Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Have Christians Lost Their Minds? Part I

Kairos magazine latest edition The Church's Neglected Treasure is fresh out of the stove. Here is an unedited draft of my article on the the loss and recovery of the Christian mind in our spirituality and mission.

As an inquisitive new believer in secondary school, I began asking how the Genesis account of creation in seven days explains those fascinating dinosaurs I discovered while watching documentary shows on T.V. Were they safe inside Noah’s ark? Did the flood wipe them out?

So in hope for some answers, I picked up the courage to ask my science teacher who also happened to be a Christian. He gazed at me somewhat quizzically and asked another question in return, “Tell me. Does God answer your prayers?”

I nodded sheepishly, baffled by how the quality of my “devotion time” had anything to do with the extinction of dinosaurs! Perhaps sensing my perplexity, he explained, “If God has answered your prayers, why do you need to ask so many things?”

From that day on, I found out that for many Christians an intellectual understanding of the faith is not important as long as we have an experiential feeling that it works! The heart is what you used in a relationship with God but the brain is what you used while studying science, economics and history in school.

This common suspicion towards the role of the mind in our spiritual life may sometimes be fueled by faulty interpretations of Bible passages: “What’s the use of reason since we should have faith like a child? (Matthew 8:13) Knowledge just puffs up our pride (1 Corinthians 8:1) so we should avoid secular studies. And shouldn’t we beware of hollow and deceptive philosophy? (Colossians 2:8)”

To begin with, we should not confuse the need for a childlike faith (humble, dependent trust in God) with childish thinking. To the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote, “Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” (1 Corinthians 14:20) He also warned against a proud attitude that paraded one’s spiritual knowledge for self-glory instead of mutual, loving edification. The real problem is arrogance, not knowledge in itself. Therefore, our proper response is humility, not ignorance.

Indeed, we need to be careful of many deceptive ideas available nowadays. But we cannot beware of bad philosophy if we are not even aware of it in the first place. The cure is truthful, biblical and sound thinking (not the absence of it). C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” The learned apostle Paul himself was familiar with the ideas of pagan philosophers so that he can discern truth from error. (Colossians 2:8)

Discipleship of the mind is so crucial because we are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength and all our mind. (Luke 10:27) It is obedience to the greatest commandment of our Lord Jesus. Scripture also calls us to be transformed by the renewal (not removal!) of our mind less we be conformed to worldly patterns. (Romans 12:2)

But what practical value is there in developing a ‘Christian mind’? Isn’t it just theoretical, head knowledge that does not help us live properly?

Although there is partial truth to the perception that scholars sometimes split hairs over seemingly irrelevant issues, the best theologians often aid us not merely to gather data but to gain wisdom for life. After all, a good theory is a very practical thing just as having a good map is an immense help to reach unknown destinations. In the same way, an accurate mental map of reality guides our navigation through difficult decisions in the world.

Furthermore, what we believe to be true has a powerful influence over how we should live. For example, if we view human life as merely a biological machine, we won’t be terribly inclined to treat it with much dignity or respect. Or if we truly understand God to be holy and gracious as revealed in Scripture, our spiritual life gradually reflects His own character. Sound theology should flow from the head to the heart and finally to the hands. True knowledge and living experience enrich each other.

Have Christians Lost Their Minds? Part II

In this age of digital information, it is also nearly impossible to isolate our loved ones from ideas (even harmful ones!) They are just a Google search away.

What we can do, however, is to boost up our spiritual immune system by being informed of these ideas first and equipped to evaluate them from a biblical perspective. The strategy is not retreat into a cultural ghetto, but cultivating a robust Christian worldview that understands and engages culture. When the church provides thinking tools that empower our youths, they will learn how to detect faulty arguments and dismantle irrational assumptions on their own. By training them what and why Christians believe, we intentionally raise up a generation of confident, conversant and winsome ambassadors for the Kingdom. An informed faith prepares us to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:16)

But if we neglect the discipleship of our minds, we easily absorb materialistic values or hedonistic practices from popular movies, songs and novels without even knowing it. Our witness of the gospel would also lack boldness as we succumb to the temptation to either withdraw from or compromise with the world. Since the gospel is public truth (not merely private experiences), Christians have a responsibility to speak sensibly in the public square where crucial issues of life are discussed and decided.

Today, there is an urgent and serious need for us to explore how the church as a redeemed community in the world responds to racism, inter-religious harmony, economic disparity, the spread of infectious diseases, ethics in biomedical technology and so on. We cannot address these burning issues in our Malaysian society without faithfully and diligently applying our minds to connect God’s word with God’s world.

How then shall we recover the Christian mind? Here are some brief suggestions:

• Help the laity to integrate biblical faith with their vocation. Discipleship classes should also tackle unique opportunities and challenges they face in the marketplace as a lawyer, artist, businessperson, teacher, healthcare workers etc.

• Encourage healthy reading habits by stocking up the church library with solid resources that stimulates the mind and create interest with regular book reviews.

• Preach well-prepared sermons that help the congregation to read the Scriptures themselves, not merely packed with entertaining how-to advice.

• Does our youth ministry educate students to think Christianly about the subjects they learn in school or colleges? More than games and songs, they may need to discern what’s true, beautiful and ethical expressed in these disciplines.

• If we have evangelistic courses like Alpha or Christianity Explored, small group leaders could be trained in apologetics so they can handle frequently asked questions from seekers with humility, confidence and knowledge.

Can you imagine what the transformation of our spirituality and witness in society looks like when our minds are regularly renewed with such practices? It is a lifelong project that requires lots of energy and time, but the effort will be worth our while.

And you’ll never know when a curious young believer may approach you with questions about the book of Genesis and the last dinosaurs!

God’s Prophets of the Old Testament

By Rabbi Anthony Loke

There is a group of people mainly found in the Old Testament (OT) who might be considered strange or eccentric today. They have been called diverse names such as prophet, seer, visionary, man of God, and man of the Spirit. Whatever the designation, one thing stands out clearly: they were unique. They often stood out in the crowd like sore thumbs, distinct in the way they dressed (hairy mantle, e.g. Zechariah 13:4), what they ate (wild honey and locusts, e.g. 2 Kings 1:8) or what they did (walking barefoot and naked, e.g. Isaiah 20:2).

These prophets came from all walks of life – from priest (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) to herdsman and sycamore tree dresser (Amos), to royalty (Isaiah) – but the personal backgrounds of the majority were unknown. Sometimes even their patrimony was not preserved and their lineage left unspecified. The OT is not concerned with their biographical details. It clearly had little or no interest in the kinds of questions modern readers would ask. The prophets are remembered not because they lived interesting lives but because of their message. Their lasting legacy was the words they left behind. These linger long after the prophets disappeared from the scene. Who can forget some of their more memorable sayings?

‘But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.’ (Amos 5:24)
‘He has showed you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 5:24)

When prophets spoke, even kings stopped to listen (e.g. David in 2 Samuel 12:13). Confrontation with them often proved futile (e.g. the story of Elijah and King Ahaziah in 2 Kings 1:9-17). They were often treated as enemies of the state and the originators of trouble (e.g. Elijah was called the “troubler of Israel” in 1 Kings 18:17). Yet, people frequently sought them for advice about venturing to war (e.g. Micaiah ben Imlah in 1 Kings 22) or to look for lost donkeys (e.g. Samuel the seer in 1 Samuel 9:6) or to seek help when all seemed lost (e.g. Elisha in 2 Kings 4).

Not only did they preach with power and conviction, some of them even dramatised their messages. Ezekiel immediately comes to mind. For Ezekiel, his life and personality became part and parcel of his message. One day, he was found lying on one side. After 390 days, he proceeded to turn over to lie on the other side for another 40 days (Ezekiel 4:4, 6). Another time, he cut his hair and beard and divided the hair into three portions; one portion he burnt, the second he chopped up with his sword, and the third he scattered into the air. Then he took some and sewed them inside the hem of his garment (Ezekiel 5:1-4). One night, with his belongings bundled up, he made a hole in the wall, and proceeded to crawl through it, leaving his flabbergasted neighbours to wonder about his sanity, if they had not already doubted it before (Ezekiel 12:1-7).

Read on for the full article at Kairos latest issue The Church's Forgotten Treasures.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Day God Showed Up On Earth

Preached a pre-Christmas evangelistic sermon today based on the themes from Tim Keller's sermon The Purpose of Christmas

Text: 1 John 1:1–4
Topic: Incarnation
Big Idea: Because the Word became flesh, we have a joy that transforms our lives.

This is what Scripture says: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”

Introduction: Good morning, church and friends! Christmas is just 4 days away. Are you feeling the holiday mood yet?

I know for many people, this is the season to be jolly. It's a time to celebrate, sing carols, throw parties, receive presents and lots of merry making. As we wrap up the year 2008, it’s also a time to relax, go on a holiday with family and have some well-deserved fun. And yes, sales promotions are everywhere. It’s a mad rush to shop till we drop.

Or if you are in the retail business or have sales target to achieve, Christmas is the season to be busy. It’s a crazy time to close deals, meet datelines and lots of profit making. For Christians, we may be just so stressed up with many church programs and activities, endless rehearsals and singing practices.

But for others, Christmas is the season to be depressed. Psychologists have found that many people experience a sad and anxious mood during and after Christmas. Statistics for suicide also increase. The reason goes something like this: “Everyone is supposed to be happy and be with their family during the holidays - since I am not, there must be something wrong with me”. This ‘holiday blues’ is most keenly felt if we are separated from loved ones. The loneliness, tiredness and isolation become more intense when there is pressure to look happy at parties or gatherings. The contrast can be very depressing.

But if we are not feeling Christmassy yet, that's ok. Because Christmas is not about Christmas. It’s not about sales promotion, Santa Claus or all that jazz. Christmas is all about Christ. That God has not left us alone. He showed up on planet earth to rescue us. The baby born on that first Christmas night two thousand years ago was called Immanuel, God with us. His presence is with us even now whether we feel Him or not.

And the scripture passage today taken from 1st Letter of John tells us what Christmas is all about. It says something radical about God and how Christmas can transform our lives whether we feel happy, busy or sad today.

Firstly, Christmas tells us something radical about God.

If you understand the word incarnation, you'll understand what Christmas is about. And the meaning of incarnation is nicely captured in the song we sang just now “Hark the Herald angels sing!” The second stanza goes like this:

Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel (meaning, God with us)
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Incarnation simply means that God took on flesh and blood and showed up on planet earth as a human being. Amazingly, He decided to come as a helpless baby born of a virgin girl. He did not come as some sort of violent, conquering warrior.

In the Bible passage we read just now, the apostle John tells us that Jesus the Son of God has appeared to us. He is the Word of life who was “from the beginning”. That means: He existed long before the heavens and the earth were even created.
People have always wondered about the universe that we live in. Sue May told me a story about her friend who never had much interest in God and one day she went scuba diving and so amazed to see a whole new world underwater so beautiful that by the time, she came up from the water, she believed in God.

I wonder if you too have ever looked up to a starry sky and feel a sense of cosmic wonder: “Man, how was this made? Where do we come from? How come we exist in this universe? Why is there something rather than nothing?” Suppose (let's imagine) that in the beginning there was nothing. If there was absolutely nothing at the start, there won’t be anything now. Because out of nothing, nothing comes. No cause, no effect.

But something does exist today and not only that, if we look around us, everything that we observe has a beginning and was caused to exist by something else. For example, I have a beginning and my existence was caused by my parents, and my parents came to exist because of my grandparents, and if you rewind all the way back, even the universe has a beginning. Scientists called it the big bang. But what caused the big bang? Who is the big banger?

There must be something or someone that has always existed from the very beginning. In ancient times, the Greeks called that eternal force that holds the universe together Logos. The Logos (translated as the word) gives life to human beings. The Chinese also have a similar idea in the Tao that brings harmony to opposite forces of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’.

So when the apostle John spoke of the “Word of life”, the people understood what he was talking about. He’s talking about the Logos that made all things to exist, brings order to chaos. The Logos has always existed, it is eternal, uncreated since the very beginning of time…

But then John went on to say something radical that they never thought of: “Guess what? This Logos is not something abstract or a philosophical system. It’s not even an impersonal force that you can manipulate by hiring a fengshui master.”
The Logos is a person. He is someone who knows, makes choices and can communicate with us. He is relational. From the Gospel of John, we read: “In the beginning was the Logos, the Logos was with God and the Logos was God. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.… The Logos became flesh and dwell among us.”

That’s what Christmas is about. The God who is from eternity stepped into time. He took on flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhood. The invisible has become visible, the spiritual has become physical. The ideal has become reality. In other words, God has become human without losing His divine nature. It’s a profound mystery -Jesus is not just fully man, He is fully God.

To appreciate just how radical this is, we can compare it with what other religions tell us about God. On one hand, in Islam/Judaism, God is so high above the creation, so transcendent that incarnation is impossible. It’s scandalous to think that God could take on human nature. On the other hand, in some Eastern religions like Hinduism/Buddhism, God is so close to the world, so immanent that reincarnation is normal. It happens to everyone. Everybody has a divine spark in us. So not all religions are the same…

Listen to these words from Tim Keller: But Christianity is unique. It doesn't say incarnation is normal, but it doesn't say it's impossible. It says God is so immanent (near us) that it is possible, but he is so transcendent (high above us) that the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is an earth-shaking, history-changing, life-transforming, paradigm-shattering event. Christianity has a unique view on this that sets it apart from everything else.

So who is Jesus? He’s a teacher but not just a good teacher. He’s a prophet but not just a human prophet. He’s so much more. He is the transcendent God who became incarnate. He’s not a far away God. He is God with us.

Secondly, not only does Christmas tell us something radical about God, it also tells us something historical about Him. The story of Jesus actually happened in space and time. On earth. In Israel. Two thousand years ago.

Unlike the wonderful stories we find in the Hikayat Ramayana, for example, it is not meant to be read as a myth. They cannot be just wonderful fairy tales that teach us moral lessons.

Imagine if I were to say to you that my late Grandmother appeared to me in a dream last night and gave me the recipe for a magic soup that gives eternal youth. And I can sell it to you for a thousand ringgit each. Could you examine this dream to see it’s true or false? You can’t because you have no access to my dream.

But imagine again if I were to say to you that she appeared to me at the Sunway Pyramid skating rink at 12 p.m. yesterday in front of more than one hundred shoppers and ice-skaters who can confirm this event… ah ha… now that’s different… that is an open public event … it’s something you can investigate, you can check out the facts, interview the witnesses and so on… it’s something historical you can verify…

The apostle John says: We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard. We saw His miracles. We heard His teachings. With our very own eyes. With our own ears. Our hands have touched Him, this person who is Eternal Life. This Jesus of Nazareth.

So these records of Jesus were written based on eyewitness accounts, people who have seen and heard Jesus while He was still on earth.

If the resurrection of Jesus was made up, it would be easily shot down by hundreds of eyewitnesses in Jerusalem who saw him crucified and buried. His enemies would be just too happy to show off his tomb and the story will die off very quickly. But the eyewitnesses did not contradict the empty tomb. Instead, people were invited to check out the facts with about five hundred witnesses who saw Jesus appeared after His resurrection from the grave.

The point of Christmas is that Jesus really lived, and he really died. It happened in space and time. He did these things in public. It is open to public examination and invites us to investigate its claims.

But you may wonder: What’s the big deal about something that happened so long ago? I live a good and moral life. That’s most important anyway, right? It doesn’t matter what happened in history. I don’t steal or murder, God will surely accept me.

But that’s salvation by good works. Trying to impress God by how good we are and then God owes us a ticket to heaven.

The bad news is you and I are both separated from God and God is so holy that there has to be punishment for our sins. In our deepest heart, if we look at ourselves in the mirror honestly, we know that we are simply not good enough judging by our own standard, not to mention God’s holy standards.

Suppose you are driving your car to work or school one day and you ran the traffic lights and got caught by the police. You cannot say: “Tolong-lah Encik, don’t give me the saman. Just now, got nine traffic lights, I also follow the rules. I only ran one out of ten traffic lights lah...”

If this excuse can’t help us with the local police, it cannot help us on Judgment Day to say “God, I know I have committed many sins but look at so many good things I have done also.”

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” (1 John1:8)

Why did Jesus the son of God come to earth? The good news is not that He came to tell us: “Try harder, live a good life and then earn a ticket to heaven.”

The good news of Christmas is that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the perfect life we should have lived, and died on the cross to pay for our sins (He took the death that we deserved). So when we turn away from our sin and trust in him and what he has done for us, we are accepted freely by God. We are rescued by grace alone. That’s why He came: To save us from our sins.

If these things didn't really happen in history 2000 years ago, then we can't be forgiven by grace. And we are still carrying the crushing burden of condemnation and sin on our shoulders.

But the good news is God incarnate did come and lived and died for us. The witnesses heard him, saw him, touched him and proclaimed him. Because it happened in history, we have hope, forgiveness and acceptance from God.

Do you know Jesus as your Lord and as your Savior? Would you trust in what He has done for you today?

Thirdly, because Christmas is radical and historical, it invites us to a personal relationship with God.

If you see who Jesus is and why He came to earth, God became flesh and lived the life you should have lived, died the death you should have died — then Christmas invites you to know God personally. That means we can have a friendship, fellowship, an intimate communion with God himself. We become truly free and truly ourselves in the context of a love relationship.

The apostle John says, "Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son." This word fellowship, which is koinonia, means that we now have a basis to be reconciled with God.

He is no longer vague or far away in heaven. He has shown Himself to us. So we don’t need to guess what God is like and what He wants from us, He has come personally to tell us. Now He has a human face.

And if some of us here are spiritually seeking and you want to know what it means to be a Christian: Well, it means you come into a relationship where you acknowledge God as the Father, who loves and cares for you as a father cares for a child. You call God “Father”. And you receive Jesus the ultimate expression of God’s saving love, as your Lord and Savior. And the Holy Spirit lives in you and gives you the power to know and follow Him. Then through baptism you express this immersion into a love relationship with God.

So Christmas is an invitation by God to say: “Look how far I've come to be near you. Now draw near to me. I don't want to be a concept; I want to be a friend.”

Lastly, Christmas invites you to be passionately incarnational.

If we know Jesus personally as our Lord and Savior, we have the hope of eternal life beyond the grave. God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

But when many people think of eternal life, they think of cartoons of people floating around in fluffy clouds, wearing white gowns with a harp in their hand and a halo on their head. So the idea is to escape from this physical world, and treat life on earth here and now as a temporary transit point to heaven. But the danger of that is we can be so heavenly that we are of no earthly good. It creates a mentality where we withdraw from life and focus only on the afterlife.

We see the poor oppressed and the environment destroyed and we shrug, “Oh well, this world’s gonna burn anyway so I just wait for my time to go to heaven.” No wonder many people see religion as a drug that makes us insensitive to pain and oppression happening around the world.

But the Christian hope of eternal life is not like that. It is not about running away from reality. The future of the gospel is a new heaven and a new earth. This world will be renewed, not abandoned. The hope of Christians is the resurrection, where we will be raised to eternal life in an incorruptible glorified physical body. Because God himself took on physical flesh and blood and invaded this planet, we long to see the presence of God's kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Because the rightful king of the world had entered human history. All unjust rulers are at risk. Dictators like king Herod, Roman Caesar, Satan, Sin, Death, Injustice, Pain, Disease, Hatred - their days are numbered. The worst they can do is give death but even death is conquered by the resurrection.

The King had come. The kingdom of God had broken into history, bringing healing and hope, peace and life. Christmas marks the beginning of God's mission to recapture the world for Himself.

So as His followers, we are also invited to imitate Christ be living incarnational lives. We also enter into other people’s worlds, as he entered ours. We seek first to understand then be understood. We enter into the world of their thinking as we try to understand how others look at life and how they see the gospel. We come into the world of their feeling as we try to empathise with their pain. And we come into the world of their living as we live, embody and demonstrate the gospel in the orang asli village, at the low cost apartments at Angsana and Mentari.

In conclusion, Christmas tells us something radical and historical about God – he has come to earth and revealed himself supremely in the person of Jesus the Messiah. Because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us, Christmas invites us to love God personally with all our heart, mind and strength. It also frees us to get involved in the lives of other people by embodying God’s kingdom on earth.

If the present creation will not be abandoned but transformed, then in the meantime, we are to work here-and-now looking forward to that final vision. So that our community and church could be a foretaste, a glimpse or movie preview of its future glory. Incarnational spirituality is lived out in down to earth realities, where we do business, how we cook in the kitchen, when we play with our children, study, love and do exercise, infusing everyday life with fresh authentic meaning. The gospel must be embodied with our lives and proclaimed with our words.

Think about that the next time someone wished you "merry Christmas" this year!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Great Commission And Creation Mandate

Dr Leong Tien Fock's paper for NECF Forum VI: TRANSFORM NATION AGENDA
is already online for preview. It takes a fresh look at the Great Commission in light of the Creation Mandate and provides a firm biblical-theological basis for what is called "wholistic mission". Here is an excerpt:

The eschatological Kingdom and the Great Commission

It is in the context of what the Church and disciples of Christ are called to be and to do that the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations by “going,” “baptizing” and “teaching” them is given. Certainly, in “going” to make disciples, the Gospel must be preached and accepted before the “baptizing” can happen. But the Gospel to be preached is the Gospel of the Kingdom, which is an invitation to repent and believe in Jesus so as to enter the Kingdom of God, thereby having a foretaste of the eschatological salvation. This explains why there is such a focus on “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you,” that is, teaching them to submit to God’s reign by seeking to do His will in every area of their life.

The Great Commission is premised on “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” This means Christ is already reigning in heaven and on earth. Hence the Great Commission is premised on the presence of the eschatological Kingdom of God. But Christ will not impose His authority on the nations. When disciples, and not just converts, of all nations are made, people of all nations will willingly recognize Christ’s authority and seek to do God’s will. Hence the Great Commission is, in this sense, about seeking God’s Kingdom to “come” to, and hence His will be done in, all nations. Since not everyone will become a disciple, Christ’s reign will not be universally recognized. And since even the disciples of Christ have not yet fully experienced the eschatological salvation, Christ’s reign will not be
perfectly recognized. The Great Commission is given with the promise that Christ would be with His disciples even to end of the age. Hence the work of the Great Commission is to continue until He comes back to consummate the Kingdom, where His reign will then be universally and perfectly recognized.

The kingdom of God and the Creation Mandate

Since the Kingdom of God was promised in the Old Testament, we need to understand what the kingdom or reign of God means in that context to fully appreciate the meaning of the Great Commission (note: the Kingdom refers to the eschatological Kingdom, while kingdom refers to kingship or reign in general). In order not to miss anything, we need to go all the way back to the very first commission given to the human race: the Creation Mandate (Gen 1:28).

It was before the Fall and in the Garden of Eden that God blessed Adam and Eve, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Thus the mandate to fill and subdue the earth and rule over the creatures was given when Adam and Eve were in direct fellowship with God and before there was a need for world redemption.

This mandate must first be understood in this context before we can relate it to the Great Commission.

When the earth was first created it was “formless and void” and God had to do some major renovation on the earth and the solar system before life on earth was possible. Then he created plant and animal life and finally human life (Genesis 1). God further developed (a small portion of) the earth by planting the Garden of Eden and placed the first human couple there to “cultivate it and keep it” (2:15).

It is in this context that the Creation Mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill and subdue the earth (outside the Garden of Eden) was given. What did it mean to Adam and Eve?

John Walton in his Genesis commentary explains:
If people were going to fill the earth, we must conclude that they were not
intended to stay in the garden in a static situation. Yet moving out of the garden
would appear a hardship since land outside the garden was not as hospitable as
that inside the garden (otherwise the garden would not be distinguishable).
Perhaps, then, we should surmise that people were gradually supposed to extend
the garden as they went about subduing and ruling. Extending the garden would
extend the food supply as well as extend the sacred space (since that is what the
garden represented).

The Garden was a “sacred space” because it was within this space that God dwelled with Adam and Eve. And within this space God’s will was to be done perfectly (“on earth as it is in heaven”). And when they sinned by not submitting to His will they were driven out. In other words, the Garden was where the kingship of God was fully realized, and to expand the Garden by filling and subduing the earth was to expand the kingdom of God. It was thus the pre-Fall version of the command to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matt 6:33).

The Creation Mandate came with the assurance of the availability of food in the Garden (Gen 1:29) just as the command in Matthew 6:33 came with an assurance of the provision of food (and other basic needs) through a promise. The implication in both cases is that the need to “make a living” is no excuse for not fulfilling the mandate or the command to extend God’s kingdom.

But how would the multiplying of human beings and the filling and subduing of the earth actually work out in history?

Albert Wolters has answered it well:
When God rested from His work of creation (and renovation) on the seventh day,
this is not the end of the development of creation, however. Although God has
withdrawn from the work of creation, he has put an image of himself on the earth
with a mandate to continue. The earth had been completely unformed and empty;
in the six-day process of development God had formed it and filled it—but not
completely. People must now carry on the work of development; by being fruitful
they must fill it even more; by subduing it they must form it even more. Mankind,
as God’s representatives on earth, carry on where God left off. But this is now to be
a human development of the earth. The human race will fill the earth with its own
kind, and it will form the earth for its own kind. From now on the development of
the created earth will be societal and cultural in nature. In a single word, the task
ahead is civilization.

Thus the Creation Mandate is to develop a civilization that would spread to the whole earth.

But what kind of civilization would this be? The first human civilization was that of the ungodly Cain and his descendants. They did build a city and develop agriculture, industry and the arts (Gen 4:17-22). But they did not call upon the name of the LORD (cf. 4:26). And Lamech not only practiced polygamy; he boasted about killing a boy for hitting him and, unlike Cain, had no fear of the consequence (4:23-24). It was a godless civilization that eventually led to the Flood, which destroyed the world except Noah and his family.

The Creation Mandate was given before Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God. And they
were in direct fellowship with Him. So the civilization was intended to be distinctly (but not completely) different from that developed by Cain and his descendants. The difference would not be in the building of the city and the development of agriculture, industry and the arts. All this is part of the mandate to “fill and subdue” the earth. The distinct difference would be that the civilization is developed in obedience to, and in fellowship with, the Creator.

Hence, the civilization is to be an expression of the kingdom of God. In other words,
the kingdom of God is to be expressed through a civilization. What then is this civilization supposed to be like?

Read on for the rest of article

Monday, October 27, 2008

Suffering Job

Job lost everything: his wealth, his health, and his ten children. All swept away in one satanic storm. Reduced to a heap of flesh, ashes, and tears—rebuked by friends and jeered by strangers—righteous Job wrestled over the purpose and presence of God in the midst of unbearable pain.

With moving illustrations by Christopher Koelle, John Piper unfolds the story of Job in beautiful, compassionate poetry and revels in God's sovereign and surprisingly joyful purposes in allowing exquisite suffering in the lives of his saints. An uplifting book, especially for those experiencing great suffering and loss.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Preach Christ From Old Testament

In conjunction with Reformation Sunday, Dr Robert Vannoy preached on Sanctification by faith from Romans 6 in City Discipleship Presbyterian church. He is now the Emeritus Professor in the Allan A. MacRae Chair of Biblical Studies in Biblical Theological Seminary. Dr Vannoy has served as the editor, contributor, and translation consultant for many journals, books, bible dictionaries and commentaries. He was a translation consultant for the NIV bible and the International Standard Version bible and for 1, 2 Samuel in the New Living Translation. It was a pleasure for me to meet him and his wife, fetching them to church and engaging him in conversation on how to preach Christ from the Old testament. Check out his sermon here and also a wealth of Old Testament resources here

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Confessing Our Sins

Excerpt from a sermon on James 5: The Covenant Community As Means Of Grace To Keep And Correct Us.

James 5:16 "Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other… My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

This implies that there is such a thing as truth. If there is truth, there is also error. Truth is not ice cream, it is insulin to the diabetic. It’s not just a personal preference, truth is a matter of life and death.

Also implies a safe space where we can be vulnerable and open and trusting. Confessing our sins to another person can be scary and not a common spiritual practice, especially in evangelical churches.

But we are created and saved for community. We are not isolated, individual, independent believers. James envisions the whole church as a safe place where we help each other to deal with sin and grow in holiness. It’s a community project and a journey we walk together.

Opening up to another person is a risk. It leaves us exposed, vulnerable, open to hurt. End result is we hide and struggle alone. Eventually, some just drop out or drift away.

We must remember however that we are all sinners together. God is not finished with us yet. All of us have weaknesses, insecurities, habits to overcome and the Holy Spirit is sanctifying us and giving different people gifts, skills and wisdom to help each other.

When we share our stories, we invite others into a part of ourselves that cannot be entered without permission. It’s a big honor and privilege. Those who listen sense a welcome to delve into their own stories, to make themselves open, to trust others with their pain. This results in a purer, more authentic fellowship of people who know and love and understand each other’s needs, anxieties, temptations and sins. In this act of mutual confession, mutual forgiveness, mutual help and prayer we release power that brings inner healing.

“The great mystery of our faith is that we get closest to God when we are willing to be vulnerable, when we are willing to say ‘I need somebody else’.”—Henri Nouwen

Testimonies of victory and triumph… Weddings… We rejoice with those who rejoice, we grieve with those who grieve. If all we get are stories of victory, some may get discouraged “what’s wrong with me?” I feel a profound sense of belonging in church when stories are shared about struggles that are still ongoing, how they are trusting in God in tat unresolved situation, need for healing, for an answer… These are real people facing real issues.

But how do we apply this in our lives? Maybe some suggestions from how I’ve seen some people in our church are doing it.

-Intentionally cultivate friendships of trust and openness. Maybe it could be small group. Give permission to trusted friends to ask tough questions.
-Confidentiality must be maintained, except when it endangers someone.
-I know of guys who travel a lot for work and live out of the suitcase. One day, you could be in Amsterdam or Brazil or Bangkok. They would have this agreement. Call someone when tempted especially for guys
-As a general rule, brother to brother or sister to sister confession as in some ‘emotionally charged’ situations.

So how do we deal with sin this side of heaven?

We live in a fallen world that has been corrupted by sin and we cannot escape the realities of this fallen world. But at the same time we also live in a new reality that has already begun in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But it is a reality that will be only be seen in its fullness when Jesus comes again. In the meantime, we live by faith and prayer and in communion with each other before the face of God.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Finding God On YouTube

When people think of religion on YouTube, most probably flash to "gotcha" videos of Sarah Palin's old church or Barack Obama's old pastor. But the video-sharing site is also being used by a wildly diverse collection of pastors, rabbis, imams, gurus, and pious laypeople — like Roman Catholic Steve Silvia, who made the video above — to celebrate and explain their creeds. These aren't glitzy televangelists.

In keeping with the YouTube ethos, many simply fire up camcorder and go. But low cost and infinite range, plus the mini-video's ascent as one of the culture's preferred ways of imbibing information, means vastly increased exposure for clerics who would otherwise have tiny flocks. "For years, people in my business talked about how the Internet was going to revolutionize religion the way the printing press helped create Protestantism, but it didn't happen," says Steve Waldman, founder of the multi-faith website Beliefnet. But with the rise of YouTube, he thinks the unassuming, grass-roots religion clips like the ones that follow "could be the beginning of that kind of transformation."

Read on

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Salt & Light In Politics

Dr. Toh See Kiat is a former MP for Aljunid GRC, and former President of CASE. He is presently Chairman of the Biblical Graduate School of Theology, and Chairman of Goodwins Law Corporation. His online broadcast "The Christian as salt and light in politics" is now available at BGST website.

Sermon powerpoint slides and transcripts can be downloaded here and here.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Thirsting After God In The Desert

Sermon audio may be downloaded from CDPC website and small group discussion questions can be accessed here

We are continuing a series of sermons based on the book of Psalms. The great thing about these ancient hymns is they express the whole range of human emotions as we come before God. They express overflowing joy, lamentations of grief, passion and even righteous anger… The passage of Scripture today expresses desire, longing and thirsting after God in a spiritual desert.

Psalm 63: Thirsting For God in the Spiritual Wasteland
A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah.
1 O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
3 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
6 On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
7 Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
9 They who seek my life will be destroyed;
they will go down to the depths of the earth.
10 They will be given over to the sword
and become food for jackals.
11 But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by God's name will praise him,
while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

Introduction: Tomorrow is my first wedding anniversary. How time flies! Almost exactly one year ago, I married Grace… we stood in this church and exchanged our marriage vows. So I plan to bring her out to a special dinner (the restaurant name is Cheapo) to celebrate our first year of marriage and look forward to many more years to come. But I won’t be giving her flowers because she thinks it’s a waste of money. But suppose I did…

Suppose that at the dinner I say: “Dear, here is a bouquet of flowers just for you." And instead of complaining about the cost, she replied: “Oh, for me? Thank you so much”…

Now imagine if I were to say to her: “Oh, don’t mention it. It is just my duty as a husband. As a responsible person, it is my obligation to give you flowers on our anniversary. So here you go”… Would she be very happy about that? Why not? Isn’t duty a noble thing to do?

You find it weird or funny if I say that because Grace is not honored by joyless duty. It’s as if I give her flowers because I have to, and not because I want to.

Imagine again a different scenario at the dinner, I gave my wife flowers and she said: “Oh for me? Why so many roses?” And this time I replied: “Dear, because it is my pleasure to give you gifts. I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather spend this evening with than with you.” Ah… is that much better? Why?

Because Grace’s worth as a person is magnified and honored when I delight in her character, her worth, her virtues, her beauty etc. And in case you still want to eat lunch later, I better stop these mushy mushy stuffs. But there is a point to this mental experiment. (This analogy is adapted from John Piper’s poem Then Let Me All My Pleasures Tell)

Many a times we relate to God in terms of rules and regulations, a list of do’s and don’ts, of duties and obligations. Of course, there is right and wrong and holy commandments that God has given us to keep. But God’s worth, beauty and manifold excellencies are not glorified by joyless duty, but by our joyful, willing and obedient delight in all that He is. We obey and serve Him because we want to, because we desire to honor and please Him. Not because we grudgingly have to. God loves a cheerful giver and a cheerful worshipper. To put it another, our duty is to delight in God. (Psalm 37:4)

And the passage of scripture today from Psalm 63 has a lot to teach us about this intimate desiring, intense longing, thirsting and hungering for God. In the life of the early church, it was highly regarded and prescribed for daily public prayers. It was a psalm of King David, whom the Bible described as “a man after God’s heart”. From humble beginnings as a shepherd boy, he was anointed by the prophet Samuel as king. He soon proved himself to be a brilliant warrior with an artistic heart; he plays the harp and composes psalms. As a king, he secured Israel’s borders and established a royal dynasty from which the Messiah the Anointed One would one day come forth. Despite all his achievements, the bible is also brutally honest to tell us that king David has also committed serious sins, not least adultery and murder. He was literally in political wilderness at least twice in his life. The first time, he was pursued by King Saul (1 Samuel 23). And the second time, he was pursued by his own son Absalom who wanted to take over his throne (2 Sam 15). It seems that this psalm was written while David escaped to the desert of Judah, fleeing from his own son. So his life was in danger. He was hiding in a desert where there is no life or water. And that is the context in which Psalm 63 was written.

In spite of many dangers and burning heat in the desert, King David still seeks after God with intense passion:

O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

I’d like to structure today’s message by asking three questions:
1) How do we thirst after God and be people who pursues after God’s heart? How do we seek God in a dry and weary land?

In Malaysia, we may not live in a "dry and weary land" physically, but we do live in a spiritual wasteland. In our urban and prosperous society, we are constantly bombarded with advertising from all over the place telling us that our life is not complete unless we live in a bigger house and drive a fancier car and invest in that blue chip company. Our sense of identity is tied to the things we buy, consume or own. Our slogan today is: “I shop till I drop. Or I shop therefore I am”. And all of us have to struggle daily against the omnipresent sales pitch telling us that "bigger, newer and faster are better!" It’s about “me, myself and I”. Oh, we all know that "money cannot buy happiness" but we still want more stuff that this world can offer. City folks like us have a "standard of living" to maintain. So we are always chasing that elusive fulfillment that the next purchase may bring.

Yet we strangely find many urban people are living lives of quiet desperation. People yearn for meaning and purpose in life and try to satisfy this longing with ‘stuffs’.

Herbert Schlossberg said this: (paraphrase) All true needs, such as food, drink, and companionship, are satiable. They can be satisfied but illegitimate wants - pride, envy, greed - are insatiable. By their very nature they cannot be satisfied. In that sense, materialism is the opium of the people. It’s like drugs/dadah that for a moment dulls the sense of emptiness inside. Enough is never enough. Greater quantities are required for satisfaction and each increment proves inadequate the next time." We cannot be satisfied by materialism.

It seems like we human beings have this infinitely huge hole in our hearts and we try our best to fill it up with things, sex, music, success, health, football, religion, you name it… but it leaves us empty as before. Many people think they will be really happy when something happens to them… Hit lottery… Retire… Make a million dollar… Marry this person… “I think I’d be truly happy when I’m a rich and famous superstar”.

But even celebrities are often the most unhappy people around. Because they work so hard to get to the top, thinking that they will be happy when they get there but they are utterly disappointed to find that they are still the same when they do reach the top.

Interview with Thom of Radiohead about what are his ambitions after achieving so much success in the music scene:

“Ambitious for what? What for? I thought when I got to where I wanted to be everything would be different. I’d be somewhere else. I thought it’d be all white fluffy clouds. And the nI got there. And I’m still here.”

Then why are you still making music?

“It’s filling the hole. That’s all anyone does”.

Interviewer: “What happens to the hole?”
Pause… It’s still there. (From Christianity Explored, Rico Tice)

In the movie The Matrix, Neo the main character works as a respectable programmer by day and a computer hacker by night. He lives and thinks that the world he lives in is real but it is actually an illusion, a virtual reality (called the Matrix) created to imprison his mind while his body is used as a battery to generate energy feeding the Machines. But he is blissfully unaware of it…

One day, a guy named Morpheus entered the Matrix to rescue him and leads Neo to himself:
“Let me tell you why you are here. It’s because you know something. What you know you can’t explain but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. There is something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad.”

Perhaps you too have this splinter in your mind. Perhaps you have thought about the big questions of life: Where do we come from? Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? There’s got to be more to life than this. Something is radically wrong with this world. It’s not supposed to be like this.

But if there is no God and everything is just ‘survival of the fittest’ in a dog eat dog world, then this world is exactly what you would expect it to be. It’s natural. “Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless” (Bertrand Russell)

But we instinctively know it is not right. It’s not supposed to be this way. What’s wrong?

It’s the question that drives us. Like a hole in our hearts or splinter in our mind.

According to C.S. Lewis, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it… Probably, earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing." These longings are clues that point us to the God who truly satisfies.

You may say: “Just because I feel the desire for char koay teow doesn’t mean that I will get it.”

But doesn’t the appetite for food in us mean that food exists somewhere? Isn’t it true that innate desires correspond to real objects that can satisfy them, such as sexual desire (corresponding to sex), physical hunger (corresponding to food), tiredness (corresponds to sleep) and relational desires (corresponding to friendship)? We have a longing that no amount or quality of food, sex, friendship or success in this world can fulfill. (Reasons for God, Tim Keller)

That is a clue that the hole in our hearts is God-shaped, only a relationship with the infinite God can make it whole again. We are made for another world.

And King David knows that! For him God is not some distant Supreme Being or impersonal Force faraway, not involved with the world. He cries out: “O God, You are my God”. This God is personal, not an “It”, He can have a covenant relationship with us.

And if we long and desire for God, then we need to seek him actively and earnestly. To be earnest is to be serious and determined. It’s not a hobby you do when you got nothing else better to do. Do we eagerly seek God with all our emotion, intellect and will? How serious are we in growing our relationship with God?
We are sometimes like the little boy who plays with dirty mud by the drain (longkang), and Mommy comes along and says, “Come, Ah Boy, don’t play in the mud. Come, Mommy bring you play at Sunway Lagoon instead.” And the boy refuses (I don’t want, I want to play by the longkang) because he cannot imagine how wonderful playing by the sea or Sunway Lagoon is like. The problem is not that his desire is too strong, but it is too weak. He settled for far too little.

Some people think of God as a cosmic policeman who frowns every time people have fun and goes around making sure that people never enjoys themselves.

But that is far from the truth. Think about all the promises in the Bible. Jesus says I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:34-36). At God’s right hand are pleasures forevermore. Those who lose their life shall find it. Crown of glory… Eternal life…

CS Lewis says: “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.” We settle for too little…

Do we have a covenant relationship with God today? Are we too easily pleased by the temporal pleasure of this world? Or do we thirst for the infinite joy of knowing the Creator God himself? Only Christ alone can satisfy the deepest longing for meaning and love in our hearts.

Saint Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee."

2) What can we do when we experience spiritual dryness and we don’t feel any passion for God?

When we don’t feel any passion for studying the scriptures, coming to church, pray or witness, does that mean that we don’t need to do these things because God is not honored by joyless duty. Do we stop doing our duty because we have no desire? What can we do then?

The answer is: No, don’t just sit and wait for the passion for God to come. We do what we need to do out of obedience anyway. But doesn’t that make us a hypocrite – I don’t want to do it but do it because I have to?

John Piper has this advice: “No, you will not be a hypocrite, if you know that joy is your duty, and repent that you don’t have it, and ask God earnestly to restore the joy even as you do good deeds. That is not the way a hypocrite thinks. That is the way a true Christian thinks in the fight for joy.” (When I Don’t Desire God: How To Fight For Joy)

That means we still do them but do so with a heart of repentance, asking God to restore our joy in Him. Because the value (preciousness) of water is not only glorified when we drink it and are satisfied. The importance of water is also glorified when we thirst and long for it when we don’t have it yet. In the same way, we honor God when we yearn for Him (even though not fully satisfied yet).

Some of us have been Christians for some time already but somehow we still don’t feel satisfied in God. What could be wrong? And we all experience seasons of spiritual dryness when we don’t feel like doing what we know we should. Very often, it could be due to willful sins in our lives or idols in our hearts. We need to turn away from them.

Sometimes before lunchtime, I have the habit of eating tid-bits or junkfood lying around the office. While waiting for the clock to hit 12 pm, my hand gets itchy and can’t resist grabbing that candy bar or munch on Pringles. So when it comes to having the proper meal, you have already lost appetite for real, nourishing food. You cant eat what you really need to eat because you are already stuffed on junkfood.

In the same way, satisfaction will never come if we claim to trust in God, but then quench our souls on the short-lived, inadequate pleasures of this world. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God said, "My people have exchanged their glory for that which does not profit… For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13)

If we do not feel a hunger/thirst to know God more (not just know about Him but a deeper personal encounter with Him) could it be because we have lost appetite by eating too much junk food? Maybe we need to go on a fast of TV, shopping, bak kut teh or whatever substitute or idol we may have in our hearts that hinder our relationship with God (Bulan Ramadhan) Something about desert is that there’s almost nothing there. There you have no one to turn to but God. Maybe we need to make a trip to the desert.

Sometimes, a season of spiritual dryness may not due to any particular sin. Some mystics call it ‘the dark night of the soul’. For example, you go for prayers and God touched you and you fell down on the floor. Wow, a wonderful spiritual experience. But then we can give too much attention on that experience, the drama of it, the pleasing sensations rather than focusing on the Savior. When we do not feel God’s presence, sometimes it may be a work of the Holy Spirit. When you feel God is far away but actually He is near you, He is weaning us away from our attachment to the pleasing, spiritual experiences so that we can love God for who He is, not for what He can give.

In the darkness of night, when he can’t sleep, King David remembers God… “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” He actively recalls the spiritual encounters he had in the past… “I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.” These memories at the temple kindle in his heart a desire and longing for God.

Why do you come to church? Is it out of habit? Because my parents bring me here? Out of obedience to Bible’s teaching? Because you like the cool music and songs? Because of the sermons? For fellowship with friends?

When it comes right down to it, there is only one reason for coming to church. It is the reason of the psalmist. We come to church, first and foremost, to be in God’s presence and seek His face. We come to church, first and foremost, to meet with God. God speaks and meets with us through our worship together, the sacraments, the preaching of the Word, prayers and the fellowship we will have later over lunch. To behold his power and glory. It’s not about us. It’s all about God.

Tun Mahathir always say “Melayu mudah lupa”. Sometimes Christians also can be quite forgetful. We also “mudah lupa”. When we experience God’s mercy or grace or answered prayers, do we store them up in our memory? Can we look back at these precious moments and when things are difficult, we can say to ourselves, “God has been faithful… God is good… He has done great things”? Do you remember?

Like King David, we need to come into God’s sanctuary with a focus to behold His power and glory and remember His grace and mercy and goodness during long seasons of darkness and loneliness.

3) How can we praise and glorify God even in a spiritual desert?

King David’s spirituality is not a form of escapism from the real world but the very essence of practical living. His situation was one of conflict and danger, enemies are bent on killing him. But this passion for God kept him going. He is assured that God is able to protect and vindicate him. He is confident his enemies will ultimately be destroyed by the sword and the mouths of liars will be silenced.

King David decided to praise God no matter what happens. Even while in danger and in the desert, there is mutual commitment: My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Despite the circumstances around him, he says: “with singing lips my mouth will praise you”, “I will praise you as long as I live, in your name I will lift up my hands”, “My lips will glorify you” and so on.

But how can He praise God when his life is in danger and his throne taken over by force?

If you ask him why? He would say: “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.”, “My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods with singing lips my mouth will praise you”, “Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings, My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”

In short, praise is the overflow of someone who is satisfied in God. All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise. Those of us who watch football will know this. Sometimes we watch champion’s league football at 3 am in the morning, and when our favorite team scores an exciting goal, we want to shout out: Goal! We want to sing “Glory Glory Man United!” Or “You’d never walk alone” We want to praise the scorer, turn to our friends: That was a wonderful pass from Rooney or Gerard. That is overflow of our enjoyment of the game. Imagine if you watch the game alone and you don’t dare to shout because you dun want to wake up your parents/wife. Something is missing… No umph… The joy is not complete… it didn’t lead to its climax.

So praise is the natural and joyful response of someone secure in God’s protection and satisfied in His greatness.

Our delight in someone or something is brought to completion by praise. When we see a very beautiful sunset or scenery, we just naturally feel like wanting to shout “Wow, that’s so amazing!” That praise completes our joy…

C. S. Lewis said: “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.” When we praise the one we love, we are completing our joy.

So when God calls us to worship and praise Him, it is not out of selfishness or pride or insecurity as if He needs our praise. God forbid. Rather, the act of God seeking His own praise is the ultimate loving act. Precisely because He loves us so, He relentlessly commands us to pursue the praises of His name in our hearts. It completes our joy in Him. Think of what we would be missing if God did not insist that we worship Him. We would never know the source of ultimate satisfaction.

Jonathan Edwards commented, "The enjoyment of (God) is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied…. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends are but shadows, but enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean."

All the pleasures and miracles of life – good food, beautiful friendship, the colors of sunset, the gentleness of a mother or a lover, glorious music – all these are good gifts from God that we enjoy, but even they are ultimately clues to a greater satisfaction found in God alone.

Let us pray:

“King David knew what it meant to love God with all his heart, soul and mind, to be a person who goes after God’s heart.

Are you thirsting and longing for God today? When we come to His sanctuary, do we come to meet with God and behold His power and glory?

Are our souls satisfied in all that He is or are we too easily pleased with substitutes that do not last?

Do you remember God and think about Him continually?
Do you recognize His care for you in difficult situations?
Are we following hard after Him?
Can we say, “O God, you are my God?”
Are we thirsting for God the way we should?

Jesus says: I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:34-36)”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tell Me The Story Of Jesus

To find out more about this camp by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, contact Dorothy at Tel: +65 6247-7695, Fax: +65 6247-9052, email

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lecture: Iain Torrance

Trinity and Creation: Ethical Implications
11.30 am - 12.30 pm
30 September 2008 (Tuesday)
Venue: Trinity Theological College

The Ethics of Forgiveness and Inclusion in the Early Church
9 am - 10.30 am
1 October 2008 (Wednesday)
Venue: True Way Presbyterian Church ( Opposite Queenstown MRT station )

The Ethics of Fragmentation in the Postmodern West
11 am - 1 pm
1 October 2008 (Wednesday)
Venue: True Way Presbyterian Church ( Opposite Queenstown MRT station )

Calvin's Understanding of the Church and Sacraments
7 pm - 9 pm
1 October 2008 (Wednesday)
Venue: True Way Presbyterian Church ( Opposite Queenstown MRT station )

Ordination and Ministry in the Reformed Tradition Today
11 am - 1 pm
2 October 2008 (Thursday)
Venue: True Way Presbyterian Church ( Opposite Queenstown MRT station )

These talks are jointly organized by Trinity Theological College for her 60th Anniversary and The Presbyterian Church In Singapore. For more detail, please phone Ms Tieu Ing Ing at6761 3608 or email :

Professor Iain R. Torrance is currently the President of Princeton Theological Seminary and Professor in Patristics.

He studied at the University of Edinburgh, where he earned an M.A. in mental philosophy, at St. Andrews University, where he earned a B.D. in New Testament languages and literature, and at Oxford University (Oriel College), where he earned a D.Phil in Syriac patristics.

He served as moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 2003, and was elected as Corresponding Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s National Academy of Science in 2007.

He has been co-editor of the Scottish Journal of Theology since 1982, and his wide-ranging interest includes early Christian Thought, the ethics of war and bioethics.

He has been granted the degree of Doctor of Divinity honoris causa by the Universities of Aberdeen and St. Andrews, the degree of Doctor of Theology honoris causa by Debrecen Reformed Theological University, and the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa by King College, Bristol, Tennessee. In 2007 he was elected a Corresponding Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s National Academy of Science and Letters.

Iain Torrance's major authored and edited publications includes Christology after Chalcedon, Human Genetics: A Christian Perspective, To Glorify God: Essays on Modern Reformed Liturgy, and the recent The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Christian Theology In Islamic Context

Dr Markus Piennisch (EUSEBIA Missions Ministries) who lectured me on Apologetics has published this article called "Christliche Theologie im islamischen Kontext: Missionarische und hermeneutische Perspektiven" at the 2007 STUTTGARTER THEOLOGISCHE THEMEN (Band II/Vol II). Look out for the Asian references he quoted :)

Read this document on Scribd: Christian theology in Islamic Context

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Case For Real Jesus

Author : Lee Strobel
Publisher : Zondervan
Price : Approx RM39.95 (Available in Christian Book Stores)
Reviewed by : Henry Hock Guan Teh.

Like his other books, Strobel uses evidential methodology apologetics approach in this book to point out the errors and absurd assumptions of the liberal theorist about Jesus. Taking advantage of his journalistic forte, he intellectually wrote but carefully framing his interviews with leading scholars for narratives loving readers. The author’s main concern is that the public (including Christians) are duped by recent ill-supported assertions concerning Jesus, such as from the likes of Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code, 2003), Michael Baigent (The Jesus Papers, 2006) and James Cameron (‘The Jesus Tomb’, Discovery Channel Documentary, 2007).

Strobel also brilliantly exposed and explained away today’s cacophony of postmodernism by systematically presenting logical counter-arguments against conjectures such as:

● Jesus is portrayed in other non-canonical gospels;
● Tampering by the church had damaged Bible’s portrayal of Jesus;
● New explanations refuting Jesus’ resurrection;
● Christianity’s portrayal of Jesus drawn from pagan religions;
● Jesus failed to fulfil messianic prophecies, and
● Contemporary people should interpret their own way about Jesus.

I got this wonderful book as a Christmas gift from my wife. You can borrow it from CDPC library. I intend to keep my copy.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Altared Living For Altered Lives

Peter Rowan, my homiletic teacher, preached on "Worship At The Kitchen Sink: Altared Living for Altered Lives" last Sunday and here are the sermon notes:

Where Does Worship Take Place?

The radical difference between early Christianity and the surrounding religions of the first century:

No longer is religion to be a sector of life as was with the case with the elusive and empty divinity cults. Christian worship is a total consecration involving belonging, obedience, brotherly love, in short, total service and adoration of the living and true God. (R. Corriveau)

1. Mind Your Language - Old Words, Wider Meanings

- Worship patterns in redemptive history (remember John 4): OT worship pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice and the perfect high priest - Jesus and the Cross.
- In the NT, OT worship language is transformed and widened in its application.

2. Do As The Romans Do - Worship 24/7

The Build-Up to the Call of Worship:
- 1:18-3:20 - sin keeps humanity from a true knowledge of God, making true worship impossible.

- 3:21 - 11:36 - God has not abandoned His world. Through Christ's sacrificial death, God has acted to bring humankind back to Himself.
- 12:1ff - Paul's exposition of the righteousness of God and of justification by faith leads to 12:1 "Therefore, in view of God's mercies, ..."
- Romans 12 expresses a new understanding of worship based on a right response to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Understanding 'understanding worship'

- This kind of worship involves the obedience of faith (1:5 & 16:26) - worked out by those whose minds are being transformed and renewed by God so that their lives in their totality are lived according to the will of God.
- The Christian's spiritual worship involves an extreme of realism - the offering of himself (R. Corriveau).

3. Worship at the Kitchen Sink: Altared Lives for Altered Living

- 12:1 "offer / present your bodies..." The presentation of ourselves to God at the beginning of our Christian lives - in terms of a deliberate, decisive, demonstrable surrender to God, is to be renewed on a regular basis.
- Our death to sin in the death of Christ, which Paul has declared earlier in Romans to be and accomplished fact, must become real in experience too (James Philip).

Altared Lives

- Not a disembodiment consecration, but the consecration of our whole lives.
- Ruth Graham had a card above her kitchen sink: "Divine worship offered here three times daily." All of life lived to the glory of God.
- OT language of sacrifice is applied now to the offering up of all our live all the time to God.

Authentic Worship Flows from an Altered Life

- The life that is fully acceptable to God is the life consecrated to Him through self-abandonment to the saving work of Jesus Christ. It is the life that seeks to serve Him in the context of everyday relationships and responsibilities, in the power of His Holy Spirit (David Peterson).

- Altared lives will result in altered living

Altered Living - The Life of Comprehensive Worship is to be lived out in the concrete relationships and circumstances of life:

a. relationship with yourself
b. relationship with other Christians
c. relationship with enemies
d. relationship to authorities
e. relationship to God's standards

- Philip Yancey talks about the kind of alternative lives we are called to live: Stalin built a village in Poland called Nowa Huta or 'new town' to demonstrate the promise of communism...

- "All too often, the church holds up a mirror reflecting back the society around it, rather than a window revealing a different way..." (What's So Amazing About Grace)

4. Real Worship: Connecting the Real World with the Real God

- (Romans 15:15-17) Paul sees his mission to the Gentiles as an expression of his worship to God.

- Evangelism has as its chief purpose the multiplication of worship, praise and thanksgiving to the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Andrew Kirk).

- Corporate worship should encourage us to engage with the world, and not escape from it.

- There can be no place for fantasy religion - worship is real only if it connects the real world with the real God (Mark Santer).

5. Our Debt Problem: The Solution to Sustaining True Worship

A Life for a Life
- a debt of gratitude
- a matter of obligation
- a matter of honesty

To see the meaning of the cross and still withhold our whole being from God is an impeachment of our sincerity and integrity (James Philip).

This is the worship God so desires and deserves:

- a comprehensive worship that flows from the totality of our lives
- worship that leads us to engage with the needs of the world
- worship sustained by the gospel of Christ

Friday, July 04, 2008

Stuart McAllister: Half Day Seminar

Life's Pursuits and the Question of Meaning

We think that man's quest for order and control, and man's hope in science and technology, will bring about the benefits and rewards we crave for. But is that truly the case?

Come and listen to Stuart McAllister of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries who will share the Biblical perspective of life's meaning, and the implications of our attempts to have the fullness of life in our own terms.

Venue: Evangel Christian Church
Time: 9.30am - 12pm
Date: 12th July 2008, Saturday
Speaker: Stuart McAllister
Free Admission

Evangel Christian Church
Blk 211, Henderson Road#04-02, Singapore 159552
Tel: 97892115

About the speaker, Stuart McAllister:

Born in Scotland, Stuart McAllister spent his earlier years in sales before Christ changed his life at the age of twenty. From then on, filled with a hunger to learn more about and preach the Gospel, he took every opportunity to witness and give his testimony. The desire to serve the Lord and at the same time deepen his understanding of the faith led him to Operation Mobilisation in 1978. OM sent him to Yugoslavia where he was imprisoned for forty days for distributing Christian literature. Undeterred, he continued on his mission to preach the Gospel in communist countries, which resulted in several more imprisonments.

He was general secretary of the European Evangelical Alliance and is involved with the European Lausanne Committee. Stuart has developed an evangelistic mobilization called "Love Europe" that sent several thousand team members across Europe with the message of the Gospel. He also founded the European Roundtable to bring together a diverse group of ministries and interests; they united to foster "Hope for Europe."

After residing in Vienna, Austria for twenty years, Stuart joined the staff of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries as the International Director in January of 1998. Pluralism, postmodernism and consumerism are regular topics addressed by Stuart in the leadership seminars.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Project Timothy - Upcoming Events

Project Timothy Bible Conference - 11th to 12th July 2008
Law and Grace in the Christian Life: Complementary or Contradictory?

Speaker: Andrew Reid, lecturer at Ridley Theological College, Melbourne
Venue: Metropolitan YMCA

The New Testament teaches us that Christians are not under law but grace, yet we are told that not the least stroke of a pen will disappear from the law until everything is accomplished. How are we to reconcile these two seemingly conflicting statements? How about the Old Testament commands? Do they still apply to us today? Come and explore these issues with us at the Project Timothy Bible Conference!

Expository Preaching Workshop - 20th Oct 2008

The Expository Preaching Workshop aims to encourage preachers to keep trusting in God's Word to do its work and be faithful in their own ministry, to equip preachers with fundamental skills for Bible handling and preaching and to build up a network of like-minded preachers.

The topic will be ‘Preaching Job’ this year.

Speaker: Christopher Ash, Director of Cornhill Training Course, UK.

Evening Expositions - on 21st and 22nd Oct 2008

The Evening Expositions are talks typically held over 2 evenings, with the aim of challenging and building up Christians through expository preaching

The theme for this year is ‘Out of the storm’ expositions from the book of Job

Speaker: Christopher Ash, who is the director of Cornhill Training Course, UK

For more information, check out the Project Timothy Website