Financing Highways and Byways
Travelling the North-South highway through Peninsula Malaysia never fails to bring to mind the work behind the issuance of the bonds that financed the construction of the roads (preceding the further issuance, earlier this year, of PLUS Berhad’s RM30.6 billion bonds – the world’s largest sukuk to-date). The financial cost of building that sheer length of paved roads, of the equipment and manpower needed to cut through hills etc. was substantial.
After being fed more pork at Yut Kee Restaurant (Jalan Dang Wangi, Kuala Lumpur) than i have ever eaten in one sitting, even while bracing for a stint in the Middle East (but what good pork – oily roti babi and Hainanese pork chop with a splash of Lea & Perrins (the special weekend roast pork had disappeared within the hour of its emergence from the kitchen), with old skool kaya and toast (though not butter cake) for dessert, washed down with iced lime tea and strong iced coffee),
headed to St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral, Kuala Lumpur, just in time for the combined service celebrating the feast-day (how quaint!) of the builder of a more important highway, John the Baptist. When asked by the Pharisees to explain himself, John B said:
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’, as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1:23)
Several hundred years before, the prophet Isaiah prophesised:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:1-5)
It was by preaching the coming of Jesus (though he had yet to know him by name) and urging repentance for the forgiveness of sins that John the B prepared the way for Jesus’ first arrival.
So Jesus wasn’t a self-proclaimed messiah, just another self-appointed guru out to trick the gullible. John the Baptist had already heralded his coming. As did many prophets of old. Andrew Cheah reminded the congregation that this Jesus was the descendant God promised to King David (2 Samuel 7) who would reign forever. He was a king but in a way that the world did not expect and the world still does not understand – a king that was the servant of all who came to die for our sins and be pierced for our transgressions so that we might be forgiven (Isaiah 53:5). The historical fact of his resurrection from the dead proved that his claims were true, and therefore, there is the hope of being restored to right relationship with God if we turn away from rebelling against God (= “sin”) and believe that Jesus’ death is effective payment for our crimes.
And if Jesus is trustworthy, then what he has promised will also come to pass: that he will come again to judge the living and the dead and to inaugurate the start of a new creation. And we prepare for his coming by urging repentance so that people can have their sins forgiven before the offer is revoked. We do so using words, not acts of kindness or charity because nice deeds, though nice, articulate no warning to repent and explain nothing about the coming judgement.
(Restoran Yit Sieang – yong tau foo noodles, char kuey teow, roasted pork rice, and Mr. Chiam Pisang Goreng/Fried Fritters cart outside – the fried pisang raja and kuih bakul (sweet sticky nian gao sandwiched between two slices of sweet potato) were very good reasons to oil the arteries)
And highway construction and maintenance continued to be the subject of two days’ discussion. Different terrain in different countries required different skills and personalities: some worked brilliantly and very patiently within existing structures, others felt the need to hack through a granite hill with a teaspoon; both anxious to prepare the way for Jesus’ return…and in need of resources.
An attempt at summarising the past week’s discussion on this matter: it is common to think of tithing 10% as a form of church taxation – painful, so we try to get away with giving as little as possible, just enough to please the authorities and God (with an eye out for loopholes and exceptions), yesyes to pay salaries and keep things running. Perhaps the more accurate of perceiving one’s resources is this (very preliminary thoughts):
- if God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, all our time, energy, skills, money come from God. In fact, our very breath and continual life on earth is from him;
- if this is so and we know that God’s will is to have people believe in his Son and be saved, then the proper stewardship of all God-given resources would necessarily require that we plan to give to God’s work once we get our salaries and not scrounge around for loose change at the end of the month (see The Urban Pastor’s useful post on this);
- how much to give? God does not stipulate any percentage to be “tithed”. But like the girl at the Easter Party who was hoarding Bunny Money, not realising it would be worthless after the party, so it would be foolish to be hoarding resources for this world if all these resources will be useless in the new creation;
- whom do we give to? Generally, if the aim is to herald the kingdom of God, then whoever is preaching the God’s gospel. So we are to pay pastors and other full-time workers as we would feed the ox and cattle that plow or a labourer who works the field (1 Corinthians 9:3-11, 1 Timothy 5:15-18). And, like the early church, we are to feed overseas missionaries so they can be freed to do God’s work wherever they are;
- gospel generosity – quite a lot of talk was about gospel generosity – giving to (and of) those whom one would not directly serve one’s community: not hoarding well-qualified gifted people but sending them out into the world so they would be a blessing to the universal church, allowing people on the local church payroll time to do gospel work outside the local church’s purview etc.
Now this is what one does in response to God, knowing that one day, he will call us to account for how we have spent all he has given us. And since a Christian’s faith isn’t blind, so his/her giving should not be naive either. And I suspect a Christian’s understanding of criminal breach of trust and mismanagement and misuse of funds would be different from what Kong Hee and four other leaders of City Harvest Church are being charged with under the Charities Act:
- first, God isn’t looking for a fan club; he doesn’t need people to be attracted by the wealth of the church (assuming the general understanding of what CHC’s prosperity gospel was about is correct). Even if such money was legitimately earned, Jesus already warns his disciples that money is a very attractive idol: “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (The Rich Ruler, Luke 18:24-25). God alone rightly deserves to be the sole object of people’s worship and anything else that attracts worship from people is a false god. And He’s attractive enough, thank you, without anyone having to trick people into believing in him;
- second, if indeed church-goers monies (including monies from allegedly forced sales of Sun Ho’s CDs in CHC (what music did she make? Michelle has a nice guide here) funded their S$27,700 a month mansion in Hollywood Hills, and Kong Hee’s supposed weekly flights between Singapore and LA, and their S$9.3 million penthouse in Sentosa Cove, then it is difficult to see how this is using God’s money to do God’s urgent work in warning people to repent before the coming judgement. God wants people to see the depravity of their own sin, how hopeless they are at acting rightly before him; he’s wanting people to be saved from his coming wrath;
- finally, having lavish lifestyle funded by money from the congregation, then preaching that this same prosperity will come to all who believe in God (and give generously to the church) doesn’t so much prove the truth of the prosperity gospel as the moral of The Story of the Stone Soup (the variation that has the villagers buying the proffered magic stone with all their wealth).
*cute fondant figure-topped cupcakes from Delectable by Su (Midvalley Mall).