Saturday, July 28, 2007

Thinking About Wars and Rumors of Wars

What should Christians think about war? Few questions are more relevant for the Christian today.

I've been intrigued about this topic ever since listening to Dr. D.A. Carson's audio sermon on Just War. It's rather long with a separate Q&A session but very worthwhile if you're interested in learning more about the topic. In it, he outlines the basic principles of Just War Theory.

1. The only just cause for going to war is defense against violent aggression.

2. The only just intention is to restore a just peace— to friend and foe alike.

3. Military force must be the last resort after negotiations and other efforts have been tried and have failed.

4. The decision to engage in such a just war must be made by the highest governmental authority.

5. The war must be for limited ends (principally to repel aggression and redress injustice).

6. The means of a just war must be limited by proportionality to the offense.

7. There must be no intentional and direct attack on noncombatants.

8. War should not be prolonged where there is no reasonable hope of success within these limits.

Dr. Carson believes that a distinctly Christian perspective on the Just War must include the governing principle of love. He maintains that it is love that compels us to enter into military conflict. In his book, Love in Hard Places, he writes the following:

“When just, war can be a form of love. Where an enemy is perpetuating its horrible holocaust, is it not an act of love that intervenes, even militarily, to prevent that holocaust if a nation has the power to do so? And is not restraint in such cases a display, not of loving pacifism, but of lack of love— of the unwillingness to sacrifice anything for the sake of others?"

While I agree with Dr. Carson's view, the challenge in all of this is the subjective analysis of what constitutes a just war. The guiding principles of Just War theory are helpful but many wars have been entered into with justice in mind that do not meet the criteria. For instance, the American Revolutionary War against the British Empire leading to the formation of the United States of America was waged on far less than what is implied in the Just War theory. Just think about that for a minute.

This is a topic which many orthodox Christians may have differing views but it's helpful to consider them all if we are to come a better understanding.

Is war ever justified from a Christian perspective?
What do you think of the criteria for a just war?

Does it offer appropriate guidance for a Christian?
Where does Christian love fit in?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Why Are They Crying?

by Pauline Jasudason
July 10, 2003


My cousin Angie and her husband Terence were married last November. I was one of the bride’s maids. We wore burgundy – the colour of rich wine, the colour of a new heady life.

After getting to know him over a period of two years, the witty, nonsensical and sometimes rather tactless Terence slowly became both a brother and a friend. When he was wooing Angie – or perhaps, wooing the family – he used visit my uncle’s home and hit us with a ‘3-stop strategy’.

First stop: Living room. Sit with Uncle and watch CNN or Discovery Channel. Have intelligent conversation about state of the world. Use advantage of being a journalist in one of the local dailies. Offer keen observations, analysis of news.

Second stop: Dining area. Produce bottles of wine and other goodies. Join the chatter over dinner, win over the sibling and cousins.

Third stop: Kitchen. Wash dishes. Help clean up. Impress my Auntie.

Yes, it worked.

I was hanging out with my church youth Palm Sunday morning when I received a call: Terence, who was then reporting from Iraq with a Malaysian media team, was missing – possibly abducted by rebels. It crossed my mind that we may never see him again.

A few minutes after I met her, the outwardly composed yet dazed-looking Angie slumped onto my shoulder, huge sobs racking through her body. I had too few words of comfort to offer.

Why does God not ask?

The prophet Job groused:
"Why doesn't God inquire about what happens?
Why do his faithful never see his justice?
The wicked remove landmarks and pasture stolen flocks.
They drive away the orphan's ass and for a pledge take
the widow's ox.
They force the needy off the road
and drive the poor into hiding.
In the city, the dying groan, and the wounded cry out for help
but God pays no attention."
Job 24: 1-4, 12 Christian Community Bible

The verses read like a tirade against a God who turns a blind eye toward the oppressed. More importantly, though, the passage in Job 24: 1-12 starkly exposes the kind of evil we are capable of unleashing upon each other.

In a story I am reading, a fictional Jewish patriarch who survived concentration camps and Nazi cruelty tells his granddaughter: "People said to me, ‘Where was God in the camps?’ My reply was always the same: ‘Where was man?’"

Where is man when ruined lives are chalked up as collateral damage, when mass human killing spirals downward into a mechanical exercise? Where is man when people cry in - and because of - Iraq, Aceh, Burma, Kampung Medan?

Surely there is something we can do, aside from reading pro- and anti- violence media reports, debating current issues over teh tarik, becoming a cynical pessimist, or mentally switching the "off" button to submerge into our safe, 9-to-5 lives?

Who will comfort them?

A verse in Sting's peace anthem "Fragile" says:
"If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one,
drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away,
but something in our minds will always stay.”

“Fragile” was written in 1987 in memory of an American Peace Corps worker in Nicaragua, Ben Linder, who was mistakenly shot down by the U.S.-funded Contra guerrilla troops.

Over the years, the truth expressed in the song has proven relevant to more than that one death. Americans identified with it during the Gulf war, after the 9-11 attacks. The words resonate through any tragedy: those that suffer and mourn pain will get over it. This, too, will pass, "but something in our minds will always stay".

Because God never really goes away, we have an immense capacity to hope, to pick up broken pieces and move on. If I take the step to offer comfort, I involve myself in relieving the burden, easing the pain and exposing that the magnanimity of God is bigger than the cruelty of man. I get to bless.

Healing happens. The question is, will I choose to be an instrument of this healing, whether in distant Iraq or in my own backyard?

Will man come through?

My sister and I stayed over at my aunt's place for a few weeks, although we heard later the same Sunday evening that Terence had been released unharmed. Simply being surrounded by family helped Angie keep optimistic that he would soon be out of Baghdad and back home.

All we gave was our time, presence and prayers. No heroic sacrifices or fanfare. I discovered that it is really that simple, sometimes. By making choices that matter within my circle of control, I can be a tool of comfort and healing. Terence returned home safe. He shared moving accounts of experiencing a protective God, while under terrible duress in Iraq... but that's a different story altogether.

The family of Mohammad Ghofran- the Syrian driver who had inadvertently driven the Malaysian journalists and doctors into a hostile Shiite shantytown in central Baghdad – was not so fortunate. The armed, anti-Saddam Hussein residents had mistakenly believed the group were Saddam's hired killers from Syria, based on the van's number plates. Ghofran was shot dead before they realised their mistake.

The Iraqi hospital could not preserve Ghofran's body because there was no power in the humid city, and it was too dangerous to make the daylong trip back to Damascus.

Ghofran could earn US$2,000 for a trip into Iraq. He needed the money to feed his family so he took the job, lying to his worried wife that he was only driving to the Syria-Iraq border. His body lies in a grave somewhere in Baghdad. I wonder how many families, like Ghofran's, are still crying. I wonder if man will come through for them.

Suggestions for action

There are many real ways to bless those who mourn. Simple things like extending love and compassion go a long way. They start a cycle of goodness; just like violence and hurt are passed on by people who were once themselves hurt.

1. For a start, can you comfort someone in pain at home, workplace, neighbourhood or within your church? Take time, pray, be wise in action.

2. Church bodies are raising funds to support the victims of war and for the rebuilding of Iraq. Offer financial support. Call organisations like NECF (03-7727-8227, Catherine or Patrick) or the National Office for Human Development (03-2078-3589, speak to Mary Magdalene) for details.

3. The Mercy Malaysia medical teams do good work in war zones and disaster areas. Find out how you can contribute materially to people who receive their medical ministering. (03-4256-9999)

4. War-zone children aren’t the only ones who suffer emotional damage from the actions of adults. Several charity organisations in Kuala Lumpur take in child victims of abusive parent figures. Can you be a friend to one person like this? For a placeto start, try Pusat Kebajikan Good Shepherd. (03-4256-3941 or 3852; ask for Sister Salomi)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

40 Days Fast and Prayer

We have just started on a national 40 days fast and prayer organised by NECF "Church The Transforming Agent". One of the daily meditations in the booklet (Day 35 theological education) grabbed my attention. It was written by Rev Loh Soon Choy, maybe it is because I am on a week-long night class on ecclesiology (doctrine of church) and eschatology (doctrine of the last things), it hit home: "For the seminary to follow the dictates of the church uncritically is to forfeit its intellectual and prophetic witness to the sanctity and unity of all truth. Yet not to relate closely to the church makes the seminary an irrelevant ivory tower without pastoral base".

As we embark on this journey together, I hope these meditations on the meaning of fasting/prayer would be helpful from the book "A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer":

"Beholding the glory of God is not only a private experience on a mountain as he passes by. It is also a public experience as he multiplies plagues in the land of Egypt, and divides the Red Sea, and swallows the family of Korah into the earth, and turns water into wine, and raises the dead, and causes selfish men to lay down their lives for the sake of love, and turns the hearts of kings toward the cause of Truth.

There is a hunger for God that goes beyond the desire for private experience. It longs for the public display of his glory in the world. It longs for the great dishonors against our God to be set right. It is not content to hope for private revelations of his saving help, as precious as they are. It yearns for the open triumph of his hand in the establishment of God-exalting truth and righteousness—in universities and courts of law and advertising agencies and political debates and all the media of television and radio and newspapers and magazines and movies and
the Internet. It is driven by a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples."

Read on: Chapter 1
Chapter 2-4
Chapter 5-6
Chapter 7 & Appendix

PS: The NECF REPORT ON THE STATE OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN MALAYSIA FOR THE YEAR 2006 is now available for download. Dr Leong Tien Fock's audio presentation on Building the Second Generation Christian Youth – Teaching Biblical Truths to post-Modern Youths is also available at the NECF Youth Workers Consultation.

"Let Justice Flow Like River": The Church In Social Action

The Agora Forum July:
"Let Justice Flow Like River": The Church In Social Action

Venue: CDPC
Date: 29th july
Time: 1.30 pm
Presenter: Tricia Yeoh

We are delighted to invite you to a simple sharing and dialogue on Social Justice and the church's role in social involvement by Tricia Yeoh. A senior analyst at Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute, her articles on human rights and various issues have often been published in mass media. I am also amazed by her youthful energy and heart for youth leadership development projects like youth4change. Do invite friends and get inspired!

Tricia: "Despite the fact that we look towards heaven as an end to life's journey, this does not mean social work is negligible. In many books of the Bible, God calls for social justice. Basic verses speak volumes of helping the needy, standing up for the righteous, ensuring that justice is given out in the courts. The book of Amos even calls for the corrupt to be ridden of in the court.

My message is simply that, although Christians believe that the earth is temporal, it is still our responsibility to ensure suffering is eased. What is the difference then? The difference is this: Suffering exists, but God is the balm. Everything that we do should point towards God ultimately. Social justice needs to be called for at all levels because the ultimate judge is Him. Helping the poor and mistreated, the marginalised in society and the prisoners, those who are ostracised and weak - because all are created equal under His eyes.

While we look to the future and cast our eyes on what is unseen at this point in time, we are in the 'here and now', and are responsible for our fellow beings. Let us take heed."

Politics in Malaysia - Relevant for Christians?

by Ong Kian Ming, iBridge article

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men." Matthew 5:13-15

Politics seems to have no place in the Malaysian church. Mention politics among polite church company and you are likely to receive a host of negative reactions:

"Politicians! A corrupt and self-serving bunch."
"Dishonest lot! Manipulative and full of double-speak!"
"We see them only once every 5 years – election time."
"Never trust a politician!"

The sanitized and white washed walls of the Malaysian church seem too pristine for politics to have any relevance in its midst. But we can no longer afford to ignore such a major part of Malaysian life in our Christian thinking and Christian action.

The impact of politics on our lives is undeniable although not obvious.

Locally, municipal councilors and state assemblymen ensure that rubbish is collected, water is flowing, and drains and roads kept clean. Sometimes they can make a difference whether a dioxin-spewing incinerator is built in our backyard or somewhere less hazardous. Nationally, MPs and ministers are responsible for good governance, political stability, economic development and social welfare. On the religious front, protection of the constitution safeguards our freedom to assemble, to worship and to express ourselves. Yet, we have taken these things for granted.

We sit back and watch our freedom snatched from us. Most of us have heard of the story of how the Nazis came and took away the Poles, the Gypsies, the Jews and no one stopped them. And when it was the time for Nazis to take away Christians, there was no one left to stop them. Of course, the Malaysian government is nowhere as wicked but history shows us the danger of turning our backs on the political arena. But to be true to our calling to be 'salt and light of the earth' we must engage the world holistically, and that inevitably includes politics.

Marvin Wong, in his recent book 'Between Friends,' argues that the Malaysian church has remained passive about politics because Christians fear being persecuted. Christians fear sharing the truth, or standing up for the minority, if this means going up against the ruling elite. "The result of this is a church that tends to engage with the government only in narrowly defined spheres, namely areas that directly impact itself," writes Marvin. "But a continuation of this trend will eventually destroy the church's witness to 'the world' and her credibility to speak on behalf of others for truth and justice."

My own interest in Malaysian politics was roused, when, as a child I devoured my father's copies of 'May 13 - Before and After' by Tunku Abdul Rahman and more infamously 'The Malay Dilemma' by Dr. Mahathir. Later, I saw my parents protest government policies by keeping sister out of school (SRJK Kuen Cheng). That was a movement that culminated in Operasi Lallang, a series of mass arrests that put my own uncle, a PRM member, behind bars. I later found out that a former pastor of my church was one of those who was arrested as well. In my university days, we would debate the NEP (New Economic Policy) and I even had the opportunity to meet Anwar in London a few months before his headline grabbing arrest.

Over the years, the seeds of conviction were sown. I am convinced that as Christians we need a thoughtful and prayerful approach to understand our own political scene.

Thus, I am excited to write this column. This is an opportunity to approach politics from a Christian perspective. In future articles, I will share my struggle, wrestling with the multifaceted issues in Malaysia. Is our justice system independent? How do we fare on human rights? Can we sustain economic viability? How do we vie in a globalised world? How do we preserve racial harmony? Is the sanctity of our languages and faith safeguarded? I hope my reflections will encourage us all to be discerning, civic conscious, and spur us on to contribute to nation building.

Personal Reflection and Suggestions for Action

1) Do I know who my state assemblyman or member of parliament is? How can I pray for him/her?

(You can find out by by looking up your constituency at the Elections Commission website at You can also find out details about how to register as a voter if you aren't one already.)

2) Are you familiar with burning political issues of today? How can I be more in touch with local political issues?

(The Local News section in your paper would be a good place to start.)

3) Can you explain the local political system to a foreigner if you were asked?

(Email me and I will be glad to introduce to you a few good books to kickstart.)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Celebrating Love

by Millie Chan, GCF Ecommentary

A climb up Mount Kinabalu has always been on my itinerary this side of heaven. When a date was finally scheduled for the climb, Tze-Lin my 12-year-old daughter expressed keen interest to participate in the adventure.

My husband thought it a great idea for her to attempt the challenge with me. But I was hesitant to include her, citing my concern over how difficult the journey would prove for her. If truth be told, I was worried she might not finish her climb and might cause me to give up on my attempt. So I warned her that if she should decide to abandon the climb, she would have to return to the base with the guide as I
would want to proceed on. She agreed.

The 6km trek to Laban Rata (mid-camp) was strenuous, but it was the 2.7km ascent to the summit that proved to be the real challenge. We started at 2.30am in pitch darkness and chilling temperature.

20 minutes into the climb, Tze-Lin told me the disturbing news that she was nursing a tummy ache. Every time the pain attacked, we were torn with the dilemma whether she should return with the guide or continue with us. With each step towards the summit, I became more obsessed with finishing the climb but Tze-Lin was progressively
inclined to turn back as exhaustion diminished her resolve.

When the peak was 1km within reach, she told me she was too tired to go further. At that moment, I decided to abandon the climb and take her back. She was aghast that I should give up what I had wanted so badly to achieve and told me she wanted me to reach the peak. But I was adamant about going back with her.

That was the defining moment for the both of us. From then on, she did not speak again of turning back. We moved step by step and hand in hand. 1 1/2 hours later we reached the peak together and stood above the clouds amidst the Lord's great works of wonder.

What were the dynamics at work between us that morning?

When we set out to climb, we were working on parallel priorities: my goal was to reach the top at all costs; hers, albeit similar, was diluted with a child's inclination to cater for her own immediate physical comfort. All my initial verbal expressions of love, encouragement and cajoling did nothing to bridge the gap. She merely responded by telling me how difficult it was to carry on.

However when I set aside my own agenda to make her comfort my priority, she instinctively responded to that act of love by forsaking her own comfort so as to see me reach my goal. How strange we behave when our love for each other is at work.

Jesus urges us to love one another as He loves us (John 15:12). There is nothing new about the command to love, since Leviticus 19:18 teaches us to "love your neighbor as yourself". But the new element is the change from "as yourself" to "as I have loved you". How does Jesus love us?

He gives us a foretaste of what His love entails when He says in the next verse "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13). The call to love is not a passive command engaging us only on an emotional level. It is to be acted out – the putting aside of oneself for the other.

Christian love now has Christ's sacrificial love as its model. His love is characterized by giving and glad surrender. And when we receive Christ, this capacity to love sacrificially is imprinted in our human hearts. The act of service not only communicates our love, it completes the love; it is love's appointed consummation. The difficult part is to overcome our self-serving nature. This is a day by day, moment by moment endeavor. The goal is to look beyond our own space long enough to discern the circumstances of those around us.

The minute I put Tze-Lin's needs before mine, I felt strangely right. There was a sense of order in my inner landscape. I was released from the bondage of my selfish pursuits. But her response took me by complete surprise. She appeared to have been spurred on to greater resolve by my (unconscious) demonstration of love for her. It was as if she found more meaning to her effort. To see me reach my goal became a greater driving force than her own comfort.

Indeed children are more skilful in recognizing our feelings by our behavior. Probably because they are less distracted. They "listen" to the way we behave and can easily detect acts of love. When their emotional tank is filled, they give generously in return.

God has gone to extravagant lengths to love us. Not all of us will be called upon to lay down our lives for others. But daily there will be opportunities to set aside our own needs to respond to others. Usually it doesn't involve anything dramatic but when we reach out in love, our act of service never returns empty even if the other party does not know it. We will be soaked in His love.

Just read Jesus' promise given in John 15:10 before He gives us the commandment to love: "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love".

On that summit, we celebrated not just a successful climb. We celebrated LOVE.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Is Malaysia Secular State?

Announcement: "Tan Sri Ramon is prepared to offer RM500 to ANY PERSON in a congregation who brings in the highest number of FIRST TIME VOTER registrations.

Another RM500 will be given to the CHURCH with the highest number of FIRST TIME VOTER registrations. Please inform CCM of your registrations. The CCM EXCO will decide the winner.

Dateline: 31st August 2007.
It is a small token but a positive step to encourage all Christians to exercise their right to vote."

Thanks to our resident devil's advocate at Total Truth study group, YJ, I was alerted to the DPM's opinion on "Is Malaysia a secular state"? It reminds me of a thoughtful book review by Kian Ming back in 2004, hope that it would help us to think through this crucial issue as we approach the 50th anniversary of Merdeka!

Insight into the Malaysian constitution
Mon Jan 5, 2004

By Abdul Aziz Bari
Publisher: The Other Press
250 pages

THIS book is a timely one, especially in light of the commotion caused by the recent announcement by the Prime Minister that Malaysia is already an Islamic state.

Many legal experts have analysed and debated the exact nature of the Malaysian constitution. But while this debate has generally been restricted to one particular
section of the constitution, this book presents a more comprehensive and, as indicated by its subtitle, critical examination of the Malaysian constitution in
its entirety.

The important areas concerning the executive, the legislative and the judiciary are discussed in depth as well as other issues, including the role of the Agung and the various Sultans, federalism, fundamental liberties, provisions for emergency, citizenship and elections.

The breadth and scope of this volume is a welcome addition to the literature on the Malaysian constitution following Tun Mohd Suffian’s An Introduction to the Constitution of Malaysia and, more recently, Andrew Harding’s Law, Government and the
Constitution in Malaysia.

Instead of only producing a factual account of these different areas, the author critically analyses some of the tensions contained within the constitution.

He also usefully highlights many of the unresolved issues involving constitutional interpretations in some crucial aspects of law in this country.

I found the section on “the Offices of the Head of State” particularly enlightening and thought-provoking.

The role of the Yang di Pertuan Agung as an important component in the check-and-balance system envisioned within this constitution is something which is rarely
discussed or emphasised in the public realm.

The importance of this role is magnified during possible crisis situations where, for example, there is a hung government or in the event of an outbreak of war.

The tension between the office of the head of state and the executive is another important constitutional element highlighted.

The overall impression of a deterioration of constitutional principles is unmistakable and the author has carefully presented his arguments on each area of the constitution as proof of this development.

In view of this deterioration, the author unabashedly proposes some reform recommendations which aim to reclaim the “ideas laid down by the Constitution”.

As an example, the author points out the deterioration of the effectiveness of the Malaysian parliament in playing a check-and-balance role vis-à-vis the executive as well as the lack of debate on policy issues in this institution.

The role of the Senate to safeguard the interest of the states has been eroded with the number of federal appointees to the Senate vastly outnumbering the state representatives.

Possible suggestions for reform include the strict following of rules, procedures and customs in Parliament regardless of party affiliations, the defence of parliamentary privileges, especially with regard to freedom of speech within Parliament, and the possibility of government funding for good back-up staff for the members of the legislature.

The section describing the constitutional amendments which have taken place since Independence was also eye-opening. There have been 44 amendments to the Malaysian constitution since 1957 compared with 27 amendments for the American constitution which was written in 1787.

Some of the more controversial amendments are described in this section, including the amendments affecting the position of the head of state in giving assent for laws to be passed, amendments which occurred during emergency periods as well as “amendments” through judicial interpretations.

The last, although not formally declared, occurs when the courts make judgments which, in the author’s opinion, are narrow interpretations of the constitution, thereby “amending” these provisions.

Of greatest pertinence is the area of civil liberties and rights. For this section, the author recommends that the NGOs, the press and other organisations should be involved in educating the public on what these constitutional amendments entail and what possible consequences they might have.

He also suggested opinion polls or referendums on some of these issues raised in the process of amending the constitution.

A note of caution – this book is written for lawyers and students of law, as acknowledged by the author. Those who are not familiar with many of the cases
cited here would lose sight of the arguments presented in each section. Coming from a non-legal background but with some knowledge of some of the cases, I encountered some difficulty in some sections.

The only other area which I thought the author could have covered in greater detail was to analyse the kinds of tensions that existed and the compromises that were made during the drafting of the constitution. This would give us some understanding
into the “spirit” of this constitution and explain some of the currently existing tensions.

For example, what were the factors during the drafting process which resulted in the wording of Article 3 where it is stated that Islam is the official religion of the country but that all other religions can be practised freely? How did the ongoing battle against communist insurgency forces affect the framing of the sections on fundamental liberties?

Perhaps another author would take up this unenviable but necessary and important task.

I would recommend that first-year constitutional law students and those with some background knowledge of the Malaysian constitution read this book and think
through many of the issues that are raised by the author.

If the readers agree with the author in that constitutional principles in this country have been eroded over time, then perhaps some remedial actions can be taken by the readers to attempt to stem this tide.

Ong Kian Ming worked for a non-profit think tank that does research on nation-building.

The Greatest Malaysian Christian

Looking Up To God
Wong Fook Meng (, GCF ecommentary

"Who is the greatest Christian living in Malaysia today?". What will your answer be if this question is posed to you? My guess is that for most of us, we will be making mental lists of famous leaders, popular preachers,pastors of large thriving churches or some generous benefactors. But,when Jesus was asked "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?", He replied with an astounding answer, "Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of
heaven". As usual, He shatters our common notions of what constitute greatness and completed adjusts our perception of what is truly important in God's measurements.

I have to honestly admit that humility is not one of my favourite virtues though I personally do not have much to be proud of. Pride often rears its ugly head when I am at the receiving end of a harsh remark, poor service or bad road manners. There is something within me that seeks to let the whole world know how important I am and how I must not be ill-treated. But, the more serious form of pride is when I suspend my perception of God's greatness and view life as if I am the captain of my own destiny and God has no part in the driving centre of my life.

C.S. Lewis makes this poignant remark in Mere Christianity:

"There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which any people, except Christians, ever imagine they are guilty themselves...There is no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others. The vice I am talking of is pride or self conceit. Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

In God you come up with something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that - and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison- you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you."

When was the last time we pause to take an upward look and catch a glimpse of God's greatness? I wonder how "effective" our Sunday worship services are in bringing us close to the throne of God where we can see Him high and lifted up? Did we leave the worship services and enter the marketplace with a greater awareness of the attributes of our great God?If we have a right perspective of God's greatness,
it will radically change the way we view our bosses, peers, subordinates, competitors, big and small clients and the economic outlook. Some things which appear big will be cut down to size. Some things which appear small will be inflated to its true proportion.

It's time to look up to God. Then, we can look around us and within us with the right lenses.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

TheAgora @ Penang

Thinking In Action: The experimental seed of Agora @ Penang has just been planted!! We'd pray for reflective action in the context of church and mission for Steven, Yew Kong and Joanne would bless many other young believers in the city.

Come join us at our inaugural meeting - this is strictly by invitation only as we are trying out the concept here in beautiful Penang and the venue has limited seatings. If you are interested to join us, do email us at "scheekeong at gmail dot com" to request for an invitation!!

Date: 12 August 2007
Time: 5pm
Venue: FES Office, Penang (map to be provided later)
Topic: The Gospel and the tasks of the Church
Facilitator: Yew Kong

The topic seems relevant to keropoklekor's questions here:

1) What is the Gospel, Salvation, Faith and Evangelism? And where does it stand in priority compared to other tenets of the evangelical faith?

2) What is the content of this "Gospel"? The 4 spiritual laws? The 10 commandments? The "Story"? The Proclamation of the Kingdom? Jesus Christ? The Trinity?

2) What is a framework of evangelism that can be practically adopted by the christian community, taking into the account the different levels of commitment towards evangelism? How do we determine whether a community of faith is doing well in evangelism? How do we measure our effectiveness? How can we improve our effectiveness?

Maybe KeropokLekor may wanna join Wesley to start an AGora Australia-NZ? :D

Pursuing Liberty Under Christ

Exodus Asia Pacific Conference 2007
Healing for the Sexually and Relationally Broken.

Date: 2-3 August 2007
Time: 8am - 5pm (Day Conference) and 8pm (Night Meetings)

Venue: Banner of Love Church
No 1-3A, (2nd and 3rd Flr),
Jalan PJU 5/11, Dataran Sunway,
Kota Damansara, 47810 PJ

Contact PLUC: Pursuing Liberty Under Christ,
Phone: 013-352-3501 or (Tryphena Law)

Who We Are
PLUC is a Christian ministry that administer sexual wholeness to the sexually and relationally broken people. Evangelical and Inter-denominational. Member ministry of Exodus Global Alliance

Restoration of the sexually broken under the healing power of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To reach out and disciple the sexually broken into godly men and women who experience true liberty in Christ.

To establish more support groups in Malaysia
To be a resource center for ministries that administer sexual wholeness
To build teams of facilitators
To work with churches, Christian organizations and NGO on issues relating to sexual brokenness.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Let Justice Flow Like River": The Church In Social Action

The Agora Forum July:
"Let Justice Flow Like River": The Church In Social Action

Venue: CDPC
Date: 29th july
Time: 1.30 pm
Presenter: Tricia Yeoh

We are delighted to invite you to a simple sharing and dialogue on Social Justice and the church's role in social involvement by Tricia Yeoh. A senior analyst at Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute, her articles on human rights and various issues have often been published in mass media. I am also amazed by her youthful energy and heart for youth leadership development projects like youth4change. Do invite friends and get inspired!

"I believe that, with regard to the great tensions between the vertical interpretation of the gospel as essentially concerned with God’s saving action in the life of individuals, and the horizontal interpretation of it as mainly concerned with human relationships in the world, we must get out of that rather primitive oscillating movement of going from one extreme to the other, which is not worthy of a movement which by its nature seeks to embrace the truth of the gospel in its fullness. A Christianity which has lost its vertical dimension has lost its salt and is not only insipid in itself, but useless for the world. But a Christianity
which would use the vertical preoccupation as a means to escape from its responsibility for and in the common life of man is a denial of the incarnation, of God’s love for the world manifested in Christ."

- W. A. Vissert´Hooft at the Uppsala Assembly of the World Council of Churches (1968)

Is Your Mammon Serving God?

by Millie Chan, GCF icommentary

We are called to serve the Lord. But knowing that the greatest challenge to this call is the lure of mammon, we are particularly warned that we "cannot serve God and mammon" at the same time (Matthew 6:24).

In real term, it is not possible to serve money. We cannot enrich money, nor assist money nor can we be a benefactor to money. We are however conditioned into believing that money holds the promise to great happiness. It is touted as the solution to many of our heartaches and difficulties. It is our passport to a blessed lifestyle. Thus enamoured, we strive to place ourselves in a position so that money's power can be at our disposal.

In other words, money beckons us with its promise of happiness and we serve mammon by believing its promise and walking in the faith of that promise. In order to avoid the snare of mammon, we must learn to recognise the great economic lie. We must constantly stay alert to its insidious lure which can lead us to an addictive and destructive existence.

But our success in not labouring our lives in pursuit of mammon does not mean our lives are rendered in service of God. The primary call to serve God remains to be lived out. And for many of us the last stronghold in the battle is learning to release the money which is already in our pocket for His purpose.

The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 9:8 : "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work". Heed the spending formula: spend on need but abound in good work. Enough for us but abundance for others.

God delights to prosper us in all manner of life. But when He enlarges our income, it is not so we can move from a semi-detached house to a bungalow. Our wealth is to be released to reach the needy. The evil is not caused by huge salaries. The evil is in being deceived into believing that a $100,000 salary must be matched by a $100,000 lifestyle. God has made us the conduit of His grace. The danger is in thinking that the conduit should lead back to our own backyard.

In Ephesians 4:28, Paul says, "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need".

This verse tells of 3 ways to make and live with our money:
a) we steal money for our livelihood;
b) we work for our livelihood; or
c) we work so as to get money for our livelihood and to share with others in need.

Many of us dwell and thrive in scenario 2. We are deceived into thinking that the only sin in relation to money is stealing. So we commit ourselves to make our living honestly. But when it comes to spending the income we make, we are the chief beneficiaries. Our giving is marginalised, overshadowed by our ever-expanding "wants" which are dressed down to appear as "needs".

The Lord calls us relentlessly to move into scenario 3. Work, spend on our real needs and share the rest abundantly with others. Our generosity (or the lack of it) is the gauge to determine where we place our hope and trust: in the Lord and His eternal promise of happiness or in the mammon and its false claim.

So if we run a check on our lifestyle, we will see whom we are serving, God or mammon. And if we run a check on our spending habit, we will see whom our mammon is serving, us or God.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Reel Spirituality

Seeds of Hope from the Silver Screen - Spirituality from the Movies?
by Dr Yap Yoke Yeow, GCF iCommentary 2005

When the lights dim and curtains part, something magical happens. Raptured into stories of joy, sorrow, triumph and disappointment,movies can change us. I remember watching The English Patient many years ago. When the credits rolled up, my legs wouldn't move. I was paralysed by the sheer poetry of the tale. The irony of love - a power that gave life to one man plunges another to his death - gripped me for a long time after.

Movies are often frowned upon for the crass materialism, libertine sexuality, and hedonism they manipulate into our minds. We rightly reject them. Yet not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I believe many good movies can be watched redemptively. Listening at once to the story, to ourselves and to God - we may leave enlightened and strengthened in our journey of faith.

Listening to the story

While we don't have to swallow all that is fed to us, I find movies enriching when I'm thoughtfully receptive rather than censoriously judgmental. Movies, like the world we live in, reflect the full spectrum of evils of our fallenness. We can hardly expect movies to champion 'good Christian values' ala Sunday School!

In one of my favorites, Gladiator, Maximus (Russel Crowe) is Marcus Aurelius' trusted general who later defies his murderous tyrant son. His wife and child brutally slain, himself a wounded fugitive, he becomes a slave-warrior in Rome's Coliseum fighting for his life and freedom. Blow by blow, duel after duel, he emerges through the dust as 'Maximus the Beloved'- shadowing even the new Caesar's popularity. The fallen general remains a courageous but compassionate man throughout - albeit as a slave behind bars.

Finally, in the ultimate duel between Emperor and Gladiator, he is sent into the ring already viciously wounded. In a clash nearly Messianic in proportion, he vanquishes the evil emperor with his own royal dagger and then breathes his last after crying, "Free my men! There was a dream that was Rome that must be realized! It is the wish of Marcus Aurelius."

As he lay lifeless in the dust, the words were spoken: "Is Rome worth one good man's life? He believed it once; make us believe in it again."

Movies awaken us to our captive state by highlighting our human condition. They also compel us to cry out, and sometimes give voice to our primeval yearning for God's beauty, truth and goodness. The Eden we have been banished from has not left our breasts. The Pauline trinity of faith, hope and love is so central to many stories precisely because we are image-bearers of God homesick for a better reality.

Good stories draw us to Calvary for our freedom and catapult our imagination to the new heaven and earth.

Listening to ourselves

We are emotional beings. Movies can penetrate our guarded consciousness and help us 'feel aloud' those repressed feelings we keep from breaking through. Seeing ourselves in the characters of a movie helps us explore our unfulfilled emotions, and reclaim our total experience of humanity - rational, physical, emotional and spiritual.

In Contact, Jodie Foster is Dr. Araway, a hardcore physicist whose premise for life is rejecting the scientifically unknowable and pursuing truth through the empirical. But through her persecuted search for extra-terrestrial life, she finally decodes the 'message from the sky' and is internationally backed to make an inter-stellar trip to meet it! Yet upon her return, with no proof in hand, the world mocks her unsubstantiable claims. In that moment she discovers the faith that had brought her thus far was also all that she needed.

Faith is self-justifying. She had no answers for her interrogators, but she needed none. In times of darkness, I find Dr. Araway's journey analogous to my own - fraught with doubt at every turn, sometimes faced with mocking and opposition from those closest to you. The road forward seems to get narrower and lonelier with every step. In times like these, our God-given ability to believe is all we have to put one foot ahead of the other.

With open heart

Awakenings - a heart-wrenching screenplay of Oliver Sacks' book by the same title - defined me in a way nothing else could have. It appeared in that time of my life where, as a pre-university student, I struggled to chalk the best grades for a future I couldn't decide upon! Robin Williams plays Dr. Malcolm Sayer, the experimental neurologist who unsuspectingly ends up devoting his life to victims of post-encephalitic coma. In a chance discovery of the then wonder drug L-DOPA, he brings a whole ward of statues back to life! They have a short but exciting lease at recapturing their lost decades. They learnt from their patients to celebrate life and to nurture it even in the comatose. But alas, they are doomed to slip, through tormenting tics and fits, into a prison of catatonia again: living zombies, locked within frozen, empty stares.

I wept bitterly. I was choked by the anguish of victim and family. But I was moved most of all by the impassioned life of Dr. Sayer and his staff.

Working through the tragedy, he declares: "We can hide behind the veil of science,.. but.. reality is we don't know what went wrong anymore than we know what went right. What we do know is as the chemical window closed, another awakening took place. The human spirit is more powerful than any drug and that is what needs to be nourished." Unbeknownst to me, a vocation was being defined: to embroil myself passionately in lives, walk alongside the afflicted, share in their struggle to keep alive their God-breathed identity. Almost a decade now into my career as a physician, I need to watch Awakenings again - lest I forget the calling to be scientist, healer and friend.

Movies, like all things around us are burning bushes to-be. They can inspire us to travel further in our journeys and reach higher through our dreams. But we need the eyes to see. We need to grow mindful hearts to hear. Cultivate an openness to receive. Like the soil in Jesus' parable of the sower, how we till our hearts determines how well seeds of new growth take root. So, with popcorn in one hand and ticket stub in the other, movies continue to be a companion for life - images that sometimes point us to the Way, the Truth and the Life in ways we least expect.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Never Walk Alone

"Every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving."

Guess who said that? A humble person? Yes. A dedicated person? No doubt. A great person? Absolutely! This quote is by none other than the iconic scientist of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein. It is obvious that new scientific discovery is built on the ground of established science. What is amazing is that Einstein perceives that his interior life of reflection, spirituality, and identity were dependent and interconnected with others.

Read the rest of WP How's post We walk, not alone, but in good company

Towards a Kingdom Timestyle

Efficiency For What Purpose

A Long Obedience in Same Direction

Submission To Authorities?

As Christians, we are called to usher in God's Kingdom in all areas of life: work, arts, culture, family life, friendships and church.

Ong Kian Ming, a dear friend of ours at iBridge, has been directing his energies in the realm of politics.

Since meeting him in a small group for emerging leaders, I've been struck by his passion and focus in many areas: leading a young adults group; being an
aggressive fan for an English football club; crunching through business cases as a former financial whiz; and his compendious knowledge of food and language (he can
order any dish in any Chinese restaurant in any dialect).

But what shines through most is his calling as a Christian to the world of politics.

Read through the piece below carefully. Print it out. Think through his reasoning on Romans 13:1. May his ideas and the questions below challenge us to rethink
our role as Christians living in Malaysia.

Alvin Ung

Dave: Article was written many moons ago in 2003

Submission to authorities = Pliancy at all costs?
by Ong Kian Ming

A few months ago, the Ministry of Home Affairs banned the Iban Bible and several other Christian books. Many Christians in Malaysia strongly protested against this

Is it biblical for Christians to disagree with the governing authorities? Was this action by the Malaysian Christians going against the advice of Apostle Paul?

In his letter to the Christians living in the heart of Rome (the superpower of first century A.D.) Paul declared:

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” Romans 13:1

I’ve always struggled in responding to the above passage. Does this mean that this passage gives carte blanche for the government to basically do anything it likes? Is there then no space left for us to disagree with some of the actions of the government which we find particularly objectionable?

The context of Romans 13 suggests that Paul’s advice to submit to governing authorities refers to paying taxes and other state regulations. These are policies
that function for the greater good of civilization (i.e. Rom’s Pax Romana policy). This is what he argues in verses 1-5. Why do we say that Paul is using this
principle to refer to paying taxes? In verse six, Paul says, “For the SAME reason you ALSO pay taxes, for the authorities are minister of God, attending to this
very thing.” Thus, Christians are to submit to rule of law that upholds justice, fairness, mercy -- be it paying taxes or stopping at traffic lights. This also
means that we are not to blindly submit, especially when the authorities are abusing justice, fairness, mercy.

(Alvin’s input: This reading of Romans 13 is suggested by Marva Dawn, a noted OT scholar, who came to Regent to teach just a few weeks ago)

My understanding of this passage has been influenced by my recent reading of the book of Acts. Here, we read of how Paul responded to the authorities when he
was arrested by them.

In Acts 21, a lynch mob in the temple in Jerusalem was in the process of beating Paul and would probably have killed him if not for the timely intervention of …
some Roman troops?

Despite all the faults of the Roman colonial power which included the persecution and repression of its colonies, it was the Roman system which protected Paul from the lynch mob and later, an assassination attempt. Despite the flawed judicial
system (Felix was trying to obtain a bribe from Paul and kept him in jail even though he felt that Paul was innocent), it still provided a way out for Paul, as a
Roman citizen, to appeal to the highest court in the land – the court of Caesar.

The lessons for these concluding chapters in the book of Acts help us understand this passage in Romans.

Here, Paul’s pointing out that in any system set up by any government, there would be at least a semblance of law, order and justice – even if there are flaws in
the system.

Having an authority in power is better than having anarchy and lawlessness. Hence, the baseline or default mode, would be for us to obey the law put in place by the authorities.

But we also need to examine this passage in the light of the modern political system which is very different from that which existed during Paul’s time. We in Malaysia are fortunate enough to be living in a democratic system (albeit a flawed one) where we have the power elect our leaders into office and to throw them out of office.

We elect our parliamentarians into the parliament to govern our nation and we elect our state assembly representatives to govern our states. There are check and balances in the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and the judiciary (theoretically, at least). These checks and balances are there to prevent excesses and the abuse of power by governments. All governments are guilty of these
excesses be it Malaysia, Saudi Arabia or the United States. It is the extent to which the checks and balances work which minimizes these excesses.

In a parliamentary democracy, we must also remember that the opposition is also part of the system of governance although not part of the ruling government. An effective opposition would act as a counterbalance to the ruling government on issues concerning the running of the country.

In a healthy democracy, the media or the press would also play its role as the Fourth Estate in revealing any excesses and keeping the three branches of government honest.

In a healthy democracy, there would be healthy channels for citizens to make their views known to the different branches of government.

Hence, in any parliamentary democracy, we would not be disobeying the authorities if we disagree with them on their stand on a certain issue, as long as we use legitimate channels to make our views known e.g. through our MPs (government or opposition), through the media, through citizen’s initiatives.

I would even go so far as to say that our ‘Caesar’ (the authority we ultimately appeal to in our system) would be the ideals of the Constitution and not the
ruling authorities. Governments may be able to change the constitution but they cannot carry out actions which are contrary to the constitution.

In comparison to many other developing countries (see Nigeria, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh), the Malaysian government which has been in place since independence has achieved much in bringing peace, prosperity and development to our country.

But there have also been injustices which have been perpetrated in our country usually in the name of national security. God reminds us that ultimately, He holds the scales of justice.

“The ruthless will vanish, the mockers will disappear,
and all who have an eye for evil will be cut down –
those who with a word make a man out to be guilty, who
ensnare the defender in court and with false testimony
deprive the innocent of justice” (Isaiah 29:20-21).

What’s the bottom-line?

We ARE being consistent with Romans 13 if we speak out against injustices that are being carried out with the complicity of the Authorities. That’s because we are asking for change through legitimate democratic channels.

The recent banning of the Iban bible is a case in point. The action was a clear contravention of the principle of freedom of religion as stated in Article
11 of the Federal Constitution. Hence, it would be legitimate for Malaysian Christians to voice their protests to the Minister of Home affairs over this ban.

Thankfully, this ban has since then been lifted. But if it had not, it would have been legitimate for Malaysian Christians to challenge this decision in court as we appeal to our ‘Caesar’, the Federal Constitution.

Ultimately, our obedience to the system may exact a high cost. If for example, in protesting legitimately against injustices, we are put in chains under the
ISA, we need to accept the consequences. That’s exactly what happened to Paul – who ended up being imprisoned by the Roman authorities.

Finally, some food for thought:

1) What are some issues of injustice that I see happening in my country, my state, my district and my neighborhood?

2) What are some consequences that may result if I stand up against the injustices that I see in my country and my neighborhood?

3) How has God equipped me with resources to rectify some of these injustices?

4) What’s the one thing I can do, here and now, to take a stand against the injustice that I see?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hudud Laws And Human Heart

By Wong Fook Meng, GCF ecommentary

On 8th July 2002, the Terengganu state assembly passed the Syariah Criminal Offences ( Hudud and Qisas ) Bill (hereinafter referred to as "Hudud Laws Bill" ). Viewed by many as draconian and oppressive in nature, hudud laws calls for Taliban like punishments for relatively minor offences: whipping for consumption of alcohol, hand amputation for theft and stoning to death for adultery. However, the promulgators of the Hudud Laws Bill will hasten to point out that these laws are under girded with noble purposes. According to a recent issue of TIME magazine (2nd September 2002), this is all part of a drive by the PAS government to create what it calls a "pious, religious, disciplined, dignified, noble and trustworthy society." The boiling question of the day is this: Can the mere imposition of hudud laws create the ideal
society as envisioned by the PAS led government?

Muslim scholar Dr Chandra Muzzafar, in his book "Rights, Religion and Reforms", has this to say:

"In fact, there are a few examples of Muslim regimes today which adhere strictly to hudud and yet their people remain trapped in poverty, ignorance and ill health. One of these hudud oriented societies in West Asia has an incredibly high rate of illiteracy, in spite of its huge oil revenue. It is also totally autocratic, does not even observe minimal public accountability and denies the ordinary people any form of participation in government. The ills of this and other Muslim societies cannot be overcome through the mere imposition of hudud laws...Though it is only too obvious that the colossal challenges confronting most Muslim societies today, ranging from poverty and exploitation to authoritarianism and foreign domination, cannot be resolved through the promulgation of hudud ordinances, a significant segment of the ulama continues to believe that allegiance to these laws demonstrates
fidelity to the faith."

I think Dr Chandra has made a grand point in the ongoing hudud laws debate. The ills of society cannot be overcome through the mere imposition of legislation, no matter how noble the intent. As a matter of fact, if the promulgators of the Hudud Laws Bill are desirous of regulating society's private morality through stiffer punishments, it will be but a futile attempt. This is because private morality is a matter of the heart. It lies in the unseen realm of our inner worlds of thoughts, emotions and values.

The hands of the law are too short to transform and empower the society to be a "pious, religious, disciplined, dignified, noble and trustworthy society."

While hudud laws can set a code of external conduct, it can never give the power for true internal change of character. Hudud laws can prohibit adultery, but it can never make a man love his wife and family. Hudud laws can prohibit theft, but it can never provide the antidote for greed and materialism. Hudud laws can prohibit murder, but it can never wash away the spirit of anger, ill temper and bitterness that poisons countless number of people. The real disease of societal ills comes from deep within us. About 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ proclaimed:

"For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defiles a person."

It is only God who can write His holy precepts on our minds and hearts (Hebrews 8 v 10). When this happens, there will be true and lasting transformation for individuals, families and societies. God is in the business of changing hearts, not legislations.

Band Of Brothers

by Alvin Ung, iBridge Band of Brothers

This is the story of four ordinary men who loved each other and confessed their sins to one another. I met them during a class at Regent College a month ago.

All four men are in their fifties. John, tall and large, holds a Ph.D in conflict resolution and taught for decades in South Africa. Jerry is a soft-spoken accountant who provides consultation work to small businesses. Murray is a financial planner. And Peter is a lawyer who specializes in facilitation.

They are church leaders and family men. They are all busy figures in the marketplace. But for every week, over the past six years, they have been meeting on Monday mornings from 6.00-7.30am.

“It all started years ago when I was looking for friends who were going to push me to open up at the deepest level of my being,” said Peter, the lawyer. “I wanted friends who would not let me run away and hide. They had to be people with the courage and creativity to really challenge me – because I know how good I am at hiding.” He didn’t know what form or shape this group would be. He simply knew he wanted spiritual friends.

Lessons from the Trinity

Such a craving is a God-given desire. Our Trinitarian God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – share an intertwined and interpenetrating relationship with each other. Theologians call this relationship “perichoresis.” And God has implanted within us a deep desire for perichoretic friendships too.

Unfortunately, as we grow older – as we inch day-by-day into our thirties, and then forties – the harder it is for us to find and maintain meaningful friendships. We part with our university buddies. We rise up the corporate ranks and find ourselves increasingly isolated. We serve in church but can’t connect with Christians in a deep way.

How many of us know of church leaders who don’t talk deeply with one another? How many of us are in that position ourselves? We are afraid of embarrassing ourselves. We fear honesty – with our friends and with ourselves. As we grow older, we grow lonelier. This is the tragedy of sin. This is the tragedy of our own misplaced pride.

An Alcoholic Beginning

Peter, who owned his own law practice, knew this very well. He wanted to lead an integrated and authentic Christian life but he knew he could not do it alone “because as humans, we’re very good at deceiving ourselves.” To discover how we’re truly human, we need friends who care, who are real and who love enough to risk.

As Peter prayed and expressed to God his heart’s deep desire, several names came to mind. He approached each person, one by one. All of them said they were keen. Thrilled, in fact.

They started their first Monday meeting by using the questions found in the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program, adapted to Christian needs.

Step 1: “Admit what you are powerless over.”
Step 2: “Acknowledge that only God can heal me.”
Step 3: “I choose to turn my life over to God.”
Step 4: “I take a fearless moral inventory of my life.”
Step 5: “Share the thing I am most ashamed of in my life with my friends.” And etc.

They took turns sitting on the “hot seat.” The rest would listen and ask probing questions. This would go on for weeks until everyone in the group was sure the person on the hot seat been completely honest with them and with himself. Some steps took more than a year to answer. After six years, they covered only six out of the 12-step program.

“We needed time to earn one another’s trust and confidence,” John said. Speed wasn’t the issue. The key thing was to be real, and to do everything out of love. They discovered that each one of them mounted an array of defense mechanisms to avoid shame, embarrassment or confession of sin. The latest exercise which they are doing together is to challenge one another on how to be better stewards of money. They are doing this by bringing ALL their personal finances, spreadsheets and spending patterns to the table for the group to scrutinize.

Honest Lessons

From the grilling, Peter learned that he sought praise too much, had difficulty saying no and avoided making important decisions by purposely making himself confused. He had boundless energy which he channeled into his or Messiah complex. Through the group, he learned to be more selective and not to avoid making hard decisions. As a result his marriage had also grown so much. “There’s so much joy and fullness of life that we won’t experience unless we choose to do so by sharing from our hearts.”

What makes this group so different from any other bible-study, cell or prayer group?

* They desired to be intentional, penetrating and vulnerable.
* They spoke out of the depths of their heart and out of love.
* They did not allow one another to get away with self-deception.

“Tragically, we spend most of our years climbing the corporate ladder,” said my Regent classmate, Audrey Lim, a former director of marketing in an international pharmaceutical firm in Singapore. “We invest all our time in work but not in relationships. That’s because we do not want to know or ourselves. But if you don’t want to come to terms with yourself now, then when will you do it? Do we love each other enough to dare to do what they did?”

More Ordinary Heroes

Anyone can do this. But it takes courage. A few months before his death, Rev. Hwa Chien, the former president of the English-speaking Methodist churches in Malaysia, urged me to form an accountability group of fellow men.

He, too, had four other friends who kept him accountable. They were all prominent church leaders. They’d been friends for a long time and they met once a month in a mamak stall next to the Ipoh Chicken Rice restaurant along Jalan Gasing. They would meet to share their stories, encourage one another and then pray. They organized a retreat once or twice a year. “Together, we kept each other from yielding to temptation. We confessed our sins to one another,” Hwa Chien said. “And we stand behind one another.”

The older we grow, the more we need such groups of like-minded men and women. There’s no formula in forming such a group. But here are three helpful principles:

1. Cultivate a desire to live an authentic and integrated life that’s pleasing to God. Resolve that you want to be honest before God and other trusted friends.
2. Pray that the Holy Spirit may work in your heart and lead you to other people who share this same desire. Such friendships are a gift from God.
3. You can start the first gathering by sharing your personal story with incredible honesty. Then others might be inspired to take the risk

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Losing Our Minds?

Some friends asked for the slides for the "Have we lost our mind?" sharing at Sunway-Subang Community Baptist Church last Saturday so here it is in "Old Movie" format. (Click on "See All Images" if some words are not legible).

Happy to see these exuberant youths so on fire for the Lord. Pastor Malcolm gave an inspiring reminder that our generation yearns to experience God and there is nothing wrong with that (in fact much to be encouraged) yet we need to know that we know what and why and who we believe. The Bible does not call us to be tranformed by the 'removing' of our minds! Instead it calls for the renewing of our minds. Thank you so much for prayer partners and Gary/Alexa for giving a raw speaker much needed practice and trust :)

As a curious teenager, I was disturbed by what I read in Genesis and asked a Christian science teacher,“Is the universe really 6 thousand years old or millions of years old?”

He looked at me and asked back: "Does God answer your prayers?" If it 'works', then why ask questions about whether it's true? The life of the mind is often neglected.

One reason is misunderstanding of Jesus' call to have ‘child-like faith’. It meant having the humility and guile-less dependence of a child, not a toddler's IQ as condition to enter the Kingdom. “In respect to evil be like infants, but in your thinking be mature.” (1 Cor 14)

Another reason is sometimes we confuse thinking/questioning with unbelief. It gives some people the impression that to be a Christian, we must only believe but never ask questions or think through our faith. Thinking is not the enemy of faith. In fact, getting people to think about the big questions of life is a friend of faith. Nowadays the challenge is to creatively point people to realities deeper than our investments, waistlines, holidays, retirement packages. See how Jesus answers questions with questions.

Someone once said: "Faith is not a substitute for knowledge but a response to it". It is not believing what you know ain't true. Sitting on a chair involves faith - knowing that the chair will hold my weight and active trust in committing myself to sit on it. Knowing (scientia), trusting (assensus) and committing (fiducia).

Why do we need to develop a Christian mind Or a biblical perspective on life, the world, on our work? Simply put, it is part of loving and following God.

William Temple: "To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God."

In the age of Google and youtube, we cannot isolate people from ideas (even dangerous ones) but we can innoculate them (giving people the tools to think for themselves or introduce these viruses so their bodies can develop an immune system)