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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

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Blogging Woes

Welcome! If you arrived here via BlogExplosion, please read this earlier post and share your own experience with BE. As mentioned in that post, I conducted a mini-experiment in the past week or so, and I have some preliminary findings which I will post later.

Something else has frustrated me recently and it is not with BE or with that 30-seconds-which-seem-like-an-eternity thing, or the clicking-at-28-seconds-and-losing-the-friggin'-credits-twice-in-a-row thing, or opps-clicked-wrong-number-by-mistake-again! thing, or worse, oh-here's-the-10-mystery-credits-won-but-oh-shit-I-press-the-wrong-key-and-now-its-gone thing. In fact nothing to do with BE.

My problem is with Blogger. Tried to get on to it a few times over the past week. By deliberatedly not surfing for credits it was supposed to give me more time to blog! But, Blogger gave up on me a few nights this past week. After logging in, and clicking on my blog link it just wait for many seconds before coming up with an internal server error! Whazzupwidat!?!

In fact, while trying to fix this post up, I found another problem with Blogger. I had an older window up and hit the publish accidentally and it overwrote my fixed post! Worse, after fixing it and trying to republish, I get this "Waiting for" message sitting there staring at me! Can I go to sleep yet????

So, that is why I am thinking of changing and need your opinion. Please go here if you have done something like this, and especially if you have experience with the providers I mention in that post.

For those who didn't come via BlogExplosion and if you have no idea what I am tlaking about, go here and have a gander and if you wish to join, click here. As some of the folks who posted their comments earlier, apart from getting more traffic, even though most are just credit-earners, you will get some new readers and some will become regular, and you do get to know a whole lot of other bloggers out there. So it is worth it, if you don't let it run-and ruin-your life!

...continue reading...Blogging Woes

How to read the Bible

Recently, I posted a meditation on a passage of Scripture in Exodus chapter 3. I used an often, but easily, overlooked instruction that God gave to Moses to remove his sandals, as a springboard to finding out both what the instruction might mean or perhaps, what it entails, or implies, and also, more importantly, to describe the implications of an encounter with God.

A commenter suggests that what I wrote, while in principle is true, and is taught in other scriptures, was not explicitly taught in the text from which I was quoting. This is no just any ordinary commenter, but Jeremy Pierce, aka Parableman, a well-loved blogger described by The Bible Archive, as a blogger who “offers philosophical thought-flow balanced with strong convictions making something which is often completely engrossing. I may not agree with all of his positions but this dear Brother can deftly argue from philosophy and Scripture.” Like the author of TBA, I do not agree with everything Jeremy says, but I respect him as someone who thinks deeply and carefully about these things.

So, that started a series of comments back and forth between Jeremy and myself, and also started me thinking about the legitimacy of much of our meditation upon scriptural texts and about the legitimacy some kinds of devotional Scriptural reading. Jeremy pointed out that the principles that my extrapolating from an often overlooked instruction from God to Moses to remove his sandals contains a biblical principle taught elsewhere in Scriptures but not necessarily taught by the text under consideration.

While I believe that the point I made in my meditative post did not contradict the principle Jeremy highlighted, I believe Jeremy's point is very instructive and insightful. Often it is very tempting to proof-text our doctrine, or favorite teaching, by mis-reading and mis-quoting Scripture. You may or may not have heard about the man who sincerely desired to be led by Scriptures. He decided to use a little bit of "finger lucky-dipping" by opening the Bible and letting it fall on a page and closing his eyes, he points with his finger onto a verse at random. He assumes that whatever he points to contains the biblical mandate for his life. When he opened his eyes, he was chagrined to find his finger at a rather unpalatable verse: "So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself." Disturbed, he decided to give it another go. The second time his finger fell on the following verse: "Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.’" Exasperated, he tried a final time, and this time he was really distraught for his finger fell squarely upon, "What you are about to do, do quickly!"

While our proof-texting may not be as humorous and outrageous as the story, it nonetheless involves a distortion of scriptural principles and is contrary to what the scriptures teach. It is especially dangerous to take a verse out of context and build doctrine out of it. A good example of this can be seen in the nineteenth century when even ministers argued that slavery is not only acceptable, but approved by God because there are scriptural verses on the duties of slaves, and masters. (Note: I know this brief statement about scriptural support for slavery might open a can of worms, as Jeremy pointed out in commenting to my rough draft, but I will leave it here without further comment as an illustration of how misquoting and misapplication of scriptures can lead to unpalatable consequences).

So I am thinking of doing a series on How to Read the Bible. I believe there are many different ways to read the Bible. Here are some of the main ones:
(1) Reading the Bible devotionally
(2) Reading the Bible as part of a Bible Study exercise
(3) Reading the Bible as part of an Exegesis

These are just three of the different ways to read the Scriptures, I will expand on each of the types of Bible reading methods in up-coming posts. For now, the most important point to come away from this article is that the Bible is given to us not to decorate our coffee table, nor is it as a fashion accessory, but it is given to us to be read.

One of my mentors used to lament the fact that while we have a Bible on our bedside table, or on our book shelf, we seldom stretch out our hands to take it and read it, yet we will travel miles, navigate thick bumper-to-bumper traffic and go through sun, hail and rain to listen to the visiting bible teacher or itinerant preacher to listen to their preaching. Yet, all the time, God is waiting to speak to us through His word. So, stop reading this blog already! Open your Bible, and read it! J

Next time, I will write a little more about how to read it devotionally.

UPDATE: You can find Part II of this series here.

...continue reading...How to read the Bible

No graven images...

In my meditation on the first commandment I said that it is easy for me to get the prohibition against idolatry, but relatively harder to understand the commandment for having no other gods. Actually in thinking of the first two commandments, it almost seems to me that they are two sides of the same coin. That these two are part and parcel of the same commandment (It is interesting to note that the Bible doesn't refer to the "Ten Commandments" anywhere). On the one hand, God commands that Israel shall have no other Gods except the LORD. On the other hand, they are not to make nor bow down before any graven images of anything in heaven or earth.

In considering the first commandment, one might be tempted to think that it all but makes the second commandment unnecessary. If the first commandment prohibited Israel from alegiance to any other gods, why is there a need for the proscription against the making of, and bowing down, to any graven images? Doesn't the prohibition against worshipping any other gods also preclude the worship of graven images? One might think that this is exactly the case since in this context the graven images were understood as a substitute for God, and the restriction on making and worshipping graven images specifically prohibits substitituting God with graven images.

Perhaps God wanted to underscore the exclusivity of His relationship with Israel. He is the LORD their God. They are to have no other Gods before Him. And, if they did not really get that, God spelt out what that means. They are not to have any substitute for Him - they are not to worship any graven images:

"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above
or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them
or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the
children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those
who hate me."

Perhaps, there is more to just not having no graven images, or not to make for themselves any idols. Why is it important that we have no graven images? That they are not to make and bow down before any idol?

As a kid, I grew up with all sorts of gods around me and my family. There was the God of the Earth, the God of War, the God of the Kitchen, the Monkey God, the Goddess of Mercy Mere and the King of Heaven. Throughout the year, special days were set aside for different celebrations and worship of these gods and goddesses. Many of these gods are represented by idols and graven or painted images. I still remember some of these gods have terrifying appearances and I did not like to look at them. Still, we worshipped these gods and ask for their favor, blessings and protection.

So when I became a Christian, I was able to relate to not making any idols and bowing down before them. I understood what it means to be an idol-worshipper. It seems that we creatures have a peculiar proclivity to replace God in our lives with an idol. Just as Augustine says, we have a God-shaped vacuum in our hearts and we are restless until it is filled with Him. While it remains void, we will continue to seek a substitute in order to fill that emptiness. Call that a search for meaning or a search for significance or a search for ultimate purpose, whatever you call it, it is a search to fill that void that only He can fill.

We chase after substitutes and if it is in the form of a graven image, or a painting that reminds us of a mythical or legendary figure that can bring us wealth, peace or safety we will bow down before that idol and devote ourselves to serving that god.

That type of idol worship may not be as powerful as what we have also identified as idolatry. That is another form of replacement for God that can be an attractive power that has a hold upon our lives. This can be anything from a past-time, a person, a thing or a passion. A more powerful, and insidious form of idolatry is the idolatry of turning God into something other than Himself. This kind of idolatry is the act of reducing God to a sub-standard image of our own mind's creation. Rather than making a graven image with our own hands, we make this image with our mind and fixate our worshipping of the One True God, with this "god-wannabe" that we have created.

Sometimes idolatry involves seeking God's blessings rather than God Himself. Recently at a dinner party, the friends we were with made a statement that made me raise my internal eyebrows a bit. Referring to their grown son who found a dream job with Disney, they said, "God is good to Him." Although I refused to judge them but instead try to understand what they said in the context of popular beliefs, I cannot help but wonder if our popular beliefs have been unfortunately tainted with misconceptions.

I wonder if sometimes we have the danger of attributing to God's goodness only when we find good results in our life. When things go exceptionally well, when we are in good health and when we have that dream job or when we win that scholarship or get that sale, we say, "God blessed me" or "God is good" but when we suffer, and when we have pain, and when things go terribly wrong, we respond differently. Questioning doubts arise in us, "Why me God?" or we shake our fists against God and say, "Why couldn't you have acted?" Or some such... We may not go through these extremes, but very seldom do we say in times like these, "God is good to us/me". Oh, we may still say, "Thank God in (or for) everything" in our more sober and spiritual moments, but we rarely respond to evil, or bad experiences with a spontaneous, "God is good to me/us."

And, that is the most dangerous form of idolatry. In his famouse sermon on idolatry, J.C. Ryle said, 'idolatry is a worship in which the honour due to God in Trinity, and to Him only, is given to some of His creatures, or to some invention of His creatures.' The worst form of idolatrous creation is the creation in our minds of something that is less than God. It could be a creation of some idea, or concept of God that is less than God Himself. It could be a creation of a blessing, a special gift or something that we desire from God, but as long as it is something else other than God, and it shifts the focus of our relationship with Him, it is idolatry - idolatry of the most dangerous kind.

A particularly dangerous form of such distortion and creation of a replacement for God is what is known as Biblioatry - the worship of the Bible instead of God. This is insidious and misleading, for we then replace the primacy of our relationship with God with a distorted devotion to scriptures, doctrine and "truth."

Instead of realizing that God wants us to relate to Him, that when He gave Moses the Commandments, He began by underscoring the history of who He is and what He had done for Israel, before announcing that He is their God and then going on to give the logical consequences of that relationship. "No other gods" and "no graven images" must be set against the backdrop of "I the LORD am your LORD who rescued you out of Egypt". Also, He needed to give both injunctions for we are created in His image. By nature we are creative, and if we do not harness our creativity within the context of a dynamic relationship with our Creator, we may be tempted to distort the Real by the misapplication of our creative juices.

So when we read God's commandment against idolatry we may conjure up images of pagan idol worshippers that happens in non-Christian temples and places of worship, and say, "I am not guilty of that!" Or we might conjure up modern day replacements of divinity such as the T.V., Football, or something mundane, "worldly" and non-spiritural, and we might have this to say, "I used to be carnal but now I no longer practice such idolatrous sins." However, when confronted with the reality of the other kind of insidious idolatrous behavior is, we need to be extra careful that we don't fall into the idolatry trap ourselves. For we may all be guilty of that sin daily and need to be vigilant against our sinful nature.

As we have seen idolatry can be that tendency to replace the focus on relationship with God with any other form of spirituality. Or it could be a frivolous seeking of His gifts, blessings and other good things, rather than an intimacy with the holy God. Or even a reduction of God to some other distortion of who He is, and the replacement of the dynamic relationship with the Trinity with a stringent adherence to a Book, even the Holy Scritpures.

When we realize the full scope and measure of idolatrous behavior we see then the need for an additional measure of His grace and mercy so that we are able to follow the admonishment of Paul to "flee from idolatry" (I Cor 10:14).

...continue reading...No graven images...

Monday, November 29, 2004

Contemplating a Change

I am thinking of switching from BlogSpot. What do you guys suggest? I am thinking perhaps I need to get a TypePad account, because I don't have my own server. I am also thinking of getting my own domain.

I do have questions and hope someone can answer some of them:
(1) Are there any good reasons to stay with BlogSpot (new kickass version(s) about to be released>
(2) Can I transfer all my posts over without losing anything?
(3) I have a Haloscan account, can I easily transfer my comments and keep it in the archives of TypePad?
(4) I have checked out TypePad, WordPress and MovableType. It appears that TypePad is better than WordPress. What are your experiences one way or another? MovableType seems to be for more advanced folks with lots more knowledge and skills than I. I am still a novice with html and coding etc, so TypePad would probably be better for me, what do you guys think?

Any advice vis-a-vis moving from one provider to another? How about transitioning etc. Should I keep both sites up for a while with pointers from one to another and mirror all the stuff until I am positive the new site is up and ready?

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

...continue reading...Contemplating a Change

I got me blog shredded!

Found out about this evil minion guy who loves to shred other folks' blog. I volunteered and got shredded. I do have a few objections - I think he was too kind! If you're gonna shred my blog, you've got to be nastier! Labeling me a conservative didn't help you any either. Finally, what's up with this brit humor thing huh? How about some good ole aussie laughs to brighten the day?

Go over
here to read his analysis and while you're at it why don't you sign up to be shredded too? After all, evil minion is looking for a liberal!

...continue reading...I got me blog shredded!

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Belacan Grill - Highly Recommended Restaurant in LA area

Recently, LA Times' CounterIntelligence column ran a great review on this hidden gem of a restaurant in Redondo Beach, CA. My wife and I, along with two other couples paid them a visit last night, and oh, man, I am still raving about its delicacy!

This is one fine restaurant. The service was very fast! Well, it was a rainy Saturday night and the restaurant was not filled up so that might have helped.

We ordered seven dishes to share among ourselves:
  • Wat Tan Hor (Fried flat, white rice noolde, covered with a rich egg based sauce with seafood).
  • Belacan Crab (Fresh crab deep fried to perfection and then stir fried with belacan - a shrimp paste).
  • Fish Head Curry (Fresh fish head cooked in curry powder, spices, chillies and cooconut milk.
  • Datin's Beef Rendang (Fresh beef cutlets marinated and cooked in a rich, dry curry paste)
  • Ampang Yong Tau Foo (Stuff bean curd, egg plant and peppers coooked in claypot)
  • Belacan Kangkong (Fresh water spinach vegetable stir fried in a light belacan shrimp paste sauche)
  • Malaysian Curry Chicken (Moist morsels of chicken meat, slow cooked in a rich coconut milk based curry sauce.
We had steamed white rice to go with the sumptuous dishes.

When the first dish arrived, the Wat Tan Hor. I was surprised at the smaller serving than usual. There was enough only for about a couple of spoonfuls each for the six of us, but the authentic taste more than made up for the smaller serving. We needed to save room for the other dishes as well! The noodle was soft and crisp, fried to just the right consistency, and the sauce was very smooth; the egg white was not overcooked and blended in with the sauce without being lumpy or hard. It was perfectly done. There were ample servings of juicy shrimps and the bok choy was crispy and fresh. Since leaving Malaysia almost 25 years ago, I have never tasted such authentic fare until now! If I had to leave at this moment I was already satisfied, but what was to come was more of the same! It was really good!

Each of other dishes were relatively smaller in serving sizes than your regular Asian restaurant, except for the Fish Head Curry, and Belacan Crab. The Fish Head Curry was served in a good sized claypot filled with huge morsels of fish, egg plant, aubergine, green bean, bell peppers and onions cooked in perfection in a luxuriant coconut curry with just the right blend of spices. The taste was delicate -- not too spicy, with a hint of sweetness from the coconut base and the fragrance of tamarind. My family were out at another famous Malaysian haunt, the Penang in West Covina and their Fish Head Curry was memorable, but this was a cut above. Highly recommended.

The Belacan Crab was deep fried and then stir fried with belacan, fragrantly enhanced by a noticable portion of roasted dried shrimps, providing a really exotic taste to the tender crab meat. Each bite was as juicy, and tender as the next. The crab was meaty and the meat was cooked to the right consistency. Delicious!

Although the Ampang Yong Tau Foo was not particularly outstanding, the serving size was reasonable for the six of us, and the ingredients tasted fresh. Each piece of yong tau foo (stuffed bean curd) was lightly seared and the stuffed eggplant and peppers were juicy and crisp, while the fish paste was moist and tender. The sauce for the Yong Tau Foo was just right too, making the entire dish well balanced and satisfying.

The Belacan KangKong was classic - when the dish was brought out, the color of the vegetable showed that it was cooked just right, leaving the leaf fresh and the stem crunchy. The vegetable was stir fried, and tossed in a light belacan sauce, garnished with crisp cut red chiles on top. It was simply yummmm!

The Beef Rendang was simply sensational! The pieces of beef was tenderized with a blend of the rich spices and the dry curry paste with firm chunky pieces of potatoes were well blended together just like what you'd expect at a Kampung makan feast back home. The beef rendang simply melts in your mouth and the only complaint I have is that the serving size was a tad on the small side.

The Malaysian Curry Chicken tasted as if it was served by the hawker stalls back at Medan Selara in Petaling Jaya! Heavenly!

I had a glass of the teh tarik. While the tea may have looked a little darker than the tea you get from the Mamak stall next to the KL Hilton, the taste sends your senses right back to the roadside extravaganza! I simply loved it!

For desert, we had the Ice Kacang and the Cendol. The Ice Kacang looked and tasted like any you would get from the side stalls of any Malaysian marketplace or hawker center. The Cendol was a disappointment, but by then we did not mind it a bit.

To finish, the restaurant brought out complimentary bowls of Bobo Cha Cha which was served hot, but the taste again! It was sensationally close to the original that you could get in Malaysia.

Having lived in Malaysia the first twenty years of my live, I haven't been able to get such authentic fare any where else, and I have been eating all over the world - both coasts of Australia, Hong Kong, both coasts of the US, and after twenty-odd years of being away from Malaysia, this is the first time I have tasted food from a restaurant that I can truly say is authentic Malaysian. Yet, as I said, it was not overpoweringly spicy. Before we left, each of the three couples at our table made a pact among ourselves to return, together, as well as with our individual families/friends. I would highly recommend anyone who wishes to try the blends of Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisine for which Malaysia is so notable.

So if you guys are in the SoCal area, you must get out there soon. If you are not in the SoCal area, well perhaps you can put it down to a must-visit when you next come over to LA-LA-LAND. The ocean is only a mile or two from that location.

Here is the Address:

Belacan Grill

2701 190th Street

Redondo Beach

Tel: 310 370 1831

P.S. I may only have one or two other regular readers in the LA area, otherwise, we could organize a the outer... blog culinary experience, what say you folks?

Failing that, perhaps you can tell me what your favorite eating out place is...

...continue reading...Belacan Grill - Highly Recommended Restaurant in LA area

Disagreements, Debates and Dissentions

I am currently in a grad program in philosophy at a the California State University, Long Beach. The other day, in one of my classes, a student, who is Cherokee, presented a paper in which in part he questioned the legitimacy of Western tradition of speciocentricity - the view that the human species is a higher form of life than any other animal and life forms. It was interesting, and while a few members of the class appreciated his call for tolerance and open-mindedness, the professor challenged us to think about the possibility of rationality in animals. According to the professor one measure of logical thinking and rational activity is playing chess, and challenged us to find an analogous mode of activity in any other animal species. While a few tried to suggest that there might be conceivable and possible analogous activities in the non-human animal kingdom, the professor doubted the plausibility of such analogies. Then, a member of the class, a retired man who has had quite a bit of learning and life experience, inpatiently disputed such "nonsense" by suggesting that if we were to maintain that "mere" animals are equal to us or even analogous to us in their mental capacity and rationality, then we are discounting the hundreds and thousands of years of collective cultural, literary and intelectual wisdom that human beings have accumulated which shows that clearly we are of a "higher intelligence" to "mere animals." He was angry and it showed, and it appeared to me that it could easily lead to an "Artest-esque confrontation." (Sorry, couldn't refrain myself!)

This post is not really about the pros and cons of thought or conceptual life in animals, interesting though it might be. It is really about the reaction of this gentleman to the call for open mindedness, possibility and tolerance. For usually it is a "liberal" person who often calls for such tolerance. Usually it is the more "conservative" among us who resists tolerance and open mindedness. (I am using those two terms "loosely" but given the current climate in our society and especially in blogosphere, I realize that those two terms are severely loaded and controversial. So be it, let's just go on...).

Conservatives sometimes shirk back from open mindedness because they prefer the status quo, they respect years of rich heritage and culture and bow to the traditions of the fathers, while liberals sometimes emphasize the need to be open-minded and consider other points of views. However, sometimes conservatives accuse liberals of being open-minded for the sake of open-mindedness, and liberals on the other hand accuse conservatives of being rigid and unwilling to change, preventing progress and development.

And that was what happened in my class. One group was encouraging the rest to be tolerant to other viewpoints, while the other was accusing the first group of debunking the years of collective human wisdom. It also reminds me of my earlier experience as a Christian fundamentalist.

I remember in my teenaged years, being aware of the fact that some of our friends were looking on bemusedly as we Christian boys (I went to an all-boys school) sat around debating, sometimes heatedly, about pre-trib, pre-mil, baptism (water, sprinkling), the Holy Spirit, tongues, and a host of all sorts of other doctrinal issues.

It never occured to us that our energy and passion might had better be saved to rally together, pray and work together to bring our friends to a better understanding of who their Creator is. We love this thing called
doctrinal purity, probably ingrained in us by our own pastors, Sunday School or Bible Class teachers, and elders.

In fact, the church I went to as a young fella had a ranking system. Our church were supposedly closest to the Bible, in terms of "New Testament practices" especially the "rules" (or traditions) laid out in 1 Corinthians about church polity. Then other churches were ranked according to whether or not they accepted certain doctrinal priorities.

As I grew up, I often got tired of this insistence on doctrinal purity and on theological correctness. I find this to be the case among some of the churches and church leaders that I know. It seems that people were willing to sacrifice relationships just so that they can be "right." It seems so important to them that they are "right."

I was thinking of this while blog-surfing the past few days, and reading some heat
inged exchanges that occur between people of opposing viewpoints. Usually these viewpoints have to do with politics, but sometimes ethical and moral issues also bring up the ire in people. For instance, the gay marriage issue has been a thorn in the side of the Church for a while now. I wonder why it is that Christians seem to appear to be some of the most disagreeable folk in the world.

Yet of course Christians are not alone in this. Recently I also observed a similar disquiet happen in an on-line forum. Someone, who is known to be a Christian, posted something about the ACLU and quoted from a source. Someone else in the group, who is not a Christian, responded by suggesting that the posted had an ulterior motive, although the original poster did not make any other remark. Names started to fly as the second poster decided that the first poster was trying to subvert the "open minded" discussion by offering a religious or ultra right-wing bent on the issues at hand. It got nasty rather quickly. This time, the supposedly "open minded" liberal was the culprit who quickly shut the "conservative" before a level headed discussion could take place. So, I supposed, the problem there was a perceived threat to a personal belief that led to heightened passions and emotional outbursts. Perhaps it is just because we all have this dire need to be right, or at least to be seen as being right.

I just popped over to, and found Tim vexing over the issue of negative feedback he had been getting at his site due to readers' disagreement with his views. Tim asked:

Is apologetics inherently negative? I doubt God would say so. There may be a negative aspect to apologetics, simply because to defend is to assume that there is something to defend against, but the practice in itself is not negative. On the contrary, apologetics should help people grow in their faith as they are warned against succumbing to Satan's infiltrations. I seek to make apologetics practical rather than abstract, uplifting rather than purely negative. If I take issue with a teaching, I seek to show the proper Biblical alternative. I know that I do not always succeed in this goal, but I do strive for it. When I fail, the community who reads this site generally lets me know, and I do appreciate their concern.

Tim went on to add an observation of human nature:

I would like to conclude with a brief reflection on human nature. Humans seem to be inherently critical and it is far easier for us to criticize than build up. In this regard I am the chief of sinners. However, I have seen that others are afflicted in the same way. When I write an article that is positive, that reflects joy in what God has taught me from His Word, it generally receives far less attention that those which challenge beliefs or teachers. A quick survey of the numbers of replies to various topics in the forum will prove this true. So for those who believe there is a slight negative tone to the discussions in the forums, I would encourage them to make an effort to discuss the positive and not merely the negative.

I guess whether or not you are a Christian, or whichever side of the conservative/liberal fence you fall on, there is just a human tendency to want to be counted among the "good guys" - those who are right, while all others are wrong.

I wonder if that is why Jesus asked the rich young ruler, "Why do you call me good? No one is good, except the Father!"

...continue reading...Disagreements, Debates and Dissentions

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Missing you, Mom

The other day, I stumbled upon Notes in the Key of Life and read a moving account of her grief for the loss of her father. Much of this account reminded me of my own grief and the pain of missing my own Mom. Cindy wrote about how she and her sister experienced the "(sudden) and quite (unexpected)" experience of being "blindsided by the grief, and burst(ing) into tears" as a result.

This happened to me so many times. Although lately, I no longer get this type of tearful outbursts in my daily life. Almost six years after her passing (in an earlier post I identified the year my mom entered the hospital for the final time as 1999, but in fact it was 1998 - she passed on January 31, 1999), I still feel the same "dark cloud" that Cindy talks about, and I still resonate with her words as she describes how the dark cloud sometimes "overhangs my life with dense cover, blanketing everything with sadness." She goes on to say, "Other times it recedes and even dissipates to the point where life is sunny and I think of him fleetingly or even happily." I must say I do think of my Mom in happier times, and I do get a smile across my face when this or that memory brings out the more joyful and happier moments I remember, yet, all this is set against a backdrop of deep sadness and loss. When I experienced the spiritual and emotional healng through the prayer ministry of Molly Sutherland and through the weekly counselling sessions I am attending, has led to the reduction and eventual elimination of the sudden blindsighted onset of tearful grief. Yet the backdrop of sadness, and the overhang of dark clouds remain, although not acutely, and without the usual pain that had accompanied it for so many years.

While life does go on, it isn't the same. Something is missing, and there will always be this inexplicable void in my heart. Even in our happiest moments, there is still this impossible wish that Mom is around. Shortly after Mom passed away, as I was struggling with the grief and pain, a friend told me that it is natural for children to bury their parents. While it did help me to see that it is a logical progression of life, yet it did not ease the pain. I just couldn't and still can't help but feel that it came way too early for us.

Mom had always wanted to live to see my children grow up, get married and have babies of her own. (Tears are streaking down my cheeks freely as I wrote this, for I know how much Mom wanted to this). In those last few years of her life, she was so physically worn out. Mom was a fighter, always has been one, but her body just couldn't hold up any more. Her body just gave up, although she was fighting it with every once of her energy. By then she could probably only summon up a couple of ounces. In a way, it was better for her to die, so that she would not need to suffer any longer, yet, I so know that she wanted to live on.

It is now just a tiny little consolation that her memories live on in our hearts and minds.

I love you, Mom.
...continue reading...Missing you, Mom

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Christian Carnival XLV is up

Cowpi Journal has put up Christian Carnival XLV, and there are quite a good spread of articles submitted by different bloggers. Mark has organized the 37 pieces loosely around a three-pronged theme "the three dimensions to spirituality: vertical, horizontal or outward, and inward. Each of these dimensions are illustrated in the following quote:
In the evening of our life, we shall be judged by love, namely, by the sincerity
of our love for God, for our neighbor, for our soul.
— St. John of the Cross"
My own contribution is up as well. Enjoy!

...continue reading...Christian Carnival XLV is up

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

BlogExplosion is interfering with my life!

There is one thing I do not complain about BlogExplosion. It sure delivered on its promise: to explode this site with visitors. So, before BlogExplosion, I had maybe 2 or 3 visitors to my site a day, and on a good day 10 or 15. After BlogExplosion, I have 100, sometimes 200 a day.

But the cost?

It has sucked me into this insidious 30-second finger tap-dance. Yes, I did find
some sites among the hundreds I have visited that I really enjoyed reading and would consider going back, and yes, I did get new visitors to my sites, and quite a number who have commented on different posts. For that I am really grateful.

But, I also think that it has (1) changed the way I spend my time, (2) perhaps, also, changed a few of my formerly regular visitors, and more importantly, (3) changed the way I blog!

I think now I am blogging
less, because well, after surfing, I don't have much time left! And, because I don't have much time to blog, I have not been blogging on all the different topics I intended to when I started this blog. Plus, I have also been neglecting the housekeeping aspects of running my blog.

So, it begs the question: why am I blogging? Do I blog so that I get visitors, 90% of whom who have no interest in what I have to say, and can't wait to get out of my site, or do I blog for me?

Actually that is the key reason I started this blog. For me. But, of course, part of the "me" reason, I suppose, is also this ego-driven craving for an audience--the need to have an interaction with the outside world. Perhaps, that is the problem.

On the one hand, there is a need to know that people are reading this stuff and that they are responding to it. Yet, on the other hand, my conscious mind claims that I am doing this because I want to do it. And that it is for my own processing of what has gone on in my life, and for putting my own thoughts down, and for my own therapy. So, what is it? I don't really know now. Do you have the same dilemma, especially those of you BE-addicts? Should we go to our 12-step meeting now?

In anycase, this is what I am going to do in for at least the next seven days. I am going to resist the temptation to
surf for credits, even if that means a reduction of visitors to my site, and I am going to spend the next week, writing and visiting blogs like I used to do before BlogExplosion, with the exception of also visiting the blogmarked sites as well. Let's see how long I can withstand the temptation not do the click-clickety thingy...

...continue reading...BlogExplosion is interfering with my life!

Christian Carnival XLV

Christian Carnival is on this week at Cow Pi.

What is Christian Carnival? It is a weekly carnival where Christian bloggers can showcase their posts for the week. For the schedule see
this page.

To participate, you need to post an e-mail to the this week's host by submitting your post which must be written since the last Carnival (Nov 17).

Please make sure you post the email in non-spammer form such as Mark at silvagard @

The Cut off date is this Tuesday at 11:00 pm CST

Please put Christian Carnival in the Subject

Provide the following:

Title of your Blog
URL of your Blog
Title of your post
URL linking to that post
Description of the post

I submitted
this post last night.

Good luck!

...continue reading...Christian Carnival XLV

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Remove your sandals

I wrote this post in a hurry this past weekend. Consequently it read awkwardly in parts and needed elaboration in others. So before submitting it to the Christian Carnival, I decided to update it.

In the account of Moses and the Burning Bush, there is an interesting instruction from God that is often taken for granted.

"Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."

I used to think that God was saying "This place is holy ground, therefore do not soil it with your dirty sandals."

However, I find it increasingly difficult to imagine Moses taking off his sandals, tiptoeing to the bottom of the mountain, leaving his sandals there and then coming back up the mountain. Or perhaps he took off his sandals and held onto them. It is possible, but still it seemed improbable. However, if he merely took off his sandals, the sandals would still be touching holy ground. It would be no different whether the sandals were on his feet or not - it would still defile holy ground. It seems to me that God was probably not worried so much about the dirty sandals.

It seems more likely that God's emphasis was somewhere else. In order to understand my point, let's consider for what purpose people wore sandals. People usually use sandals to protect their feet from dirt and grime, and also to ease travel on foot. So, as I was thinking perhaps one idea is that since this is holy ground, so symbolically Moses had to remove the sandals to indicate that this place will not defile him.So he had no use for the sandals. The fact that the place is holy is because of the Presence of God. Hence the idea is that when God is present, He cleanses.

This is an important contrast to the typical human response. We tend to shrink away from the presence of God because we feel unclean, blemished and guilty. We are uncomfortable with the idea of a holy God because we feel the holy condemns us. Yet, God assures us that His holiness cleanses us from our sin.

Another possible idea of removing the sandals in the presence of the holy God is that God desires us to stay in His presence. Perhaps the idea is that without the sandals it would be more difficult to run away from God. God who desires our fellowship and company, wants us to stay awhile in His presence.

Again, this goes against our instinct. People typically prefer to shun the shining light of His presence. For instance, Martin Luther cried, "Love God? Love God? Sometimes I hate him!" Luther felt the burning shame of guilt of his own sinfulness when exposed by the holiness of God. Adam and Eve hid from God, but God sought their companionship. When God's light shine upon our lives, he exposes the darkness. We may prefer to hide, to shrink away, but God desires our presence, and seeks fellowship with us, warts, sins and all. He seeks to fill us with His grace and mercy, and to cleanse us from our sin (1 John 1 tells how he does this through fellowship with the Father, with the Son, and through the Spirit, with each other).

A final thought about removing the sandals in the presence of God could be the idea that God wants us to be bare before Him. By standing on holy ground unprotected by the soles of the sandals, Moses' bare feet would be touching holy ground. God wants to reach out to the core of our being. Sinners might typically think that they are not good enough to touch holy ground.

Where I went to elementary school there was a good-sized population of Muslim children. One of the periods in the classes the Christian children would attend bible class, the Muslim students, Islamic classes and those who were neither Muslim nor Christian, language or cultural classes. I remember when the Muslim children returned from their classes they were holding a "holy book" and they were made a point to us "infidels" that we were not allowed to touch their holy book for it would defile the book. They called us "unclean infidels." On the one hand, it reinforced the idea of the Holy One, and the need for God's followers to be perfect even as He is perfect, but on the other hand, it reinforced the misconception that we would defile God's holiness if we come as we are.

That is the typical human response - humans tend to consider themselves unholy, unclean defiled, and unworthy to come near to God. In order to come to God, we want to have undergone some form of discipline, purification or cleansing, so that we are better than we now are. Perhaps it might be argued that the Old Testament teaches exactly this: that God is holy, and sinners, deviants, and uncleanness defiles the holy. In order to enter into the presence of God, we must either go through extensive ritual cleansing, or go through the intermediary of holy and separated people such as priests and Levites. If the Old Testament teaches this aspect of God's holiness, then no one in the Old Testament would be able to come before Him. Yet, the Old Testament is also full of narratives of people who were after God's own heart, and who were friends of God, and yet who were no more holier than the worse sinner. They were all common, impetuous sinners like the best, or worse, of us.

And here in the story of Burning Bush, God reinforces the idea that He is seeking our friendship, our fellowship, and we do not need to wait till we are better, more qualified, or less sinful. We can come right now, remove our sandals and stand there naked before Him. Yes, God wants us to come as we are. I like what Julie Fidler says in her blog, "Come as you are, not as you think you should be" (I can't find it now in her newly designed page, but I am sure I saw it in her page before!). God invites us to come and bare ourselves before Him. We can tell it like it is. We can come as we are. He invites us to bare our souls (soles?) before Him. We can drop our guards, remove our masks and come before Him and be assured that we are accepted fully. His holiness cleanses us, makes us whole so we can fellowship with Him again and He accepts us as we are, right now.

What a loving, gracious, merciful God!

...continue reading...Remove your sandals

Have we changed much?

This was the essay I wrote for a college writing assignment in 1985:
Of Deviants and Loving My Neighbor
"I am a homosexual, Rich."


"That's right, I'm a queer." Bud Hines looked me in the eye. "I hope we can still be friends after this."

Sure we could still be friends. We had been friends for two years since we were both new in town. Los Angeles was too large for either of us. I had just arrived from the East Coast, and Bud was from Iowa. We met at Church and found a mutual need. We have been each other's "family" in this strange place away from home since then.

Each Sunday after Church, we would have lunch together at the usual diner. At least once a week, we would be in touch either for a prayer, or just to talk about the week, our work, frustrations and girlfriend problems. Then, six months ago, I was sent by my company on assignment to Seattle. We lost touch for a while;' oh, we called over the telephone, but that was all. Six months, and now this.

Bud told me he had been frustrated about his inability to have lasting relationships with any of the girls he had dated, and one evening had succumbed to the challenges of his colleagues at work to pick up a hooker. After that night, he had felt deeply guilty, and one evening, to forget his woes he went to a bar. That was where he was "initiated."

He wanted to "quit the church scene." Trouble is, Bud was not just a church-goer. He had been a committed Christian since his college days. He taught Sunday School, and was an encouragement to me in my Christian life. He also told me he wanted to fight his urge, but he felt "unclean."

"Can the Lord ever forgive me?"

I wanted to tell him, "Yes!" but what I could tell him, I was sure he already knew. I wasn't about to preach.

"Whatever happens, Bud, promise me that we will always be friends. And we will meet at church each week."

He promised, and as we left the diner, I had the feeling that we were going to have a long struggle ahead of us. I thought about our Church and its strong attitudes against homosexuals. I remember my friend, Frank Worthen, who worked with "Love in Action," a ministry to reach homosexuals who wanted to change their lifestyle, people like Bud. He told me once that he went to see a pastor to ask his support for this group. The pastor responded, "We want to see these sick people fired, evicted and jailed."

"That's the usual response we get from Christians," Frank told me. "The fact is that society in general is becoming more aware of the needs of the homosexuals, but the Church, whose aims are to save the world is apathetic, even antagonistic. That makes it hard for them to come to the Church for help."

I agree. In condemning the sin, we have condemned and ostracized the sinner. Instead of seeing the sinner as one who is in need, we have viewed him as an evil deviant out to pollute our lives. We have failed to realize that we, too, are sinners. We need a change of heart and mind. The Lord himself sat and drank with tax collectors and sinners. If we are to carry on his mandate to heal the hurting around us, we have to start calling the homosexual, "Our neighbor," and love him as one. I hope my pastor agrees with that.

When I wrote that piece as a young college freshman, I was a card-holding fundamentalist. You can tell why soon after my own church questioned my faith (or at least my doctrines), and regarded me as a radical, (or a liberal). Although after 20-odd years, I have changed much, and hopefully matured, but I wonder if there has been a corresponding change in the attitudes of the church. And I wonder if today, there is someone like Bud Hines, a leader and committed Christian, one who attends a progressive church like I do, were to fall into temptation like Bud did, would feel welcomed in the church or would rather "quit the church scene."
...continue reading...Have we changed much?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Why did God let Mom die?

It is now almost six years since Mom died. I still remember it like it was yesterday. The last eighteen or twenty-four months of Mom's life had been almost rather "routine." She would be admitted to the hospital every six to eight weeks or so. She had suffered from not one, not two, or even three or four, diseases. She was diabetic. We found out that she was only ever born with one kidney when it failed. She was also diagnosed with high blood pressure and had angina. Then a few years later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Poor Mom! She suffered so much for so many years. And in those seven or eight final years that she was on dialysis for her renal failure, and Dad had to care for her, I saw Dad aged twice as fast and saw Mom shrunk into just mere flesh and bones.

Those last few months were the hardest. Dad would call me to tell me that Mom was finding it hard to breathe or that she was shivering or some other complaint. The first couple of times, there was real panic in his voice. Later on, I would find out that she would have been complaining for several hours before they would even call. I had to urge them to call immediately in the future, but still they would be reluctant to "bother me."

Anyway, he would finally call me. I still remember that first time. It was past two o'clock in the morning. The phone rang and Dad's voice was trembling. "Son, Mom needs help." He said simply. I calmed him down, and said I will be there right away. When I hung up the phone, I rang for the ambulance. By the time I arrived (which was only a mere fifteen minutes away), the paramedics were already getting Mom into the ambulance and driving away. I would then help dad to pack a few things and drive him to the hospital. Mom would be admitted to the hospital for several weeks and then she would be discharged. Soon, this was going to repeat itself several times over the next two years. I don't know why Dad didn't dial for the ambulance, but perhaps he just wanted me to be around and wanted my involvement and I was happy to do so.

So, when on Christmas eve, 19991998, Dad called, I thought it was no different. In fact while Mom was still in the hospital I even went away on a business trip. I remember coming back and was surprised that she was still in the hospital. While I was away, my wife had to make the toughest decision because Dad was not able to make it. Her toes were gangrened because of diabetic complications. The doctor adviced that they would have to amputate the foot. Mom was in so much pain, so my wife had to agree that would be best. After the amputation Mom's condition took a dive.

Unlike before when they amputated her gangrened fingers, this time she did not recover as quickly. When the doctors arranged to meet with the family members, I did not realize how serious it was. The doctors told us that Mom was not going to get any better, that the dialysis drip was keeping her alive, and we need to make the decision whether or not to continue having her on the drip. Those words did not really register in my mind. Even when I read her medical report, with the words, "Final stage renal failure" written on top, it still did not really hit home. When finally the hospital assigned a social worker to talk to the family about loss, I still did not think it would happen so quickly.

The next couple of weeks were just a haze to me. She was also put on a morphine drip because of the pain. Sometimes when the family is around, they would reduce the morphine drip for Mom to regain consciousness and speak to us. Even then I was still assuming that Mom's condition would one day improve and she would be able to return home,
just like before. Finally, I realized that Mom was really going. By then she was already in a coma. Those last few days were the most difficult. We did not really have a chance to properly say goodbye. Her only sister managed to come over from Malaysia in the very last minute. But by then Mom was in a very deep morphine induced coma. A week before then, we could reduce the morphine drip and Mom could wake up enough to communicate briefly with the family. But by the time Auntie came over to see her own sister for the last time, there was just no way to bring mom back. When they reduced the morphine, Mom would regain consciousness slightly only enough to be moaning and groaning in so much pain and anguish that we had to ask the nurse to resume the drip. We were so distraught.

I had been praying all throughout the time for God to intervene. For God to give me "one more year." Please God. I called the church prayer team to pray along with us. However, within days, Mom's condition deteriorated. We kept a virgil over her. But some days we would be so tired, and a missionary nurse who is also a friend of the family would help us keep Mom company. During one of these days, Mom awoke briefly for her to talk to Mom. Apparently she was able to invite Mom to receive Christ into her heart. When she told us we were overjoyed. We asked a Cantonese speaking pastor to come and baptize Mom. But again by the time the pastor came, Mom did not awake from her coma. Although when we called to her and asked her to blink her eyes, she did, after that when the pastor spoke to Mom and asked if she would like to accept Christ and be baptized, she did not move her eyes. We don't really know whether she could hear us or she was just being unwilling and obstinate. And she can be so!

One of the most vivid memories I have was a few weeks prior to that, when Mom was drifting in and out of her morphine induced coma. I was at the bedside. Suddenly Mom drifted back to consciousness and she was as usualo in a lot of pain. I could see panic in her eyes. It was as if she knew that she was going to die and she was terrified. She reached out her hands to grab a hold of my forearm. She cried, "Son, please save me! Help! Save me!" I was in deep, desperate anguish. I wanted to tell Mom that Jesus will save her. I wanted to tell her that Jesus will wipe away her tears. I wanted to tell Mom not to be scared. But all I could manage was cry. I was speechless. I was not able to say anything. Nothing. The nurses intervened and increased Mom's morphine dosage and she drifted back to her coma.

As I drove from the hospital, I cried. Out loud. I screamed. On top of my voice. I hit the streeing wheel. I punched the dashboard. I asked God to take Mom's pain away. To spare her life. I even bargained with God.

"Cut my life short in exchange for an extension of Mom's life. Please!" I cried. I sobbed. I yelled. I screamed.

It seemed to no avail. For within two weeks, she slipped into eternity. I remember that we had kept a virgil for several days. We were all so tired. One night the entire family decided to just go back to sleep on our own beds. We were resigned, exhausted, and we have cried until there were no more tears any longer. We decided to go home to sleep to return again the next day to continue our virgil.

It was past midnight when we got home. The phone rang about six in the morning. Mom passed on shortly before then. It was as if she knew. I did not know how to feel, what to say, or even to cry. I felt disappointed and dejected that I wasn't there, but then I was also exhausted. I was resigned, defeated, and despondent. Mom was finally gone. She didn't even say goodbye. I wasn't really ready for that to happen. Not quite yet. I still feel the acute pain of the loss today.

...continue reading...Why did God let Mom die?

Monday, November 15, 2004

No other gods

I often wonder why God gave Israel the first commandment. "You shall have no other gods before me." I mean why did He give the commandment since He had just made the declaration that He is the LORD their God? I get it about the second commandment when he forbade idol-worshipping. But why the first commandment? What is the significance of this commandment? As I said before, just before he gave the first commandment, He declared, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery."

I see God doing three things here: First, God was validating their relationship with Him. Second, He was reinforcing what He has done for them and finally, He was reminding them of their former position.

Even before Israel had obeyed an iota of the commandments, even before they knew how to obey, and even before they had an inkling of what it means to keep the commandments, God made an irrevocable declaration, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery."

At once, this is a statement of Israel's former position. You were slaves in Egypt. What is happening here in this passage reminds me of one of the most powerful and richest books of the New Testament: the letter of Paul to the Ephesians. In this letter, Paul wrote to the Ephesians, and described for them their glorious position in Christ. In the opening chapters, he prayed for the Ephesians that their eyes might be opened and...

"that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come" (Eph 1: 18b - 21).
But before the Ephesians (and all Christians everywhere) were in this glorious position, Paul reminded them of their former position.

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath" (Eph 2: 1-3).
This former position was exactly what the Israelites were in. God in Exodus chapter three wanted to remind the nation of Israel that they were far from his kingdom and they were slaves in a foreign land, until He acted in grace and out of His glorious mercy and love. For it is He
"who brougth you out of Egypt."
"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved" (Eph 2: 4-5).
Just as Paul reminded us Christians that it is God, who out of His great love and richness of mercy made us alive, so God brought the nation of Israel out of Egypt. Because of this great redemptive act, He can then declare unequivocably "I am the LORD, your God."
"Therefore, remember that formerly you ... were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, ... He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit" (Eph 2: 11-18).
What I have done is connected the thoughts of Exodus 3 with Ephesians 2. Paul in Ephesians described the relationship of a people who were once outside of the fellowship and commonwealth of Israel and described that in what Christ had done, all of us who were far away from God have now been brought near. He contrasted this to a special and privileged position of "those who were by birthright in the commonwealth of Israel." This commonwealth was established here in Exodus 3. He then concluded that both those who were without and those who were within now both have access to the Father by one Spirit, due to the redemptive work of Christ.

But over there in Exodus 3, the redemptive work was done before the giving of the commandments. Already right there in verse 1 God declared that He is the God of Israel. Then why command that they ought not have any other God? Doesn't the declaration that He is their God and they His people underscore the fact that they are to have no other God?
The commandment flows out of the relationship. They were already in relationship and the commandment was given not in order that they might be redeemed, or that they might become the people of God, but they are already the people of God and the commandments were given as an act of divine grace.

Why no other gods? What does it mean to say that Israel shall have no other gods? Perhaps this was appealing to the fact that we are made to worship God. And, if we fail to place God in a high priority in our lives, then we will usurp His place with something else.
"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received" (Eph 4:1).
In other words, the Commandments were given not so much to be obeyed in order to have life, but to live a life that already has been given. Israel, in Egypt, were dead "in their sins" and in slavery. But God, who is rich in mercy, heard their prayers and cries for help (Exodus 3:7-10) and has come down to rescue them, to redeem them and has brought them up out of Egypt, and now, the same Merciful and Gracious God says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."

To us, who now have benefited by the mercies of God from what Christ has done to redeem us from our former lives of sin, pain, shame and suffering, God is calling us to walk according to the calling we have received, to walk according to His light and according to His word. That is why, just as Israel, who already enjoyed a special relationship with God, and who already enjoyed having the LORD as their God, needed to have as the first commandment, "no other gods" so also we Christians in the new testament are commanded to "no longer walk as we formerly walked," but to "put on Christ" and to "walk in love."

And the beauty of it all, is that He gave us His Holy Spirit to enable us to do so!

...continue reading...No other gods

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Illicit sex?

It seems that there is a widespread belief that sex is morally acceptable so long as it is between a man and a woman within the confines of a marital relationship. So, "illicit sex" only applies to any sexual activity outside of that relationship. Pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, homosexual sex, and masturbation might be all grouped under the umbrella of illicit sex.

Perhaps part of the reason why this is so is the ambivalent attitudes that Americans have toward sex. Traditional views and philosophies running from Augustine, to Victorian, and even through the "sexual revolution" and right up to today, sexual attitudes have probably not been wholesome. It is probably warped one way or another.

So, what exactly is morally acceptable sex? And what is illicit sex? Does illicit sex depends on whether or not a sex act is engaged within the bounds of marriage? What causes sex to be illicit? What is the nature and purpose of sex? How and when is it illicit? Can an act of sex be not illicit if it is not engaged with one's marital spouse? Can Illicit sex very well happen within the confines of marriage? Or is it the case that every sex act between the husband and wife is morally acceptable while sex in any other context is morally reprehensible?

...continue reading...Illicit sex?

Iris Chang dies at 36

I am so sad. I just heard the news that she was found dead in a parked car beside a Californian highway, of an apparent suicide. Already, conspiracy theories are starting to come in. This is because Chang is no ordinary person. She is the author of the best-selling Rape of Nanking. The subtitle of the book is "The forgotten holocaust of World War II" and it chronicles the astrocities committed by the Japanese troops against Chinese civilians in the then Chinese capital of Nanking. A reported 300,000 people were killed in a matter of days. Her book was critically acclaimed, yet without controversy. It reads like a novel, but I could not finish reading the book as it was too gruesome for me to do so. Iris was heralded as a young, promising historian. The late historian Stephen Ambrose described Chang as ``maybe the best young historian we've got, because she understands that to communicate history, you've got to tell the story in an interesting way.'' And now the world has been robbed of one of its greats. It is just so sad.
...continue reading...Iris Chang dies at 36

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Heart of the Commandments

When the rich young ruler came to Jesus to find out what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus reminded him of the Ten Commandments. He declared, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus replied, “You still lack one thing.”

It was at once a very simple, and yet, an impossible, prescription: “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

When the young ruler heard that, he became very sad and turned away because “he was a man of great wealth.”

Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

He went on to say that it is harder for the camel to go through the eye of the needle than it is for the rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Tradition has it that this reference was to a gate in Jerusalem through which a camel had to squeeze through. The point, presumably was that Jesus did not mean that it was impossible for a rich man to get into heaven, that there is nothing wrong with wealth per se. Since it was actually in principle possible for a camel to fit through this supposed narrow gate, by unloading all of its baggage and stoop down to crawl through, then there is hope for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, albeit, with much, much difficulty.

However, whether or not there is such a gate is now in dispute. In fact, it is now believed that the story of the gate is probably unfounded, and it is more likely that Jesus meant it literally. It really is easier for a camel, as large as it is, to go through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. In other words, it is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

To the hearers' ears, this is indeed shocking news. After all, Old Testament religion is filled with assumptions that wealth and prosperity is a sign of God's favor. If a wealthy man, someone who demonstrates in his physical wealth the spiritual blessings of God, finds it difficult to enter into the kingdom of heaven, what hope has the ordinary person?

Jesus reassured his hearers, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Taken within the context, Jesus is saying that there is really nothing you can do to earn yourself eternal life. Eternal life is given by grace, not by works. In fact, this story reinforces the emphasis that was all the while there in the giving of the ten commandments.

The preamble to the ten commandments tells about the relationship covenant between God and his people. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Ex 20:1). This declaration preceeded the giving of the commandments. The commandments were not given in order for Israel to follow in order to enter into relationshiph with God. The commandments were given as a result of the relationship. The relationship was already there. You are my people, says the God of Heaven, and as a reflection of that relationship, here are the commandments for you to obey.

The rich young ruler understood that these rules were for him to keep. They were not given as prescriptions or suggestions, but were given as commands to be obeyed. Yet, the obedience of the commandments were not the means to eternal life. The rich young ruler seemed to understand that. After all, since he was a little boy, he had kept the commandments, and yet he was not
complete. Something was missing. "One thing you still lack." He knew it deep down. That was why he approached the Master to seek the secret to eternal life.

Jesus' remedy for his incompleteness, for his disintegration, for his lack was for him to sell everything he owned and to give to the poor, and then to come and follow Him. This tells me that there are three things that marks those who wishes to enter into the kingdom of God and have a relationship with Him.

Number one, what matters most in our lives is our relationship with Him. Jesus redirected the young ruler's attention from religious rightness, legal rightness and material rightness to what was most important - being right with God. The rich ruler came to Jesus and acknowledged that He was a Good Teacher. Jesus says, "Why call me Good?" Your standards of goodness is based on sound doctrine. You are seeking doctrine from the "Good Teacher" but remember only God is Good. Why call me Good, just because you are seeking pure unadulterated teaching? Seek God. He is the only One you need. Do not let even sound doctrine stand in the way of that relationship.

Next, the rich young ruler was using the keeping of the law as a standard for judging his standing before God. Jesus says, "Remember the commandments," "Not just theose commandments that you have been careful to follow." But, remember the purpose for which they were given. The commandments were given by the Only One who is Good. He gave the commandment as a sign of a relationship. Remember never to let anything stand in the way of that relationship. Not even your religion.

Finally, the rich young ruler valued his riches and wealth as a sign of blessing from God more than He did the relationship with God. He loved the blessing, and forgot about the One who blesses. Jesus says it is impossible for him to enter into the kingdom of God if He let blessings, riches, and wealth stand in the way of his relationhship with God.

...continue reading...The Heart of the Commandments

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The Nature of Ungodliness

A meditiation on the message of Romans 1:18-31.

The oft quoted passage in Romans chapter 1 about ungodliness paints a dark picture of wanton behavior, wickedness, perversity and debauchery that most of us, when we read it, says: "this passage here describes those other people. Surely it is not about us. It is about those sinners." The passage is preceded by the glorious declaration of the power of God to save those righteous people who have faith. Therefore, the simple conclusion is that since we have faith, we must be the righteous people, and those who do not have faith are the wicked and the passage from verse 18 onwards describes them not us.

Looking a little closer to what verse 18 says, Paul describes the stance of God. Paul says God's wrath is against all "godlessness and wickedness." It is easy to distort the meaning of this passage because Paul refers to "men who suppress the truth by their wickedness." But the emphasis of this passage is not about the men who suppress the truth, but about the characteristics of such people. Better it is about the characterisitcs of such a posture of the heart. When we suppress the truth in our wickedness, then what comes out of it is a godlessness and wickedness to which God's wrath is opposed.

It is not so much those unrepentant sinners against whom God's wrath has been revealed as the nature of the heart that is contrary to Godliness that He is opposed to. In other words, God's wrath is revealed against all nature of sin and ungodliness. This ungodliness is symptomatic of a posture that is decidedly against God. It is a posture of the heart. And it does not only affect one section of society, or one group of people. It affects all of us.

When we read the second part of Romans chapter 1 (from verse 18 on), it is easy to think that it is speaking about the other people, the sinners, and then categorize their sin (although I believe it is much easier to single out one or two kinds of sins among the list that might be found here), and heap judgment upon them. It is so easy to forget to read on. For in Chapter 2, Paul opens with the judgment on "YOU." Don't judge, he says, for with the same judgment that you pass on to others, you condemn yourself.

Ungodliness is not about one group of people. It is not about the ungodly people. It is a matter of the heart. For, Paul wants to tell us, we are ALL UNGODLY. We have all fallen short. We all come under the condemnation and wrath of God. There is none righteous. That is why we need God. And, that is why the message of grace, mercy and love that Paul describes from chapter four on applies. It is the message of Jesus who comes to us and asks, "Son/daughter, is there no one who condemns you?" And when we reply, "None, Lord." He says, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. Go in the peace that I have given you. Go in the realization that you and I are in relationship. You are my son/daughter, and I am your God and Father. Remember that. Go in the peace of that grace. And let my Spirit free and transform you."

...continue reading...The Nature of Ungodliness

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Did we win the election?

It appears that everyone and his dog is blaming the election result on the Religious Right - what some media commentators are calling the "the cultural majority" of America - those who live in the "red states." By the way, it is telling that the color red no longer paints the color of the "evil empire," the "Great Satan," "Communist Russia," but now red stands for the Conservatives and neo-Cons who have a mandate to turn the moral clock of the nation back several decades. In any case, the media, around blogosphere and throughout the nation, the Religious Right are blamed for the result of this election. It is not just the liberals who are thinking this is the case. Some Christians are also claiming the result as a win for themselves as well. It is true that many of those who voted cited moral values as an important factor in their decision to support Bush.

However, I suspect that this has very little to do with in the historic Christian faith, but more about the coming together of two traditional religions with deep seated roots in America - the Civil Religion of America and the Christian Church. By Civil Religion I am referring to that branch of "religious " or semi-religious faith that invokes God as the moral and spiritual head of the nation, champions moral values, uses religious symbolisms and quotes from religious and quasi-religious texts. Ever since the founding of the nation, this all-emcompassing civil religion has permeated all aspects of public and national life.

Over the past twenty or so years, there has been a coming together of this nation's civil religion and mainstream Christian religion in America, united by shared values and morals and speaking roughly the same language. The lines that separated state and religion has slowly been blurring so that there is now almost an identity between Civil Religion and Christian religion in America. I suggest that during this years election campaign, the Republicans made a concerted effort to further blur these lines and most Christians bought into it. Rather than seeing the Republicans as pandering to the Religious Right, it is more apt to view them as having observed the cultural drift, the conflation among both Christians and civil religionists alike, they capitilized on it.

There is a real danger now facing the Church - those who call themselves followers of Jesus. If we are not careful, we may be lulled into thinking that now that we have retained one of "our own" in the seat of government, life is going to be rosey. We may fail to realize that our work--our mission--is not about making America more godly, or even to make America great. As Americans, that may be our agenda, but
not as Christians. The Church fundamentally has a different agenda. My prayer and hope is that we will not forget that ours is a higher calling.

There is a real danger of the Church confusing the building of the nation with the building of the kingdom. While the media blames the "Religious Right" for delivering the wrong result, Christians should be cautious of celebrating that this is necessarily a win for the Church nor a win for the gospel.

...continue reading...Did we win the election?

Leadership qualities...

Thank you to all of you who participated in a lively discussion on the question whether Hitler should be considered a leader. Based on the recent and the past responses to the mini-poll I conducted, there is a consensus that Hitler is (or was) a leader, and an exceptionally skillful one at that. Most people take leadership to be that quality which casts vision and attract followers. Chris Edwards eloquently defines "leader as a person whom men willingly give power to and follow." and he contrasts a leader with a "politician as someone who merely administrates for the public (or claims to do so). Under these conditions, most politicians are not leaders because they are tasked with organization, rather than followed or believed in hopes of achieving something new and better (as those who follow a leader see it)."

Earlier on, I pondered about this in relation to managers in business situations (although in my earlier post, I spoke of one particular manager, mine, my concerns relate to the whole aspect of management and leadership in business organizations). In so doing, I suggested that leadership ought not to be defined as morally neutral, and that it has moral implications. If that were the case, I postulated
Leadership, then, is a matter of not just what a person does, but who that person is. It is that person’s leadership qualities that flow out of him or her in the way that person thinks, carries out his/her day-to-day activities, in the way that person interacts with the people around him/her. In fact, one can even say that leadership is not about certain character traits or qualities, but it is itself a character trait, such as honesty, loyalty and courage are character traits. Therefore, we cannot say of a person that he or she is a “bad leader”. Embedded within the definition of leadership are the character virtues and ethical standards that prevent the appendage of “bad” or “evil”. For instance, Hitler cannot be considered a bad leader, for if he were a bad leader, it means that he is no leader at all. He can be called a tyrant, a dictator, a conqueror, but he does not belong in the class of leaders.
What do you think of such a view of leadership?

...continue reading...Leadership qualities...

Thursday, November 04, 2004

What comes to mind when you think of the word "Leader?"

Do you think of a particular person? Gandhi? Lincoln? Who? Or perhaps, a quality, a character trait, or a set of qualities? What in particular? What synonyms do you think of? A Commander? A Manager? Or A Mentor? What images fill your mind?

Tell me what you think! Leave me a comment and let me know what comes to mind when you think of "Leader"!

A while back, before I joined BlogExplosion, ie before I get eager traffic-credit-collectors clicking and waiting their 30 seconds on my blog,I posted this question: "Do you consider Hitler a Leader?"
Then, not many responded to the question (probably not many saw the question). Now that I have increased traffic, hopefully I can get more to respond. Perhaps you would like to add to the comments and let me know what you think in regards to that question, as I would like to develop a whole series of articles in this topic, and hopefully I get to interact with a lot of people regarding some of the questions and issues raised by leadership and ethics. So, if you are interested in this topic, check back here sometime.

By the way, if you don't know what BlogExplosion is, see this post.

...continue reading...What comes to mind when you think of the word "Leader?"