Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Incarnation and 1 Implication

Imagine that God, omni-glorious, infinite, all-powerful, and perfectly holy should come and dwell in human flesh. How the infinite squeezes into the finite? no one knows. How the omni-present squeezes into space and time? no one knows. How the giver of life should become mortal flesh? no one knows. But it happened.

We can say without hesitation, reservation or derogation that the almighty creator of the universe was once a frail zygote, a collection of precious cells in Mary's womb.

Those cells were human cells. Man was made in the image of God, therefore only humanity could adequately contain the Son of God. Two natures, one person; unmixed, undivided, unconfused.

Not only that, but the Christ remains in a glorified body, even now. He did not ascend to heaven as a spiritual entity. He ascended in a body that could be touched, could eat, could speak. He remains human, but so much more.

what does this say about human flesh? It is the most precious, priceless substance in the universe, for the Son of God once - and continues to - dwell in human flesh. Consider tatooing. Today I saw a guy with both arms covered. The saddest thing, the craftsmanship of the tatoo was crap. It was messy and look unfinished like an amateur had it. How sad. Ok, there's no strict NT theology of tatooing, but consider what is being done to the body: an indelible image is being etched with ink onto human skin. But wait, the surface of human skin is the most priceless surface in the universe. You wouldn't scratch your name onto a piece of jade, or draw a happy face on mother of pearl with a permanent marker, would you? How much more senseless to etch a permanent image onto human skin! There is no image or message drawn on skin that could ever come close to being worthy of that surface. The untatooed surface is far more precious, and it already bears an image and message that is far more profound than anything conceived by the artist.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Love Divine

The love of God is demonstrated in his unconditional election of his saints.

The doctrine of the love of God had always confused me before I understood it in light of limited atonement. In the past, I assumed that God had a homogenous and monotone love for all creation and all humans alike; that it did not matter whether someone was a sinner on his way to hell, or a saint who had been redeemed by the blood of Christ. I thought that the love, that we had coined the "agape" love of God, was a single blob of love dumped on everyone at exactly the same time, in exactly the same measure and mode.

Here's what confused me:

1. God has agape love for me
2. God has agape love for the one going to hell
3. The love of God can result in the eternal damnation of the soul
4. The love of God is therefore not a saving love
5. The agape love for me is weak, undirected, and indistinct

The implications would be:

1. God's love for me is nothing more than a general positive disposition that God has for all his creatures, including slugs and microorganisms.
2. God's love for me is not what saved me, for there are people loved by God who are not saved.
3. There can be no true comfort nor security in the love of God.

Now, the rebuttal is that people go to hell because they reject the love of God.
First, let's remember what hell is. It is everlasting torment and torture without possibility of relief, the result of the wrath of God against sinners. How this reality and God's superabundant love can be given to the same soul, I do not know. This seems more like the outworkings of hate than of love.
Therefore, if people receive this hate as a result of their rejection of love, then God's love is no longer unconditional, but conditional.

The solution to this problem is to understand the love of God as the Bible presents it. A sermon by John Piper helped me to understand it, from Malachi 1:2-3,

I have loved you," says the LORD. But you say, "How have you loved us?" "Is not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the LORD. "Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert."

How does God demonstrate his love? By choosing Jacob over Esau. By choosing Israel over the nations. By choosing the saints over the sinners. As it is written in Romans 8:38,

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

missions end game

What exactly is a mission trip? and what is it supposed to accomplish.
Is it simply the finding of opportunities to interact with unbelievers and have them come away with a feeling that Christians are nice people?
It just seems to me that there is limited time, energy and resources on the mission field. We can't do everything, we can hardly reach everyone. But with what we have, we are obligated to be most efficient and faithful as stewards. With the limited time, energy, and resources that we have, how can we herald the gospel in the clearest, most effective way? This seems like the end game.

But what do we usually do on the field? We coax the people, we entertain them, we paint their buildings (usually poorly), we try to hock our wares of English lessons, community development work, and health care, and we call it missions. To what end do these things point?

Not everyone is going to swallow the gospel pill. It's bitter and obnoxious and the Bible even says so. It is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to Jews. But to those who are being saved, it is the power of God unto salvation. I think we need to start off on the right assumptions based on what we know is true. Not everyone wants to submit to Christ, not everyone embraces his lordship. The gospel is not good enough news for a lot of people. So, it's time to stop selling it attached with free bonus products.

There are those who will respond to the gospel if they will but get the chance to hear it. To these the gospel must go.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


When God provided Abraham with the ram to replace the sacrifice of Isaac, he provided it at the eleventh hour. He supplies all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. There are those verses sometimes that are existential enough that you wonder if you'll ever experience it tangibly. How convinced I am of this truth right now. Being in Thailand for two months now, I realize just how weak and needy I truly am. Illiterate, lonely, and poor. But God provides - he always provides. I received a gift of $1000 from a friend I hadn't known for very long, right at the moment when I needed it most, right at the time when I was wondering if I was really going to make it as a missionary in this place.

If I'm not in need, how could God ever be my well-spring of life? If I do not undergo suffering, how could God ever be my comfort? Isn't it true that God brings trials and testing our way, not because he is evil, but because he is perfectly good. Not only is he good ontologically, but good expressively. He shows us his goodness time and time again. And when we can't see his goodness, he turns up the contrast so that we might.

Friday, October 03, 2008

How to become an atheist

One becomes an atheist through an intricate yet predictable series of unfortunate events.

1. He begins to become seduced by the illusion that objective reality lies only in what can be perceived by the senses, measured, reproduced and demonstrated as proven fact.
2. This, in turn, causes him to become highly skeptical of phenomena. Perhaps it begins with a skepticism about trivialities like deja vu, ghosts, angels, demons, clairvoyance.
3. He reasons that there must be a scientific explanation for EVERYTHING. Note that this is an assumption and will play a major determinative role as a screen and filter for every idea that comes henceforth.
4. He begins to question his own faith and is deeply troubled by inconsistencies in the tradition that he has embraced. This expresses itself in several ways: 1) Questioning of the subjective experiences that he had encountered; 2) Becoming critical of areas of logical inconsistency in certain passages in holy texts; 3) Becoming highly cynical of the commands that the religion imposes on followers; 4) Finding fault with the moral quality of the deity in question; 5) Finding fault with the leaders and so-called spiritual giants of the faith; 6) Realizing that the world's religions all teach fundamentally different and irreconcilable things; 7) becoming troubled by the problem of evil; 8) Realizing that science has very different answers about the nature of reality and the origin of the universe.
5. This leads him to establish another set of tenets: 1) We cannot know what God wants of us; 2) If God were truly good, he would: a) remove all evil b) reveal himself to all creatures c) provide salvation for all; 3) religion is vastly incongruent with current scientific knowledge and progress.
6. In light of the fact that no religion offers what he wants or expects, he determines: 1) it is futile to worship this or any other god; 2) Indeed religion offers nothing and has no place in the landscape of future society; 3) There is no god.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Saved from ... ?

The gospel. It's about salvation right? Gospel means good news, and that good news is that there is hope for salvation in Jesus Christ. But, have you ever stopped to wonder exactly what it is that we're saved from?

Some answer: hell! We're saved from that awful place that people don't ever want to think about. That place of torment and torture.

Others answer: Sin! We're saved from that awful thing that separates us from God and truly knowing and enjoying him.

Still others answer: Despair! Without Christ, we are left despairing, without hope, without meaning and without purpose. Christ is our rescue from a life of worthlessness and self-pity.

Actually, these are all partial and incomplete answers. It is not so much that we are saved from a location such as hell. Sure, it's an awful place and we wouldn't want to go there. The fire is hot and the fleshing eating worms never have their fill. But we're not saved from an unpleasant place or experience.

And we're not saved from sin, either. Sin is awful and does separate us from God, but sin is simply the name we give our mistakes, our failure to live up to God's standard of righteousness. Sin is problematic in its effects it brings. We're not saved from sin per se.

And we're not saved from psychological pathology either. Christ did not die to rescue us from a low self-esteem or feelings of lostness and despair. We're not saved to feel good about ourselves.

No. We're saved from God himself. We are being rescued from experiencing the full measure and manifestation of God's wrath against evil and wickedness. At times past he has expressed his deep bitterness against sin in shocking ways that have left us offended, confused and even bitter ourselves. Lest we miss the point of hell by thinking of it as some impersonal location like a holding cell, or as a series of unpleasant sensations, we need to recover what hell truly is: the eternal and complete pouring out of his holy hatred not only against sin, but the sinners who have committed them.

I'm so glad that Jesus already bore that on the cross for me.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

If I could but from the pod emerge

Inter-faith Dialogue. Is that a game that Christianity can play? While religion and spirituality are in vogue, absolute claims to truth regarding ultimate reality are scorned with utmost intolerance (yes, it is ironic, come to think of it). It may seem obvious to state, but we are living in the age where the most number of people have been killed in the name of religion than ever before. Duh! We're coming to the threshold of capacity, the balloon is about to pop, and all the world is doing everything possible - even tweaking ideologies - so that more blood need be shed anymore. The world is trying as hard as ever to get along. The world is shrinking, cultures mixing, nations trading, people exploring and appreciating one another, while ideas are being exchanged and discussed.

But then there's Christianity, just as exclusive and 'archaic' as ever. He's never willing to budge, to give in, to agree with anything that isn't precisely revealed in Scripture. He doesn't allow any heterodox ideas to mingle with his and he judges other faiths by his own criterion. What a party pooper.

Truth matters. It matters because ultimate reality exists, although it may not seem plain right now. The world we're living in pretends that ultimate reality ends at the boundary of our frontal lobes. All that really exists are synapses firing creating thoughts, feelings, sentiments, and emotions. Even we Christians are living as if Jesus is just a synonym for peace, love and hope, that it's just another worldview that helps to make sense of this world that is meaningless without one. He often becomes another excuse for gathering together for feel-good sessions of song, food and banter.

But is this the way it's supposed to be? Are we living out the implications of the truth that we know. It's one thing to believe, but it's quite another to REALLY believe. I'm not sure I'm there yet, to be honest. I'm still fitting in with the general current of things. Sometimes I wish I could just wake up. Like Neo from the Matrix, or a caterpillar still in the cocoon, just wake up and see the way things really are and begin living that way.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Best and Getting Better

I came to know of a up-coming wedding of a girl I used to know. I didn't know her well, but she was well-known; a respected and accomplished leader, intelligent, charming, kind, godly and beautiful. When you observe such people from a distance, they seem larger than life - too good to be true. Doesn't she have any flaws? Does anyone despise her for any reason other than pure jealousy?

Her love story posted online seemed likewise surreal, the kind of stuff that gets published or seen on the silver screen. Love at first sight with a perfect guy in perfect circumstances; a perfect proposal made with perfect timing. The perfect couple. I'm sure I'm not the first or only person to look upon them with green eyes wondering if I will ever be dealt a hand so 'ideal.'

How easy it is to compare our circumstances with others! And after we calculate the payouts we make our conclusions on the goodness of God to Us vs. Them. Usually, the smoothest ride in the nicest wheels to the most coveted destination with all your friends and family cheering you along the way is what wins the day. It's what we define as a successful, happy life. It's the thing we all long for in our default state when we're looking at the looking glass rather than through it; when we're focused on life in this world rather than the kingdom of God. While it's most natural to consider the value of our lives in terms of happiness, possessions and comfort, it is also most unnatural and unbiblical to actually view and live our lives in this way. It's unnatural because because we have been born of above and are no longer of this world. It's unbiblical because in Christ we have been given all things. Anything that we possess at any given moment is God's very best for us, whether that amounts to much or nothing. While it may not seem so according to the world's economy, we have been given every blessing and can ask for no more. In dying with Christ we have renounced the world and all its cheap temporal benefits. In its place we have opted for treasure of which moth and rust cannot destroy.

At times, we see the kindness of God when we (or others) receive gifts of material, relational or pleasurable worth - things highly desired in our world. But we need not receive these things in order for God to be good. He has already poured out his life unto death in the crucifixion of his beloved Son for our sin. The salvation that we have and the glory that will be revealed in heaven is great indeed, and we will be embarrassed at the intensity with which we sought after other things at the expense of things that truly mattered. What an insulting sin it is to think that marriage, or money, or monuments are anywhere near as precious.

Lord, help me not covet the petty and trivial things of this world which distract me from coveting you alone.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

When we look at the eternal killing fields with unveiled faces

If you were to wake up in heaven and find that your parents, siblings, and best friend were not there? How could that place be heaven for you? From where would you derive the ecstatic joy and gladness that constitutes our idea of eternal bliss in the presence of God?

The answer is difficult, but simple.


Unless we get our minds and hearts around the perfection and majesty of the glory of Christ, we miss the entire point of our salvation and what it means to enter into eternal bliss. On this side of glory, our self-centred humanistic flesh draws us away from basking in the glory of God as the ultimate good. Our eyes are only for ourselves, for our humanity and our sentimental thoughts of secondary happiness.

One day, from the viewing gallery of heaven perhaps we will see many of our loved ones perishing in eternal torment, receiving the just retribution for crimes committed against the holiness of God. Looking with unveiled faces, perfected and glorified in the consuming fire of our Saviour, with all sin and flesh purged completely from our being, what will we do?

We will exalt in the glory of God with such immense ecstasy and joy that all of our petty sentiments of the joy of salvation in our present time will shamefully pale in comparison. We will rejoice in the vindication of God and in the wonder of his great mercy in Christ in which we were selected from before the foundation of the world.

To God alone be the glory.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What is it that lay in the heart of the Thai people? Through what lens do they perceive the world? From the extravagance of their Buddhist architecture and decor about their shrines, it would seem that they are a very religious people. But is it that they are religious or simply superstititious about their beliefs?

I've been thinking about whether or not a high-church form of Christian spirituality would work here among the Thai. Sort of a highly ritualistic set of actions that would resonate more with their attitude of worship within a Buddhist context, perhaps much like the forms seen in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

The form of Christian worship that we introduce as missionaries is western, no doubt about that. It is altogether normal for us to transmit the faith that has been passed down from tradition from those who gave it to us, not to mention the fact that the urbanized world is western in its character the world over. Those who convert are embracing a certain amount of western civilization, yet they are neither ignorant nor resistant of it.

Perhaps it's not such a good thing to give them a Buddhist version of Christianity knowing that their beliefs are not relational, but based on fear, superstition and appeasement.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

When I was young(er), I thought to myself, "I can't wait to get to leave all this junk behind and get to the mission field." Often looking through eyes of scorn for those who would not leave the materialsm and comforts of western urban life, I now see how precious some of these little things are - things that I'm going to miss. Now that I'm closer that ever before, just weeks away from stepping out to begin my 3-year assignment in Thailand under Korean church and agency, I realize just how hard it is to let go of the things which bring us comfort.

I'm sitting in the National Library in Singapore. Air conditioned, quite, peaceful, free wireless internet access. All that anyone could ever want or need is found in this very city which I have grown to love. The convenience of daily errands, the efficiency of services, the integrity of public transportation, the food, the movies, the skilfully crafted landscaping and the tranquility of safety.

I'll surely miss these things. I doubt Thailand has even half of these things.

But, one cannot deny one of the main sources of fulfillment and happiness: purpose. I know that God has called me for a season of missionary service. Perhaps he does not give everyone a burden for those who have never heard the gospel, but I'm certain that he's given it to me. Like Frodo Baggins I carry it around my neck while it brings to me places of terrifying uncertainty and danger. I could wish that I were a yuppie in the city, marry a bonny lass who catches my eye, apportion some time to church ministry so as to inspire the next generation, take up a hobby, plan the next holiday overseas. But I cannot. It's just not me - at least not for now.

At the same time, I, in no way, want to come across as some super-spiritual person. I know with certainty that trials and temptations will buffet me on every side. I'm not even entirely sure that I will prevail. I've read and heard enough people who could not hack it. Why should I be exempt from statistics?