Monday, August 31, 2009

San Francisco

Off to San Francisco we go....

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Grounds for Divorce in St Matthew

The latest from Thinking Faith...

Grounds for divorce in St Matthew
Fr Jack Mahoney concludes his series of scriptural reflections by looking at the two passages in St Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus appears to tell his followers that divorce is allowed in certain circumstances. These passages contrast dramatically with the rest of the New Testament, where Jesus is several times reported as totally forbidding divorce. What can we make of this remarkable difference? Read >>


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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Images from a Church Camp

a wonderful quiet time on the beach reading psalms in the early morning

a powerful experience of the sunrise

learning from one another


a small young church with a big heart


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Mediating Prophetic Preaching

This is a powerful article about prophetic preaching. I like what John Koessler has pointed out and I see the same faults in my own preaching.

This Week in LeadershipThe Mediating Prophet
Learning to be an advocate in the pulpit.

Whenever we step into the pulpit, we are the advocate of the people who listen to us. We are a mediator of the text for them. Our role is to help them understand God's Word.

Unfortunately, we can sometimes adopt an adversarial relationship with our hearers in our preaching. It's not intentional, and it may come from a desire to preach prophetically, but some of us are more comfortable pronouncing woes than the gospel.

| Finish this article |


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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Images of a Church Campsite

Unity Presbyterian Church invited me as their camp speaker on 29-31 August on the theme "Living in the Fullness of Christ."

This campsite is owned and operated by a Singaporean church but is open to all Christian groups (with certain restrictions). It is located in Mersing on the east coast of Johor in Malaysia.

A beautiful frontage

nice balcony facing the garden for small group activities

open air main gathering place in the centre of the building


Deepening Christian Spirituality

Three Russian monks lived on a faraway island. Nobody ever went there, but one day their bishop decided to make a pastoral visit. When he arrived, he discovered that the monks didn’t even know the Lord’s Prayer. So he spent all his time and energy teaching them the “Our Father” and then left, satisfied with his pastoral work. But when his ship had left the island and was back in the open sea, he suddenly noticed the three hermits walking on the water – in fact, they were running after the ship! When they reached it, they cried, “Dear Father, we have forgotten the prayer you taught us.”

The bishop, overwhelmed by what he was seeing and hearing, said, “But, dear brothers, how the do you pray?” They answered, “Well, we just say, ‘Dear God, there are three of us and there are three of you, have mercy on us!’” The bishop, awestruck by their sanctity and simplicity said, “Go back to your land and be at peace.”

Tolstoy’s parable illustrates true Christian spirituality. Christian spirituality is not about being able to memorise and recite the Lord’s Prayer (though it will be good to be able to do it), conducting “worship” services in a certain place, receiving higher theological learning or even what we can do for God. All these are helpful for Christian living but as the three monks have shown us, it is not the key. Christian spirituality is simple. It is all about God. Relationship with the Triune God is the key. Being mindful of the awesomeness of God and our place as his creatures needing mercy is the turning of the key and opening the door to a life of sanctity and simplicity. Peter could not understand this and he sank beneath the waves. A holy life with God demands simplicity. The rest is religiosity. Religiosity is about having too many rules, regulations and rituals to govern our worship of God. We accuse the Pharisees of religiosity, not realising our own mirrors reflect the same image. The religiosity of our communities of faith actually separate people from God.

Christian spirituality needs solitude to develop. These three monks lived on an island that nobody visits so they have ample solitude. However solitude is not so much a place as a state of mind. In our hurried busy lifestyle, it is still possible to find solitude. However, we must first desire it. If we truly desire to know God, we will find time for this solitude. Even in the busiest life, solitude may be found. First realise that there is a place all of us where God is waiting for us. Let us call this place solitude. Think of it as a room with a door which we can enter and leave anytime. We enter this room to spend time with God. God is there in the room, patiently waiting for us all the time. The length of time we spend with him is not important. It may be hours, moments, seconds or microseconds. It may even be as short as the time between our breaths. God does not mind. He wants to meet with us and the length of time does not matter to him who is timeless. Next resolve to visit this room as often as possible in a day. This will keep our mind focussed upon God. Slowly develop this into a habit. Suddenly you will realise that you do have time for solitude. In your solitude, commune with God for this is the language of prayer. Share with him, who loves you, your hopes and your plans; your hurt and your pain; your loneliness and your aloneness; your love and your joy; and your need for him. Then learn to listen. And you will realise that it is not in the storm, or the wind or the earthquake, but in a small still voice that you will hear God say “you are my beloved.” This is Christian spirituality.

Christian spirituality is the developing of our love relationship with God over time. Aside from solitude, Christian spirituality needs time. We will gradually come to understand that God already is loveing us when we are just primordial elements at the moment of creation, even more when our forms were developing in our mothers’ wombs, and most of all when our consciousness become aware of him. God uses the metaphor of the sexual act, bride and marriage to describe his love for us. Yet, God’s love is not a romantic love but a transforming hesed love, and if we yield to him, we will become more like him until we are one with him. Then surely we can compete with horses and run on water.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Faith, reason and the Modernists

The latest from Thinking Faith...

Faith, Reason and the Modernists
Concluding Thinking Faith’s series on George Tyrrell, Joe Egerton suggests that we should see Tyrrell’s story as a tragic episode in the history of the interplay between faith and reason – one that resulted from an approach to philosophy radically different to that taken by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Read >>


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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Spiritual Discernment and Decision Making

One day a young fugitive, trying to hide himself from the enemy, entered a small village. The people were kind to him and offered him a place to stay. But when the soldiers who sought the fugitive asked where he was hiding, everyone became vey fearful. The soldiers threatened to burn the village and kill every person in it unless the young man was handed to them before dawn. The people went to the Pastor and asked him what to do. Torn between handing over the boy to the enemy and having his people killed, the Pastor withdrew to his room and read his Bible, hoping to find an answer before dawn. In the early morning, his eyes fell on these words, “It is better that one man dies than that the whole people be lost.”

Then the Pastor closed the Bible, called the soldiers, and told them where the boy was hidden. And after the soldiers took the fugitive away to be killed, there was a feast in the village because the Pastor has saved the lives of the people. But the Pastor did not celebrate. Overcome with a deep sadness, he remained in his room. That night an angel came to him and asked, “What have you done?” He said: “I handed over the fugitive to the enemy.” Then the angel said: “But don’t you know that you have handed over the Messiah?” “How could I now?” the Pastor replied anxiously. Then the angel said; “If, instead of reading your Bible, you had visited this young man just once and looked into his eyes, you would have known.”

What would you have done if you are this Pastor? Would you consider justifiable that one man should be sacrificed for the lives of the whole village? Would you felt that you have obeyed God by letting the Bible speak to you this way? Our first impression is that the Pastor did right. Is he not considerate of his village? Did he not seek the will of God through his Word? Is it not better that one should die so that others may live; especially if the one who is to die is a stranger? In fact he should be commended for his wisdom and piety.

However the angel was not happy. The fugitive is the long awaited Messiah. The Pastor asked a question which millions of persons before him have asked since they nailed the Prince of Peace onto a wooden cross to die, “How could I know?” Would it have made a difference if he has known earlier? Of course it would. He would have been willing sacrifice himself and his village for the Messiah. Or would he?

I believe that the Pastor had already made up his mind to save himself and his village even before his deliberation. He had already decided that the fugitive, this outsider, should be sacrificed for the greater good. His deliberation was just to find reasons to justify his actions. He agonised in prayer and in his meditation throughout the night, but just cannot find the peace until a random passage in the Bible confirmed what he had already decided. That would have explained why he did not go to meet the fugitive. It was a small village. Could it be that he was unable to meet the person he had already condemned? On hearing about the arrival of this fugitive, he would had already resolved to give up to the soldiers whom he knew is on the heels of this fugitive.

The Pastor’s greatest weakness is his failure to see that all men reflect the face of God and are all of equal value. If he did, he would no more willing to give up the fugitive to the enemy as he would give up any of his villagers. His second failing was to make up his mind first and then seek God’s counsel.

I wonder how often in our lives have we decided upon a course of action first, and then ask God to justify our actions? Having made up our mind, we would spend days, months and years in a struggle with God, and our conscience looking for confirmation and justification. We would interpret all circumstances and events to support our decision. We accept only the counsel of people who say what we want to hear. And we pick from the Bible passages that agree with our assessment while rejecting the rest. We suppress the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit and our conscience, resisting the sense of unease, and sometimes attributing it to spiritual warfare. We believe that the strong impression that we sense in our heart are a confirmation from the Lord, not suspecting that our hearts are capable of great self-deception. Then we proceed with the course of action, convincing others that it is God’s will or even worst that we speak for God. The result of these is often catastrophic. People are hurt, ministries disrupted, and our souls are severe injured. What is not of God will not endure.

So when we want to discern the will of God, let us be honest. Let us truly seek his wisdom and counsel and be open to listen and accept his guidance. We need to move into a place of solitude as Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane to listen. There is the need to fast and pray; disciplining our bodies so that we can be open to God. We need to adopt the attitude of listening to the whole counsel of God from the Bible, not just selected verses. Listening also involve hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking into our lives and by the Spirit through the mind of God, understand the circumstances and events in our lives. Spiritual decision making is not testing God as Gideon did with his fleeces. Last but not least, let us listen to the discernment and thoughts of our fellow Christians in our community. We share the same baptism and the same Spirit. If the Spirit has spoken to us, then he would have spoken to others too. If the other members of our community of faith do not agree with our plan of action, it will be wise to stop and take stock.

There is a great need for Christians to learn spiritual discernment. For too long, we have leaned unto our own understanding, using our minds to make decisions, and to discern a course of action. We must avoid what the Pastor has discovered. What seems right in our own eyes may not be right at all. We all need spiritual sight in our discernment. Let us beware that we do not unintentionally crucify Jesus again.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Black Hawk Down and Bible Study

Black Hawk Down and Bible Study

In the September–October issue of Bible Study Magazine, Chaplain (Major) Jeff Struecker shares how his study of the Bible not only helped him during the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu (featured in the book and movie Black Hawk Down), but how Scripture influences every aspect of his life as a soldier. Read the article now.

Major Struecker speaks from experience, including combat in Operation Just Cause in Panama, Operation Iris Gold in Kuwait, Operation Gothic Serpent in Mogadishu, Somalia, and multiple tours in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. His awards for actions in these imminent danger zones include the Southwest Asia Service Medal (1 Service Star), Kuwaiti Liberation Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (2nd award), National Defense Service Medal and the Bronze Star Medal (with “V” Device for valor, 3rd award). He has received other medals as recognition for his service in the United States Army. In addition to these awards and others, Struecker took first place in the David L. Grange Best Ranger competition in 1996.


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The Path of Celtic Prayer

God, bless me this day,
God bless me this night;
Bless, O bless, thou God of grace,
Each day and hour of my life;
Bless, O bless, thou God of grace,
Each day and hour of my life,

God, bless the pathway on which I go,
God, bless the earth that is beneath my sole;
Bless, O God, and give to me Thy love,
O God of gods, bless my rest and my reposte;
Bless, O God, and give to me Thy love,
O God of gods, bless my rest and my reposte.

"The Journey Prayer" of Brendan (taken from Carmina Gadelica)

This is an excellent book by Calvin Miller (2007, InterVarsity) on Celtic Spirituality. Aside from a general introduction to Celtic spirituality, Miller narrows his focus to Celtic forms of prayers.

Calvin Miller writes,

I have written this book for two reasons. First, I want to address the way the Celtic people related to God to keep their devotion centered on the Savior. But I also want to demonstrate how these ancient lovers of God were able to strip away institutional business and empty religiosity that can separate Christians from Christ.

He classifies Celtic prayers as

(1) Trinity Prayer (the art of loving all of God)

(2) Scripture Prayer (praying the Bible back to its author)

(3) Long, Wandering Prayer (seeing life as a single , unending prayer)

(4) Nature Prayer (poetry and praise in ordinary life)

(5) Lorica Prayer (asking God for protection)

(6) Confessional Prayer (living in agreement with God)

It would not have been an easy task to categorise the prayers of Celts into six neat categories. Many prayers would fit many categories while some are more narratives than prayers. While Miller has been very informative in the 'closely linked to nature' spirituality of the Celts, one wonders how he is to achieve his second objective because the Celts never did have an institutional church. And he did not explore the fact that Celtic Christianity is syncretic with paganism.

There is always the danger of looking at Celtic spirituality through romantic rosy lens, and making the jump into applying it to Christians in the 21st century. Nevertheless this book is a good study of one of the many forms of Christian spiritualities throughout Christian history.


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You''ll Never Walk Alone

You'll Never Walk Alone

When you walk through a storm

hold your head up high

And don't be afraid of the dark.

At the end of a storm is a golden sky

And the sweet silver song of a lark.

Walk on through the wind,

Walk on through the rain,

Tho' your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart

And you'll never walk alone,

You'll never, ever walk alone.

Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart

And you'll never walk alone,

You'll never, ever walk alone.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Justfication a la John Calvin
Justification á la John Calvin
Compiled and introduced by Tony Lane

Justification remains a controversial doctrine. New Testament scholars are reexamining Paul's teaching. Lutherans and Roman Catholics have produced a Joint Declaration on the topic. The excerpts from John Calvin's writings below give us a glimpse into the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith.

Finish this article from

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

God's Hymnbook

Armchair Historian God's Hymnbook
John Calvin wanted the church to learn to sing again—as long as the words and melody pointed the heart towards God.

In Reformed churches people sing a lot, and what strikes outsiders is that they bring their own songbooks to the service. That many mothers have a stack of them to take to church every Sunday can be blamed on Calvin. God must be given praise, and those who know him do nothing more readily. God's Word demands a response, and singing is one means of response, preferably using God's own hymnbook, the Psalms. Click to continue.


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Friday, August 21, 2009

The Parable of the Living Wage

The latest from Thinking Faith...

The Parable of the Living Wage?
What can we learn about God from the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard? Fr Jack Mahoney continues his ‘Getting the Point’ series by discussing how Jesus’ parables used familiar, everyday situations to illustrate truths about God, and suggests how the behaviour of the employer in this parable might prompt us to think about our idea of justice. Read >>

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reformed Perspectives Magazine Volume 11, Number 34

The following articles are featured in this issue:

The Doctrine of the Word of God
Orientation: The Personal Word Model
By: John M. Frame
Webpage PDF Word

The Subsistence of God
An Article
By: William Ames
Webpage PDF Word

Treatise on Grace
An Article
By: Jonathan Edwards
Webpage PDF Word

Freedom of the Will, Part XIV
An Article
By: Jonathan Edwards
Webpage PDF Word

A Divine Cordial, III
An Article
By: Thomas Watson
Webpage PDF Word

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Mission to Cambodia

Video report of one of the short term mission team to Cambodia from my church

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How do you spend your free time?

How do many of us spend our free time (assuming we have any free time)? Do you collapse on the couch and watch television? Do you feel guilty that you are not doing anything? John Ortberg has some thoughts on this especially what he says about musing (random musings, get it?)

Time Well Wasted
Why you need downtime and how to spend it
John Ortberg | posted 8/17/2009

Time Well Wasted

Most pastors don't waste enough time.

At least that's my conviction. But wasting time well is an acquired skill, because there is good wasting and there is bad wasting. Bad time wasting is the hang around/watch TV/perform random online search kind that leaves you with less life than you started with. You may be doing it right now. I don't need to say any more about that, except to stop.

The good kind of time-wasting will actually lead you to be more connected with God and more full of life. But it's hard to engage in, because there are always more pressing matters. This isn't really wasting time, of course, but our culture makes it feel as though it is.

read more

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Medicine-Reigniting our Passion

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Medicine—Reigniting our Passion…

This is an interesting reflection on the medical profession especially when the country in the throbs of the Influenza A (H1N1) pandemic. Makes me wonder why I did not choose a safer profession like being a pastor!

David Quek is a Consultant Cardiologist and President of the Malaysia Medical Association (2009-2010). He writes,

Being a medical doctor is certainly one profession, which can become an all-consuming life and living itself—one learns to eat, drink, and breathe medicine.

Our thoughts and thought processes are submerged within the lingering echoes and ethos of a Hippocratic ancien[t] regime: one of highly-structured codified dos and don’ts and exhortations of an intricately-crafted analytical process. Many are now lamenting the relevance of these methods and constraints, the seemingly outmoded sweeping codes, so enshrined within its antiquarian Aesculapian confines...

It is against this backdrop, that we should address the issue of where our medical profession is heading. With the onslaught of rising commercialism, market-driven personal consumerism, and greater patient autonomy, it is becoming increasingly hard for the medical professional to practice as a doctor.
A thought provoking article and worth the reading here


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Worldview and Kingdom View

This is a book I am looking forward to reading. I like the way James Smith challenges our modernist thinking and our way of doing Christian education. My copy from is on the way and I am impatiently waiting for its arrival.

Christianity Today, August, 2009

Putting Worldview in Its Place
There's something more important than our intellectual framework.

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation
by James K. A. Smith
Baker Academic, August 2009
240 pp., $15.99

Worldview has been Christian education's byword, codeword, password, keyword, and—for some students—swearword for the past 30 years. Amid the modern cacophony, it has provided a rhetorical and philosophic unifying point for academic communities badly in need of the singularity and depth of vision their mission statements proclaim. So why in Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Baker Academic) does philosopher James K. A. Smith call for a "temporary moratorium" on this hallowed notion?

I especially like the statement below

If educating is indeed about properly ordering our loves, as Smith (following Augustine) believes, then formation rather than information should become the primary end of our institutions.

read the rest of Miller's book review here

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How Safe is Your Discipleship?

I have always enjoyed Mark Galli's insightful comments. Here he touches on our discipleship and how safe it is. Is discipleship a safe venture? Reminds of Chronicles of Narnia where it was asked, "Is Aslan a tame lion?"

What should we think about a deity who gives us sticks of dynamite to play with?

Back in the early sixties, a book was published with the title, The Suburban Captivity of the Churches. I never read it, but it strikes me as an apt description of American Christianity, and a mirror image of the unnerving God of the church.

The suburbs are not the incarnation of social evil, as some critics would have us believe. But they do tend to shape us (as does the city, as does rural life!). And some of that shaping has not been for the church's best.

Let's take one famous quality of suburban life: safety. I live in a suburb in the Midwest where the biggest news items in the police blotter in our local paper usually have to do with shoplifting or DUIs or the occasional bicycle theft. Murders, rapes, armed robberies and the like—few and very, very far between. It's a safe place to live. Safe is good.

read more

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Reformed Perspectives Magazine Volume 11, Number 33

Reformed Perspectives Magazine Volume 11, Number 33 (August 16 to August 22, 2009), is now available. The following articles are featured in this issue:

The Doctrine of the Word of God
By: John M. Frame
Webpage PDF Word

The Doctrine of the Word of God
Study Guide
By: John M. Frame
Webpage PDF Word

Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy in the Epistle of James
An Article
By: Cary Paulk
Webpage PDF Word

Treatise on Grace, II
An Article
By: Jonathan Edwards
Webpage PDF Word

Freedom of the Will, Part XIII
An Article
By: Jonathan Edwards
Webpage PDF Word

A Divine Cordial, II
An Article
By: Thomas Watson
Webpage PDF Word

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God With Us

The latest from Thinking Faith...

God with us
Continuing his reflections on scriptural passages that we can sometimes struggle to understand, Fr Jack Mahoney asks us to consider what the idea of God being ‘with’ us means. What can we learn from the many instances of this phrase in the Old and New Testaments, and how should its meaning manifest itself in our daily lives? Read >>


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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How Expensive is Your Church?

Pastor Paul Long continues his interaction with my book and his pastoral ministry; in this case church building. Thanks, Paul for your reflection.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How Expensive is Your Church? (Spiritual Formation on the Run)

My recent car accident has distracted me a bit from my routine. And though I am not scheduled to preach this month, I have been busy with a number of pressing ministry matters that have also been distracting. So I am grateful for a long preaching break where I have had a lot more time to pray, reflect and try to figure out what to do!!! Sometimes the tunnel seems pretty long and dark and there is no indication of any light showing that the tunnel is near.

Anyway this is good as again, it forces me to remember that it is God who will take care of matters not me - my task is to do my best to discern his leading and move accordingly. So again I turn to my re-centering exercises and I find comfort in chapter 26 (How expensive is your church). Why? Well, because our church building project journey has been difficult and I think will continue to be challenging BUT at the same time at this stage of the journey I can see clearly God's hand and guidance.

Anyway, here's the chapter first and then my reflections on it.

How Expensive is Your Church? (Chapter 26)

I wonder how you will answer if someone asks you, "How expensive is your church?" Your first impression may be, "My church is free. No annual fees, no service charges and no membership dues. It is not expensive.' Then if that person persists, "What about your church's expansion plans? New building projects. What will it cost you, as a member? How expensive will it be to remain in your church?"

Many churches, especially bigger churches in the Klang valley, are embarking on multimillion-dollar building and expansion plans. I am sure there are excellent reasons for these projects. Rising church attendance, increasing ministry programmes and a bigger staff are some of them. I am also sure the churches have excellent Christ-centred, carefully discerned reasons that are in God's will for them. However, I hope that churches are not planning to spend huge amounts of money (estimates of $50 million, $30 million and $10 million, to give a few numbers) for the following reasons: "We want a church campus that looks like Rick Warren's church campus in California' It is great to have a church campus like Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Lake Forest. The whole complex is bigger than some of our local university campuses. The main auditorium can sit 5,000 people and have the latest audio-visual equipment. We must realise that we are not in California but in Malaysia. We have to be realistic and contextualise our church buildings. Sometimes we look at mega churches in other countries and want to be like them. There is nothing wrong with mega churches provided it is God who wants us to have them. There is something wrong when we try to imitate and end up with only the superficial simulacrum of the whole concept. A multimillion-dollar building may be the proverbial white elephant and turn out to be a millstone around our necks. Instead of trying to build physical assets, we should concentrate on and invest in building spiritual assets in our members.

"We must show the surrounding community an impressive church building so that they will know our God is a powerful God!" Aesthetic buildings are good to look at but we should aim for functionality and multi-purpose usage. Then the building project will not cost so much. If the intention of building is for show, we need to rethink our priorities. If we think God will be glorified by manmade structures, then we need to take another look at Old and New Testament history. Also, we must exercise sensitivity when desiring to build impressive, attention-drawing buildings in a country where the "priority" religion is not Christianity.

"Our church building must be more impressive than that other church's building because we are better than they are." Keeping up with the Jones also occurs in religious communities. We need to be aware of this and not get caught in a vicious circle. Often, it is a subtle and unconscious need on our part to compare ourselves with others. The onus is on both the church leadership and the members to ensure that the tremendous investment in money, effort and work is for the expansion of God's kingdom, and not in proving themselves better than other Christians. Good Christian stewardship demands that every dollar we spend must be accountable and go towards the mission of the church, which is evangelism. How many missionaries and "full-time" workers suffer from a lack of finances while home churches are putting up "fine" buildings? The work of the gospel expands not through buildings, but through personal relationships and effective stewardship of financial resources.

"We must have a new church building/expansion because there is not enough space:' On the surface this sounds like a good reason. However, "not enough space" is a perpetual problem. I have never been to a church that has "enough space." When I was visiting Rick Warren’s church, the people I spoke to also complained of insufficient space. The solution to this lack may not lie in having new buildings, but in more creative use of existing space. We need to have a paradigm change in our thinking that regards a church as operating out of a single building. Can a church not have a small shop lot for an administration office, rent halls for worship and services, and hold other meetings in homes? Instead of building a new building every time the congregation grows, should we not think of leasing or renting bigger convention halls or hotel ballrooms for worship services? In fact, many convention halls/ hotels offer audio-visual equipment and adequate parking facilities.

I have nothing against churches that have visions for multimillion-dollar building projects. I just hope they are aware that the fund-raising, work and taxing of their members may drain their resources and divert their attention from the more important task of building the Kingdom of God.

Our new church building is not up yet. We have not even submitted the plans to the council for approval. The most basic reason is that we do not have the funds and we have not reached the agreement stage where we as a leadership can present a firm (and realistically achievable) recommendation to the congregation for their prayerful consideration and later endorsement (or otherwise). So why even think about building? The are still so many hurdles that need to be leaped over.

Yet I feel at peace at this stage of the journey despite my tendency my to "worry" at times.
I am not saying they are "gospel truths" just that these are some of the reasons (they are inter -related) why I feel the way I do.

1. A godly leadership. Granted that we are still sinners, young and old, male and female alike, there is a peace that comes from knowing that we are all actively seeking to do what is right in God's eyes.

2. A consultative leadership. There is indeed active listening to what members have to say about the matter. And so far, it would seem that despite the recession, members are supportive.

3. "Kingdom of God" orientation. We have lost many key members over the last couple of years due to migration (a lot to do with the economic down turn). Yet I find that many of these members still think of us as "family", and keep in touch. I think this is a good sign of how we view "ministry". Regular on our prayer list are the well being of many who have long since left us. Relationships are important and we keep in touch even if these "associate members" do not contribute to the ministry of financial support of our church.

I find that leaders think the same way I do and have a wider "kingdom of God" mentality. While we would love all who have spent time with us to remain with us, we are not too bothered if they do not and in fact do our best to help those who cannot fit in with us find a home church where they can fit in. This warms my heart.

4. Mission emphasis. Despite difficult times and the fact that we are not a large church (and quite a few members have financial difficulties, our church leadership will not budge on at least 30% of our budget being set aside for missions. Paying the pastor does not come from this 30%. And we are praying about a possible 2nd staff member. Makes wanting to build a new building much tougher. But the point for us is (and thankfully our church members feel the same) - we want to building a new church building to add on because we are committed to ministry and people - which is the reason why we need additional space for ministry - in particular community work. It goes against this principle to cut back on missions to build a building. As Alex put it, How many missionaries and "full-time" workers suffer from a lack of finances while home churches are putting up "fine" buildings? The work of the gospel expands not through buildings, but through personal relationships and effective stewardship of financial resources. "

It was an affirmation that we had a guest speaker a few weeks ago (1st time in our church and not knowing any of our leaders or our church except myself - and only via recommendation) noted our brief financial update and commended us on our commitment to missions giving. His statement of comparison with other churches (and not just in NZ) was "flattering" but at the same time worrying ...

5. We are building for more facilities for ministry especially to the community. We could relocate out of our community and get another place with better facilities at a much cheaper cost. We have limited land where we are. But the consensus of leaders and members is that we need to be here for this community. There are so many opportunities but we do not have the space. Of course the question that we had to struggle with (and still do) is: Do we actually need more space? Again as Alex rightly highlighted, However, "not enough space" is a perpetual problem. I have never been to a church that has "enough space." When I was visiting Rick Warren’s church, the people I spoke to also complained of insufficient space. The solution to this lack may not lie in having new buildings, but in more creative use of existing space. We need to have a paradigm change in our thinking that regards a church as operating out of a single building. Can a church not have a small shop lot for an administration office, rent halls for worship and services, and hold other meetings in homes?

Right now we use a house to supplement meeting space (especially for Sunday School). We just have a narrow rectangular church worship hall, a small kitchen, two toilets and a fellowship hall that is about 50 years old (which was formerly a small primary school gym). Most we can manage is to squeeze in 2 table tennis tables and a fooseball table with a corner for the church library. I think we have gotten pretty creative in how we use our existing space ... even my office :-)

Lots of key meetings are held in homes.

6. Cost saving. Our plans for our church building is to maximise the space we have by building a new building (no frills one) that will still meet the basic council requirements, and keep our 50 year old worship and fellowship halls. I think that is something good. I agree with Alex on this,. Aesthetic buildings are good to look at but we should aim for functionality and multi-purpose usage. Then the building project will not cost so much. If the intention of building is for show, we need to rethink our priorities. This is our plan and hope. Though we would surely not want an ugly church interior! :-)

I am not sure when we will get our building up. But God knows.

One other thought. For me, it is a logical fallacy to assume that if we build a bigger church by "faith" if we have very little money, people will come in to fill up the church, and as more people join the church, we will have more money to pay up our loans etc.

The most obvious reason for me is that almost nothing "kills" a church family atmosphere than constant appeals and reminders of the financial needs and raising funds to pay up bank loans etc. To me, this is a great distraction to ministry and spiritual growth.

When I was younger I remember a situation where a group of churches endorsed a denominational based inter-church youth ministry's goals and plans for the year (they had elder representatives on a special board). But they decided they would not provide sufficient money to run the ministry. Instead they asked us (the ones doing the ground work) to raise the funds via a few fund big raising events. I know I could have responded more graciously (thought I still stand by the raeson for my stance) but my response was basically: "looking at the money given to us, and the budget that was pproved, my solution is simple, sack the worker, buy the materials to start the resource library (a church had agreed to host it) and forget about inter church youth ministry! I could see very little good coming out of hiring a worker to spend all her time raising funds for her salary.

And of course I think it is not a wise thing to do as Jesus illustrates in Luke 14: 28-30 (And yes, I do know the context is counting the cost of discipleship :-)
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

But here's my other main thought. I believe that with a new church building to add on to the facilities, we will have another hall to use. And God will hears our prayers and bless as we want to bless our community. But the catch is that most of the people we will be reaching out to will be those with many needs. So we will grow in numbers but these new numbers may not be able to contribute financially. Our giving will have to increase to meet these needs - but the giving will mostly have to come from people already giving sacrificially. But that's more than okay. God will take care of all our needs.

Matthew 6:33-34
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Philippians 4:15-20
15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only;
16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.
17 Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.
18 I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.
19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Other meditations by Paul on my book, Spiritual Formation on the Run

How heavy is your burden?
Shout to the world
The silence in the noise
Omission and Commission
A Burning Bush


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The After Midnight Calls

One of the bane of a medical doctor's life is the after midnight calls. Apparently pastors have the same problem as Gordan MacDonald shares.

This Week in Leadership PASTOR'S ROLE
The 3:00 a.m. Phone Call
What makes a pastor a pastor?

Remember that political ad in which the White House phone rings at 3 a.m. and someone has to answer? I know the experience. Sort of.

My phone call came late one afternoon. The caller, a church attendee I knew only casually, said he was at the hospital where his wife, Josie, was dying of cancer and might not last the night. Could I come right away?

| Finish this article |


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Spiritual Formation Reflection on Church Website

The Trinity Methodist Church in Kuching, Sarawak has posted one of my reflections on their website.

Spiritual Formation by Alex Tang

Spiritual Formation on the Run by Dr Alex Tang(see last para)

Spiritual Formation on the Run by Dr Alex Tang(see last para)

Dr Alex Tang has kindly consented the Editor to post his sharing on Spiritual Formation (extracted) on our site. He is also the author of this book Spiritual Formation on the Run, which is available in our Library( donated by him). Read more of him in the websites below

Now read on and you may print it to read in your quiet time. This may be what each and everyone of us badly needs.

By Dr Alex Tang

The Call

A Call to Spiritual Formation

San Antonio, 2009

Christian spiritual formation is the process of being shaped by the Spirit into the likeness of Christ, filled with love for God and the world.

read more

HT: Simon Wong

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A Television Series named Combat!

I have an enjoyable and nostalgic time watching Combat! on DVD. Combat! was a television series which was produced and screened for five years from 1962-1967. The first four years was in black and white and the last season was in colour. It was about a squad of American G.I.s fighting in France in the Second World War.

I watched it when I was a wee lad. Watching it now, I find it as enjoyable as before, especially it is in black and white. The first season was really good with guest stars like Lee Marvin, James Colburn, Richard Baseheart, Eddie Alberts, and Leonard Nimoy. I find the stories well crafted.


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Monday, August 10, 2009

The Lab Rat of the 21st Century

Christianity (online edition), July 2009

The new executive director at the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity discusses recent bioethical debates.

Organ transplantation on the black market and interspecies animal-human embryos might sound like science fiction, but Paige Cunningham says they are the emerging bioethical challenges.

Closer to home, topics such as abortion and stem cell research regularly fill news headlines. Christianity Today spoke with the new executive director at the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity about the overlap between science and ethics.

What new bioethical challenges are you considering?

We've been talking with people from India and Africa about issues like the black market in organ transplantation. Crossing animals and humans has been approved in the U.K. There is a shortage of human eggs, so they want to use animal eggs. The reality is that these bioethical issues are not just an American or a Western concern; they are significant frontline issues around the world.

read more


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Henri Nouwen on Spiritual Direction

This book was published in 2006 and was written by Michael J. Christensen and Rebbecca J. Laird. Christensen is the director of the Doctor of Ministry program in Drew University and Laird is a spiritual director and associate pastor for Spiritual Development at Central Presbyterian Church in Summit, New Jersey. Christensen took a course with Henri Nouwen at Yale Divinity School.

Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932-1996) is a well known spiritual writer. He never did consider himself a spiritual director though he did receive and gave spiritual direction. He considered himself more as a spiritual companion. Nouwen did not write much on spiritual direction and spiritual formation. The core of his spiritual writing were on the heart, Word and church and was more about his inner own conversations, even though it continues to offer spiritual guidance to many of his readers.

In this book, the authors, drawing from both published and unpublished writings of Henri Nouwen set him up as a spiritual director. The chapters are designed in such a way that the reader is being engaged with a one way spiritual direction with Henri Nouwen. The chapters deals with questions that generally asked in spiritual direction such as "who am I?" and "who is God to me?" The answers are drawn from Nouwen's writings. Sometimes reading a passage may be jarring because the personal pronoun "I" is used. One expect to look up to see Nouwen sitting across the table!

The danger of such a book is that it will be inevitable that some of the authors' biasness and personal values be embedded in the choice and paraphrase of Nouwen's writings. Nevertheless it is a good book to read as it is the closest we can get to having Henri Nouwen as our spiritual director.


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Saturday, August 08, 2009

A Book Too Far

Sometimes one can become so immersed in a literary/academic project for so long that one comes to suffer what the Early Church Fathers called apatheia. At times like this, my old friend Wordsworth has a few words to say about it.

The Table Turned by William Wordsworth

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun, above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.
'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless--
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.


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God's Chisel

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Watching G.I. Joe

G.I. Joe which used to stand for "Government Issue" soldiers now stand for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity. G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a feature film length advertisement for Hasbro action figures. It is a forgettable fast moving, action orientated movie about special forces soldiers, cool body armours, deathly guns and other weapons, large and small vehicles for air, sea and land, super gadgets, and rip off ideas from many science fiction movies. It is about the good guys versus the bad guys. It is about really super cool bases that reminds me of the James Bond movies. I liked it!


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A Man Fell in a Hole


Monday, August 03, 2009

A Call for Spiritual Formation (9)

Final Paragraph

We invite all people, everywhere, to embrace with us this calling to become like Jesus. By God’s grace, we will seek to become lovers: lovers of God, lovers of people, and lovers of all creation. We will immerse ourselves in a lifestyle that is attentive and responsive to the gracious presence of God. We commit ourselves to the community of Christ’s beloved, the church, so that we can learn this way of love together. We entreat you to join us.

The final paragraph is an invitation to embrace the calling to be like Jesus. It will involve (1) becoming lovers of God, people and all creation; (2) immersing in a lifestyle that is “attentive and responsive” to presence of God; and (3) committing to Christian communities of faith “so that we can learn this way of love together.” Thus the call is to love God and live in such a way in community that such a love may be learned and practiced. This is a fitting conclusion to the various aspects of a call to Christian spiritual formation highlighted above.

This is a comprehensive statement as it cut across all denominational lines and Church traditions to call for a return to the basic of our Christian spiritual life- that of growing into Christlikeness. Unfortunately as with many such statements or creeds, it falls short with the praxis of it. How are we, who answer the call to such spiritual formation, to apply it and make it work in our communities of faith (be it churches, fellowship and other small groups, etc), our daily jobs, lifestyles, and engagement with the dominant culture of our time? It is my sincere hope that those who answer this call from the four corners of the world will develop in their own unique situations, Christian spiritual formation components, that will embrace the process of growing into Christlikeness in communities of faith in deepening their love for God, other people, and all creation.


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Lottie Moon in China
The Little Woman with the Big Legacy
A tough and determined missionary, Lottie Moon called an entire denomination to a greater participation in the Great Commission.

In her life as a missionary in China, Lottie Moon stood barely more than four feet tall. In death, she weighed about 50 pounds. Her impact on the history of missions, however, has been enormous.

Finish this article from

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