Monday, April 13, 2015

The Complexity of Romance Part I

There are times when biblical texts make more sense and come more alive than when read at other times. For me these days, 1 Corinthians 7, Paul's wisdom and encouragement regarding marriage and Christian service, resound with sharpened clarity. "The married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided." To be sure, Paul is not making an ethical pronouncement; he has "no command' from the Lord regarding this matter. He's only talking practical daily wisdom, the limitations of time and energy during this distressing age.

I'm convinced we're living in times where the modern man's anxieties with regard to women are more complex and difficult than ever. Romance is a constant negotiation of will and power. The insatiable search to be adequately entertained distracts us from sitting down and resolving past resentments, present frustrations, and future plans. The fibres that bind together to create a strong rope are fraying, not from the ends, but from the middle. The orientations of leadership, of money, of nurture and support are no longer moving as one unified strand as they once did. They're moving in every direction, a tangled mess that threatens to rupture the cord.

It's hard to blame a single perpetrator in this lamentable enterprise. But if I were to put my finger on it, the problem lies in the double edged sword of chivalry's death, and feminism's rise.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Present in the Moment

It's been a while since I truly behaved like a tourist. While I was living in southeast Asia, it didn't take long until I embraced it as my home. A native is one who longer thinks it a novelty to eat the food, use the facilities, feel the weather, talk with the people. While on my trip to Europe with my family, however, we behaved like total tourists. One thing I noticed that tourists do is to live for the photo shot. The place in which one stands and the view that one behold is not really about the being present in the moment. It's about saving the picture digitally, to be shared and looked when you are no longer there.

I've noticed the same thing happening during New Years and National Days - any celebration involving fireworks. The dazzling displays explodes in the night skies, sending shafts of brilliantly coloured light across the black expanse speckled with twinkling stars. The human eye is really the only thing that can really take in that live-action shot in all its splendour. And the human soul is the only thing that can really appreciate its beauty. And what do we do? We spend the entire 30 seconds to 3 minutes of the fireworks display trying to capture the "perfect" shot in our cameras. Failure after failure, blurry shot after blurry shot, we stare not at the fireworks in the sky, but the 2X3 inch screen on which a crappy picture displays, proving over and over how inadequate the technology is compared to our eyes.

No camera can fully grasp the moment - not even close. It cannot reproduce the same light, the same sounds, the smells, the textures, the memories. And yet we devote the entire moment into force feeding the moment into digital memory, to be saved for another time, when we are not there anymore, when we cannot possibly experience that moment any longer.

Tragic, that we are not present in the moment. That we live not for the true moments, but for the fake ones. We live for those moment which are after the fact. We click and move on without truly beholding and we wonder why we don't remember the scene the way the picture depicts it.

Do we do the same thing with God? Are our musings about him but a click shot of trifling things about him and not a true beholding of him? Perhaps I am guilty of this when I engage in theology, or debate matters of doctrine and scripture. If my theology does not become a filling of myself with and an enjoyment of the excellencies of God, and a commitment to deeper worship and closer obedience, then has it done me any good? Have I not stored him away in a small box, having missed the point of being present in the moment?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Europe and the Christian situation

I'm currently in Germany visiting family, but in another way, I'm visiting family of another sort, treading upon the same earth as our ancestors of the western Christian tradition. These are the very lands that was home to Christianity for centuries, the birthplaces of doctrine and the great theologians of the faith. We owe so much to the believers who contended for and hammered out the essence of our faith in fires of affliction and controversy. Christianity had a large part to play in the flourishing of the sciences, health care, social justice intervention, economics, and academics. But now, the dazzling blaze of vibrant Christianity is but a fading shaft of light struggling to peak through the gloomy clouds of secularism. Europe is now largely post Christian. They say that on a given Sunday, there are more Anglicans worshipping in Nigeria, than in all of England, US and Canada COMBINED!

If anything can be learned from history, it's this: These things happen. It may shock the types of things that are possible in a fallen world. The fear, of course, is that history will repeat itself. One of the purposes of studying history is that it gives us a good idea of what to expect in the future. We asian believers and immigrants have believed on the testimony of American and European preachers who taught our forefathers so long ago. Such preachers are long gone but we have embraced their message and are running with it.

Will the same thing happen to us that happened to them? Will we find ourselves getting tired with the fad and lay Christianity behind us in pursuit of other things? One would think that when a society is transformed by the influence of its faith, as is the case with Europe, that the religion of the people would continue to likewise flourish. On the other hand, there are countries like Thailand, whose religion has done nothing to improve the quality of life of the people; but this very religion remains rock solid and impenetrable. How odd ...

Friday, July 24, 2009

on apostasy in the Christian church

These days, I'm encountering friends who are or questioning or leaving the faith. Perhaps the scariest thing of all is these are not the outcast and rebellious ones who used to smoke cigarettes outside of the church while the service was going on or the ones who dragged to church by their parents and later realized that they were neither genuine Christians nor even very sympathetic to the faith in the first place. In fact, they were the ones with whom I rubbed shoulders in ministry, who led outreaches, cell groups, Christian events; the ones who I saw weeping in repentance and who lifted their hands in fervent worship!

Now, they were bordering on atheism at worst, and agnosticism at best. Some common things I find about these friends, from what they related to me:

1. They are questioning the Church, its culture, its customs, its leadership.
2. They were a part of a parachurch organization, filled with fun and excitement, but only for a season.
3. They were confronted and hurt by Christian leaders.

My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will work in their hearts to revive them from the blindness they presently experience. In my theology of perseverance, those who are genuinely saved and inhabited by the Holy Spirit will never finally or ultimately fall into apostasy but will be preserved to the last day. It would utter sadness to know that these brothers who fought beside me in the trenches of ministry were never truly born again to begin with!

Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matt. 7:21-23). This passage always struck me as sensational, something I never thought would actually happen. Only now do I how possible this scenario really is.

Perhaps the fundamental problem is that their entrance into faith was birthed within the context of a particular season or phase of life, or through the trappings of a well-done presentation of how exciting being a Christian can be. Now, it's not wrong that people come to faith because of a need in their life- indeed all genuine conversion must start with a deep sense of despair and helplessness. The problem is that the need was cosmetic and not fundamental: they sought Christ to fill a temporary and superficial need, be it a need for community, physical provision, a sense of calling. Once this need was met for a while by the religion called Christiantiy, the demands of the One called Christ began to be an impediment and obstacle to their real goals in life: to live for themselves. Rather than meeting the risen and glorified Christ, the exalted ruler of the universe who demands total allegiance, they met Christianity, the established institution that provided a momentary sense of belonging and purpose.

Yes, it's true that the Son of Man came not be served but to serve (Mark 10:45a). But read on ... "... and to give his life as a ransom for many." Once he ransomed us from our enslaved and pathetic state, he became exalted and we became free from sin so that we can be enslaved once again to a new Lord and King: Jesus. Hence, the Apostle Paul calls himself Doulos, slave of Christ Jesus.

Embracing Christianty is simply the easiest part. Embracing Christ, however, is much more demanding.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Michael Jackson

It's been almost 2 weeks since news of the death of Michael Jackson, and yet the news is still news. It's still being splashed on the billboards, CNN, music networks. His albums are still top of the charts and his pictures (the sightlier, not-so-recent ones, interestingly) are everywhere. All over the world people held memorials and candle-light vigils mourning the loss of this music icon. Tears were shed from L.A. to Tokyo, and some even travelled from Australia to stand with a crowd outside the Staples Centre - without a hope of getting in to watch to memorial service.

Why the hype, you ask?

You see, Michael Jackson, talented musician though he was, was more than a musician and dancer with some fancy moves. I remember the cover art of one of his albums, History. It was an apocalyptic scene where a statue of Michael Jackson stood towering against a night backdrop with tiny helicopters flying around and bright flood flight lit the area, though unable to capture the entire statue. On his right arm, the number 777, tatooed in all its arrogance.

They say there was not a person in the world who was not in someway touched by the character of Michael Jackson. He represented so much for so many people. Perhaps, in the final analysis, all he was a stark reminder of the idolatry that our generation is guilty of. The making for ourselves, images which we are familiar with to mask the terror of divine reality. In our day, we have seen great men. Human rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr, but few tears are shed for him; political heroes like Ghand and Winston Churchilli, but few tears are shed for them. In our day, who is the one in which lay so much of our concern and for whom we shed the most tears when he is gone?

The entertainer.

The one who was a sparkle to our eyes as we watched from the television screen or on the stage. We've along way it seems, in the opposite direction. The world seeks a Messiah. It always has. We seek a noble ruler, an unshakable kingdom; one in whom to pin our hopes. The world has lost the king of pop, and the mourning continues until today.

How very, very sad.

Monday, June 22, 2009

438 out of 6912 - lots to be done

Last week I was at a missions conference in Dallas Texas with an organization called Pioneer Bible Translators. They're sorta like Wycliffe, translating the Bible into never-before-heard-of languages all over the world, but they're a smaller and more manoeverable outfit. They're also committed to church planting as well.

Bible translation is a crazy task. I didn't realize all the issues that are involved in communicating truths from the biblical context to our today. In the west, or any Christian-influenced country, we have the benefit of centuries of religious jargon in our English language. We know the meaning of "faith" or "Amen." But what about a pre-literate nomadic people living somewhere in the sub-Sahara desert? There are languages who don't even have the verb to be, other languages don't use any abstract nouns at all. What a task it is to translate profound Biblical truths like justification by faith, or predestination.

But it can be done, and it must be done. God has a plan to gather people from every language, tribe and culture around his throne to worship him in their own native language. There are currently 6912 known languages in the world, but only 438 of those languages have a completed Bible. Many of these languages have never been learned about outsiders before. How then, as Paul says, are they to believe in the one whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without a preacher?

They say that less than 5% of all missionaries are serving among a people group who generally have never heard the gospel. They go to places that already have an established church, published Bibles and theological schools. All the while, there are thousands of people groups yet to have of the name "Jesus" translated into their dialect.

I've committed myself to going as a missionary, where I will barely be scratching the surface of the task that needs to be done. Who's coming with me?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Atonement and the Love

Ephesians 5
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

I've recently been pondering more and more about Christ's work on the cross, especially the question: For whom did Christ die? Those of us with any appreciation for the cross will agree that Jesus' crucifixion was big news, it made a big deal - all the difference in the world. My question has always been, Who reaped the benefits of Jesus' work? We naturally assume, The whole world, of course! Sinner, saint, the Pope in Rome, the Pygmy in Africa. Jesus died for everyone all the same.

But the above passage suggests differently. The kind of love that a husband shows his wife is not the same as kind he shows to his secretary, the door-to-door salesman, or the shoeshine boy. I know it's the 21st century and anything goes these days, but hey. Paul seems to be saying that it was love that propelled Jesus to lay down his life to sanctify his bride into a spotless splendour. But this wasn't any kind of two-bit love for just anyone, it was a husbandly love, the kind that sacrifices his own life for the sake of his wife, his own flesh. If a husband shows the same amount of affection for the stranger at the grocery check-out as for his wife, we call him a Playboy, a cheat, a fool. He doesn't deserve to be married.

Special deeds are motivated by a special love, directed to special people.

This is precisely in line with what we see in God's affection towards Israel in the Old Testament: special treatment for special people as a result of a special love. I'm not saying that God doesn't love those who are not his people. Psalm 145:9 says, "The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made." But, it seems clear that some enemies and non-Israelites weren't shown the same type of "love."

How does this fare with our assumptions about a general love of God for all humanity, or a general atonement made for all humanity? Of course, on the surface, it does sound better, more polite, more universal and makes everyone feel equally cuddled. But it just seems that the embrace of God's arms are more tightly wrapped around those he loves more.