Friday, May 30, 2008

Traipsing around London / More on gospel outlines

God is worthy of our worship even on the bad days, but we praise Him on the good days too. :) I started the day with strangers but by the end of the day I think I can safely say I didn't.

Some of you might remember that I wrote on James Choung's new gospel outline, True Story a while back. Justin Taylor has now linked to Trevin Wax's fair-minded appreciation and critique of the accompanying book here. Also be sure to read the comment thread where James Choung's editor, Al Hsu, interacts with others on the subject of the gospel.

Some of you might wonder why I seem to bring up this issue often; it's because more than ever, I think many of us are actually quite confused on the content of the gospel and we need to get clarity on the heart of our faith, and such conversation helps us.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Happy Blogiversary

Yesterday marked the fourth birthday of this blog. It was the Easter holidays of 2004, and I was sitting in my room bored out of my mind. Mucking about on my computer, I suddenly thought, why not start a blog for fun? It’s no contest when the alternative is hitting the books to prepare for the coming term. I had been reading blogs for a while by then – I was stunned when revisiting my archives to see that I already knew of the 'emerging church' from the very moment this blog was borne – and my other friends had blogs so it seemed like a natural way to connect. Who knew I would last this long? It seemed as if things were grinding to a halt in 2006, when I had a really busy year, but I dug in my heels and pressed on.

Interestingly, in my very first post I had chewed over 5 possible reasons for blogging and concluded that my own motivation was probably a combination of these:

1. To "document my life", i.e chronicling, journaling day-to-day stuff.
2. As commentary, i.e if I have an opinion, the whole world should know about it!
3. As catharsis, i.e pretending to be the innocent martyr. :-p
4. To force thinking by writing.
5. To build community.

I’ve always thought of my blogging as rather piecemeal, even after all these years. It was very interesting to look over my first year of blogging especially and see all my half-formed thoughts and the things I was grappling with. Things can change a lot in 4 years! I was also quite surprised to note that my posts were more personal than I thought they would be. My writing was less detached and more stream-of-consciousness. I had a more playful streak as well. (Haha, and probably more pretentious too). That was also the summer Uncle Jason and others perished in the helicopter accident and I’m glad that my memories of it were captured on this very blog. I know that in the past year especially, I’ve probably not been as personal in tone, as I’ve been much more essayistic in style and less of a chronicler. It’s quite hard to get the balance right since a general rule of blogging is to avoid the "Today I took my cat to the vet" syndrome, yet, as Gordon Cheng put it very well recently: "I suppose minutiae are interesting if you’re interested in the person whose minutiae they are." But then again, and this is certainly not the first time I’ve said it, getting the right pitch for an unseen audience (I honestly have no idea who many of my readers are) has never been easy.

Of course, I break other rules of blogging as well, such as the endless verbiage of some of my posts and the failure to find a particular niche. Although having said that, interestingly, as I look back, certain themes can be easily detected over the past four years. Books and films figure quite a bit, but that’s not a surprise. My sports-nut persona is present. But there was certainly much more featured poetry and stuff on current affairs than I thought. Reflections on "Christian" things are all there obviously. Just as often, however, there are things which I initially want to blog about but after more thought, I realise it’s better to hold yer horses. I’m sure some of you have also probably spotted patterns that I missed.

One thing I admit to is that I sometimes wish more people would comment, especially my friends. That's 'cause I just selfishly want to feel looooved. :-p Sometimes a post does surprise you, like my post on homosexuality. I didn’t actually spent ages writing that one; just sat down in front of the computer and let the words flow. So I was surprised, shouldn’t have been really, that it attracted attention.

Anyway, happy blogiversary to myself!

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Tim Keller: "The Gospel in All its forms"

here. Highly recommended reading.

His summary of the gospel:
Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Intermission: Your Love is Strong

From Jon Foreman's forthcoming EP Spring/Summer.

Thanks to Tim for drawing my attention to Foreman's solo project a few months back; Spring/Summer forms a double set with the already released Fall/Winter.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Caspian, adaptation, summation, disappointment?

I've been seeing very mixed reviews on Prince Caspian so far. Granted, I've been reading mainly the Christian reviewers I respect (Overstreet, Chattaway, Greydanus) rather than the more mainstream ones but given this is Narnia after all...

Anyway, in a nutshell, people are generally agreed that as a piece of filmmaking, it's actually pretty good, and even superior to the first instalment. Some are even prepared to say that it improves on the original plotline. I was interested to discover that Caspian seems to be regarded as the weakest of the Narnia books. I suppose it is true that in terms of the pacing of the book, it isn't always the best: lots of travelling and exposition. But thematically it's as rich as any other Narnia book, especially in the way it treats memory and maturity. Think of how the Penvensies must remember who they really are in Narnia (they even take a while to realise they're in Narnia!), how the recollection of Old Narnia sustains the hopes of those who oppose Miraz, Edmund's willingness to believe Lucy this time around (cf. Lion, Witch & Wardrobe), and perhaps more indirectly, the way the book itself is structured: extensive flashbacks, a travel narrative that mirrors the coming-of-age of the characters.

But I digress. The big question is: how faithful should the film be to the book, or perhaps a better question is, what counts as a faithful adaptation? How you answer this question will determine your reaction to the cinematic version. I suspect that if you don't care about the book there's no problem at all. [SPOILER ALERT follows for those who want to know absolutely nothing about the film] According to reviews I've been reading, here are some of the changes:
  • The contrasts between Old Narnia and "modern" Narnia under Miraz are minimised. That's quite a serious thing, as the (dis)enchantment of the world is a big theme in the book. See Greydanus for more.
  • Trumpkin becomes Mr. Grumpy, which misses the nuance of the character. In the book, Trumpkin is conflicted but willing and earnest to seek the truth. Sure, this means he's going to be a little gruff on occasion, but in the end he's always trustworthy. Considering that I think one of the key scenes in the book, the dispute between the Badger (whose name currently escapes me) and Nikabrik, is given its power precisely because of Trumpkin's qualities, I'm certainly not optimistic about this.
  • Reepicheep becomes the wisecracking equivalent of Shrek's Donkey. NOOOOO!!!! Reepicheep is the quintessence of chivalry and valiance. It's because of this that he is occasionally overly zealous, which leads to some pretty funny moments, but ironic he ain't.
  • As Stephen Altrogge quite memorably put it, Susan has a 'Saved By the Bell'-crush on Caspian. *slaps forehead*
  • Peter and Caspian have a clash of egos. Actually, I don't have a problem with this change, since I think it doesn't violate the spirit of the book in that both still have some growing up to do. I'm told Peter is actually much stronger in this film, which is a welcome change from the first movie.
  • Aslan is reduced to a bit role, and Lucy sees Aslan in a dream sequence - not in the book.
As you can plainly see, in this case, I'm all for a faithful adaptation. Personally, I don't think this means following the book slavishly - I have no problem with rearranging or expanding material. I'm glad the LOTR films are the way they are! But a faithful adaptation should seek to be true to the spirit of the book, and judging by the reviews, ugh.

Now to be fair, even the more mixed reviews have pointed out plenty of positives. I've already mentioned that most agree that the film is better on the pacing of the plot. A film buff friend of mine was sold on the Penvensies, whom he says really do shine here. The more positive reviews have faulted Christians for having unrealistic expectations of Hollywood and highlight the general spiritual themes that come through, such as those of faith, courage, the folly of folly. In one sense, that actually makes it more disappointing, because while all these are good, the film seems to have missed the boat in conveying the even richer vision of the book.

Despite that, I think I will go and see the film when it comes out. Who knows, maybe I'll revise my opinion.

More mixed:
Steven Greydanus - if you read just one review, this is probably it. Balanced and very thoughtful.
Jeffrey Overstreet
Peter Chattaway
Doug Wilson

More positive:
Christ and Pop Culture
John Mark Reynolds
Frederica Mathewes-Green (not a standalone review)
Mark Doebler

For fun: What would Repicheep say?

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

The wrap

wrapping giftWrapping paper is often dyed, laminated and/or contains non-paper additives such as gold and silver coloured shapes, glitter, plastics etc which cannot be recycled. But wraps found on this blog are fully reusable and will surely please the carbon-conscious visitor. For instance, there is no reason why you can't repeatedly visit Infernal Ramblings, a blog devoted to socio-political issues of interest to Malaysians, by a Malaysian studying at Dartmouth (HT: DD), or Sola Panel, a group blog by a few Sydney Anglicans. Of course, being green can sometimes be too much of a good thing, for you could suffer something akin to Bono Fatigue. Don't laugh, it could happen to U2.

Two interesting and important pieces from two respected periodicals:
  • Nomads at Last (The Economist) on the connectedness of our world; how wireless communication is changing the way people live, work and relate to places.
  • The Post-American World (Newsweek) on the changing global realities of our world. It's an excerpt from Fareed Zakaria's forthcoming book of the same name.

    Browse people's opinions on what books they'll put on a church's book table.

    Great discussion on what preaching should achieve. Make sure to read the comment thread, that's where all the action is!

    Russ Moore: Beyond a Veggietales Gospel - why we must preach Christ from every text. Spoiler alert, he gives away the ending of The Sixth Sense!

    C.S Lewis scholar Devin Brown on Lewis's characters and looking at the world rightly.

    What to do when your pastor (or anyone) offends you.

    A Two-Way Street: Suffering, Free Will, and the Glory of God. Or, Reformed and non-Reformed views on theodicy ain't worlds apart, sir!

    For the football obssessed: Stats galore on the recently concluded Premier League campaign. Did you know England's finest finisher is...Joleon Lescott?!?

    Charlie Peacock on the future of Christian music.

    Job interviews are like dates - don't get them mixed up. Funny.

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  • Wednesday, May 21, 2008

    Man U's done it!

    I'm delighted to see Man U crowned as European champions again, and pleased that it was such an exciting final. Man U really bossed Chelsea in the first half, after Sir Alex initially outthought Avram Grant by recognising that the flanks were key for exposing Chelsea's more narrow 4-3-3, and thus going with a traditional 4-4-2. Putting Ronaldo on the left against a makeshift fullback (Essien), and thus making sure Essien was pinned bank instead of contributing to the Chelsea attack was a great idea, especially when the alternative was going against a player he's traditionally not done well against (Cole). The first goal was indicative of that, as Scholes and Brown had a lovely interchange of passes before the inswinger for Ronaldo to head past a stranded Essien.

    Still, Chelsea's reputation as a resilient side isn't unfounded, and while their equalizer had some element of fortune, you have to credit Lampard for following-up in the first place. The momentum definitely swung to Chelsea in the second half, as their midfield had the upper hand, correlating with Scholes' waning influence due to his tiring legs. Now it was Essien pinning Ronaldo back (or more accurately getting into the attack more as Ronaldo doesn't defend!). Drogba was unlucky with the curling shot that hit the woodwork, and Joe Cole had one or two legitimate complaints at decisions that went against him. Vidic and Ferdinand were immense as they have been throughout the season. Btw, both keepers should get plenty of credit for their performances - they kept their respective sides in it at crucial points. VDS is coming to the end of a great career; Cech is one of the best of the new generation.

    I'm ambivalent about penalties - they don't seem fair, but a final has to be decided somehow and they provide for amazing drama. Not surprising that Ronaldo, who had a good, though not outstanding, game overall missed - you just knew he would. I feel sorry for JT, and it should not go unnoticed that Scholes immediately went to console him at the end afterwards.

    But on the whole, Manchester United do deserve it - I honestly can't think of a squad outside of Barcelona, who were less that the sum of their parts this season, who have so much quality.


    Monday, May 19, 2008

    The Bible and Other Faiths 8

    I'm certainly taking my time with this series! For previous entries, just click on The Bible and Other Faiths label at the end of this post.

    God, gods and other nations

    God wants to bless the nations. This seems to be the consistent refrain of this book so far. But hang on a minute, isn’t Israel’s history largely one of conflict with other nations? IG argues that we need to see this in its larger context, that this was one way to show all nations, including Israel, Yahweh and his righteousness. Furthermore, there are plenty of instances of relative peace between Israel and her neighbours. Finally, we must not forget, as shown in the last chapter, that the exile challenges the links between nations, lands, kings and gods. “This suggests that a battle with a nation is not necessarily the same thing as a battle with her religion and her god”.

    IG looks at the reigns of David and Solomon, two of Israel’s most celebrated kings. We remember David for his military exploits, but he also had friendly relations with the kings of Tyre and Hamath (2 Sam. 5:11, 8:9-10), received hospitality from Nahash, one of the Ammonite kings, and also tried to show kindness to one of Nahash’s son (2 Sam. 10-:1-2, who sadly rejected it). There were also foreigners in David’s army, the most famous being Uriah the Hittite, and his overseers, eg. Hushai the Arkite, called “David’s friend” (1. Chron. 27:33). In fact, the behaviour of these two are contrasted favourably with those of the Israelites, the former in the well-known account of David and Bathsheba, and the latter with Absalom’s treachery. As for Solomon, he was not afraid to enlist foreigners in the building of the temple, and he understood God’s desire to bless the nations, reflected in a prayer “that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you as do your own people Israel” (1 Kings 8:43, 2 Chron. 6:33). Again, the most well-known fulfilment of this prayer lies in the visit of the Queen of Sheba, who hears Solomon’s wisdom and witnesses the worship of Yahweh. Sadly, Solomon did not remain faithful all his life as did David, and began to worship other gods, leading to judgment against Israel and hamstringing it from being the light to other nations.

    IG now proceeds to look at wisdom literature. It isn’t easy to disentangle all the sources and influences, but it is reasonably clear that there are parallels between the wisdom literature contained in the Bible and the writings of other nations, and that Israel was not averse to using material from other nations. This should not surprise us, as 1 Kings 4 tells us that not only did God give Solomon wisdom, but Solomon used his wisdom to observe all that was going on around him (v.33). It is a good example of what theologians call “general revelation”. IG concludes that “the wisdom literature shows the Bible’s engagement with the human search for right thinking and living”. In other words, God is not indifferent to the concerns of the surrounding nations and the big questions of what it means to live rightly, of suffering and justice. Yet true wisdom understands its own limits, thus wisdom begins and ends with the fear of the Lord. Biblical wisdom is not antithetical to general wisdom, but relates it specifically to God. Nor must we be blind to the presence of folly, which often exists alongside wisdom, as the book of Proverbs notes. Ultimately, God is more interested in relationship; he is here to rescue his world. But there is room for the wisdom of the nations.

    Now we turn to the subject of religion and judgment. When we look at Isaiah 1, we get an idea of the kind of religion God hates. The focus here is not the pagan religions however, but Israel’s own hypocritical worship. God hates ritual minus faithfulness. Israel herself needed to know that she would be judged, and IG turns to the book of Amos to demonstrate this. Amos 2:4-8 declares judgment of Israel and Judah in the same language used for judgment on other nations. What is different here is the reason: they have disobeyed God’s laws, followed other gods, oppressed the poor. This is because Israel has not lived up to its chosen status, but in fact behaved arrogantly. God does not play favourites, and he is not just god of Israel, thus he is able to use other nations to judge Israel. But of course, other nations do come under God’s wrath. Why? The most frequent theme seems to be their vicious treatment of Israel – eg. Isaiah 10:7, Ezekiel 25:6. Other reasons include general wickedness, spreading terror, hoarding riches, complacency and pride. The last reason is especially pertinent, showing how the nations often choose to exercise their rebellious autonomy. We can rest assured that God will not overlook wickedness. IG also examines how judgement of other nations are described: in terms of defeat of their gods, punishing both gods and kings, or as putting the gods to shame. The other gods are exposed for their weakness – God’s victory and sovereignty is clear.

    In the prophets we often read of God’s grief in his judgment, and his promises of restoration for Israel. Does this apply to other nations too? Jeremiah and Ezekiel lament for Moab, Egypt and Tyre; some of which are commanded by God. God appears to lament over other nations too. Secondly, God often judges that people might come to know him, as Ezekiel often points out (eg. 25:7, 11, 14, 27; 26:6 etc). But this should be accompanied by repentance. Isaiah 19:18-25 speaks of Yahweh’s longing that true worship be established in Egypt and his willingness to bless them if they be his people.

    IG now investigates some of the OT stories as cited in the NT as one way of thinking about what really matters. She notes the presence of Ruth, Rahab and Uriah in Matthew’s genealogy. All three acknowledged God and in a sense, became part of Israel, God’s people. Jesus outrages the Pharisees by telling them that the Queen of Sheba and the people of Niveneh would actually judge them. The Pharisees have the Scriptures but fail to acknowledge the Messiah nor repent, something the Queen and the Nivenites do without this privilege! Jesus also mentions the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the leper, and in so doing is reminding those within his hearing of God’s graciousness to Gentiles when Jews were rejecting him. Ultimately, God cares for all humans. “He made them, he is their Lord, whether they acknowledge him or not.” They have fallen, and they deserve judgment, but God wants to show his mercy. How shall we respond, then, to the gracious, living God?

    I don’t really have any comments on this chapter, which builds on many of her earlier themes. Instead, I find it more fruitful just to dwell on the wide scope of God’s mission!

    Exploring the New Testament – Setting the Scene: The World behind the text.

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    Slave labour

    Last week my brother worked a 40-hour day. Yes, you read that right. He went into the office on Tuesday morning and did not emerge until Wednesday night, and this without virtually any shuteye. (Yes, the coffee machine was put to good use). Apparently, some client - who btw, happens to be a well-known Malaysian corporate figure - decided that he wanted a certain deal to be done in some crazy timeframe and so the underlings were put to work after signing the obligatory waiver. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, slavery still exists, and not only in the seedy underbelly of Third World countries, but within the glittering glass-walls of the City.

    Be a lawyer, they said. As I told my brother yesterday, it's almost enough to make me embrace a new calling: trade unionist.

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    Saturday, May 17, 2008

    Review: 666 and all that

    As a young Christian, I often struggled with reading the Bible. (It’s still a struggle, although I’ll like to think I’ve made progress!). One of the books that caught my imagination however was the book of Revelation. I mean wow! Dragons! Beasts! Angels! Who needs the X-Files? The Internet only served to stoke the fire, as I pored over reports of how the latest actions of Libya fulfilled verse 14 of chapter 17 and prophecies darkly warning of the rise of the Illuminati corresponding with an apostate church with ever-widening eyes that would rival any anime heroine. And of course, it was fun guessing who the AntiChrist was: the Pope, Bill Clinton, Maitreya. It was inevitable that I would eventually suffer prophecy burnout. Plus, I grew up. It became easier to recognise that many prophecies were simply conspiracy theories all dolled up in Christianese.

    As a slightly older Christian, I got excited once more as I discovered the Bible storyline of creation, fall, redemption and consummation. No longer obsessed with cracking the Bible code, I was sobered by the reality of coming judgement and the justice of God. I understood a little more of the already/not yet nature of God’s kingdom. I saw how living in light of eternity shaped the present. In many ways it was simply a result of learning to read the Bible better. Being pretty much an organic process, I sometimes found myself unable to capture all these newfound insights and put them all together. I think this is true of many Christians too: people find it hard to discern if the latest prophecy from some Christian celebrity is bunk, or are too easily caught up in a wave of triumphalism or alarmism because they have a misshapen view of the future.

    Which is where 666 and All That has proved to be a great help. This book is the latest from the pens of John Dickson and Greg Clarke, both associated with The Centre for Public Christianity. I had been very impressed with some of the other books of Dickson, a musician and evangelist who holds a PhD in Ancient History, as he is very good in writing simply but not simplistically. This also holds true here – I never felt for a moment that this book was flimsy despite its breezy style. Such inklings are confirmed when we refer to the endnotes, the majority of which are devoted to showing their exegetical homework of the various verses discussed in the main text rather than citations of other books.

    The authors first lay the groundwork with some autobiographical jottings, Dickson having gone through the same apocalyptic zeal as I have. They note that hope has often been the poor cousin of the Christian triad of love-faith-hope and then show the central place hope should play in the Christian’s life. Two chapters are spent discussing how to read prophetic and apocalyptic literature, using concrete examples such as the rapture. The rest of the book is then devoted to various topics on the future, such as death, hell, the second coming, the fate of those who have never heard the gospel, and heaven/the new creation.

    In many ways, this book is very similar to a much higher profile book, Tom Wright’s Surprised By Hope, which I managed to read halfway in a Waterstones. Indeed, the authors even borrow one of Wright’s phrases, "life after life-after-death" for the title of one of their chapters. (For those interested, Wright’s book has been reviewed to death online – just google it). Where I think Dickson & Clarke’s book distinguishes itself from Wright’s is in its conception of its audience. Wright is a very lucid writer and his book appears to be a valuable contribution, but I think his primary appeal is to those of a more intellectual bent. I really enjoyed his anecdote about Wittgenstein and Popper, but I can also see many of my less bookish friends reading that and either feeling intimidated or put off. In any case, those who are most likely to read Wright are also less likely to be those who would fall prey to Rapturemania in the first place.

    On the other hand, with Dickson and Clarke’s book, I feel more confident about putting it into the hands of an earnest but confused Christian, who has imbibed unhelpful teaching on the apocalypse et al. from the likes of Rick Joyner and his ilk. As a guide to eschatology (to use the technical term), a correction to popular misconceptions, and a reflection on how the future should shape our lives, this book is probably easier to navigate than Wright’s without losing any of Wright’s perceived strengths, eg. exposing Platonic myths or reminding us of the cosmic implications of the gospel. Yet even those further on in their Christian walk would benefit from this book as well as their discussion of various biblical passages is often insightful. To give one example, in addressing the question of "anonymous Christians", they give a creative reading of the story of Cornelius in Acts which was new to me and certainly compelling on first reading! This will also surely serve as a reference point for me whenever I feel myself needing to gather my thoughts on eschatological issues.

    Sadly, this book, published by a small Australian press, would probably not be easy to obtain if you’re not in Aussieland. It is available from The Good Book Co. and St Andrew's Bookshop in the UK. If you’re looking for a primer on what the Bible says about the future, there are few better places to start.

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    Thursday, May 15, 2008

    Suffering and hope

    Like many members of the human race, Christians suffer. This is the simple point of my post today. Christians have it hard too. Moreover, at least some of their hardships stem from choosing to be a follower of Jesus. This is basic Christianity, yet tragically, such a basic truth escapes many. But the Bible’s teaching on this is inescapably clear. Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34). Or as a preacher at my church said recently: in God’s economy, there is no ringroad around Calvary. Paul, at the end of a lifetime of mature reflection, tells Timothy: "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12), having just reminded Timothy of his many persecutions and sufferings (v.11). These are but two of the myriad number of passages that reflect the commonplace nature of suffering for Christians.

    I think about this a lot, especially as I have become acquainted with suffering in both my life and others. In some ways, I feel slightly hesitant to use the word suffering when I think about Elisabeth Fritzl and Natascha Kampusch or Burma and China. But pain is pain and is real to the person experiencing it regardless of whether he/she happens to be in leafy suburbia or an orphanage in India. I think about my friend who died of leukaemia at 13. I think of another friend whose dad died in a car accident. I think of Uncle Jason. I think about my own dad who battled clinical depression for over a year and how that affected my family. I think of friends right now who are struggling over bereavement and different problems. And I think of myself, be it over loneliness or finding work or something else.

    As Christians, some of us might question the very existence of God at this time. And yet I suspect that for most of us, our reaction is probably closer to that of C.S Lewis:
    'Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not "So there's no God after all," but "So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer." '
    (A Grief Observed)
    Is God in control? Is God loving? Is God trustworthy? The experience of suffering is likely to lead us back to these foundational questions, even if we initially have to work through a pile of other questions that obscure this. We could then say, “I’m fine. There’s no problem. God is good. Hallelujah.” I know, I do it all the time, though perhaps not in so cheesy a fashion. But this is false piety at work; it is a refusal to hope, to believe God can actually make use not only of our times of joy, but of our times of suffering, and so, we are effectively telling God that he is not big enough for our problems. James writes: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds..." (1:2) but a pious response such as the one above fails to even acknowledge that we are facing trials! Instead, we have chosen to play the martyrdom card instead of wrestling with the possibility that there might actually be a better tomorrow. It is a refusal to remember the times where God has been good so that we don’t have to come to terms with the prospect that he has let us down now.

    And so to encourage each other is not to take the don’t worry be happy approach. It is to come together and recognise how far the world has fallen from the glories of Eden. It is not wrong to weep and groan over suffering. But more than that, it is to help drive each other back into the arms of God, to keep our gazes fixed firmly on Jesus, who is able to redeem all things. It is not a passive resignation, it is active endurance. This is what Paul gets at in Romans 5:1-11. We can "rejoice in the hope of the glory of God" (v.2), even in suffering, and that this "hope does not disappoint us" (v.5). He gives us 3 reasons why our hope is certain: the assurance of his love which we feel subjectively through the Holy Spirit (v.5), the assurance of his love through the objective truth of the death of Jesus for sinners (v.6-8), and the assurance that we are most definitely justified by his blood and reconciled to God (v.9-11). I was reading the story of Angie, wife of Selah member Todd Smith, and her still unborn baby, who is very likely to be stillborn, and I was struck by her impromptu words when she heard the news from the geneticist: “I think that my Jesus is the same as He was before I walked into this room.” That is applied theology at its very best. Her life changed, but her hope did not.

    It’s all gonna be ok in the end, but not in the way we usually think of it. It might not be ok here and now: our cancer might not go away, debts brought about by the credit crunch may mean life remains stressful. But in Christ we are heirs not only his sufferings, but of his glory which will be revealed one day. Then the curse will be lifted! Imagine, the new creation will be a place where "never again will there infant who lives but a few days" (Isaiah 65:20), and "my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them." (v.23)

    It's gonna be better than ok in the end.

    Now I just need to heed everything I’ve just written in this post!

    The song, I have a Shelter, from the new Sovereign Grace album Come Weary Saints, which you can download for free here (the offer might not be on indefinitely, so grab it while you can!) captures the sentiments of this post well. It's a fitting way to end:

    I have a shelter in the storm
    When troubles pour upon me
    Though fears are rising like a flood
    My soul can rest securely
    O Jesus, I will hide in You
    My place of peace and solace
    No trial is deeper than Your love
    That comforts all my sorrows

    I have a shelter in the storm
    When all my sins accuse me
    Though justice charges me with guilt
    Your grace will not refuse me
    O Jesus, I will hide in You
    Who bore my condemnation
    I find my refuge in Your wounds
    For there I find salvation

    I have a shelter in the storm
    When constant winds would break me
    For in my weakness, I have learned
    Your strength will not forsake me
    O Jesus, I will hide in You
    The One who bears my burdens
    With faithful hands that cannot fail
    You’ll bring me home to heaven

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    Wednesday, May 14, 2008

    The One Movie Meme

    Sorry for the recent lack of posts - I've had other things on my mind apart from blogging recently. Didn't feel like writing anything particularly weighty today, so although I wasn't tagged for this meme, I thought it'd be fun to do it anyway!

    1. One movie that made you laugh
    Hot Fuzz

    2. One movie that made you cry
    Grave of the Fireflies

    3. One movie you loved when you were a child
    Lion King

    4. One movie you’ve seen more than once
    Lost in Translation

    5. One movie you loved, but were embarrassed to admit it
    Mean Girls - it's great on the pack mentality of high school!

    6. One movie you hated
    A Lot Like Love

    7. One movie that scared you

    8. One movie that bored you
    Ang Lee's The Hulk

    9. One movie that made you happy
    Any Pixar film really

    10. One movie that made you miserable
    Monster's Ball

    11. One movie you weren’t brave enough to see
    Any of the Saw movies, and I have no desire to rectify that!

    12. One movie character you’ve fallen in love with
    Juno Macguff in Juno (Ellen Page)

    13. The last movie you saw

    14. The next movie you hope to see
    Possibly Iron Man

    I'm meant to tag 5 people, but I won't. But if you do it, let me know in the comments!

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    Friday, May 09, 2008

    Prayer for Myanmar

    Father, we continue to pray today for the situation in Myanmar. We cannot comprehend the current level of suffering that is going on, but we know that you do. We pray that the current impasse between the global community and the junta will not be prolonged but that a resolution can be found as quickly as possible so that much needed aid will be brought into the country. We pray that all the resources allocated will be used optimally and that you will limit the spread of disease. We pray for the aid workers on the ground, that you will give them much needed strength. We pray for your people in Myanmar, that even now, they will know of your love and compassion and that they will be able to share this with others. We know Lord that you will be able to bring good out of suffering and we pray that the hope of the gospel will be clear even now.



    Thursday, May 08, 2008

    Wordsmiths: Forget

    No wordsmiths were featured last month, so we're definitely due. All credit for today's artisan goes to Steve McCoy, who first featured him on his blog.haunted eyes Being very limited in my knowledge of contemporary poetry, I've only vaguely heard of Czeslaw Milosz, the 1980 Nobel Prize Winner. Milosz was Lithuanian-born, raised in Poland, where he became a political dissident, and eventually emigrated to the United States. He died in 2004. [More on him here.]


    Forget the suffering
    You caused others.
    Forget the suffering
    Others caused you.
    The waters run and run,
    Springs sparkle and are done,
    You walk the earth you are forgetting.

    Sometimes you hear a distant refrain.
    What does it mean, you ask, who is singing?
    A childlike sun grows warm.
    A grandson and a great-grandson are born.
    You are led by the hand once again.

    The names of the rivers remain with you.
    How endless those rivers seem!
    Your fields lie fallow,
    The city towers are not as they were.
    You stand at the threshold mute.

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    Tuesday, May 06, 2008

    Live from the Dewan Rakyat

    Part of the parliamentary sessions are being broadcast live for the first time in Malaysian history. Here's the first 10 minutes from yesterday's proceedings. It doesn't quite have the sharp verbal barbs often exchanged in other leaked Youtube videos of the Dewan - it's pretty sedate actually - but it's nice to know that our Parliament isn't always the Malaysian version of the WWE!

    There's also a new Malaysian Christian initiative for public interest advocacy:
    The Micah Mandate

    Blurb from their website:
    The MICAH MANDATE website is the result of the concerns and aspirations of a group of Christians who are praying that all Malaysians in general and Christian Malaysians in particular will be more constructively engaged in matters of social conscience, public service and nation building rather than to only remain in comfortable armchairs criticising other people and institutions. Actual involvement will better shape and clarify our thinking and our doing. In the process, we will meet and relate with others of all walks of life and learn to live and work together to build a better neighbourhood and a better world. (FAQ)

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    Monday, May 05, 2008

    On mono/multi-cultural congregations

    one differentI’ve really enjoyed reading Tony Siew’s two posts on race and religion, here and here. I have always struggled to negotiate the tensions inherent in the task of assimilating into British culture while retaining a distinctly Malaysian identity; it gets even more complicated when you factor in that I am in some ways very Western, having taken the road less travelled by studying for a degree in English Literature, and have also been involved in international ministry for some time now predominantly amongst East Asians!

    This translates over into church as well, where I initially sort of fell into attending a Caucasian-majority church during my A-Levels – I had no say in the matter really, but this turned out to be a good thing – and have done so ever since. Part of the reason for this was a conviction that church congregations should ideally be multiracial, having grown up in such a church myself. (Isn’t it interesting that Tony comes from the same denomination as myself? Ahem. OK, enough boasting for now. :->) I should hasten to add that I did not view my choices of churches primarily through ethnic lenses; there were plenty of other, more important reasons why I committed to the churches I did. And in any case, there are plenty of times when church congregations can’t be multiracial – I’m thinking hypothetically of the small church in the Japanese countryside where’s there’s unlikely to be any foreigners around!

    In truth, there is a gospel tension "between building one church that displays Christian love, and the Christian love that reaches out to people in all their diversity", as Carson puts it. Andrew Lim, a pastor in Australia who comes from a Chinese church context, helpfully lists both criticisms and valid reasons for a mono-ethnic cultural church:

    • They ignore the fact that we are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28); there should not be distinctions (no longer Jew or Gentiles…)
    • They encourage cultural biases like a sense of superiority or monoculturalism
    • They are by definition racist, and may be seen by outsiders as such
    • They may foster cultural intolerance
    • They are inward and exclusive, by not seeking to minister to outsiders
    • They are prone to mix up cultural ethics with Biblical ethics
    • They restrict evangelistic opportunities. The environment might not be one you would feel comfortable inviting friends from other ethnic backgrounds to.
    • They are anti-integration and anti-assimilation, a charge often summed up by the questioning statement, “But we live in Australia [or Britain!]...”
    Valid reasons
    • Jesus tells us to reach ‘all nations’ (Matthew 28:19)
    • They overcome language and cultural barriers to understanding the gospel
    • They target specific ethnic groups for evangelism
    • They are a better forum for addressing culture-specific issues
    Andrew and Carson (and I!) all agree that there is plenty of value to mono-cultural congregations, especially for missional purposes. I also find them a much needed resting place when the task of crossing cultures become too taxing . The dangers come in when churches become more "Chinese [substitute any other ethnic grouping here] than Christian", and Andrew helpfully lists 7 key identifiers when this might happen, all of which can be said to be a variant of insularity and/or restrictiveness. In other words, against the grain of a gospel that purports to be for all cultures. His whole article is worth reading. May I gently suggest here too that I’m afraid that some Asian Christian gatherings in England run a real danger of falling into this trap.

    My current church has a small afternoon mono-cultural congregation for people who come from a particular Asian country (or who speak their particular language), but at the same time, they are encouraged to participate in wider church activities which will see them mixing with Caucasians and others. I think this is quite a helpful model, although in practice it isn’t always as neat as outlined here!

    What are some of things I’ve learnt from being in such a congregation? Well, firstly, I think in some small way, I really do understand more what it feels like to be a minority. I think I know more of what it feels like when there are not many who can always understand where you are coming from, or to appreciate certain jokes. I agree with Tony that we should be seeking to understand the cultures of others, and on some things that’s not a problem for me, but it’s also true that it’s unlikely you will be able to get to attain a similar level of understanding unless you have the luxury of time. To be fair, for some it’s easier than others; I think some Malaysians and Singaporeans in particular are brilliant at this. Just last night I was listening to banter about people’s experiences of Christian summer camps. I’ve been in British church circles long enough now to have some knowledge about Iwerne and Sparkford and Bash Camps and their influence on British evangelicalism generally, but I don’t really know what it’s like to go on one, and I found no avenue to participate in such a conversation. I think wistfully of the Christian camps I’ve been to as a teenager and think that it would have also been quite alien to the many around me!

    But I also know a little more about what true gospel unity looks like. I can think of a couple of British Christian friends who have put in the hard work of getting to know me, and thus provided some impetus for me to put in the work myself and I am thankful for that. Again, for some people this is not a problem, but for me personally I know it’s unlikely to ever get to a stage where it’ll be second nature for me to relate to a Brit. And the hard work stems from the wider recognition that together, we are a body in Christ.

    I like what Tony says about over-sensitivity as well. I know there are times when I find it difficult to relate and it’s easy to blame it simply on cultural differences, when it’s more a matter of, for example, different temperaments. I do find it hard occasionally that I do get pigeonholed with mainland Chinese, when in reality I am very different to them, but well, the answer should be better education, not explosive reaction! After all, I do get it from the other side as well, when Malaysians who hear that I’ve studied literature have me pigeonholed as some sort of Shakespeare-spouting thespian when I’m nothing of the sort.

    Finally, Tony suggests that "Western churches make extra efforts to show hospitality and love to foreign students or workers in their midst". I am glad that British churches are beginning to wake up to the reality of the huge numbers of overseas students and workers that are flowing in. A good friend of mine has just recently been appointed to a newly created international students worker post at a London church and I’m excited for him.

    Won’t it be great when the day comes when such struggles will be no more?

    † Expand post

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    Friday, May 02, 2008


    Heard back on the interview today, and I didn't get the job. I was pretty optimistic about my prospects, but it wasn't to be. I did my prep and I'm quite certain I performed reasonably well at interview and they even acknowledged that my CV was very solid. So on my part, I think I did the best I could and accept that for some reason or another, God has closed another door.

    Still, the very thought of getting back into the grind of sending yet more job applications has me wanting to dive under my thick duvet and curl up like a tabby, to be tempted out only by the prospect of culinary delights...

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    Thursday, May 01, 2008

    Christian fellowship

    "The paradox of Christianity is that self-fulfillment comes through self-denial. The joys of Christian fellowship are not exhausted when we find someone we like. Relationships have a much deeper basis than mutual enjoyment.

    In his first epistle, the apostle John teaches that Christian fellowship does not involve merely lateral relationships between people, but also includes fellowship with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3). We speak of fellowship with Christ, but too often the profound implications of that concept are lost in our desire to feel comfortable with other people.

    We must catch the idea that time spent with one another can somehow enrich our relationship with Christ, in much the same way two mature children feel closer to their parents after discussing with each other how much their parents mean to them. Relationships with one another can be enjoyable and fulfilling - and they should be. But the basis of our fellowship is our shared life in Christ. Relationships must be regarded as opportunities to promote a fuller appreciation of Christ through mirroring Christ to one another, treating each other as valuable bearers of the image of God, and accepting one another in spite of shortcomings. Too often we view relationships as nothing more than a chance to feel comfortable and to experience a measure of fulfillment. "

    - Larry Crabb with Dan Allender, Encouragement: The Key to Caring, pp.43-44

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