I hope you know by now that the theme for the coming church retreat is ‘Being Authentic’. So you may ask: why this theme and what are we expecting to hear from the speaker that we should sign up early and save us $20 per person? Well, I am not writing to answer these questions but to share how ‘authentic’ became a word of interest to me as I pondered its meaning over the new year. Now what is so interesting about the word? When we say that the dollar note is authentic, we mean that it is not a fake and is therefore legal tender for its printed value. When we say that the movie on the life of Jesus is authentic, we mean that the script adhere to records in the Bible and can therefore be used as an evangelistic tool for the gospel. In my engineering days, the word means conformity, i.e. the degree in which a signal retains its original form after transmission. I learn recently that it is also used in philosophy to reflect faithfulness to one’s value when dealing with external challenges. And I suppose we can continue to give illustrations on how it is used in other areas. So what does it mean when used in the Christian context? I guess it encompasses elements of all the above illustrations. So we say that he is authentic because he is a true believer and not someone faking as one in order to marry a Christian girl. It is about one’s identity in Christ. Or he is authentic because his life is a living testimony that adheres to the teachings of the Lord Jesus and he remains steadfast in faith even when going through difficult trials and tribulations. So it is about one’s sanctification in the Spirit. Or he is authentic because he remains true to his characters regardless of external circumstances and so what you see is what you get. It means he does not wear a mask or hide his failures.
So what is so interesting about being authentic? Well, it has to do with that wearing of mask or to be more accurate, not wearing one. And it is interesting to me because I am not quite sure if we can handle the truth should we remove the masks that we wear consciously or subconsciously. Well, try this for an illustration. As a single, I was often asked how I deal with sexual urge. In the past, my answer depends on who asked the question and that’s clearly not being authentic at all. So how should I answer if I were to be truly authentic and more so now that I am a pastor? What if my answer stumble you? Would it cause me my ‘job’ and credibility as a result? So you get what I am trying to say? Can we really handle the truth or should we just continue wearing our variety of masks for the different occasions in church, office and home? You may feel that we should keep personal matters private and share it only with close friends or our mentor. We cannot expect to be fully authentic or transparent before everyone else in church or there would be gossips and criticisms going around and this is not healthy. You have a valid point and it would have been fine with me if ‘being authentic’ is the theme for some kind of mentoring scheme. But it is our church retreat theme and that’s what makes it interesting to me. To understand why this is so, allow me to share my first church camp encounter that took place somewhere in an island off Malacca in the year 1994.
I was relatively new to True Way then, joining the church only in the year 1992 and having to miss the camp the following year as I followed the choir on a trip to Malaysia. So imagined my joy and anticipation as I finally embarked on my first expedition with fellow brothers and sisters to a camp that was about getting Back to Basics. And true to the camp theme, it was really getting back to basics in a way that we had not prepared for, i.e. other than the camp messages. We were stuck at the jetty for an hour to two, waiting under the hot sun for the tide to rise so that the boats could bring us to the island. Upon reaching the camp site, we were horrified to see flies greeting us and terrified to find them lying dead on dining tables from breakfast to dinner. Many had cockroaches crawling in their rooms while some had strange water coming out of bathroom taps. Water became sacred commodity and the more children cried for decent water, the louder parents complained to Moses (i.e. the camp commandant). To cut it short, we planned for a Back to Basics adventure, prayed for it and the Lord graciously gave us one that I have not forgotten to this day. You are forgiven for thinking that I am still grimacing over it here. But far from it, I actually treasure the precious time spent with our Lord in the field or our own wilderness. It was more effective than many sermons put together. And one of the lessons I brought back with me as a young believer then was simple: God has his unique sense of humour! So now you see why this year theme is turning out to be interesting for me. For I wonder if the Lord will graciously give us another authentic encounter again. And do we want to miss the opportunity to be mould and changed by God? I wouldn’t want to.
Now, having said all these things, I also want to suggest that it is a good theme from a biblical perspective. Why? Because the Bible is probably the one and only book that is truly authentic in the way it depicts people for who they really were, including God. So many are stumbled to find a God who commanded Israel to wipe out men, women, children, slaves and what have we. And so we find David going not only after God’s own heart but somebody’s wife as well. The Bible is not shy or shameful to talk about these things, listing both the good and bad things of patriarchs and saints and yet calling them heroes of faith. So we can and should learn to be authentic if and when our motive is to allow the Spirit to transform us to become more like Christ. And I believe that with Rev Edmund Chua as the retreat speaker, we can expect to experience God’s sense of humour again. Who knows? This year may well turn out to be a time for us to be authentic. So see you at Everly!
January 9, 2011