Sunday, September 30, 2007

Stronger Hands

Pastor Chris gave another excellent sermon today from a popular text that I have not yet had the chance to dig in myself: Jacob's wrestles with God, in Genesis 32:22-32.

Taking a look at the passage in context:-

I am quite curious as to why a wrestling match was nestled in the passage about Jacob meeting Esau. Jacob remembers his encounted with Esau 20 years ago when he had tricked his elder brother of his birthright. Esau had been so incensed that he willed to kill Jacob after the passing and the mourning of their father. Now that Jacob is moving out from Laban's he will be passing close to where Esau was. He had to meet his brother. He was worried. He made preparations and proceeded to meet him, but before that happened, Jacob wrestled with God. Why?

I do not have any commentaries (at least not yet) on Genesis and I have to resort to the next best: Deffinbaugh said, "As biblical scholars have observed over the centuries, there is much in this episode that is cloaked in mystery." It is certainly good to know many have wrestled with this passage and now I can draw on their discoveries.

Notice some very interesting points to the event:

The man wrestled with him. Jacob did not initiate it, instead God initiated the conflict. Jacob is standing between his past struggles with Laban and the impending one with Esau. God wanted to show him that his real struggle is with God and not with men. If he had struggled with God and still held onto him, he will be able to face anyone.

The man can overpower him anytime but he did not do it till daybreak, they wrestled for hours in the night. And by just a touch, he dislocated Jacob's hip. God wanted to show Jacob who is he up against.

The man asked to be released at daybreak after dislocating Jacob's hip. This indicates that Jacob must have held on to him and not letting him go. Jacob wrestled with God and did not let go of God even at the last stage when he knew he has lost. He did not give up, but gave in to him and asked to be blessed.

The man asked for Jacob's name when Jacob asked for a blessing. Take note that 20 years ago, when asked the same question. Ravi Zacharias in Can Man Live Without God commented, "The last time Jacob was asked for his name, the question had come from his earthly father. Jacob had lied on that occasion and said, 'I am Esau,' and stole the blessing. Now he found himself, after many wasted years of running through life looking over his shoulder, before an all-knowing, all-seeing heavenly Father, once more seeking a blessing, Jacob fully understood the reason and the indictment behind God's question and he answered, 'My name is Jacob.' 'You have spoken the truth,' God said, 'and you know very well what your name signifies. You have been a duplicitous man, deceiving everyone everywhere you went. But now that you acknowledge the real you, I can change you, and I will make a great nation out of you.'
Greatness in the eyes of God is always preceded by humility before Him. There is no way for you or me or anyone else to attain greatness until we have come to Him.

The man dislocated Jacob's hipbone. This happens to be the strongest joint in the body. At the time when Jacob thought he was the strongest, God brought him back to reality.

We need to know that at times when we are sailing high thinking we are the best in the world, God will wrestle with us and he will not give up until we give in to him. As long as we do not surrender to God, he will wrestle with us till daybreak, till we realise who is in charge, who is God. The encouragement we can draw upon though is that God does not give up on us. He still chose us in our weaknesses and idiosyncracies. He can zap us in our weakness and even in our strength but instead he chose us.

I realise that God indeed is the one who starts wrestling with us. I may feel that I started the debate but I believe now how I would have started to debate and wrestle with God in any issues in my life must have been his nudging in the first place. He would be whispering to me, "this is not right" or "I think you better go talk to him" or "you need to work this out".

Prayerfully prevailing with God assures us of prevailing with men. If God is on our side, we cannot be overcome. This is what verse 28 was intended to convey to Jacob. In learning how to prevail with God, Jacob had also found God’s means of prevailing with men (Deffinbaugh).


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Malaysia Jubilee Mission Expo

I wanted to spend most of the day on James 4:4 but I managed to drop into MCA Hall this evening to view the Exhibition of 183 Historical Pictures of the Malaysia Jubilee Mission Expo, which celebrates the 200th Anniversary of Robert Morrison's Mission to China.

The sad thing for me was that the entire exhibition was in Chinese. I was only given a booklet in English describing what each poster and pictures therein say and refer to. I teasingly called the book English Subtitles, except that they weren't really subtitles at all as all it provided was general information of the posters and not a word-for-word translation of the text. Midway through I lost interest, but it would be an excellent walkthrough if and only if I knew how to read Chinese.

I can't say much here about the missionaries and their sacrificial contributions but what caught my attention was this poem (in English!), written by E.H. Hamilton, after hearing of the death of his missionary collegue Jack Vinson. Vinson was martyred in 1931. He showed no fear of death and to his Chinese captors, he said, "Kill me, if you wish. I will go straight to God."

by E.H. Hamilton

Afraid? Of what?
To feel the spirit's glad release?
To pass from pain to perfect peace,
The strife and strain of life to cease?
Afraid - of that?

Afraid? Of what?
Afraid to see the Saviour's face,
To hear His welcome, and to trace,
The glory gleam from wounds of grace,
Afraid - of that?

Afraid? Of what?
A flash - a crash - a pierced heart;
Brief darkness - Light - O Heaven's art!
A wound of His a counterpart!
Afraid - of that?

Afraid? Of what?
To enter into Heaven's rest,
And yet to serve the Master blessed?
From service good to service best?
Afraid - of that?

Afraid? Of what?
To do by death what life could not -
Baptize with blood a stony plot,
Till souls shall blossom from the spot?
Afraid - of that?
We are certainly indebted to them. More information here.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Hebrew? Greek? Anyone?

Kar Yong posted in his blog if biblical languages are still necessary in the seminary, triggered by a similar post by The Rabbi here.

He asked:
- Do we still need to teach Greek and Hebrew in the seminary?
- Is the knowledge of Greek and Hebrew a requirement for exegesis?
- Are biblical languages still necessary for Christian ministry?

I have utterly no influence in this field of work - that is, I am neither a scholar nor a seminarian but my answers are yes, yes and a resounding yes!

The Rabbi's Hebrew class suffered a 2-student-dropout. Let me tell you in our Greek class back in year 2004, when it was offered to us laypeople, the initial respond was tremendous. (I suppose for us, going for eh-hem Greek class sounded, well ... important!) The class size was more than 35! Siew Foong, our lecturer, was pretty worried on having such a huge class to handle, what more a language class. She did not have to worry long because by the time we sat for the exam for Elementary Greek 2 at the end of 2004, the size of the class - which we referred to as the remnants - was only about 11. A good 24 dropped out. And when we were doing a "sort of advanced" Greek using the book of Romans last year, we started off with only 6 of us from the same Elementary Greek group. But by the end of the session, only 5 of us remained. It goes without saying that teaching the biblical languages to non-seminarians suffers a worse fate.

Many question the need to have it at all: Hebrew and Greek is not relevant to one's ministry; they will never be used and will be forgotten after all; pastors nowadays don't refer to the Hebrew or Greek text anyway; there is no benefit, so why put in all the hard work; and they are utterly difficult to learn and master so why bother?

My thoughts linger around this one question: what is the basis of our ministry? If the ultimate basis is the bible as the word of God revealed to us, then the answer is simple. How can we understand his word deeply if we do not have an inkling what it says or mean in the original languages? If we say that our basis of ministry is God, God is revealed to us through his word. If we say that our basis of ministry is love, the love of God is revealed to us through his word. And if the basis of our ministry is theology, it comes out from a thorough study on his word. We cannot but admit that we can only know God through his revealed word, notwithstanding the experience and the personal relationship that we have with him or the belief some people may have about the "new prophetic word", the basis of all we do in ministry is still the word of God.

Love is a very good example. It is a commandment from God for every believer to love. But what is love? How does God love? How did he love? How are we to love? Whom are we to love? A trip into D.A. Carson's little but profound work, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, will show you that in order to understand this love that God has for us, this love that he commands us to live out in our daily life, we need to know some Hebrew and Greek.

I was out shopping today when I saw this sign. I practically burst out laughing.

I like what Paul commented in The Rabbi's post, "Many church members and people outside the church are generally no longer satisfied with clichés and they are well-read. They ask deep penetrating questions (or will one day ask) that will require us to give answers that require us to show from the Bible why we believe what we say we believe. We need to go deeper than the surface of what the English translation of the text seems to say." I hope we won't be selling one shoe and giving away one sock, when we should be more complete in our understanding of the word of God to teach, lead, guide and disciple others to a richer life in Christ.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Job 17

1 Ajalku sudah dekat, hampir putuslah napasku;
hanyalah kuburan yang tinggal bagiku.
2 Orang menjadikan aku bahan ejekan;
kulihat betapa mereka melontarkan sindiran.

3 Aku ini jujur, ya Allah. Percayalah padaku!
Siapa lagi yang dapat menyokong perkataanku?
4 Kaututup hati mereka sehingga tak mengerti;
jangan sampai mereka menundukkan aku kini.

5 Menurut pepatah, siapa mengadukan teman demi keuntungan,
anak-anaknya sendiri akan menerima pembalasan.
6 Kini aku disindir dengan pepatah itu;
mereka datang untuk meludahi mukaku.

7 Mataku kabur karena dukacita;
seluruh tubuhku kurus merana.
8 Orang yang saleh, terkejut dan heran;
orang yang tak bersalah, menganggap aku tidak bertuhan.

9 Orang yang baik dan yang tidak bersalah,
makin yakin cara hidupnya berkenan kepada Allah.
10 Tapi seandainya kamu semua datang ke mari,
tak seorang bijaksana pun yang akan kudapati.

11 Hari-hariku telah lalu, gagallah segala rencanaku;
hilang pula semua cita-cita hatiku.
12 Tetapi sahabat-sahabatku berkata,
'Malam itu siang dan terang hampir tiba.' Namun aku tahu dalam hatiku bahwa tetap gelaplah keadaanku.

13 Hanya dunia mautlah yang kuharapkan,
di sanalah aku akan tidur dalam kegelapan.
14 Kuburku kunamakan "Ayahku",
dan cacing-cacing pemakan tubuhku kusebut "Ibu" dan "Saudara perempuanku".

15 Di manakah harapan bagiku;
siapa melihat adanya bahagia untukku?
16 Apabila aku turun ke dunia orang mati,
aku tidak mempunyai harapan lagi."

I just discovered that Job 17 reads excellently in the Malay language. My spirit is broken; my days are extinct; the graveyard is ready for me ...

Picture by Craig Birrell

Indonesian Bahasa Indonesia Sehari-hari (BIS)
Copyright Lembaga Alkitab Indonesia (Indonesian Bible Society), 1994.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Psalm 67

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
A Psalm. A Song.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Context, context and context

I attend bible study every Friday night, or at least I try to. The material used is Avery T. Willis Jr's Masterlife Series - The Disciple's Mission. Others may find it useful but I would prefer a more bible-centered hermeneutical material. I find that The Masterlife Series focuses on Christian life lessons and pulls up verses to substantiate them. Last Friday, the bible study also included material taken from Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life, who also in my opinion take verses out of context to fit into his thoughts.

During the study, we were given these steps to horizontal reconciliation, apparently from Warren. I am not convinced over the choice of verses.

1. Talk to God before talking to the person (James 4:1-2)
2. Always take the initiative (Matt 5:23-24)
3. Sympathize with their feelings (Phil 2:4)
4. Confess your part of the conflict (Matt 7:5, Ps 73:21-22)
5. Attack the problem and not the person (Prov 15:1, 16:21)
6. Co-operate as much as possible (Rom 12:18)
7. Emphasize reconciliation, not resolution (1 Pet 3:11)

My thoughts:
I am okay with #1 though I’d prefer the richer word “pray” rather than just “talk”, but James 4:1-2 is completely taken out of context here. #2 is accepted. When the leader explained #3, he said that we should not pay attention to the facts but to the person’s feelings on the rationale that when a person is distracted either in anger or fear, the “facts” would most probably be illogical. I don’t know where to start analyzing this! And how Phil 2:4 comes into play, I have no idea. #4 is ok if you are in the wrong – it would be imperative to. Matt 7:5 is applicable but the usage of Ps 73 is beyond me. I challenged #5 with Acts 5. Moreover, the phrase that was repeatedly uttered was “hate the sin and not the person”, which in my opinion is a fallacy. God hates the wicked as much as their sins, though I must qualify that God’s hate is a holy one, and how would you reconcile #5 with Matt 18:15-17? #6 is quite a dangerous statement – what does he mean by “co-operate”? And Rom 12:18 implies that peace is not always possible. With #7, which I have coincidently worked on several days ago, I have a problem too. Reconciliation is a profound doctrine on the restoration of our relationship with the Father. Any mention of reconciliation in the horizontal perspective must be in the light of the cross. Without the cross, reconciliation is not possible. Moreover, 1 Pet 3:11 is not about reconciliation. And where is forgiveness? Reconciliation cannot happen without forgiveness. We discussed about events where reconciliation was publicly carried out, but forgiveness was not apparent. It was all but a sham.

As much as I was in disagreement with the treatment of bible passages, I was alright with the lesson - reconciliation within the body of Christ is a necessity. Our reconciliation with the Father must be mirrored within the faith community. However, we agreed that it is not something that is easy to do.

But then I must say, I really had fun during the bible study, tackling the verses, and see how we can apply the lessons in our lives. We will be doing John 17 this week, one of the epitome passages in the Gospel of John, being the prayer of Jesus after his farewell discourse. I am looking forward to studying that one together.


Monday, September 24, 2007

What do you make of the Tower of Babel?

I was thinking about the concept of unity this morning. For now, we are all of different colour and creed, different languages and nationalities. The day will come when we will come to the Kingdom of God: as one people, with one creed, one King, one language.

Why then do we live in such differences right now? Does the Tower of Babel incident have anything to do with it? In light of the Kingdom of God, why would God want to frustrate human’s efforts to come together?

The account of the Tower of Babel is one of the most popular Sunday School stories. I am so familiar with it that it did not occur to me to ask questions. But I am now.

Genesis 11:1-9
1Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.
........2 It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain the land of Shinar and settled there.
....................3 They said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and
................burn them thoroughly." And they used brick for stone,
................and they used tar for mortar.
..............................4 They said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city,
........................and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and
........................let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will scattered abroad over the face of the whole"
........................................5 The LORD came down to see the city and the
................................tower which the sons of men had built.
...............................6 The LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and
........................they all have the same language. And this is what
........................they began to do, and now nothing which they
........................purpose to do will be impossible for them.
......................7 "Come, let Us go down and there confuse their
................language so that they will not understand one another's
...........8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face
........of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.
9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

First, a bit of exegesis. All along, Christians, from Sunday School teachers (I, included) to scholars have interpreted Gen 11:1-9 to be an account of the preposterous pride of human and the divine punishment for all such acts of arrogance and hubris. We have adopted v.4, “a tower whose top will reach into heaven” as key to the theme of the story: the human attempt to assert autonomy, attack heaven, and challenge God. Therefore God’s response was to frustrate their plans by separating them by languages, and thus discouraging anymore attempts to be better than God.

Lately, there have been some scholars who questioned the aspects of the traditional pride-and-punishment reading of the account and paid more attention to its theme of cultural origins on its own terms. I read Hiebert’s article “The Tower of Babel and the Origin of the Worlds Cultures” and here are some points to consider:

1) The theme of the story is about the origins of cultural difference and not about pride and punishment at all.

2) This story is explicitly about language: the existence of a single, uniform language spoken by all people. To emphasize this theme, the narrator repeats it in v.1 – “one language” and “one collection of words”. The key word “language” is used five times in the account and “words” once.

3) The motive of the people in the account is explicitly stated: their desire to stay in one place (v.2-4). They wanted cultural homogeneity of the human race.

4) The word “pride” was never used by the narrator. The idea was inferred from a single image, the tower with its top in the sky, which is only for the people to stay in one place. It is not the narrator’s center of attention. It is mentioned only twice and only in stock phrase, “a city and a tower” (v.4, 5). The tower is therefore only an aspect of the cityscape the narrator describes, rather than the primary object of attention. In addition, it fell out of the narrative entirely in the second half of the account. The description “its top in the sky” is an ancient Near Eastern cliché for height and it implies neither an attempt to scale the heavens nor an arrogant revolt against divine authority.

5) On the phrase “let us make a name for ourselves”, a thorough survey of biblical usage will show that making a name is never used to describe self-centeredness, vanity or insubordination. In fact, it is a noble venture, essentially the act of establishing an identity that will endure. The people wanted to establish a common identity, which is closely related to the larger goal of remaining together to preserve a single culture. As such, the phrase expresses no conceit or defiance but an impulse toward cultural homogeneity at the heart of the human project.

6) Verse 5 is the story’s turning point – God came down to see the human project. He did not come to respond to the tower at all but the cultural homogeneity of its builders.

7) Verse 6 basically is where God said, “Looks like from what they have accomplished already, it looks like their plans to remain one people with one language in one place will succeed,” which spurred him to confuse the language, the primary markers of culture.

8) God diversified culture in order to disperse the human population, as opposed to the people wanting to stay in one place – “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth” (9:1-7). From the data of the story, God’s response to counteract the human desire for homogeneity by introducing heterogeneity is without any negative connotations or consequences. It is his will for diversity and he “scattered the people for their own benefit” (Ibn Ezra, Commentary, 143).

Now comes the pertinent question I am asking right from the start of this discourse, why did God introduce diversity and pluralism into the human race? Would life be better and fairer if we spoke one language and carried one look? Would there be massacres and genocide, discrimination and prejudice?

But then again, can a world that is homogenous in attributes be any different? Would there be less violence and evil?

Regrettably, I think not.

Picture by Rodolfo Clix

Theodore Hiebert, “The tower of Babel and the origin of the world's cultures,” Journal of Biblical Literature 126 no 1 Spr (2007): 29-58.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Promises of God

Rev Christopher Rao gave a very inspiring and stiring sermon today and I found it really profound. Based on Genesis 15:18, "On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, 'To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates'", he spoke about The Promises of God.

He approached the promises of God in a way I have never thought of before. He said that "promises are part and parcel of the Christian life". I was a bit skeptical when he said that. All along, I never really looked at the promises of God like that, as something that take such a prominent place in my life - I do believe in his promises but look upon it as God's blessings, nothing more. And here he is paying a tad too much attention to God promising and keeping his promises. But as he went, I began to see his point view. God is a God of promises. In a great many places in Scripture, God's commandments are often accompanied by promises, as a result of obedience. Just like ordinary life, promises come with requirements and conditions. Do this and I promise you will get that.

But more often than not, we do not experience God fulfilling his promises in our lives. If we don't keep our part of the bargain, don't be caught expecting anything good from the Lord. As long as we do not appreciate his promises, and do not obey, God will not be able to work in our lives. Think about this - Abraham had to leave his home for God's promises to be fulfilled in his life, and beyond.

The question is, do you want to be a people of promises? Then discover the will of God and get involved, do it. Not the will of God for you, but the will of God, period.

But in the end though, even Abraham discovered something far greater than promises and receiving from the good Lord - and that is faith. And his faith brought him justification in God's sight.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

I know that my Redeemer liveth

I am working on this song now in class but I am surely having some problems! Never ever gonna sing like that - not in a million years.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Another booky day

When I decided to work on James 4:4, little did I realise that there is very little scholarly work done on it, compared to other NT books. As such, LT Johnson's Brother of Jesus, Friend of God, Studies in the Letter of James, was a great find. He published in the book "a collection of essays on the Letter of James that were written over a period of two decades", and that in itself is impressive. Little did I also know that in most commentators' opinion, the book of James does not seem to have a structure to it. Most faced problems in finding any unity in the book. I tried to do a simple sentence diagramming of the entire 5 chapters. Not that I am any successful in coming up with a structure but at least I now have an idea of the basic makeup of the book.

And while I was at the bookstore, I figured I needed another commentary on Mark. I knew I had William Lane's NICNT and thought that it will be worthwhile getting a copy of RT France's NIGTC. The problem was I already had a copy. I made the same decision and picked the same book twice!

Alex posted about this book yesterday. I immediately asked him where he got it. I wanted a copy too (no surprise to that!) It holds two of my favourite subjects: history and the church fathers. But what sold me was its theme: the Theology of Childhood. I suppose there will be a theology of almost anything but I never thought of this one. Sivin suggested I check Sufes out but since I cannot afford to go there again at least for the next 1-2 months, having gone there on Saturday and Wednesday, I called Daniel of Sufes to see if they have it. They do and I have already reserved a copy. I asked, "How much?" Daniel said, "It's expensive." Sigh ...

I look forward to digging into these chapters:
- The Ecclesial Family: John Chrysostom on Parenthood
- “Where and When was Your Servant Innocent”: Augustine on Childhood
- A Person in the Making: Thomas Aquinas on Children and Childhood
- The Child in Luther’s Theology
- Children in the Theology of John Calvin
- John Wesley and Children
- Jonathan Edwards, and the Puritan Culture of Child Bearing
- Reading Karl Barth on Children

Kevin got me interested in this book, which he also inadvertently bought 2 copies, (which by the way, is the mark of a bibliophile, you will never be a bibliophile if you have not bought the same book twice, and in my case, I am a bi-bibliophile.) Read his review here. His warning: be warned, this book could convert you. I will need to look out for this book in the store ... or I might as well give Daniel a call again ... later.


Thursday, September 20, 2007


Alex posted about writing and finished off the post with this:

... I have been reading about writing by Thomas Merton in Robert Inchausti (Ed.) (2007), Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton and the Vocation of Writing (London & Boston: New Seeds).

If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy.

If you write for men - you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while.

If you write for yourself, you can read what you have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted you will wish you were dead.


I must remember this.

I told him I must also remember this but since my memory is as good as a goldfish's, I copied and pasted it here.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

“Forgive, forget and reconcile”: a fallacy?

Forgive, forget and reconcile. Must these three come together?

If there is this person whom I think I have forgiven, but I am not sure because I could not forget it, and I can’t see how there could be reconciliation, have I then forgiven? In the extreme case of rape for example: one can forgive, but not forget and there is definitely no reason to reconcile. So, what is forgiveness?

Matthew 6:12, 14-15
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

Matthew 18:21-22, 35
21 Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"
22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."
35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Mark 11:25-26
25 Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.
26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.

Luke 11:4
And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.

Luke 17:3-4
3 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
4 And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him.

Luke 23:34
But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.

John 20:23
If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The Greek word for the verb forgive is aphiemi, (to cancel, pardon, remit, forgive) and apoluo (release, set free, pardon, let go, send away, dismiss). To forgive is a command, something we must do, no question about it.

There is no mention of forgetting in relation to forgiveness in the bible. It is certainly not easy to forget something that has left an indelible mark in our lives. I do not think God commands us to forget, but to let go, to dismiss the wrongdoing every time it comes to mind, instead of nursing it. It is to forgive, not really to altogether forget, which would sometimes be quite impossible to achieve.

Reconciliation is the great doctrine concerning the reconciliation of God and men. The word "to reconcile" means literally to exchange, to bring into a changed relationship. It is between God and man. What about between ourselves? The only other time it is mentioned in the NT that is non-doctrinal is in Matthew 5:23-24.

Matthew 5:23-24
23 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

What is interesting about this verse is how we can interpret it. According to the ISBE, the whole statement is not a question of the one who is offering the gift laying aside his enmity against his brother, but the reverse. Christ says, "if you remember (not that you have a grudge against your brother but) that your brother has something against you"--the brother was the offended one, he is the one to be brought round--"leave your offering and go, first be reconciled to your brother.” Plainly it means that he should do something to remove his brother's displeasure and so bring about reconciliation.

Let’s analyse the phrase “your brother has something against you”. It would most probably mean that you have done him wrong which caused his displeasure, or it can also mean that he just do not like you. In both cases, go and get reconciled: easier on the first, not so on the second.

What if you are the other brother, and someone has done wrong against you? If he comes and apologise, asking for forgiveness and reconciliation, well and good. But what if he does not? Looking at the above verses on forgiveness, Jesus did not mention anything about your perpetrator coming to apologise. He even asked the Father to “forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). So there is no two ways about it, we still have to forgive whether or not the other person is sorry.

But what about reconciliation?

I do not think reconciliation can be forced, as much as if we do not confess our sins before God, there can be no reconciliation. Within the body of Christ, the Church, reconciliation among brethren is expected, mirroring our reconciliation with the Father. If there is no reconciliation, the body is not a body. Therefore, on our own part, we need to work towards reconciliation but if it is rejected, the body remains maimed. And it is difficult work. Forgiveness is internal. We make a decision to forgive and we do it. But to reconcile is external. We will need to work through the many layers of masks, defense mechanisms, screens, falsehood, pretense to get to reconciliation.

But out of the body of Christ, I do not think there can be true reconciliation. The love of Christ can be shared but we can never be reconciled to something we do not belong to in the first place. But that does not solve the problem. Love is another bewildering thing as much as it is as easy as “I love you”. How to love someone who hates you? How to love someone who abuses you? How to love someone who raped you? How to love someone who murdered your family? To further probe the issue, can justice be considered love?


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

James 4:4 (NASB)

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

I am now down to my final assignment for my Biblical Interpretation module. I need to write a brief exegesis paper on Matthew 7:6, 1 Timothy 6:10a or James 4:4. For whatever reasons, I have chosen the James one, which I think will be a good one to tackle, though the other 2 are just as interesting and just as difficult.

Issues/problems to think about:
1. Why the usage of the vocative feminine "You adulteresses"?
2. What is meant by "friendship with the world", what is "the world" and why is it hostility toward God?
3. How does 4:4 fit in James, and in Scriptures, biblically and theologically?


Monday, September 17, 2007

STM's TEE 2007-08

Note: Please take note that the schedule laid out here is no longer valid - please refer the updated which should be up soon in the STM website. (25 Nov 2007)

I have been quite hardworking this year taking more TEE modules than before. The main reason I suppose is because the modules scheduled were pretty good and interesting that I somehow have to sign up.

STM has just posted its latest TEE schedule not long ago. I just got a look at it awhile ago. The modules lined up are pretty good as well. These are the ones I might sign up for, and if I do, I will not have time to sleep:

Study on the Gospel of John
(23-25 Nov, 30 Nov-2 Dec, 2007) KL/PJ
Mr Allen McClymont

Interpreting the OT Books
(15 – 17 & 22 – 24 Feb, 2008) KL/PJ
Rev Anthony Loke

Malaysian Religions I
(Wed, 26 – Sat, 29 Mar, 2008) Seremban
Dr Solomon Rajah

Christian Theology II
(Wed, 18 – Sat, 21 June, 2008) Seremban
Mr Sherman Kuek

Introduction to the NT
(18 – 20 & 25 – 27 July, 2008) KL/PJ
Rev Tan Jin Huat

Teaching & Preaching the Parables of Jesus
(5 – 7 & 12 – 14 Sept, 2008) KL/PJ
Dr Ezra Kok & Dr Lim Kar Yong


Sunday, September 16, 2007

103rd Anniversary

I attended two services today: the usual morning one and in the afternoon I went to the Chinese Methodist (Cantonese) Church Kuala Lumpur, Mother Church, which is celebrating her 103rd anniversary. Rev Dr Ezra Kok, the principal of STM spoke to us from Joshua 1:1-9, with the message to Arise for Jesus. While there is time and while there is freedom and while there are opportunities, we are to be strong and courageous and go forth to preach the good news.

We, the Grace Notes presented two songs: Holy, Holy, Holy as the introit and Let There be Praise in Mandarin as part of the anthem. The picture shows the church's cell group presentation of a Cantonese folk song (the conductor is my dad and the one in pink is my mom).


Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Was Jesus political"?

I attended the OHMSI Inaugural Dialogue today at PJ Gospel Hall, entitled "Was Jesus Political?" The line-up of speakers, moderator and commentators were as follows:

Rev Dr Hwa Yung, Bishop, Methodist Church of Malaysia

Dr Lim Kar Yong, Lecturer in New Testament Studies, Seminari Theoloji Malaysia
Dr K. J. John, Executive Director, Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute

Rev Dr Hermen Shastri, General Secretary, CCM and CFM
Dr Beth Baikan, Catholic Scholar from Stella Maris Parish, Sabah
Mr Goh Keat Peng, Executive Secretary, MCCBCHST
Mr Steven CM Wong, Chairman, NECF Research Commission
Ms Tricia Yeoh, Senior Policy Analyst, CPPS

Kar Yong blogged about it here.

When Kar Yong posted about it about a week ago, I was obviously full of questions. Jesus was never "political" in the sense that he was never sought for power or position but came to save the lost. So I was quite unsure as to the relevance of the topic. At the dialogue, the word "political" was taken to mean Aristotle's broader sense "in which the objective is to realise the idea of a good life of a community within a city". That is fine but the semantics of the word has taken such a turn that I feel it is just not suitable to use that word in such an archaic sense anymore. Just take a look at and you will see what I mean.

I do not have much problems with what was presented, just incredulous at the choice of word. I think some of the people on the floor were quite confused too, upon hearing some of their comments. But what I can say is that the question "Was Jesus political?" is thought-provoking, and thought-provoking it certainly was. Many valid issues social issues were brought up that the church needs to seriously think about, the main ones being the role of the church in meeting social needs and a deeper involvement of Christians in the life of the community.

If not "political", then what? I can't think of any really. "Was Jesus political?" does after all make you do a double-take and think, and when we start thinking, there is a hope that we start realising and doing.


Friday, September 14, 2007

A mystery

Something off-topic but this caught my attention when I was trying to catch up with the news:

Kilo prototype mysteriously loses weight
By JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press Writer Wed Sep 12, 1:00 PM ET

PARIS - A kilogram just isn't what it used to be.

The 118-year-old cylinder that is the international prototype for the metric mass, kept tightly under lock and key outside Paris, is mysteriously losing weight — if ever so slightly. Physicist Richard Davis of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sevres, southwest of Paris, says the reference kilo appears to have lost 50 micrograms compared with the average of dozens of copies.

"The mystery is that they were all made of the same material, and many were made at the same time and kept under the same conditions, and yet the masses among them are slowly drifting apart," he said. "We don't really have a good hypothesis for it."
... more

Reminds me of Matthew 5:18: For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (ESV)

And Julia will have her say here: ... in many school, kids look at the wonders of science and say "wow", but in our school, we look at all the wonders, then we look up and say, "WOW!"

I know I said that this is off-topic, but somehow or rather ... I am still in the game ;)

Picture from BIPM

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Faith and Works

I have been using my morning devotion time to read articles for my exegetical-theological integration paper and feeling a little guilty about it. So this morning I wanted to take a spiritual lesson out of it. Ask and it shall be given.

I am almost done with reading on Galatians 2:16 and now I need to do the same for James 2:24. While Paul was addressing preachers in the Galatia church telling the Gentiles that they have to be circumcised to be justified, hence his insistence that justification is by faith in Christ Jesus and not by works of the Law, James was addressing the danger of dead faith, a lesson I feel I must learn and something I must guard myself against.

I was reading these articles on James 2: “Faith that works: James 2:14-26” by Sharyn E. Dowd and “Prejudice, partiality, and faith: James 2” by John B. Polhill.

Polhill sums it up perfectly:

Theological inquiry is important. Indeed, it is essential for a mature faith, a "faith which seeks understanding." But, as every theology student knows, it is deadly when it becomes a preoccupation that replaces active ministry. Even more deadly is that sense of theological correctness that leads to smugness about one's spiritual condition and becomes an excuse for complacency and inactivity. Deadliest of all is that theological controversy which substitutes the search for orthodoxy for service and mission. In all such cases, James—and Jesus—remind us that "ye shall know them by their fruit." Faith without works is dead.
Be warned.

Picture by Andrew Beierle

Sharyn E. Dowd, “Faith that works: James 2:14-26,” Review & Expositor 97 no 2 Spr (2000): 195-205.
John B. Polhill, “Prejudice, partiality, and faith: James 2,” Review & Expositor 83 no 3 Sum (1986): 395-404.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


If you think the title and picture of this post is familiar, that is if you have been visiting my blog for about a year, then you are right. It's a woohoo time for me again.

I got my CT1 (or Christian Theology 1) papers back this morning. SH must have brought them in last night, but I was already asleep. I got an A minus! But an A is an A! I thought I did just okay, but Sherman thought it was excellent and thus getting an A is a bonus. Thanks Sherman! It was hard work getting to as much information, books and articles on Origen as I possibly can, but it was quite fun reading, collating and writing. I went to the extent of looking for help through, which came through in a big way. Rev Bryan Wyke scanned and emailed me several pages from Trigg's book on Origen, which contributed to my paper. I thank God for you Bryan!

Picture by Yi-Chen Lin

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Reluctant joy?

Have you ever been so disappointed with someone that you decided, against the will of God, that you will forever harbour ill-feelings against the person, only to find that you just can't do it for long? Somehow or rather the joy of the Lord will evade into your heart and you will be happily speaking to the person as if nothing had happened. Don't try this at home.

Habakkuk 3:18-19
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.

Picture by Craig Jewell

Monday, September 10, 2007

Back to the grind

I was enjoying 3 to 4 months long of being driven around when we were on a one-car basis with the other car being in the workshop for longer than expected. SH got his car back yesterday and I am back to being my own driver as well as back to having the morning for morning devotion during my breakfast, which for the last few months was mostly husband-time. I will miss the morning husband-time.

Picture by Rodolfo Clix

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Calling of God

We had our service prolonged this morning. Rev Christopher Rao used the time encouraging us with very timely words: Take time to seek God, search him for his ways, for his plans. His challenge is for us to ask God and discover for ourselves what his calling is for us. The Scripture passage was taken from Genesis 15:1-21.

"Calling" is more often than not referred to the calling to full-time ministry, but the truth is all of us are called by God: to live a holy life, to be his disciples, to take up the cross and follow him. So there is no dichotomy between "who is called" and "who is not called". Not to be confused with the sacred-secular divide debate or the marketplace ministry movement (check these out here instead), it is a reminder to us laity that even though we are not pastors or missionaries or full-time ministry workers, we are still called by God for other purposes and we better not be caught sitting down doing nothing. There is just so much to do!

Matthew 9:36-38
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."


Friday, September 07, 2007


I am an absolute klutz. I tripped last night and hurt my toes. I had feared they will swell up a big as tomatoes the next day. With an important meeting to attend with the Malaysian business big boys, I am going to have a problem.

And true to my words, it did swell, but I should be thankful that it was just one toe but that was bad enough. I practically limped the entire day, though I did try to look inconspicuous and it added to the pain. But thankfully the meeting went on fine.

I flew back in the evening. From the airport, I took the train, jumped into a taxi and headed to a should-not-be-missed reunion dinner with ex-colleagues whom I have never seen for 10 years, with my luggage, swollen painful toe, limp and all. It was a fine time of catching up. I am glad I made an effort to turn up.

I will get to the doctor tomorrow morning.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Off to Labuan

I am off to Labuan again today for a meeting tomorrow morning. It is great that I can make use of KLIA's WIFI for free but not for long - short battery lifespan.

A notebook computer, a hot pink bag, a Famous Amos cookie and a coffee. I am set to go.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Surely what a man does when he is caught off his guard is the best evidence as to what sort of man he is.
~ C.S. Lewis


Monday, September 03, 2007

Birds and bees

Hmm... our nine year old son began asking us about the bird and the bees. Isn't that too soon? I thought we won't have to deal with it for about a few more years. But I suppose at the rate we are going with the entertainment industry, the internet and the now more liberal stance in almost everything, it shouldn't be surprising.

Picture by Dennis Bale

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The theology of church architecture

We visited a different denomination church today - the Petaling Jaya Evangelical Free Church. It was a new experience.

The order of service was almost the same except for the Holy Communion and Parish Notice happening right after Praise and Worship and before the sermon. There were no bulletins to refer to and I wasn't used not knowing what's going to happen next.

The church set up was different, i.e. not the traditional set up: it does not have a cross or an altar. The language used was also different: the sanctuary is called an auditorium and the pastor spoke about invoking Jesus in our lives. I didn't realise but now that I checked the bible and the word invoke is used in translation. I am just not used to it though. For me, when the word invoke is used, it carries the picture and flavour of calling upon the powers of magic. I don't know - I may have a wrong conception over this in the first place.

I can now tell how "traditional" I am when it comes to these things. I think I should feel more at ease in an Anglican or Orthodox church.

Eversince Rev Gan Meng Tee - who used to be our pastor, now serving the Lord in Melbourne, Australia - introduced me to church architecture a few years ago, I became quite intrigued by it. I have since learnt that a church should have an apse, altar, sanctuary, chancel, transept, pulpit, lectern, nave and narthex. Not all would agree with me I am sure, but there are theological reasons why old churches and cathedrals are built the way they do. I believe that traiditional church architeture has its theological background and practical purposes as well, which in my opinion should be preferred compared to the modern fan-style auditorium set up.

: the rounded alcove behind the altar. This is where the cross is place and where our worship should centre, i.e. upon God. Churches which do not have a cross at the front believes that with God being omnipresent, it does not matter where we direct our worship to. Moreover, some of them believe that by having a cross hung at the front may encourage idolatry. To me, the cross is a symbol of God's love and sacrifice for us. At any moment in my service that I am selfishly aware and conscious of myself, I look to the cross to remind myself that I am not my own.

Altar: the ceremonial table at which the Eucharist or Holy Communion is celebrated. In the Methodist churches however, the altar is where the collection is placed as an offering to God, in line with the OT sacrifices and offerings, while the Holy Communion cup and bread is placed on another table in front of the altar at the chancel. These items are holy, separated for the Lord's use. It is not that they are powerful or "magical" so to speak, but they are set aside for the Lord's use only and for no other purposes. There are those who abuse the tables and the communion railings.

Sanctuary: the front part of the church from which the service is conducted, as distinct from the nave, where the congregation sits. In the more modern traditional churches however, the term ‘sanctuary’ is often used to mean both chancel and nave because the two are not architecturally distinct.

Chancel: the front part of the church from where the service is conducted, as distinct from the nave. The chancel is usually an elevated platform, usually three steps up from the nave. There are churches where the pastors would not allow anything other than teaching and preaching, leading hymns and songs to be held in the chancel. In some churches, the chancel is usually called the stage, which I felt it should not. The worship of God should not be reduced to a show or presentation or entertainment. After all, a stage is where presentations are staged.

Transept: back then, they had require an increased space near the chancel to accommodate the large numbers of clergy, choirs, or members of religious orders. The result was a space between the chancel and the nave that extends beyond the side walls, giving the church a cruciform floorplan, i.e. the shape of a cross viewed from above. The center of the transept is called the crossing, the area connecting the nave to the chancel. The ushers act as priests of God, bringing in the offering of the people, crossing over from the nave to the chancel to be placed on the altar.

Pulpit: in the more traditional churches, there are two speaker’s stands in the front of the church. The one on the left, as viewed by the congregation is called the pulpit. It is used by clergy to read the gospel and preach the sermon. It is placed in at the side because the focus and centre of worship is still God, hence, where the apse and the altar are placed. Once I was worship leading standing in the center of the chancel. The pastor had to advise us against it and since then we were more aware of it. In the modern auditorium churches, the clergy and laity would usually take centerstage, and in most instances, there is no pulpit. The preacher would use a cordless mic and move about as he speaks.

Lectern: the stand on the right from which readings or parish notices are given. The word lectern comes from the Latin word meaning ‘to read,’ because the lectern primarily functions as a reading stand. It is used by lay people to read the scripture lessons, to lead the congregation in prayer, and to make announcements. The differentiation is given because of the importance of the word of God to the people that the pulpit has to be separated from the other readings and announcements.

Nave: the main body of the church, where the congregation sits and gathers for worship, as opposed to the front part of the church from which the service is led.

Narthex: the historic term for what might otherwise be called the foyer or entry way of the church.

With all these, I felt that church architecture plays an important role in worship and service. It is also practical for the purpose of Holy Communion and coming forward to be prayed for. It requires us to physically go to God and not sit where we are and let God come to us, particularly during the Holy Communion. It is the coming together of the body of Christ, communing and remembering Jesus who gave us his body and his blood for our salvation.


More reading:
Ten Myths of Contemporary Church Architecture
How Church Architecture Affects Lord’s Supper Practices

Saturday, September 01, 2007


We went to watch Ratatouille today, which was delayed in its premier here in Malaysia. It was a delightful spread. I was taken into the movie one hundred percent. It was so believable ... well, at least until Linguini started roller blading and serving customers.

The storyline was superb - it was in fact, brilliant. Who would have thought: put two of the most impossible themes together, mice and food, and there you have it, a blockbuster.

How about putting life and death together: Jesus and the cross? You get eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
~ John 3:16 (ESV)