Friday, September 29, 2006

Ethical Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

Ethical New Stem Cell Approach?

Excerpted from "New Stem Cell Approach Reported." By Malcolm Ritter. Associated Press.

September 22, 2006--Scientists say they have created a stem cell line from a human embryo that had stopped developing naturally, and so was considered dead. Using such embryos might ease ethical concerns about creating such cells, they suggested. One expert said the technique makes harvesting stem cells no more ethically troublesome than organ donation. But others said it still carries scientific and ethical problems.

Scientists want to use human embryonic stem cells to study diseases and create transplant tissue for treating illnesses such as diabetes and Parkinson's disease. Such cells are taken from human embryos that are a few days old, and the harvesting process destroys the embryo. That raises ethical objections. The new work, published online Thursday by the journal Stem Cells, comes from Miodrag Stojkovic of the Prince Felipe Research Center in Valencia, Spain, with colleagues there and in England. They studied embryos donated by an in vitro fertilization clinic with consent of the patients. Part of the work focused on 132 "arrested" embryos, those that had stopped dividing for 24 or 48 hours after reaching various stages of development.

Thirteen of these embryos had developed more than the others, reaching 16 to 24 cells before cell division stopped. Scientists were able to create a stem cell line from just one of these embryos. These stem cells performed normally on a series of tests, Stojkovic said in a telephone interview. He said he did not know whether the result indicated a solution to ethical concerns about embryonic stem cells. The point of the research was to show that such embryos provide an additional source of the cells beyond healthy embryos, rather than to set up any kind of a competition, he said. Both sources should be used, he said. Full Article

CMDA Executive Director Dave Stevens, MD comments: "It would be great to find an ethical source of embryonic stem cells to use to better understand human cell development, though using them for therapy is unlikely for many years. Has Dr. Stojkovic done that?

The big question is whether blastomeres at this stage of development are totipotent (capable of developing into a complete organism or differentiating into any of its cells or tissues) or pleuropotent (capable of differentiating into one of many cell types). Can they develop into a complete human being or are they too differentiated? If they are totipotent, sacrificing a blastomere is morally equivalent to sacrificing an entire embryo. In mice we know that blastomeres, put in the right environment, will multiply, organize and create trophoblastic cells.

The second question is what is the moral status of an arrested embryo? Are they equivalent to a brain dead organ donor? My personal opinion is that they probably are if their development arrest is irreversible and nothing was intentionally done to cause their further development to be halted.

The third question is a scientific one. Are these cells and the ESC line that could be made from them, normal? Is there some genetic or other flaw that has caused the arrested development that will contaminate the ESC line?

Dr. Stojkovic did not undertake his research to find an ethical source of ESC’s, but it would be wonderful, pending the right answers to these questions, if he has found it."


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Echoes of a Conversation...into His rest

Disclaimer: These characters are fictitious and any resemblance to anyone is purely intentional.
Warning: The dialogue is in Malglish (Malaysian English) and may be hazardous to anybody speaking the Queen’s English.

[Three friends found an empty table in Coffee Bean during lunch break.]

John: Aiyo, finally, an empty table. My feet got pain. What are you having? I’m having a regular mocca latte.

Philip: Me, I am having a double expresso. Caffeine level is low and I need the extra boost. What about you, Matthews?

Matthews: I’ll have a hot chocolate.

John & Philip: What!!!

Matthews: I am very stressed, lah. Scared coffee will drive me off the edge.

John: Yeah, I know what you mean. My job as a pastor is keeping me busy too. You know, this week alone I have to lead two Bible studies, not to mention preparing for this Sunday’s sermon. Last night, I had to conduct a wake service for one of our members.

Philip: Talk about busy. My clinic has been overflowing. There is an intestinal flu epidemic going on. Everyone vomiting and having diarrhea. Then after work, I have to attend bible study, prayer meeting and this Sunday my turn to preach. Who got time to do all these things? Sometimes I fall asleep during prayer meeting.

Matthews: Oh, no wonder you prayed so long last week. I thought I heard you snore! Hey guys, I need your prayers. I am having a hard time with my PhD supervisor. She is really stressing me out. Sometimes I wonder why I want to get a PhD.

Philip: Get permanent head damage (PhD)?

Mathews: Ha, ha. You know why. Boy, am I tired. I need a long break. Research and writing is hard work, you know. No play play.

Philip: Same here. Very tired and very fed up with it all. Sometimes I wonder why I bother to serve in church. After work, I am so tired that all I can do is to lie down and watch tv.

John: At least you have a 42 inch plasma tv. I am tired too. I struggle to get up in the morning knowing there are so many things I need to do. Sometimes, I dread to meet my church members. Always giving me more things to do.

Philip: Who ask you to be a pastor? Taking a break does not work for me. My holidays are more tiring than my work. After a family holiday, I need a break to recover from my break. Do you know what is wrong with us? Why we are so tired?

John: I think I am overcommitted. Too many things to do.

Matthews: Me too.

Philip: Maybe we should rethink our lifestyles. Be less overcommitted.

John: Huh, see who’s talking. Your life is so busy that I wonder whether God give you an extra hour or two everyday.

Philip: Hey, I am serious, guys. Being tired all the time is no good. We will end up being burnt out. Remember that sermon by that preacher on ending well. I want to end well. I don’t want to burn out and fall away.

Matthews: Yeah, that was a good sermon. I like his jokes. I get his point too. I remember during the sermon I wondered whether I would last the course. I was drowsy and fighting to keep awake during the sermon. I want to end well too.

John: Well, doc. You have the diagnosis here, over commitment. What is the treatment?

Philip: You can’t afford my fees. Never mind, I shall charge you 50 dollars per hour. Friend, friend, never mind lah.

Matthews: Can also. Okay, doc. What to do?

Philip: Sabbath.

Matthews: Sabbath!

Philip: Yes, Sabbath. We do not have Sabbath in our lives. Our lives are doing, doing, doing all the time. No time set aside for rest.

John: I know what you mean, Philip. I just preached a sermon on Sabbath last Sunday. How we need to make time in our busy lifestyle for Sabbath rest. I call the sermon “Sabbath Rest” Never thought about my own life, though. I just cannot see how to apply it in my own life. My wife is complaining I am doing too much.

Philip: Maybe your wife is correct. Sometimes our wives see what we cannot see. Don’t tell my wife or I shall never hear the end of it.

Matthews: Sabbath. Hmm, have not thought about the Sabbath for a long time. Working on my studies on weekdays and in church all weekends, completely forgot about a day of rest. Sabbath is a day of rest, isn’t it?

John: Observing the Sabbath is the 4th Commandment. Remember the 10 commandments? Hey, your PhD is in theology, isn’t it?

Matthews: Oops. Guess that’s what you call a pilgrim’s regress. You study all about God that you forget to live with God. So what makes you think Sabbath is the answer to our tiredness?

Philip: I was reading Philip Yancey’s new book on prayer. In it, he mentioned something about Ajith Fernando. Remember Ajith, he spoke to us last year. During the relief effort for the tsunami victims, Ajith wrote something for the relief workers which Yancey quoted. I like it so much that I wrote it down. Now where is it? ……..ah, yes, here it is.

“In his email entitled ‘Disciplines for Emergency Workers’ Ajith wrote, ‘God has built into our systems a rhythm of life which we must not violate; output and input; work and rest; service and worship; community activity, family activity and solitude.’”

When I read that, it struck me that there is a rhythm of life, like our body rhythm. And God has built a rhythm or work and rest into our bodies. We are all so tired because we broke the rhythm. God worked 6 days and rested on the seventh.

Matthews: Wished God had worked a 5 days week! I get what you mean about the rhythm and Sabbath. But look at my life. I am so busy. So how?

Philip: We all busy lah. But that doesn’t mean we don’t look after our health. I have seen people changed after their first heart attack. They began to realize that not all things are important. We can do with less in our lives. What do you think, John? You are rather quiet.

John: I think that observing the Sabbath as a day of rest is not just good for our health. I think it is a matter of obedience. God gave the 10 Commandments as guidelines for the Israelites. That’s the Law. Does that mean we, under the New Covenant do not need to obey it? I think that we need to observe the Sabbath-rest too. It is just a matter of obedience to Jesus.

Philip: I have been thinking along the same line too. I think obeying Jesus is more important than serving Jesus. I have been reviewing my schedule. Some things I do not that important. I am thinking of rearranging my schedule so that I can have a day of rest each week. May not be a Sunday. This means I may have to cut down on some activities. Can or cannot?

John: Makes sense to me too. Sabbath-rest as obedience. I wonder how my elders will take it if I begin to say “no” to more responsibilities.

Matthews: Look for a new church? Joking only lah. Alamak! Time to go. I need to meet my supervisor in half an hour. Hope the next time we meet, we will not be so tired. Jom, guys.

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John Denver: Perhaps Love

This song appears on ten albums, and was first released on the Seasons of the Heart Album, where John sings it solo. It has also been recorded on the Greatest Hits Vol 3, Favourites, John Denver (Italian), The Very Best of John Denver (Double CD), Country Classics, The Country Roads Collection and The Rocky Mountain Collection Albums in a duet with Placido Domingo. A new studio version appears on the Love Again and A Celebration of Life Albums.

Perhaps love is like a resting place
A shelter from the storm
It exists to give you comfort
It is there to keep you warm
And in those times of trouble
When you are most alone
The memory of love will bring you home

Perhaps love is like a window
Perhaps an open door
It invites you to come close
It wants to show you more
And even if you lose yourself
And dont know what to do
The memory of love will see you through

Oh, love to some is like a cloud
To some as strong as steel
For some a way of living
For some a way to feel
And some say love is holding on
And some say letting go
And some say love is everything
And some say they dont know

Perhaps love is like the ocean
Full of conflict, full of change
Like a fire when its cold outside
Or thunder when it rains
If I should live forever
And all my dreams come true
My memories of love will be of you

Words and music by John Denver


Does God Wants You to Be Rich?

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'Just in Time'-- 'God Wants You Wealthy'
By Ben Witherington

The cover photo in the most recent issue of Time Magazine says it all. It shows a Rolls Royce, only instead of the normal hood ornament there is a cross. What would Jesus say? David Van Bema's and Jeff Chu's article is absolutely worth the read. It is one of his best, and it tries hard to be balanced and fair, although the general tenor of the article makes reasonably clear that Van Bema thinks 'Prosperity Lite' is also theology lite, whether it comes from Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer or others.

Since I am quoted in there twice, and my name is not taken in vain, it may be worth a few further remarks.

The health and wealth Gospel is a profoundly American Gospel, especially connected to blue collar Protestant religion, that thrives on the rags to riches mythology of our culture in general. The message is one form of the general message of 'success' or 'progress' and hence prosperity. It really does not preach well in impoverished countries like Zimbabwe where I go to teach and preach from time to time. Why not? Because there are not the social networks or mechanisms to even create the possibility of wealth. If your whole nation's economy is on tilt, your personal one is likely to be the same.

The Osteen or Dollar or Meyer Gospel plays well in places where there is a glimmer of hope of improving one's lot in life, coupled with considerable inequities between the uber-wealthy and the poor. If one see people getting rich quick (or apparently so) then it is natural to think--- "Hey, it could happen to me. This is America, the land of 'opportunity'."

But wait a minute. If it was God's plan and desire for his people in general to be wealthy, why wasn't Jesus himself wealthy? Why did he say "the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" and why did he teach us to pray only for necessities like 'daily bread'? Why exactly is the first beatitude in Luke 6.20-21 "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God." And then the second one is "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied." Jesus, as it turns out, couldn't even pay for his own funeral. He was buried by a fringe disciple who had space in the family tomb. Did Jesus just miss out on the blessing during his earthly life? Maybe he didn't have enough faith??? Hmmmm.

Why exactly was it that the apostle Paul had to work his fingers to the bone making tents (cf. 1 Thess. 2.9 for example) while doing his missionary work? The disparity between the way Paul lived and describes his own life, when compared to the likes of Osteen Dollar or others is striking-- "I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, been exposed to death again and again...Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea...I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked." (2 Cor. 11. 23-27).

Not only so, but Paul in this same 2 Corinthians letter says plainly that he asked God to take a source of suffering away from him, a stake in the flesh, and God said NO! (2 Cor. 12.7-9). Paul is of course engaged in mock boasting, and ridiculing those who make the facile assumption that if they are living large it must be God's blessing and will for their lives!!! Did Paul just not get the memo about the prosperity and health God had in mind for him and about the Gospel of conspicuous consumption?

There are in other words, so many problems with the prosperity Gospel just from examining the teaching and lives of Jesus and Paul, that we don't even need to get into James and other diatribes on the dangers of wealth. So perhaps its about time we had a list of ten good reasons why God doesn't want you wealthy!!


1) Wealth is a false god. As Jesus said. You cannot serve both God and Mammon. Each involve all consuming loyalities and allegiance. A person should never measure themselves, or the blessing of God on their lives by the abundance of their possessions.

2) We are all fallen human beings with an infinite capacity to rationalize our behavior, including especially our spending behavior. Having wealth leads to rationalizing like that of Joel Osteen, who in the Time article says "well its all relative isn't it?" In fact its not relative-- its absolute. And its a case of our taking care of our poor relatives, neighbors, even strangers, and enemies. This is what it means to love neighbor and even enemy as ourselves. The Bible does not say love your neighbor ten percent as much as you love yourself!

3) As the psalmist says--- "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness there of." It follows from this that we are only stewards, not owners of any property! This being the case we have to justify keeping things, not giving them away. Or as John Wesley put it--- other people's necessities, especially the poor, should be taken care of before we even think about our luxuries.

4) Greed is a serious sin, and the desire for wealth often leads to greed. Try reading the story of Silas Marner, or the even sadder story of King Midas.

5) Having wealth gives the false impression that one can secure one's own life. One then begins to trust in one's wealth as a safety net, rather than in God. "Where your treasure is, there also will be your heart".

6) "The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil." The desire to get rich, especially the desire to get rich quick, at whatever cost, often causes the abandonment of various essential Christian virtues such as HONESTY, loyalty, self-sacrificial love for example. The question is--- can you handle wealth? Many Christians cannot handle the temptations of wealth. They compromise their trust in God, and so their very faith, justifying an accelerated rate of conspicuous consumption.

7) The desire to be wealthy is a form of narcissism. It is essentially very self-centered, self-seeking behavior. And the most primal sin of all is 'the heart turned in upon itself.'

8) The Bible is very clear that God will hold us accountable for what we do, with what we have in this life. To whom more is given, more is required. See the parable of the talents. Conspicuous consumption in essence results in taking food out of the mouths of the starving, taking dollars away from missionary work, taking resources away from worthy charities. In other words, sins of omission are just as serious as sins of commission. Its also what you are not doing with your resources that God will hold you accountable for. See for example the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Lk. 16. But even more devastating is the fact that Jesus takes it as a personal affront if we do not visit those in prison, feeed the hungry, and care for the sick and needy. Jesus identifies with the poor and their plight (see Mt. 25.34-40). And just because you may do this once and a while on a mission trip does not give you permission to avoid living a simple life style most of the time.

9) Wealth does not very often make you happy. I used to live in the furniture capital of America-- High Point N.C. Some of those furniture millionares were some of the most miserable, frightened, paranoid people I have ever met. Here's a clue. The more you have-- the more you have to lose, and the more things you fear losing in life when it comes to property. Living in a simple manner obviates these problems altogether.

10) Jesus extols the poor not the rich! Why would Jesus extol the widow who gave her whole 'living' into the temple treasury (Mk. 12.41-44) if Jesus had really believed the prosperity Gospel? Shouldn't he have chided this poor woman for making herself even more indigent and not going for happiness and the gusto in life? Didn't Jesus say he came that we might have an abundant life? Here's a clue-- the abundant life has nothing to do with abundant possessions. It has to do with having the gift of everlasting life, and having God's loving presence in your midst forever.

There is more, but this is enough for now. Read Gordon Fee's The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospel (available on the Regent College in Vancouver website).


Paul's Idea of Community

Robert Banks 1995, Paul's Idea of Community (Peabody: Hendrickson Publisher)

Banks noted that according to Paul, “God’s intention is not the fashioning merely of mature individuals but of mature communities as well. The Christian community does not exist just as a means to individual ends, though a mature community is an influential factor in shaping the individual maturity of its members.” (Banks 1994, 67).

In defining Paul’s understanding of the purpose of church, Banks wrote, “is the growth and edification of its members into Christ and into a common life through their God-given ministry to one another (1 Cor 14:12,19,26) (1994, 90). This takes place when they are having a common meal and when they are ministering to each other with their spiritual gifts or both together. Hence, to Paul, church is not for worship, evangelism or social action. Worship is living our whole life in Christ all the time. Hence worship cannot be limited to one period of time or place in church only. So one does not go to church for worship.

Radical freedom through Christ was the theological basis of Paul’s understanding of community according to Banks (1994, 25). The three components of his summary from his book are reproduced below:


· from certain things e.g.. sin, the Law, death, and alien powers
· for certain things, e.g., righteousness, conformity to Jesus, and suffering
· resulting in a personal and life-giving experience of liberty


· upon Christ, who terminated humanity’s enslavement through his death and resurrection
· upon the Spirit, who communicates Christ’s life and purpose as a received divine gift rather than innate possibility


· with others, since liberty leads to service and can only be practically defined in relation to their needs
· with the world, since the universe itself will experience the liberty of transformation along with those who are Christ’s
· giving liberty a social and cosmic, as well as a personal and theocentric dimension

Paul was careful to distinguish between the communities of believers in a locality and his communities of traveling missionaries. The former was for edification and to build up the believers in the faith and the latter was to spread the gospel (Banks 1994, 169).

Banks wrote, “Paul’s approach to community has stimulated the creation of alternatives to ecclesiastical structures and counterculture groups, e.g. house churches and basic Christian communities and at times these have been accompanied by a contemporary version of Paul’s work to complement and enhance their activities (1994, 192).


Monday, September 25, 2006

Going to Church in the First Century

Ever wonder how going to church in the First Century will be like?

This interesting book by Robert Banks, Professor of the Ministry of the Laity and Chair of the Ministry Division at Fuller Theological Seminary will give you a first hand eye witness account of a church service in the First Century. Don't miss it!


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Financial Planning from a Biblical Perspective

Spiritual Formation Institute Seminar 2006/4

Financial Planning from a Biblical Perspective

Speaker : Mr. Danny Yap,
Springfield Consultancy,
Johor Bahru

Date: 2.00pm- 5.00pm, Saturday 21 October 2006

Place: Holy Light Church, Johor Bahru


Money- whilst some never mention it, others talk of it unceasingly. For each of us, our financial knowledge is simply the result of what we have learnt or experienced over time. Regardless of how we rate our current knowledge, there is always room for improvement.
The individual with no money has much room to grow, as does the individual who has wealth. Financial planning with its intricate complexities can humble even the most educated person. From the novice to the expert, the only limit to our financial freedom is ourselves.

As Christians, whatever amount we are blessed with, whether it is in the monetary form or possession, we are merely stewards. Finding God’s order for our life is not difficult. It is implementing it that is the most challenging.

About the Speaker:

Danny Yap is the founder and Principal of Springfield Consultancy Sdn Bhd. With over 15 years of experience as a provider in financial services, Danny is a speaker, author and a coach to professionals, managers, executives and business owners. Danny’s speaking engagements have also taken him around many parts of Malaysia, Southeast Asia, specifically to the Philippines, Singapore, and Indonesia. He is a Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) and a holder of a Masters of Science in financial planning. Danny has been a member of the prestigious Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) every year since 1999.

Seminar is free and all are welcome. For more information contact

[ a member of Gereja Presbyterian Malaysia ]
11-C, Jalan Gertak Merah, 80100 Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Tel : 07-224 3285 Fax: 07-223 5476


Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Commentary: Hooked on the Numbers
by Tan Soo Inn

A long time ago, in another life, I worked as a pastor. The highlight of my week then was finding out the worship attendance of the most recent worship service.
If the numbers were up, I felt a certain joy, a hidden gladness, a secret pride of my church and my ministry.

If the numbers were down, I would think up all sorts of reasons to explain why the numbers had dropped, for example, "it's the holiday season, and many of our folks are away."
I felt apologetic when friends visited on Sunday and the numbers were down.
I was hooked on the numbers.

I do not think I am alone.
Consciously or subconsciously many churches use numbers as the primary indicator of how well they are doing. Many chase the three "Bs" --- bodies, buildings and budgets.
Bodies --- How many at worship? How large is your membership?
Buildings --- How big is your facility? How much did it cost to build?
Budget --- How much is your church budget? How much is your annual collection.?

The reasoning goes something like this: the larger the numbers, the greater the success. The greater the success, the greater must be God's approval.
Therefore we ask the leaders of our larger churches to lead our denominations, and to teach the rest of us how to do church.
More is good.

But not all are convinced of the primacy of numerical indicators.
In an article in Christianity Today (Small is Large, February 2006), David Neff writes:

"In his recent book, The Great Giveaway, David Fitch addresses the knee-jerk way in which evangelicals admire and copy churches and ministries that garner large followings.
He speaks of evangelicalism's 'culture of numbers' and shows how it often owes more to free-market capitalism's concern for efficient production than it does the gospel."(p.74)

To justify this "culture of numbers" many would cite passages like Acts 2:41. There we are told: "So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added." (NET) Three thousand accepted the gospel that day. Talk about a successful evangelistic rally.

Yet the bible also records verses like John 6:66 where we are told "many of his (Jesus) disciples quit following him and did not accompany him" (NET) when Jesus began to explain the true nature of His mission. Here the numbers shrank. Was Jesus a failure?
Clearly the evidence for numbers as a criterion for spiritual success is ambiguous at best.

If the bible is not at all clear that numbers are a criterion for success, it is very clear that God expects His people to be faithful. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the "successful" servants are commended as those who had been faithful stewards of their resources.
They were commended for their faithfulness not their numerical success.

So yes we praise God when we hear of the mushrooming of churches in places like China. Surely God is at work. But I believe God was also at work when Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a very small band of Christians stood firm against Hitler and the horrors of Nazism.
God calls us to be faithful.

I am aware that faithfulness can be a convenient banner to hide behind when we have been lazy and poor stewards of our resources and opportunities. That is a different kind of danger. However it remains true that God's primary desire is that we are a faithful people, faithful to Him, to His Character, to His Word and to His Purposes.
Such faithfulness may or may not lead to obvious numerical success.

It is interesting that when God commissions Ezekiel for his prophetic ministry, God expects Ezekiel to be faithful to his ministry, whether the people respond or not.

"Son of man, I am sending you to the house of Israel, to rebellious nations who have rebelled against me; both they and their fathers have revolted against me to this very day.
The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and hard-hearted, and you must say to them, 'This is what the sovereign Lord says.' And as for them, whether they listen or not - for they are a rebellious house - they will know that a prophet has been among them." (Ezekiel 2:3-5 NET)

Ezekiel is expected to be faithful to what the Lord had commanded him to do. He is to be faithful to his call irrespective of whether the people listen. Ezekiel is expected to be faithful not "successful."

God may call some churches to be big and to be stewards of large budgets and large buildings. Different churches have different assignments. Just as long as we do not automatically equate large numbers with spiritual success and God's blessing.

Furthermore we also need to beware of the dangers of being hooked on numbers.
2 Samuel 24:1-17 records a major mistake in the life of King David. He initiated a census of his warriors. David had eight hundred thousand fighting men in Israel and five hundred thousand in Judah, under his command (2 Samuel 24:9).

David had every reason to be proud. He was the head of a large and victorious fighting force. He had come a long way from the farm. But this act of self glorification was sin which he eventually recognized.

"David felt guilty after he had numbered the army. David said to the Lord, 'I have sinned greatly by doing this! Now, O Lord, please remove the guilt of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.'" (2 Samuel 24:10 NET)

David's numbering exercise was an exercise in self glory. It was a great sin. Here is a disturbing warning about the seductive nature of numbers and how easily large numbers can lead to pride.
Therefore, not only are numbers no guarantee of spiritual success, they also have the capacity to lead us into the sin of pride.

We are long overdue for a proper understanding of the role of numbers in the life of the church.
For a start we need to take our cue from the Word and not from the world of business.
We may need to use numbers at times but let us put numbers in their place.

Instead of being tyrannized by numbers, let there be a fresh commitment to be faithful to the Lord. Whether we face the challenge of overt persecution, or the stifling materialism of free societies, may we be found faithful.

Instead of keeping our eyes on the numbers, let us keep our eyes on the Lord.
And on our hearts.
Let us cultivate a culture of faithfulness.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Need for an "Asian" Christian Education Strategy

In most Malaysian churches today, teaching on the Christian life is mainly through the pulpit ministry and by various education or discipleship programs. Discipleship is defined as living a life following Christ. Some education or discipleship programs are holistic, resulting in spiritual formation. Dallas Willard defined spiritual formation as character formation.

Unfortunately, many education or discipleship programs tend to be individualistic. The emphasis is on building a personal relationship with God only. Though this relationship with God may overflow into relationship with other people, it tends to be a very individualistic Christian spirituality. The relationship is “I and Thou” and the faith community exists only as the medium where personal relationship takes place. The teaching method for these types of discipleship programs are mainly instructional-schooling. Teaching may have occurred but one cannot be sure that learning has taken place. This discipleship programs are mainly designed for behaviour modification (teaching the right “Christian” behaviour) rather than character transformation. One measures the success of these programs by how their participant behaves rather than what character changes have occurred. True learning always involves character transformation. Therefore there is a need for all Malaysian churches an educational strategy that will be effective in character formation rather than church activism.

How do members of the Malaysian Christian churches, who are mostly Chinese, Indians and tribal ethics groups process their faith? Asian societies tend to be tightly organized, collectivistic, hierarchical, with greater emphasis on social order and conflict avoidance and more concern with main-zi (face) and group approval. Should Malaysian Christian faith communities follow the same approach of a discipleship program designed in the West and tailored for Western Christians? Western discipleship programs tend to be more individualistic in their approach. This is an important consideration as many Malaysian churches are buying education and “discipleship” programs from the West especially the United States. These “discipleship” programs comes in ‘packages’ which includes a content book, study guides, leader’s guides, DVDs, music CD and sermon transcripts. What is worrying is that churches are using these programs wholesale without analyzing the underlying theological foundation and the fact that these programs are marketed at American Christians. Would it have the same impact in Malaysia where the thinking processes are different? Would the faith development of the Malaysian Christians be more rapid if the educational approach should be more community based rather than an individualistic? Would it retard our own education or discipleship program development? Would it give a distorted view of Christianity as mainly an “individualistic evangelical middle class superpower white male religion”? How does it fit into a multicultural, multiethnic and pluralistic Malaysian culture?

There is a need for an educational approach that takes into consideration character formation as its goal, the Asian culture of community rather than individualistic Christian spirituality, and is holistic in developing all aspects of faith development. Such an approach will be powerful instrument under the Holy Spirit as churches become learning communities.

While there have been many on-going attempts to develop an “Asian Theology”, there has not been any work done to develop an “Asian Christian Education”. Asia is a major growth centre for Christianity and there is a need for an indigenous contextualized Asian Christian education. Previous Christian education strategies have always been to fit an existing “Western” educational model into an Asian church. It is time to develop Asian or Malaysian Christian education model.


Friday, September 08, 2006




Thursday, September 07, 2006

Philip Yancey on Prayer

Yancey, Philip. 2006. Prayer: Does it make any Difference? London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Philip Yancey, author of best selling Disappointment with God and Soul Survivor, is a popular author because he puts in words, what many Christians are feeling but are afraid to articulate. He deals with controversial topics of living a Christian life with brutal honesty. Hence a book on prayer is most welcome. Prayer is the most talked about subject in Christian life yet least practiced. Yancey stated that to him, prayer is the area where two themes of struggle in Christian life meet: “Why God doesn’t act the way we want God to and why I don’t act the way God wants me to.”

In Part 1, Yancey developed the theme of who God is and who we are in relationship to Him. He also highlighted the fact that God wants to keep company with us. It is in this context that, Yancey developed his argument why we should pray. To him, prayer is a partnership with God which he developed in Part 2. God wants to partner with his creatures in His great redemption plan of the present fallen creation. Prayer then is a form of negotiation. Skillfully skirting the theological issue of whether an unchanging God can change His mind, Yancey explored the numerous passages in the Bible that God did changed His mind. He concluded that the underlying reason that God does change His mind is because of love. “For God so loved the world…”

In Part 3, Yancey explored the ‘language of prayer.’ Basically, this section is a ‘how to pray’ section. However I am glad he explored the silence of God in his chapter ‘the sound of silence’. For some reasons, most churches do not teach the fact that in a life of prayer, there are times when God does not seem to be present. Spiritual writer like John of the Cross talked about a dark night of the soul- an experience where God seems to be absent. One reason why this is not commonly taught may be that many Christians may not be able to accept the fact that God will voluntarily withdraw the awareness of His presence from us. However as many spiritual writers have attested, these dark nights are necessary for our spiritual growth. Another reason may be that almost all Christians are struggling with prayer (or time to pray). A God who seems absent may not fit into their theological framework.

Part 4 is the climax of the whole book. I was looking forward to discover what Yancey would say about two important issues for us who are struggling with prayers- unanswered prayers and prayers and physical healing.

Regarding unanswered prayer, Yancey wrote, “Some, but not all, unanswered prayers trace back to a fault in the one who prayers…to God’s mystifying respect for human freedom and refusal to coerce…to dark powers contending against God’s rule…to a planet marred with disease, violence and the potential for tragic accident.” What about the unanswered prayers not due to these causes mentioned? After 15 pages, Yancey concludes, “In the end, unanswered prayer brings me face to face with the mystery that silenced Paul: the profound difference between my perspective and God’s”. It is a mystery but it does not help those of us who are struggling with unanswered prayers.

Yancey seems to have struggled much as he wrote about prayer and physical healing. Earlier in the book he has noted the tremendous growth of the church in Nepal. “The first Nepalese became a Christian in 1950. Now the Church numbers more than half a million, and Nepalese church leaders estimate that 80 per cent of converts have resulted from physical healings…European and American doctors who work there as missionaries, and they admit they have no scientific explanation…David Aikman’s book Jesus in Beijing reports a similar pattern of apparent miracles in China.” Yet, in his chapter on prayer and physical healing, he wrote, “Nevertheless, I do believe that what many people think of when you say the word ‘divine healing’-supernatural interventions in the law of nature governing our bodies-are extremely rare. They are miracles, not ordinaries.”

This is a brave and honest statement especially in the face of certain groups of Christians who claims that God performs healing on demand (just remind Him of His promises, that’s all). Earlier in the chapter, Yancey extracted an article which he co-authored with Dr. Paul Brand for Christianity Today. Dr. Paul Brand is well recognized as an authority on orthopedic surgery for leprosy patients and a well respected Christian. In the article, Dr Brand remarked, “From my own experience as a physician I must truthfully admit that, among the thousands of patients I have treated, I have never observed an unequivocal instance of intervention in the physical realm. Many were prayed for, many found healing, but not in ways that counteracted the laws governing anatomy. No case have I treated personally would meet the rigorous criteria for a supernatural miracle.” This is an amazing statement from a Christian who has treated thousands of leprosy patients. I am sure he prayed for them. Not a single one got healed miraculously! They were all healed by conventional medicine. And this is in India, an underdeveloped country if anyone is to argue that miraculous healing occurs in only underdeveloped countries.

I believe Yancey wrote this because he has seen the “great damage that result when we presume upon God (for healing)”. Yancey’s approach is to review our prayers with a checklist before praying.
-Am I expecting a miracle as an entitlement?
-Am I using the benefits of God’s ‘common grace’-the healing built into our bodies and the medical knowledge we have gained?
-Do I wrongly blame God for causing suffering?
-Am I prepared for the possibility that physical healing may not take place?

I find this checklist fascinating and useful to check our inner attitude and our relationship with God before praying for healing. Yes, we are still called to pray for healing.

In any Christian bookstores, the shelves are full of books about prayers. This indicates that though prayers and praying is a common spiritual discipline, many of us have problems with it. I have enjoyed Philip Yancey’s book for three reasons. Firstly, he is an excellent wordsmith and it was enjoyable to read his writing. Secondly, this book is full of interesting anecdotes and reports about the Christianity in different parts of the world because he has a journalist’s instinct for seeing the big picture. Finally, he is honest about his struggle with praying and how much time he spent on it.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.