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    The Peaceable Kingdom

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

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

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The Un-Right Christians

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Friday, December 31, 2004

Help the Orphans

I would like to introduce you to an orphanage that is very close to where the Tsunamis hit in India: Hebron Orphanage.

Richard Swannell, the man behind who is driving the support for this ministry has set up a unique program to help those who are orphaned by the disaster that struck India recently. The aim is to take care of these orphans, educate them and skill them until they are old enough to help themselves so that they can go out and make a difference in their world. It is an awesome vision, and I invite you to check out the
Swannell Foundation, the Hebron Orphanage and the Tsunami Disaster Rescue. You can donate through this link.

This ministry has been entirely supported by the one man, through his business links. I happen to be on his mailing list, and in fact, I would like to share with you the e-mail I received today because he made a passionate plea through it, and his words would probably be much more effective than mine:

Hello (to everyone on my personal email list)

(I would normally write to each of you individually, but there is simply no time...)

You have seen the pictures on the news. You have heard the stories. You have followed the unfolding disaster in stunned disbelief.

And if you are like me, you have asked yourself: "What in the world can I do to help?"

Here's your answer:

Help us help them. Now; before it is too late.

I have a team on the ground right now in Andhra Pradesh, India, searching and rescuing children newly orphaned by the recent tsunami disaster.

But we need your help - urgently.

(If you are able to donate, please go immediately to the end of this email for instructions.)

As you may know, we operate and fund an orphanage for 200 children just 20 miles inland from the coast in Andhra Pradesh, Southern India - close enough to the disaster zone to be of assistance, but far enough away to retain full infrastructure, access to medical supplies and uninhibited ability to provide life-saving support.

I have personally co-managed and funded this orphanage for the past five years. See,, and for more details.

The location and situation of our orphanage is absolutely perfect for us to save the maximum number of newly orphaned children.

In addition, we have recently purchased an additional 2.5 acres of land - tripling what we currently have - so that we can protect, house and educate hundreds of additional children.

Maybe it was meant to be...

DIRE URGENT NEED: Countless children are strewn along the coast of India who have lost everything - even their parents have been killed. They have nowhere to go, no safe water, no food, no shelter, and no one to protect them. In most cases, aid agencies are nowhere near.

DIRE URGENT NEED: Many of these children have injuries that have not been treated. They lie under the tropical sun amidst the devastation without medical aid of any type. Each passing hour sees treatable injuries become life threatening as they fester and become gangrene.

DIRE URGENT NEED: Unless these children are immediately given urgent medical attention and evacuated from the affected areas, many - if not most - will die of diseases caused by contaminated water and rotting bodies.

My team, on the ground right now in southern India, is searching for and rescuing these children. We are providing emergency medical assistance and shelter. And in the long term, we will support and educate them until adulthood.

As I mentioned above, we are perfectly positioned in Andhra Pradesh. My people speak the local language, Telegu. We are near enough to the disaster zone to get in and out quickly (20 miles), but far enough away to have full access to medical and other facilities. We have the land to put up temporary shelters and have the infrastructure to take on hundreds of children if necessary - and keep them indefinitely until adulthood.

The desperate need is not just the immediate emergency; it is the long term problem of no support. What are these children going to do with no parents, no shelter and no education?

With your support, we can help.

We can help now, but time is against us.

As I write this, children are dying right now because of injuries that are not been attended to. More children are about to die because of contaminated water, disease, and lack of food. We are sending in teams from our orphanage - today and in the weeks to come - to rescue these precious children in desperate need.

Your donation will make a huge difference.

The many aid agencies around the world are doing a fantastic job. But their limitation is that they are foreigners working in a foreign land - they don't speak the local language, don't understand local customs or have local knowledge. They are unable to provide long term shelter and facilities. And they have nowhere to send the multitude of people who have no homes and no support.

In contrast, we are able to help - albeit in a small way - by taking orphaned children right now, right out of the disaster zone, give them quality shelter, and access to full medical supplies.

I have personally donated $10,000 to commence our initial rescue efforts, and arrange temporary shelters on our grounds at Hebron Orphanage.

What can you do to help?

In a word; Donate.

It doesn't matter whether you can donate a large or small amount. Whatever you are able to give will make a direct and immediate impact on the rescue efforts.

If you are able to help, please do so today. Don't delay. The money will be delivered to our rescue team at the orphanage within hours, and used to immediately rescue children who are in the most astounding and life-threatening situation.

What YOU can do NOW:

You can make a donation directly at our web site, at You can also email me personally at, and make a donation. Email or fax your credit card details, or send me your phone number and we will call you to arrange a donation by credit card over the phone. Alternatively, call us anytime - 24 hours a day (weekdays) - on our toll free number: +1 888 565 9283 and make a donation. We can also arrange bank to bank transfers, but it takes longer than a credit card donation - and time is short. Very short.

Your money is not going to get lost in a giant aid agency's infrastructure. It will immediately be used to fund the rescue of children this week while they are still amongst the living. It will then fund the ongoing support and education of these children until they are old enough to leave school and support themselves.

100% of the money will be used to rescue children from the disaster area. Absolutely no infrastructure costs will be deducted.

I will send you pictures. I will keep you in contact with progress. I am going to India myself within a few weeks from now to support the rescue effort personally. You may even wish to visit the area sometime in the future with us.

Please don't ignore this plea. Lives literally depend on YOU acting TODAY.

With dire urgency, like I have never written before.

Rich Swannell

PS. Latest tsunami pictures near Hebron Orphanage, at

PPS. Help our team rescue newly orphaned children today. You can make a donation directly at our web site, at You can also email me personally at, and make a donation.
Email or fax your credit card details, or send me your phone number and we will call you to arrange a donation by credit card over the phone. Alternatively, call us anytime - 24 hours a day (weekdays) - on our toll free number: +1 888 565 9283 and make a donation. We can also arrange bank to bank transfers, but it takes longer than a credit card donation - and time is short. Very short.

Make contact today on:

Toll Free: +1 888 565 9283 (24 hours a day, weekdays)
Phone: +1 212 354 2324
Fax: +1 888 565 0990
If you prefer to give to a charity that you know, I urge you to do so either via Amazon to the Red Cross or to something like World Vision. But if I urge you not to dismiss this plea, until you have checked them out. Thank you.
...continue reading...Help the Orphans

Jesus Wept Mk II

From the Desk of Jeff King comes a thoughtful follow-up to my own reflection on John Chapter 11 in light of the tragedy unfolding around the Indian Ocean, Jesus Wept, a beautifully written post of the same title. Jeff King concludes his study with these poignant words:
Thousands, if not millions, of people worldwide are crushed and agonizing over the deadly tsunamis. Many are like the Jews at Lazarus' funeral, wondering aloud why God didn't intervene to prevent suffering and death. We may never get that answer on this side of eternity. But I believe Jesus is weeping with us. He shares our grief over the staggering death toll. And His anguish is multiplied by the fact that most of humanity fails to recognize and receive Him as the resurrection and the life. They fail to see that Christ defeated death, our last enemy.

"Lord, as we continue to deal with the devastation, death, and destitution, we ask for your forgiveness. Forgive us for our arrogance, for assuming that we have the power within us to conquer the forces of nature and the forces of irrationality that is this world. May we acknowledge not just your love, but also your compassion and your strength, power and mercy to enable all of us not just to rebuild and recover from the destruction, but also to renew and heal from the brokenness and the pain. Thank you for doing your work right now through your creatures and we ask for continued mercy that we can all catch a glimpse of your insurmountable love and grace. Amen."
...continue reading...Jesus Wept Mk II

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Stop the Stingy Debate Already

It is unfortunate that CNN, and other US news media, choose to drum up the "stingy" comments made by UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs Jan Eglund as a direct attack against the US.

The fact is that those comments were made as a criticism of "Western countries." Perhaps people read between the lines and saw it as a veiled attack on the US. But I don't get it. Why don't everyone just stop the political point scoring and get on with the work that is so urgently needed.

There was no need for the US to take the criticism personally. Perhaps the US should let its actions be louder than words. I see a chorus of voices in the media that is so unnecessary. Already, the UN's statement was not, in the first place, a direct attack against the US alone. It was an attack of someone who said, "we" and "western countries." So, the critic identified with those he criticized. He was merely trying to urge all of us wealthier nations to be more generous. Perhaps, he was too quick on the draw with the criticism as most nations were probably initially unaware of the magnitude of the disaster. But, he was quick to come out with an explanation (or excuse, if you like) that he was misquoted and misunderstood. So, why doesn't we give him grace and let's leave well enough alone?

Yet the media continue to drum up the controversy and continue to report that the US has been criticized for being stingy. They bring it up at every opportunity, each day! And they insinuate that the US is not seen by the world as generous! There is no justifications for such insinuations absolutely none. In the world arena, there is no such perception, I don't believe.

Around blogosphere as well, I hear a chorus of voices of various responses, including what I think is terribly shameful, the call for a boycott of help. Reasons brought up to justify this insane suggestion range from the people belonged to countries who perished were suspect in their support for America to the fact that they might have celebrated after 9/11(?!).

If we are to lead the world as a superpower, we must not lead only in military, or economic might. We must lead also in compassion and generosity, and perhaps, more important, in mercy, humility and grace (and I do not just mean the religious meaning of these words). The greatness of a people is not measured by the size of its guns or bank account, but by the size of its heart. It is no prize to be the largest donor, although we may have already lost that claim - although I must ask, does it really matter? Further, if we were to measure the amount donated on a per-capita basis, some other countries which are much smaller and less wealthy than the US, have donated proportionately much more. And, by the way, it is not about who gives more! So, let's just forget it! It is about getting help to those in need in the most effective, most efficient manner and as quickly as possible!

In case some people are vindictive about the events of the past few years in relation to the "War Against Terror," let me say that just because we were stranded by our "Allies" in that "War" we cannot use this opportunity for a "tit-for-tat." It will back fire on us! We are still going to have to live with the rest of the world community. Let us forget about any political point scoring, ideological wrangling and let's get the job done!

And, there is no need to rattle off how much we do give! "
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" (Matt. 6:33). I know some people might be wary of basing governmental decisions or policies on Biblical principles, but let me assure everyone that this is quite a sound and practical principle.

So a word to the media and my fellow bloggers: Stop the Stingy debate Already! Puh-lease!

UPDATE: Here for some ideas on how to be un-stingy!
...continue reading...Stop the Stingy Debate Already

On Empathy

In an extended passage in Romans (12:3 to 14:13), a passage that is filled with instructions on what spiritual transformation looks like, Paul teaches that Christians are to demonstrate love quintessentially in every aspect of life.

One way a Christian's love is shown to his neighbor is by compassion and empathy:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (12: 15)

I used to think that this injunction only applies to having empathy for others in the body of Christ. While that is taught in another passage of Scripture (1 Cor. 12), I believe here in Romans, Paul's teaching here is much more inclusive than I had thought. The context shows that he is describing our behavior before the world. In the previous verse, he exhorts Christians to "bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." Although the next verse tells us to "live in harmony with one another" (does it merely mean living in harmony within the Christian community?), the following verses address our attitudes and behavior towards everybody, within or without the faith community: humility, meekness, acceptance, endurance and peaceable, etc.

So, Paul appears to suggest that empathy is characteristic of the transformed life. We are to rejoice with others when they rejoice and also to mourn with them when they mourn. In other words, rather than focus on our own emotional response we need to feel what it is like to be the other person. In that spirit, the Malaysian government has really demonstrated genuine care, compassion and love. Messy Christian reports that
they have cancelled New Year's celebrations in compassionate empathy with those who have suffered so much in the tragic event the full horror of which is still unfolding by the minute. It is awesome for an entire nation's government to show such enthusiastic embrace of the suffering community. Imagine that they cancel the dropping of the ball at Time's Square! Unimaginable, right?

In contrast, here is a conversation I had with my colleague, whose wife is from Thailand, earlier today:

TheBloke (TB): "This must have been the worst tragedy to hit the world in recent times."

Husband of Thai Wife (HTW): "Yes, it has already surpassed twice the number of Americans who perished during the Vietnam War."

TB: "Wow"

"I am just glad that my wife's relatives were not among those who died."

TB: (after a pause): "You mean you were relieved that they did not die."

HTW: "No, I am glad! I am not glad for those who died. I am glad my wife's relatives did not die."

TB: (silence - trying to process the difference).

HTW, (continuing): "I am glad that my wife didn't have to go back to Thailand to attend any funerals or anything. That would suck, because we are suppose to go to Florida for our vacation next week. If she had to go then, it would be bad. That's why I am glad!"

TB: (dumbfounded)...

Now, I can understand my colleague's sentiments and I really don't blame him. It would really suck for me too if I was looking forward to a family vacation, and at the last minute my wife had to be somewhere else. Yet, I am much troubled by the underlining feelings and thinking patterns that produces such self-centered responses. I remember feeling similar mixed feelings at a Church fellowship meeting many, many years ago. Someone had just described a horrific highway accident in which both parents in the family were killed. A woman shared that she and her husband were supposed to travel on that same highway at about the same time that very day but their trip was delayed for some reason. We were saddened by the news of the unfortunate children who were left orphans as a result of the tragedy.

"Thank God that that wasn't us!" she quipped.

I remember feeling very uneasy by her response, and the "Amens" that echoed around the group. When something tragic happens and we have escaped it, or when that event does not directly impact anyone close to us, the reflex response almost always is gratefulness and thankfulness. However, somehow I am queasy that we should express it that way, and I have been feeling this way for a long time.

I think one reason why we respond the way we do to tragedy (or to having escaped one, however remote the "escape" is construed), is because of our false assumptions. We need to come to terms with what kind world we live in. This is a fallen, imperfect, broken and damaged world. It is a world in which accidents, disasters, pain and suffering are rampant. When we only express thankfulness when we have escaped a tragedy, it seems that we are responding to the unspoken assumption that we live in an almost perfect world that is marred by the occasional accident. In fact, the opposite is true. Rather than be surprised by tragedy we need to be surprised by joy, and be thankful each day of our lives when we have another pain-free, trouble-free day.

Another false assumption that we might carry with us is that the world, and indeed God, owe us a problem-free existence. We get annoyed at trouble and pain. We say it is unfair that we have been stricken. We cry, we whine, we bring our complaints to God's doorsteps, shake our fists and say, "Fix this, and I mean Now!" We fail to see that this whole mess belongs to us from the start. Back in the garden of Eden when the First Adam sinned, he broke the perfection that was created by God, and the repercussions and chain reactions has affected all of creation. Which is why Paul says, all creation has been groaning (Romans 8:22) in expectant emancipation when the new world is recreated at the Resurrection.

Meanwhile, our job in this world, is in part, to reclaim the Eden that was lost. In order to do that we must first restore our broken relationship with God. Perhaps, that is why the Apostle Paul says that we need to present ourselves as living sacrifices, so that our minds might be renewed, and our lives might be transformed. As living sacrifices, our own safety and comfort would not be more important to us than the safety and comfort of the people around us. We will then be free to empathize with them and to be moved to respond in positive action to help alleviate the pain and suffering around us. Our "empathy meters" will be more sensitive than our "thankful-that-I-wasn't-the-unfortunate-soul meters".

I am not saying that it is wrong to be thankful when we escape danger. It is arguably a normal human response, but I am saying we need to balance that response with a more empathic and a more inclusive thinking. We need to realize that we all are fellow sojourners in this dangerous world of ours and we are part of one community. Perhaps what is needed is a thorough spiritual renewal and transformation where we are finally able to respond empathetically so that our self-centered thankfulness for having escaped is insignificant compared to the shared grief we have for those who suffer.

As Christians, we may not be "of the world" but we are still "in the world" and Paul in the Romans passage is admonishing us to be identified with our fellow human beings, to share with them, to live in peace with them, and to love them. As we do that, we will be able to demonstrate what it means to worship God (verse 2), and we will realize what it means to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. And, as we dedicate ourselves to that task, we can be assured and hopeful that He is working alongside us to accomplish this. As I often say, He is indeed a great, merciful and gracious God.

NOTE: In previous posts, I have provided links to how you might help with the situation in Asia. Please go
here and here.

UPDATE: Australians will pause for a minute's silence admist the upcoming New Year's celebrations.
...continue reading...On Empathy

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Pray for the hurting

In my last post, I reflected on the different responses to disaster and I suggested that the Gospel of John, chapter 11 teaches us about how different people might respond to suffering and pain. One of the responses is prayer.

I encourage you to pray for a fresh glimpse of God's vision so that we can see with His eyes, and we can resonate with His heartbeat to feel with Him, to weep with Him. Most of all, so we can be moved by Him to act as He would have us act.Often, when we pray, we might be tempted to pray away the pain, or to pray away the problem, but that usually is not what God intends in prayer. When those who sent word to Jesus to ask Him to go to Lazarus because he was sick, instead of acting, Jesus stayed a little longer where He was. They probably didn't get why He took his time and did not sense the urgency.

They tried to be as persuasive as possible, "The one you love is sick."

Come quickly, Lord!

Yet, He lingered. Then a few days later, He decided it was time for Him to go to Lazarus.

As I was talking to my wife about the recent devastation unfolding in Asia the last couple of days, my wife mentioned to me that over the last few years she has learned something about God: His time is not our time. Yet, He always, but always, comes through. How he showed that truth in this Gospel incident!

His disciples did not get it. He had to explain His mission. Martha did not seem to get it. He needed to reveal Himself to her. Even Mary seemed not to get it. All He did was to weep. Perhaps, as we quietly reflect on His grief, let us pray that we get it. Pray that we get what He is about.

But, as I have said before, prayer is not all about getting on our knees and merely pleading with God. It is about getting up off our knees and rolling up our sleeves and letting His Spirit move us to act in His name. So, pray that He reveals that clearly to us and pray for courage to act. And having done so, go forth boldly in the name of the Lord!

If you would like to start by praying,
Messy Christian has appropriately opened a virtual prayer room for the disaster. I encourage you to go there to join with those who are going before the throne of God's grace to intercede for the suffering.

...continue reading...Pray for the hurting

Jesus Wept

Note: Around blogosphere, different bloggers are asking questions about the recent tragedy unfolding in Asia. Messy Christian has a few posts in this regard, notably, God's fault/judgement/anger, so does Feeble Knees. Wesley Blog encourages positive compassionate action and then there is the question posed by Jason Clark, "Where is God?"

As I agonized over the events surrounding the tsunami caused by the earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, and reading, hearing and seeing the tragic loss of life and the devastation unfolding throughout Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Indonesia and the entire region, some of my personal thoughts and reflections went to an intimate story of loss, grief and suffering in the gospel of John...

The story of Lazarus often puzzles me. Here is a man who is, reportedly, one of His closest friends. Whether he was a disciple, I am not sure, but His sisters definitely were close friends and disciples. He most obviously was close to Jesus and was probably a disciple later on, but before the events of John 11, I don't think that it was that conclusive that he was one.

What we do know is that some of those who were assisting the sisters in their time of trouble went to Jesus with the word that "the one You love is sick."

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
But wait, Lazarus actually did die! However, as far as Jesus was concerned Lazarus had merely fallen asleep (verse 11): “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

I wonder why there was such a fuss about Lazarus' death. I wonder if it was because Lazarus had died before he had put his personal faith in the Lord. Perhaps that was why it was written that he was the one that Jesus loved, as He also loved the rich young ruler. So, his sisters were distraught. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part, but it certainly helps to explain a few of the more enigmatic aspects of this story. But, as usual, I digress...

What is instructive about this story - a story of personal and communal grief, suffering and pain - is the way different people responded to the event.

The disciples appeared to be more interested in "the ministry" than in the lives of people around them. They most probably understood the personal relationship that Jesus had with the family of the stricken, and they should know about the news, yet when Jesus decided to go down to Judea, their concern were more with the danger to their cause than to the real focus of their ministry - the revelation of the God's Personhood in the lives of His people and the deepening of the relationship between them (verses 7 - 16).

The community were quick to respond. They gathered around the afflicted family in sympathetic compassion. Some rushed to the Lord in intercessory pleas for help. The sisters' responses were both direct and personal.

Martha, the more outspoken, and perhaps more impetuous, of the sisters, was blunt and accusatory: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!" Her subsequent declaration of faith seemed inconspicuous in light of her apparent censorious tone.

Mary's words to the Lord were no different, apparently curt and resigned: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Mary's words were apparently indicative of her wavering faith. While Martha were shaking her fists, albeit tentatively, at the Lord, Mary apparently was shaken in her faith.

The text tells us that when Jesus saw her weeping, and the people around also weeping, He was greatly moved and troubled in the spirit.

Jesus wept.

In light of the tragic event still unfolding in Asia, with reverberations throughout the entire region and indeed, around the world, similar responses are repeated. Many are acting in compassionate care and relief - the right thing to do in times such as these. Many are going to the Lord in prayer. Some are taking care of "the ministry" and unfortunately, some might be more concerned about "ministry" than about care and relationship. Worse, some might try to score political points in the midst of the current chaos, grief and shock. Then there are those who shake their fists at God, and others whose faith are shaken instead. Whatever our response, we need to see God's own response.

Jesus wept. Jesus is crying now. He cries with us. He cries with the child who is left stranded. He cries with the parents who have lost their children. He cries with those in pain and those who agonize. What is more important to realize is that He doesn't just cry because of such disasters.

He cries daily. He cries as He sees that we are typically more concerned for personal comfort, safety and convenience than compassion, peace and love. When things are going "smoothly," we fail to reach out to our neighbors and love them as ourselves.
Most of all, when we seemingly do not need Him, we fail to relate to God and worship. We take no notice of Him and forget that we are created by Him.

When things go wrong, we either blame Him or we ask Him, "Why?" We cry but we fail to see with His eyes. We shed tears, but we fail to weep with Him. We need to see beyond the mundane. We need to see with His eyes.

When we get on our knees, let's pray not just for miracles to change things around us, but let's pray for changes in our hearts so that we can see Him for Who He is, and so that we can be restored in our relationship with Him.

As we wrestle with what is happening around the world, and as we empathize with those who suffer, as we feel their loss, their anguish, their agony, let us not forget that God agonizes everyday that we live our lives in utter disregard for our Creator, His creation and the reason He created us in the first place.

May God open our eyes, and may we not wait for another such tragedy to be awaken out of our stupor. May we return to Him and learn to enjoy solitude and connection with our Creator in the midst of the noise and veneer of what we call "real life" so that we might see Reality, touch Him and be touched by the One who is Real.

AFTERTHOUGHT: I pray that we will all respond in kind as we are able. Let's ask the God of all compassion move us to act. Please go to this site (scroll down to the bottom) or this site, and try to help, if you can. If you would like to keep abreast of the situation, my previous post has a link to a site that has links to differnt sites.
...continue reading...Jesus Wept

Monday, December 27, 2004

Shocked by the devastation

I am numb.

As I listened, watched and read the news of people thrown about by the fury of one of nature's worst, I can't help but feel overwhelmed, powerless and horrified. Reading about the loss, the anguish and the destruction brought tears to my eyes. The mother agonizing about the child, the father, who was grasping at what he thought was his baby only to find out that all he was clinging on to were merely the baby's clothes, and another father who lost five of his children in a moment of terror. It is just too much!

If you don't yet know about this blog-site, I would like to share it with you. I ask that you pray for those affected, and give if you can:

The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami

Over the past day or so, I have just been lost for words amidst so much suffering and pain.
...continue reading...Shocked by the devastation

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Should a young lady have to go to a Public Men's Restroom?

I was surfing a little bit on BlogExplosion, and found a blog post (I closed it too quickly and forgot where it was from) about a mother who had to wait for her boys outside the Men's Restroom, and remembered my experience as a father of young girls. I had this strong view about young ladies and Public Men's Restrooms. I was in the Mall with one of my young princesses, and she had to go to the bathroom. She did not want to go by herself, and besides, she needed assistance inside the Restroom.

So, what did I do?

I bravely marched into the women's Restroom with her and helped her into a stall and then helped her wash herself, walked out with her. While we were in the Rest room there were other women there, and they did not say a word to me, nor did anyone complained. While we were coming out of the Rest room, a couple of other ladies were coming in. One stopped short when she saw me coming out to check that she was entering the correct Restroom, but when she looked and saw my little girl with me, she looked relieved and entered, without uttering a word.

I did that a couple of other times, but I must say that later on, when I was a little older (that is, less fool hardy, and less idealistic) and I was faced with the same situation at a Football Stadium with my youngest daughter, I let her go in by herself while I waited impatiently nervously outside... Maybe it was a combination of years (thus, as I said, less foolhardiness and idealism), and perhaps it was also the location, but that was the last time I was placed with the dilemma of having to accompany a young lady into the public Rest room and needing to choose between the men's and women's Rest room.

Anyone else had such experiences and what did you do?
...continue reading...Should a young lady have to go to a Public Men's Restroom?

Islamic Government Providing Land for Christian Church?

I found this interesting story from the latest entry on Messy Christian's blog. It seems the State government of Terengganu, a predominantly Islamic state, is going to consider issuing a parcel of land for the Anglican Church to build a Church building. What is interesting about this is that the State of Terengganu is very staunchly Islamic, one that, for instance, have their weekly day of rest on Friday to coincide with the Muslim day of corporate worship. This has forced some Christian churches to hold their weekly services also on Friday, while others to have their weekly corporate worship services on Sunday evenings. I alluded to this state of affairs in a recent post about the Sabbath.

Apparently, there are only nine churches in Kuala Terengganu, the capital of the state, and none of those churches have their own purpose-built buildings. They meet on the second or third floor of "shophouses," and although the Anglican church has applied for land over the past half a century, it has been turned down, the government citing various reasons for doing so. It is interesting that the government is going to look into the matter and at least consider the application.

If the government were to give the church the land, it would not have been the first time that an Islamic government in Malaysia have been involved in assisting the building of churches in Malaysia.

In 1980, as I was traveling in Sarawak on a short term mission trip, I was intrigued by the observation that at every longhouse village up and down the Miri River, there was one new building, usually brightly painted, and located prominently in the middle of the village. It was noticeable that these buildings were the local church building, so I made a comment to my host that I noticed the church buildings in every single village was the largest, newest and most well kept building of the village. My host's comments to me were enlightening: "Oh, that is because in the last elections, when the government was soliciting for their votes, they asked them what was the most critical needs of the community, and promised to build new hospitals, schools or even roads. But all they requested for were new church buildings. So, after the election, the government (which is Islamic), kept their promises and built them all new churches."


I wonder what would happen if this happens here in the US? Would the ACLU cry foul? And, what would happen if the government were to assist in building Buddhist temples and other religious houses on worship based on the same reasons? Would Christians decry the subversion of the gospel by our governmental leaders? (Think about Bush's faith-based programs and how Christians react to stories of the program benefiting organizations not particularly "Christian").

...continue reading...Islamic Government Providing Land for Christian Church?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Two for the price of one, no, actually three for the price of one!

Note: In this post, I reflect on some thoughts that came out of a weekend retreat I took with my church this weekend. It so happens that the reflection fits right in with a series of posts in which I have been meditating on the commandments. See the last one here, where you can also find links to the rest of the series.

When the teachers of the law asked Jesus to identify the Greatest of the commandments,
Jesus answered by giving not one but two commandments.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
The writer of the gospel of Matthew says that Jesus added, "All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments."

This past weekend, I spent a couple of days with my church at the Rancho Las Palmas Marriot Resort and Spa in Palm Springs, CA at an all church retreat. The speaker for the weekend was Lon Allison, the director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, IL. Lon preached a very powerful yet simple message from Mark 12:28-31. He says that this is the number one goal for the Christian. Quoting Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart, he says the Greatest Commandment is in two parts. Part one is about Loving God with all of my heart and soul, all of my mind and strength. That part is about the will (heart), the rational and the emotional (mind) and the body (strength). In other words, it is about all of me. It is about spiritual discipline. He says for years he thought this meant to increase his devotions, memorize scripture, pray, and generally be more holy. That was easy to love God. However, he missed something about what the verse says and what Willard brought it out in his book, and that is the phrase "all your soul." He says the soul is about the relational aspect of the person. It is about what makes up your identity. It is about the extra-personal factors, the interpresonal, the social and relationship aspects of the person. Until you love God with all of your soul, you haven't actually loved him.

The second part of the Greatest Commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself" actually completes the Loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

Another aspect of the verse is about this word, "Love." Allison said the verse did not say, "Like" but "Love." It is not about an emotional feeling. It is about commitment.

As I listened to the sermon, I felt really convicted.

You see, at the first meeting of the weekend, our lead pastor had asked us to be vulnerable and share with one another in our small groups. We were asked to share about was how we got connected to the church. My wife and I were open to our group and we shared how after three years, most of my family had not connected with the church.

In fact, we shared, how we felt that we were socially, economically and culturally quite alien to our church, and we had found it hard to fit in. Although the church calls itself a church for misfits, we found ourselves misfits among the misfits. Earlier, when we were going through our struggles with being jobless, with the difficulties with our finances, and our strive with our rebellious children, we just felt no one truly understood us. We found that it was difficult to share with our friends at church. It appeared to us that they would rather that we not share our pains and just rather that we be happy, praised God and thanked Him for everything. It was hard for us to be vulnerable and to open up because people appeared to "tire" of our pain, our sufferings and our struggles.

While I was still without a job, it was ok, and people were feeling sorry for us, or at least they reached out to us and genuinely wanted to help us. Shortly after I found a job, people would come to us and say, "You guys were struggling for a while back there weren't you?" When I would look them in the eye and say, "We still are," that is when we feel they would shrink away, as if to say, "Oh, no not again." Or, "You ungrateful brat!" Or, "You just like to be needy don't you?" Or some such. Maybe they didn't really feel that way, but that was how we felt was happening to their responses to us. So, we would just kept our troubles to ourselves.

As time went on, we stopped going to our small group fellowship, and stopped telling people that we are struggling. Struggling with two oldest daughter's losing interest and faith in God and the church. Struggling with our balances our finances and repaying our debt (money that we had borrowed while I was out of a job). Struggling with what God really wants to do with our lives. Struggling with many questions of faith, life and commmitments.

It seemed to us that as long as we answered their "How are you's" with "Great!" we did not get the withdrawing or shrinking-away responses.

That was what we shared with this small group at the start of the retreat. We said, the only reason why we were there is because we still believed that God wants to connect us to Himself and that He wants us to be part of a faith community. Plus, our two youngest children were connected to their children's and junior high ministries. We were losing the older two, we did not want to lose the younger two. So, we stayed, and we have come to the retreat because we wanted to draw closer to God, to be spiritually renewed and refreshed.

Immediately after that sharing time, our lead pastor led us in a session where he shared that he hoped we as a church will persevere in our running of the race. Someone asked him what is the purpose of this race? He said, "It is the race to love God and to love our neighbor." He said, "We are called not to like our neighbor, but to love our neighbor. It is about commitment, not an emotional feeling."

Ping! The penny dropped.

I realized that God has called me to love. In fact, I recalled that Jesus said to His disciples, "A new commmandment I give unto you..." I bet Peter was fishing out his notebooks. Oh boy! For the rest of the crowd, they have the two greatest commandments upon which the entire Law and Prophets hang. We are special. We get to have a new commandment. Can't wait to hear what it is! "Love one another as I have loved you."

Wow! Is it really that simple?

Later as I listened to Lon, it hit home even more.

Loving God is incomplete unless we love our neighbor. It is as simple as that. If I say I love God, and yet hate my brother, I lie and I am still dead in my sin, and I am walking in darkness. That was what John the disciple whom Jesus loved said.

And, for the disciples of Christ, our special commandment is to love one another as He has loved us. Love.

I know what it means for me now. I had started the retreat by sharing and opening up confessing my wife's and my, uneasiness about other Christians in our Church. About the fact that Christians tend to not feel comfortable when one of their own opens up and share their vulnerability, suffering and pain. About the fact that we felt like we had been judged and our pains and suffering were not taken seriously by others in the body of Christ.

So, what did we do?

We withdrew ourselves. We felt since we had been misunderstood we shrunk from their fellowship. Instead of seeking them out and loving them, we decided that it was too difficult, too painful, too inconvenient, for us to be vulnerable with our fellow Christians.

Yet, our Lord has commanded us to love them. It is not our responsibility to change their minds about us. It is not our responsibility to make them understand our perspective, or understand our struggles. Our responsibility is to love them. We say we were hurt, or we were in pain. Rather than retreat and try to heal by ourselves, we need to practice what it means to heal spiritually, and that is to heal the Body of Christ. To heal as we share with the community. The only way we can experience full healing, is for us to open up to the community of faith and to share the Spirit of Christ as the balm to heal the wounds, the hurts and the pains that is harming the body. Because if we are hurting, then the body is hurting and the healing must be within the community. As the body heals, then we heal. Rather than look at people, especially the people who "should have known better," who often disappoint us by their callousness, by their judgmental spirits, and by their critical spirits, we are to run the race, "looking unto Jesus." We are to let the Spirit work in the Body of Christ, to heal the Body of Christ. Maybe that is what the "one another" commands of the epistles are all about.

So, my wife and I left the retreat with one simple pledge: We will get connected immediately with a small group and we will commit ourselves to love - to love God, to love our small group, and to love the body of Christ, and in so doing fulfill our commandment to God and to love our neighbor.

I bet the reason that the Lord gave a specific "new" commandment to the disciples not because it was "new" necessarily. I believe one might be able to argue that the new commandment for the disciples was already embedded in the two -- especially the second of the -- greatest commandments, upon which hung all the Law and Prophets. But, he gave them a "new" commandment because He knew they wouldn't get it unless he reiterated it to them. They needed to hear it again, and they needed to have it spelt out to them, and finally they also needed to practice it because the Lord knew how messed up they were.

In a sense, it would have been easy to love those who are without Christ and those who have not yet responded to the gospel. Also it would be quite easy to misunderstand that the work of the gospel is to love the unchurched. To go out there to preach the gospel in the name of love. To be a martyr for Christ in the name of love. To be "suffer for the faith" and to "suffer oppression" and to "suffer rejection" in the name of love.

He wanted to underscore the real work of the gospel - to love one another. To love my brother and love my sister in Christ. To love those who are of the family of God. To love them - to be committed to them - and in that way, to do the work of the gospel since "by this all men will know that you are my disciples." That is the real work of the gospel. It is when we love one another as disciples that the work of the gospel is being carried out more than any overtly evangelistic campaigns. I used to think that loving one another is about edification - building the body of Chrsit, while loving the unchurched is about evangelism - loving them to the body of Christ. Now, I understand it: loving one another is evangelism! And, evangelism is building the body of Christ!

Oh wow! I pray that by God's grace, mercy and strength that we will be able to carry out this commitment - this new Commandment, that really is part of the Greatest Commandment.
...continue reading...Two for the price of one, no, actually three for the price of one!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Christian Carnival XLVIII

Christian Carnival XLVIII is up, and Jeremy "Parableman" Pierce has done an admirable job interweaving all the submissions into a sci-fi fantasy story. Go have a look, there's a lot there, and you will really need to hunt down the gems!

My own submission is there too, and Jeremy made the point that he doesn't really know why it is important to note that the Fourth Commandment, Remember the Sabbath, ought to be considered as part of the second, rather than the first, of the greatest commandments. Point duly taken. My post probably did not make that point clear, and I actually have begun putting together thoughts on where we have been so far with my series on the ten commandments.

Will post it up soon...

Anyway, so much about me, go have a look at the Christian Carnival at the parableman's...
...continue reading...Christian Carnival XLVIII

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Remember the Sabbath

So far I have posted my meditations on the first three commandments (see the first one here, second, here and the third, here). I prefaced this series of posts with what I called the heart of the commandments. In reflecting on the fourth commandment, I would like to return to some of the ideas I shared there.

If you remember your Moses story from Sunday School or from Cecil de Mille, you will remember the scene when Moses brought down the two tablets of stones from the Mount. We often imagined that God wrote five four commandments on one and five six on the other.

I am beginning to think that perhaps this was not the case.

You see, Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is like the first, and it is to love our neighbor as ourselves. So, it just might have been the case that perhaps right from the beginning, God emphasized the priority of those two greatest commandments. As I
pointed out before, the words, "ten commandments" were not specifiically used in the Bible. In fact, in both the passages where these commandments were enumerated(Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5), there are actually more than just ten. Further, in other passages, more commandments were given that were either elaborations of the core, or additional injunctions relating to specific ritual and ceremonial aspects of Old Testament Religion. However, in this series of meditations, I am using the traditional Protestant formulation of the Ten Commandments.

Let's come back to think about the greatest commandments, the two tablets and what I think they stood for. I believe that rather than think that there were five commandments written on one each tablet, perhaps, it is quite appropriate to think that on one of the tablets were written the first of the greatest commandments and on the other, the second of the greatest commandments.

Or, perhaps, the first two were spelt out on one tablet and the third through the tenth were spelt out on the the second. If each commandment were spelt out on the stone tablets, and the stone tablets were organized by the two greatest commandments, then perhaps the fourth commandment was found on the second stone tablet, not the first.

Why do I say that?

Regardless of which stone tablet the fourth commandment was written it is important to note that the fourth commandment, says Jesus, was for man, not man for the Sabbath. In and of itself, the Sabbath, is not holy. It is holy only in the sense that it was given to man to be kept as a separate, sacred day.

When I was a spunky, fiesty, youth, I used to argue with the Seventh-Day Adventists, and anyone else who was in the least interested and bothered to argue with me, about which day we were supposed to keep the Lord's Day. I argued that although in the Old Testament, the Sabbath (or Saturday) was separated as the holy day, in the New, Sunday, was supposed to be the Christian day since it is the Lord's day - the Day He rose from the dead. I smugly felt more spiritual that the church I went to kept Sunday as the Day of rememberance, and rested on Sunday, while the Adventists were "legalistic" in keeping the Old Testament day - Saturday. Then of course, in some states in Malaysia, the Islamic state governments made everyone go to work on Sunday and rested only on Friday, so that Churches had to change their Day of Rememberance to Fridays. Some die-hard Christians continued to meet on Sundays in observance of the Lord's Day, but had to change their meetings to the evenings, and of course our Adventist friends met on Saturdays. The churches that met on Fridays? Well, we assumed they were backsliders, lovers of the world and capitulating to the world's standards. So we prayed for them.

Looking back from the vantage point of where God was proclaiming the commandments, and understanding the commandments from the standpoint of Christ's two greatest commandments, however, reveal a few things:

(1) The commandment to keep the Sabbath holy was given for man's sake - as part of the "loving yourself" part of the second greatest commandment.

(2) In fact, the second set of commandments began at the third commandment, where the emphasis is living a life that is worthy of our high calling (Eph 4: )

(3) We follow the spirit of the fourth commandment, if we remember to take time off for rest - spiritual, emotional, physical, relational, financial, and in fact, in all areas of our lives.

(4) It doesn't matter when the day is, as long as there was a regular day for the church to get together, and to rest, to worship and to connect.

Applying (3) relates to the need for us to go on fasts - fasting from food, fasting from our physical desires and fasting from our daily routine (or taking a vacation). It also relates to the need to have solitude (daily devotional times as well as extended times of retreat in order to re-calibrate, rejuvenate and refresh.

Living in this fast paced, drive-through, everything-to-go world of hours, sometimes, we forget to stop and check our pulse, rest awhile, and re-charge our batteries. Even in terms of work, career and interpersonal relationships there are times when we need to step aside to re-evaluate, re-think and re-structure our priorities, our strategies and our habits.

Most important of all, the call for remembering the Sabbath is a call to remember that we are not our own. We are stewards of our bodies, our time, our lives. We have to take time out to take stock of how we are going precisely because we are to ensure that our lives are lived according to the mission that our Creator has planted within us. So, there is a time for corporate re-synchronization where we take time to be with community and re-establish our connection with God by connecting with each other. There is also the need to remove ourselves from the crowd to the recalibration of our soul and to allow God to touch us all over again.

The Sabbath Day is more than just a day. It is a holy time to be set aside with the Holy One. So it is a day to celebrate our relationship with our Creator, to refocus that the center of life is relationship, beginning with the Relationship with our Creator, to our Relationship with ourselves and our Relationship with our community, and the world about us.

...continue reading...Remember the Sabbath

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Total Reliance on God

This morning, I watched a little of an interview of Joni Eareckson Tada on TV and was struck with something she said on the program.

Joni was still a teenager when a ski diving accident left her a quadriplegic. She fought bitterly and determinedly to be healed, but after years of battle she never got better physically, although spiritually, mentally and emotionally she became a giant in many ways. She started Joni and Friends, a ministry aimed at giving hope and wholeness to the disabled. Now, years later, she continues to impact the world, giving encouragement and inspiration to both disabled as well as "able-bodied" people alike.

On TV this morning, Joni was asked if she ever felt discouraged with her situation. She answered that some mornings she would wake up to the feeling that she cannot face another day of disability, another day of someone having to come in to groom her, to dress her and assist her into her wheelchair. She said she just had to stop and ask God for strength to be able to go through another painful day.

When I heard Joni said that, I told my wife that it is exactly the attitude we need to get to in order to learn total reliance on God for our daily lives. For if I do not go through each day and each situation realizing that within my own self, I have no resources to make it through the day, I have failed to understand what it means to rely totally on God.

We have in the most part grown too independent, self-reliant and self-sufficient that when we awake each day we forget that without God we can do nothing. On the one hand, there is something to be said about feeling the courage and confidence that we have in the strength of Christ, and yet on the other hand, we have to realize the full import of the meaning of Philippians 4:13. When we confess, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," we are confessing the corollary, found in John 15:7 " 5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

It is more than just thinking I don't have enough resources to make it. That every now and then, I need to cry out for assistance from on high. I have to come to the realization that I need Him and need His strength, power and grace for each and every moment, and for each task. I have to come to the point where I dare not get up from bed each morning unless His Spirit sends me a fresh anointing of His power and grace to go on. Until I have learned that, until I understand and realize that it is a total dependence upon God each moment of the day, I don't know what it means to rely on God.

What does this mean in practice? Am I to supposed to feel impoverished and powerless, walking around with a huge inferiority complex hanging over my head? Or am I supposed to exude confidence and strength, walking around like my daddy owns the cattle on a thousand hills? Which is it?

Joni says when she awakes in the morning, she feels she cannot go on any longer. She needs to reach out to God and ask for another dose of strength, stamina and courage to go on. Yet, she seems to have it together. Even though she sits there in a wheelchair, when Joni speaks, her presence dominates the entire room. You can tell that this is a woman who has been touched by the Almighty. Her words inspires, her faith encourages, and her enthusiasm infuses hope and courage. That I believe illustrates what we must be like in our dependence upon God. We need to do so not just morning by morning, but moment by moment, having the utter realization of our abject need for God to keep us going. Yet, at the same time, we need to draw upon the strength, grace and power from the Holy Spirit to flow through us to encourage and uplift those around us so that God's blessing can touch them.

That is the kind of faith God has called us to, a paradoxical balancing act that is the adventure of our journey with our Lord. May God teach me to walk in it faithfully.

...continue reading...Total Reliance on God

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Do not misuse God's name

Note: This post continues my series on meditations on the Ten Commandments. I started by reflecting on the heart of the commandments, and went through the first and second commandments. In between I also meditated on related topics in Moses' life.

The third commandment is another one that I have puzzled over for the longest time. What does it really prohibit, and why is the prohibition given? In the NASB, Exodus 20:7 reads: "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain." The NIV reads, "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."

It is usually understood that the third commandment is a prohibition against using God's name in profanity or even in a callous manner. Some take it to be a prohibition to use particular pronouns of God in common speech, and in order not to trespass this commandment, they avoid using any such names in speech or writing. If words needed to be used to refer to the divine, they replace the vowels so that the actual name for God is not spelt out. On the one hand, I respect the careful dedication of people who follow this practice dilligently, but on the other hand, I have an uneasy feeling that this seems like a capricious
God who worry about how we use his name in ordinary speech and gets offended because someone used it in profane speech.

That is why, I have a suspicion that it is more likely that the third commandment goes beyond just prohibiting the use of certain words in our daily conversations.

Let's think further about what Exodus chapter 20, verse seven says:
"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain."
In this verse, there is a prohibition and a consequence for breaking the prohibition. It is interesting to note that it says God will not leave the person who takes His name in vain unpunished. The NIV says, God will not hold that person guiltless.

In thinking through this issue, if taking God's name in vain is merely using his proper name glibly and profanely, then it is quite plain that many offenders seem to get away with their crime. Now one might argue that the punishment is coming for these riotous sinners, yet I wonder why God specifically highlights this particular transgression as one that He will not hold the trespasser unpunished or guiltless.

A couple of ideas from the the rest of Scriptures and culture might throw some light on this. One is the idea of "conversation." That word is used to denote citizenship or lifestyle in the KJV in passages such as Ephesians 4:20 and Philippians 3:20. Another idea is Jesus' own words, in which He says it is not the things which goes in, but those things that comes out, of a person's mouth that makes that person unclean. So, it appears that there might be a relationship between a person's words and his lifestyle and character.

Another idea that we can draw from is "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" or "grieving the Holy Spirit." According to Jesus Christ, this sin is the only unpardonable sin. It appears that the idea between "unpardonable" and the idea from the warning in the third commandment of God not holding someone "guiltless" for violating the misuse of God's name can be co-related. It seems that there isn't any other references to an unpardonable sin in the Old or New Testatments. So, it seems to me that we can either co-relate these two passages as referring to the same thing, or we can at least say that they are unique and similar in at least that respect.

Another set of ideas that we can draw from is the idea that God's name refers to everything He stands for. In ancient customs, names appear to play a significant role in reflecting the personality or character of a child. So when Jacob was born, he was named for his fiesty spirit. Another set of concepts that can be drawn upon is the fact that in the so called Near and Far Eastern cultures, a name is a symbol of honor and respect and is to be upheld and maintained. Shame and derision accompany the person who brings disrepute to the name of his family. Could the third commandment be understood in these respect also?

Putting all these thoughts together, we can surmise that taking the Lord's name in vain can be understood as follows: Saying that you belong to Him--that you are His child, or that you are His follower--and yet living as if you were a pagan. Understanding the commandment to extend to the way you live rather than just a mere misuse, or careless, use of certain words seems to be more likely given the seriousness that God apparently took the prohibition. Yet, this way of construing the commandment doesn't preclude the need to treat the pronouns that are used to refer to God with respect and
to not use the name(s) callously and in profane speech. What it does is extend the traditional understanding of the third commandment to also include the injunction on the way we live, and to underscore the need for circumspection and alignment of our lifestyle with our profession and faith commitments.

When we live our lives indifferently to our relationship with our Father in heaven, we commit the sin of grieving the Holy Spirit - of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that when the Comforter (Holy Spirit) comes, He comes to convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. And, if we continue to live our lives in disregard to His work in our lives, that is when we are in danger of the unpardonable sin, and that is when God does not hold us guiltless. We begin to have problems not just with the prospect of eventual punishment and judgment but with our own conscience, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Another related way we might transgress this commandment is to take His name, claim His authority in executing a plan or an action as if it were mandated by God and do so either in an unjustified way or do so in an ungodly manner. We claim authority from God when there is none, or we carry out our actions in a manner devoid of mercy, justice, love and grace. In other words, we give as our reason, a godly motivation or a divine mandate, but in the carrying out the very thing we say God directs us to do, we do so in a way contrary to His character. In either of these ways we would
also have contravened the principle under girding this commandment. This is true both on a personal level as well as, in a corporate sense.

In both of the above cases, taking the Lord's name in vain--misusing His name--have to do with how we live our lives, on how we act towards our fellow humans. In either cases it is a matter of integrity. It is about who we are as God's people, and as God's representatives for we are His ambassadors not only to the world around us but also to the spiritual hosts who rule the "principalities and powers." Our lives are lived out in the open, so to speak, and
so long as we do so in a less than godly manner, we take His name in vain. May God have mercy on us all!

...continue reading...Do not misuse God's name

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Logic and God

The classical argument against the existence of God is purportedly an argument of logic. According to this argument, there is an inconsistency with the conjunction of the three propositions:
(1) God is all-loving
(2) God is all-powerful
(3) There is evil in the world

The classical formulations of the argument can be traced to early writers such as Epicurus, in his famous (or infamous) reductio ad absurdum-type questions?:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?

In modern times, British empiricist, David Hume, among others, took on the challenge and concluded that the three propositions above cannot be reconciled, leading to the supposedly obvious conclusion that God does not exist. Many contemporary philosophers quote Hume in support of their arguments that we just cannot entertain the existence of God in light of the presence of pain, suffering and evil in the world. (Ironically, many of those who quote Hume about this, almost always reject everything else he had to say). Most contemporary atheistic thinkers such as J.L. Mackie, and contemporary philosophers such as Michael Tooley and Quentin Smith agree that the presence of evil in the amounts and distribution that it does in the world make it untenable for a person to accept that there can be a such a Being as a good, all-loving, and all-powerful God.

Why? This is usually because in Western philosophy, since the time of Aristotle, we hold on to the orthordoxy of the law of non-contradiction. It is simply a contradiction to suppose that there can exist a God who claims (or has) the attribute of "all-loving" and "all-powerful" yet be either unable or unwilling to remove evil.

Many contemporary theistic thinkers have now shown that this is not necessarily the case. Just because there is evil in the world, it doesn't follow that God is unwilling or that He is unable to remove evil. Many different forms of the arguments have been put forward to explain how there could be such a state of affairs. God, for instance, could be allowing evil in order to develop His creatures. John Hick is a key proponent of this argument, also known as the Soul-Making argument.

Other philosophers, notably, Alvin Plantinga, argue that we may not know the ultimate reason why there is evil in the world, but just because we don't know doesn't mean there isn't one. We need to accept that there could possibly be a reason for evil, even if we cannot grasp nor know it. Many philosophers think this type of argument (that the justifications or reasons for the existence of evil is beyond our epistemic limits) is a cop-out.

However, this argument is rather strong. For we do the same thing in almost all other facets of critical thinking or philosophy. Plantinga, in fact, argues quite convincingly that the belief that there are minds other than our own is accepted even though we do not have a convincing argument for it. We suppose that people other than ourselves have analogous experiences to ourselves when we say, "We feel pain" or "We think such and such" even though we have no direct evidence that they have such feelings or such thoughts.

Many philosophers think that philosophy of religion ought not be done because we just do not have evidence for what we are talking about when we talk about God, souls, spirits, heaven, hell, sin and grace. God-talk, presumably is empty-talk. This is because these philosophers cannot go past the classical logical argument against the existence of God.

Yet, the same philosophers would happily talk about higher level logic and thrive in talking about dialetheism, paradox and paraconsistent logics. Dialetheism is the logic of true contradictions such that both a statement and its contradictions are true. Paradox is a phenomenon in philosophical argument where one statement appears to entail another, which in turns appear to entail the contradiction of the first. Paraconsistent logic is a system of logic that attempts to formalize the phenomena of inconsistency, vagueness and contradictions and has important applications in cognitive science and artificial intelligence.

What logicians and especially higher level logicians do in accepting the reality of these apparently incompatible systems of thought, contradictions and inconsistencies in logic is very instructive in theology.

Logicians find that classical, truth-functional logics does not really work when applied to "real life" especially when exposed to the research on intelligence, human or artificial. Instead of de-bunking truth functional logics, logicians have created these specialized fields of study and have accepted the reality of "true contradictions" (dialetheisms), where both A and not-A are true, and have developed paraconsistent systems and various theories of paradoxes to deal with the apparent illogical reality of the universe that we live in.

In doing so, the same logicians need to accept that their God and Creator is a God who is over and above classical, truth-functional, two- or even three- dimensional logic. Just because they stumble over their seemingly illogical trilogy of theistic pronouncements, doesn't mean that God doesn't exist. It just means that when confronted with the Commander of the Lord's army, and querying Him, "Are you for us or for our enemies?" He answers paradoxically, "Neither!"

What we need to do, both professing atheists and confessing theists, is to be like Joshua and fall on our faces to worship Him, who is the God over our Logic, Contradictions, Paraconsistent Systems, Diatheisms, and Paradoxes.

We need to cry out, "Lord, I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!"

Of course, our atheistic philosopher friends will try to accuse us of having abandoned philosophy for fideism, or theology, at best, and mythology or fairy-tales, at worst. To which I would reply, "Oh, really? How so? And how much of philosophy doesn't fall guilty of the same charge? Why single out philosophical theology alone?"

Updated: 2-11-05
...continue reading...Logic and God

Monday, December 06, 2004

Insignificance Illuminated

Yesterday, the lead pastor of my church preached a powerful message. He read from Matthew chapter 1, the first six verses. If you look it up, you will see that these few verses are some of the most "boring" sections of the entire Bible. But as soon as he read it, I was anticipating a treat. You see in this small passage there was a repetition that I, for one, had missed in my previous readings.

In verses 3, 5 and 6, there was the repeated phrase: "whose mother was..." Four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. Four women with questionable histories. A rejected deceitful black widow, a prostitute of ill-repute, a impoverished destituted widow and a scandalous adulteress. Yet, each of them memorialized in the annals of the Messiah's lineage. Each of them needed God's mercy desperately. They needed vindication and God's justice to intervene in their lives.

As I listened to my pastor expound on the each of their women,tears streaked down my cheeks. For I saw this passage showing God's inscrutable grace and mercy. He took the insignifant, the undesirable, the unpleasant, even the repugnant, and He vindicates them, lifts them up, satisfies them and heals them of their pain, void, and oppression. Each of these women had a messed-up life, and complicated histories. Each, by human standards, were entangled in some messy, unpleasant stuff. The kind of stuff upon which the pack of media wolves would relish on devouring and feasting. We would normally not like to identify ourselves with such unsavory lives. Yet, God saw fit to include each of these women in the record of the ancestry of the Messiah, a practice that is surprising indeed, for in those days, ancestry lists do not normally include women.

It speaks volumes on the design of God the Father, the greatness of His love and the inclusiveness of His grace. Further it underscores that God wants to transform our lives. No matter what you have gone through, no matter what kind of messiness you have got yourself entangled in, no matter how deep in the mud you have sunk, God can and will touch us where we are, to transform, uplift and vindicate. That is the kind of power of His transforming love.

...continue reading...Insignificance Illuminated

Lectio Divina - Rediscovering an ancient practice

This is the third article in the series on How to Read the Bible. Last time, I wrote on devotional reading, and now I would like to share about an ancient practice that is being re-discovered in contemporary times is called “Lectio Divina” which is Latin for sacred reading. In what follows, I would like to describe the steps that you can use in this spiritual discipline of devotional scripture reading.

Through Lectio Divina, we engage with the Bible and through the Word we commune with God and let His Spirit use His Word to engage us in spiritual transformation. There are four different components to Lectio Divina:
(1) Reading
(2) Meditation
(3) Response in Prayer
(4) Contemplation

Lectio Divina may be done in a group setting or it may be done as a personal spiritual exercise by an individual.

Engage with the passage. Read the passage slowly. If you are doing this in a group setting, have different people read the passage. As you read, let the words that you are reading come alive by observing what you are reading. Observe any repetition. Take note of repetition of words, ideas, patterns or themes. Observe the context. Notice what words are chosen to convey the message. Draw from your own personal experiences and your knowledge of the Scriptures to engage the meaning of the text. Let the Holy Spirit brings up images and related ideas in your mind as you interweave your thoughts to the words that you are reading. It helps to read it ALOUD even if you are doing this by yourself.

Spend some quiet time in silent solitude, focusing on the words, phrases and images that evoke you. Let the words and the text wash over you. Reflect on some of the “why” questions about the passage. Seek to imagine what the original author(s) was/were trying to say with the passage. Recall other lessons you have learned in other parts of Scriptures that you can relate to the teaching of the current passage. Let the word come alive for you. Use your pen or pencil to help you with your meditation and thinking through what you have read.

Re-read the passage. Engage the text and prayer through the text. Spend some time to let the words, phrases and ideas in the text to trigger in you responses to God in prayer. As you meditate on the passage, let the Holy Spirit converse with you and response to His promptings.

Re-read the passage again. Rest in silence in the light of your prayers and meditation on the text. Spend some quiet moments just being in the presence of God.

There are a number of websites with instructions on how to practice "Lectio Divina" in a group setting as well as a personal spiritual discipline. Here is an excllent site.
...continue reading...Lectio Divina - Rediscovering an ancient practice

Saturday, December 04, 2004

How to read the Bible II - Devotional Reading

This is the second in the series on How to Read the Bible. The series was initially sparked by some discussions between a commenter and myself in response to my previous post on the Burning Bush incident in Exodus chapter 3. During a subsequent comment and email exchange between ourselves, it occurred to me that I needed to clarify (perhaps for my own sake) the different ways one ought to be reading the Bible.

This series of course is written blog-style. In other words it is a work-in-progress. Not only that, I might even change my mind later and correct or progress from what I have written before, or I might go off on a tangent and take on other, even unrelated topics. That's the beauty of blogging, and when you have a sometimes-overactive mind like I do, then anything could and does happen! Also I am not sure when and how long this series might be. Anyway, that's the nature of the blog, and, well, let's begin...

In the first part of the series, I suggested that there are at least three different ways to read the Bible:

(1) Reading the Bible devotionally
(2) Reading the Bible as part of a Bible Study exercise
(3) Reading the Bible exegetically.

As a young Christian, my mentors at the youth group and the church that I attended encouraged me to make reading the Bible part of my daily spiritual discipline. I was taught that it was important to read the Bible on a regular basis because the Bible is God's word to us. That is, God speaks to us through the Bible. I was challenged to do at least two types of Bible reading: (1) Read it daily as part of a devotional discipline, (2) Study the Bible in depth weekly.

I was taught that there is a difference between devotional reading and studying the Bible. When we read the Bible devotionally, we are deepening our relationship and intimacy with God. The emphasis is our relationship with our Father as children of God. When we study the Bible, we are increasing our knowledge of His teaching and the message of His word. The emphasis is our relationship with our Lord, as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

On the one hand, in devotional reading, we ask God to speak to us through His word, and on the other hand, we study the Bible to ensure that we understand the meaning, the message and the context of the Scriptures so that when we meditate on the Biblical texts devotionally, we do not take it out of its greater context of the Bible and what it teaches.

I was an eager young high-schooler with a new-found faith in Christ and approached my Bible reading and studying vociferously. At about the same time, I met an older student at the high school who told me he was once a believer. I was shocked that someone could once be a believer. He told me he stopped believing because of the contradictions he found in the Bible. I determined to find out about these discrepancies, to study them for myself, and to find out if why there were really contradictions or if there were explanations for their apparent inconsistencies. That set off a lifetime habit of study, reflection, questions and critical thinking.

One of my mentors also challenged me to find answers for myself. I used to come to him time and again with questions about the Bible, and for a while he would give me the answers. Later, he began to point me in the right direction and started asking me to find the answers for myself, and then going to him to discuss what I had discovered. Much later, whenever I would ask him questions, his answer would be, "That will be your homework!" Although it often frustrated me then, it eventually helped me to think through tough Biblical conundrums.

It is amazing to me how many people who have an opinion about the Bible haven't really read it. Or, if they had read the Bible, they often fail to take into consideration the context. Worse yet, sometimes they form an opinion after reading what some other people have written or said about parts of this book.

So how do we read the Bible devotionally?

To start, I will reiterate the contrast between reading the Bible devotionally and studying the Bible. I believe that these two are different, separate and yet essential disciplines for every Christian. Devotional reading is part of a devotional encounter with God. It is best done on a daily (or at the least, fairly regular) basis, usually in the morning. It is a time to re-calibrate our spiritual gauges, and to allow time for a protracted intimate conversation with our Father God. Regular study of the Scriptures is also an important exercise for us in our walk with God as disciples, for if we are to obey all that He has taught, we need to know His teaching in the first place.

In devotional reading, our focus is to let God speak and reveal Himself to us. Whether it is to correct, to re-inforce, to encourage, to expose, or to clarify, God wants to speak to our innermost beings and to touch us intimately. So we read the Bible expectantly, asking Him to reveal Himself to us, and to "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth..." (I Samuel 3:10).

In order not to take the Scriptures out of context, it is best to read the Bible book by book. Spend each day reading through the same book, chapter by chapter. But keep the devotional reading relatively short. About a chapter ought to do it. I usually alternatively read through an Old Testament book and then I read a New Testament book. And every now and then, I go back to the Psalms. I may not read through the entire Psalms. I might spend a month or two reading through parts of the Psalms and then changing and reading through a New Testament Book and an Old Testament Book, and then coming back to the Psalms again, continuing from where I left off. The Psalms is a good devotional book because so much of it is written from the perspective of a personal experience of relationship with God. One discipline to use in reading devotionally is to read, and re-read the passage in order to observe what the passage is saying.

Have a pen or pencil ready, and journal your thoughts. Read interactively. By this I mean, read and respond to God as you read. Ask yourself, "What is this passage saying?" What does that mean to me? Relate what you observe in the passage to the context of what you understand the book to be saying, and be aware of the different types of literature that is found in the Bible. You need to supplement devotional reading of the Bible with a regular Bible study in order that as you read devotionally, you can bear the message of the Bible, the different parts of the Bible (for instance, the Books of the Law, the Wisdom Books, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Letters, etc) and know the contexts of each, as well as the local contexts of each book and passage.

If you are just beginning, it helps to have Bible reading guides and tools as well, although my mentors trained me in the "Old School" way of thinking - to let the Bible speak for itself, before consulting commentaries and other books about the Bible. The reason my mentors did that was because they believed that commentaries could easily color the message of the Scriptures, and then we are letting what someone else said about the Scriptures to speak to us, rather than letting the Bible speak for itself. However, commentaries are helpful in that, their authors are usually scholars who are more learned in these areas, and who can throw light on obscure passages, texts, history and culture.

This post has really become a very long one, so I would like to close here, by summarising and suggesting a few simple steps that you can take to read the Bible devotionally.

If you have never done this before, try starting with the Psalms.

Have a pencil or a colored pencil handy.

Read a psalm a day (when you get to some of the longer psalms, you could either break it up to read portions of it a day or to read it in several sittings during the day, or just allocate more time to finish the entire psalm in a day).

Start with a simple prayer to ask God to open the eyes and ears of your heart to see and hear what He wants to say to you.

Read the Psalm once through quickly.

Re-read it, and , observe everything it says about God and His actions.

Every time there is a reference to God, use your pencil to shade the noun and the verb. For instance, if it says "The LORD is my shepherd" shade "The LORD is..." (you may or may not wish to include "my shepherd" - I usually don't to keep the shading more emphatic in the text). If it says, "The LORD saves me from my trouble" shade "The LORD saves"

Ask yourself, "What does this tell me about God?" "What does it tell me about Who He is and What He has done and/or still doing for me?" "What does it tell me about what He wants to say to me?" "What does this mean?" "What does it imply?" "If this is what the passage says about God, how does that apply to me?"

Write down your thoughts.

Reflect on how you can apply the reading to your life now.

Respond to God in prayer, preferably using parts of the Scriptures you have just read.

If you are reading this during the morning, select portions of the text to either memorize or to meditate during the day about what it means.

End the day with another quick overview of what you have written or another re-reading of the passage and write down your reflections if you have more.

Respond in prayer to what you have read, reflected upon and written. Be specific about an action or application point.

Another good exercise is to ask the 5 W's: Who, What, Where, Whom, Why, and How. This is especially useful when you are reading the narrative portions of the Scriptures such as the History books, parts of the Books of the Law, and the Gospels. Pretend you are a journalist, and write a story about what you have just read as if you were an eye-witness or you are interviewing an eye-witness. It will help you to visualize what is going on in the passage and to let the Scriptures come alive. Then you can ask the more personal interpretative and application questions - what does it mean and what does it mean to me?

In a future post, I want to share with you a very effectve method of devotional Scriptural reading called, “Lectio Divina” (which is Latin for sacred reading).

For now, please share with me your own experiences in, and observations about, devotional reading in the comments section.

UPDATE: The post on Lectio Divina is up.

...continue reading...How to read the Bible II - Devotional Reading