Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lenten Meditation 2016

I feel like I am a jigsaw puzzle – partially assembled but with many pieces missing. There are pieces of me all over the place. Some pieces are lodged in my wife, children and grandchildren, friends, workplace, church, hobbies, and my social tribes. Other pieces are hidden deep inside my inner being. Some pieces are hidden so deep that I am unaware of them. All my life, I have felt a sense of incompleteness, fragmentation and longing. This longing is a siren call for completeness; for the jigsaw to be assembled; for every piece to be in its rightful place. Then I believe I can really know who I am from the picture on the jigsaw. I recognize this feeling as a hunger for shalom; for wholeness and completeness.
Shalom is a beautiful word in Hebrew. Often translated to English as peace, shalom in the Hebrew context has a far deeper meaning. It denotes wholeness, completeness, fulfilment and contentment. Shalom gives the sense of living in the Garden of Eden with God before the Fall. It implies reconciliation of broken relationships. Shalom gives the picture of a soul fully expressed to its full God-given potential, at peace with itself, with God, with other people and with creation. It affirms everything is in its rightful place.
The New Testament describes Jesus as shalom in two ways. Firstly, Jesus is shalom. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace [shalom] (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus is Completeness as God. Secondly, Jesus becomes shalom for us. Paul explains, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace [shalom] with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. . . . But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:1–2, 8–10). By his death on the cross, Jesus becomes shalom or the means of reconciliation with God for us. This shalom with God for us is a one-off event. It is a total and complete reconciliation. The broken relationship is fully healed. This happened more than two thousand years ago.
Yet we hunger for shalom. We hunger not because God’s work is not complete but because our healing has not completed. We are in the process of putting the pieces together as we grow towards spiritual maturity. This takes time. We hunger for what we will become when we are fully matured spiritually which is shalom. Hence our continuing hunger. Lent is the season when our hunger intensifies. This is because during Lent, we are reminded anew of the shalom work of Jesus; God incarnate born to die for us. We need this reminder. We need to be reminded that we must discipline our bodies, mortify our unhealthy desires and renew our easily distracted purpose of spiritual growth as we work towards shalom. We look forward to when we no longer hunger, when we finally are one with Christ, who is himself, shalom.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Preventing Empty Souls

Gordon MacDonald, writing in Leadership Journal Winter 2016 in an article entitled The Day I Hit a Wall coined the word 'empty souls' as when busy Christians run on empty because of their busyness. I like what he writes about preventing this:
Over time I have comprised a bulleted list of the insights that resulted from that December day so many years ago. I include them not because I have mastered them, but because they represent the direction in which I like to walk each day.

• My allocation of time and energy must begin by inserting Sabbath pauses into my calendar before work begins … not after work ends. Because ministry work never ends. 
• I have come to appreciate the importance of searching events and personal encounters for the embedded messages of wisdom and discernment that God offers. 
• I have tried to be sensitive to the various ways God makes his presence felt: in creation's beauty and art, in suffering, in study, in various forms of private and corporate worship, in the wonderful stories of Jesus. 
• I have gathered a small cadre of personal friends who know my heart (and I, theirs) and who are not reluctant to either encourage me or rebuke me when necessary. 
• I have pursued the discipline of intercessory prayer for my family and friends, for the church in the world, for global leaders, for those who suffer. 
• I have treasured the insights that come from the biographies of great men and women of God who have lived through the centuries 
• I have come to love the Bible, to draw from its pages the thoughts and purposes of God. 
• I have understood the importance of readily repenting when I am wrong and quickly forgiving when others have hurt me. 
• I have made it a priority to move toward those who are weak and vulnerable with words of hope … as Jesus did. 
• I have sought to discipline my lifestyle: to keep free of clutter, to downsize, to keep simple, to accept the obscurity that comes with the aging life. 
• I have heard the call of God in my older years to be a spiritual father to any younger people who want to welcome me into their experience. 
• I have determined to daily return to the cross and reaffirm my conversion and call to follow Jesus.

  We need to avoid 'empty soul' syndrome and Gordon gives very good advice.  


Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Banana Syndrome: Losing Our Cultural Heritage

English-educated Chinese Christians in Malaysia and Singapore faces a unique quandary. Their mindset, worldview and culture are influenced by the Anglo-American influences that come with an English education system. Yet, these Christians are ethnic Chinese brought up with their Chinese cultural heritage whether they are aware of them or not. No wonder they are often called bananas – yellow on the outside but white in the inside. That is one of the reasons why mainland Chinese when China was forced open to the West were very resistant to Christianity. They see Christianity as a Western imperialist tool. They recognize that embracing the Western culture will threaten their Chinese identity. Early Chinese Christian converts were regarded as no longer Chinese.
Present day English-educated Chinese Christians still struggle with the issue of whether they are Chinese Christians or Christian Chinese. This is especially acute in families that no longer speak Chinese or any of its dialects. In many such families their lifestyles are closer to Anglo-Americans rather than to their Chinese-educated brethren. Yet intrinsic to their identity is their Chinese heritage. The pull to their roots become stronger as these English-educated Chinese becomes older. This highlights an important point. As Christians were are not only called by God to be his people (special calling), to be his agent in redemption (general calling) but also to embrace our cultural heritage (cultural calling). Our cultural heritage shows the diversity of God’s people. Revelation 7 shows a heavenly scene where there is a mighty multitude of God’s people from every nation, people, tribe and language.
As Christians, we are to incarnate our ethnicity and its culture. This is especially true in our Chinese English-speaking congregations in Malaysia and Singapore. I am sure this will be same with Chinese Christians elsewhere. There is much we can learn from our Chinese Chinese-speaking congregations in the way they have contextualized the gospel and Christian living within the Chinese heritage. In Chinese culture, the Chinese Lunar New Year is the most important event in the year. The reunion dinner where the whole family comes together is the social event of the year. Family members travel thousands of miles to attend.
I have observed over the years, for many English-speaking Chinese Christians, the Lunar New Year celebrations are becoming less and less important. Similar to the Harvest and other Chinese festivals. It is just another public holiday. More and more are taking the opportunity during this period to travel overseas for extended holidays. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to celebrate Chinese New Year. However this may be symptomatic of the loosening of our cultural identity. There is no running away from our cultural heritage and identity. We run away at our loss. Recently many churches in Malaysia and Singapore are engaged in emotionally mature spirituality. I believe it is time for us to embrace our cultural spirituality too.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, February 07, 2016

God is Cloud

Today is Transfiguration Sunday

Luke 9:28–36 (The Message)

28–31  About eight days after saying this, he climbed the mountain to pray, taking Peter, John, and James along. While he was in prayer, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became blinding white. At once two men were there talking with him. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah—and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over his exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.
32–33           Meanwhile, Peter and those with him were slumped over in sleep. When they came to, rubbing their eyes, they saw Jesus in his glory and the two men standing with him. When Moses and Elijah had left, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He blurted this out without thinking.
34–35           While he was babbling on like this, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them. As they found themselves buried in the cloud, they became deeply aware of God. Then there was a voice out of the cloud: “This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him.”
36                When the sound of the voice died away, they saw Jesus there alone. They were speechless. And they continued speechless, said not one thing to anyone during those days of what they had seen.

The theme of the transfiguration is a powerful theme affirming that Jesus is the Christ who is the Glory of God transcending Moses who represent God’s Laws and Elijah, God’s Prophets. Jesus is the Son of God and deserves to be followed. While most attention is focused on Jesus, Moses and Elijah, and sometimes unfairly on Peter, John and James, it is sometimes missed that another person is also on the mountain. He is there in the form of a cloud.

Clouds are stuff when you look up at the sky or look down when you are on an airplane. They come in different colours and shapes. Clouds also cover the top of high mountains such as the Himalayas and the Andes. It is not actually known on which mountain, the transfiguration took place. Some suggest Mount Horeb (because Moses was there) or Mount Herman near Syria. What was fascinating that God took the form of one of his creation- a cloud. Not a mist or fog. Why a cloud? I will suggest some things that may happen inside a cloud,

  1.  There is a sense of disorientation. This is especially true in thick clouds where we cannot see anything and feel anything. We are so dependent on our senses that without them we become lost. This disorientation can be frightening. It can also be liberating. Without the input of our senses, we can be open to the voice of God. Often, the input from our senses is so distracting that we cannot hear the soft whisper of God’s voice. This is especially so in our loud, noisy and neon culture where there are overstimulation and supersensory saturation all the time.
  2. There is a sense of Mystery. In a cloud, our self-constructed sense of reality often crumple. Together with it goes the God which we often constructed in our own image. Most of us put God in a box because it is easier to understand him. And we love to have the certainty that we have had God all figured out. God is much more that our finite minds can comprehend. That is why God is still Mystery. A walk in the cloud will remind us of that important perspective.
  3. There is a sense of unknowing. Closely allied with Mystery is ‘unknowing’. The Cloud of Unknowing is a 14th-century book on Christian mysticism. Also using the metaphor of a cloud the unknown author explains that it is impossible for us to really know God, let alone understand him. The only way know God is to abandon all our preconceived ideas about God, to let go and enter into a state of ‘unknowing’. Hence are we then ready to understand the nature of God. Even then we can only know what God has chosen to reveal to us.   
  4. There is a sense of presence. Cloud is composed of water vapour. We get wet in a cloud. If God is a cloud, we will similarly feel his presence. God’s presence permeates all of creation. Enclosing the disciples in a cloud reminds them of his presence.

The Transfiguration event happened following questions about Jesus’ death. It highlights Jesus’ path of suffering and death on the cross. In Luke 9:31, Moses and Elijah appeared to speak to Jesus about his departure. The word departure may also be translated as exodus, linking back to the Israelite’s history. Luke document this to affirm that the Christ is to die and resurrect. This is so important that even God came down in a cloud, something that has not happened since the exodus event! As a cloud, God reveals much of himself. May we draw wisdom from this reflection.

Soli Deo Gloria

Labels: ,