Saturday, February 28, 2015

Stop Playing Games: Join God’s Reconciling Work for Lent

Reconciling our Fragmented Selves

Soul care or care of our inner spiritual life is a lifelong process. It is worthwhile during this Lenten season to reexamine it. Procrastination is one of our favorite habits, made worse by social media such as Facebook. Procrastination is what we do to avoid doing what we should be doing. Playing games in soul care is a form of procrastination. Soul care is hard and painful work as we peel away layers of resentment, unforgiveness and bitterness. It also needs us to distinguish and identify who we really are (real self), who we think we should be (duty self), and who we think others think we should be (perceived self). We play games to distract us from the real work of reconciliation of our fragmented selves.

Many of us do not really like our real self. It is sometimes questionable if we really know who our real selves are. Our real self is who God has created us to be. Some of us wonder if people will still like and love us if they know who we really are. This sense of unworthiness poisons our relationships. We sense the darkness inside us, a beast that struggles to be free. We are so afraid and ashamed of our humanity. We listen to inner voices that compare ourselves with other people and tell us that we are not good, beautiful, smart or talented enough to be of any value. Lent reminds us that in spite of all our faults, imperfections and self-delusions, God loves us enough to send his Son to die for us. God knows we are works in progress. We need to stop playing games and start reconciling with his Son, Jesus Christ.

Some of us live life out of a sense of duty. We impose rules and regulations upon ourselves so that we live a life worthy of God. This is especially common in those who seek to grow a deeper relationship in God. These people live out of a duty self. They live austere and sacrificial lives, thinking that is what God wants them to be. This may not be true. Their sacrifices may not be what God wants them to but what they think God wants them to. Jesus enjoys food and festivals as much as other people. Often such lives based on the duty self are deeply steeped in legalism, empty of joy and judgmental of others who do not do as they do. Lenten period is a time to reexamine our lives and stop playing games with our duty self. That is work righteousness. We need to repent and reconcile with our real self in Christ.

What others think of us is very important to many of us. It may not be apparent to us in our perceived self that we are giving others power to control who we are. The truth is that most people are not thinking of us. They are too busy thinking of themselves. The lie of the perceived self comes from our hearts. We are desperate for affirmation, love and company. So we try to be the someone who we think other people want us to be. This is a house of cards which may collapse anytime. Again, there is a need to reconcile our perceived self with our real self and find our affirmation, love and companionship in God.

Lent is a time to meditate and pray about reconciliation. God started this by becoming man and reconciled us to himself through his Son, Jesus Christ. We need reconciliation. Not only reconciliation with God but also reconciliation within ourselves. We need to reconcile our real selves with our duty and perceived selves. Let us stop playing games and get on with the real work of soul care.

Photo by Alex Tang

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Stations of the Cross @HLCE

Stations of the Cross@ HLCE 2015

Date: Saturday 4-6pm 4 April (Holy Saturday) 2015                                      
between Good Friday and Easter Sunday
Place: Faith Hall, Jalan Persiaran Pendorasa Utama, Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Fees: Free

Register with Sis. Grace Soon at or Tel: 07-2243285 or our website
All are welcome

The Stations of the Cross is a traditional Christian meditation and prayer practice to remember the Passion of the Christ. There will be 14 stations placed inside Faith Hall. Participants are invited to follow the stations. There is no specific time at each station. People may spend a much or as little time at each station as desired. A prayer and reflection guide will be provided.

1. Jesus on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39-46)
2. Jesus, betrayed by Judas, is arrested (Luke 22:47-48)
3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71)
4. Peter denies Jesus (Luke 22:54-62)
5. Jesus is judged by Pilate (Luke 23:13-25)
6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns (Luke 22:63-65; John 19:2-3)
7. Jesus takes up the cross (Mark 15:20)
8. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross (Luke 23:26)
9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27-31)
10. Jesus is crucified (Luke 23:33, 47)
11. Jesus promises his Kingdom to the good thief (Luke 23:33-34, 39-43)
12. Jesus on the cross, his mother and his disciple (John 19:25-27)
13. Jesus dies on the cross (Luke 23:44-46)
14. Jesus is placed in the tomb (Luke 23:50-54)


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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ashes to Ashes. Ash Wednesday 2015

Ashes to Ashes
Ash Wednesday 18 Feb 2015

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a 6-weeks period that ends with Easter Sunday. Why start with ashes? In churches that celebrate this tradition, the ashes are obtained by burning the palm leaves used for the previous Palm Sunday event. Ashes in the Lenten period reminds us of four important points.

Firstly, ashes reminds us of our humanity. In Genesis 2:7, man were created out of the dust of the earth. The Hebrew word for dust may also be translated as ashes. Normally we will avoid getting our hands and bodies dirty by dust and ashes. This ceremonial act of having ashes applied to our foreheads is to accept that we are created beings and our need to relate to our Creator in a meaningful way. In our hurried consumer driven society, we often lose our humanity. We use people and forget about God. Ashes brings us back to the basics. For all our power, wealth, fame and abilities, we are but ashes and dust. We need to recover our role to love one another and to love God.

Secondly, ashes reminds us of our mortality. We die and our bodies decompose into ashes. Adam and Eve were told that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19 NRSV). In the eastern traditions, ashes and sackcloth were used as signs of mourning. We live in a society in denial of death and dying. Marketing and the technologies of modern medicine gives us the illusion that we will live forever. Ashes reminds us that we are mortal. Our time on earth is limited. It forces us to reevaluate how we are to spend our remaining years so as to make them meaningful.

Thirdly, ashes reminds us of the call to repentance. When the reluctant prophet Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh, the King and his people put on sackcloth and sat in ashes. God saw this act of repentance and spared the people (Jonah 3:1-10). Sometimes, our theology has so much Triumphalism that we forget we are sinners by nature and need forgiveness and mercy. Many of us are in bondage to fear, addictions and unbelief. Lent is a period to face, confess, repent and break our bondage.

Finally, ashes which begins the Lenten period ends in the resurrection on Easter Morning. This is the Gospel that offers hope to our humanity, mortality and sinful nature. Christ, God incarnate, by his suffering has delivered us. We, who were captives and in bondage in the ashes, have been set free. From the dust and ashes of death and suffering arose in Easter new hope and new life.

May this Lenten period be a meaningful period for meditation and reflection for you.

Photo by Alex Tang


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Spiritual Formation in a Nutshell (1)

Here are some distillations of the wisdom of spiritual formation


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My 3,000th blog post

It is a good time to revisit why I started blogging in 1 January 2006

Why I Begin Blogging

I always think that a blog is a stain on my shirt after I ate laksa noodles until someone pointed out to me that a laksa sauce makes a blot but a blog is a specialised website where you can write your journal or your ideas and post it into the Internet for all to see. Thus, in an attempt to reduce my ignorance, I ventured into the land of cyberspace and to my delight discovered that there is a vast domain there, waiting to be explored and to bring into the influence of the Kingdom of God. Here are some of  the reasons why I blog for God.

Firstly, there is a vast store of information stored in the Internet. While it is important to recognise the fact that not all information on the Internet is reliable but this is also true of much of the information from television, books, newspaper and our friends. The onus is now on the receiver of the information to filter them and decide which to trust. One rule of the thumb is that the source of information must be trustworthy. An educational or recognised organisation is more reliable than a personal website (unless you know that person, of course).

Secondly, the Web has made a true democratisation of knowledge. Information and knowledge has always been controlled by government censors, media magnates and professional watchdogs (also called peer reviewers). Now, anybody can post their comments and their thoughts on the Web. Where some websites have moderators to block the more offensive contents, independent websites are relatively free to post whatever they want. The bad side is that a lot of nonsense is on the Web. The good side is that there is a freedom of speech. What has impressed me is the ‘wiki’. A wiki is an encyclopaedia-like website where people are working together in consensus to build up a searchable information database free for anyone to use. One good example is wikipedia Here is a large encyclopaedia slowly being built up containing most of the knowledge of mankind. Contributors are professionals and others who are giving away their knowledge for free. One would expect such a collaborative effort to be full of errors. A recent study done by Science shows that the context of wikipedia is as reliable as online Britannica Encyclopaedia!  Personally I feel more Christians should be contributing to the building up of this type of databases. The apostle Paul asked a question of how  people are to know of the gift of salvation if they have not been told about it first.

Thirdly, over the years, the ways we are learning have changed. Gone are the days when we can sit down and listen to two hours long sermons by Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards. We are now used to being given information bites in small amount, interestingly packaged with sounds and pictures courtesy of CNN and MTV. Teens are learning more from the Web than from the church or schools. The forms of communications have changed. And the church has to change its forms of communication if it is to be relevant to the present generation. The church’s mandate is to go forth and make disciples, not wait for the disciples-to-be to come to them. The message has not changed. Only the ways of saying it.

Finally, Weblog is an area in which online communities can form. A blog is a personal website where one can post whatever thoughts or comments. This is a form of discussion forum but less structured. This is read and commented upon by other bloggers (people who write blogs). If there are common interests, over time communities will form. Christians and seekers have also formed such online communities. One of the challenges I see to the church in the coming years is that these communities will become more numerous and may even outnumber the existing brick and concrete churches. Such church communities share sermons transcripts, listen to sermons online and offer comfort and fellowship to one another. Instead of condemning such communities, the church should embrace these communities and incorporate them into the existing church structure. I am waiting to for pastors of cyberspace churches to appear.

People perceive and receive information differently nowadays compared to those twenty years ago. For people to believe the good news, they must first hear it. To hear it, they need to have the good news communicated to them. The forms of communication have changed. It is time Christians learn to use the new forms of communication. Why do I blog? To communicate. Welcome to blogosphere.

Looking back, I have learned much from blogging. The social media and technology have changed much since then. Now there is Facebook, microblog Tumbr, Pinterest, Linkin, Youtube, Whatsapp and numerous others which are multiplatform connecting media. I am happy that I am part of a larger community of people who cares about what I care about, and seems genuinely interested to connect with me. Of course, nowadays, they call your community your tribe.

So to my tribes out there and in here (my heart), thank you for your friendship. And keep sharing.


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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Musings about the Trinity

The Trinity or the Triune God is very difficult to understand. It is not three Gods in one nor is it three separate God. The analogy of water often used to explain it; water can exist in three separate states – liquid, gas and solid (ice) is not an adequate analogy unless water can exist in all three states simultaneously. The analogy then breaks down as the Trinity is three separate Persons (Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit) with one essence in one Godhead.

It is crucial to note that the word “Trinity” never appear in the Bible and that the doctrine of Trinitarianism is derived from a canonical understanding of the Bible. A canonical understanding is an understanding that is derived from the best Scriptural evidence and theological studies. Understanding of the Trinity also needs a historical perspective as it was many years after the early church that the doctrine was formally recognized, notable the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.

The essentials of the Trinity
(1) There is only One God. God is One.
(2) Each of the persons within the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is deity.
(3) Each of the persons within the Godhead is of equal status. Jesus Christ the Son is not lower than God the Father.
(4) Each of the three Persons are of the same essence.
(5) The Trinity is eternal

One of the challenges of the Trinity Godhead is that it is a Mystery and we may not be able with our limited human minds to understand fully.

Biblical teaching
Old Testament
New Testament
God is One
Deut. 6:4; 20:2-3; 3:13-15
1 Tim. 1:17; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; James 2:19
Three Persons in One Godhead
Father - Ps. 2:7
1 Peter 1:2; John 1:17; 1 Cor. 8:6; Phil. 2:11
Son – Ps. 2:7; Heb.1:1-13; Ps. 68:18; Isa. 6:1-3; 9:6
Matt. 3:16-17
Holy Spirit – Gen. 1:1-2; Exod. 31:3; Judg. 15:14; Isa. 11:2
Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 3:17

Persons of the same essence: Attributes applied to each person

(1) Eternality
Ps. 90:2
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
John 1:2
He was with God in the beginning.
Heb 9:14
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

(2) Power
1 Peter 1:5
who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time
2 Cor 12:9
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
Rom 15:19
by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

(3) Omniscience
Jer. 17:10
"I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve."
I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
1 Cor.2:11
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

(4) Omnipresence
 Jer. 23:24 
Can anyone hide in secret place, so that I cannot see him?" declares the LORD. "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" declares the LORD.
Matt. 18:20
For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
Ps. 139:7
                                    Where can I go from your Spirit?
                                    Where can I flee from your presence?
(5) Holiness
Rev. 15:4
Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed."
Acts 3:14
You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you
Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

(6) Truth
John 7:28
Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, "Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me."
Rev. 3:7,8
"To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.  I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
1 John 5:6
 This is the one who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

(7) Benevolence
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst.

Equality with different roles: Activities involving three persons

(1) Creation of the world
Psalms 102:25
In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.
Col. 1:16
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

(2) Creation of man
Gen. 2:7
the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
Job 33:4
The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.

(3) Baptism of Christ
Matt. 3:17
And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him

(4) Death of Christ
Heb. 9:14
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Lord of the dance
One way for me to try to understand the Trinity is to think of a dance. No, not the modern dnace but the traditional dance where there are different roles and change of partners. Sometime one leads and sometimes the other. The understanding of the Greek word perichoresis or dance by the Orthodox Church helps me a lot in understanding this. If the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit is in a dance, then there is the dance with three persons. Again not an easy concept to grasp.

Communion in the Trinity and its significance for me

What is of important to me is the relationship between the three Persons in the Godhead. They are so close that they are in one essence or communion. What is significant to me is that as Jesus Christ the Son won freedom for me by his work on the cross and my acceptance of it has placed the Holy Spirit with my spirit. This infusion of the Holy Spirit is an invitation for me to join in communion with the Godhead. It is my invitation to be part of the dance.


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