Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Beloved Disciple


I have always being taught that the beloved disciple that Jesus referred to in Jn 13:23 is John, son of Zebedee and writer of the Gospels of John, the Johannine epistles and the book of Revelation.

Ben Witherington in a lecture given last year identified the beloved disciple to be…. Lazarus!

It was to Lazarus, his beloved disciple that Jesus entrusted the care of his mother when he hung on the cross.

In addition, Witherington thinks that Lazarus was the son of Simon the Leper and Lazarus himself died of leprosy. When Jesus resurrected Lazarus, he also cured him of his leprosy. That will make Mary, Martha and Lazarus lepers as they are of the household of Simon the Leper. Read more here

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Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis



The Indiana Jones trilogy is among one of my all time favourite movies. Harrison Ford will forever imprint in my mind an idealistic adventurous archaecologist named Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. (Indiana is the name of his dog).

Of the three movies in the trilogy, the one I love the most is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Sean Connery, another of my favourite actor, appeared as Henry Jones, Sr. I must have watched it at least 10 times. I have the DVD so I will be watching it again. The chemistry between the two were fantastic. Rumours had it that a fourth Indiana Jones movie is in the works.

After the movies, there was a number of novels and graphic comics published. I have read and enjoyed them all. There was also a television series, Young Indiana Jones which I did not like.

There were also a couple of Indiana Jones computer games which I have enjoyed playing.

The best graphic novel is Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis published by Dark Horse Comics in June 1992. It was written by William Messner-Loebs, Dan Barry and Mike Richardson based on the storyline by Hal Barwood and Noah Falstein from Luscasfilm Games.

The graphic novel was well written with non stop action like in the movies. The storyline was predictable with mixture of elements which were similar in a later animated Disney movie about Atlantis.

Atlantis always was a fascination of mine. Did it exist? Did Plato really described it? What was it like? Where is it? Endless questions but no answers. Another mystery to be added to the other mysteries in the Universe.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The State of the Gospel in 2006





The January-February 2007 issue of Mission Frontiers features a report from Jason Mandryk.

Jason Mandryk is the co-author of the sixth edition of Operation World (2001). In September 2006, Jason presented the State of the Gospel in 2006 to the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization's Younger Leaders Gathering.

Here are two key points:


Percentage of the World Unevangelized 2006



Percentage of Growth of Various Religions 2006



The powerpoint of the presentation can be downloaded here. Text here

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Praying in the Labyrinth


All of us adopt different postures when we pray. Some of us prefer to pray kneeling, some prostrate, while others either sit, stand or walk. Prayer walk has become commonplace as we adopt the spiritual warfare teachings.
However contemplative prayer walk is not common. Walking and praying the labyrinth is a structured form of contemplative prayer walk.

The labyrinth has its roots in antiquity. However the Christian Church Fathers and Mothers had adopted it as a prayer form. The labyrinth is like a maze. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth does not have blind ends. One can follow the pathway of a labyrinth easily to the centre and then out again.

There are no fixed rules in how anyone is to pray in the labyrinth. We can imagine walking the labyrinth as a pilgrimage. We move slowly and prayerfully towards the heart of our worship. There we spend as much time as we want in His presence. After that, we retrace our steps slowly back into the world. We can stop as frequently as we want to stop, pray, meditate or read the Scriptures or some spiritual books. People normally stop at bends and curves of the labyrinth. The labyrinth is especially suited for praying the Stations of the Cross at Lent. Those who contemplatively prayer walk the labyrinth found it a profound spiritual experience.

There are many designs of the labyrinth. The most well known is the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France. The Chartres labyrinth is an intrinsic design measuring 12.9 m (42.3 ft) in diameter. It has 11 concentric circuits which leads to a rose petal shaped centre. There are 34 turns as one journey in.











However, we are free to design smaller ones in our gardens or retreat centers. Many other religious traditions also use the labyrinth as a spiritual tool. There are also people interested for health and other reasons.

The labyrinth can be a powerful means for contemplative prayer walk.

Soli deo gloria

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Monday, January 29, 2007

A Fragile Stone


Matthew 16:18, John 1:42


Michael Card and Scott Roley wrote this song after after a long afternoon discussion on who Simon was and what discipleship meant to him. They saw that Simon's new title, "rock" was not meant to signify strength but simply something to build with. Peter will be the first stone to be laid of the holy house Jesus had come to build, of which he is the foundation.


You bore the burden of a name
Along a road that would lead to the
cross
Bold and broken, upside down
A light for the least and the lost


He called you the rock, the foundation
Of a temple formed from God's love
His robe of forgiveness wrapping you up
Meant trusting in Him was enough


His love called you out on the water
And held you when you were alone
For you were the rock that was
Broken by love, forever the fragile stone


His love was the hammer that broke you
By His gentle and powerful hand
The mystery of mercy undid your denials
At last you could finally stand


The door that He opened was freedom
The door that He closed was your fear
Simply to rest in the arms of His love
Made all your doubts disappear
A stone that is dropped in the water
Will vanish and soon disappear
But the waves that move out from the center
In time they will reach everywhere

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Cycle of Light, A Cycle of Life

Do you get the feeling that time is moving faster and faster? Didn’t we just finish Christmas? And now it is coming to the end of January. How do we mark time? We all mark time with the minutes and hours by our watch, and the days by our calendars. Our calendars show us the months. We used to have paper calendars but now they are electronic on our PDA and computers. They even beep to remind us of important appointments. What other ways do we mark time?

We all mark time in various ways: birthdays, anniversaries or cultural festivals. The Old Testament Israelites have their religious festivals. Christians too have a way to mark time: the Christian calendar. We should return to our roots and use the Christian calendar to mark time with Jesus...read more

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Prayer of the Day

Dear Lord, show me your kindness and your gentleness, you who are meek and humble of heart. So often I say to myself, "The Lord loves me," but very often this truth does not enter into the center of my heart. The fact that I get so easily upset because of disappointment, so easily angered because of a slight criticism, and so easily depressed because of slight rejection, shows that your love does not yet fill me. Why, otherwise, would I be so easily thrown off balance? What can people do to me, when I really know that you love me, care for me, protect me, defend me, guide me and support me? What does a small-or even great-failure mean, when I know that you are with me in all my sorrows and turmoil? Yet time and again I have confessed that I have not let your love descend fully from my mind into my heart, and that I have not let my knowing grow into a real, full knowledge that pervades all my being.

In the coming weeks, O Lord, I will be able to see again how much you indeed love me. Let these weeks become an opportunity for me to let go of all my resistances to your love and an occasion for you to call me closer to you.

Amen

Henri Nouwen
Prayers from Genesse

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Secret Message of Jesus


Brian D. McLaren, 2006, The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group)


I must admit I approached this latest book by Brian McLaren with a little apprehension. When the title denotes that the author has a secret message of Jesus Christ, one cannot but think of the many heretic, Gnostics books that hit the bookstores lately-each claiming to have discovered a long lost message of Jesus.

McLaren was writing about Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God. In an attempt to translate ‘kingdom of God’ into contemporary terms, McLaren suggested the following six metaphors:
(1) The dream of God
(2) The revolution of God
(3) The mission of God
(4) The party of God
(5) The network of God
(6) The dance of God

Each of these metaphors has much to offer but personally I feel it does not give the same dimensions as the kingdom of God. The key to the kingdom, was as McLaren puts it, is interactive relationship. Other metaphors offered by Dallas Willard (divine conspiracy) and Tom Sine (mustard seed conspiracy) are also inadequate.

What I read in McLaren me surprised me.

I consider myself as a
brethren
charismatic-brethren
pentecostal
baptist
reformed/presbyterian
missional
catholic (small c)
english educated
malaysian chinese
unfinished
Christian

My understanding of the Kingdom of God is that it is the rule of God in our lives, starting now and extending into eternity, involving all spheres and dimensions of our lives as we follow our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Basically, McLaren said the same thing. What surprised me is that from the way the book was written, it was assumed that other Christians who will be reading his book do not share the same understanding of the kingdom of God as I do. How do these other Christians understand the term, kingdom of God, I wonder? Would I have understood the kingdom of God differently if I am not who I described above. Would it be a secret message then?
soli deo gloria

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Boasting of Our Weaknesses


Commentary: Boasting of our Weaknesses
by Dr Tan Soo Inn

GRACE@WORK MAIL 4/07 [January 26, 2007 Edition]

"'Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord who rules over all." (Zechariah 4:6)



There were those who questioned my spirituality when my first wife died. Word came to me that there were those who were saying that if indeed I was a leader called and empowered by God, I would have been able to have prayed for my wife's healing successfully. (She died of cancer.)

There are those who believe that if you were right with God you would be free from the pains of this life, or, if afflicted, you would be able to get out of them quickly. I suspect that some of Paul's opponents in Corinth thought the same.

They had called Paul's apostolic pedigree into question. These rivals had embraced the values of the world. They valued strength and power and looked down on human weakness.

A famous non-Christian orator of the day said, "the greatest defect in a person is to show his or her humanness, for then a person ceases to be held divine" (David A. de Silva, An Introduction to the New Testament, p.586). With his catalogue of sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-29) Paul's humanity was only too evident.

In response to these rivals writes 2 Corinthians. He makes a number of points we need to hear again.

First he reminds the Corinthians that we live in a fallen world and that brokenness of various kinds are part and parcel of life this side of heaven. It is only in the eschaton that we will trade in this body with all its vulnerability for the perfect, free-of-pain body. (2 Corinthians 5:1-10) The pain of our fallen humanity is a given in this life.

In the meantime God redeems the pains of a fallen world by using them to teach us the deepest lessons. In our pain and helplessness we receive the empowering comfort of God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). It is that same comfort that enables us to minister to others. Here is irony indeed. The very wounds that Paul's opponents used as evidence to question his leadership were the very things that qualified him to minister.

And the toughest circumstances teach the most important lesson --- we mustn't depend on ourselves. We must depend on God alone. And someone like Paul who had experienced God in
such profound ways, who had been used by God so effectively, needed to learn and relearn this lesson. (2 Corinthians 1:9; 12: 1-10)

Christianity is no masochistic faith. We look forward to that day when this earthly life will be swallowed up in glory and pain will be no more. When stricken by a 'thorn in the flesh" Paul asks for it to be removed. We do not pursue pain as an end in itself.

But pain is a given in this fallen world. And a God of the Cross uses pain to enable us to receive His grace and to teach us His ways. He uses the pains of this life to enable us to receive His empowerment.

Therefore Paul does not play the game that his rivals at Corinth are playing. He does not get drawn into a game of spiritual one-upmanship. Instead he continues to show his humanity. He tells them of desperate times when he had give up hope (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). He recounts a thorn in the flesh that brought him considerable pain, a thorn that God chose not to remove (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

Indeed he boasts of his sufferings because he knows that they humble him and put him in a position where he is able to receive divine power. Here indeed is a faithful follower of a Lord who brings life out of death and power out of weakness.

Recently I watched the movie 'Gladiator (2000)' again and I was reminded of how much I had wanted Maximus to have connected with his army so that he could beat the stuffing out of Commodus. Yet the director Ridley Scott, in an echo of the Cross, lets Maximus win by "losing", effecting change through his death rather then through worldly strength and power. I was reminded that my heart remained far from the way of the Cross.

It seems that the more gifted we are, the more we tend to trust in our gifts rather than in the Giver. If a church is big, the more the temptation to say "see how big we are, how rich we are, how much political clout we have. Now we can do great things for God."

The more gifted we are the more we tend to hide our weaknesses and push our strengths. (Check out the websites of our more "successful" churches and organizations.) Yet it is the against he backdrop of our weaknesses that God's grace shines brightest.

If we have been blessed personally or corporately we should be grateful, and be good stewards of our gifts. And be doubly vigilant to ensure that our trust remain firmly rooted in the Giver and not in His gifts.

The world has tried shock and awe. It didn't work during the time of the Romans. It doesn't work today. The life that the world needs comes from the "foolishness" of a Saviour who died and rose again. It comes through those willing to walk the path of the Cross, those willing to allow their weaknesses to be conduits of God's life.

We are not divine. We are only too human. But when we embrace our humanity we allow the Divine to shine through.

"My grace is enough for you for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9 NET)
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Friday, January 26, 2007

Prayer of the Day

Dear Lord, I will remain restless, tense, and dissatisfied until I can be totally at peace in your house. But I am still on the road, still journeying, still tired and weary, and still wondering if I will ever make it to the city on the hill. With Vincent van Gogh, I keep asking your angel, whom I meet on the road, "Does the road go uphill then all the way?" And the answer is, "Yes to the very end." And I ask again: "And will the journey take all day long?" And the answer is, "From morning until night my friend."

So I go on, Lord, tired, often frustrated, irritated, but always hopeful to reach one day the eternal city far away, respondent in the evening sun.

There is no certainty that my life will be any easier in the years ahead, or that my heart will be any calmer. But there is the certainty that you will be waiting for me and will welcome me home when I have persevered in my long journey to your house.

O Lord, give me courage, hope, and confidence.


Amen

Henri Nouwen, Prayers from the Genesse

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Anyone Wants a New Uterus?

A US team of transplant surgeons are planning for a uterus transplant. This procedure, though will be the first in the US had been performed successfully in other parts of the world. The reason for the transplant is that some women will like to experience childbearing but are unable to because of certain reasons. So a uterine transplant will be performed and an embryo produced by IVF inserted into the transplanted uterus. After one or two pregnancies, the uterus will be removed. While there are no moral or ethical issues involved with uterine transplantation, it shows the length some women will go to get pregnant even though adoption is still available as an alternative.

Uterine transplant how joins the ranks of face and hand transplants that are not life saving, like liver, kidney and heart transplants, but for improving quality of life.

Another connected issue are the organ donors. Many organ donors sign up in the hope that their organ save someone’s lives when theirs are over. I wonder what they will think if their organs are used to improve other people’s “quality of life’?

Closely related is the issue of the source of transplant organs. China has finally admitted that it is selling organs from executed condemned prisoners. What is also revealed is the extent of sale of organs and organs trafficking in China. “Transplant Tourism” is becoming common in China. One effect of this is that it deprives a local Chinese from getting a transplant because these “transplant tourist” tend to jump ahead of the very long queue.

We must ensure that the rights of Chinese prisoners are not violated and that local Chinese are not unjustly affected by these “transplant tourists”


Soli deo Gloria

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Subjective Spiritual Experiences

I was thinking about posting about subjective spiritual experiences when the internet Monk beat me to it by posting Thoughts on Spiritual Experiences He wrote on the area of subjective spiritual experiences and even has a case study. I am not complaining. He is such a good writer and quite comprehensive in his coverage of the subject.

Spiritual experiences has always been treated with suspicion by the church. The experiences of Teresa of Avila is one good example. However John Wesley named ‘experience’ as one of his four pillars in building a theological system. The other three pillars are Scripture, Tradition and Reason. This is known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

What I would like to comment on subjective spiritual experience is this statement. Christians will come to me and say, “I am having such a great personal experience with Christ.” And I will go, “Aha…” I mean, there is nothing wrong with having a great personal experience. And with Christ too. Most people will happy accept that statement. Somehow, it makes me uncomfortable.

Shouldn’t one say, “I have a great Christ in my personal experience.” Here the emphasis is on Christ rather than the experience. Maybe it is just me. Somehow I feel that many Christians are more focused on their spiritual experiences than on the Giver of their experience.


Soli deo gloria

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A Life of Faith and Church Practices

In an earlier posting we were enlightened by Craig Dykstra’s explanation of a life of faith in his book Growing in the Life of Faith.

He wrote about the church practices (or what we also called spiritual disciplines) that helps to develop a life of faith. Normally we would think of a life of faith as being an individual enterprise between a person and his or her God. We then build up this life of faith by developing in our lives personalized spiritual disciplines. Dykstra, however, made a bold statement that he thinks it is the practices (spiritual disciplines) of the community of faith or church that builds a life of faith in its individual members.

Some of the practices he mentioned are:
(1) worshipping God together-praising God, giving thanks for God’s creative and redemptive work in the world, hearing God’s word preached, and receiving the sacraments given to us in Christ;
(2) telling the Christian story to one another-reading and hearing the Scriptures and also the stories of the church’s experience throughout its history;
(3) interpreting together the Scriptures and the history of the church’s experience, particularly in relation to their meaning for our own lives in the world;
(4) praying-together and by ourselves, not only in formal services of worship but in all times and places;
(5) confessing our sin to one another, and forgiving and becoming reconciled with one another;
(6) tolerating one another’s failures and encouraging one another in the work each must do and the vocation each must live;
(7) carrying out specific faithful acts of service and witness together;
(8) giving generously of one’s means and receiving gratefully gifts others have to give;
(9) suffering with and for one another and all whom Jesus showed us to be our neighbors;
(10) providing hospitality and care, not only to one another but also to strangers and even enemies;
(11) listening and talking attentively to one another about our particular experiences in life;
(12) struggling together to become conscious of and to understand the the nature of the context in which we live;
(13) criticizing and resisting all those powers and patterns (both within the church and in the world as a whole) that destroy human beings, corrode human community, and injure God’s creation;
(14) working together to maintain and create social structures and institutions that will sustain life in the world in ways that accord with God’s will.

Dykstra did make the point that the practices by themselves would not be effective and just practicing them will not develop a life of faith. However these practices are tools that will help us develop the life of faith. He notes, “These practices, when engaged in deep interrelation with one another have the effect of turning the flow of power in a new direction. After a time, the primary point about the practices is no longer that they are something we do. Instead, they become arenas in which something is done to us, in us and through us that we could not of ourselves do, that is beyond what we do.”

This is an interesting concept. Would our modality of spiritual formation be too individualistic because we are influenced by modernity and secular individualism? Many of us have this impression of the early church being too legalistic because of its emphasis on corporate disciplines and catechumenate.


Maybe it is time for us to relook at the modality of the early church where the emphasis was on corporate spiritual formation rather than individualized spiritual formation.


soli deo gloria

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

An Interview on Euthanasia

I was interviewed by a secondary school student from Singapore for his school project on euthanasia
___________________________________________________________________

Interviewer: I'll be asking you ten questions regarding both medical and religious aspects of Euthanasia of which your most frank and honest answers, coupled with your never-ending words of wisdom would be highly appreciated!

1. Have you ever, in your career as a doctor, ever witnessed or heard of any cases in which a patient, who was deemed incurable before, later managed to be cured due to the discovery of a new kind of medicine?


Yes and no. Yes, if we take into consideration medical history. Syphilis was once considered incurable until the discovery of penicillin in the 1920s. Syphilis has been around since the beginning of human history.

No, if your question is in the context of euthanasia. New medicines take time to be developed. First they have to have to be tested on animal, then human trials and finally FDA (Federal Drug Authority) approval. These take a few years. Most of the time, doctors are aware of these new trials and new medicine coming into the market. Hence we are not taken by surprise at the availability of any new drugs for incurable diseases.


2. Have you ever issued any natural-death directive to any of your patients before? If so, under what circumstances did you decide to do so?

No, it is not the right of a doctor to issue a natural-death directive. This directive can only come from the patient and if he or she is incapable of making such a decision, from their spouse or someone with given authority (letter of attorney).

3. Have you heard of or known of doctors who have given a natural death directive due to a wrong diagnosis and later realized that it was a mistake?

No

4. Are there any medicines currently in use today that are able to relieve pain, even to those in a coma, without bringing about negative side effects like in cases such as morphine and other drugs of that genre? Have they been tested and deemed effective yet?

NSAID (Non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs) and COX-2 inhibitors are two classes of drugs that are effective for pain control without the sedative effect of the morphia class of drugs. They have been tested to be effective and are now in common use.

5. Do you think the Hippocratic Oath still applies to doctors today as pivotally as it did before, even though some think it as no longer relevant in the world of today? Please elaborate.

The principles behind the Hippocratic Oath is still followed by all doctors, for example, first do not harm; do not abuse your privilege and take advantage of your patients; do not kill; and respect your teachers. I do not think any doctor will think that these principles are not relevant today. However, many will have problems with the actually wording of the Hippocratic Oath which was culturally and linguistically bound to a different era. For example, the Oath starts with an invocation to a Greek god.

6. Passive Euthanasia is defined as the withholding or refusal of treatment to sustain life or the withdrawing of treatment already begun. So, if a person who is sick and has the ability to but refuses to take his medicine which will heal him and in the long run dies due to that, is it considered passive Euthanasia or active Euthanasia (suicide)? Is it wrong?

If a person decides not to accept any treatment or further treatment for his or her medical condition that is not considered euthanasia. Is it wrong for someone to decide not to accept treatment? That is a moral question. And in some cultic groups also religious question.

7. As a pediatrician, you deal with pregnancies everyday. In the case of severely deformed or marginally viable newborns, do you follow the American Heart Association and National Neonatal Resuscitation Program 2000 consensus statement for international guidelines stating that the “non-initiation of resuscitation in the delivery room is appropriate for infants with confirmed gestation less than 23 weeks or birth weight less than 400g”? If so, have you ever intentionally not resuscitated a baby under these conditions? But isn’t this considered Passive Euthanasia?

No. I always consult with the parents first. I will point out to them that infant with gestation less than 23 weeks or birth weight less than 400g will unlikely to survive even if we institute treatment. I will also emphasis the fact that even if we do save the infant, the infant will likely to be mentally retarded and blind. Then I will let them make the decision whether we should start treatment. As much as possible, we try to have this discussion with the parents before the infant is born. This is informed consent. We will then abide by their decision. Saying that, I once treated a 400g baby that survived and is now a normal healthy 15 years old! If I intentionally unilaterally decide not to resuscitate the baby without the parents’ inform consent, it will be considered passive euthanasia.

8. Since our time of death is in God’s hands, then wouldn’t the presence of someone to extend a person’s life endlessly regardless of the patient’s condition, beyond his or her supposed designated time of death, be God’s will too? Thus, is prolonging a life endlessly really a sin?

This is a religious question and I can only answer from my own religious background which is Christianity. Our time of death is in God’s hands and God does not let us know when that time is. Without this knowledge, there is not way to know whether ‘prolonging a life endlessly’ is acting against God’s timing.

9. In arguing Euthanasia, many Christians would use the 6th commandment which states that “Thou shalt not kill”. However, many say that this commandment is not absolute. If it were really absolute, then shouldn't people also absolutize what Jesus said about giving to those who beg from you (Matt 6:2-4) and give to every beggar on the streets? Thus, how do we know which teachings to absolutize and which not?

In the 6th commandment, the word kill is ‘ratsach’ in Hebrew and ‘phoneuo’ in Greek which means murder. Correctly rendered, it should be “Thou shall not commit murder”. Thus, it is not that the commandment is not absolute but that it allows for killing in wars, self-defence, martyrdom and capital punishment. Hence obeying this commandment cannot be compared with giving alms to beggars.

10. Paul Ramsey states that we should not talk of the beauty of death or even death with dignity. Death is the final indignity to man, and Scripture presents it that way. Do you agree with him? If so, how are we then supposed to die with dignity and what does death with dignity really mean?

I am surprised that Paul Ramsey was quoted to having said that. I believe need to understand the context in which he stated that. My understanding in Christianity is that Jesus Christ defeated death when he died on the cross and was resurrected. St.Paul wrote that he would prefer to die but would stay alive for the sake of other Christians. The general teaching in Christianity is that death is nothing to be afraid of but to be embraced when our time comes.

Death with dignity means to die as a person rather than an object. A person has rights and freedom. Modern medicine with its technology has a tendency to dehumanize a person to an object.


__________________________________________________________________

Wow. Don't they ask simple questions anymore?

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Friends in Conversation 2007 Banners



Here are some excellent banners from the good folks at emergent Malaysia









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Love is LOVE

If I had earned a strings of theological degrees, is a tenured professor in an world renowned seminary and has mastered the intricacies of ancient Hebrew and the various tenses of ancient Greek but do not care for the illiterate manual worker with a struggling family, I am like a bag of hot air or the static caused by the feedback of a MP3 soundtrack. If I can look into the future and discern the winds of change in economies, social and political arenas and if I am a spiritual master who has a large following who believe that I am the Voice of God yet if I do not lift a single finger to help a stranger in need I am as plain useless to one who is hungry and lonely as an empty used chicken rice styrofoam container. If I am a great philanthropist and give my billions as aid relief to poverty stricken Africa and if I sacrifice my health by burning out in ministry work for the church but did it to achieve a reputation and a name for myself, I have already have my reward which is my 15 minutes of fame. My ulterior motives, the need to please people and other hidden agenda will eventually be revealed for all to see. If I see a person and not see an irritation, an interruption (to my busy schedule), a burden or a lesser being, and if I feel compassion and the need to connect with this person and maybe offer some help, I may have love.



Love has the capacity to stand outside time and wait for the right moment to come along. It is not rushed, dictated by the clock nor hurried by the tyranny of the urgent. Love has time to understand and walk a mile in another’s shoes. Love is gentle and does not carry concealed weapons. It does not see the need to cut someone down to size or make mincemeat of someone else’s ego. Love does not demand to have what others have. It does not need to prop itself up by stepping on others and stand on them to appear more beautiful, more powerful, more rich or more honored in society. Love does not need to show off, wearing masks and be putting on performances all the time. Love reveals its true face. Love speaks softly and politely because its words are words of encouragement. Words to build up and not to tear down. Love uses its words to help others to find and fulfill their full God-given potential. Love has good anger management and does not let the sun goes down on its anger. Love knows anger is but a symptom and will seek the root cause of the anger. It seeks to heal these inner hurts and understand the inner thoughts that lead people to do evil deeds. Love does not bear a grudge nor seek to get even. Love learns to forgive. Love returns good for bad. Love gathers all into its protective arms, believing that there is some good in all mankind. Love has marched with others in Alabama against racism, being beaten by batons in the salt march in India and stood before a tank in Tiananmen Square. Love believes that justice should be available to all. Love believes that there is always hope in this Vail of tears. Love knows that we are living in the shadowlands and that somewhere there is our true home and that one day, Someone will lead us there by our hands. Love sees that in the darkest night, there is always a ray of light.

Love is the energy that drives the universe. It never runs out, tires or loses its power. Love is for eternity. We have begun to realize that knowledge has its limitations. Quantum theory robs us of certainty and Chaos-Fractal theory robs us of control. The only constant in our lives is change. We have not being able to develop a Unified Theory of the Universe. Hence we see in part and we understand very little. Coming to the realization that there is nothing certain in this universe and the ability to control our destiny is an illusion, we begin to understand that we have been thinking like a child. It is time to grow up and see the world as it really is. To see through the illusions that Satan has deceived us for so long. To realize that we had spent large portions of our lives chasing after the non-essential and neglecting the relationships with other people that we should have nurtured and developed. Adult thinking will help us to focus on things that are eternal. These eternal are our souls and the souls of other and the need now on earth to purify and nurture our souls. In the process we develop faith and acquire hope. But most important of all, we see and experience Love. And in the end, it is only LOVE that matters.



Soli Deo Gloria

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Understanding Spiritual Formation

The Ooze published my article on spiritual formation under FAITH on 19 January 2007


Spiritual formation has become a buzz word in evangelical circles in the last decades. However, like the word "spirituality," spiritual formation has different meaning to different people. An evangelical pastor may understand it differently from an ecumenical pastor. A theologian in a seminary may define it differently from a worker in a church. Spiritual formation may have different connotations to those from the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions. A dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation (2003,107) defines it as “the dynamics of shaping the human spirit towards maturity and consonance."

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Celtic Prayer on New House and Home

Be Christ's cross on your new dwelling,
Be Christ's cross on your new hearth,
Be Christ's cross on your new abode,
Upon your new fire blazing,
Be Christ's cross on your means and portion,
Be Christ's cross on your kin and people,
Be Christ's cross on you each light and darkness,
Each day and each night of your lives,
Each day and each night of your lives.



amen

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Five Streams of the Emerging Church

Scot McKnight, writing in Christianity Today describes Five Streams of the Emerging Church which flows into the emerging lake.


These streams ( 5 Ps) are
(1) prophetic rhethorics
(2) postmodernism
(3) praxis-oriented-how faith is lived out
(4) post-evangelical
(5) political

This can also be described as the 5 themes of the emerging movement. McKnight acknowledges that it is a movement.

To define a movement, we must, as a courtesy, let it say what it is. Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, in their book, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Baker Academic, 2005) define emerging in this way:

Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures. This definition encompasses nine practices. Emerging churches (1) identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, and (3) live highly communal lives. Because of these three activities, they (4) welcome the stranger, (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities.

This definition is both descriptive and analytical. D. A. Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (Zondervan, 2005) is not alone in pointing to the problems in the emerging movement, and I shall point out a few myself in what follows. But as a description of the movement, Carson's book lacks firsthand awareness and suffers from an overly narrow focus—on Brian McLaren and postmodern epistemology.

In this article, McKnight did us a great service in categorising the emerging movement thus enabling us to have a better overview of the whole movement. He believes at "its core, the emerging movement is an attempt to fashion a new ecclesiology (doctrine of the church)".

I love his conclusion,

All in all, it is unlikely that the emerging movement will disappear anytime soon. If I were a prophet, I'd say that it will influence most of evangelicalism in its chastened epistemology (if it hasn't already), its emphasis on praxis, and its missional orientation. I see the emerging movement much like the Jesus and charismatic movements of the 1960s, which undoubtedly have found a place in the quilt called evangelicalism.
Scot McKnight also wrote Jesus Creed, a book worth reading.





soli deo gloria

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Problem Based Learning

Attended a two days problem based learning (PBL) workshop organised by Monash University School of Medicine in Malaysia.

Problem based learning is a new way of teaching medicine which involved a paradigm shift in thinking about medical education. The traditional way of teaching medicine involves the first two years of classroom based lectures on basic medical sciences (preclinical) and then three years of rotations in the wards of the various medical disciplines (clinical). Problem based learning curriculum integrates all learning so that instead of dividing the curriculum into preclinical and clinical, it integrates the preclinical and clinical together.


What is innovative is that instead of approaching medical education from the basic sciences, PBL approaches from a set of clinical problems. This is more akin to the real world when the new doctors face patients who come to see them with a set of problems rather than medical science issues. That the ultraconservative medical education did reinvent itself is very impressive and worth noting.

The basis of this change is because of new development in adult learning theories. In essence (courtesy of Prof Paul Fullerton) it was found that adult learning were found to be
(1) independent and self directing
(2) accumulated experience- a rich resource for learning
(3) learning by integrating with demands of everyday life
(4) interested in immediate, problem centered approaches more than subject centered ones
(5) motivated to learn by internal drives, rather than external ones

I wonder whether problem based learning can be implemented in the Christian education and the pulpit ministry of our churches. In a sense problem based learning is not something new to the Bible and church traditions. Most of the New Testament and church doctrines were written because of problems created by the Judiazers, agnostics, syncretism in churches, Marcion and others. Problems were what stimulated discussions and the formulation of the gospels, epistles and church creeds.

In one sense, Christian education is still preclinical and clinical (systematic theology/propositions). Yet, all Christians struggle with how to live a Christian life in unChristian/post Christian, multicultural, pluralistic society. Would it not make sense to approach church teaching through problems (how to do business in a culture where bribery is considered normal, how to be good parents, how not to be a consumer driven church) rather than through propositions (what is the Trinity, what is the importance of the cross, what is a church)?

I am not saying is that propositions are not important but that it is the way we teach them so that the teaching be relevant to the learners. One of my observations is that many Christians are discouraged because they find what is preached and taught in churches are not relevant to their lives. Seminary graduates enter church ministries with "the right anwers, but to the wrong questions."

I believe that theological institutions and churches need to consider a paradigm shift in their education strategies and one of the possibilities is to adopt a problem based approach.

Soli deo gloria

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Friday, January 19, 2007

At Age 52

Another insightful commentary from a dear friend, Dr. Tan Soo Inn


GRACE AT WORK MAIL 3/07 [January 19, 2007 Edition]

"Commit your future to the Lord!Trust in him, and he will act on your behalf."(Psalm 37:5 NET)

Commentary: At 52

I just came back from a conference where I met some old friends and made some new ones. Some asked how old I was. I would answer, "I am 51," and then I realize that it is already '07. I will be 52 this year.Some questions went beyond the numbers. At a tea break someone asked "how young are you" and I gave him high marks for political correctness. When we had established my age someone else asked "what is it like entering your 50s?"A friend sitting next to me was my age and he replied that he felt that he was at the peak of his powers. I agreed.

When I look at my primary ministries these days, my preaching, writing, and spiritual mentoring, I recognize a degree of maturity that wasn't there in earlier decades. I also recognize the willingness to embrace the fact that I am far from perfecting my craft and that there is still so much more to learn. That too wasn't that evident when I was younger.I replied that as you enter your 50s you are more at home with yourself.

First off you know yourself better. You are more aware of your strengths and your weaknesses. You have made some degree of peace with your past. You are much more aware of both the darkness in your life and the immense brightness of the grace of God. You have come to see that our God is indeed a great God, and definitely a God much greater than our failures and mistakes.And because you know yourself better you are able to receive both praise and criticism more healthily. Since you have some idea of your strengths, praise that affirms your strengths will not come as that much of a surprise and has less power to balloon the ego. And since I am more aware of my weaknesses I am also less likely to be overly distressed when I receive criticism.I know that I am actually worse than the evidence of my obvious weaknesses and failures. I also know that I am carried by God's grace from beginning to end.

With the help of God and the encouragement of my friends I seek to be a better person, more approximating what God desires me to be. It's a journey that ends when I see Christ face to face. I am on the way.Recently, at a wake of all places, someone volunteered the conviction that I would live till a hundred. I found that hard to believe but was a little excited that somehow it might be true. In which case I prayed that God will give me the heath to go with the longevity.

When I was younger, I was told that the best years of your life was between 40 - 50. I haven't heard this piece of folk wisdom for a long time. In an age going through so much change, there is so much more to learn, and with better health care prolonging life in general, people are productive way beyond 50. I want to believe that the best years of my life are ahead of me.

There is a price to be paid for growing older. For example you find yourself attending more funerals. You find that you have to bid farewells to friends who have been called home/ to eternity, before you. That's tough.

And if you are a guy, you might experience male menopause. A recent article in Newsweek asks me (guys after 50) to look out for the following symptoms. "...you realize that for some time you haven't had as much energy as you used to, you don't have as much interest in sex, there are times when you feel down and discouraged, and your friends tell you that you're more irritable than you used to be."(Federman and Walford, "Is Male Menopause Real? Newsweek, January 22, 2007, p.42) You can guess as to which of the above symptoms, if any, I am exhibiting. Growing older has its own set of challenges. Of course none of us know how long we will live. The days of our lives are written in God's book (Psalm 139:16) but He keeps that book close to His chest.

I know first hand the uncertainty of life. My first wife died of cancer at 37. Yet by all accounts she lived a full and faithful life.Therefore the wise thing to do, at whatever age, is to live life to the full for Him. We choose to be good stewards of our lives at whatever age we find ourselves. As long as God gives me breath I want to learn and relearn what it means to be a recipient of His grace, and how to pass that grace on to others.

At whatever age I find myself, I want to give my life back to God, my two fishes and five loaves, and ask Him to do with it whatever He wills.So as I approach 52, I heed afresh the Psalmist's advice: "Teach us to number our days,that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12 TNIV) And to Bernice, my beloved wife, I borrow the words of Robert Browning as invitation, hope and prayer:"Grow old with me. The best is yet to be."

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Invasion of the Snow Borg


from STAR TREK magazine #3 (Jan/Feb 2007)

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Missional Leader and Missional Church

The word ‘missional’ is a buzz word nowadays. Brian McLaren used the word in his book, A Generous Orthodoxy and since then it has been applied to persons, lifestyle, worldview, community, church and now leaders.


Merriam-Webster online does not have the word in its database.

Wikipedia defines missional as

As commonly used today, the word describes the way in which Christians do all their activities, rather than identifying any one particular activity. To be missional is to align one's life with the redemptive mission of Jesus in the world.
The concept is rooted in the alignment of every believer and every church with Jesus’ mission in the world, just as Jesus knew His mission and aligned Himself with that mission.

A missional church aligns all of the program, function and activities of the church around the redemptive mission of God in the world.


Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk published a book last year on The Missional Leader: Equipping your Church to reach a Changing World (John Wiley & Sons, 2006). The authors’ thesis is that we need ‘missional’ leaders to create ‘missional’ churches. Adam Miller’s book review Step into Chaos notes:

Essentially, in this model, the leader is a facilitator skilled at bringing out the deeper issues among the community. Rather than providing solutions, he asks good questions and embraces rather than resolves tension. The missional leader seeks to cultivate the congregation’s imaginative power rather than attempting to shape it into a pre-determined form

The missional leader seem to be similar to my understanding of a biblical servant leader and the missional church sounds like the New Testament church.

What impresses me about this book is the emphasis on community rather than programs or professional staff. It is all about members of the church willing to undergo a paradigm shift and the missional leader being the catalyst. However I think the model of change and its timeframe as suggested by the authors is too optimistic.




The need for the church to recognize that the church is ‘mission’ itself rather than ‘mission orientated’ had been adequately discussed by Bishop Hwa Yung in his book, Mangoes or Bananas?, long before the word ‘missional’ appeared. (His comments on theology and culture is worth reading).


Tim Conder, guest columnist for LeadershipJournal.net asked in his article, Missional Buzz whether there is such a thing as a ‘missional church’. To answer his own questions, he suggested some characteristics of a ‘missional church’:

(1) Missional communities try to align themselves holistically with God’s theme of redemption.
(2) Programming and finances are directed outward.
(3) Missional communities are discontent with spiritual formation as primarily cognitive assent.
(4) Embracing the ethnic and social diversities of local communities is becoming a moral expectation.
(5) Missional communities are not only ardent listeners for the earmarks of God’s redemptive work in our world, these communities are passionate activists when they find the pathways and trajectories of God’s redemptive presence.

If this is what a missional church is, then I am all for it. After all, this also described the Acts 2 church. The Acts 2 church was in a similar situation as us. They are caught between moving out of a JudeoRabbinic religious tradition and a GrecoRoman multicultural and pluralistic society. So what else is new?

Soli deo gloria

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Olivia Newton John: Rest Your Love On Me



(written by Barry Gibb)
Maybe you don't know me anymore then I know you
And I wouldn't blame you if you walked away
I been watchin' you all evenin' with the teardrops in your eyes
And it touches me much more than I can say
You know I'd hate to think that someone
could have hurt someone like you
And at times like this , I'd be right by your side

Lay your troubles on my shoulders
Put your worries in my pocket
Rest your love on me awhile
Lay your troubles on my shoulder
Put your worries in my pocket
Rest your love on me awhile

Saw you in the corner on the moment I walked in
Saw your lonely face across the room
No, I won't forget it
And the way it might have been
Why did you have to leave so soon
You know I'd hate to think that someone
could have loved you more than me
And if I was them, I'd be right by your side

Lay your troubles on my shoulders
Put your worries in my pocket
Rest your love on me awhile
Lay your troubles on my shoulders
Put your worries in my pocket
Rest your love on me awhile

How long must I wait for the last train to leave here
And the last chance to know
Get to think that I was born too soon
How long honey, when the lovin' don't come
I was there when you left me
Just didn't know how to begin

Lay your troubles on my shoulders
Put your worries in my pocket
Rest your love on me awhile
Lay your troubles on my shoulders
Put your worries in my pocket
Rest your love on me awhile

Lay your troubles on my shoulders
Put your worries in my pocket
Rest your love on me awhile
Lay your troubles on my shoulders
Put your worries in my pocket
Rest your love on me awhile

Lay your troubles on my shoulders
Put your worries in my pocket
Rest your love on me awhile
Lay your ..

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A Generous Orthodoxy

Reread Brian McLaren’s book, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004). I have enjoyed reading the book the first time and the second reading is helpful because it is helps me to put into perspective, the impressions I have in the first reading. Like all of Brian’s books, he throws a lot of things at you at the same time and you have to fight to make sense of them. Sometimes in reading Brian’s writings, I feel like I am fitting together a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle; linear thinking is a hindrance rather than a help!

I like the title “a generous orthodoxy” though I wondered how an orthodoxy can be generous.

Hans Frei supposedly coined the phrase “generous orthodoxy”.

My own vision of what might be propitious for our day, split as we are, not so much into denominations as into schools of thought, is that we need a kind of generous orthodoxy which would have in it an element of liberalism—a voice like the Christian Century—and an element of evangelicalism—the voice of Christianity Today. I don't know if there is a voice between those two, as a matter of fact. If there is, I would like to pursue it.

This was picked up by Stanley Grenz in his book Renewing the Center.

Calling for a renewal of an evangelical center to the church of Jesus Christ, a center characterized by a 'generous orthodoxy.'

Brian described himself as a
Missional
evangelical
Post/Protestant
Liberal/Conservative
Mystical/Poetic
Charismatic/Contemplative
Fundamentalist/Calvinist
(ana)Baptist/Anglican
Methodist
catholic
Green
Incarnational
Depressed-Yet-Hopeful
Emergent
Unfinished

which about covers the whole range of belief and traditions in Christianity. Talk about covering all his bases! In each chapter, Brian shared his experiences and autobiography and how he came to that point in his spiritual journey. It is refreshing to be able to read about his struggles and his doubts. Sometimes I think it is very sad to assume that Christians know all truth and never have doubts. If we know all truth, then we do not need the Holy Spirit and if we do not have doubts, we should be in heaven (where we see clearly).

I must say that Brian is very generous in his assessment of the state of the church and other Christians. I wish other and other were as generous towards him. Fortunately there are other.However, in terms of orthodoxy, I saw how he cleverly tred his way between theological landmines without setting them off. He also skirted the edges of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy without being pulled in. Though I do not agree with everything he wrote, I have enjoyed his explanations and tried to see things from his point of view.

If there is a word I would use to describe this book, it will be bridge-building (oops, actually two words). It is a start of building bridges to other shores, ideas and practices. I guess a conversation is also a form of bridge building. And I am enjoying the conversation from people on both sides of the bridge. Some grassroot discussion here.

soli deo gloria

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Sacred Companions on the Way


Sacred Companions on the Way: Mentoring in Spiritual Formation


In Homer’s great epic, the Odyssey, Odysseus, a Greek king set sail for the siege of Troy, leaving behind a young wife and an infant son, Telemachus. However, he also left behind his trusted friend to instruct, train and guide his son to be the future king of his kingdom. “I leave with you this son, whom I so tenderly love; watch over his infancy if you have love of me, keep flattery far from him; teach him to vanquish his passions.” This man’s name was Mentes (Greek) or Mentor.

Thus the word mentor entered the English language. A mentor, as defined by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is a trusted counselor or guide. A person that is being mentored is called a protégé.

If I am to invite you to suggest the greatest mentor in the New Testament aside from Jesus, whom would you choose? I believe most of you will choose the apostle Paul. My vote is for Joses or Joseph of Cyprus. This unassuming man, after knowing Jesus Christ, sold part or all of his lands in Cyprus and donated the proceeds to the church in Jerusalem.

read more

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Friends in Conversation 2007

Friends in Conversation
A QUIET REVOLUTION OF HOPE



For the first time in Malaysia, influential speaker and author Brian McLaren and Conversation Partners touch on challenges and opportunities facing the 21st Century Church. Join the conversations on:

Gospel - more than we imagined it to be

Church - ways forward beyond forms and technique

Discipleship - tired of shortcuts and superficiality

World - being ready for active engagement

Date & Time: March 3-4 (Saturday & Sunday)
Venue: Christian Life Gospel Centre, Petaling Jaya
3rd Floor, Kompleks Kemajuan,
2, Jalan 19/1B, 46300 Petaling Jaya,
Selangor, Malaysia.

Cost: RM55 (Walk-in Registration RM65) - inclusive of handouts, tea and one lunch.

Organised by emergent Malaysia in collaboration with:

* Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM) Faith & Order Committee
* Initiative for Theological Reflection in Asia (IN.T.R.A)
* Seminari Theoloji Malaysia (STM)
* Glad Sounds Sdn Bhd

Conversation Partners:

* Father Dr. Jojo Fung S.J (Coordinator, IN.T.R.A )
* Sherman YL Kuek, OSL (DTh Candidate, Adjunct Lecturer in Christian Theology at STM)
* Chris Leong (Elder, Bandar Utama Chapel)
* Dr. Ng Kam Weng (Director, Kairos Research Centre)
* The Rt. Rev. Philip Lok (Bishop, Lutheran Church in Malaysia & Singapore)
* Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri (General Secretary of Council of Churches Malaysia)
* Dr. Tan Soo-Inn (Author, Speaker, Grace@Work)
* Dr. Alex Tang (Director, Spiritual Formation Institute)
* Tan Kong Beng (Elder, Subang Jaya Gospel Centre, Co-founding Director of Oriental Hearts & Minds Study Institute)
* Steven Wong (NECF Research Commission Chairman)
* Rev. Wong Fong Yang (Pastor of City Discipleship Presbyterian Church)
* Dr. Voon Choon Khing (Lecturer in Christian Spirituality & Pastoral Counseling at STM)

Conversation Facilitators
Rev. Sivin Kit (Pastor, Bangsar Lutheran Church & Coordinator of emergent Malaysia)
Pastor Raj Singh (Pastor, Christian Life Gospel Centre & Director, Soul Survivor Malaysia)
Alwyn Lau (Researcher & Teacher at Fairview International School)
Tricia Yeoh (Senior Research Analyst, Centre of Public Policy Studies)

About emergent Malaysia
emergent Malaysia is a group of friends and followers of Jesus who are committed to one another and to creating space for conversations in Malaysia and beyond. We regularly meet to converse on topics regarding gospel, theology, church, discipleship, and engagement with our world.

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The Church In Emerging Culture



Sweet, Leonard (ed.) 2003, The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives (Grand Rapids, Zondervan)

As the title suggested, this is a book about five different perspectives as viewed by five different people on the Church in emerging culture. These five contributors are Andy Crouch (editor of Regeneration Quarterly, author and a “specialist on spirituality and campus life”), Michael Holton (editor of Modern Reformation and associate professor of apologetics and historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California), Frederica Mathewes-Green (author, from episcopalism who became an Orthodox), Brian McLaren and Erwin Raphael McManus (self proclaimed “cultural revolutionary” which lead a tribe of “spiritual warrior” called mosaic, centered in Los Angeles). Leonard Sweet is the editor of this interesting mix of people.

The book is set forth as a conversation. Each contributor was given a chapter but in the chapter, comments from other contributors were printed so within the limitations of a printed book, a sort of conversation was going on.
Leonard Sweet gave a good introduction to the book in which he laid the background for the discussion- how should the Church respond in a post modern world. He started with H. Richard Niebuhr’s book, Christ and Culture (1951) which was described as one of the most influential book of the twentieth century. Niebuhr delineates five areas in which the Church respond to culture: “Christ against culture; Christ of (or within culture; Christ above culture; Christ transforming culture and Christ and culture in paradox.” Leonard felt that while it was true when the book was written more than 50 years ago, it may be time to review Niebuhr’s concepts of Christ and culture which were based on modernism.

He suggested that we move beyond Niebuhr to another area where we can examine the post modern church response to change in the message/context/substance and in method/form/style. To this there are four possibilities (low change in method, high change in message; low change in method, low change in message, high change method, low change in message and high change in method, high change in message). Leonard gave an excellent metaphor in describing these areas by likening it in agricultural terms: glen (low change in method, high change in message); garden (low change in method, low change in message), park (high change method, low change in message) and meadow (high change in method, high change in message).


read my comments

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Life of Faith

Craig Dykstra,2005 Growing in the Life of Faith 2ed.(Louisville, KN: Westminster John Knox Press)




Craig Dykstra, Vice President for Religion at Lilly Endowment, Inc describes the "life of faith" as
_______________________________________________

The “life of faith” is the way of living that is organized by faith and that flows out of faith. In the life of faith, we come more and more to participate in the new reality God is opening to us. We live it ever more fully and let it do its work in every aspect of our lives, as all our beliefs and understandings, feelings and emotions, values and meanings, commitment and actions become increasingly shaped by and conform to it. Above all, the life of faith involves rejoicing in the love and grace of God, giving thanks to God secure in the knowledge that all God’s promises are sure, and sharing that love and grace in the life of the world.
________________________________________________

Living a “life of faith” has the following dimensions:

(1) We are loved by God, not because of what we do but because of who we are and more importantly, because of whom God is.
(2) We are free from “all powers that enslave, dominate, corrupt and corrode.”
(3) We have the freedom to choose life.
(4) We shall see reality as God intends it to be.
(5) We shall see evil that has distorted reality and deluded the world into a false reality (sin) and we also see the sinful natures in ourselves.
(6) We shall be involved “individually and corporately in lifelong struggle against communal and political powers of sin and earth, deceit and alienation, injustice and oppression-in the church and in the larger world.”
(7) We shall be taking part in Christ’s work of redemption.
(8) We shall live a life of obedience to Christ through the Holy Spirit who indwells us and empowers us to do what we ourselves will never be able to do.
(9) We shall live a life of love

Such a “life of faith” requires that we persevere. “The life of faith must, therefore, be patterned, structured, kept in place and on course over the long haul through the development of disciplines and habits, both personal and corporate.”

Soli deo gloria

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Just Do It



I have always been fascinated by the Desert Fathers and Mothers who lived from the early to the mid-fourth century. These men and women left behind everything they had to live in the hostile deserts of Egypt and later Syria and Palestine. The desert is a deadly unforgiving environment. In the daytime the sun bakes the land mercilessly and the nights are freezing cold. Yet these people left behind comfortable, secure lives and loved ones to live out their lives alone in the desert. They moved there to fight the demons in the desert and the demons within themselves. Like Jesus’ temptations were in the desert, these elders seek the purifying furnace of the desert to encounter God. Though we are separated by 1,500 years, cultural, social and linguistic differences, yet the teachings and sayings of these elders have much to teach us.

A brother said to Abba Poemen: “If I give my brother a little bread or something else, what happens when the demons spoil these gifts by telling me that it was only done in order to please people?” The old man said to him: “Even if it is done to please people, we are still obliged to offer what we can.” He told him the following parable.

“Two farmers lived in the same town. One of them sowed and reaped only a small and poor crop, while the other did not even trouble to sow and reaped absolutely nothing. If a famine comes upon them, which of the two will find something to live on?” The brother replied: “The one who reaped the small poor crop.” The old man said to him: “So it is with us: we sow a little poor grain, so that we will not die of hunger.”

Abba Poemen gave us two important lessons on serving or ministry. First is that, no matter what we do, it will always come out of impure motives because of our fallen nature. There is no such thing as pure altruism. Everything we do will be tainted by our sinful nature. Somehow pride, desire for power, glory and affirmation will dog our every action. Does this mean we do not do anything? Abba Poemen said even if our motives are impure, we still need to serve others. This reminded me of the disciples who complained to Jesus that some people are baptizing people in His Name. Jesus’ answer is illuminating - so what, they are also doing God’s work! (paraphrased Mk 9:38-39)

The second lesson is that we have to sow even if the harvest will be meager. In the parable, Abba Poemen did not elaborate on the soil condition in the town. The soil must have been so infertile that the second farmer did not even bother to sow. Yet the elder said, “So it is with us: we sow a little poor grain, so that we will not die of hunger.” There are times when our service seems to be on such hard ground. For all that we put into our labours, the outcome is so discouraging. We became discouraged because we do not see the fruits of our efforts. Those whom we serve do not appreciate us. Our loved ones misunderstood our calling. We burn ourselves up in an effort to generate “results”. As we look at our own service or ministry situations, we may be tempted to give up like the second farmer. Jeremiah, often known as the “weeping prophet” never did see the fruits of his labour. In spite of his preaching his people refused to repent and he saw the destruction of his beloved country. Yet Jeremiah persisted until the end. Explorer and missionary, Dr. David Livingston made one convert in all his years of hard work in darkest Africa. Yet his explorations opened the way for others to follow and in the years after his death saw the opening of Africa to see the Light.

Abba Poemen’s message is simple: just serve the Lord as faithfully as you can. Sometimes we can be so hung up on the whys and wherefores that we lost sight of our calling. We are called to be faithful servants.



Soli Deo Gloria


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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Simon and Garfunkel: I Am A Rock


A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.


.

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A Paediatrician's Prayer

LORD, You called me to care for your children when they are sick. Help me to do it gladly and joyfully. When I get discouraged, remind me of the value of what I do, and help me to do it to the best of my abilities. Help me to see You in each of my patients, their families and my co-workers. Help me to understand that I serve as the instrument by which You heal and bring comfort to Your children.

Give me a smile and a gentle sense of humour and help me to lighten the trying times. I thank You for the many blessings You have given me, not only my medical understanding and skills, but also the opportunity to help others, as You have taught us to do.

May I always remember that the giving of myself to others does not require that I totally deny my own needs or those of my family. Help me to continually strive for an appropriate balance between my vocation and my family. Help me to make my time with my family the highest in quality, especially when it is limited in quantity.

LORD, please give me a heart that listens carefully and patiently to others, especially my patients, their families, my own family, my co-workers, and to myself. Help me to recognise the needs of each and give me the willingness, the strength, the courage and the resources to meet these needs, according to Your will.

May I learn something new each day, not getting lost in my daily routine, and help me to persist in my commitment to help others.

Amen

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Lectio Divina (Spiritual Reading)


Lectio divina (pronounced lex-ee-oh di-vee-nuh) has been used for over 1,500 years. Literally, it means “divine reading’, ‘spiritual reading’ or ‘sacred reading’. The primary source of what is read in lectio is the Bible. It is gaining popularity as more and more people are finding it a powerful way to nurture their spiritual lives.

As evangelicals, we have concentrated on the study of the Bible. We have come to know a lot about the Bible. But we have not been very good at applying the Bible, much less hearing God through the Bible. Lectio divina is an approach that builds on serious Bible study but moves to new depths as we open ourselves to God through the Bible.

The early monks and nuns approached the Bible by means of lectio divina. In the daily routine of the monasteries and convent, there is specific time set aside for study, prayer and work.
One of the leaders to commend lectio divina as a spiritual exercise was Benedict, an Italian monk who lived in the fifth and sixth centuries (about 480-550).
During the time set aside for study, a monk (or a nun) would go to a quiet place and begin to repeat aloud a passage from the Bible. Often this is taken from the Psalms or Gospels. The monk would speak the passage out loud until a particular word or phrase strikes him. Then he would stop and ponder this word or phrase, understanding it to be a word from God for him.


In lectio divina, the practitioner looks for direct message from God. This meditation (which is what he is doing) will lead naturally into prayer as the monk seeks to communicate with the Lord. As he moved further and further into prayer, he will come to a place where he rested in the presence of the Lord. This is the state of contemplation.

The process of Lectio Divina
In the twelfth century, Guigo II, a French Carthusian monk developed lectio into a four step exercise:

Reading/Listening (lectio)
Read out a short passage of Scripture. When we read aloud, we become both proclaimer and hearer of the Word of God. As you read, listen for the word or phrase that speaks to you. What is the Spirit drawing your attention to?

Meditating (meditatio)
Repeat aloud the word or phrase that attracts you. Make connections between it and your life. What is God saying to you by means of this word or phrase?

Praying (oratio)
Now, take these thoughts and offer them back to God in prayer, giving thanks, asking for guidance, asking for forgiveness, and resting in God’s love. What is God leading you to pray?

Contemplating (contemplatio)
Move from the activity of prayer to the stillness of contemplation. Simply rest in God’s presence. Stay open to God. Listen to God. Remain in peace and silence before God. How is God revealing Himself to you?


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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Thomas Merton on Life

Be good, keep your feet dry, your eyes open, your heart at peace and your soul in the joy of Christ.

Thomas Merton

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A New Year Reminder

Ben Patterson, Leadership Journal's contributing editor, gave me a strong wake-up call by his article, Leader's Insight: Our Chief Work.





Patterson wrote :
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I read an article that created a great deal of anxiety in me. It was entitled "If You Are 35, You Have 500 Days to Live." Subtract the time you will spend sleeping, working, and tending to personal matters such as hygiene, odd chores, eating, and traveling. In the next 36 years you have 500 days of leisure. If this world is all there is, then none of us should waste our time praying. We should literally be grabbing for all the gusto we can get.

We see precisely that all around us. Yet, as leisure time increases, so do the problems of emptiness, boredom, and restlessness. We have, as a culture, a frantic
determination to relax, unwind, and have fun. Where an earlier generation may
have been compulsive about work, we are compulsive about what we do with our
leisure time. Martha has become the patron saint of American recreational
life.


Of course, this affects the church. Activists that we are, we all feel there is so much to do and so little time to do it. A sign of our times, religiously, is the fact that Hans Küng's otherwise brilliant theological work On Being a Christian did not have a chapter in it on prayer. When asked about its absence, he apologized and admitted it was a serious oversight. But, he explained, at the time of writing he was so harassed by the Vatican and busy trying to meet his publisher's deadline that he simply forgot. That is my point exactly. Prayer is always the first thing to go when we get caught up in the world's pace. And only prayer can deliver us from that pace

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An important reminder for a New Year.

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