Changes

God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end.

Life is about changes and learning to enjoy the adventure of journeying in life with Him. I can't see what's ahead and have no way of controlling how things will go. I can only trust Him, that He makes all things beautiful in its time.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Discernment: doing what is right

I've been reading Bonhoeffer's Ethics for my course on ThM seminar on 'Theology of Bonhoeffer'. We're reading a collection of his work and I realize that Cost of Discipleship (now simply Discipleship in the critical edition, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series), is the more popular of his writings. His life and writings offer much food for thought. For now, I'm chewing on some of these ideas ...

In discerning what Jesus is saying to us, we would usually confirm what we hear with some of the following guidelines: does it contradict with the Word? is it legal? is it in line with common sense? is it loving? With that in mind, has it ever bothered you that Jesus often chose to heal on the Sabbath? He could have healed on Monday or any other day, but he chose to do it on Sabbath. We know that Jesus' miracles did not usually stopped at the miracle (or healing) itself, but was a sign and an occasion which he used to teach. Usually he did not set out to heal in order to prove he was God. Otherwise he could have healed all those whom he met who were ill. But obviously that did not happen (and perhaps that's troubled you and you've often asked why). That is probably a good topic for discussion at another time, but for now, I want to focus on the 'legality' of what he did. Yes, we know there are no laws against healing or doing good. In those days, the Pharisees were troubled not because Jesus healed but because he refused to 'observe' the Sabbath. But Jesus himself said he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. So perhaps in this case we may argue that he was fulfilling the spirit of the law, and the so-called Sabbath laws were not really God's commands but man-made additions and therefore can be ignored (??) for the sake of doing a higher good? ... food for thought. So perhaps you're thinking that to heal a person and set him/her free from a long term oppression is doing something loving towards another, and therefore should trump these 'laws'. We should not be legalistic about it. Pause for a moment to think about our use of the word legalistic. What about flouting the Sabbath laws to meet our needs - disciples picking corn on the field? Would meeting a 'selfish' bodily need also justify 'breaking the law'? No doubt in this case, one may say that the Sabbath law is a religious law and thus only have moral obligations, and it's not technically illegal. Well, in light of the Old Testament, it is more than a moral obligation, but is in fact a civil obligation, at least for a Jew. Jesus and his disciples were Jews. Was Jesus putting away an old order and instituting a new one ... and if so, would he still be fulfilling the law? Or was it justified because it was more moral and loving to 'break the Sabbath' than to observe it in these cases?

Take it one step further now with Bonhoeffer. Would God ask us to do something that is illegal which is also against His commandments? Bonhoeffer felt God had led him to be part of the plot to assassinate Hitler. And no matter how evil Hitler is, it doesn't change the fact that it would tantamount to murder, which is clearly forbidden both in the 10 Commandments as well as Sermon on the Mount. You may not agree with Bonhoeffer on whether such acts can ever be justified but the fact that the church considers Bonhoeffer a martyr (he was executed by Hitler when his plans failed), is a testimony that we believe he acted in good faith. Bonhoeffer does not deny that it is wrong in the sense that it is against the commandment of God, but he saw that this evil was necessary to bring an end to much greater evil.

Bonhoeffer views a Christian as one who is called to live responsibly, i.e. in response to the call of Christ (continued obedience to him), and to live responsibly towards others. In the latter, it means standing in solidarity with and on behalf of those who are poor, powerless and persecuted. In doing so, we're standing with Christ because Christ identifies himself with those who are least among us ... Failure to act and intervene as well as intercede on their behalf is to fail in our Christian duty. More food for thought.

Back to the question of discernment. Bonhoeffer points out that we must be careful not to be too confident in our own knowledge of good and evil. Often when we try to discern God's will we are too preoccupied with getting it RIGHT. While we do our best to discern, we can only be certain to some degree, because there is always an element of faith as we obey what we sense God is saying to us. This element of faith is an important one, and perhaps can put many of us at ease, rather than trying to attain absolute certainty when we are discerning God's guidance in our given situation.

Some basic questions we use in 'confirming' our decisions are as follows:
1) Is it legal? The concern here would be legally permissible, which is the lowest common denominator. We will probably agree that this consideration is irrelevant if it breaks God's moral code. Thus we do not obey an order of the State if we are told to worship an idol. Although some may say this is a given, but it probably should not be surprising how many of us fall back on this in ethically gray areas, especially when it is to our advantage.
2) Is it according to God's laws? The concern here is for what is right and morally permissible. A good guideline in principle.
3) Is it loving? If doing what is morally permissible will hurt our neighbour, aggravate or extend their suffering, then it is more loving (and not immoral) to break the moral code. I expect this might ruffle some feathers. This is a good time to re-consider the word we used earlier: Legalistic.
Other questions include: is it in line with common sense? Does it lead to desolation or consolation? (Ignatian discernment; i.e. does it lead me to withdraw from God or draw closer to God?)

However ultimately the one question we seek to answer is: Is this what God is calling me to do?
It may be legal, right and loving thing to do but if it is not what God has asked me to do, then it may be wrong for me to do it. Or should I assume God has called me to do that? (More question mark!) Can the reverse be true? Even if it is illegal, wrong, and unloving, my duty is still to obey. (At this point alone, you are probably all ready to conclude I'm a heretic!) Bonhoeffer was speaking against German Christians who went along with Nazi's program (doing what is legal) and consoled by the fact that they were doing what was "right" (morally permissible but even though it was unloving towards their Jewish neighbour). However in being part of the assassination plot, he did what was illegal (against Nazi regime), immoral (moral ideal would be to forgive your enemy ... hmm always? further food for thought), and unloving (at least to Hitler), and yet ...

Nb. I am aware of examples like Corrie Ten Boom's sister who refused to lie when asked by the authorities if they were hiding Jews in their home. She believed God would protect them without her having to lie about it - although some would argue that in this case, it was necessary and probably justified, to prevent a greater evil and protect lives. She openly pointed out their hiding place when the authorities came to search the house but they refused to believe she was telling them the truth and did not search that spot, thus God honoured her faith!

Jesus said, "my meat is to do the will of the one who sent me" (John 4:34) and "The Son is not able to do anything himself; he is able to do only what he sees the Father doing" (John 5:19).
Is this idea dangerous? Yes, you bet. Is this what it means to walk by the Spirit? (Gal 5) Probably.
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)


Response? Bring them on! Love to hear your input.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

National Identity - Conflict for Christians?

I often read blogs that begin with an apology, especially for not blogging. While that would be most justified here, I shall resist the temptation to follow the trend, and get right into it.

I have been giving a lot of thought to this topic of how Christians should think of their national identity. Is national pride biblical? Or are we to renounce all national ties and be loyal to our heavenly citizenship alone? I've read articles of Christians who'd go as far as saying that we should not salute or stand at attention to the flag, sing the national anthem or recite the 'Rukunegara' (equivalent to a national pledge). In light of the recent developments in Malaysia I've been having very strong feelings for the nation, a deep concern for its future. I feel passionate about some of these issues, and realize that I care a lot about her people. I don't believe this is of my own doing, but then again I'm trying to understand how do we relate to our national root. It's not uncommon for me to hear others , or even for myself, speak in terms having a burden for a certain nation. How does God view nations?

In Genesis, we saw the birth of different nations. He started revealing himself to a nation, through a man and his family. God built this nation, dwelt among them and called himself, her leader and king. He addressed different nations according to how they related to Israel, the people of God. People groups and nations were not always differentiated in the Bible, although in socio-political definition there probably are differences between the two although I'm not entirely sure what they are. Jesus himself was born a Jew and that was part of his identity as a man. He fulfilled his civil responsibilities by paying taxes (that could have been a temple tax, and thus arguably a religious duty). But he did exhort the people to pay what is due to Caesar, who was clearly a pagan ruler that demanded the people's total loyalty, calling himself Kurios (Lord). In the Great Commission, Jesus calls us to disciple the nations - the word here can also mean people group, but it definitely points to distinctive groups rather than the world as a whole. In the New Testament, we are told to pray for our government. Paul himself was not afraid to claim his full rights as a Roman citizen when he was unlawfully detained. Nevertheless we also have exhortations stating, "In Christ, there is now no Greek or Jew..." (Gal 3:28) Finally at the end, in Revelations, the nations will be judged and in the new earth, the nations will be present to offer their worship to God.

This is just a brief stream of thoughts on this topic. I'm still thinking through about this issue and appreciate if I can have some input, especially if you've given it some thought or can direct me to a good resource. Some may argue that the nations are really people groups, and it's not about a nation State, which is a human construct. That's a possibility, but I need help to see how this applies biblically and where does that leave me in terms of my civil responsibilities and rights as a Christian. One fear that others have voiced is the fear of patriotism and nationalism, which for them, often leads to a sense of superiority. Again, I admit that fear is not unfounded, however I believe it is possible to speak of different national identity without speaking of them in terms of one being superior than the other.

One thing that I've been giving more thought is the number of Malaysians I know who've chosen to migrate and reside in another country, but never gave up their Malaysian citizenship (and of course this is a common phenomena not only with Malaysians). I guess in a sense I am feeling some tension about that and still trying to reconcile what I see. I realize that people often migrate for many different reasons and I don't want to, nor can I, judge them for their decision. I can accept that one who love the country may, for very good reasons, feel compelled to leave it and choose to reside somewhere else. The question I have is, after living for a while out there, why not give up your Malaysian citizenship and choose to adopt a new citizenship? I know that everyone has a freedom to choose and if the government does not require you to make that choice, it's not for me to question your decision. I'm just trying to think through the Christian ethical implications on this issue. I've always been raised to think that a mature adult = a responsible citizen, which means doing your part and contribute towards the country, building it up for future generation. Don't ask me where I got all these ideas - Civic class? Thus if you decide to put your roots in one country, then fully adopt the country as your home. I have no issues with such changes because I recognize that's part of life. I cannot see the point of keeping Malaysian citizenship when your ability to contribute to the country is minimal. What really bugs me is when friends who've left Malaysia insist on telling us how we can do better if we only .... or keep sending me emails about how badly Malaysia is being governed, which only serves to further justify their decision to leave (yet not give it up altogether). In such case, they have one mind/heart in Malaysia, while they are living off those lovely countries they have migrated to. What then is your contribution to the country you've migrated to, if not to participate in it fully as a citizen ...?

Perhaps you find my view too narrow and too polarized. I don't mean for this to offend anyone, and apologize if you've been so offended. I am simply trying to think aloud. I admit I'm often told that I think in too "black and white" terms. I am open to be corrected. I also understand that life is often much more complicated than that. Some plan to return to Malaysia eventually, perhaps to retire. Others still have lots of ties to family in Malaysia, thus prefer to have their options open. Some move because of marriage, and others may be there because of work. I have also met those who felt led to move, but did so with great reluctance, and continue to care deeply for Malaysia by constantly praying for her. What should be our considerations in making such a decision as a Christian? That's what I'm after.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The New Holy Trinity

We live in an age in which we have all been trained from the cradle to choose for ourselves what is best for us. We have a few years of apprenticeship at this before we are sent out on our own, but the training begins early. By the time we can hold a spoon we choose between half a dozen cereals for breakfast, ranging from Cheerios Bran Flakes. Our tastes, inclinations and appetites are consulted endlessly. We are soon deciding what clothes we will wear and in what style we will have our hair cut. The options proliferate: what TV channels we will view, what college we will attend, what courses we will take in school, what model and colour of car we will buy, what church we will join. We learn early, with multiple confirmations as we grow older, that we have a say in the formation of our lives, and within certain bounds, the decisive say. If the culture does a thorough job on us – and it turns out to be mighty effective with most of us – we enter adulthood with the working assumptions that whatever we need and want and feel forms the divine control of our lives.

Intoroducing the new Holy Trinity. The sovereign self expresses itself in Holy Needs, Holy Wants, and Holy Feelings. The time and intelligence that our ancestors spent on understanding the sovereignty revealed in Father, Son and Holy Spirit are directed by our contemporaries in affirming and validation the sovereignty of our needs, wants and feelings.

My needs are non-negotiable. My so-called rights, defined in individually, are fundamental to my identity. My need for fulfillment. For expression, for affirmation, for sexual satisfaction, for respect, my need to get my own way – all these provide a foundation to the centrality of me and fortify my self against diminution.

My wants are evidence of my expanding sense of kingdom. I train myself to think big because I am big, important, significant. I am larger than life and so require more and more goods and services, more things and more power. Consumption and acquisition are the new fruits of the spirit.

My feelings are the truth of who I am. Any thing or person who can provide me with ecstasy, with excitement, with joy, with stimulus, with spiritual connection validates my sovereignty. This, of course, involves employing quite a large cast of therapists, travel agents, gadgets and machines, recreations and entertainments to case out the devils of boredom or loss or discontent – all the feelings that undermine or challenge my self-sovereignty.


Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book (p31-32)


postscript:

In many Asian cultures, the common good is given much more value than the individual needs, wants or feelings. Thus there is tremendous pressure to conform and not stick out. Add to that, it is a taboo to offer a dissenting view or to look critically at tradition and culture. We know that one of the biggest threat to individuals in any given society is to be ostracised or treated as an outcast. While this is true of human socieities at large, it is particularly poignant in Asian communities. While this may keep the new un-holy trinity at bay, what really happens is the needs, wants and feelings of the group takes the place of the individual and forms the alternative un-holy trinity. The needs, wants and feelings of the group is sovereign. At times, this can result in deep inner conflict when the needs of the individual are in conflict with the needs of the group and the individual's desire to remain part of the group.

In Asian churches, this pressure to conform is translated into teachings that emphasise on the unity of the church and concern for our neighbour. As a result we baptise our culture and this creates cultural blindspots in our theology and teaching. We use the Bible to coerce members to conform to certain (culturally acceptable) patterns of behaviour or get them to align with the leader's (or leaders') agenda. We manipulate and control people and forget that we are all unique individuals created in the image of God.

It is important to know our own cultural blindspots and be careful that we do not baptise our own culture but need to learn to look at ourselves critically. This applies to Asian communities as well as Western ones. Only then can we see what is needed in our theology and teaching to challenge our cultural assumptions and values that are in conflict with Scripture. Asian churches that emphasise on our uniqueness as individuals may be accussed of bringing in western values. The fact is we are called to be counter-cultural and we need each other to help read and understand the Bible more faithfully. while the emphasis may differ from one culture to another, it is not because any particular culture that is superior or that we should seek to emulate.

However what we strive for is the Christian perspective and to emulate Christ. The call for Christians is to give up and hand over our individual's needs, wants and feelings, not in exchange for the group's, but for His will. We are to submit to Him as our sovereign Lord, trusting Him to meet our needs as He sees fit. This does not mean He will ignore our desires, wants or feelings, because, at a deeper level, even these desires are given by God. However we are not to take things into our own hands and be preoccupied with meeting them by our own means. We are called instead to surrender them to Him, submit our wills to Him and allow Him to mould our feelings, to align with His will. We are respondible to do our part and work to meet some of these, but if this is the goal of all our efforts then they become our idols. No, then we become our own gods. But in submitting to Him, He does call and enable us to live beyond ourselves, to love others and consider others more than ourselves. Not because the other, or the group, is more important and valuable than we are, but because He is sovereign and Lord over all. It is His kingdom and plans that He is committed to bring to pass according to His good and perfect will. It is for us to align ourselves with His agenda, by His grace. We ask the wrong question when we ask whether God is on our side. Our concern should be whether we are on His side because in the end, it will be the only side left standing and victorious!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Thoughts about sexuality and marriage

Sometimes I feel God sneaks up on us, pull a fast one and have a good laugh. Not in a mean way, but in a fun kind of way. I went to the Midnight Madness Booksale, that takes place at the end of each term, telling myself I'll be disciplined. I surprised myself when I bought 1 book and 1 pretty expensive journal (literally very pretty too). I came back and started reading the book, which is past midnight now... and finished more than 80% of it by this morning (I did sleep in between). Those who know me well will know that this is rare as I'm fond of collecting books and still have not read half of my collection. The reason I felt God sneaked up on me was because earlier this week, I had asked him a few questions. One of it was, 'Lord, if you hate divorce but permitted it because of the hardness of man's heart, would you also permit remarriage?'. One more question along this line was the idea of polygamy in the Old Testament, which was an acceptable practice in those days especially for the sake of begetting a child. Also Solomon came through Bathsheba, incorporating both mother and son in the lineage that Jesus would come from - was her union with David blessed in the eyes of God? Albeit she was a widow and a victim when she married David, yet would the priest in those days (if they had to give their blessings for the marriage) able to bless the union before God, knowing full well the circumstances of this union? It may seem kinda silly to ask such questions, but I did ask them (even wrote them down in my journal) and I guess God heard it! While I am thrilled for the answer, it still blows me away when God actually answers, even what seemed like silly questions.

In light of today being World AIDS Day, I believe it's appropriate that I read and recommend this book, 'Sexual Ethics: an Evangelical Perspective' by Stanley Grenz (he has another book by a similar title, 'Sexual Ethics: a Biblical Perspective'). It's as if this is the book that I've been waiting for, and reading it has addressed so many of the questions I've had about sexuality, marriage, etc. My interest in this topic started many years back when I first joined the pastorate. I used to ask my older, married colleagues, if they believed that marriage was a good thing and whether it was good for everyone (i.e. would they recommend it for everyone), and why. Many were stumped by the questions, and while most would answer a vehement Yes, to the first question, the answers to the last and third question were mostly weak. Of course I wasn't asking them to write an essay on the subject, and they may never have been confronted with such questions. My motivation was both personal as well as pastoral. At that time, I wanted to know what was God's plan for human sexuality and marriage. As a single woman, I felt that many of the traditional, social, economical reasons that often prompted a woman to get married are no longer applicable, or less relevant today. Women do not get the better end of the bargain in marriage compared to the man, and sometimes I would jokingly mention that I wouldn't mind getting a wife myself. As an aside, I've seen wives of my male friends who work and support while their husband study; cook, wash, iron and take care of the house chores; clean, feed and care for the kids; do banking, shopping and run errands; remind them of important birthdays, keep track of their appointments, even send emails and update their facebook for them!

While there is much affirmation of the single person in the world and workplace, they somehow do not find the same affirmation in church. In a family-oriented church, the message seems to be that the purpose of singlehood is simply to prepare for marriage. The church does not always do a good job ministering to the needs of single adults. This is most apparent in home groups, where majority of the people are married and many have children, if not, grown children. In contrast, my church in Vancouver gives out flowers to every lady in the congregation on Mother's Day! If marriage is the divine will for all, then where does the single person fit it in that divine design? In a sex-charged environment like ours, many battle trying to maintain sexual purity and young people are always told to wait until they are married. While this is right, I doubt that this provides the best or highest reason for getting married. Marriage is much more about sex and married people know they have to deal with issues of their sexuality as well. This range from having a satisfying sex life, not being able to have sex for a variety of reasons, or changes in the expression of sexuality as the couple age. Even the use of language reveal a change of attitude: instead of making love we speak of having sex, betraying a consumerist mindset. Other questions include can you be whole if you do not get married? Can single people have wholesome relationship with members of the opposite sex, whether single or married? One thing that Grenz emphasized is that sexuality is so much more than just genital sex or sexual intercourse. I am reminded of a lecture presented passionately by Cherith Fee-Nordling, reminding us that as embodied being, we are sexual beings. While there may not be sex and marriage in eternity, we will still relate with each other as male and female. I believe she made her case and it has made me wonder what would that look like.

In the first few years of my career as a lawyer, I was brought face-to-face with the hard reality of divorce and the breakdown of marriage. At that time in my life, I have attended more divorce proceedings than weddings, added together. I saw a couple who spent a year preparing for their wedding and spent less time in that marriage, before they petitioned for a divorce. I knew what the Bible said about divorce, but I also saw that Christians were not exempted from this reality. Can marriage still be assumed to be right, safe, wise thing to do? for everyone? Even then, ministering to people who are considering divorce brought up a lot of questions for me. How can the church minister to those who are going through this difficult process? These questions grew in my role as a pastor, as we discussed about issues of remarriage, whether we should publicly give our blessings to such union, that is, whether there is any difference between conducting a marriage ceremony and, leading the couple to make a vow before God and offering our blessing. If we do not, are we saying that these unions are not honoured and blessed by God? Would they nevertheless be man and wife in the eyes of God, as well as the law. We had certain policies and practices, but I did not always understand or agree with all of them. I had my own questions about whether we were consistent in our practices or did we have separate set of rules to apply to such situations, and if they were justified. As a single person, I wasn't sure if there was a place for me to offer my thoughts on these matters. But as a pastor for young adults, I knew I had to think through these questions because what we teach our young adults about marriage should be consistent with the counsel we offer when faced with the breakdown of marriage. Later I had questions about whether those who have divorced or remarried can be in positions of leadership in the church, or ordained as a minister. Again, I was looking for a theological basis for thinking through these issues, and even if we do decide to appoint these men (and women), what would be the considerations and guidelines.

Finally, I was always compassionate to the AIDS cause, and saw how Christians have been taught to moralise this disease. This is regretful but I guess it did not help that when I attended AIDS related conferences, the organisers were handing out free condoms, promoting safe sex and encouraging hospitals to offer free, unused IV needles (seen to be encouraging drug abuse). I understand their reasons for doing so, but it added the prejudice that the church had towards this disease, a prejudice which was also held by many in society, equating the disease with immorality, i.e. associated with homosexuals, sex workers and IV drug users. Like global warming and environmental issues, this is a cause that requires all of us to play our part in stopping it. And yes, underlying all these is our fallen and sinful nature which the church needs to address. But through this, it led me to think about ministering to those who are sexually broken, be it homosexuality or sexual addiction, especially in light of various incidents of renown ministers of God falling in this area. What is the Good News that we present to those struggling with these issues? Calling them names and telling them that what they do is an abomination to God, is hardly the best place to start. In the past, the Church unfortunately is seen to have done very little beyond that. While things are slowly changing, conservative evangelicals are sometimes still viewed in this manner today.

The issue of homosexuality is one that I have given further thought to, looking at the implications of it, if it is indeed a 'natural' orientation as some argue. I knew that our theology (i.e. what we really believe, whether or not we articulate it, or articulate it well) will form and determine our policies and actions. The Church cannot effectively reach out and offer love and acceptance to those struggling with homosexuality unless we truly believe that God loves them. How can we demonstrate such love and yet be consistent in our proclamation that homosexual practices are sinful? Should we and how can we embrace such couples into the family of God? Back home, homosexuality is not endorsed in general and people are not as open about such relationships. However I don't believe that means the church can ignore or avoid this issue. Being in Vancouver the last 2 years, these are very real issues for the churches here as same sex unions are given legal recognition. That means long term, monogamous relationship with the commitment of marital vow is a real possibility. The churches are painfully split on this issue as they decide if they should give their blessings to such unions. Sending them to the next church that would give their blessings is hardly a solution!

I've mentioned about policies and practices a few times, my concern for this is because I believe every church has to decide on these matters and thus should do it consistently with teaching of Scriptures and spirit of Christ. I do not care for a legalistic approach which applies the rule without regards for the individual and the unique circumstances of each case. Loving the person without addressing the sin is not loving in truth, but truth without love is deadly. While the church decides on the stand it will take on a particular matter taking into account the reality of our times, our primary concern should be for the person/s whom we are dealing with. It is important that the stand we take should be well thought through, it is just as important, if not more, that we should give consideration on how we implement these stands and offer to lovingly uphold those who are struggling in these areas. I have read books talking about sex and dating books, calling for abstinence in preparation for marriage. other books on marriage and sexuality, which tend to be restricted to upholding the value of sex within the bonds of marriage and address issues like infidelity. There are a few that has truly uphold the biblical model and provide both sound theological basis and practical reasons for marriage.

The books I've read on divorce and remarriage tends to establish grounds for when divorce is justified and whether remarriage is possible for Christians with considerations of the practical difficulties of these relationships in the new marriage. Books on singlehood tend to uphold Jesus and Paul as model of singles, and exhort singleness for more effective service in Christian ministry. The books written on homosexuality often promote certain agendas which colour the way the Bible is read and interpreted. Grenz deals with all these issues that I've raised above and more. It's a really neat book that address the whole realm of human sexuality, including ethics of contraceptions and abortion, as well as techniques to assist procreation. He sets out the theological and ethical consideration based upon Scripture and provides thoughtful application of these biblical principles for the church in dealing with these issues today. He also lays out the arguments that have been raised for the different positions. You may not agree with all his stands but if you don't, you should be prepared to give a well thought-through, theologically-sound reason for it. I find myself resonating with his perspective on many of these issues, providing a good platform for thinking through and conversing about these matters. In doing so, we need to always bear in mind the bigger picture of what the Bible teaches about human sexuality as a whole. This book is definitely one the best investments I've made!

P/s: Most of my posts on this blog are directly exported to my Facebook account. Those who are already connected on Facebook can access it there. I will continue to post my blogs here if I think they are too personal, and for general access for those who do not subscribe to Facebook.

pp/s: You probably already notice that this is not a book review, but simply sharing of my thoughts some matters that matters to me. A number of writers have written on human sexuality and gender. Last summer Regent offered at least 2 summer courses on this topic and the summer before, a course dealing with addictions which included sexual addiction. I know of at least 2 courses being offered on this topic this summer, including one by Cherith Fee-Nordling entitled 'Holy and Wholly Embodied: The Incarnation and Why It Matters Every Day'. You can probably see that this subject is indeed gaining popularity, or perhaps you can say, it's finally coming out of the closet.
2 excellent lectures which I've heard that has really inspired me, is firstly by Cherith, 'To Be or Not To Be: Bodily Resurrection or Immortality of the Soul' (Summer 2005, Public Evening Lecture) and secondly Sarah Williams during Christian Thought and Culture class (Winter 2006) - the audio recording for this lecture is now available: A Sexual Reformation? Marriage and Sexuality in the Contemporary Paradigm

Friday, October 19, 2007

Not be discouraged

In the beginning he spent the hours appointed for private prayer in thinking of God, so as to convince his mind and impress deeply upon his heart the Divine Existence. He did this by devout sentiments and submission to the lights of faith, rather than by studied reasonings and elaborate meditations. By this short and sure method he immersed himself in the knowledge and love of God. He resolved to use his utmost endeavor to live in a continual sense of His presence, and, if possible, never to forget Him more.

When he had thus, in prayer, filled his mind with that Infinite Being, he went to his work in the kitchen where he was then cook for the community. There, having first considered the things his job required, and when and how each thing was to be done; he spent all the intervals of his time, both before and after his work, in prayer.

When he began, he said to God with a filial trust, "O my God, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, grant me the grace to continue in Thy Presence; and prosper me with Thy assistance. Receive all my works, and possess all my affections." As he proceeded in his work, he continued his familiar conversation with his Maker, imploring His grace, and offering Him all his actions.

When he was finished, he examined how he had performed his duty. If he found well, he returned thanks to God. If not, he asked pardon and, without being discouraged, he set his mind right again. He then continued his exercise of the presence of God as if he had never deviated from it. "Thus," said he, "by rising after my falls, and by frequently renewed acts of faith and love, I have come to a state where it would be as difficult for me not to think of God as it was at first to accustom myself to the habit of thinking of Him." (emphasis mine).


Brother Lawrence
Practicing the Presence of God

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Honest Worship

I've been thinking about how we worship, in light with the book 'Faking Church' that I've been reading. This book has given me lots of food for thought. One thing I noticed is that our worship songs are filled with 'feeling' words. I don't know about you but sometimes I find it hard to sing those songs, when I don't feel that way. I don't want to offer God praises with my lips when my heart seems so far from what I'm singing. Yes, there is a place where we have to proclaim by faith and sing what is true according to God's Word even when we don't 'feel' it is true. There is also a place of offering a sacrifice of praise, where we praise God for who He is and what He has done and those truths are objectively true even though it may not be how I perceive the reality of my present experience.

What I'm referring to is the state of our emotions and whether they are consistent with what we are singing, especially when many of the songs have words that describe our passion for Him. The ancient meaning for that word is suffering. The early church fathers were skeptical of passions, because it means to be responsive to an external influence. And for them, spirituality is about training ourselves not to be reactive and dependent on external factors, but that we be disciplined in our walk, not susceptible to external influences. Today, passion is often seen as an intense emotion. Can we really maintain that sort of passion about Christ and God all the time? Can we honestly sing these songs when we don't feel the passion? Perhaps we can, because someone once said, Passion is doing what you ought to do even when you don't feel like it. However I must say that I feel like a phoney singing "Yes, I'm so in love with You" when I don't feel the least bit in love with God.

Is our relationship with God dependent on our feelings? No and it shouldn't be but you can't deny that it plays a big part. I guess we can look at couples who are in love and also those who have been married for many years. Couples who are in love often feel very strong and intense emotions but we know that such highly charged emotions are not the basis for building a strong and lasting relationship, because what happens to the relationship when you no longer feel the passion for each other? However these emotions are very real and can make us believe that this must be the real thing. Yet we know that we cannot always trust our emotions at these points but need to give ourselves time for it to cool off, especially if we are making a life-changing decision based on them. The state of mind of someone who is infatuated is said to be no different than a person who is insane (temporary insanity), and are thus not in their right mind and it is usually unwise to make any major decisions in this state of mind. A long term marriage on the other hand can be full of passion, but it may feel very different even though the intensity and degree may not be any less that those of newly wed, or if not, more.

Some have suggested 'tweaking' some of the lyrics of the songs we sing. One speaker, Benny Ong, used to sing 'I surrender MORE', rather than 'I surrender ALL!'. So, perhaps one could sing, 'Jesus I want to be so in love with You' (Let my words be few), or add words like, 'Help me be ...', 'Teach me to...', etc. At the end of the day, I believe God sees our heart and know we want to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

How have you been tempted or tried?

I am currently leading a bible study among some of those who come for the Alpha group meetings, with a study on the book of James. The first thing that hits you in that book is 'Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance'. Well, James is a pretty direct kind of guy and does not bit around the bush. So when I came across the passage below in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, I paused to consider what trials have the Lord brought my way and if I recognised them?

When the devil does not use the goads of poverty to tempt, he uses wealth for the purpose. When he cannot win by scorn and mockery, he tries praise and flattery. If he cannot win by providing health, he tries illness; if he cannot win by comfort, he tries to ruin the soul by vexations which lead a person to act against their vows (as a Christian) ... he does all these to shake the love we feel toward God.

We tend to equate suffering, bad stuff, unpleasant experiences as trials and are quick to say that these are from the devil ... this passage reminds me that I am not to quickly assume that wealth, good health and praises and flattery (or compliments and acknowledgments) are without their dangers. I'm not saying that these 'blessings' are not from God, however I am cautioned that the devil tries to use the things God intends for good, and turn it around to harm us. On the other hand, God is more than able to turn around what the enemy intends for our harm, and use it to make something good out of it. One of my prof (Chris Hall) said something that has stuck in my head, that is we should learn to distinguish the things that harm us and those that hurt us. While some experiences may hurt, they cannot necessarily harm us. Thus not all pain is bad. Sometimes pain is good - it informs us something is amiss and helps us to remove ourselves from potentially greater danger. A good book on this topic is 'The Gift of Pain' by Paul Brand Phillip Yancey. For a generation that has adopted 'happiness' and comfort as the ultimate goal of life and seek to avoid pain at all cost, this may sound jarring to our ears.