greater than ourselves. And City Harvest, you are part of something much bigger than you realize.”
The advisory chairman brought the congregation back to the key message that he has preached since he first came to the church: Christ in Culture as he calls it, or the Cultural Mandate, as CHC calls it.
“When Pastor Kong [Hee] came to a Christian men’s network I was speaking at in May 1, 1988, after the meeting he said to me, ‘We gotta talk! You’re saying things I’ve been feeling in the spirit but don’t know how to articulate.’ Since then, we’ve taken this 17-year-old journey: me giving the structure, systematizing while he went out there practicing.
“So we’re in a very prophetic time, especially in Asia, especially for you as City Harvest Church. And you’ll see this bear out in the next five to 10 years. God handles the schedule. He does it in the right timing and through the right process.”
Dr AR Bernard returns to CHC May 23 and 24, 2015. Read our interview with him here.
Christ In Culture: An Update
“In October 2014, I was invited by Bishop Dale Bronner. He asked me to teach Christ in Culture—the message is exploding in impact and influence. It was from 1985 to 1989 that I studied the concept. I started teaching it from 1989 to 1999. When we moved in 2000 to our new campus, within 10 years we grew from 683 to 11,000, and to 37,000 in the next 15 years.
“My colleagues in ministry challenged me on [the message]. They thought when you build relationships with ‘the world’ you would be subject to compromise. So they attacked me, criticized me, I ignored them and kept building that ministry on that framework, and that framework continued to grow, from 1989 to the present.
“And now I’m being called upon to teach it. I’ve seen it applied, I’ve seen the successes. I’ve seen it enough to understand it on a deeper level. I’m working on a book now because I didn’t want to write a book that I might have to write another book to correct the first book that I wrote. I’m going to wait till I really get a handle on it. It’s being written as a text book to the lay person and the academic can appreciate it.
“The Christ in Culture went through phases. Some caught it and tried to run with it, and the next thing you knew, all the books started coming out. But I waited for the whole revelation—this is part of my legacy.
“I built relationships with political officials, people from every industry, every walk of life. They saw me do that without compromising my convictions and without becoming a sinner. Some people feel that you’re going to catch some measles or disease that would be incurable. When the disciples asked Jesus, Do we pull up the tare that’s growing with the wheat? Jesus said no, let them grow together. He had to have enough confidence in the wheat and the incorruptible seed of the wheat.
“Whenever you’re pioneering something new, people don’t embrace it straight away—it has to go through testing and trial. Something that comes from God should be tested, because the test simply proves it’s from God. It’s not about the storm—everybody goes through the storm—it’s about who’s standing after the storm is over. Then you know it’s built on the Rock.”