As soon as the appointment of the new Diocesan Bishop of the Diocese of Sabah was officially announced sometime in February this year, I received numerous calls and text messages congratulating me as well as asking me of my feelings and plans for the Diocese. While thanking and appreciating their kind congratulatory messages, I told them honestly that there were no extraordinary feelings in my heart, neither have I got plans for the Diocese. What mattered to me the most at that point of time was the need for me to be still before the Lord and to listen to Him. It was not about my (human) plans for the Diocese that mattered, rather God’s intended plan and purpose that He wanted me to fulfill during the season of my leadership in the Diocese. So my visit to the Holy Land towards the end of March this year was very timely. While in the Holy Land, the Lord impressed upon my heart as I was praying upon these five words: SHEPHERD, LOVE, HUMILITY, CROSS, CROWN.
It was a noticeable fact that under the leadership of my immediate predecessor, our Diocese had recorded tremendous growth numerically as well as financially; especially in the interior churches, where more man-power were added, more churches were planted both in Sabah and outside of Sabah; church-owned private schools were established, and we were actively involved in community works through the Diocesan Welfare and Relief Board both in Sabah as well as outside of Sabah.
Unfortunately, in spite of the growth mentioned above, as a Diocese we went through a very hard, painful and damaging journey for the past three or four years; a journey I believe we created ourselves. As I reflected on the life and ministry of the Diocese for the past few years, the Lord brought into my mind the church of Ephesus in the book of Revelation in which the Lord had this to say:
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from it place.
It cannot be denied that we have been very zealous and active in doing the work of the Lord to achieve a certain level of growth in the Diocese. So much more emphasis was placed on the doing (performance and productivity) rather than the being. No doubt we are to perform and not to be lazy. However our performance must be built on a solid foundation, and Jesus is our foundation. The apostle Paul writing to the Corinthian Church said, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11). This leads me to the words of Jesus in Matthew 4:19 “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” Let me share with you what Jesus’ call means to me.
First, it is a call to personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. Christianity is not merely about religion, rather it is about our personal relationship with the Creator, Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is therefore imperative for us to come to Jesus in faith and accept Him as Lord and Saviour, and to walk with Him closely each day. It is possible to be very zealous and active doing the work of the Lord yet neglecting our intimacy with the Lord whom we serve. Our personal relationship with the Lord must be based on and motivated by our love for Him. In John chapter 15, we read that Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches. Apart from Him we cannot bear much fruit. We are to remain in Him. It is important, therefore, to develop a discipline of spending qualitative time with the Lord each day through prayers and meditation of His word.
Second, it is a call to be a disciple. A disciple is someone who learns. Jesus called His twelve disciples so that they could learn from Him by observing His life, listening to His teachings, watching Him performing His ministry and obeying Him. Likewise Jesus calls us to follow Him so that we not only establish personal relationship with Him but also to learn from Him. As disciples, it is imperative for us to be diligent in the study, observance and teaching of the Word of God, just like Ezra (Ezra 7:10).
Third, it is a call to transformation. First, this transformation deals with the change of the heart, the inner being of a person (character) whereby we become more and more like Jesus each day in our thoughts, emotions, words and deeds. Second, it deals with the transformation of our perception about vocation. Not all are called to be priests, pastors and evangelists. Some are called to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, teachers, etc. Whatever professions the Lord has put us into, if our perception about vocation is transformed, we will live out our Christian life and witness to fulfill our common vocation assigned by Jesus, that is to ‘fish for people.’
As a new Diocesan Bishop, I wish to call all clergy, pastors, evangelists, local leaders and members of our respective churches throughout the Diocese to be reminded afresh of Jesus’ call, “Come, follow me” as we seek to move forward to fulfill God’s intended plan and purpose for our Diocese in this new season of leadership.