Thursday, December 28, 2006

What have we learnt from blogging?

By the end of this month, I would have being blogging for one year. It has been fun and I met a lot of new people online, people whom I do not even know how they look like. I have shared information, argued, confronted and sometimes ''deleted them. I also have made some friends. I became very up todate with the latest information and happenings around the world. From the numerous links, I have became aware of how much information there is available at a click of a mouse, if you know where and how to find it.

Alan Jacobs comments in his article, Goodbye, Blog in the May/June 2006 issue of Books & Culture: A Christian Review that blogs are " the friend of information but the enemy of thought."


There is no privacy: all conversations are utterly public. The arrogant,
the ignorant, and the bullheaded constantly threaten to drown out the saintly,
and for that matter the merely knowledgeable, or at least overwhelm them with
sheer numbers. And the architecture of the blog (and its associated technologies
like rss), with its constant emphasis on novelty, militates against leisurely
conversations. It is no insult to the recent, but already cherished, institution
of the blogosphere to say that blogs cannot do everything well. Right now, and
for the foreseeable future, the blogosphere is the friend of information but the
enemy of thought.


What Jacobs wrote bears thinking about as we surf the web daily for information to update our blogs for readers we do not know, for information that may not be accurate, for opinions that may not be informed and from people who hide their true identities.

How do we overcome the architecture of the blog to making it conducive to thinking rather than just information presentation? How do we become reflective thinkers rather than information brokers? We need to think about it if our blogging is to become a missional activity rather than an addiction.

Previous Post

Why I Begin Blogging

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Resolution Maker

While resolving not to make any new New Year Resolutions for 2007, I was reminded by Eric Reed's article on one of the most prolific resolution maker I have even known - Jonathan Edwards.

He made his resolutions year round (not just in December) and as we celebrate the 300th anniversary of his birth, let's check out some of his resolutions:

Being sensible that I am unable to do any thing without God's help, I do humbly intreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ's sake.

Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration.

Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general.

Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

Resolved, Never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

Resolved, To be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

Resolved, To maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

Resolved, Never to do any thing, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise Him for, or to think any way the more meanly of Him.

Resolved, To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

Resolved, To strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher excercise of grace, than I was the week before.

Resolved, To ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better.

Altogether he made 70 resolutions which he kept strictly for the rest of his life.
Still thinking of making New Year resolutions?

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Understanding Church in Emergent/Emerging Conversation

I find it fascinating reading various articles or comments on the links on emergent and emerging churches on my previous two postings. The links were from some people who were for and some who were against the emergent and emerging churches. What I am impressed is the amount of emotions stirred up over this ‘conversation’.

While reading the materials, it occurs to me that basic to the whole discussion is our understanding of the Church. I believer there are two possible ways to understand the Church. (i) The Church is God’s instrument in His redemption plan to bring about the new heavens and earth in Revelation; and (ii) the Church is God’s ultimate purpose in his whole action of creation.

(i) The Church is God’s instrument in His redemption plan to bring about the new heavens and earth in Revelation

There are several points we need to take note in this understanding:
· The Church is an instrument of God. Creation was distorted by the fall. The Church is here to fix things and put things right.
· Creation is the primary purpose of God.
· The Church is a part of creation. Culture is part of creation. Here one of the Church’s roles is to correct culture- hence Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture (Christ against culture, Christ of culture or Christ for culture). In other words, Christ against, of or for modernism and postmodernism.
· The narrative in the Old and New Testament is linear and progressive. It tells one story only, that of the redemption of creation. Here, prepositions are important because it gives understanding in the Church as an instrument in fixing the universe.
· Here the Church is seen as an instrument; i.e. the nature of the Church is in what she can or will do. It is the doing part that is important.

(ii) The Church is God’s ultimate purpose in His whole action of creation.

Here we have a totally different view of the Church:
· The Church is God’s chosen people (A Trinitarian community)
· The Church exist in principle but nor in actuality before creation.
· The whole purpose of creation is to provide the matrix in which God’s people are formed, informed and transformed. The development of a triune relationship.
· The Church though in creation is above creation. Hence the Church should not be subject to culture but be above culture (modernism, postmodernism). In fact the Church should have its own culture which will be considered countercultural in this world.
· The narrative in the Old and New Testament should be seem as how God deal with individuals, tribes, nations and countries so that a special ‘chosen people’ arises. God encounters are always experiential rather than prepositions.
· The nature of the Church will be in what it is, rather that what it does. The key is in what the Church is.

I wonder what the evangelical understanding of the Church is. And what about the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox understanding of what or who is the Church? How will that help us in the understanding of the emergent and emerging churches conversation.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas Day 2006

And I was reading...

I am grateful for time to do some of my favourite reading this Christmas. Finished William Shatner’s Star Trek novel. William Shatner, Star Trek’s Original Series’ Captain James Tiverias Kirk has written nine Star Trek novels! All of these novels were co-written with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. Shatner’s Star Trek stories do not correlated well with Paramount (Star Trek franchise) studio’s Star Trek series. Paramount studio kept a tight rein on all Star Trek novels so that there is consistency in the Star Trek universe.

Shatner however seems to be outside Paramount’s control because his novels move outside the Star Trek universe Bible (guidelines). One example is, not surprising, Shatner resurrected James Kirk. Another is that McCoy (who would be about 150 years old), Scotty and Spock are able to gallivant around the galaxy in a state-of-the-art starship, courtesy of Starfleet Command. Their adventures always involve Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Riker, Troi, Geordi, the crew of U.S.S Enterprise 1701E and also Admiral Janeway! There appears to be an intergenerational mix in his stories.

The book I read was Captain’s Glory, the third book of the trilogy which includes Star Trek: The Totality and Captain’s Peril. Like all Star Trek novels, it was rough and tumble with non-stop action, with new technologies developed overnight and winning against impossible odds. [ story spoiler ] In this trilogy, the universe was under attack by The Totality. In our universe, according to Spock, all matter as we know it (stars, planets, us etc) is made up of light matter. 95% of the universe is made up of dark matter. Apparently there is a malevolent intelligence in the dark matter which wants to take over and absorb the light matter i.e. us - what else is new.This dark matter is known as the Totality. Of course Kirk and his friends managed to contain and chase out this dark matter. It is a good read for die-hard Star Trek fan though the storyline is far from sound. This dark matter sounds fascinating and I look forward to finding out more about it.

And the manga I was reading is...

Yes, there is a Star Trek manga! It is published by TOKYOPOP inc, in Los Angeles in September 2006. It reads and looks like a Japanese manga. There 6 short stories in this manga. Nice stories, too. I hope this is the beginning of a new series.

And I was listening to…

This is a wonderful collection of 24 choruses and hymns remixed in the Celtic style. I find the remix very soothing and enjoyable.

Blessed Christmas to all...

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Twas the Night Before Christmas

“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;…”

The house is quiet now. The family has retired to bed. I sat in the living room and watched the Christmas tree with its twinkling light. I always find the twinkling lights mesmerising. The days of making up a list of people to buy Christmas presents for; the different gifts for different people and the anxiety of wondering whether they will like their gifts; the mad struggle with other shoppers in the shopping malls (in Singapore, you will kill for a parking space!); the wrapping of the gifts and there they are now: snug under the twinkling Christmas tree until tomorrow. Tomorrow, gifts will be exchanged and exclaimed over.

Thoughts of Christmas being commercialised have crossed my mind a few times during the weeks. Yes, it is commercialised with the winter release of new products, the advertisements, the sales and the Santa Claus. However, behind the gifts lies a question. Why do we buy and give gifts? For some of us is an obligation. For others it is an act of love. Who can forget the joy on the face of a child when she unwrapped a Christmas present and find the gift she has been praying for all year. Giving is an act of love.

For many decades, the Jewish people had been waiting for a Messiah; Someone who not only will lead them to God but also bring all the nations under this same God. There had been this strong desire for the presence of God to be with all people for all times. Christmas is a reminder that this desire for many of us had been fulfilled.

In the appropriate time, God did come to us. What surprised us is that he chose to come in the form of a helpless human baby. Many of the Christmas sermons stopped at that; God loved us so that the only way He can save us is to come as a human baby. This evening as I was watching the twinkling lights on my Christmas tree, I began to feel the presence of the Lord. I knew He love me and it is good to be reminded of His love. What shocked me was my new awareness of how great is His love for us.

I believe Amy Carmichael had this awareness when she wrote, “As my thoughts were thus occupied, I found myself on the shore of the sea. And I took a grain of sand from the miles of sand about me and I held it in my hand. Then I knew that my desire for the presence of the Lord was like a little grain for smallness in comparison with my Lord’s desire to come under my roof; for what was like the measure of the measureless sands. And my thoughts followed this great thought, Jesus answered and said to me, ‘With desire I have desired to come to you.’”

Such GREAT love! I can only concur with the psalmist, “May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.” (Ps 33:23)

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Thomas Merton on Peace

Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.

Thomas Merton

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

More Thinking about Emergent and Emerging Churches

More links to consider

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Thinking about Emergent and Emerging Churches

Some links I picked up from Wikipedia

The Emerging Church, Part One July 8, 2005, PBS Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

The Emerging Church, Part Two July 15, 2005, PBS Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

The Emergent Mystique - Christianity Today feature by Andy Crouch

Absolutely Not! Exposing the postmodern errors of the emerging church by Phil Johnson, from the 2006 Shepherds' Conference at Grace Community Church

Postmodernism and the Emerging Church Movement by David Kowalski

The Emerging Church

"A Generous Orthodoxy" -- Is it Orthodox? by Albert Mohler

A New Kind of Postmodernist by Douglas Groothuis

Emerging Confusion by Charles Colson

More Than a Fad: Understanding the Emerging Church by Walter Henegar

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Leave Me Alone, I'M Reading

A recent posting on biliobibuli’s blog on local Malaysian book reviewers drew some heated comments. The general sentiments were that local book reviewers are not as good as compared to overseas book reviewers.
Book reviewers are sometimes viewed as the vultures of the book scene, especially by the author of the reviewed work. Reviewers take their newborn ‘child’ and tear him/her apart, looking at their ‘blood-sweat’ piece of work with jaundiced eyes. On a whim, they can make or break a writer’s fragile ego. They can also make or break the sales of a book. Many people will look at a reviewer’s recommendation rather than his or her comments.

What about the book reviewers themselves? Are they the ogres we perceive them to be? Are they failed writers, venting their spleen on some hapless author? Or are they like you and I, lover of the written word.

Maureen Corrigan is the book critic (professional book reviewer) for NPR program Fresh Air who has about four and a half million listeners. She reviews books for The New York Times, Newsday, The Nation, The Boston Globe, the Village Voice and many other publications. She is also a professor of literature at George Washington University at Washington, D.C. Maureen gave us a rare glimpse into the life of a book reviewer and an obsessive book lover in her book, Leave Me Alone, I’M Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books (New York: Random House, 2005). For me, the title alone is worth buying the book.

This book is part memoirs and part roller coaster ride through the books that she found fascinating and decided that had some influence in her life. She runs through the works of authors like a hot knife through butter, leaving me breathless with her insight into their works. Her authors range from Philip Roth to Dorothy Sayers, authors of “trashy novels” and back to the hallowed writers of classics of literature.

In her introduction, Maureen wrote, “It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s just that when I’m in the company of others- even my nearest and dearest – there always comes a moment when I’d rather be reading a book”. She also has an interest in mysteries and thrillers, “Yes, after my woozy seduction by Hammett and Chandler, I was still stuck on tough guys- except that now, in contemporary hard-boiled fiction I had worked my way up to, the tough guys were sometimes girls. Or gay. Or dark skinned…” Oh, yes, I forget to mention, she also writes a mystery column for The Washington Post.
Maureen gave us an ‘up close and personal’ view of a book reviewer. She does not appear to fit our image of a book reviewer. In fact she what sounds rather nice but still, I rather read her book.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Faithful to the End

Gordon Wong, 2006, Faithful to the End: The Message of Daniel for Life in the Real World (Singapore: Genesis Books)

For some reasons, I always feel tense and a bit apprehensive when I read commentaries about the prophetic books from the Bible. I guess it is because these commentaries tend to be very serious, conjuring up images from the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Hence I was pleasantly surprised when I find Dr. Gordon Wong’s book a delightful read.

Dr. Gordon Wong lectures in Old Testament, Hebrew and Homiletics at Trinity Theological College in Singapore. The various chapters are based on a serious of sermons he gave on the book of Daniel. It retains the flavor of a conversational type of sermon with numerous illustrations. I especially love the illustrations he made from movies that he has watched.

His approach is pastoral rather than academic. This does not mean that there are no academic materials there. In fact, there are tons of theological studies and commentaries but Dr. Wong has distilled the essence out of them and presented them as something simple and easy to understand. He is not dogmatic in his approach but makes allowance for other views too. Each chapter ends with a summary and additional reading where he deals with the more academic aspects of the book. I like this approach because it does not distract from the key points of the chapter. Often, reading commentaries on prophetic books are confusing because the authors present the forest and the trees together. So we end up being lost in the wood. There are also discussion questions at the end of each chapter for group study.

This is an excellent good book, written by Dr. Wong. I would recommend it for individual or group study in the churches.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

The Ancient Evangelical Future Conference 2006

The Ancient Evangelical Future Conference was held on 7-9 December 2006 with Hans Boersma, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Aaron Flores, Brian McLaren, and Howard Synder.

Thanks to Desert Pastor/Chris Monroe who blogged the whole conference, we are able to follow, hear and see some parts of the conference.

Hans Boersma's Focus Paper on A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future gave an excellent perspective to view the whole conference. In it he identified 7 important points in which we need to engage AEF if it should be a workable and viable process. They are:

1. Metanarrative
2. Ressourcement of the early Church
3. Spiritual interpretation
4. Visible church
5. Role of Theology
6. Christian morality
7. Reunification of the church

Each of these points is debatable and need to be defined clearly if AEF is to be taken seriously by the rest of the evangelical community. Otherwise it will be viewed as wistful thinking in looking towards the past in search of ‘a golden age’ of the church.

In the opening plenary Brain McLaren spoke on
“Does the Emergent Church have an Ancient Evangelical Future?” He identified the divergence and the convergence of the emergent church and AEF and suggested some areas in which it may converge. Again the difficulty of definition of terms come into being. As yet there are no fixed definition for emergent and AEF, thus making it difficult to make sense of the topic. Emergent and AEF are broad terms covering diverse opinions and theological constructs.

I hope the organizer of the AEF conference will produce DVDs, audio CD or even publish the talks and discussion so that others who did not have opportunity to attend will be able to continue the discussion.

This may be a bit premature but I do see a glimpse of convergence of the Emergent and AEF

However I do have some questions:
  1. How will AEF help the existing Church?
  2. Does it help us to know God better?
  3. Does it help in our character formation?
  4. Does it help us to be more missional?
  5. Do Protestants, Roman Catholics and Orthodox traditions need to be unified?

We do not need a 'cut and paste' movement. We need renewal. Maranatha!

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A Gene Story

Michael Crichton, 2006, NEXT (New York: HarperCollins Publishers), HC. 1st Ed.

Michael Crichton is one of my favourite writers and I look forward to each of his new work with anticipation. He is the author of The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, Jurassic Park, Rising Sun, Disclosure, Timeline and Eaters of the Dead. All these novels have been filmed as successful movies. Eater of the Dead hit the screens as The Thirteenth Warrior. Michael Crichton was trained as a medical doctor before turning to full time writing. I believe that his medical training has enabled him to research and understand the science involved with good accuracy.

I am always amazed at how he managed to extrapolate the existing database to produce exciting, readable fiction. In each of his novels, he deals with a different discipline of science. Examples are The Andromeda Strain (xenobiology and disease control), Sphere (paranormal psychology), Jurassic Park (cloning) and Timeline (quantum physics). In his latest book, Next, he deals with gene therapy and genetic manipulation.

Like all his previous books, this is an exciting, fast moving thriller. He would expose his characters to innovative technology and develop an exciting story line. Unlike his previous books, Crichton seems to place too much emphasis on the technology itself rather than the characters in Next. There are far too many characters that at times I forget who's who and have to refer backward to find out who the particular character is. Not to spoilt the novel, it is enough to mention that there are bounty hunters, ruthless venture capitalists, greedy, unethical and publicity seeking scientists, innocent lady lawyer, transgenic animals (animals who have human genes) and even a speaking orang utan in Sumatra. [Note to me: Does Sumatra has orang utans?].

What is gratifying to me is that Michael Crichton has taken the same issues that I was concerned about in my own book, Live and Let Live: A Christian Perspective on Biotechnology and build his novel on it. These issues also concern scientists elsewhere who are involved in gene studies or are following its development.

What really surprised me was that at the end of the book, Michael Crichton highlighted 5 points which he was concerned about in his Author’s Note section. And he also provided a long annotated bibliography which is very unusual in a novel.

The five points are really ethical issues about molecular genetic science that we all should be concerned about.

1. Stop patenting genes.
It may sound funny but companies and individuals have been patenting human genes and part of the human bodies. This is allowed under US Patent Law. One can apply for and get a patent for say, ‘anti-aging’ gene. It does not matter whether you have done any research or whether such a gene actually exists. One can do a pre-emptive strive and patent the gene first. Then if anyone else later really discover such a gene, then they have to apply to you for patent right to use the gene. An example is that in the United States, a university discovered the gene that produce pain, named COX-2. They have no plans for it but they decided to patent it. When a pharmaceutical company discovered a drug that inhibit COX-2, the drug became an instant bestseller as it is very effective. The university sued the pharmaceutical company for using their ‘patented gene’. I am happy to note that the university lost the case.

2. Establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues.
At present there are no clear guidelines about the use of human tissues. When you donate tissue from your body for a scientist to do research upon, do your cells belong to you or to the research institution or the researchers? What happens if someone takes your cells and creates a cell line? A cell-line is a cluster of your cells that can be cultured in the laboratory. Theoretically, such a cell-line can continue to grow indefinitely. Do you have a right to your cell-line? Do you have a right to decide what you want to be done with your cell line? Or the moment the cells leave your body it is no longer yours. Then does the institution to which you donate the cell-line own it? Can they patent it and sell it? If they do patent your cell-line, do they also own you as the source of the cell-line?

3. Pass laws to ensure that data about gene testing is made public.
Gene therapy is a very new field but researchers are rushing to develop it as it is a gold mine in the next stage of medication treatment. The FDA is coming out with regulations but there have been many reported (or unreported) deaths in gene therapy. This is usually done by private companies which try to cover up. There is a need for transparency in gene therapy research as there are in pharmaceutical research.

4. Avoid bans on research.
Banning research on molecular genetic results only drives it underground and into the hand of private corporations which may not have very strict ethical standards. Bans cannot be enforced. Here I agree with Michael Crichton that “certain research ought not be done, at least not now.” (p.422)

5. Rescind the Boyle-Dole Act.
In 1980, Congress passed a law permitting scientists in public universities to sell their discoveries for their own profit. This opened a floodgate in which results from researches in universities and research institutions which was funded by public money are being patented and allowed to made available commercially. Scientists began their own companies to market their own discoveries. This has reached such a state in the United States, that the line between pure research and commercial ventures has been blurred. Researches are now commercially driven.

Michael Crichton has written an interesting novel on molecular genetic sciences and I would recommend it as a good read. However I am still not sure it is a fiction with science or a non-fiction science book with a story.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

What I've Learnt in the year 2006

At the end of a Sunday school class about Jonah and the whale, the teacher asked her class of eager 6 years old, “What have you learnt?” The answers vary from God, love, fishing until a small voice called out, “Big fish vomit out Christian!”

Ignatius of Loyola taught a spiritual discipline of reviewing our daily lives to discover the presence of God. He recommended we do it daily, weekly, monthly, six monthly and yearly. So, in the great tradition of Ignatian spirituality, I have decided to find out what I have learnt this year.

  • I’ve learnt that I never kept any of my New Year resolution because I did not make any.
  • I’ve learned that God answers prayers, but often not in ways we expect and that He has a sense of humour.
  • I’ve have learnt that no matter how many bookshelves I build, there is never enough room for my books.
  • I’ve learned that God works slowly, but His work is excellent and everlasting.
  • I’ve learnt that compassion for the poor involves giving, but sacrificial giving is very painful.
  • I’ve learnt that I am so much in a hurry that most of the time my soul is playing ‘catching up’ with my body.
  • I’ve learnt that spiritual formation takes time and I am very impatient.
  • I’ve learnt that a 10 day silent (no talking) retreat is a torture but God got through to me. He could have called me on my hand phone, He has my number.
  • I’ve learnt that no matter how many times I have read the Bible, there is always new truth/meaning waiting to be discovered.
  • I’ve learnt that most people prefer spiritual fast food than a wholesome Christian meal.
  • I’ve learnt that the Holy Spirit speaks to me but I have to lower my ambient noise to hear Him.
  • I’ve learnt that saying “no” is harder than saying yes but I need to do ‘the one thing needful’.
  • I’ve learnt that there is no point worrying about what people think of me because they never think of me anyway.
  • I’ve learnt that in the name of reformation, we have often thrown out the baby with the bathwater so there are many babies lying around. I am looking around to pick up a few.
  • I’ve learnt that teaching may not lead to learning, but learning involves teaching.
  • I’ve have learnt that after saving a child’s life, the parents will come back to complain about the bill.
  • I’ve learnt that God does heal in response to prayer but in His own way and timing.
  • I’ve learnt that the universe does not revolve around me.
  • I’ve learnt that I love to do research and write, but I am not very good at it.
  • I’ve learnt that the congregation never remember the main points of my sermons but they remember my jokes and wisecracks.
  • I’ve learnt the need to connect with our young adults because they are the next generation of leaders.
  • I’ve learnt that the Internet is a vast communication network and resource and that people actually read my blogs.
  • I’ve learnt that it is easier to loosen my belt than to lose weight.
  • I’ve learnt that we need to appreciate and love our friends, because God may call some home early.
  • I’ve learnt that after 40 years, Star Trek fans are still baldly going where no man has gone before.
  • I’ve learnt that pain is a good teacher, but I prefer to learn from a book.
  • I’ve have learnt that parents expect doctors to have no other life other than to be there when they want them.
  • I’ve learnt that I enjoy my comfort zone but travel moves me out of it.
  • I’ve learnt that believing my body is 10 years younger does not necessary make it so.
  • I’ve learned that the shoring up of my gardens is expensive, and my contractor now enjoys his new Mercedes.
  • I’ve learned that I am attached to BMWs, but a Toyota can get me around just was well.
  • I’ve learnt that most people cheat at their golf scores.
  • I’ve learned in Rome never to believe someone who claimed his restaurant to be 100% Italian because his wife made the pasta, as the food is hearty and so is the bill.

Socrates taught that an unexamined life is not worth living but see what happened to him! However God has been good to me and my family this year. I have learnt a lot and I look forward to learning more next year. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes end with “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecc.12:13-14).

Enjoy my haiku and blessings for 2007.

breeze blow sun high stream steady meandering
calm water reflect harvest moon
butterflies fly flower fades one thing needful

Soli Deo Gloria

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Friday, December 15, 2006


Chains comes in various lengths and sizes,
come, my friend, find one of your own choosing.
Some long; allowing freedom in false guises,
others short; hobbling, troubling, controlling.

Chains of gold makes wonderful gilded cage,
some of tapered steel; cold metallic surrounding.
Chains of feelings; glimpses of heaven’s gauge,
others, obligation; rigid, binding and demanding.

Chains squeezing brains, closing minds,
some winding round necks, gagging speech.
Chains tying loving hearts, hurting binds,
others, piercing souls, condemnation seed.

Huddle in my cell; a world not kind,
bundled in chains, someone’s trophy.
Armor rusting, hurting, marking time,
tousled, bound, self-ness slowly atrophy.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Biting my Tongue

Here is another excellent comment on the spiritual gifts of tongue by my good friend, Dr. Tan Soo Inn

When I was interviewed for the position of pastor of First Baptist Church, I had to answer one key question: "Do you speak in tongues?"The church had been split by the charismatic controversy. They had to know.My answer then and my answer now is this:"What you need to know is my theology on the matter. That is more critical then whether I have this gift."

I have not revisited this topic for some time. In the twenty odd years since that interview many of the churches I know have moved beyond that controversy and that divide. There has been a lot of maturing all round. Although different churches still have different views on the subject there isa much higher level of mutual respect and a lot of healthy learning between different traditions. (I am grateful for the many friends I have from Pentecostal and charismatic traditions. I am grateful for their
friendship and the opportunities we have for working together.)

But once in a while you get "deja vu all over again" and you get a speaker or a group that pushes the classical Pentecostal position on tongues, tongues here understood as an unknown language, sounds uttered in prayer unintelligible to the one praying and to others (1 Corinthians 14:2).Usually the agenda is the desire to
see the release of God's supernatural power. This is something seen as happening in a believer's life separate from conversion, an event often referred to as the baptism of the Spirit. As evidence that this release had taken place, one was given the gift of tongues. Tongues became something very critical because it was identified with spiritual empowerment which is the real goal. So what is my take on this?

First off I am very grateful to my Pentecostal and charismatic friends for reminding us of the need for the Holy Spirit's power. Luke summarizes Jesus's ministry in this way: "...with respect to Jesus from Nazareth, that God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by thedevil, because God was with him." (Acts
10:38 NET)

The link between supernatural power, the Holy Spirit andthe ability to do God's work is clear. And Jesus is the model for His church.Too often the modern church has put her trust in techniques, technology and good marketing to get God's job done, basically paying lip service to the need for the Spirit's
anointing. We welcome every reminder that while we should appreciate all tools the Lord gives us, our ultimate trust is in Him and in His empowerment.

But what is the linkage between spiritual anointing and thegift of tongues? Is tongues something that everyone should be seeking as the sign of God's empowerment? My starting point is 1 Corinthians 12: 29-30"Not all are apostles, are they? Not
all are prophets, are they? Not all are teachers, are they? Not all perform miracles, do they? Not all have gifts of healing, do they? Not all speak in tongues, do they? Not all interpret, do they?" (NET)There is no ambiguity in the Greek. Paul is asking a rhetorical question that demands the answer "no". No, tongues is not for everyone.

Remember that Paul is writing to a church that included a faction that was pushing for more dramatic manifestations of the Spirit including the gift of tongues. This was a group who probably saw themselves as spiritual elites who wanted others to join them and apparently one of the marks that you had reached their level of anointing was the exercise of the gift oftongues.Paul is clear. No, not everyone has this gift. Indeed it isthe Lord who decides who gets what gift. (1 Corinthians 12:11). But Paul is
not against the gift of tongues. He admits to exercising the gift frequently in his private prayers. But he is also clear that his preference is that intelligible language be used when the church gathers so that believers can be edified."I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you, but in the church I want to speak five words with my mind to instruct others, rather than
ten thousand words in a tongue." (1 Corinthians 14:18-19 NET).

There are those who argue that there is a "sign of tongues"which is to be differentiated from the "gift of tongues." At Pentecost one of the signs that the Spirit had come was tongues. And everyone ought to seek this "sign of tongues" as evidence for
the Spirit's anointing though not all will be given the "gift of tongues."I do not see this differentiation in Scripture. The word "tongues" is the same both in Acts 2 and in 1 Corinthians. And if one were to push for the signs at Pentecost should we not also push for the sound of a violent wind and the tongues of fire?Therefore I am not convinced that the gift of tongues is the
indispensable sign of God's empowerment or that all Christians should strive to get it. And I am against any sort of elitism in the church. There are no second class Christians at the Lord's table.But I am convinced that we desperately need the empowermentof the Spirit for the life and mission of the church.

How then do we appropriate God's power for His purposes? For my answer I go to Acts 4: 23-31.Here we find a church totally sold out to God and His purposes. Initial success in mission work had provoked persecution. God's power was critically needed for a breakthrough. And so the group joined in corporate prayer
beseeching the Lord to intervene and work His power with the following results:"When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the HolySpirit and began to speak the word of God courageously." (4:31 NET) Yes there was accompanying physical phenomenon - the place was shaken - and the Lord does that sometimes, but the key words are "prayed," "filled with the Holy Spirit," and "began to speak the word of Godcourageously."When we focus on the phenomena of tongues we often get tiedup into all sorts of controversy that take us away from theheart of the issue.Instead of pushing tongues we should be searching our hearts and asking, are we are indeed sold out to God and His purposes? Are we really aware of our total helplessness to do His work apart from His anointing?Whatever our stand on the gift of the tongues, and every church needs to define their position, we must major on the majors

.Come O Lord and fill us again.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bows and Arrows

Once Abbot Antony was conversing with some breathen, and a hunter who was after game in the wilderness came upon them. He saw Abbot Antony and the brothers enjoying themselves, and disapproved. Abbot Antony said, "Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it."

This he did.

"Now shoot another," said the Elder. "And another, and another."

Then the hunter said, "If I bend my bow all the time it will break."

Abbot Anthony replied, "So it is also in the work of God. If we push ourselves beyond measure, the breathen will soon collapse. It is right therefore, from time to time, to relax."

Soli Deo Gloria

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Maturing the Spiritual Formation Movement

Richard Foster has been at the forefront of this so-called modern spiritual formation movement for many years so he is the right person to comment on it.

He wrote in his Renovare November newsletter that

"The task of maturing the modern spiritual formation movement is complicated and will challenge our finest thinking and most creative energies.

There are two reasons, at least, for the complication. To begin with, the continuing popularity of spiritual formation today has meant that all kinds of writing and speaking has now gone forth on the subject. Frankly—and I hate to say it in such a blunt matter—much that has gone out under the name of spiritual formation has been done by people who simply have not thought substantively on the subject, and (dare I mention it) we have to wonder if they themselves have been spiritually formed to any substantial degree. Hence, a great deal of "Holy Baloney" is out there now, and the average person is quickly going to despair at attempting to distinguish the good from the bad.

Then, secondly, people in general and Americans in particular are a fickle lot, and they tire quickly. Many, in fact, are already going on to the next fad. And let's be honest: how many of us can truly wrap our minds around the notion of a forty-year journey into the subterranean chambers of the soul? That was Moses's experience of character formation in the Egyptian desert, you recall. Forty years! Are we not tempted to opt instead for a short-cut or two? Impatience is a primary spiritual problem in our day."

His recommendations?

1. We take the long view . . . always.
2. We refuse to think of spiritual formation in terms of various practices . . . ever.
3. We engage in spiritual formation for the sake of the Church universal . . . always.
4. We do not center on curriculum based solutions . . . ever.
5. We draw wisdom and insight from the ancient sources . . . always.
6. We do not aim at outward action . . . ever.
7. We are keenly aware that true inward transformation will incline our hearts toward suffering humanity . . . always.

A good reminder that spiritual formation takes time, involve wisdom and character formation, is not program-driven and is missional.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Claiming God's Promises

Text: 2 Peter 1:3-4
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (NIV)

God’s divine power enables us to know Him. Knowledge of God means knowledge of His promises given to us. By claiming these promises, we are led into the path of Godliness and better able to withstand the temptations of the world and of our own sinful nature.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

A Meditation on Rembrandt's Jeremiah

In 1630, Rembrandt painted Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem. I was enthralled when I viewed the painting on display in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam recently.

2006 marked the 400 anniversary of Rembrandt’s birth. This oil on panel painting is one of the finest works of Rembrandt's Leiden period. For many years it was incorrectly identified but it certainly shows Jeremiah; who had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Jeremiah, chapters 32, 33), lamenting over the destruction of the city. In the distance on the left a man at the top of the steps holds clenched fists to his eyes: this was the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, who was blinded by Nebuchadnezzar. The prominent burning domed building in the background is probably Solomon's Temple.

Jeremiah's pose, his head supported by his hand, is a traditional attitude of melancholy: his elbow rests on a large book which is inscribed 'Bibel' on the edge of the pages, probably a much later addition to the painting. The book is presumably meant to be his own Book of Jeremiah or the Book of Lamentations. Rembrandt is a master of light in art. The lighting of the figure is particularly effective with the foreground and the right side of the prophet's face in shadow and his robe outlined against the rock. Jeremiah’s hands rested on a few pieces of gold and silver vessels which he must have managed to salvage from the burning temple.

The painting has a powerful effect on me. As I gaze on Jeremiah’s face and hands, I felt the pain and disappointment of a man who served God but met with much opposition and ridicule. No one listened to him. Everyone did what seemed right in their own eyes. Jeremiah had talked and scolded and cajoled but it all fell on deaf ears. And because of this, he had to watch as his beloved country was sacked, Jerusalem burnt and the temple destroyed. He had failed as a prophet of the Lord to convince his people. Though the fault was not his, the guilt must have weighted heavily on his mind. The guilt and the pain of a prophet as revealed in this painting.

The painting also spoke to me of the many parents who had to watch their children go astray. They have tried their best to teach them right from wrong. However, that is no guarantee that the children will follow and make correct informed decisions. I am sure the pain in the hearts of these parents resonates with the lamentation in Jeremiah’s heart. The guilt and pain of these parents as reflected in this painting.

The painting also revealed to me the heart of God. How the heart of God must have been broken by the people He loved. He loved so much that He was willing to send His only Son to die for them. These people were so fickle minded and ungrateful. He had given opportunity after opportunity to return to Him yet they continued to spurn Him. They have chosen to chase after other gods who promised immediate gratification. The same pain and sorrow in His heart as reflected by Jeremiah and the newly blinded Zedekiah. The pain of the broken heart of God as ingrained in this painting.

Often, we take for granted, God’s love for us. Looking at Rembrandt’s painting is a graphic reminder of the danger of taking His love and God, Himself for granted.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome, Part 1

Some beautiful marble sculptures in San Giovanni in Laterano Basilica

S. Matteo l'Evangelista
(St. Matthew)
by Camillo Rusconi (1658-1728)

S.Pietro, I papa
(St. Peter)
by Pierre Monnot (1658-1733)

S. Paolo (St. Paul)
by Pierre Monnot (1658-1733)

S. Giovanni l' Evangelista
(St. John)
by Camillo Rusconi (1658-1728)

S. Guido, detto il Taddeo
(St. Judas, son of James)
by Lorenzo Ottoni (1658-1736)

S. Simone, detto il Cananeo
(Simon the Zealot)
by Francesco Maratti


San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome, Part 2

Some more beautiful marble sculptures in San Giovanni in Laterano Basilica in Rome.

S. Bartolomo
(St. Bartholomew)

by Pierr Legros (1666-1719)

S. Filippo
(St. Philip)

by Giuseppe Mazzuoli

San' Andrea
(St. Andrew)

by Camillo Rusconi (1658-1728)

S. Tommaso
(St. Thomas)

by Pierre Legros (1666-1719)

S. Giacomo di Zebedeo, detto il Maggiore
(St. James)

by Camillo Rusconi (1658-1728)

S. Giacomo d'Alfeo, detto il Minore
(St. James , son of Alphaeus)

by Angelo De Rossi


Thomas Merton on Obsession on Doing

We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have - for their usefulness.

Thomas Merton

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