At the first weekend services after the verdict of the appeal by Kong Hee and the five was released, City Harvest Church’s Advisory Pastor Phil Pringle encouraged the congregation to stand firm in faith.
From the start of the service right up to the sharing of the Word, the atmosphere at City Harvest Church was solemn.
The weekend of Apr 8 and 9 marked what advisory pastor Phil Pringle described as “the most difficult weekend in CHC’s church history”. Its senior pastor, Kong Hee and five others had received the verdict for their appeal the Friday prior, on April 7. While their sentences were reduced, their conviction was upheld. (Read the verdict story here)
After worship, executive pastor Aries Zulkanian took to the stage and read out the church’s official statement. He thanked the churchgoers saying, “We are grateful to God for all of you at church. Your faithfulness has given the six [accused] and the leadership strength. Let us continue to support and pray for the six and their families as they go through this difficult time.”
The congregation gave a standing ovation as Kong went on stage, honoring their pastor with a show of support. Isaac Ong, 25, a student, explained that it was to “show that we are still standing strong together, come what may.”
Kong was somber as he addressed the church. “These past seven years have been a challenging time for all of us. Today might be one of the last times I can address you in this way for a long, long time. I can never fully express how thankful I am for all of you—for your prayers and fasting, for your love and support for me and the team.”
“The verdict was not exactly what we prayed for, but Sun and I are very grateful. I’ve always said: if Sun, Dayan and my family are okay, if the church is okay, then I am okay. We serve a God who is always good, and we know that He works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.”
“One of the many lessons that I’ve learned from this is the need to pause and pray more over every decision. From 2001 to 2009, the church was in constant growth and acceleration. During those times, as your leader, I should’ve slowed down, paused, waited awhile, and prayed even more – but I didn’t. And because of this, Pastor is deeply sorry. If I have caused you to stumble in your faith or hurt you in any way—especially the team, the staff and your families—Pastor is deeply sorry, and I ask for your forgiveness.
“I am so very proud of you all—pastors and leaders—you have held the church together so well. Please remember that this was not a trial of your commitment or your calling [as a leader in church]. In CHC 2.0, the church has put in place good corporate governance to ensure that what happened in the past will not happen in the future.”
“I pray that God will bring healing to all of you, and that you stay strong in the Spirit. Continue to love God wholeheartedly and love people fervently. Keep on finding a hurt and healing it, finding a need and meeting it. Pastor loves you very very deeply. Once again, I am so very sorry. Please, forgive me. church: I am sorry.”
There was nary a dry eye as Kong asked the congregation to continue praying for him and the other five accused, as well as for their families. “It broke my heart to see Pastor Kong apologizing, and to know that the case has torn apart so many relationships in these seven years. But I am really touched by his courage and his honesty, and I stand by the integrity of my leaders,” said Angeline Liu, 34, a housewife.
Turning the attention to Easter, Kong proceeded to pray for those invited for the Easter service. “These are not just names,” he reminded the congregation, referring to the names on the Easter pledge cards, “but each name represents a soul that Jesus Christ has died to save.”
GOD WITH US
Pringle, who has been a faithful friend to Kong and to CHC flew in specially to deliver a word of encouragement. He reminded the church that no matter what they are going through, God is still right there beside them.
Opening his message, he said, “City Harvest, you are absolutely amazing. Your pastor and his wife are, to me, heroes of faith. When the history books are written, they will fill many pages. I’m a better man because of you, and my church is a better church because of you. To hear your prayers, to feel your joy and to experience your praise and worship has had a great impact on us.”
Pringle reminded the congregation of the importance of praise. Jesus ought to be the center of the believer’s praise, he explained. “Jesus became Man so that you and I could also rise with Him—there is a Man in Heaven occupying a position so that one day, you and I can occupy that position also. He will forever bear on His body the price of our eternal redemption. He became Man for us, and forever became a sacrifice for our eternal life. That is why our praise for him should not be for a moment, but should be forever.”
Preaching from Psalms 42, Pringle noted that the psalmist had nine big questions; questions that are not easy to answer, that have no reasonable or logical answer. The only answer to these questions that the psalmist revealed, Pringle pointed out, was the Presence of God.
Reading the first verse from Psalm 42, Pringle explained that the thirst of the deer for water was like the thirst the psalmist had for God’s presence. Both Moses and David had ardently desired the Lord’s presence. Moses desired this more than he desired entering the promised land (Exodus 33) and David, after he had made some terrible mistakes, prayed that the Lord would “not cast [him] from [His] presence or take [His] Holy Spirit from [him]” (Psalms 51).
Pringle recalled, “I became addicted to the presence of God early in my Christian life. I was out in the foothills of the Southern Alps in New Zealand—I had rented a cabin there—and I went looking for God. I started yelling to the mountains, ‘God, are you there?’ and looking behind bushes and under rocks. I know that’s a little unusual but, you know what? Suddenly, He was there!”
“At the time, I had never met Him before. I’d felt His Presence and prayed to Him, but not like this. I didn’t know what to do, so I started to whistle and then I [made small talk]. After awhile I didn’t know what else to do so I just stood there, lingering. I thought it was just five minutes but an hour had gone by. I learned that prayer was about His presence, about lingering in the presence of God.”
Continuing, Pringle explained that despite the psalmist’s desire for God, his mind was clouded with depression, and that hindered his ability to feel God’s presence. Many of the psalms are joyful, but many more are about God’s presence in difficult times. Jesus didn’t come to promise believers a great time; in fact, He promised believers a cross on their shoulders, tribulations and perplexing difficulties.
It was these sorts of perplexing questions that bothered the psalmist: “Where is God? Why have You forgotten me?” These questions might have come from his friends, his family, and his own mind. Many times these questions have no answer. In times like this, Pringle said, the presence of God is the only answer, not because it brings a solution, but because it comforts the soul and brings peace and quiet that cannot be disturbed.
“Do not think that God only lives in Heaven,” said Pringle. “David asked, ‘Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your Presence? … Even if I make my bed in hell, you are there.’ God is able to permeate even the deepest darkest moments when you cannot find a solution.
“Sometimes, even God doesn’t supply us with answers. He has left many things in the Scriptures that He calls‘mysteries’. These aren’t meant to be understood, but are left that so that we keep going in the gear called ‘trust’.”
Having been a pastor for nearly 50 years, Pringle recalled some difficult moments he has faced. “What do you say to parents of children who have taken their own lives? There’s no answer. There are perplexing things that are seemingly senseless. People ask, ‘Where is God? Where was God when this happened? I’ve been so good, why has something bad happened?’ These are perplexing questions that all of us have in our Christian walk. We don’t have the answer but we need to change gears and move in ‘Trust.’ God is a good God, and we can trust Him. He knows that we can make it through the valleys in our lives.”
“Where is God in our difficulties? He was right there—right there in the furnace with the three boys (Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego), right there in Sarah’s womb, right there with Mary. When we say ‘Jesus is the answer’ we don’t mean that He will provide an explanation, we mean that He is the answer. God promised us in Hebrews 13:5 that He will never leave us nor forsake us!”
Pringle encouraged the congregation to be honest with God—there is no need to put up a strong front with Him. This gives God an opportunity to speak directly and honestly to us.
“Even Jesus on the cross asked, ‘Father, why have you forsaken me?’ But, we know that the Holy Spirit was there with Him. Three days later, the Holy Spirit resurrected that decomposing body and took it out of the tomb so that you and I could have eternal life!”
In verse five of Psalm 42, it says, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him…” Pringle explained that hope is the anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19). “We need to put our hope in the presence of God. He is the God of hope, and when you are in His presence, hope starts to build up in you. Even if your head is in depression, he can fill it with visions and dreams for the future. It may be difficult to get hope, but when I plunge that anchor into the presence of God I know it will hold me!”
Psalm 42:7 reads, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” Pringle described how a parent knows when a child is genuinely crying or if it “isn’t a real cry.”
“You know when it’s real: it’s a cry that comes from a deeper level and touches you on the inside,” declared Pringle. In times of trouble, he continued, “the depth of the cry in my heart reaches deep into His heart, deeper than all our normal prayers, and He will draw near.
“In 100 yards of laughter you might learn nothing, but in one yard of pain, you’ll learn all that Jesus needs to teach you.”
Concluding, Pringle encouraged the congregation to praise instead of complain, and to fill the gap in unanswered questions with worship and to let Jesus be the solution to their pain. “There are many moments where there will be mysteries. Every year, we’d have to bury someone that we prayed for; we’d have to help someone financially who had been tithing and praying. I don’t have an answer or a theory or information that will help them understand.
“In those times, we need to have praise in our heart and hope in the presence of God.”