Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Simple faith and belief?

I have reached the section on Abram's faith being counted as righteousness and here is where I got stuck.

According to Hughes, Abram was a moon worshipper but he believed in Yahweh when Yahweh called him.

I reckon I am looking from my perspective where the Word has been revealed to us and we believed, have faith and continue to seek understanding.

How was it for Abram? Is it as simple as God spoke and he believed?

Maybe I don't understand it as much because I grew up in a Christian family, I knew God from young and gradually grew in faith. And yes, I do not have one conversion date, which used to bother me a whole lot, but not anymore.

Maybe I can even liken my faith experience to the Israelites as being already the chosen people of God, but whose hearts still needed circumcision.

In that line of thinking, maybe Abram's faith is the model for the conversion of non-believers nowadays. With no background in the knowledge of God, God spoke to them, whether through friends or sermons or Scriptures or even dreams, they believe and have faith.

Simple faith and pureness of belief, and that faith is counted as righteousness through Jesus.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Politics in the Bible

I caught this on today. A very interesting look at the Cyrus Cylinder, an ancient clay cylinder, on which is written a declaration in Akkadian cuneiform script in the name of the Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great.

In this TED talk, Neil MacGregor, the director of The British Museum, talks about how the cylinder symbolizes tolerance as it plays its role over history from the time of Cyrus up to when the cylinder was found in the 19th century as evidence to the Cyprus event in the Hebrew Scripture, to when Israel becomes a state, to now in the political history of the Middle East.

What does all this mean to us?

I had Genesis 14:1-24 for  devotion today and I have to admit that I skimmed through the reading of the passage. I don't even understand contemporary politics very well let alone who Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Goiim, Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim and Zoar king of Bela were. I have read through the entire Bible before and I don't even remember there are these kings mentioned in the book of Genesis!

And as I read -- or skimmed through rather -- the passage, I began to wonder why Moses was so detailed here when he was so brief in the other accounts? I have come to learn that as much as I am not so drawn to politics, it is one of the most important things that shaped our lives. It is politics and history of the nations as we have it that shaped the lives of our biblical forefathers. It is how Jesus has stepped into our confused and troubled world as he came as a helpless babe, as a saviour of all mankind.

Our story that is our history, is laden with politics. And I need to pay more attention to it, past and present.


Friday, February 22, 2013

My Buddhist temple experience

Comparative religion is a subject that has always interest me, living in a multi-cultural country, and I have taken two of such subjects under my Masters of Christian Studies: Ministry in a Pluralistic Context and Religion in Malaysia - Islam. Interestingly, my course of work has brought me to two encounters with Buddhism and Islam.

I don't think I have blogged about my very interesting encounter with Buddhism before but here it is.

Several years ago, I was to go for a meeting with my firm's partner with a client in Melaka. He is a very staunch Buddhist and in my assignment on Buddhist Meditation, he actually spent two to three hours with me as I interviewed him on the subject to fulfill the requirement for my paper, God bless him. Anyway, before we went to Melaka, he called my colleague and I into his room.

"I need to make a detour to a Buddhist temple in Melaka for a meeting and they will be serving lunch. I understand both of you are Christians, would you mind eating in a temple?" he asked.

I wasn't expecting this at all but before I could do anything, my colleague chirped, "Sure! Not a problem at all!"

I found myself in a quandary. I only had 2 seconds to to work out the whole chapter 8 of First Corinthians as well as to tackle these two questions: if I say no, will I be given time to qualify and explain myself? And if I do that, how will I explain my colleague's enthusiastic yes?

Two pairs of eyes were on me. I did not have time to think. I have to make a quick decision.

"That should be alright," I replied, but I am sure he noticed my hesitancy. What he did not hear was my silent qualification and continuation to my statement. "Alright for now, but I will reassess it when we are there," I thought to myself.

The drive to Melaka was a worrying one. The what-am-I-going-to-do phrase must have went through my mind several thousand times in the one and half hour journey.

We soon arrived at the temple situated in the core zone of the Malacca Unesco World Heritage Site. It is a typical Chinese temple but it is quite a temple. We were led through the main door, crossed over the main worship area, into a very nice landscaped corridor, passing through another worship area with a huge ballast of idols and urns for joss sticks into a moderately large meeting room.

There was only one old but huge conference table and we were all directed there for a seat and inadvertently I became a temple meeting attendee. I told myself I have to tell my dad this, that I actually attended a Buddhist temple executive committee meeting! (I was then in my church's Local Church Executive Committee and my dad was the Chairman several years before and subsequently the church's lay-leader.)

The meeting evolved around the topic of taxation. The committee wanted advise from my firm's partner on income tax pertaining to the rental they received from houses that devotees donated to the temple. They began referring to an official letter sent by the income tax department to the temple. The person referring to the letter was seated next to me and I noticed that the letter looked old...really old...I leaned over for a closer look and saw the date in the was in the year 1945...Wow...

"How many houses are we talking about?" the partner asked.


I hope no one saw the expression on my face. I was expecting two, or five at most, but 48? Wow...

It is one experience I will never forget.

Then it was lunch time.

"We have gotten some really nice food from Melaka town. The famous ones. Come, come. Help yourselves."

It was a casual spread and some of the food is still contained in the take-away packages, hence I deduced these were not food that has been offered to idols. I did not at that time have much of a deeper understanding on 1 Cor 8 (not that I do now as well) and I thought to myself (1) food was not idol offerings and (2) the context of lunch was not religious, and so it should be okay, and went ahead and ate together.

But I still wonder to this day if I have made the right decision. I am quite certain I have, but I am not 100% sure.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Free online courses!

I know that both MIT and Harvard offer free online courses but how about one website that offer free online courses from these universities?

Berklee College of Music
Brown University
California Institute of Technology
Columbia University
Duke University
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Emory University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Johns Hopkins University
Ohio State University
Princeton University
Rice University
Stanford University
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
The University of British Columbia
University of California, Irvine
University of California, San Francisco
University of Edinburgh
University of Florida
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of London International Programmes
University of Maryland, College Park
University of Melbourne
University of Michigan
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pittsburgh
University of Toronto
University of Virginia
University of Washington
Vanderbilt University
Wesleyan University

Check out My good friend Melissa told me about it and it is simply awesome. Believe it or not, I have signed up for Songwriting, followed by Foundations of Business Strategy and a few more on psychology. I am looking forward to them. Songwriting will just be for fun, the business one should give me a  newer perspective of it compared to when I did it so many years ago, and psychology will be new albeit something I have always wanted to do. Just hope I will follow through them all.


Monday, February 18, 2013

What will happen to my books?

I have never wondered back then what will happen to my mini library when I die. Maybe because I was still in my 30s when I amassed volumes after volumes of commentaries and theological tomes. I am not exactly old old yet, but I am beginning to wonder what will happen to my books in the future. My son might get them but will they be as valued as I value them? And on top of that, I have practically stopped buying printed books but have been buying one ebook after another. What will happen to these electronic copies when I die? Can they be legally transferred from my account to my son's account?

I read a very relevant article about it this morning (Will Your Children Inherit Your Ebooks?) and I think I will have to come to admit to the fact that by the time my son gets them, the volumes would either have been superseded by newer editions or they would have been rendered irrelevant. Truth be told, I have never needed my dad's books. To me, they are pretty old editions and not really of my interest, except maybe for the Perry Mason series.

About my printed books, I am now thinking I might as well donate them to any libraries that really need them. They are not being efficiently utilised at the moment, but I would need some time to "part" with them before I can make that decision. So they stay ... for now.

My ebooks are a different story though. Unlike the printed books where I have practically bought them on sight - i.e. I see, I like/want/need, I buy, I shelve - I only buy the ebooks when I really wanted to read them. And with that criteria, I have not purchased any "reference" material. Moreover, I made sure that I do not buy any ebook until I have finished the one I am reading -- though I must say I have veered from that rule this month when I bought 6 books at one go from! The good news is I have finished 3 of them already and I have started on the 4th, which is one of the NT Wright volumes that I have mentioned here yesterday. So about my ebooks, I suppose I am fully aware now that when I purchase them, they are an investment for only my consumption. Period.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

The brilliant mind of NT Wright

I was introduced to the debate on the New Perspectives on Paul (NPP) back in 2008 (my previous post on the subject here). Since then I had this view that NT Wright together with EP Sanders and James Dunn are on the "wrong" side, and the likes of John Piper on the "right" side.

But I was already aware at the same time that I need to be careful not to fully subscribe myself to anything wholesale without deeper study, thought and prayer but to keep an open mind with Scripture as my foundation and guide. And later in that period as well, I remember my lecturer Kar Yong saying we should not dismiss Wright altogether. Moreover, my seminary's principal was and still is Rev Ezra Kok, who studied under James Dunn.

So, I shelved the subject along with NT Wright to be tackled later at an opportune time. I have yet to return to the topic of NPP but time has come for me to discover the brilliance of NT Wright.

I have posted on my current line of thought back in December last year about Genesis and its theology when I spotted a very interesting title in the bookshop - Evil and the Justice of God. The book's author is NT Wright.

I purchased a copy and I was utterly impressed by his mind, his thought and line of argument. He does not answer the most pertinent question on the origin of evil, a question I have already put to rest as something that may not have an answer, at least until we meet God, but he tackles evil from our current perspective as well as from the OT and NT perspective.

Evil and the Justice of God
by NT Wright (SPCK, 2006)

I like his first chapter - "Evil is still a four-letter word: The new problem of evil". He summarized how we see evil these days into these three points:
1. We ignore evil except when it hits us in the face
2. We are surprised by evil when it hits us in the face
3. As a result, we react in immature and dangerous ways

One of the dangerous ways in which we react is to really delineate ourselves as good and the party who did wrong, evil. This has been so clearly portrayed in our society today. When things go wrong, we labelled the other party as evil and we become, albeit subconsciously, as good, true, right and pure. But that is certainly not what God said.

There is no one righteous, not even one.
~ Romans 3:10

After finishing the book, I have new respect for NT Wright. I ended up buying his published 3 volumes out of 6, of the Christian Origins and the Question of God series. These are huge tomes, it will be a huge challenge for me to finish reading them but I have started on the first volume. It is my prayer to complete them within 2013, God willing.

I may find myself not agreeing fully with him in these volumes, but it will be a delight to get into his mind and discover his thoughts on God.