Tuesday, June 30, 2009

St Paul and his bones

My good friend, the Reverend Dr Lim Kar Yong, our local St. Paul expert went to Rome a few days ago and then the Paul announced that St.Pauls remains are found. Coincidence?

June 29, 2009

Basilica bones are St Paul's, Pope declares after carbon dating tests

Pope Benedict XVI said last night that bone fragments found inside the tomb of St Paul in Rome had been carbon dated for the first time, "confirming the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul".

He said that archaeologists had inserted a probe into the white marble sarcophagus under the Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls which has been revered for centuries as the tomb of St Paul.

The pontiff said: "Small fragments of bone were carbon dated by experts who knew nothing about their provenance and results showed they were from someone who lived between the 1st and 2nd century. This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that these are the mortal remains of Paul the Apostle."

The Pope, who said the discovery "fills our souls with great emotion", made the unexpected announcement during Vespers at St Paul's Basilica last night, marking the end of the Pauline year held in honour of the apostle. He said that as well as bone fragments, archaeologists had found grains of red incense, a piece of purple linen with gold sequins and a blue fabric with linen filaments in the tomb.

read more

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wright, Piper and Justification

From Christianity Today.com. Worth reading about N.T. Wright, John Piper and the Justification dialogue.

Top Story
Illustration by Polly Becker
The Justification Debate: A Primer
Two of the world's most prominent pastor-theologians on justification—and what difference it makes.

Download a PDF

Not an Academic Question
Pastors tell how the justification debate has changed their ministry.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Teaching Module on Certificate Child Health

An enjoyable time of teaching a module for the Certificate of Child Studies for the Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary at their Johor Bahru centre.

May God bless their ministries with children.


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Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson_Earth Song

Michael Jackson - Earth Song


What about sunrise?
What about rain?
What about all the things,
That you said we were to gain?
What about killing fields?
Is there a time?
What about all the things,
That you said was yours and mine?

Did you ever stop to notice,
All the blood we've shed before?
Did you ever stop to notice,
The crying Earth the weeping shores?

Aah............... Oo...........
Aah............... Oo...........

What have we done to the world?
Look what we've done.
What about all the peace,
That you pledge your only son?
What about flowering fields?
Is there a time?
What about all the dreams,
That you said was yours and mine?

Did you ever stop to notice,
All the children dead from war?
Did you ever stop to notice,
The crying Earth the weeping shores?

Aah............... Oo...........
Aah............... Oo...........

I used to dream.
I used to glance beyond the stars.
Now I don't know where we are.
Although I know we've drifted far.

Aah............... Oo...........
Aah............... Oo...........
Aah............... Oo...........
Aah............... Oo...........

What about yesterday?
What about the seas?
The heavens are falling down.
I can't even breathe!
What about apathy?
I can feel its wounds.
What about nature's worth?
It's our planet's womb!

What about animals?
We've turned kingdoms to dust,
What about elephants?
Have we lost their trust?
What about crying whales?
Ravaging the seas.
What about forest trails?
Burnt despite our pleas!

What about the holy land?
Torn apart by creed.
What about the common man?
Can't we set him free?
What about children dying?
Can't you hear them cry?
Where did we go wrong?
Someone tell me why!

What about baby boy?
What about the days?
What about all their joy?
What about the man?
What about the crying man?
What about Abraham?
What about death again?
Do we give a damn?!


Thursday, June 25, 2009

People who Attend Megachurches in USA

Linda Stanley serves as Director of Life Stage Leadership Communities and provides leadership for the Next Generation Pastors Leadership Community groups. She writes in the Learnings @Leadership Network the following report about a study on megachurches.

A Little Megachurch Myth Bustin’

If you are a Leadership Network follower - #leadnet for all you twitter devotees – you’ve heard about the newly released mega church research study and report - Not Who You Think They Are: The Real Story of People Who Attend America's Megachurches, If you haven’t read the report, here are a few quick facts:

Prominent Findings of Megachurch Study

  • Young, single adults are more likely to be in megachurches than in smaller churches.
  • Nearly two-thirds of attenders have been at these churches 5 years or less.
  • Nearly a quarter of attenders hadn't been in any church for a long time before coming to a megachurch.
  • Newcomers almost always attend a megachurch because family, friends or co-workers invited them.
  • New attenders were first attracted by the worship style, the senior pastor and the church's reputation.
  • These same factors influenced long-term attendance, as did the music/arts, social and community outreach and adult-oriented programs.

And here’s a graphic illustration of some of the points included in the report:

Not just a Boomer Phenomenon –
Megachurches Draw Twice as Many Under 45
6_23 graph

On June 23, 2009 the topic of Leadership Network’s THE SHOW focused on the findings from this report. Scott Thumma, one of the primary researchers, was our guest. If you missed it, here’s a link:

6_23 DJ and Scott
June 23, 2009 - Megachurch Attender Research Findings
with Dr. Scott Thumma

Here’s a link to the June 23, 2009 issue of Leadership Network’s Advance, with cover story entitled Major Study: Younger Crowds Flocking to U.S. Megachurches.

And if you still haven’t had enough, here’s a link to our beloved Warren Bird’s previous Leadership Network Learnings blog post on the report – Not True: "Megachurch attenders volunteer less than other churches" - June 12, 2009.

Now that's some food for thought.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Much ado about nothing? Influenza A (H1N1)


These are scary words and since April 2009 the world has been truly and thoroughly scared. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States noted

On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 6 in response to the ongoing global spread of the novel influenza A (H1N1) virus. A Phase 6 designation indicates that a global pandemic is underway.

More than 70 countries are now reporting cases of human infection with novel H1N1 flu. This number has been increasing over the past few weeks, but many of the cases reportedly had links to travel or were localized outbreaks without community spread. The WHO designation of a pandemic alert Phase 6 reflects the fact that there are now ongoing community level outbreaks in multiple parts of world.

WHO’s decision to raise the pandemic alert level to Phase 6 is a reflection of the spread of the virus, not the severity of illness caused by the virus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) latest update June 24 states that there are 55,867 cases and 238 deaths. The first death in Asia occurred last week.

MANILA, June 23 (Reuters) - The Philippines closed down the lower house of Congress for five days on Tuesday and sent about 3,000 workers home after cases of influenza A (H1N1) were reported in the offices, officials said.

A 49-year-old woman who died last week from symptoms exacerbated by the flu was a staff member on a congressional committee, said Ramon, a doctor and deputy secretary-general of the House of Representatives.

The mode of transmission is by coughing and sneezing and contact of articles touched by infected people.

So Malaysia, as is the rest of the world is closing down schools and starting to quarantine travelers.

I want to raise two questions here:

(1) For a pandemic, aside from being a good traveler, it does not seem to be extra virulent or particularly dangerous. Most people infected by the virus recovered. If we take the number of confirmed cases and the number of deaths, we have a mortality rate of 0.4%. That is not exactly a killer like SARS.

(2) The spread is by contact, sneezing and coughing which is extremely difficult to control. Often many others would have been exposed long before the infected are traced by health officers and quarantined.

To the first question, should we panic? Or is there a need to panic? Apparently the panic is driven more by the media hype and the health authorities than what the plain facts warrant.

The second question addresses our present health measures. Trying to contain this infection is like trying to catch the wind. It is obvious that quarantines and closing of schools, factories or congress will do nothing to stop the spread. So why are so many countries and health authorities, not to mention a certain health minister and a deputy prime minister spending so much money and effort to catch the wind? Wearing face masks and giving influenza vaccine is known to be not effective prevention against influenza A (H1N1).

I will suggest that instead of instilling panic in our populations and wasting valuable resources in isolation and quarantine, we should

(1) allow the infection to spread. People over time will develop immunity to it. We call this herd immunity.

(2) focus our resources on treating those who became really sick due to this virus. There are anti-viral agents which are effective against the virus.

(3) educate the population about personal hygiene, especially hand-washing.

Following the news about the pandemic of Influenza A (H1N1), I wonder if the response is more political, emotional and knee-jerk rather than evidence-based medicine. It did take our mind off the world wide financial crisis.


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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jesus, the Universe and Red Cliff

The latest from Thinking Faith...

The Letter to the Colossians: Jesus and the Universe
As we conclude the Year of St Paul, Brian Purfield looks at Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, in which the primacy of Christ is highlighted. The apostle tells the Christians at Colossae that Christ is the ‘the first-born of all creation’ – why was this such an important message for Paul to teach, and how do we let this shape our faith? Read >>


Film Review: Red Cliff
Reviewed by Nathan Koblintz
Red Cliff depicts the battle between the end of the Han dynasty and the beginning of the Three Kingdoms that sits as a myth at the centre of popular Chinese history. It is beautifully put together, the battle scenes played out at every perspective and speed imaginable, interspersed with long descriptive shots of weapons, feathers, mountains, facial features. Perhaps we can find something challenging in the film’s depiction of heroism... Read more >>


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Transformers: The Veiled Threat

what I am reading now...

...to prepare for the new Transformer movie, Revenge of the Fallen.



Monday, June 22, 2009

Anthony Yeo

Learned from Sherman Quek's blog that Anthony Yeo passed away on Saturday. Anthony was my lecturer who inspired me in developing my counseling and spiritual direction skills. I used to challenged his counseling model which he responded to by helping me develop my P.A.D.I. model. I have hoped that one day we shall collaborate to develop a spiritual direction model for Asians. It seems that the Lord has other plans. Thank you, Anthony for your encouragement and modeling.


Cloud of Unknowing

A No-Name Monk of Prayer and Love
The Cloud of Unknowing teaches us the peace that comes from learning to love.

Sometime during the last half of the 14th century, somewhere in England's East Midland area, some anonymous Carthusian monk (or priest) created one of the most enduring how-to books on prayer—The Cloud of Unknowing. His intentional anonymity illustrates his main message: Christ must become more visible as his followers grow kinder and humbler. Anonymous wants readers "sincere in their intentions to follow Christ" in love.

Finish this article from ChristianHistory.net.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Thou Shalt Commit Adultery"

In 1631, someone discovered an omission in the hot-off- the-press King James Version of the Bible. The omission has to do with one word in the seventh Commandment. The 1631 King James Version of Exodus 20:14 read ‘Thou shalt commit adultery.’ The little word ‘not’ had been omitted! Archbishop Laud, leader of the Church of England was so enraged by this mistake that he fined the printers £300, which was a lifetime’s income then. From that time onwards, the 1631 edition of the King James Version of the Bible became known as ‘The Wicked Bible.’

read more of my sermon

picture source

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shout to the World

Pastor Paul Long from Paul Long's Ramblings has been using my book, Spiritual Formation on the Run for his reflections. Here is his latest, reposted here with his consent.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

SHOUT TO THE WORLD (Spiritual formation on the Run)

Been a while since I last posted my reflections of my Lectio Divina exercises using Alex's "Spiritual formation on the run". Been extra busy as my wife is still in Malaysia. Not too busy to do my contemplation as it is after all being done ... "on the run". :-) If you didn't get that, that's the whole beauty of this concept. You do not have to be disappear for hours in a quiet secluded place to get close to God and "practice the presence of God". But busy I have been as all the cooking and cleaning duties are now my domain so time to type is rather limited ... but more on that as it is related to this blog's reflection and ramblings. Ah ... Brother Lawrence would be smiling in heaven at hearing this .... :-)

Ok, first this is from chapter 16 entitled:

Elie Wiesel writes: One of the Just Men came to Sodom, determined to save its inhabitants from sin and punishment. Night and day he walked the streets and markets protesting against greed and theft, falsehood and indifference. In the beginning, people listened and smiled ironically. Then they stopped listening: he no longer amused them. The killers went on killing, the wise men kept silent, as if there were no Just Man in their midst. One day, a child, moved by the compassion for the unfortunate teacher, approached him with these words: "Poor stranger, you shout, you scream, don't you see that it is hopeless?" "Yes, I see;' answered the Just Man. "Then why do you go on?" "I'll tell you why. In the beginning, I thought I could change man. Today, I know I cannot. If I still shout today, if I still scream, it is to prevent man from ultimately changing me."

This short story from Wiesel has a powerful message for us as we struggle to live a Christian life or a life pleasing to God in the world. The world has a powerful and seductive influence on us. It knows the right buttons to push. Get this mobile phone and it will make you look sophisticated, techno-savvy and well connected. Drive this brand of car and the world will recognise you as a successful man. Do not leave home without this credit card because you are a well-travelled jetsetter. It takes a lot of effort and wisdom to resist the temptations of this world. Satan tempted our Lord Jesus with the satisfaction of fleshy desires (bread from stones), security from harm (angel's protection), and power and wealth (all the kingdoms on earth). And Satan is still tempting Jesus' disciples in these areas. Jesus taught that we, His disciples, are not of this world but are destined for another.

As new Christians, many of us were full of fire, shouting and screaming, as we tried to make people understand the danger they were in. We were like people standing at the edge of a cliff and shouting to others, "Do not walk over there. There is a cliff. You will fall over to your doom. Turn back:' And, to our astonishment and dismay, we discovered that nobody was listening to us. Nobody paid attention to our message. Nobody believed us. The people kept on walking and fell off the cliff. Soon we stopped shouting and screaming. Maybe we whispered a bit here and there. But as we stopped fighting the world, we became like the world. We were like someone swimming against a current. The moment we stopped swimming, we were swept back by the current.

I wonder how many of us have stopped swimming against the current and are even now swimming with the current. It is so easy to stop shouting and be with the crowd. Just relax a little here and there. A small white lie; a little stealing and cheating here and there. Nobody will know. We become insensitive to the needs of others. We eat, drink and are merry to excess.

The Christian life is a life of constant struggle. We struggle against our flesh, the world and Satan. We know that we cannot change man; only God can do that. However, we must always be on guard that the world does not change us. That will happen if we let down our guard and stop struggling against the world. So, brothers and sisters, let us continually encourage one another in our struggle. We cannot go at it alone; a piece of coal that falls out of the fire cools down very fast. Do not let the world change us.

I really like Wiesel's story. And I like Alex's reflections in this chapter. I like the story as I can truly identify with it. And I like Alex's reflections especially that on materialism as this is one (of many many many many .... reason why I felt I should leave Malaysia and come to New Zealand.

Living in PJ and serving in a middle class (dare I say upper middle class?) church was killing my family. The pressure of finding the money to join in basic activities of the majority was just too hard. Too many heart breaking incidents ... like having my then 9 year old son close to tears because he was afraid that his friends would laugh at his RM 30 shoes (not cool and branded like the what others wore) was difficult for me. It was so hard not to capitulate and go for the RM 60 shoes that was more presentable (let's not even go near the RM 100 - 200 shoes) . But how could I live with myself if I bought my 9 year old shoes (in which he would outgrow in a year) that cost more than my working shoes?

In times like this (and I best not give any more example lest I be misinterpreted) I would shout (in my head and heart or else I might end up being committed to a mental institution) the values that I believe I should hold and ray my heart listens to my head. And every now and then when I cannot take it anymore I make myself unpopular by speaking to some parents or youth and tell them things like ... "Please don't buy your child a new car when he / she gets his . her driver's license." Or "Is it justifiable for you (a teenager who is not working) to pay RM 10 for a cup of coffee at coffee bean?"

Of course "nobody" goes to coffee bean anymore ... (it was that long ago :-)) and being the dummy that I am, I forgot that RM 10 was for the cheapest cup of coffee and only cheapskates like me would drink that. Yes, I went but someone paid as they wanted to chat with me over coffee and I bought the cheapest.
And of course there were times when a few youth would listen to me and refrain from certain things but most of this handful soon caved in under pressure.

And yes I knew after a few years that "nobody" is listening to me. They are just tolerating me BUT like the man in the story, every now and then I needed to "shout out" not so much for the sake of others but for my own sake.

Ok, better make it clear that I am not totally against going for buying branded goods, buying nice stuff for your children, taking fancy holidays and going to StarBucks (or is that place also not cool anymore - I don't know ...) etc. Just that have seen too many Christians being so used to such things that their spending and lifestyles I feel are way to excessive in comparison to other important things. As the world's lifestyle influences them, their walk with God clearly suffers (if not them, then their children).

But "nobody" listens to me anyway, right? LOL So I am "shouting" out extra loud for myself so that I will be forced to read what I blog one day should I go astray :-)

Side note:
End of this year I am taking my family when my mum comes for a visit for a nice holiday. Jennifer and I have saved up since coming and we are going to spend $2,000 holidaying. Of course there may be some who may be rolling on the floor laughing (ROTFL) because $2,000 may not seem much especially since prices of tourist holiday activities are so expensive. But for me it is a huge amount and in my spare time I have been working on the budget so I think we will manage. :-) And it has taken me a long time to get to this stage to spend money like this but I think we all deserve a good holiday as a family. I have learned from the example of some families here. They work hard, live simply, serve God and save up for family holidays. I think that is a good example of discipline and good stewardship.

So what have I been shouting about lately?
Basic disciplines! My children must really resent me for this but I need to shout (and often literally!) even if they do not seem to be listening.
The floor is not the place to toss their stuff, clothes (clean or dirty) nor rubbish! So hang up your clothes and keep your rooms tidy.
The dining table must be wiped clean after meals

When you have finished your drink, wash your cup, don't leave it in the sink and soak it with water! (What an irritating habit!)
Do your chores first before going off to play!

Let me know your schedules early and not inform me at the last minute.
That should suffice, right? :-)

And of course I tell them whether they seem to be listening or not that these are basic disciplines that will help them later in life. Because not to do them is just being plain lazy! Obvious my "shouting" is also for my benefit because the most embarrassing thing would be if I be lazy and my children get the opportunity to point a finger at me and say,
"Hypocrite!" :-)

One more side note ...
My church's former pastor, (a wise man in my eyes) commented on Sunday that there were some difficult things in the passage he was going to preach on that needed to be heard. That was the difficulty of preaching through a book of the Bible. You can't just only preach the nice encouraging stuff and avoid the tough stuff. I wonder too in my preaching.

Very few people like to listen to the rebukes and challenges in Scripture. But I must also shout these things if I wish to be a faithful preacher of God's Word. BTW, note that the famous verses of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says the following:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Notice that of the four uses of Scripture mentioned, rebuking and correcting are two of them? Food for thought?

A final note for now ... "shouting our loud" truths (as hard as it may be to do or hear) is not totally hopeless. I see changes in people's lives. For example, my eldest now that he has a part time job faithfully tithes and has decided to do it anonymously. My heart overflows with joy and thanksgiving to God. All my "shouting for years" on financial giving, responsibility, the importance of being generous, blessing others etc has reaped benefits.

So let us indeed keep shouting to the world (and ourselves) what needs to be heard for the glory of God.

Paul's other reflections from Spiritual Formation on the Run:

the Silence in the Noise
Omission and Commission
A Burning Bush

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Friday, June 19, 2009

A 'Quiet' Day in STM (5)

Closing devotion

In our short journey together, we seek to know more about ourselves and about God. The important lesson to learn for your future ministry is that IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU. It's about drawing close to God and doing what He has assigned for you.

In the Joseph’s narrative in Genesis 37-49

  • Joseph’s dreams
  • Joseph sold by his brothers
  • Joseph and Potiphar’s wife
  • Joseph in jail (cupbearer and baker)
  • Pharaoh’s dream
  • Joseph in charge of Egypt
  • The famine
  • The Jacob family Egypt

This is a powerful narrative of jealousy, good and bad. It also ensures the survival of the Jacob family, the family that will become ancient Israel nation.

Who do you think is a vital link in this narrative?

  • Joseph
  • His brothers
  • Potiphar
  • Jacob
  • The Pharoah

An unnamed man in Shechem (Gen.37:14-15)

14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan.

This unnamed man is the link. If he has not been helpful, if you have not told Joseph where his brothers are things will have been different.

God has a plan. This plan is unfolding with and without our help. God is sovereign. Actually he does not need us but he loves us enough to allow us to take part. Sometimes we actually get in the way.

When I was about six, my father was clearing his overflowing bookshelves. He piled all the books he wanted in one pile and books to be burnt in the other. Helpful number one son come along and want to help. Take this pile of books outside for your mother to burn, said my father. Guess which pile did number one son took?

Sometimes we are a hindrance to God’s plan. This is especially when we ran ahead of him with our own plans. God is a sovereign God. God is larger that what we can imagine him to be.

Today we have learned something about ourselves and about God. I hope we have learnt enough to stay close to him.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

A 'Quiet' Day in STM (4)

The Three Amigos

spiritual theology bridging the gap between New Testament and Old Testament?

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A 'Quiet' Day at STM (3)

Knowing God

‘Who is your God?’
Read 1 Kings 19:8-18

• Wind
• Earth
• Fire
• ?water
• “a gentle whisper”

Recharged Elijah must
• Anoint Hazael, king over Syria
• Anoint Jehu, king over Israel
• Anoint Elisha
Some six years after this he warned Ahab and Jezebel of the violent deaths they would die (1 Kings 21:19–24; 22:38). He also, four years afterwards, warned Ahaziah , who had succeeded his father Ahab, of his approaching death (2 Kings 1:1–16). During these intervals he probably withdrew to some quiet retirement, no one knew where. His interview with Ahaziah’s messengers on the way to Ekron, and the account of the destruction of his captains with their fifties, suggest the idea that he retired to Mt. Carmel.

(1) Listening to God

A legend has it that there was a temple built on an island and it held a thousand bells. Bells, big and small, fashioned by the finest craftsman in the world. When the wind blew or a storm raged, all the bells would peal out in a symphony that would send the heart of the hearer into raptures.
But over the centuries, the island sank into the sea and, with it, the temple bells. It is said that the bells continued to peel out, ceaselessly, and could be heard by anyone who would listened. Inspired by this legend, a young man travelled thousands of miles, determined to hear those bells. He sat for days on the shore, facing the vanished island, and listened with all his might. But all he could hear was the sound of the sea. He made every effort to block it out. But to no avail; the sound of the sea seemed to flood the world.
He kept at his tasks for weeks. Each time he got disheartened he would listen to the village elders who spoke with passion of the mysterious legend. Then his heart will be aflame…only to be discouraged again when weeks of further effort yielded no results.

Finally he decided to give up the attempt. Perhaps he was not destined to hear the bells. Perhaps the legend was not true. It was his final day, and he went to the shore to say goodbye to the sea and the sky and the wind and the coconut trees. He lay on the sand, and for the first time listened to the sound of the sea. Soon he was so lost in the sound that he was barely conscious of himself, so deep was the silence the sound produced.

In the depth of that silence, he heard it! The twinkle of a tiny bell followed by another, and another, and another…and soon every one of the thousand temple bells was peeling out in harmony, and his heart was rapt in joyous ecstasy.

This story teaches us two important lessons about listening and awareness. First, all of us have a desire to hear God’s voice. We want to hear what he is saying to us. We want him to speak peace and comfort into our trials and tribulations. We have been taught early in our Christian life to set aside time for prayer and Bible reading. We call it the “quiet time.” We are told that if we have our quiet time regularly, we will hear the voice of God. If not audibly, at least we know that he speaks to us in answered prayers or certain passages in the Bible we are reading that will convey his speech.

There are two possibilities concerning our quiet time. One is that we become too busy that we do not have time to pray and read the Bible. Hence we feel guilty, and we think we have lost the opportunity to hear God’s voice. The other possibility is that we continued faithfully in our prayers and Bible reading but we find it dry and boring after a while. We also find that we do not hear God speaking to us. We must be aware that God speaks to us in many ways. He speaks to us by his Word. God also speaks to us in our prayers, through other people, circumstances, dreams, and into our daily lives.

For those of us who are too busy for prayer and Bible reading, be aware that God still speaks to us in our busy lives. For those who are disciplined in prayers and Bible reading, be careful that we do not try too hard. Like the young man on the beach who tried so hard to hear the bells by consciously shutting out the ocean sounds, we may too be trying too hard to hear God’s voice. In the spiritual life, it is not effort that counts. Spiritual growth is not something we build but who we become. Sometimes, we try too hard in our spiritual life. For example, we want to have faith. Now, faith is not something we can create. There is nothing we can do to make us have more faith. Faith is a gift, something that only God can give. The only thing we can do is ask God for it.

Second, all of us live hectic, busy, and noisy lives. A recent scientific study done showed that cities have a high level of ambiance noise. This level of ambient noise can be disruptive to our well being if we are exposed to it for too long. The noise will also cause deafness. Yet it is in our hectic, busy, and noisy lives that God speaks to us. Unfortunately, many of us are already deaf to him because we have not learnt to embrace the noise until we can hear the silence within. The noisy world is like a weather storm; a typhoon. There is always a centre called the “eye” of the storm. This “eye” is a calm, quiet, and peaceful area within the raging storm. We must learn to be aware of the noise around us. We can embrace the noise of the world and move beyond it into the silence within. It is in this silence that we hear the voice of God.

How do we not try too hard, and enter into the silence of our busy and noisy lives? We begin by being aware that God is in our busy and noisy lives. God is not only just present in church on Sunday. We do not leave God behind when we leave the church building after the service. God is not only present in our daily lives, but he is speaking to us all the time. Speaking to God is prayer and Paul has taught us to pray “unceasingly”. This means that it is possible to be speaking and listening to God 24/7. Since God is already with us, there is no need to try too hard to reach him. If possible, set aside some time for him alone, this is your quiet time. If not, listen for him in the happenings of your daily lives. Try to be aware of God’s presence and voice in the routine, mundane of your daily lives. Catch a glimpse of God in a sunrise, a beautiful flower, a friendly smile, a loving touch, an opportunity to offer help, and to receive help. When we become aware of God’s presence in our lives, each encounter becomes dazzling like a sudden burst of joy. Time seems to stand still. There is a deep warm silence. And in the silence you will hear the voice of God who calls you his beloved. It is possible to hear the harmony of a thousand bells.

(2) Awareness of God (Habits of Familiarity)

It is said that when the Great Library of Alexandria was burned down, only one book survived. It was a very ordinary book, not like those who were burnt which had leather binding and gold lettering. This was plain simple paperback, dog eared, and yellowed by age. When found among the ashes, it was thought to have no value. It was sold for 10 cents to a poor man who barely knows how to read. This plain and common book however was probably the most valuable book in the world. In the last section of the book were a few sentences that pointed to a source of the secret of immortality or eternal life.

This source is a tiny pebble, that if ingested will give the person eternal life! The writing declared that this precious pebble was lying somewhere along the beaches of Desaru, facing the South China Sea in the southern tip of the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. This pebble was lying among thousands of pebbles that were exactly like it, except in one aspect- whereas all other pebbles were cold to the touch in the morning; this one will feel warm, almost as if it were alive.

The man rejoices at his good luck. He sold everything he had, borrowed a large sum of money that will last him for at least a year, booked a room at Desaru Pulai Resort Hotel, and began his search for this priceless pebble. He worked out a search grid and did his search systematically. This is how he did it. Every morning, he will go to the assigned search area. He would lift a pebble. If it was cold to the touch, he would not throw it back on the shore because if he did that, he might be examining the same stone over and over again. Instead, he will throw the stone into the South China Sea. So each day for hours he would continue in this routine: pick up a pebble; if it feels cold, throw it into the sea; lift another… and so on, endlessly. He spent a week, a month, a year and finally years on this quest for eternal life. His savings ran out and he borrowed more money. He got a special discount from Desaru Pulai Resort Hotel for being a long staying customer. On and on his search went: lift a pebble, hold it, feel it, if cold, throw it into the sea, lift another. Hour after hour, week after week, day after day….still no pebble of immortality.

One evening, he picked up a pebble and it was warm to his touch – but through sheer force of habit, he threw it into the South China Sea!

How many of us, through sheer force of habit, accidentally throw away our precious pebbles of eternal life? I am referring to the Holy Scripture where by continual exposure to it daily, weekly, monthly… we became so familiar with it that all the precious words of wisdom and knowledge contained within it that can give us eternal life became as common as the pebbles on the beaches of Desaru. Hearing the Word of God read from the Old and New Testament during Sunday worship has become so familiar, so routine, that we are no longer hearing but waiting for it to be over so that we can get on with our service. Hearing the Word of God preached from the pulpit whether as a sermon or a homily is another familiar routine. We listen for the jokes, the mistakes the preacher makes, and think of dinner or whatever our next meal will be like. We understand what the preacher is saying yet the pebble feels cold to the touch. Some of us even listen to other sermons and talks on our MP3 players. Yet it has become so familiar that often, we miss a warm pebble because we are so used to throwing away cold pebbles. This also applies to our daily devotion or quiet time; time we have decided to set aside to spend with God. Yet after a time, this has become a familiar routine habit. We begin to find that it is harder and harder to notice warm pebbles because there are so many cold pebbles. Could it be that we have been throwing away the warm pebbles? Let me suggest a way to avoid throwing away warm pebbles accidentally. The way is to ask ourselves three questions

(1) When is the most important time?

(2) Who is the most important person?

(3) What is the most important thing to do?

(Pause now and write down the answers to these three questions)

The answers to these three questions are in the Bible. Yet how often have we missed them because of our familiarity with it. The most important time is now. Though the Bible has a strong emphasis on the continuity with the past and a strong eschatological component (the future), its emphasis has always been living in the present. What is important is our encounter with the living Christ in this present moment of our life. Now is important.

The answer to the second question is Jesus Christ. He is the most important person because he is the author and perfector of our faith. Because we use the word Jesus Christ so often, it has become such a ‘common’ word that we do not attach much emotional or relevance to it. Ending our prayers “in Jesus’ name” has now become a formula. In becoming so familiar with name Jesus, we often forget that He is the most important person in our life.

The most important thing to do is to love. The Bible is a love story - between God and His people. Jesus came to show God’s love for us. Paul teaches us how to love one another in community. Yet, we have become so familiar with reading about love that we do not get out of our seat and love. Do we love our spouses, our children, our families, our church, our community, our co-workers, and our country? How have we shown it today? Love is in the doing, not in the talking.

(3) You become what you do

Once upon a time, during the time of the Crusades there was a young strong white knight who was very pious and very devoted to God. He made it his personal quest to kill all black knights. The black knights were unholy and impure. Throughout his long life this white knight killed many black knights. One day when he was old, he met a young white knight on the road. To his surprised he was immediately attacked by this white knight. He fought valiantly but was unable to overcome this young man. Throughout the fight, the question lingers at the back of his mind, ‘Why is this white knight attacking me?’ Just before he was killed, he caught a reflection of himself in the shining shield of his opponent. The knight reflected in the shield was black.

Reflection Questions
a. What do you think Elijah had learned about God in the passage?
b. What have you learned about God?


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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A 'Quiet' Day at STM (2)

(no, this is not an optical illusion. The pulpit is very high)

Knowing yourself

‘Who are you?’

Imagine that you are Elijah.

Paraphase of 1 Kings 18:1-19:9

The strong Elijah

· Challenging Ahab –draught (17: 1)

· Brought a dead boy to life (17:19-24)

· Stand up to the 450 Baal priests (18: 20-39)

· Pray for rain (18: 41-45)

· Ran faster than horses (18: 46)

The weak Elijah

· Pride at being a man of God

· Thinking that he is the only surviving prophet of Yahweh (18:22)

· Not listening to Obadiah that he is not

· the narrative refers to ‘his life’

· Jezebel threatens to take it (19: 2)

· He flees for it (19: 3)

· He asks to surrender it (19: 4)

· Some scholars thinks that running away to Kirith Ravine is an act of cowardice (17:5ff)

· He gave up

· Dismissal of his servant at Beersheba (the southernmost limit of Yahweh’s land) – abandoning his job as a prophet

· Travelling a day further – abandoning God’s covenant people

What do you think about Elijah? Is he different from you?

Acting without reflection reveals who you are

Ah Beng was the only Chinese disciple of Abba Isaac, the most famous of all the Desert Fathers in the Fourth Century. Ah Beng had traveled all the way from China to learn to love God and become a good Christian under the teachings of Abba Isaac. After fifteen years. Abba Isaac decided that Ah Beng was ready to start his own monastery so he sent him home. With tears in his eyes, Ah Beng bade his sifu goodbye and made his way back to China. Finally he decided to settle in a small place called Sow-Lin in China.

Being a disciple of Abba Isaac, Ah Beng led a very ascetic life. He lived in a simple wooden hut. Soon many became his disciples and the making of a Sow-Lin monastery were in the works. Ah Beng owned only a loincloth which he washed everyday. Unfortunately, whenever he left it out to dry, the rats would tear at it. So Ah Beng decided to keep a kitten to drive away the rats. However, Ah Beng found that now he had to beg for milk in addition to his own food everyday. This took time away from his prayers and meditation. So Ah Beng decided to keep a cow to produce milk for his kitten. When he had the cow, Ah Beng found that he now had to find grass for his cow. Again this cut into his prayer and meditation time. Then Ah Beng had a bright idea. Instead of begging for his own food and grass everyday, he would cultivate the land around his hut to grow wheat and use the stalk to make hay for his cow. In farming, Ah Beng found out the hard way that it took even more time away from his prayers and meditation. So in frustration, Ah Beng decided to employ people to work his farm. Ah Beng discovered that supervising his employees took up a lot of his time so he decided to employ a manager. In a short while, Ah Beng discovered that he had became very rich!

One day Abba Isaac decided to visit his disciple Ah Beng in China. Instead of a hut, Abba Isaac found Ah Beng living in a mansion. “Your house is like a temple in Sow-Lin,” stammered a surprised Abba Isaac. “All this came about” explained Abba Ah Beng, “because I wanted to keep my loincloth.”

As Abba Ah Beng has found out that such a simple spiritual discipline of asceticism and wearing a loincloth can escalate into a full bloom Sow-Lin temple. I wonder how many of us are aware how complicated Christianity has become. We build multi-million Ringgit churches which are used only a few hours every week. The rest of the time, the buildings are left empty. These are our houses of worship. We worship in air-conditioned comfort, with upholstered seats, clear view of the stage where we see the musicians and speakers perform. Our sermons are uplifting, comforting and simplified so as not to make demands on our time, effort and wallets. We are entertained by karaoke choruses, PowerPoint presentations with sounds and video, and brilliant solo performances by singers and choirs. There are many translations of the Bible in English; offering us the choice of choosing by the beauty of the language (KJV) or reading like a newspaper (The Message). Our theologies are so complicated and convoluted that we are willing to kill each other over it. We fellowship with people who are like us in status; socially and economically. To help the poor and the marginalised, we prefer to give money rather than to get our hands dirty. We retreat into our religious ghettoes and watch as social injustice and racial polarisation tear apart the infrastructure of our society.

Have you ever wondered what God really require of us? Does God wants big fancy churches, emotionally stirring worship performances and Christians who are not disciples? The prophet Micah has this to say, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). God’s requirements from us are simple; (1) we are to be just in our action, (2) we are to be merciful to others, and (3) to walk humbly with our Creator God. Our Lord Jesus Christ clarified that for us in what is known as the Great Commandment; we are to love God and to love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:28-31).

Ever wonder how something so simple can become as complicated as modern day Christianity? I believe it is time that we re-examine the way we practice our religion. We need to get a religious KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). We need to ask ourselves which of the many activities we do in church is what God requires. Our church facilities and assets must also be examined to see if that is what God requires. We also need to reassess if we neglect what God requires of us: to seek social justice, to give voice to the oppressed and marginalised, to defend the defenceless and vulnerable, to eradicate poverty and to reduce suffering of the sick, wounded and traumatised.

If this means we have to simplify our lifestyles in order to act justly and to show mercy, let it be so. If it means we have to re-examine our dependence on lavish church buildings, then it is needed. If it means our worship be less of a performance and more of a service, may it be done. If this means our pulpit teaching be more Christ centered rather than man or psychology-centered, it will be beneficial. If it means we have to reduce our church activities to its minimal so more time can be spent outside the church building to offer justice and mercy, let us do it then. Jesus led a group of disciples for 3 years and left them to form a church. Within three hundred years, the church became the most powerful religious institution on earth after it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately it also became the richest, most ritualistic, power-hungry and self-centered institution on earth. Then as now, the church of Jesus Christ needs a religious KISS.

Reflection Questions

a. What do you think Elijah had learned about himself in the passage?

b. What have you learned about yourself?

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Christianity is about Truth and Feelings

My copy of this book has not arrived yet but I like this book review by Jay Wood. I suspect that I will agree with Willard that the Christian life is more about knowing Christ than knowing about Christ.

More Than Deep Feelings
Dallas Willard argues that we really can know Christ.

Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge
by Dallas Willard
HarperOne, May 2009
256 pp., $17.99

Imagine that after a routine checkup, your doctor says, "My hunch is that you have cancer and must undergo extensive surgery." Would you feel confident going under the knife based on a hunch? Would your confidence grow if the doctor said he had a "strong feeling" or "believed" you had cancer? Obviously not. When the bodily stakes are high, we want to be guided by knowledge—not belief, opinion, or conjecture. Only knowledge gives the doctor's counsel authority.

Why, then, in matters of the soul are we content to be guided by a faith consisting of deep feelings or inner experiences? Why should we be surprised when nonbelievers politely decline to change their lives because we have pious opinions and strong sentiments?

Sadly, says Dallas Willard, those outside the church (and many within it) have ceased to see the Christian religion as a source of knowledge, as a system of claims that successfully tracks the truth and by which we can be guided confidently. So too, says Willard, has the longstanding tradition of objectively true moral knowledge given way to talk about one's feelings and preferences. Willard's Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperOne) calls on Christians to recover their faith—and the moral claims that accompany it—as a body of knowledge that can withstand appropriate testing and be proclaimed with confidence.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

A 'Quiet' Day at STM (1)

Knowing God, Knowing Self

The problem: The Sanctification Gap

Presbyterian historian Richard Lovelace identifies the discrepancy that exists between what the Christian ideals of a Christian life as taught in evangelical circles to the spiritual life many Christians are actually living as a “sanctification gap”. Many Christians are aware of the lack of spiritual growth in their lives in spite of having spent years learning under an effective pulpit ministry. Theologian John Coe (2009) suggests that these are “mature beginners” as they have never actually progressed in their spiritual growth. “The sanctification gap” is defined by Christian historian Chris Armstrong (2009) as “the dismal failure of American evangelicals to mature spiritually.” In his study of the contemporary spiritual formation movement, he traces the root of the “sanctification gap” to early twentieth-century fundamentalism. In its zeal to defend against liberalism, the fundamental movement of the 1920s-1950s focused upon the defence of certain important doctrines. Unfortunately in doing so, Armstrong argues, “it had come to identify the Christian life with cognitive beliefs.” Aside from an understanding of the spiritual life as purely an intellectual affirmation of certain propositions, fundamental pragmaticism undergirded by dispensational eschatology favoured activism (soul-saving) rather than contemplation, and views soul-care suspiciously as works-righteousness.

In many ways, knowing God becomes knowing about God.

The solution: The doctrine of double knowledge.

John Calvin started his Institutes of the Christian Religion with “[n]early all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” (p.35). He goes on to say “without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God” and “without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.” This is called the doctrine of double knowledge- knowing God, knowing self. Actually Calvin wasn’t the first to teach it. We can trace it back to Thomas Aquinas, to Augustine and to Iraeneus. Actually the ancient Greek taught about self-knowledge. Socrates taught about ‘knowing thyself.” He was the first to teach that because “knowing thyself” was engraved at the entrance arch of Apollo’s temple in Delphi, Greece. The Oracle of Delphi controlled the Mediterranean region for more than a thousand years.