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Recommended for your Library

    Ethics: The Heart of Leadership

    Edited by Joanne Ciulla. An important collection of essays by philosophers, leadership and management thinkers considering the role of ethics in leadership

    Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness

    By Robert K. Greenleaf, Larry C. Spears, Stephen R. Covey. Servant and leader--can these two roles be fused in one real person in all levels of status and calling?

    Warranted Christian Belief

    By Alvin Plantinga. Third in a trilogy of works on the issue of warrant - the basis of the rationality of Christian beliefs written by arguably the most important philosopher of religion alive today

    Renovation of the Heart

    By Dallas Willard. A philosopher and quintessential Christian teacher relates and reflects on what it means to put on the character of Christ.

    Foreign Bodies

    By Hwee Hwee Tan. An impressive first novel by young new author from Singapore acclaimed as an up and coming Pulitzer Prize winner

    Mammon Inc.

    By Hwee-Hwee Tan. Second novel by this very important young new author from Singapore applauded the world over, including The Times in London and the New York Times

    Three Philosophies of Life

    By Peter Kreeft. Three life philosophies presented through the works of three of Scriptures most beautiful poetry books, Job, Ecclesiastes and Songs of Solomon

    Horrendous Evil and the Goodness of God

    By Marilyn McCord-Adams. A seminal response to the age-old problem of evil which attempts to take seriously the theological ramifications of the character of God


    By Malcolm Gladwell. Blink is about the first two seconds of looking--the decisive glance that knows in an instant.

    Smart Mobs

    By Howard Rheingold. A social commentary about how "sophisticated mobile Internet access is allowing people who don't know each other to act in concert".


    By Albert-Laszlo Barabasi. An engaging treatise about the fundamentals of interconnectedness and complexity that underlies neurology, epidemiology, Internet traffic, and many other fields.

    The Peaceable Kingdom

    By Stanley Hauerwas. A clear explication of a Christian ethic based upon the meaning of the gospel, highlighting virtues and character, and narrative as a mode of ethical reflection.

    The Goldsworthy Trilogy: Gospel & Kingdom, Gospel & Wisdom, Gospel & Revelation

    By Graeme Goldsworthy. A collection of masterful works expositing on the centrality of the Scriptures: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Grace and Law: St. Paul, Kant, and the Hebrew Prophets

    By Heinz Cassirer. A Kantian scholar looks at the Old Testament Law, and Paul's understanding of it, concluding that Kant's delimma is answered by the gospel of grace.

The Un-Right Christians

Progressive Christian Blogger Network

Church Directory of Evangelical Blogs

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Further (practical) thoughts on anger

Recently I posted about anger and how to deal with it. I found an excellent response to my posting at TrueGrit titled "Anger in its place". I really liked what ilona had to say about anger and how to deal with it. She describes anger like this:
Anger is a contagion. Some of us have been subjected to anger throughout our formative years, or for long periods of time from others. It has created wounds of hurt that result in our own damaging hostilities. Sometimes along with taking it to God for help, one needs healing for the wounds, as well. God once described these to me as unseen bruises and wounds which when other people bumped against created responses all out of proportion to what the other might have expected. They didn't know that was a deeply hurt place. No one could have. Except God. And God is the one able to heal all those bruises. Christ was wounded for those bruises.
Her image of wounds reminds me of how easily it is that we do not recognize that we have emotinal wounds that need healing. Just as our physical wounds need proper treatment and environment to heal, so do our emotional wounds. But, often, we close up the emotional wounds too quickly, and just as if we do so in our physical wounds, these will fester and cause pain and other complications under the surface. Often the complications re-surface in the form of our anger flare-ups.

She goes on to offer a few excellent tips on dealing with anger issues:
And I hope it helps to take care of my rising blood pressure as well! Which allows for a little addendum here. Mild exercise is one way to deal with angry emotions, and while it is not spiritual sounding, it is one thing to try. And getting enough rest isn't a bad idea either.
Another thing to add is to realize that your natural resistance is down when you are tired and hungry as well. This is especially so when you have to deal with children and their demands (or dysfunctional bosses and other adults!). Learn how to keep quiet and not be reactive but practice the peace of God that passes all understanding. (He tells himself).
...continue reading...Further (practical) thoughts on anger

Saturday, October 30, 2004

The New Heaven and Earth

When I was a kid, I remember looking at photos of this strange amusement park in Singapore called Har Paw Villa, aka Tiger Balm Gardens. One of its famed attractions is the depiction of the ten courts of Hell, where you can see grotesquely realistic images of supposedly wicked sinners suffering from varied kinds of eternal tortures and mutilations based on the kinds of sins you commit while in this life. Imagine the terror such images evoke in the minds of youngsters.

I don't know whose idea it was to build the "attraction" and I don't know what the motivation is to have such a monument. Reportedly, many parents would take their young ones to go view the surreal exhibitions, warning them of evil-doing less they end up with these insufferable eternal torments. While it most assuredly struck terror in the hearts of the young, I am not sure if it were much of a deterrent for most to sin. Not when
the power to do so is so strong even those the most godly seem to be struggle with it. Even so, those images traumatized me as a youngster. So, when I became a Christian and read about the gnashing of teeth and the Last Judgement and the lake of fire, familiar images filled my mind about this place of eternal banishment from God.

Over the past few years, I have spent quite a few moments pondering on the nature of heaven and hell. When Mom was on her death bed, and when she was screaming out in pain, clutching onto my arms, pleading me to "save her" I wanted to tell her that Jesus will wipe away her tears in heaven. I wanted to. I never did. In fact, no words left my mouth. That experience haunted me for quite a while. In any case, I sometimes return to that image of heaven. And to the image that God will wipe away the tears from the saints.

Recently, reading a post at
Jolly Blogger's where he was re-telling a conversation he had with the family about heaven, hell and what's on the dining menu in heaven once again reminded me about my "heavenly reflections." By the way, if JollyBlogger had ever enjoyed Chinese style Vegetarian Peking Roast Duck, and a host of other vegetarian delicacies made out of soy, tofu and other non-meat products that can even be more delicious than the real McCoy, he needed have worried about how to get meat in heaven! Anyway, I digress... I was saying that his post reminded me of my ponderings about heaven, hell and crying. Specifically, about the image of God wiping away all tears.

I often wonder what that image means. It says that there will be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. But before that, it spoke about God wiping away all tears. I wonder if there is a time when there will still be crying, so that God will wipe the tears away. Unless it is a symbolism to mean no more crying, how could God wipe the tears unless there first be crying?

Precisely how would we be feeling in heaven? Would we still remember the sorrows and pains of today? Would there be regret? Would we miss those loved ones who reject His offer to enter into glory with us? If we do, won't we yearn to be with them? Won't we feel a loss for them? Won't we cry for them? Perhaps, there will be such emotions -- if not in heaven, then maybe in the forecourts of heaven. Maybe before the establishment of the new heaven. Perhaps that is when God will wipe away our tears.

Perhaps there is a stage we go through where there will be tears as we cry for those we left behind, those who suffer in the lake of fire, but the tears will be wiped away by God Himself. So God Himself will comfort us. Perhaps all this happens before the establishment of the new heaven and new earth. Then, it says the former things would pass away. There will be the second death. And a new heaven and new earth. So maybe before the new heaven, the tears will still be there so God can wipe them away. And then, comes the "no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain." The new heaven and earth. Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

...continue reading...The New Heaven and Earth

Friday, October 29, 2004

The Heart of the Prodigal's Father

Recently, I blogged about #1 Daughter's rebellion. Since her "declaration of double independence," I have had to learn how to love her in a vulnerable, transparent and unconditional manner. I had often spoken, preached and talked about God's unconditional love in church, in bible study groups, with my friends and family and in scholarly and not so scholarly discussions, but it was not until I was challenged to practice it in my own relationships over the past few years that I learned what it truly meant.

An illustration of the lesson can be found in the Parable of the Prodigal's Son. In that poignant story, the Father showed unconditional love in very real ways. When the son asked for his half of the inheritance, the Father did not put a condition to his gift. He gave him his fortune knowing that he was too immature to handle the wealth. He let him go, while all the time offering his love, support and security should the son ever changed his mind.

What I marvel about the Father is that he went along with the son's crazy suggestion even though he practically knew what the outcome was going to be: "Hey Old Fella, you're gonna kick the bucket one day, so why don't I take what I will get then - half the estate, and split now?" The son wanted out of the relationship, out of the responsibility and out of the . Yet the Father did not quarrel with him, did not try to hold him to ransom ("If you do such and such, then you get this or that") nor did the Father try to change his mind. He didn't lay down the law: "As long as you are under my house you live by my rules. If you want a penny of my estate, you're gonna have to earn it." None of that rhetoric. None of the - I labored so hard to bring you up right and this is how you're gonna repay your old man? No melodrama. "So he divided his property between them" (Luke 15:12).

When the son finally came to his senses, after squandering every penny, and returned home, we find that the Father is only concerned for one thing: "My son, who was dead, is now alive. He was lost, now he is home." So, he gave him the signet ring - a sign of highest, unreserved recognition, he threw a party to welcome him - a celebration of unbridled reconciliation, and he put his best robes on him - an act of undeniable restoration.

Through it all the Father trusted. Trust what? Trusted that he has brought his sons aright. Trusted that his duty as a father is to show the Heavenly Father's heart to his children. Trusted that He is to model the Heavenly Father. For transformation does not happen with coercion. Nor does it happen with rules, nor regulation. It only happens with life, love and compassion. Slowly, but painfully, I have to learn this hard lesson. All I can do is pray for transformation, first of my own heart and life, and then as I learn to live by the Spirit of God, to allow that transformation to permeate the rest of my family.

When I first encountered my daughter's open rebellion, my first instinct was to put my foot down and lay down the law. As I mentioned before, my wise pastor counseled, "Let her go so that she can come back sooner than much later." It was the hardest lesson to learn. But I listened and asked God for strength and wisdom. What transpired in the ensuing six or so months could be described as nearly "hell on earth" for me. For I thought I was a good, loving, caring, Christian father who spent time with his kids, and who prayed for them and who loved the Lord. Then why is it that my children are rebelling?

I remember all those times that I had been judgmental of other people's teenaged kids. They must have been too permissive. Or, they must have been too harsh. They don't know and teach God's word to their children. And so on. I especially was critical of pastors whose kids rebelled. They shall be known for their fruit. Now it was my turn. Although the past few years, I have had to learn hard lessons about what it means to be a follower of Christ, and have had been humbled in more ways than one, and I was no longer as judgmental as before, yet this lesson has to come home to me in more intimate ways.

Not only did #1 Daughter rebelled, but it was followed very quickly by #2 Daughter. I was going berserk! What is happening, Lord? I wanted to go to bed and sleep it off as if it was a nightmare. My own children! Memories of their childhood flood through my minds. Attending conferences together. Singing and dancing to praise songs. Studying the word. Praying. Serving. All those fun times. Where are they now? Hasn't it done anything?
Wasn't there any impact? What is going on? I wanted to take things in my own way. I wanted to steamroll the life transformation. I wanted to decree the "Thou shalts... " and expect unquestioning obedience and immediate life-change.

However, it was not to be. I had to learn to love, to model, to forgive and to be transformed from the inside out. The fish rots from the head first. So as the head of the family, I took personal responsibility to let the Spirit work in my life. It was a hard, long struggle. Looking back, I don't know how or when it happened, but eventually both daughters became as close with their dad as ever. They know my love, my acceptance and my understanding and support. They come to church when I ask them to. They still question, but they don't rebel anymore. They now even pray with me and their mom.

It may be a long time before they start to confess and express matured faith in their Lord and mine. That part of it, I leave to the work of the Holy Spirit. I just need to take care of my own heart to ensure that He has it all. When that day comes, I will have the ring, the robe and the party ready. Even if I won't, I know He will.

...continue reading...The Heart of the Prodigal's Father

Thursday, October 28, 2004

I caught the bug

Well, as if my life wasn't busy enough, I happened upon this website that promised to explode visitors to my blog, and did they ever keep their promise! The average daily visitors on my blog has gone up by ten-fold in the past few days. So, if you have surfed from BlogExplosion, welcome! Leave me a comment or two to let me know who you are and what you like or not like about my blog!

Unfortunately, it has also got me surfing on to other blogs, and as others have found out, I keep telling myself, "OK, just one more now..." Surfing with BlogExplosion has helped introduce me to quite a few good blogs although there are all kinds of questionable ones as well. However, there is a neat feature that allows you to BlogMark those Blogs that you may want to go back to visit at leisure later. The idea is simple, you sign up, surf to other blogs, and earn credits to get visitors to your own site. You can also win mystery credits, and while I can only dream of winning real life lottery, I now have about a 3% chance of winning the blogexplosion lottery. Not bad odds that!

If you want to try it out,
sign up under me, because if you do that, I get to earn credit when you surf too! And when you have other people sign up under you, you earn credits from them. Cool, huh?
...continue reading...I caught the bug

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Neither do I condemn you...

The story of the encounter between Jesus, the Pharisees and the woman taken in the act of adultery in the eighth chapter of John contains powerful lessons for us today. Imagine being in the place of this woman, probably half naked, baring your body and soul to the world, taken in a place of shame, misery and rejection by the masses. Condemned by society, outcast by community and judged by the tribunal. There you are standing before the Holy One, in front of the world, alone, naked, and ashamed. Fingers pointing, chins waging, head shaking. Sneered upon, pitied and despised.

In a powerful demonstration of unconditional love, the Christ shows the accusing religious mob and the world what He is about. None of the accusers could do their work. They retreated one by one until it was just the woman standing there before Him.

"Woman, where are those who accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?"

Powerful words that touches the soul of the one who was tormented, disenfranchised and powerless only moments earlier. No longer is she accused. This is the experience of repentance. Repentance is not solely a human response to God's grace. It is a change in position from one under judgment, to one redeemed. It is a change to realize the full force of redemptive love - for He has forgiven you and you no longer stand accused.

This incident has a parallel with the incident of the sinful woman at Simon, the tax collector's dinner party in the seventh chapter of Luke. At that party, "a woman of the city who was a sinner" comes into the dinner party, wept at Jesus' feet and washed them with her tears. Then she wiped them clean with her hair and anointed His feet by breaking open the alabaster jar of perfume. In that incident the parallel words that Jesus spoke to the woman were,

"Your sins are forgiven."

Right there in the open, when she was being judged by the guests at the dinner party as a "Sinner," Jesus declared her righteous.

That is redemption declared.

"Woman, where are those who accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?"

"Your sins are forgiven."

Forgiveness of sins is achieved not only because she repented. Her sins were forgiven because of what He was going to do to redeem her. Redemption for the forgiveness of her sins.

That is what the Christ acheived for us all on the cross. And not just for our acts of rebellion, conscious and unconscious - but the sin that is part of our nature, He has taken all of it and nailed it there on the cross. When He shed the blood and when He cried out in his anguished pain and suffering, He did it so that we might be free of the bondage and judgment of sin.

When the woman who was taken in adultery realized the import of those words, she was able to internalize the saving grace of the Savior. To His query whether there was anyone who still stood to accuse her, she replied assuredly,

"No one, Lord."

The Christ then stretches out to her his arms of reconciliation.

"Neither do I condemn you."

Not only is there redemption. God's love reaches out to the sinner, to cancel her debt and reconcile her with Him so that they now have communion with each other.

In Simon's dinner party, the prostitute heard the life giving words,

"Your faith has saved you."

You are now reconciled. Not only are the debts cancelled, and the sins forgiven, but now there is communion with God.

God says to you,

"You can come home now, and I will dine with you and you with me."

My Holy Spirit will come upon you and God will live in your heart. Not only were you redeemed, you are now reconciled.

"Neither do I condemn you."

"Your faith has saved you."

Finally, Jesus speaks the words of freedom.

"Go and sin no more."

It is tempting to think that these words are judmental words - "Go and if you want to continue to enjoy my blessing, then don't you ever sin again." Sometimes, we understand these words as conditional. The idea seems to be that if you have received grace freely, you must now live out the grace that you have received.

Instead, these words are more than words of responsibility. They are words of grace and mercy. There are commissioning words. Words that tell us to follow Him who has gone before us, to be disciples and to learn of Him. For how else can we go and sin no more? Only through Him we can do all things. For He gives grace to empower through His Spirit.

We see the emphasis in the scene at Simon's house when the Lord's words to the "sinful woman" were,

"Go in peace."

For the words were spoken to declare that you are now restored. Words of restoration. That is balm to the desperate soul. Fully restored to walk now with God. New life in Christ and empowered in the Spirit. Restoration.

"Go and sin no more."

"Go in peace."

Peace with God. That is the ultimate desire of the human heart. And it is only possible through what Christ has done for us, and continues to do for us. They are empowering words, and they are humbling words. Christ has come not to judge and to condemn, but to free, to refresh and to empower.

...continue reading...Neither do I condemn you...

What the heck was I thinking?

I guess I must have said it wrong. In the past couple of weeks, I made a couple of posts (here and here) calling for Christian support for the legalization of gay marriage. My argument was simple, but I probably got carried away with the melodrama of introducing a controversial and contentious issue. My suggestion that one ought to lay down one's life in protection of one's fellow citizen's rights might be a little over the top. Especially with the illustration of Nazi Germany; the comparison I tried to draw was in terms of the protection of rights, not in terms of the severity of the horribleness of the alternative. It was probably misconstrued by some of my readers as is illustrated here.

So I've had a few days to reflect on what I put out there and in between the busy-ness of the past few days, I have let my mind brew over some of what I was trying to say in the background. Further I have had the benefit of reading the input of others either via comments, email, or through blog posts of their own. All have helped me clarify what I am actually trying to say. In fact, I found an excellent similar argument over

I am not sure if what I have to say now presents a more coherent argument or add value to the on-going discussion, but since I had such a long nap this afternoon, I am still wide awake, so I thought I'd go back and tackle some posts.

What I should have said is that same-sex marriage is a matter of individual rights and that if we were to have no problem with freedom of religion, we should have no problem with freedom of marriage. In fact I am saying that since we champion freedom of religion in this country, we ought also champion freedom of marriage, for both kinds of freedoms are basic human rights covered by the Fourteenth Amendment.

There are at least two possible objections to this assertion. One is that Freedom of Marriage is dissimilar enough to Freedom of Religion, and the second is that Freedom of Marriage is not covered by the Fourteenth Amendment. My primary argument that Freedom of Marriage is covered by the Fourteenth Amendment is based on my analysis of the Loving vs Virginia case that I introduced in my first post. I believe the arguments there are sound and I don't think that there is a good refutation to that argument as it stands.

The second objection is that the Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Marriage are two different types altogether. While the freedom of religion allows the practice of one kind of abomination (the worship of other gods), the freedom of marriage might allow the practice of other forms of abominations (gay and other forms of sexual perversions). However, we might grant Freedom of Religion because when someone converts to the Christian faith, he or she no longer violates the very abominiation that the freedom allows. The same thing cannot be said for Freedom of Marriage. When a person who in a same-sex marriage converts to the Christian faith, that person will be in the unfortunate position of being part of a union that is considered to be immoral, contrary to God's standards, and opposed to his very faith. That person would be put into the unenviable position of having to choose between staying in a religiously unsanctionable relationship or to take part in another religiously unsanctionable process (divorce). What a catch-22!

The objection as it stands is strong. There seems to be a real difference between the two freedoms. Two answers can be provided to this objection. One, discrimination between types by appealing to different consequences brought about by a third event (faith conversion) is not valid. All it shows is that one is a simplier form of freedom while the other is a more complex one. The fact still remains that both are forms of individual rights and freedoms. If our laws allow one type of right, we ought also allow the other. If one is enshrined in the constitution, so is the other.

The second answer, in reply to the problem of the conversion of a person in a same-sex marriage, we will have to draw upon the notion of grace and mercy. To understand that point, we need to also understand the nature of sin. Put simply, we need to understand that sexual sin is not the unpardonable sin. Sin in the sexual realm has the same effect and the same offense as sin in any other realm. If no one ever sinned sexually, Christ would still have to die a horrible death. We overemphasize sex in our modern culture that we freak out over sexual sins. A couple of generations ago, it was all kinds of sex that would upset the normal Christian. Now, it seems only certain forms of sexual sin catches the ire of Christians. What I am suggesting is that we Christians need to exercise more grace and mercy in our dealings with fellow human beings. We need to realize that we too come under the condemnation of "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And then we need to realize that if the Lord says to us, "Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more," He also says it to the vilest gay sinner.

Oh, I can hear you jumping up and down at the "...go and sin no more." If a gay couple is married, how can we say honestly that they can go and sin no more? We need to chill. If it is easy for a gay couple to sin by having gay sex, it is just as easy for us all to sin just by being who we are! Yet our Lord says, "Neither do I condemn you."

What I think we all need to do is to realize that we are after all sinners. And, as Philip Yancey (or was it Tim Stafford?), once said, the only difference between us and them, is that we know it, but they are oblivious to it. Our job is to be their friends, nonjudgmental, loyal and loving, so that we can let the Spirit open their eyes so that they see, and believe that they too can enjoy the grace and mercy that we say we enjoy.

...continue reading...What the heck was I thinking?

Is Western Culture Christian?

A couple weeks ago, I participated briefly in a conversation with some others over at another blog about the "superiority" of Western culture. Comments and assertions were put forward to illustrate the superiority of Western culture over all others. I offered my doubt about the thesis as well as the relevance of its intended implication, if indeed it is true. I am not going to link to that site as it might offend the blog owner. I am blogging about this because somehow the conversation there bothered me.

I am not sure what the poster was comparing it to, and what she meant by Western culture. If I have to guess, I think she meant, Western culture as represented by America. One commenter supported her thesis with a further assertion that Western culture's superiority (or rather American culture's superiority) comes from its Judeo-Christian roots. So, it could be that the poster and her cohorts were glad that they live in a superior culture while the rest of the world are rotting in theirs. Possibly, they are glad that Christianity has a lot to do with the enlightenment of the West, and so the world should be thankful to the historic faith, and in fact, if they had any intellect at all, they should all convert. I don't know. I shouldn't go any further with this guessing game, as I am beginning to sound cynical, and sarcastic.

I will not comment on the logic of comparing one culture with another and declaring one as superior than another. It is probably impossible to be objective in such comparisons. It might be easy to talk about one culture being more desirable or pleasurable, than another, but the catchall term of superior might be difficult to gain consensus cross-culturally. I don't know. I am not an anthropologist or even a cross-cultural anything. I just have a sneaky suspicion that this ain't so. In any case, I would like to comment on the underlining assumption expressed in the aforementioned conversation that there is a correlation between the historic Christian faith and America's alleged superior culture.

The general idea seems to be that this country was founded upon Christian principles, and this is the reason why it has been so blessed. Another related idea seems to be that if only the rest of the country had stuck to those principles, we won't have so much problems today. In fact, what went wrong was that all those humanists and atheists have usurped our culture and if not for them, we would surely continue to see God's favor upon this country. If we do not turn away from all this ungodliness, we will soon suffer the consequences. 9/11 is just a foretaste, a kind of warning, about the impending judgment. This country must repent and must follow the lead of a broadly speaking Judeo-Christian political leader who will lead us from our moral quagmire and into the sunset of moral happiness.

You can see how the logic deteriorates. Or maybe you can't...

Still, it is quite tempting to equate Western culture with Christian culture. Everyone seems to do so. Growing up I tried unsuccessfully to convince Mom that when I converted to faith in Christ I wasn't just following a Western trend. I have also often heard it said that America is founded on Biblical principles, that the foundations of the country are built on Christian roots. Sure Christian principles have influenced a great deal of Western thinking, philosophy and culture, and American culture itself is built on much Christian influence. And we all know that some of the earliest pilgrims came over here because of religious persecution in Europe, and they brought their faith with them.

However, is it really true that Western culture is necessarily Christian? More importantly, is American culture built on Christian foundations? Did the Founding fathers really intended to build a Christian nation? Even if they did, was it necessarily true that America's greatness can be traced to its Christian roots? That somehow this country has been enjoying the blessing of God because of her faithfulness? Is America the resurrected biblical nation of Israel?

The real question we need to ask ourselves is: What ought I to do in this culture - what is our priority as a follower of God - to "re-establish" a Christian nation, to bring Christian values back to our government and society, or is it more important to bring the nations back to Christ and to bring people back to Christ?

...continue reading...Is Western Culture Christian?

Fidler on the Book

My new found friend - and my favorite Fidler - is writing a book, "Adventures in Holy Matrimony," and needs some help.

She has a new survey that she has put up for the book which is about mental illness and how it touches marriages.

So, if you can help, please go over to the survey page and fill it out. Here's the link:

...continue reading...Fidler on the Book

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The hardest thing about letting go

When No 1 Daugher openly rebelled and declared she doesn't want to follow God, go to church or be a Christian any longer, my pastor counseled me, "Let her go... if you put your foot down now, it might take her 10 years to come back, but if you let her go, she might come back in a year or so."

Letting go... that is the most difficult thing for me to do.

Aren't I supposed to be a father? Aren't fathers supposed to lead, to train, to discipline and to set the boundaries? Aren't fathers supposed to correct, to teach, to show the way and to say "No, thou shalt not..."?

That is when I woke up...

Fathers... they are supposed to model...

...Christ, who looks at them when they mess up, when they sin, when they cross the line... and Who forgives unconditionally.

...Christ, who suffers when the fathers continually disobey and break His heart when they want their own way, take short cuts, yell and scream at their kids, "Why are you like that??" and yet the Christ stands ready to pardon, to strengthen, to offer grace and mercy...

Grace, unmerited favor. Blessing the father when he doesn't deserve to be blessed. Blessing him with forgiveness of sins, with strength to carry on his responsibilities, with protection from evil, with the Holy Spirit for contant communion and fellowship.

Mercy, undeserved non-punishment. When the father messes up, he doesn't get what he deserves, because the Merciful One looks on, standing ready to apply His shed blood on the wounds when the father comes back, repentant, desperate. When the father returns time and again, He redeems and restores.

So I learned my lesson, or am still learning it. I let my daughter go. It hurts so much to see her living her life without God. I prayed. I agonized. But it is not about me. It is about God's glory, and His will to use me as a vehicle for the blessing of others around me. God wants to use me to bring about transformation in my daughter's life. And, He wants to do it His way.

Now, almost a year later, she came home. Yet, it wasn't coming back to God. Not yet. A couple nights ago, she asked, "Dad, may I spend the night at [name of her boyfriend]'s house?"

I was stunned.

A million thoughts went through my mind. Let go. She knows my standards. I have taught her and raised her with Christian morals. I must trust. She honored me by asking my permission. There is no need to be authoritarian about the matter. Let go. Trust. Grace.

I did not say "No." I looked at her lovingly. She may go. My heart hurts. But I will trust.

...continue reading...The hardest thing about letting go

Thursday, October 21, 2004

If Jesus were here today...

... I wonder where He would be spending His time?

During His ministry on earth He hung out with sinners, prostitutes and unscrupulous tax collectors. He spent a lot of times at the synagogues and were often mingling with the masses, teaching them about the Kingdom of God.

He reserved His most vitriolic invectives for the religious zealots and learned scholars of the day. He vented His anger against the religious opportunists and corrupt traders who prey on sincere faith pilgrims.

If He were in the world today, I wonder where He would be spending His time. I wonder if He would have anytime for us here in America. Or whether He would be spending His time with those who are sick, the infirmed and the rejects of the world. I wonder where that might be. At some far corner of the world, in an African devastated war zone, or on an Asian back street, ministering to young prostitutes who have been sold by their families for food? And, if He were to come to America, I wonder what part of our religious milieu would catch His ire and I wonder what He would be saying to the Church in America today.

If He were to give His Sermon on the Mount today, I wonder what He would be addressing and what He would want to impart to His disciples. I wonder...

...continue reading...If Jesus were here today...

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Daughter #1 Coming Home

We would never have guessed when she moved out almost a year ago, that she would want to come home. At least not so soon. But, (yay!) she is doing so today! It has been a long journey. We are still not talking about the things that upset us or things about which we do not agree. But at least we are talking.

She is really the glue that stick everyone else in the family together. Everyone of her siblings looks up to her, even though she was a little bit of a rebel. When she was fifteen, the youth pastor called us up and told us that she was caught drinking and that she had come into the Youth Group drunk a couple of times. There must have been something else going on in that Youth Group as I later heard about questionable authoritarian techniques used by the youth leaders. But by then she was already out of the group. She had been asked to leave the Youth Group for disciplinary reasons. Unfortunately, at the time, I was not around and her mom was not in a state to talk to the youth leaders. We were so alone during that time.

Then Daughter No. 1 showed her outward rebellion further by getting herself a belly button ring and later on a tattoo, even though we said no. By that time she was over eighteen. The final straw came with her open defiance against us and God and her "declaration of independence." Yet, in spite of all this, I can see all her siblings look up to their Big Sister.

Over the past year, although she had moved out, she had been driving everyone of her brother and sisters around - picking up from school whenever she could, to the store, to music lessons and taking them on shopping trips. She has been a good Big Sister. They are so happy to have her come home again, although she might be leaving soon when she transfers out of Junior College. Even so, they have relied on her for emotional support and she has been able to connect with each of them.

Today was an example. Our son had a little accident. He was skateboarding when he skidded and the skateboard went under a car. He came back home to ask one of his older sisters for help, but by the time they went out, the car had run over his skateboard. He was a mess. He couldn't be consoled by mom or dad. We hugged him for the longest time. He cried until his Big Sister came in, hugged him, listened to his story and consoled him enough to calm down.

I am so thankful for my No. 1 daughter, and I pray that in the days ahead, we will be able to draw closer together as a family. May I be able to model to her, and the rest of the kids, what it means to trust God and enjoy the mercies and grace of Our Heavenly Father.

...continue reading...Daughter #1 Coming Home

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Furor over same sex marriage

DISCLAIMER: In this post, I made reference to an e-mail that I said was sent to me in response to a previous post of mine. It is in fact, a reply to my e-mail to a previous commenter who then reply to my e-mail, reponding to the post. The same commenter is also quoted in this post, but from reading it, it may appear that the writer of the e-mail and the commenter were two different people. In fact, it was the same person. My purpose in this post was not to argue with this Christian brother, but to respond to points made by the person, points that were generic enough that I thought was representative of wider beliefs held by enough Christians so as to be worth a response. But that is just my opinion. I am a fellow traveller along life's road who is struggling with God's purposes for the church and for myself. My post is not meant to point fingers but as a sounding board for reflection and making sense of God's priorities for us as a faith community.

Recently someone sent me an email in response to my post encouraging Christians to support the legalization of same-sex marriage. In part, the email read:

Those who practice homosexuality are deserving of death, not only those who do, but those who approve (and take pleasure KJV) of those who practice it. (Rom 1: 32).

The Romans passage is often quoted as the definitive New Testament word against homosexuality. People often use verse 32 to describe those who practice same sex acts as deserving death. When we read a little closer we can see that verse 32 covers much more than that. In fact, the immediate context reads:

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
True, in the previous three verses (verses 26 - 28) it pointedly describes how God has given those who reject Him...

...over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Often I find that when people read the entire passage (from verse 18 onwards, actually), they zero in only on the homosexual sex passage and say, "Ah-ha, those gay people! They deserve to die! And if you so much as support them, condone them and be their friends, and provide them any comfort, give them any encouragement, so do you!" A commenter to my earlier post offered his theory

... why the Christian attitude toward homosexuals is oftentimes a condemning one. It is because gay sex is the one sin where most have a clear conscious before God. It is the one sin they have never committed, so they can rant all they want about it without being a hypocrite. They can have a compassion and an empathy for the drunkard or the talebearer, because they themselves have slipped in that area. But, they have very little love available for the homosexual because they are without understanding on the issue and have nothing in their personal experience to compare it to.

Many Christians I have found are uncomfortable with homosexuals and are uncomfortable with the idea of being their brothers and sisters in Christ, let alone with being their neighbors. Although they know all the pat answers and phrases when it comes to living out their Christian faith, such as "Love the sinner, but not the sin," they are uncomfortable actually dealing with what they consider as a sinner, and a blatant one at that. They are uncomfortable about the kind of message they are conveying by their behavior. For instance, my email correspondent asks:

Is supporting gay marriage approving those who have chosen that lifestyle?, you will have to decide that for yourself...

Whenever we talk about homosexuals, the question of their lifestyle often comes into focus. I will have a little more to say about this. My email correspondent went on:

You are focused on rights in a governmental sense. And of course gay marriage looks good on a humanistic level...and your sensibilities here are humanistic and not godly.

That I am focused on the legal issue may be the case, but I am not sure about my sensibilities being ungodly. I will let that point pass at the moment. I did maintain that legalization of same-sex marriage is a rights issue. I also maintained that if we were to agree that freedom of religion is a basic human right, then we should also agree that freedom to marry whomever one chooses is also a basic human right. Although some have suggested that those two freedoms are of different kinds, I will not, for the purpose of staying with the present discussion, worry about that at the moment. I do think that I can show that they are not different kinds. I believe that it is important for us to recognize that everyone in our society has a legal right to the privileges and protections that the marriage relationship provides, and if we deny homosexual and lesbian couples that right, we are restricting them a basic human right unjustly.

Does protecting someone of their human rights contradict our Christian commitments or betray our Christian ministry goals? Let me continue with the correspondent's email: does not rejoice in iniquity, and homosexual behaviour is iniquity, To support gay marriage is to add another stumbling block to the gay identified person's life, for now they have a spouse and kids to help them feel normal, and cover up the emptiness inside. ...To act an as enabler for homosexuals is not love...

I think the correspondent has confused ministry with civic duty. In my post, I argued that the Church ought to champion human rights and be in the forefront of the campaign. I also suggested that we ought to be ready to lay down our lives for our neighbor's rights. I may have been overdramatic in my choice of words, and my imaginations may have been that of an authoritarian regime whereby as Chrsitians we ought to have the courage to lay down our lives to protect the rights of our neighbors like those who hide the Jews in Nazi Germany. Without going to that extreme, I still believe that it is our duty as citizens to protect the rights of everyone and in this case, it is pretty clear that it is a rights issue and not so much a religious or moral question.

One fear that this correspondent, and some others as well, mentioned was the fear that if the church were to support the legalization of gay marriage, then it will lose its credibility in ministering to the gay community to help them with their dysfunction

...if the church supported gay marriage on one hand, how can they say on the other, Christ will set you free from this sexual bondage...

However, I maintained that if we take same sex marriage as a rights issue, there is no confusion. After all, the church does not oppose the legalization of alcohol, does it? Maybe it once did, but we know how that campaign went. True, some may say that this is sufficiently different because drinking is not sin per se, but there seems to be enough scriptural support for considering having sex with a person of the same sex as sin. As I said before, we must separate the marriage issue from the sin issue. If we think that homosexuality is an abomination in the Lord's eyes, that is different from our telling our fellow citizen that we support their basic human right to marry whomever he or she wishes, and we believe that they too need to have the full protection and privileges of a married couple. We may not agree with their sexual practices, we may not agree with their lifestyle, but we must love them enough as individuals to see that they deserve to have and enjoy basic human rights.

When we use the term gay lifestyle we often think about what goes on between the sheets of a gay couple, and we seem fixated at that sinful act, and are unable to think of a same-sex couple other than what happens behind closed doors in their bedrooms, or wherever else we imagine they are doing the despicable acts. At this point, we need to re-read the Romans passage. Paul did not single out homosexuals and lesbians and say that they deserve to die. He was singling out everyone who has "exchaned God for an idol." He then showed that the perversion of an idolatrous mind extends to one's religious life, one's sexual life, as well as one's relational life. In terms of one's relationship, Paul maintains that ungodly behavior encompasses all forms of human perversion, including

every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

We need to see that this passage is no longer talking about those who engaged in the acts of verses 26-28 alone. The entire passage is about the condemnation of those who have gone against God. Ungodliness does not belong to only a small group of humanity. This passage tells us that we are all under the condemnation of those who do evil and grieve the heart of our Creator. We all deserve to die. If we take this the passage teaching as a mandate to discourage gay people in their sexual sin, then we ought to also accept that we ought to discourage everyone else from envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. I guess we may not have any problem with murder, but what about deceit? Let's think of just one of this list of sins and concentrate only on what might be described as a deceitful lifestyle.

Perhaps, we ought to look closer at the practices of some of the corporations and their advertising practices. And if any corporation violates the standards of truth in advertising, then we ought to campaign against their company's products. If we were to purchase these products, we would be guilty of encouraging their deceitfulness. In fact, we ought to remove ourselves from the economic system because the entire system benefit these unscrupulous corporations and encourages their evil and ungodly practices. Further, we ought not to support our courts and legal processes because these very processes encourages evil doing, deceifulness, slander and so on. Perhaps, the Church should remove itself from mainstream society and not participate at all! Our mere participation within the process encourages the lifestyle that is systemically ungodly. If we think this is absurd, then we need to realize that Paul wasn't talking about such drastic actions. The Church's mission is to be salt and light in a society that is opposed to God and godliness. We are to permeate our society with the fruit of the Spirit by our ministry of reconciliation. We do not have to do this by being biased towards some sectors of society just because we think people are not able to too easily expose us of those sins that we are so fond of singling out for public condemnation.

The point is that part of the church's role is to bring heaven to us, and bring us to heaven. By that I mean, the church's role is teach, train and disciple people in the ways of God. By providing a community and teaching the people of God to live together in community--a community of the Word and a community of the Spirit--the church brings transformation to people's lives. And, it is not only those who are gay, or those who practice perverse sexual acts, who need transformation. We all do. The church's ministry of reconciliation to one another and to God can continue unimpeded by supporting the rights of same sex couples to marry. In fact, the church's stand in support of same sex marriage rights will be consistent in its support for individual rights and with the church's primary ministry of reconciliation - reconciliation with God and with each other.

A final concern of my email correspondent was the fact that the institution of marriage itself is sacred and cannot be defiled to include same sex marriage. In some circles the argument goes that marriage is established by God as a union between a man and a woman. Thus, if we admit same sex marriage, we would have defiled a godly institution.

Also, gay marriage isn't really about homosexuality at all...pathological sinners, meaning those in continious practice who see nothing wrong with their sin, get married everyday...the talebearers, blasphemers, fornicators, etc. get married every marriage is about the marriage part, not the gay part...who can get married, and how God intends marriage to be...that is the marriage is a godly institution set forth by Him.

This argument is often brought up in discussions of same sex marriage. The idea is that marriage is an institution that is ordained by God as a state of union and relationship between a man and a woman. There is something sacred about this holy matrimonial state. The standard conception is that marriage as defined by God is to be between ONE man and ONE woman. No other practice is valid. It doesn't matter if you marriage is celebrated before a church, by a priest, a minister, or by a government official. As long as you go through that ceremony, your marital status is godly sanctioned and accepted.

Let me use an example to illustrate my point here. I often wonder what the church would say about my parents' marital relationship. They were married according to the law before a magistrate, but in their family only regarded their relationship at that stage as being "registered" but never as officially being "married" in the Chinese sense. They had to go through a Chinese wedding ceremony where among other things, they made some vows to each other by kowtowing to each other, and made vows to the family by serving teas to the ancestors and to the in-laws, and they kow-towed to the ancestral altars. Then they had the lion dance, and other rituals, and finally came the family feast. After a day of feasting and rites, they were finally considered a married couple.

In Western democracies, former Colonial outposts, and other post-Christian societies, church ministers, some government officials and other registered marriage celebrants are legally able to conduct a marriage ceremony. In fact, when I got married, we did not have an official Christian minister to officiate the ceremony. So what we did was have a ceremony conducted by Christian brothers and sisters, all laypeople. It was witnessed by a government offical. We even adjourned to the corner where the official whisphered his prepared questions to us and we answered our customary "I do's" and signed the marriage certificate to legalize the ceremony! So, what is it about the marraige ceremony itself makes it dvinely sanctioned? In God's eyes, when was the marriage official? When we exchanged vows at the altar, when we answered the government official's questions, or when we signed the marriage certificate? When were my parents' marriage considered divinely established? At the marriage celebrant's office when they were merely "registered" or when they went through the elaborate Chinese ceremony?

Perhaps it is not about the ceremony itself, but about the marriage relationship or the union. So, in God's eyes, only ONE man and ONE woman can marry. If that is the case, it seemed to me that God would then only recognize ONE of the marriages of Jacob, and accept only the offspring of one of those four relationships. Yet, all four relationships are apparently accepted by God. In David's case, his relationship with Bathsheba should not have been divinely accepted, because David had at least two other wives at the time, and yet not only did God seemingly accepted that marriage but also blessed it with his heir who was instrumental in building the Temple as well as writing some parts of the holy scriptures.

My point is this: our traditional intuitions about the nature of divinely sanctioned marriage relationship need not be defined as narrowly as we want it to be -- a monogamous one man and one woman relationship. The more important point is this: when we talk about legalizing same-sex relationships we are speaking about their legal positions as a couple and about their enjoyment of certain legal, financial and social rights and privileges.

In a way, it may not be about a marriage relationship at all. Perhaps, if society at large are not able to stand the idea of allowing same-sex couples to enjoy the full matrimonial state, we can create another legal state that enables same-sex couples to enjoy financial benefits, legal benefits and other protections and rights, such as property, taxation, divorce proceedings/protections, and so on. If we proceed along these lines, then, we satisfy those who are uneasy with thinking about marriage other than the tradtional man/woman monogamous relationship and yet provide legal standings and protection for same-sex couples.

In the final analysis, when we accept gay couples fully and "sanction" their relationships, we welcome them into our communities as our equals. We are offering oursleves and our fellowship as fellow sinners in need of God's grace and mercy. We accept them as our fellow sojourners in the faith and we accept the Holy Spirit in them as being Who He is - God, Who is able to work in and through their lives to bring blessing and mutual edification to ours also. Together we acknowledge each other's brokenness and together we let the Spirit minister to us as we minister to each other. In principle, we are asking people to come together as they are. We do not demand that they have to give up this or that sin just as we do not demand that from ourselves, before we admit them into full fellowship in our communities. We must learn to live and love together as God's creatures. We then can experience God's unconditional love and show each other that true love and acceptance comes from the Creator, who not only shows His people how to love, but also demonstrates this love, forgiveness, mercy and grace in authentic community.

...continue reading...Furor over same sex marriage

Feeling Good - the book

A while back I mentioned the book, Feeling Good. I would like to say a word or three about it and its companion book, Feeling Good Handbook today. I haven't read through all of these two books, but just getting through the first few chapters has especially helped me greatly. Some of the main ideas that it talks about have helped me to see the relationship between thinking and feeling. In particular, often times, our moods are affected by the way we think, and Dr David Burns, the author pointed out that there are ten forms of twisted thinking that can negatively affect our moods. Each of the twisted thinking leads to a corresponding negative feeling, which when we dwell on it will lead us down a downward spiral of depression, anxiety and irrational fear. I would like to quote from the Handbook at length:

1. All-or-nothing thinking. You see things in a black-or-white category. If the situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. When a young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, "I've blown my diet completely." This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice cream!

2. Overgeneralization. You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as "always" or "never" when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird dung on the windshield of his car. He told himself, "Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car."

3. Mental filter. You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of all of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical. You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.

4. Discounting the postive. You reject the poisitive experiences by insisting that they "don't count." If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn't good enough or that anyone could have done as well.

5. Jumping to conclusion. You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion. There are two kinds of jumping to conclusion: (i) Mind reading: Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you. (ii) Fortune-telling: You predict that things will turn out badly. Before a test you may tell yourself, "I'm really going to blow it. What if I flunk?" If you're depressed you may say to yourself, "I'll never get better."

6. Magnification. You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities. This is also called the "binocular trick."

7. Emotional reasoning. You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be very dangerous to fly." Or "I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person." Or "I feel angry. This proves I;m being treated unfairly." Or "I feel so inferior. This means I'm a second-rate person." Or "I feel hopeless. I must be really hopeless."

8. "Should statements." You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, "I shouldn't have made so many mistakes." This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days. "Musts," "oughts" and "have tos" are similar offenders.
"Should statements" that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration: "He shouldn't be so stubbon or argumentative."
Many people try to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything. "I shouldn't eat that doughnut." This usually doesn't work because all these shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get teh urge to do the opposite. Dr. Albert Ellis has called this "musterbation." I call it the "shouldy" approach to life.

9. Labeling. Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying "I made a mistake," you attach a negative label on yourself, "I'm a loser." You might also label yourself "a fool" or "a failure" or "a jerk." Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings exist, but "fools," "losers," and "jerks" do not. These labels are just useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration, and low self-esteem.
You may also label others. When one does something that rubs you the wrong way, you may say to yourself, "He's an S.O.B." Then you feel that the problem is with that person's "character" or "essence" instead of with their thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves little room for constructive communication.

10. Personalization and blame. Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn't entirely under your control. When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulties at school, she told herself, "This shows what a bad mother I am," instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman's husband beat her, she told herself, "If only I were better in bed, he wouldn't beat me." Personalization leads to guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy.
Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to the problem: "The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable." Blame usually doesn't work very well because other people will just toss the blame right back in your lap. It's like the game of hot potato-- no one wants to get stuck with it.
These insidiously paralyzing twisted thinking styles can affect us so much that it becomes automatic and we don't even realize we are thinking in such ways. When I first bought the two books, I started reading the first couple of chapters and discovered how such twisted thinking affects our feelings, it was like my eyes were finally opened to how I was thinking, and the many false assumptions that I have kept in my mind. Then I became aware of the people around me having these false assumptions. That is the most frustrating part. You have the knowledge, but you have not yet internalized it, so you are not yet exemplifying it in your own experience (in other words, you are still twisted in your own thinking). But, while you are trying to change the way you think and therefore, the way you feel, you can see others having the same disastrous thinking patterns. Especially those who are close to you. And because both of you are having twisted thinking patterns, your relationships rub against one another. You cannot point out their flawed thinking to them, not convincingly anyway, because three fingers will point back at you, and if you do, they will think that you are using blame anyway. All you can do is be patient, and learn to "un-twist" your own thinking. Over time, the two of you, as you learn to replace the negative thinking patterns by healthy thinking patterns, will eventually learn to break out of the vicious cycle of negative thinking and moody feelings.

This was what happened between me and my daughter. It took a while before things got back in order, but when it did, it was like a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders. Initially while I was working on my own thinking patterns, it was frustrating to me that she had all these false assumptions in her as well. Eventually as I internalized the new healthier ways of thinking, my behavior was changing and she could see it. Eventually she changed her own way of thinking and gradually we began communicating again. We now could talk with each other, and laugh with each other and the barrier between us was slowly disintegrating. Eventually I earned her trust enough to be able to draw closer to each other. It was so sweet that yesterday morning as I was driving her to school, I waved my hand as I was talking to her in the car, and she grabbed my hands and slipped her fingers in between mine and held them all the way to school. We haven't done this for a long time. She used to do it when she was a little girl, as she had seen my wife and I hold hands this way as we drove and whenever she had a chance to sit up front in the car when I was driving her, she would do this. I thank God for His healing work in our lives and I know he will also heal her life and bring her closer to Himself as well. It will be a long journey and it will be rough at times, but I thank God that He travels along the road with us, if we let Him.
...continue reading...Feeling Good - the book

Friday, October 15, 2004

A Daring Experiment...

When I recently applied to join the League of Reformed Bloggers (LORB), I was sent a survey to ask if I subscribed to the five solas, and one of several confessions. In particular, I was asked if I hold onto:
a high view of God's sovereignty in salvation - in otherwords, God saves us on the basis of His choice or election, not on the basis of any foreseen faith in us. Furthermore, his sovereignty extends to His governance of all the affairs of creation. The other thing I mentioned is that all of the confessions affirm the five points of Calvinism.
Although I would have unquestioningly accepted all of those tenets once, I found myself wavering. And it should have been okay for me to not qualify, but I found that it troubled me. I don't know why that is the case. After all, didn't I already declare myself a "misfit among misfits," someone who is very much in the outer of almost every category you can think of? Was it a need to belong? Or perhaps it was more an uneasiness that while I do not belong to the Reformed camp, I found myself not wholeheartedly satisfied with any of the alternatives. I am not sure if I am Reformed. Neither am I Lutheran, nor am I Arminian. My heritage and past affiliations included dispensationalist, Calvinist, Methodist, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, Covenant and Reformed. Currently, I think the most accurate label is Questioning or if you like, Questionable! I saw the group called un-Right Christian, but I just am not sure of the connotation of the label, for while I won't label myself a Right Winger, I am a little suspiscious of being labeled a Leftist.

What the heck! I told myself. Maybe there are others like me out there. Are there? Are you an uncategorized Christian? A Christian without a label? Someone who just doesn't fit anywhere else? Perhaps we can form our own Blog-ring, or Alliance or League or whatnot. This may come to naught, but hey it is worth an attempt! So, if you are interested please leave a comment to this post!

I am going to give Un-Right Christian a go and join up - I had a think or two about it, and realize that un-Right doesn't have to be Left. In any case, I still think it might be a fun idea to form a Christian Bloggers Without a Label group. Anyone out there interested??

Now, I must admit that I am a novice when it comes to things in and around the Blogosphere, but perhaps someone would like to sponsor such a group. If there is none, I am willing to spearhead such an alliance. However, if there were another, more experienced blogger out there, who can point the way, and help to form this group, so much the better. What would be the requirements of such a group? I think it would be this: A firm commitment to the historic gospel of Jesus Christ and a sense of non-belongingness to the standard Christian labels. What shall we call ourselves? Christian Bloggers Without A Label (CBWAL). If interested, please leave a comment to this post.

If you own a blog and you would like to do us a favor, please link to this post and help us publicize to the rest of blogosphere.

...continue reading...A Daring Experiment...

Render unto Ceasar...

Prelude: This is probably the fifth title, and re-write for this post. I am a little disturbed by what I have been reading on several blogs the past two or three evenings. I am disturbed and troubled, and I am still trying to make sense of what to say. In fact, I was not only disturbed and troubled, but I was also discouraged, and nearly deleted my entire blog last night because I found it just too uneasy to be "here". It reinforced my sense of not belonging here somehow and I was tempted to give up! In any case, I will try to put some sense to what I have been thinking about in this post/rant/incoherent babbling...

I would like to pose a question to all you bloggers out there who think that the fate of the nation's morality hung on the balance with this election. Do you think that if one side won the election, the morality of the nation will be saved from those who have been dragging the moral fabric of society down the gutters, and if the other side won, this will be the beginning of the end for the nation, and we are heading towards a Sodom-Gomorrah type destiny?

Which do you think would be an easier society for the church to flourish? Does the accomplishment of the misson of the church depends on who won the election? Sure there will be effects, but does it really, truly matter who won the election? Wouldn't American society remain, well American? Wouldn't the ministry of the church remain by and large the same? Aren't there more important things for us to concentrate on?

Whoever wins this election, the Church will still find a dominant society that is pre-disposed to find offense in the Cross. We will still find a society who thinks the supernatural is mythical and who misunderstands what it means to be a God-follower. Our efforts to reach the rest of society with the message of God's love will not change. It will be no easier to preach the gospel whether or not the next nomination for Chief Justice is more likely to support certain legal positions.

Please don't mind me. Recently it seems I have more questions than answers. For instance, a couple days ago, I was contemplating admission to a particular group of bloggers. I asked to join the alliance, and was sent an email which asked whether or not I accepted certain tenets of the Christian faith. I was a little disturbed that I couldn't really answer the question in a clear cut fashion. I was wondering what kind of a Christian I was. Frankly I was a little upset that I didn't seem to belong. Then I realized that perhaps I belong to a group of Christians who just don't belong. I am one of those questioning Christians, or perhaps Questionable Christians. In any case, I would like to question the assumptions of those who think that Christianity is about a simple set of behavioral rules, moral standards, and political platforms.

Perhaps, the best way to tackle the set of questions I have introduced is to consider what would be Jesus' priorities as a citizen of a country. As a group of Christians, or as a Church, and as individual Christians, what should be our priorities?

Along similar lines, I recently came across a blog that seemed to ask the right questions in terms of the seeming preoccupation with
in this society and in the blogosphere. According to Richard Hall, our priorities when it comes to sex are misplaced because we have simply imitated the mores of the rest of society. Too often, this imitation and reflection of society's values and concerns, drive the church's mission, rather than taking the lead from the Lord and letting Him direct our set of concerns, priorities and our mission.

Perhaps the question we need to ask is: "What does rendering to Ceasar that which is Ceasar's, and rendering to God's what belongs to God's"? I believe at a minimum rendering to Ceasar means being a good citizen. So our question would be what are our duties as good citizens? Rendering to God means being a good follower of Christ, and obviously our question here is what are our priorities as followers of Christ? And the ultimate question is "Ought the two priorities always be aligned with each other?" I think the Biblical account, hints at least, that this need not always be the case. And, if we were to take the principles of the Sermon on the Mount to heart, we must always seek first the Kingdom of Heaven. So our final question is, what does it mean to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven for the church's role in this nation and for this age?

...continue reading...Render unto Ceasar...

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Be ye angry, and sin not...

Note: This post was triggered by my a personal experience that I blogged about here.

In the NIV, Ephesians 4:26 says, "'In your anger, do not sin': do not let the sun go down while you are still angry." This is one of those verses in Scripture that puzzles me. Paul says we are to be angry but in our anger not to sin. So, there is a difference between being angry and sinning in anger.

We all know that anger is an emotion. As I mentioned
before, according to my counselor, anger is our protective angel. When we are threatened--when our buttons are pushed or when something happens to us triggers the angry response--the angel appears so that our inner child might hide behind her. The angel stands up and wields her sword so that no one might hurt the inner child again. This is the response that our adult selves have learned to come up with at times like these to protect that hurt inner child. It is an emotional response to external stimuli. Often this is because we have associated that kind of stimuli to some hurt or disappointment or some upsetting event in the past. Our adult selves have internalized that feeling as harmful and painful and that our inner child needs protection. Hence, we respond with anger as a form of self-preservation.

But, how exactly do we get angry and not sin?

Sin we already know is more than just an act of defiance against God. According to Jesus' teaching, if we harbor hatred or lust in our hearts we have already transgressed the full measure of the law. That is pretty serious. We sin not only by committing the transfression but also by our thoughts. If that is the case, how can we be angry, and not sin? I guess one might point out that Jesus was talking about hatred and not anger. There is a lot of difference between the two, of course. Yet, how can one be angry without sinning? Where do we draw the line? Often people point out the actions of Jesus when he drove the traders and money changers out of the Temple courtyards. Put in that position, I won't know where the line is between angry without sinning and crossing the line to anger and sinning. I mean, in the heat of the moment, while I am whipping and carrying on, overturning tables and chasing people out of the temple, I cannot guarantee what the adrenaline rush would cause me to do or react, and how that would be on the sin meter, if there were such a thing. I bet when I am in the heat of the moment, the sheer emotional high I get out of such a raucous incident, all the ugly parts of me would easily surface and ruin it all for everyone concerned.

People also talk about "righteous anger" in relation to this passage, but I am not sure again how that cashes out in terms of actually practising it. I once attended a service during which a fiery preacher was preaching. This preacher had a reputation for having a hot head well known for his outbursts of "righteous anger". He was preaching in a packed church on a hot, humid day. Someone suddenly rose from his seat and started walking out the church. One can tell the man is not your regular church-goer type. He wasn't dressed conservatively, and his mannerism showed that he probably wasn't too interested in the sermon nor awed by the church atmosphere.

"You!" the preacher roared, pointing his accusing finger at the man.

"What?!" the defiant man demanded.

"Don't you dare walk around while I am preaching! Don't you know that this is hard work?" the Preacher cried. "I have enough distractions with all these people fanning themselves with the bulletin." Most of those who were frantically fanning themselves with their bulletin stopped abruptly.

The Preacher continued, "I don't need people to be getting up and walking around half way through my sermon!"

The man started yelling back at him, gesticulating wildly. The Preacher thundered back, furious. I didn't get the rest of the exchanges between the preacher and the obstinate church-don't-want-to-goer. I found out later that he was an inmate at a Christian rehab center and attending that church service was part of the program he was signed up for. I am not sure, but looking at the scene, I didn't think it was drawing him closer to the kingdom, unless you insist that for an addict a little bit of discipline might be in order.

Now, if that was a demonstration of righteous anger, I don't think I would be able to practice it in similar circumstances. I know from my own experience that once I get angry and act upon it, I will spiral downward. I might start off by truly being righteously angry-whatever that means-but if I were to speak my mind, act on impulse and start to press home the issue, I will soon slide down to self-righteous anger, or worse.

So how can I put this "be angry and not sin" principle to practice?

Let's see if we can find the clues in the scripture passage. Reading a little further in Ephesians, it goes on to say "Do not let the sun go down on your anger." According to some scholars, this passage is a quotation of Psalm 4:4. The passage in the Psalms reads, "In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and trust in the LORD".

This passage may very well offer a guide on how to deal with emotions of anger, sexual arousal, sadness, grief and a myriad of other emotional responses we have that are triggered by the normal day-to-day life experiences.

According to this passage, the first step in dealing with anger, is to contemplate on it before we let the day pass by. We respond in anger all the time. For some of us, any little thing can trigger the anger response. I find that by being more aware of how I am responding to my day-to-day events and to the incidents that I come across daily, I am more aware of what ticks me off, or what pushes my button. Then I am able to find alternative means of responding to similar situations. Often my responses are guided by my attitudes and assumptions. And, many times, I have found my assumptions to be wrong.

For instance, one of the things that used to bother me quite a bit was the bickering between two of my children. When they fight with one another, I find it irritated me to the point that the only thing I could do was yell at them. When reflecting on this insidious repetitious broken record of stimulus/response (children fighting over non-essential things and my yelling at them), I realized what was going on in my mind. When they started to bicker, I got frustrated that when in the past they had done so, I had tried intervening, only ending up with me not being able to help. Instead, I got them not only mad with each other, but also with me. So, my frustration made me feel helpless. Since my mental vision of a perfect dad was that he would be one who would be able to solve every one of his children's problems, my inability to help them resolve their disagreement caused me to be frustrated with them fighting in the first place. This sense of helplessness and frustration results in my wanting to quelch their squabble immediately. So I take the short cut of trying to put the fear of God in them by yelling authoritarianly, which of course, is counter productive. Having had the chance to reflect on why I reacted in such a way, I am able to clarify my thinking. A good father need not resolve all his children's problems. And, having reflected on alternative ways of responding, next time the the trigger gets turned on, I am able to fall back upon my reflections and remember to use the alternative ways of dealing with the problem, or simply not response at the moment of heightened emotionality, waiting for passions to subside before saying anything. So, this first step is reflection. The passage says something about searching your hearts on the bed, but it may not be necessarily done on the bed. The idea that comes to mind is to reflect on the events of the day when you are getting ready for bed. The emphasis is to reflect and to do so as soon as possible, preferably while it is still fresh in your mind before the end of the day.

I once used to think that "not letting the sun go down on your anger" meant saying "sorry" before the end of the day. But it became too superficial and too convenient to do so. I remember as a younger married couple, when one of us would get angry with the other for some silly or foolish thing that the other did, and remembering the injunction about not letting the sun go down on one's anger, we would try to rush to make up before the end of the day. Knowing that to be the case, sometimes we try to "punish" the other party by not letting them have a chance to say "Sorry" by going to bed earlier than usual! Nonetheless, the principle of making sure one always made up before the end of the day may have been a good way to keep short accounts with each other, and not let the anger seethe and be suppressed by not dealing with the issue over a long term. Yet, the injunction in Psalms to reflect over the incident and process why the triggered response got there in the first place is the key to recovery. For if all we do is to get angry and then try to compromise or make up before the end of the day, and if we never reflect on why we respond the way we do, we will only continue to repeat these responses and not able to get out of the vicious cycle. So, in order to get out of the cycle, reflection and putting into practice alternative responses is the key.

The next step that the Psalmist offers as a way to get out of the deadly spiral of anger response is to offer right sacrifices to God. In the Old Testament, offering sacrifices to the Lord was part of a ritual of atonement and restoration of right relationship with God, culminating in the annual Day of Atonement. It acknowledges at least two things: our sinfulness - and thus our dire need for God's grace, and it acknowledges God's mercy - that He stands ready to forgive and to restore our relationship with Him. In the New Testament, we are to confess our sins regularly and acknowledge God's grace and forgiveness. That was the culminating thought in the Ephesians passage in its call for mutual forgiveness and acknowledgement of our forgiveness in Christ Jesus. It is also the message of 1 John 1:9 - to confess our sins and accept God's forgiveness and His cleansing in Christ Jesus.

This posture also underscore a very important truth: we mere humans may never be able to completely be free of the "being angry and sinning" cycle. While it was possible for the Lord to go through the temple with his whip and chasing the unscrupulous traders who had turned his Father's house into a house of robbers, yet without sinning, none of us would be able to control the adrenaline rush and emotional high not to overstep the boundary. That is why we need to come before God and humbly acknowledge our frailty in this matter, and to realize that as we walk with Him, although we may stumble or fall, we are forgiven and we have access to His boundless grace. We can also have the confidence that as we walk with Him and continue to let His Spirit teach us, we will begin to exhibit His grace and mercy in our lives so that we will begin to see the result of changed behavior and changed character in us. It may take a long, long time, but it will happen. Which leads us to the final point.

And that is to trust God. At the end of the day, that is all we can do. When we encounter moments of weakness and helplessness. When we are triggered to respond in our normal, human selfish manner, all we can do is to throw ourselves back into God's hands and say to Him, "Lord I trust you and rely on your Spirit to strengthen me so that I may be an instrument of Your peace to the people around me." I know I need God when I get unrighteously angry - when my anger is a result of my own frustrations, my own stupidity and my own arrogance. But when I get righteously angry - when I am triggered to emotions of anger at injustice, sin and ungodliness - then I need Him more than before. This is because I need Him to show me not only how to be angry, but also to have the courage to respond appropriately to uphold justice, promote peace, love people, while all the time, pointing them to the Cross.
...continue reading...Be ye angry, and sin not...