This past weekend Pastor Bobby Chaw showed how the Holy Spirit has always loved man from the Old Testament to the New.
The services on March 19 and 20, 2022 marked a significant milestone for City Harvest Church: it was the first time since the COVID pandemic began that CHC members could walk into the main auditorium at Suntec Singapore and sit freely next to one another. The latest government guidelines allow for some normalcy to resume for churches.
After two years of online services and limited seating plus safe distancing measures, it felt strange to attendees that they no longer had to queue to verify their electronic tickets and they could walk right into the hall through any door. The hall can now house up to 2,000 (at the allowed 50 percent capacity) and last weekend, the rows were filled with groups of varying sizes—there is now no need to keep to groups of five. Masked churchgoers were seen happily chatting and interacting with one another before service began.
“It felt really foreign and yet familiar to me,” says Brian Kang, 22, a volunteer with City News. “While I did attend church regularly even when restrictions were in place, it feels different to be able to come before God together as a congregation of 2,000. It feels like the pre-COVID days when I could sense the presence of God permeating through the entire service.”
“It’s nostalgic and heart-warming for people to gather together in God’s presence— it’s been two years since we’ve held a large service,” said Tan Siling, 31, a quality officer. “However, as this is the first service with the new arrangement, it is a little messy, particularly when we were queuing. But I like that I can now sit with familiar people as there is no fixed seating.”
THE HOLY SPIRIT WAS PRESENT THROUGHOUT HISTORY
“We live in turbulent times,” said Bobby Chaw, CHC’s executive pastor as he began his sermon. “Our world is rife with pandemics, wars and economic crises. But yet, you often find that the worst conflict of all happens in our soul.”
Philippians 4:5-7 is a promise that assures Christians of the “peace of God”, even when they face inner turmoil. Pastor Bobby highlighted that peace comes when “the Lord is near” (Phil 4:5). “In His presence, there is peace and rest from every turmoil,” the pastor preached.
God’s personal presence is experienced through the Holy Spirit. Being created in God’s likeness, human beings desire personal connection. However, when Adam fell, mankind lost their relationship with God and stopped recognising His presence.
“Today, I want to bring you on a journey to discover this loving presence of God,” Pastor Bobby said. Even after Adam and Eve sinned against God, they still “heard the sound of God walking in the garden” (Gen 3:8). God still wanted to walk with them.
Yet Adam and Eve were afraid, and they hid from Him. Since that moment, mankind has been moving further and further from God, Pastor Bobby extrapolated. “But God never left! He was always walking in the garden of human history, reaching out to them, restoring His presence with them.”
A recurring theme in the Old Testament was God’s presence with His people, the most striking of which was in the Tabernacle and Temple. It began when God first appeared to Moses in the burning bush. He instructed Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt to worship God on Mount Sinai. The presence of God descended when the Israelites reached the bottom of the mountain but only Moses could ascend the mountain. However, God already had a plan to move His presence to a portable tent so that He could always be near His people.
Yet, the Israelites rebelled and turned to idol worship. As such, God told Moses that His presence would no longer go with them. Moses pleaded with the Lord saying that if His presence did not go with them, others will not be able to distinguish them as His people (Ex 33:15-16).
“Notice, it is God’s presence with us that distinguish us as His people—not our success, achievements or talent,” Pastor Bobby explained. “Church, in all your pursuits, pursue God.”
Pastor Bobby described how, in Exodus, God descended in a cloud when He heard Moses’ pleading and stood with him, declaring His loving-kindness. Even when the people were disobedient, God remained compassionate. At this juncture, Pastor Bobby encouraged those who feel that they have failed God that God is always merciful and gracious. “Don’t be afraid, because God loves you,” he reassured.
The Israelites journeyed towards the Promised Land, led by the presence of God. After moving around in a tent for many years, God’s presence was finally established in Solomon’s Temple. During the temple dedication, trumpeters and musicians praised and worshipped God, and the Temple was filled with a cloud of glory (2 Chron 5). It was so thick that the priests could not perform their services. Since then, the Temple became the focal point of the Israelites’ existence.
Unfortunately, Israel rebelled against God again. In 587BC, the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. The glory of God departed, and the people of Israel went into exile. Still, God longed to be near His people, so He raised up prophets who acted as His mouthpiece, bringing the Israelites a vision of His nearness (Eze 37). In Malachi 3, God told them that He is near, and He would “suddenly come to His temple”.
At the beginning of the New Testament, Jesus came and dwelt among His people. But after His ascension to Heaven, His disciples were perplexed: Had the glory and presence of God departed from them once again?
Jesus reassured them that He would not leave them orphaned (Jn 14). Sure enough, on the day of Pentecost, as the disciples were worshipping, a sound from Heaven came as a mighty, rushing wind and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. This was the fulfilment of Malachi 3—the presence of God had suddenly come to His temple.
This temple, the pastor explained, refers to believers. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:15 “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?”
“The Holy Spirit is near. He has never left,” Pastor Bobby established. “In fact, the personal presence of God watching over Israel all along was the Holy Spirit.” Isaiah 63:9 (MSG) reveals that in the Israelites’ distress, God did not simply send someone to help them. He was personally there with His people through the Holy Spirit (V10).
The Holy Spirit had been with the people all through the Bible: He was the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire, the glory that filled the Temple. “And now, the same Holy Spirit from days of old has come to abide in you and me,” Pastor Bobby revealed.
To illustrate this, the pastor shared how he and his wife, Cindy watched over their son, Ryan, on the first day he had to take the public bus home by himself. Prior to that day, they had showed Ryan what to do. On Ryan’s first independent journey home, Pastor Bobby and Cindy took leave from work and followed their son in their car, watching him from afar at every juncture on his journey to ensure that he was safe. They gave him a phone and told him not to worry, but to call if he got lost.
“That’s how the Holy Spirit is to us,” the pastor explained. “He is always closely guiding you, quietly watching you, patiently walking with you. He will not leave just because you’re weak or stubborn. The Holy Spirit loves you.”
HOW DO WE EXPERIENCE THE HOLY SPIRIT?
The Holy Spirit loves His people with a deep love: He laughs when they laugh, He weeps when they weep. Pastor Bobby encouraged the congregation therefore to make a commitment to not grieve the Holy Spirit. He taught that to experience the Holy Spirit, believers can do three things: Thanksgiving, praise and worship. This is akin to the dedication of Solomon’s Temple where the trumpeters and musicians praised, gave thanks and worshipped God, at which the Temple filled with His presence.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 reminds Christians to give thanks in everything. While one does not thank God for the evil in the world, one ought to thank God in every situation for who He is. Pastor Bobby warned against letting envy, anger or grumbling rob them of their thanksgiving. Psalms 103:2 is a reminder for believers not to forget “all His benefits”. If God has provided for His people in the past, He will continue to do so because of His abounding love for mankind.
“Notice that whenever praises are offered, God’s personal presence shows up,” the pastor declared, reading Psalms 22:3 (AMP). He went on to urge the church not to let their problems rob them of their praises to God because praising God is the cure to depression (Isa 61:3). The Hebrew word for praise is halal, where the word “hallelujah” is derived. It entails a celebration that is deafeningly loud. This indicates that praise has a voice. While the world is full of negative voices, Pastor Bobby encouraged the church to “raise a Hallelujah”.
“We must learn to revere and adore the Holy Spirit in worship because the Holy Spirit is God,” Pastor Bobby taught, “Worship the Holy Spirit as much as you would worship the Father and the Son!”
In Greek, worship is the word proskuneo, which means to prostrate oneself in complete surrender, spirit, soul and body. “Because worship demands presence. Being present requires a focused engagement of every aspect of your being,” the pastor explained. The world today has lured people into believing that they are able to multitask effectively. The reality is when one multitasks, one is not being fully present. To “be still” in Psalms 46:10 means, “to cease”. This demands an intentional abandonment of all else to be fully present.
Pastor Bobby encouraged the congregation to start showing up for physical service whenever possible. While there is online streaming, the home is replete with distractions that can take away a person’s focus on God.
In closing, Pastor Bobby shared that at 16, he attended his first cell group meeting. While he did not understand what the preacher was saying, he felt another Person enter the room as they worshipped. That day, he invited Jesus into his life.
“Something captured my heart that day. I was deeply attracted by His Presence,” Pastor Bobby recalled. Even while he was in school, his mind continued to remain fixated on that encounter. Every day, Pastor Bobby would worship and pray for an hour, seeking and waiting for a personal encounter with God. “The Holy Spirit has become my lifelong pursuit,” Pastor Bobby shared with the congregation. Even when his family went bankrupt, he found a divine peace that transcended his circumstances.
At the end of the service, Pastor Bobby encouraged the church to be present to the Holy Spirit in their lives because He loves them and is with them always.