Friday, October 30, 2009

Speaking this Sunday

I'm going to be speaking for the first time at the main service this Sunday for my home church. Probably close to 15 minutes (I got allocated 10 but I just know I'm going to overshoot, although I'll try my best to keep it short)! I'll also be briefly interviewed beforehand. I'll be speaking from Ephesians 4:7-16, and my brief is to encourage people to think through "ministry".

I am going to be soooo nervous - do pray for me! A prophet is never welcome in his home country blah blah blah...just kidding...

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Disdain disdain

disdain. to look upon or treat with contempt; despise; scorn

In the book Workers for the Harvest Field, David Jackman recounts an interview with a ministry candidate. This person had been going on and on about how much he loved to teach the Bible when Jackman's colleague interrupted him: "Yes, but do you the people you'll teach it to?"

I've often thought about this question - do I love people, especially those whom I encounter as someone in "ministry"? If in my eyes, people simply become projects to moan and fret over, then I might as well quit. Any ministry of the Word that I do, excepting God's grace to work through jars of clay, might as well be a yodelling performance for all they care. That's what John Wesley apparently told one of his proteges: "Your temper is uneven; you lack love for your neighbours. You grow angry too easily; your tongue is too sharp - thus, the people will not hear you".

I have struggled with this. I think of the person I've been reading the Bible one-to-one with this year. I think there are times when, after going through the same thing for the umpteenth time, I have thought to myself: 'Why don't you just get it (and become a 'better Christian'?...and show what a brilliant discipler I am...and on it goes)". I think of a recent cell group Bible study I was in - if you think it's you I'm talking about, it isn't :) - and how frustrating it was. It was so easy to heap scorn onto them, to flash my inductive Bible study credentials, spit out a tonnage of verbiage and leave the room with gold dust on the floor and stars in their eyes. But these are Christians, people who are trying to follow Jesus in their imperfect ways, people who carry baggage around with them, in other words, people like me. I think too of how easy it is to disdain those who seem to have so reductionistic, so shallow an understanding of the gospel. Can't they see it's about the kingdom of God? Why aren't they at the forefront of political activism? Or why are they always taking verses out of context? Or why are they always protesting against Harry and his Da Vinci Materials?

But when I look at the Bible, I see something different. God in the Old Testament is portrayed as a warrior, and the Exodus can be seen as a great victory of a great king. Yet in Psalm 78 God is described as leading his people like sheep through the desert. In Hosea, I see God despairing of his hard-hearted people, but telling them, how can I give you up? I look at Jesus, looking over the crowd, and having great compassion on them because they were lost. I look at the way he treats the rich young man, with that beautiful line: "Jesus looked at him and loved him" (Mark 10:21). He is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. To be sure, we see Jesus getting exasperated with his disciples and even more antsy with the Pharisees. And I don't think I'm saying that there is no place for criticism or even a bit of a kick up the you know where. That evangelicalism is in need of a shot in the arm is not in question. It's just not the point of this post.

I'm part of a messy community. A community that's slow to learn. That includes myself. I long to see it become more conformed to how God wants it to be, but sometimes it seems as if we're heading the opposite direction! But God says his Word does not return to him empty (Isaiah 55:10); it is effective. And so I am committed to a ministry of the Word, however it might look like, from formal teaching to informal encouraging, allowing the gospel to be applied specifically to our lives. That means there are battles to be fought, because such a commitment is not going to be unopposed, not least by the devil. But when I become self-righteous, when I start looking at disdain at others, that's when I've forgotten the gospel of Jesus myself. When I become impatient, I've forgotten how patient God has been with me in calling me to himself.

I don't want that to happen. Oh Lord, how we need to know your grace again!

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wordsmiths: Dream Song 14

Dream Song 14

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) "Ever to confess you're bored
means you have no

Inner Resources." I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as Achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

John Berryman

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Monday, October 19, 2009

The Word in the week

James 1:13-27 is a mirror. Well, actually, it isn't just James; all of Scripture is a mirror, according to verse 23. It reflects reality, life as it really is. I was looking at this passage recently, and was thoroughly surprised by it - there are things that doesn't quite say what I thought it said, but for now, I just want to concentrate on verse 18.

"[God] chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created."

God is the subject. And he's good. Trustworthy. Generous. James make sure that our picture of God is right in the preceding verse. This is our God. What has he done? He has given us new life! He's taken the initiative. We had nothing to do with it. How so? Through his word, which is implanted in us, which can save us, according to verse 21. It is again, something he has graciously gifted us with. And to what purpose? That we might have the blessing of growing and persevering as Christians, becoming more like Jesus, and so give our Creator the glory.

I guess the main reason I mention this passage is that in one sense, it sums up last week for me.

1. On Tuesday evening, I went out with a good friend I haven't seen in several years. It was great to laugh and reminiscince. But the best part was getting to talk about Jesus and Christianity for 90+ minutes or so. My friend has shown interest in so-called spiritual things before, and God was kind enough to, through a friendship that has endured all these years, let me win his respect enough to gain a hearing. I briefly talked him through the big turning points of the Christian story: creation, fall, redemption. We chatted about how God was the Big Boss, the one who is in charge of the universe. We saw how sin wasn't merely bad behaviour, but how the heart of it was a wilful desire to place ourselves as God, which in turn estranges us from Him. I confess to stumbling a bit when getting to Jesus (the one place you don't want to stumble!), but again, God was gracious and I went to one of my favourite passages in this situation, that of Jesus and the rich young man. I did wish I had spent more time talking about justification, especially as one of his questions concerned that point.

We also talked about relativism and how on closer inspection it doesn't hold up. He was very honest and said that although he was a relativist, he can see how that wasn't very solid ground to stand on. He was also very honest in his own assessment: if the essence of sin was as described above, than he was worshipping himself, and well, he didn't really want to give that up yet. I listened too as he told me a little about Buddhism - he comes from a Buddhist background - but how he was finding that enslaving. Towards the end of the evening, he said something along the lines of how he was trying to find and please God, whoever he was, and hope for the best, and I felt led at that point simply to turn to Acts 17:22ff. Having gotten his permission, I simply read out Paul's sermon to the Greeks. It was amazing how relevant it felt at that moment. I didn't have to fumble for an answer, the Bible was doing the talking for me!

We parted, having consumed copious amounts of fluids, with him saying that he would definitely look more into Christianity. I've suggested a few titles for him to read, apart from looking into a gospel itself, and pray that God would be working new birth in him.

2. On Friday evening and most of Saturday, I went along to the Kuching Bible Conference, which I only knew existed last week! It's a conference seeking to encourage expository preaching by modelling it, similar to the aims of its Klang Valley counterpart. This excited me greatly. Expository preaching sometimes does have a bad name, partly because people have seen it poorly modelled and assume that it's simply another synonym for lecturing. Which of course, it isn't! Apparently Christopher Ash spoke last year, and he would be as good a model as any. This year we had John Carter, an elder from a church in Leeds with vast experience. He certainly worked us hard through the letter of Galatians! If I had one criticism, it was that he was good on the detail but not so good on the flow of thought, so that it was hard to see what the big picture of Galatians was. But ignore this armchair critic - it's good to see this initiative in my hometown, and especially good to see some of the movers behind this conference was definitely not whom you normally expect to be behind this sort of thing! Because how does God work? He works through the "word of truth".

3. The real highlight of the week for me, though, was Saturday evening, as you can tell from my previous post. Going to the youth group brought back fond memories for me. But without a doubt, although I was nervous going in, the happiest bits were spending some time with the Form 4s (that's 16 year olds) and hopefully allowing one Bible study to become a fond memory for them. To be able to laugh, discuss the pertinent questions of identity, and to actually get them looking in the Bible and be able to see that God's word does speak into their lives (and mine). My mum looked at some of the material I prepared and cautioned me about pitching it too high. So I had a look at it again, but I thought: no, one or two of the questions are hard and they'll need some guidance, but that's ok. They can get this. And they did!

Now that more time has elapsed since Saturday evening, I can now think of lots more things I wished I've done better. But God's word, as we looked at it, was working in us, so that "we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created." That's all you could ask for. They probably won't remember the specific study years, months, maybe even weeks, from now. But maybe the Holy Spirit will help them remember that God is gracious. Good. Trustworthy. And generous. And they'll thank Jesus.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

So you think you can handle it, eh?

I've lead Bible studies with PhD students, and I've read one-to-one with a managing director of a company, and I've told Bible stories to under-5s*...

So tell me, why am I utterly terrified to be leading a Bible study for teenagers tomorrow evening?

Maybe because God will decide tomorrow that BK could do with a huge helping of humility...

To be fair, I am excited too!

*If you thought PhD students asked hard questions, I'm sorry, you got it backwards...

UPDATE Saturday 17/10: Well I had a real blast! My group were a little quiet and shy understandably but we were definitely looking into the Word and having loads of fun by the end of it. I liked them, and for my sake, they pretended they liked me. :) Especially gratifying to hear them articulate the main points of the study and especially what Jesus had done when our youth co-ordinator got every group to review what they've learnt at the end. Alongside reindeers, murdering basketball players, and "The Shirt"....

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How I know I'm not in the new creation yet

Nyamuk Nyamuk Nyamuk
Musuh kita semua*

*"Mosquitoes our common enemy", from a government jingle from ages ago promoting a campaign to eradicate places for mosquito breeding.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Making sense of Matthew 17

I read Matthew 17 for my quiet time today, and I'm trying to figure it out. Maybe I'm dense, but I'm not sure I get it! So am using this blog to untangle some thoughts. You probably need the passage open in front of you somewhere to follow me.

What we have here is the transfiguration account, the healing of a demonised boy, and an incident peculiar to Matthew's gospel on paying the temple tax. I don't recall ever reading about the temple tax before. In the wider context, Simon Peter has just confessed that Jesus is the Christ in 16:16. Jesus now begins to stress how he must go to Jerusalem and be killed, and that he would be raised to life. We see this in 16:21, repeated in 17:9, 12b, 22-23 and later on in 20:18-19. This isn't exactly what Peter wanted to hear! But Jesus rebukes him, and teaches that he is to be the suffering Christ. To follow him is to take up your own cross. This is the path for his disciples. But this isn't the end of the story, as 16:27-28 indicate. Jesus will reign gloriously when he resurrects. V.28 seems to point towards the immediate aftermath of his resurrection, while v.27 appears to look further along towards the second coming. Cross before resurrection, suffering before glory. That's the pattern Jesus is teaching, both for his own ministry and that of his disciples.

This teaching of Jesus, therefore, seems to be re-affirmed by the transfiguration episode. We heard that Jesus will come in glory, here we see Jesus appearing in glory! Jesus is reaffirmed by God the Father in v.5, with the same words as when he was baptised. This time there is also an addition: "Listen to him!" Listen to what he's just been teaching about suffering and glory!

The disciples are just as confused as ever though. In Mark's account, he records how they discuss what "raised from the dead" mean. Their thought processes go something like this:
ok, we're waiting for the Messiah,
who will put the world to rights again
(this is when resurrection happens, right?)
but Elijah's meant to come first to prepare the way.
Wait a minute, where's Elijah?

But Jesus corrects their understanding. Elijah's here already! He's John the Baptist (v.13). So that means the Messiah is here! But this Messiah isn't what you expect - he "is going to suffer at their hands". Actually, that's what happened to John the Baptist (v.12). Suffering before glory, again.

Then we get the story about the exorcism of the boy. Disciples failed, Jesus didn't. I was a bit puzzled by this account. Is this simply a story suggesting that if we have enough faith, we'll have a powerful deliverance ministry? What we have to do is to simply believe? That seems, at first glance, to be a plausible interpretation. But a closer look suggests otherwise. v.22-23 has Jesus teaching about his impending death and resurrection again, which he obviously thinks is important. That doesn't sit well with simply interpreting this story as Jesus giving a model example of how to cast out demons.

Rather, in v.17 it seems better to understand Jesus' rebuke as a continued failure to actually trust in the words of Jesus. Peter's rebuke of Jesus that he could not be killed at the end of chapter 16 is one of many examples. No wonder Jesus is exasperated and possibly resulted in him putting in a quick call to his Father: "Dad, they're not listening! Could you tell them to?" (v.5) Their unbelief was not so much a failure of technique ("maybe we didn't quite have the required deposit of faith to cast out the demon!") but more of a failure to depend on God and trust what Jesus says. That's why Jesus repeats his teaching (v.22-23). So while there is probably something to be gleaned here about deliverance ministry, that's not the main point at all. Certainly it isn't a call to us to look for demons behind every sickness! What Jesus wants to emphasise is a dependence and trust in him. That might result in us actually performing an exorcism if God chooses to, but the authority belongs to him alone.

Errr...this one ah, I'm not surelah. Apparently, Jewish males of a certain age had to pay taxes for the upkeep of the temple. Jesus' point in his exchange with Peter seems to be that the tax is now void. That's because of who Jesus is - he is God's King. (And presumably what he's about to do, go to the cross). But then Jesus chooses to lay down his right and pay the tax, something Paul probably took note of since it will come out in his writings.

So I guess the big point here is that Jesus is showing that he is the King (Christ) and we should listen to him, trust in Him. But He is the Suffering King, who will go to the cross to die for us. But to follow Him is not a futile exercise, for even though we too have to take up our cross, there is glory in the end. So let us praise God and remain faithful.

What do you think?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope"

I didn't make it to the Klang Valley Bible Conference, but I did get to listen to Dr. Bryan Chapell's sermon at City Discipleship Presbyterian Church on Romans 15. It was food for the soul, causing me to marvel at our faithful and merciful God once again. Have a listen here.

(HT: The Agora)

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Lausanne Global Conversation

New questions are emerging which are different from the older, familiar ones. And the older ones are also taking on new forms. Think, for example, of the issues surrounding the massive rise in people movements over the past 50 years, and of the trends in urbanisation, and of the penetration of other faiths. Christians need to talk, and global issues need global conversations.

The Lausanne Movement is working in partnership with publications around the world in providing the 12 key articles by leading theologians on issues facing the global church. Each article will be published in the same month by everyone, to spark the conversation globally. These articles each have four commissioned respondents from different parts of the world and will be accompanied online by video and photo essays, and responses from people like you.

The Lord gave gifts to his church to share and, through Lausanne, the Africans can share their joy and perseverance, the Indians their wisdom on living in a pluralistic context, the Persecuted Church their precious trust of what it means to share in Christ’s suffering, the converts from other faiths their insights into ways of reaching those whose faith they once shared, the West its scholarship (which we should remember was once found in North Africa), and so on around the world. In ways unimagined, we can share these gifts even across different languages, through automatic translation tools. Those translation tools are not perfect, but, with a commitment of all to the authority of Scripture and a willingness to listen and learn, we will manage to understand one another. The work you put into the global conversation will be richly rewarded.

The Lausanne Global Conversation will include:
  • a series of 12 articles appearing in Christianity Today (and in dozens of publications around the world), plus parallel articles in the Canadian media and elsewhere
  • thought-provoking blogs, podcasts, radio programs and video discussion forums
  • interaction on Twitter and Facebook
  • advance written and multimedia presentations from CT2010 speakers
  • connections to related discussions on the web already underway
  • in-person interaction at Bible colleges, mission agencies, churches and theological institutions through the Cape Town GlobaLink

    Here is the very first article to kick off the whole conversation:
    Whole Gospel, Whole Church, Whole World
    by Christopher Wright

    The Lausanne Covenant - substantially crafted by John Stott, includes the phrase: ‘evangelization requires the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world’.(1)

    One might argue that the three wholes embodied in this ringing phrase are hardly new, and go back to the Apostle Paul, if not to the patriarch Abraham himself. Let us look at what each means.

    The whole Church means all believers. The whole world means every man and woman. The whole gospel means all the blessings of the gospel. That is surely better than some missionaries taking some blessings of the gospel to some people in some parts of the world. But the three wholes also have more substantial, qualitative implications worthy of a Global Conversation.

    ‘The whole gospel’

    The phrase suggests there may be some versions of the gospel that are less than whole - that are partial, deficient, less than fully biblical.

    First, we must give full weight to the spiritual realities of sin and evil, and we must evangelistically proclaim the glories of God’s redemptive achievement in the death and resurrection of Jesus. There would be no gospel without the cross. Indeed all blessings of the gospel derive from it, from personal salvation through Christ’s death in our place to the reconciling of all creation. The cross is at the heart of The Lausanne Movement, and the theme around which the Cape Town Congress revolves is ‘God in Christ, reconciling the world to himself’.

    The whole gospel must be drawn from the whole Bible. So we also have to ask how the social, economic, and political dimensions of the Old Testament relate to Christian mission. For centuries God revealed his passion against political tyranny, economic exploitation, judicial corruption, the suffering of the poor and oppressed, brutality and bloodshed. The laws God gave and the prophets God sent addressed these very matters more than any other issue except idolatry (they regarded such things as idolatry’s manifestations). Meanwhile the psalmists regularly cried out in songs of social protest and lament that we tend to screen out of our Christian worship.

    Unfortunately one can still detect a subtle sense that somewhere between Malachi and Matthew, all that changed. As if such things no longer spark God’s anger. This makes the alleged God of the New Testament unrecognisable as the LORD God, the Holy One of Israel. He has shed the priorities of the Mosaic Law, and the burden for justice that he laid on his prophets, at such cost to them.

    I find such a view of God and of mission to be unbiblical and unbelievable, if thewhole Bible is the trustworthy revelation of the identity, character and mission of the living God.

    The great Christ-centred, cross-centred redemptive truths do not nullify - rather, they complete - all that the Old Testament revealed about God’s commitment to the wholeness of human life, and redeeming his whole creation, for God’s own glory in Christ.

    As gospel people we must believe, live and communicate all that makes the gospel the staggeringly comprehensive good news that it is. I hope The Global Conversation will show multiple examples of this in action.

    The whole church

    In a quantitative sense, the expression ‘the whole church’ insists that mission is the task of all Christians, not just of the clergy or missionaries. The Lausanne Covenant talks of our being ‘called out’ to be ‘sent out’. The whole gospel is fully expressed only when the Church, Christ’s body on earth, faithfully fulfils the three roles Christ himself fulfilled on earth and for which he empowers us through his Spirit. We are called to a priestly role in worship and in prayer; to a prophetic role in declaring God’s message and priorities to his world; and to a servant role. When these are practised together we truly reflect God’s redeeming love for the world. Let’s look at dimensions of wholeness that will need to be included in the conversation.

    Missional church.
    What other kind of church is there, than the one that God created for mission? As someone said, ‘It’s not that God has a mission for his church in world; but that God has a church for his mission in the world.’

    Scandalous lack of wholeness. The church is not just the delivery mechanism of the gospel. It is itself the product of the gospel, and is to be the living, visible, proof of the ethically transforming power of the gospel. The failures and abuses in the worldwide evangelical community are, in the literal New Testament sense of the word, a massive scandal—a stumbling block to the gospel being seen, heard and accepted. For that the only answer is repentance and reformation.

    The global Christian community. We need the whole world church to work with much greater levels of mutual cooperation and partnership.. There is a lot of listening to do, a lot of learning and un-learning. Our task across borders and boundaries is to do better, in Paul’s words, at accepting one another, counting others better than ourselves, and looking to their interests more than our own. A Global Conversation is a good place to start, though not to end.

    The whole world

    We can take the phrase ‘the whole world’ in a purely geographical sense. Nowhere is not the mission field, including our own country. There are still many unreached peoples, many languages that have no Scripture, many places where the name of Christ has never been heard. All these are urgent priorities for evangelistic mission. The ends of the earth are still waiting. And today the ends of the earth may also be our next-door neighbour, or the migrant in our midst. But we need to go deeper and consider other dimensions of our whole world:

    The world story. If our Bibles begin at Genesis 3 and end at Revelation 20, we are in danger of missing the whole point of God’s great story of the redemption of all creation. We will think only of saving sinners from the final judgment, not about living in the present creation as those who already bring the transforming values and prophetic truth of the new creation into the here and now.

    The world of worldviews, philosophies and faiths. What are the gods that surround us, and what is the Christlike and neighbour-loving response to those who worship them? We must not confine this to thinking only about world faiths. There are whole ideologies of secularism and atheism that need to be engaged, along with the idols of patriotism and hedonism, that are happily thriving on the worship of those who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

    The world of creation, and our responsibility to the world which God has reconciled to himself through the cross (Colossians 1:20). If the planet was created by Christ, sustained by Christ and belongs to Christ as his inheritance, the least we can do is to look after it. Biblical stewardship of the earth should have been an evangelical theme long before the threat of climate change turned it into a matter of self-preservation.

    The world of globalization, and the public square. What kind of missional engagement should take place in relation to globalized economic trends and forces, massive migration, the cyber-world of the Internet and new technologies, and all that goes on in the marketplace and public square, in business, politics, education, media, journalism, medicine, and the whole world of human work?

    The world of violence, war, and terrorism. Apart from addressing the appalling scale of death and destruction that these idols produce, do we not have a responsibility also to challenge and expose their falsehood and to ask what gospel reality is implied by Jesus when he said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’?

    The world of human need and suffering. If the gospel is good news in relation to all that sin has turned into bad news, then it must be big enough, and our mission wide enough, to include the transforming power of God in relation to disease, hunger, brutality, human trafficking, and all forms of ethnic hatreds and oppression.

    I close by returning to the Congress theme verse in its rich and profound context. The Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5 18-19 are a wonderful summary of the theme of this article. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ...”

    The reconciling, redemptive ministry of Jesus sends out those whom he has called out. And we are sent out to bring the whole gospel of God to the whole of God’s world. None of us can engage in every area. That is why God created the church with a multiplicity of gifts and callings, so that we can, as a whole church bear witness to the whole gospel in the whole world.

    I invite you to join the global conversation now at May it generate more intelligent understanding and more focused action, as we work with God in his global mission.

    Chris Wright is International Director of the Langham Partnership International, and Chair of the Lausanne Theology Working Group.

    (1) For the Lord we Love: Your study guide to The Lausanne Covenant by John Stott is available in The Didasko Files series from Christian bookshops or online retailers. (64pp ISBN 978 1 906890 00 1)

    Here are responses from Samuel Escobar, Emily Choge, and Christopher Heuertz

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