Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tragedy Of Restlessness

By Y.Y.Yap
"The Tragedy of Restlesness" was delivered at the Headstart Leaders' Spiritual Retreat, 16-18 September 2005.

If I were to ask you to just rest and do nothing all of today, what
will you do? Grab a newspaper, turn on the TV, logon the web, maybe do some shopping or balance your accounts?

If I told you, your food & clothing for all of this year is taken care of - what will you do with your life? Book a holiday? Climb the Himalayas? Read all the books you've bought in the last year? The tragedy of our ultra-modern life is there simply is no time for rest, and even if there was - we no longer know how to.

Our culture is such that we are constantly distracted - by ads, news
flashes, SMS-es, latest movie releases, etc. We have made life so
zippingly fast-paced, that we can't catch up with ourselves any more. Anything we do, buy, read today is obsolete by the time we lay hands on it - somebody is inventing something better right now, a new discovery is being published today, the way you operate has been superceded by a smarter method.

Sadly, though we are so breathless playing catch-up trying to stay focussed we no longer know what is rest much less how to get it.

At a time when we need to recover our humanity and meaning the most, we are swept away by a tide of artificial substitutes. Hollywood, MTV, the tourism and food industry make sure of that. What entertainment and every kind of sensual indulgence offers is a quick-fix, temporary relief, fleeting moments of pleasurable but imaginary escape which leaves us only more hungry, empty and lonely than before. But then, we've got to get back to work - who has time to think about it?

In a similar situation of exhaustion and starvation, Jesus, recognising the urgent need for recovery and nourishment intervened:
'"Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while." (For
there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)

And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves. (Mark 6:31-32, NASB)'

I love the passage for what it doesn't say as much as what it does.
Jesus doesn't say, 'Go away for awhile and come back ready to work again.' He doesn't send you away only when you are fatigued beyond use, and for the sole purpose of rehabilitating the workforce. And it isn't one of those company motivation and indoctrination retreats just to make you more aggressive and productive.

The invitation is threefold: it is to 'come away' (NASB) - drawing
away/detaching ourselves from the work when it has become damaging to the soul. Work itself is not the enemy, it is when work has overtaken the heart that perspective sorely needs to be restored. There are warning signs and we must learn to recognise them.

Secondly it is to 'come with me' (NIV) - a leaving of the things that have robbed you of your inner joy and tunneled your spiritual vision, to return to the real heart, purpose and goal of our lives, Jesus.

And thirdly, for a good reason: 'they had no leisure so much as to eat' (KJV). No leisure, so much as to eat! This rendition in the KJV makes a sharp point and Maslow would be quick to point out - that if the disciples were so consumed by the work they couldn't even eat, you can imagine how spiritually and emotionally starved they must have already become.

We will explore in further sessions this important invitation. What are the things that erodes our lives, keeping us from our true identity and a growing intimacy with God?

In the face of massive opposition and danger, David says: 'One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,' but if he can't get that, he'll settle for just one day. 'Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.' (Psalm 84:10, NIV). He makes the difficult choice of choosing, like Mary, 'the better thing.'

In my final year of Masters, I suffered a serious health problem. I was so stressed from working on my final dissertation, and studying for the exit exams, and leading a church, and speaking in the student CF, I developed peptic ulcer disease that required large doses of opioids for pain-relief.

In that difficult period going through gastroscopies, ultrasounds and drug therapy - I discovered I also had gallstones and fatty deposits in the liver. I was obese, and the repressed stress had been burning away at my stomach lining. I was forced to work through the deeper issues at work.

By God's grace and much, much love from my wife and others around me, I soon realised I was chronically depressed, easily irritable, quietly bitter and prone to rage. Compulsive overeating was one of the complications of my masked depression. Coming to terms with my adrenaline addiction and stress-burnout pattern, I learnt some crucial skills for early recognition and intervention. The first few months were tough-going, subjecting myself to rigid monitoring and journaling my feelings, but in time the hard labor bore fruits of much peace, improved relationships, and best of all - I lost
20kgs of weight!

You may not have come to such serious consequences of stress-burnout in your life, but we all need to learn the skills of recognizing it, hearing Jesus' invitation to 'come away' and give ourselves permission to rest. We need to move from denial, through anger (blaming everyone else for our restlessness), to acceptance (that we need rest), to change (taking responsibility for getting rest.)

For Reflection and dialog:
1. Have you suffered burnout recently?
2. What steps led to it? What were its consequences for you?
3. Were there early signs of stress and burnout for you?
4. What steps do you need to take to 'give yourself permission' to rest - do you have difficulty doing that?

FAQ: Homosexuality

"Roland Chia addressed some common FAQs on this hot issue in 'Questions and Answers on Homosexuality' published in "Church and Society in Asia Today", 2004 Volume Seven, Number One

Objection 1. The Bible does not condemn all homosexual relationships but only those that are exploitative and promiscuous.

This viewpoint states that homosexual practices in the Greco-Roman world of Paul in the first century have to do with pederasty - sex between an adult male and an adolescent boy. It states that it is this exploitative form of homosexuality that the New Testament condemns.

This objection cannot be supported by the Scripture passages (in both Testaments) that deal with homosexuality. This is simply because in all these passages homosexual practices are rejected without specifying the age of the participants. Furthermore, the rejection of lesbianism in Romans 1:26 shows that what is referred to here and elsewhere is not just pederasty but all forms of homosexual relationships since lesbianism in the ancient world was not confined to pederasty alone. The argument that the biblical passages on homosexuality are irrelevant to the contemporary world because they have to do with pederastic forms of homosexuality is therefore untenable.

Objection 2. Since the Bible does not talk about the idea of a ‘homosexual orientation’ same-sex passion was thought to have originated in over-sexed heterosexuals and therefore condemned.

This viewpoint states that since modern society does not regard homosexuality as originating from insatiable heterosexual lust, we should not condemn homosexuality in our society.

Some scholars interpret Romans 1 on the basis of this theory. According to this approach, in Romans 1, Paul was not condemning homosexuals but perverse heterosexuals who have sexual relations with members of their own sex because of their insatiable lust. This reinterpretation of the Biblical passages does not stand up to careful scrutiny. In Romans 1:26 Paul refers to females who "exchanged" sexual
intercourse with men for intercourse with other females, and to men who "abandoned" sex with women for sex with men. The word "abandon" implies that these males were exclusively oriented to other males. It weakens the argument that Paul was exclusively referring to the homoeroticism of heterosexual males and not to homosexual acts in general.

Thus, there is no evidence that Paul saw homoeroticism as excessive heterosexual passion and had opposed homosexual practices of this sort.

Paul was not referring to certain individuals. He was speaking generally, and therefore was making the point that all homosexual acts are against nature. Furthermore the source of homoeroticism is not the main part of Paul’s opposition to homosexual intercourse. The reason for his opposition is that such practices are unnatural, meaning that they fail to conform to God’s design of heterosexual relationship within monogamous marriage.

Objection 3. Since we do not follow all the injunctions of the Bible, why should those on homosexual practices be binding?

This viewpoint points out that few churches would require women to wear veils during worship as Paul requires them to in 1 Corinthians 11:1-6. Hence, not all the commands in the Bible are being followed. Why, then, should we follow the biblical teaching regarding homosexual practices?

However, the command against homosexual practices in the Bible is found in both Testaments and therefore very difficult to avoid or ignore. In both the Old and New Testaments, the forbidding of homosexuality is persuasive and absolute. There are no dissenting voices and alternative judgements on such practices. The command is absolute in the sense that it includes every form of homoerotic sexual practice without exception. As we have seen under Objection 2, it is not limited to only certain forms of exploitative homosexuality. Finally, both Testaments stress the severity of the command. In the Old Testament, those found disobeying it would be
punished by death (Lev 20:13). In the New Testament Paul places it alongside idolatry (1 Cor 6:9).

Read on for more insights on a difficult topic

NeuroScience And Christianity (I)

By Ron Choong: This 21st century has been hailed as the century of the mind. Brain/Mind studies are now the hottest subjects in both science and philosophy. I hope to persuade you that it ought to also be the hottest subject in Christian theology.

In the last 50 years, the various fields of inquiry dealing with the physical brain and its expression as the mind, has begun to converge. Disparate fields such as cognitive psychology, molecular biology, neurobiology, moral philosophy, consciousness studies and philosophy of mind, to note a few, have found themselves trampling on each other’s sacred ground. Advances in PET and fMRI technology have emboldened experimentalists to make inferences and predictions that impact our understanding of human behavior. For the first time, we are able to ‘look’ inside a living brain while it is thinking and make some crude but valuable measurements about its workings, principally its consumption rates of sugar and oxygen. Using false color imaging, we can locate areas of neuronal activity in real time. These exciting advances in technology demand equally exacting theories of science to interpret what we observe to convert knowledge into understanding. Here lies our Achilles’ heel. We are always far better at acquiring information than we are at interpreting them. This has been historically true of the revealed religions of the world. In the Christian faith, the early founders pass on what they claim to be divine revelation encoded in texts of human language. While its preservation has mostly been successful, great debates continue to rage over its precise interpretation. Thus we find in both the science of mind (neuroscience) and theological reflection of the Bible, the imperative of epistemic hermeneutics. We are concerned with making sense of what we know so that we can achieve understanding.

In this series of Neuroscience & Theology (NST) seminars, we shall explore various topics in which our increasing knowledge about how our brain works (or rather, how it may seem to work) may offer correctives to our best interpretations of what it means to be human (made in the image of God). This is not a quest for a scientific account of the Bible nor is it a theological account of neuroscience. Rather, it is an attempt to seek a convergence of understanding who we are in the light of the Christian Bible aided by responsible study of the scriptures, critical theological and philosophical reflection, and assessment of scientific inferences drawn from experimental and theoretical work in the sciences of the brain. The primary field of inquiry is theological in nature and is purpose is to achieve a better understanding of our relationship to our creator.

Central to the Christian doctrine of humanity is the claim that we were made in the image of God. Theologians have long included among the many meanings of this, the possession of moral consciousness. It is the existence and function of morality that is at the heart of the conversation between the neurosciences and theology. The method of analysis we shall follow assumes that both the modern sciences and reflective theology are different but not incompatible sources of knowledge about reality. This means that a quest to understand the human nature and our sense of morality ought to consider both what the Bible teaches about why we think as we do and what the modern sciences infer about how we think as we do.

Although theology is concerned with truth claims received by faith as true, its implications engage the world of the sciences and medical therapy. (1) Similarly, although both the basic and the social sciences are limited to explaining the biological and psychological mechanics of how moral behavior plays out, such explanations often veer towards making theological statements. (2) It is therefore important for both science and theology to be open to mutual correction when necessary, for theological reflection itself relies on the art and science of interpretation based on our reasoning strategies, which themselves are shaped by our prior understanding, control beliefs, and adoptive authorities.

Thus we note that philosophy, religion and the sciences are inextricably intertwined. Indeed, what we now call philosophy used to be called metaphysics; religion used to be under the rubric of moral philosophy; and modern science used to be called natural philosophy. In fact, no academic discipline is truly free from theological implications and no theological doctrine is free from engagement with every human sphere of cultural influence. This series of lectures seeks to examine some of the theological implications of philosophy and science as commonly misunderstood by some proponents who commit the Aristotelian ‘category mistake’ of mixing methodologies. The lesson to learn is that a responsible apologetic theology must account for the provisional but influential findings of contemporary religious philosophies and the natural sciences. This is the central concern of the Academy for Christian Thought as we minister both to those outside and inside the Church by offering a theological safe space (TSS).

Among the many issues raised by the ‘new science of mind’, as the Nobelist Eric Kandel calls it, are the characteristics of the human mind that mark us off as human:

the existence of a universal morality (3).
the reality and nature of free-will (4 ,
the location and nature of consciousness (5),
the structure and function of memory (6),
the role of experience in perception and reasoning (7),
the implications of emotions such as fear and love (8),
the process by which we make judgments (9), and

In the first of this series, we shall consider the existence of a universal morality, or a universal moral grammar, as Marc Hauser (10) calls it.

I shall post abstracts of future chapters soon, stay tuned

Friday, October 26, 2007

In Honor Of Dr David Gunaratnam

"Every church has her theologian, but not every church has a saint". That was how a Malaysian leader described Dr David Gunaratnam, the quiet, saintly elder-statesman, who recently celebrated his 70th birthday.

Rev Wong shared his "reflection on the impact of David's ministry on mentoring a young generation. His leadership is relatively a quiet one and yet impactful.

In an age where the public applauded celebrities, platform charismatic leaders, David's quiet leadership offers a new perspective and freshness of spirituality. We thank God for a man like David. He is indeed God's gift to His church."

Thanks to Kar Yong, I learnt that a new book has been published in honor of him: "The Soul of Mission: Perspectives on Christian Leadership, Spirituality and Mission in East Asia: Essays in Appreciation of Dr David Gunaratnam."

Kang San, the editor, describes the project in his introductory chapter:

"David Gunaratnam celebrates his seventieth birthday on October 3rd, 2007. In appreciation of David’s lifelong ministry to the church in Malaysia and commitment to cross-cultural mission in East Asia, a group of friends agreed to contribute a series of essays dealing with the theme of “spirituality, leadership and mission”. These three themes converged in David G’s (as David is affectionately called) life and ministry as a servant of the church, an advocate for global mission, and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Although most of the writers in this volume reflected on East Asian contexts, we hope these essays will contribute to the ongoing discussion on servanthood, mature leadership and genuine spirituality in the practice of Christian mission. The volume also offers a sampling of perspectives from both experienced mission leaders from the West and national leaders from different parts of Asia whereby issues on discipleship, suffering, leadership, growth of the church, and mission in East Asia are explored."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Four Ironies of the Cross

For those who couldn't make it for the KVBC last night, the audio sermon can be downloaded here.

Four Ironies of the Cross (sermon transcript courtesy of PreachingTodaySermons)
Text: Matthew 27:27-50
Topic: How the Crucifixion was riddled with irony
Big Idea: In his weakness on the cross, Jesus Christ revealed his greatness.

Irony has the capacity to clarify an incident and express what is important about it.

There are four ironies of the crucifixion of Christ.

The first irony of the Crucifixion is the one who is mocked as king is King.

Jesus is given a mock crown of thorns and mocked as king, but Matthew and his readers know that Jesus really is the King. Jesus stood in the royal line of the Davidic king (Matt 1) and told parables about kings in reference to himself.

The second irony of the Crucifixion is the one who is utterly powerless is transcendently powerful.
Crucifixion was the worst means of execution, reserved for slaves and rebels.
Bystanders insulted Jesus as he hung there: “Come down from the cross if you are the son of God!”

- Matthew 27:39
While Jesus was unimaginably weak, he was powerfully bringing about the destruction and resurrection of the temple.
In an attempt to explain what he means and does, Jesus told his disciples they must take up their crosses and follow him.
- Matthew 16:24

The third irony of the Crucifixion is the one who can’t save himself saves others.
Illustration: Carson’s son had a t-shirt that depicted Jesus making a save as a soccer goalie above the message “Jesus saves.” Carson felt this was in bad taste, but it raised an interesting question: What does to save mean in our culture?
Everything Jesus does is for the purpose of saving people from sin.
The reason Jesus could not save himself is that he came to do his Father’s will.

The fourth irony of the Crucifixion is the one who cries out in despair trusts God.

Jesus’s cry reflected his deepest awareness of his abandonment and his judicial bearing of our sin.

Jesus suffered like he did so we wouldn’t have to.
- Illustration: At the end of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “Cowper’s Grave” about the depressive William Cowper, she quotes Christ as saying, “My God, I am forsaken!” Hereby she illustrates that Jesus despaired so Cowper wouldn’t have to.

"Deserted! God could separate from His own essence rather;
And Adam's sins have swept between the righteous Son and Father:
Yea, once, Immanuel's orphaned cry His universe hath shaken—
It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!”

It went up from the Holy's lips amid His lost creation,
That, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation!
That earth's worst phrenzies, marring hope, should mar not hope's fruition,
And I, on Cowper's grave, should see his rapture in a vision."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ambassadors For Christ

On 4 October, I had the pleasure to address a group of vibrant, multiracial, multicultural group of students at PERKEB, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Bangi on the topic of "Christian Apologetics".

It's first time I see a student fellowship that speaks Bahasa Malaysia as the main medium, and with a large group of students from East Malaysia. It was last day of school for the semester, everyone was gearing to 'balik kampung' and in celebrative mood. Graciously Sylvana and Simon gave me a PERKEB T-shirt, it was very nice and fits like a glove (luv it!)

Wish I could share in Bahasa the next time I'm there, but here is the basic outline of sharing in English: Apologetics is not only useful in giving answers to those who ask and remove obstacles to faith. (1 Peter 3:16) It is also helpful to build a more confident, complete faith for believers.

Some may ask, “If there are reasons or proofs, where is the room for faith? If got faith, why need reasons?”

Biblical faith is not wishful thinking, but based on facts. It is beyond reason, but not against reason. It is not blind faith or intellectual suicide. Faith involves knowledge (objective), agreement and personal trust or choice/commitment (subjective).

Is the gospel only interested in what happens after death? Or is the gospel relevant to all of life, here and now also? Does it speak to every dimension of human existence – spirit, mind, body, business, music, arts, sciences, politics etc?

When was the last time you were encouraged to think Christianly as a student of law, business, information technology or education? Demonstrate the Lordship of Christ in all things.

How To Do It?

1) Doing it in conversations. Rethinking evangelism as offering propositional facts only. Don’t be an answering machine. Ask good questions like Jesus. Be a good listener. Use the power of stories.

2) Doing it in the context of trust, relationships and demonstration of the gospel.
The ultimate apologetics is love. Be sensitive to the real concern behind the question.

3) Three characteristics of a great ambassador for Christ universities and churches in Malaysia today – Knowledge (informed mind), Wisdom (artful method) and Character (attractive, winsome manner).

How do bank workers recognize counterfeit money? Not by studying the fakes, but knowing by heart how to handle the genuine article.

Only the Holy Spirit could touch a person’s heart to believe, not arguments.

But apologetics is not a competitor of God’s work of illumination, but a way in which the Holy Spirit could use in opening peoples’ eyes. It’s like the ministry of transportation, bringing someone to a ‘place’ where they can hear the gospel.

Some Possible Objections

1) We hear some people claim that “There is no absolute truth” or “You can’t never sure about spiritual stuffs”.

Perhaps, we could ask them "Is that true? Absolutely true? Are you sure about that?"

2) All religions lead to God. The trouble with the “Blind men and the Elephant

I shared with them resources from Probe, STR, AGora and Greg Koukl's Ambassador Creed:

An ambassador of Christ is…
§ Ready. An Ambassador is alert for chances to represent Christ and will not back away from a challenge or an opportunity.

§ Patient. An Ambassador won’t quarrel, but will listen in order to understand, then with gentleness seek to respectfully engage those who disagree.

§ Reasonable. An Ambassador has informed convictions (not just feelings), gives reasons, asks questions, aggressively seeks answers, and will not be stumped by the same challenge twice.

§ Tactical. An Ambassador adapts to each unique person and situation, maneuvering with wisdom to challenge bad thinking, presenting the truth in an understandable and compelling way.

§ Clear. An Ambassador is careful with language, and will not rely on Christian lingo nor gain unfair advantage by resorting to empty rhetoric.

§ Fair. An Ambassador is sympathetic and understanding towards others, and will acknowledge the merits of contrary views.

§ Honest. An Ambassador is careful with the facts and will not misrepresent another’s view, overstate his own case, or understate the demands of the Gospel.

§ Humble. An Ambassador is provisional in his claims, knowing that his understanding of truth is fallible, and will not press a point beyond what his evidence allows.

§ Attractive. An Ambassador will act with grace, kindness, and good manners and will not dishonor Christ in his conduct.

§ Dependent. An Ambassador knows that effectiveness requires joining his best efforts with God’s power.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

DA Carson on Emerging Churches in Singapore

The Ichthus Research Centre at

The Emerging Church Seminar

Speaker: Professor D.A. Carson
Date: Friday 26th October 2007
Time: 2.00-3.30 pm
Place: 4th floor, Worship Hall, Block 7
Singapore Bible College
9-15 Adam Road, Singapore 289886

Admission is free

The is held in conjunction with the Preaching Conference held in the Singapore Bible College on 26th and 27th October 2007.

more details on their website

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Can Christians "Yam Seng"?

In this special Kairos interview, Kam Weng goes head-to-head with Fong Yang (yes, he just started to blog)on "why he thinks Chinese Christians should not discard many aspects of their culture. He also suggests ways in which some of these festivals can be redeemed and celebrated."

NKW: Another cultural practice is the Chinese yam-seng at weddings. Do you think this
is an acceptable Chinese practice?

WFY: In Cantonese, yam-seng means “drink to victory.” In China, the army generals would normally drink with their soldiers the night before the battle to boost their morale. But in Malaysia and Singapore, the term has been adopted in the context of wedding celebrations. It reflects the Chinese community’s desire for success in marriage, which is a good thing. What I deplore is the drunkenness that sometimes accompanies such occasions. Most Christian couples continue the practice of yam-seng to please their parents. I don’t think Chinese Christians should replace yam-seng with “blessing”—that would be too westernized. Rather, we should affirm the Chinese aspiration for a successful marriage by the means of the traditional yam-seng. The original Chinese practice is to have three toasts: one for the married couple, one for the couple’s parents, and one for the guests.

Chinese Christians can adopt this practice by offering one toast to the couple for a happy marriage, another to the couple’s parents to honour them, and the third to the community whom the couple will need to rely on for help and support to ensure a successful marriage.

I advocate Chinese Christian couples to serve soft drinks and wine during the
wedding celebrations. I should point out that the Messianic Banquet will include wine (Isaiah 25:6; Matthew 26:29). But wine must be served in moderation. We don’t want non-Christians to accuse us of getting drunk and being no different from them. Instead of going from table to table to yam-seng, I encourage the newly married couple to get to know their guests—some of whom are distant relatives or friends of the family.

NKW: Anything else?

WFY: One other major festival is the Dumpling Festival, which is sometimes called the
Patriotic Poet Festival. The first time the festival was celebrated was in 287 B.C. Since then, it has been celebrated annually on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar.

According to legend, Chu-yuan was a loyal minister of the Kingdom of Chu. He, however, became entangled in court intrigues and due to his refusal to compromise his integrity, was banished from the imperial court. Chu-yuan then committed suicide in the river. To prevent the fishes from eating his body, the fishermen threw dumplings into the river.

The main theme of this festival is integrity, which the Bible also talks about. The
festival has a special message for politicians since Chu-yuan was an honest and loyal public servant who loved the nation. The legend also encourages the rest of us to be good citizens. Such festivals are worth celebrating.

But we need to think further how we can meaningfully celebrate this and the other
Chinese festivals. We don’t always have to look at foreign models. Within our own cultures, we already have many elements we can connect with. To be a Chinese Christian, we don’t have to throw off all our different cultural expressions and put on a ‘western garment’ instead.

Read the entire interview here

Friday, October 12, 2007

What Is The Gospel?

The Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-19)
by: D. A. Carson

"Many have commented on the fact that the church in the western world is going through a time of remarkable fragmentation. This fragmentation extends to our understanding of the gospel. For some Christians, "the gospel" is a narrow set of teachings about Jesus and his death and resurrection which, rightly believed, tip people into the kingdom. After that, real discipleship and personal transformation begin, but none of that is integrally related to “the gospel.” This is a far cry from the dominant New Testament emphasis that understands “the gospel” to be the embracing category that holds much of the Bible together, and takes Christians from lostness and alienation from God all the way through conversion and discipleship to the consummation, to resurrection bodies, and to the new heaven and the new earth.

Other voices identify the gospel with the first and second commandments—the commandments to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. These commandments are so central that Jesus himself insists that all the prophets and the law hang on them (Matthew 22:34-40)—but most emphatically they are not the gospel.

A third option today is to treat the ethical teaching of Jesus found in the Gospels as the gospel—yet it is the ethical teaching of Jesus abstracted from the passion and resurrection narrative found in each Gospel. This approach depends on two disastrous mistakes. First, it overlooks the fact that in the first century, there was no “Gospel of Matthew,” “Gospel of Mark,” and so forth. Our four Gospels were called, respectively, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” “The Gospel According to Mark,” and so forth. In other words, there was only one gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This one gospel, this message of news that was simultaneously threatening and promising, concerned the coming of Jesus the Messiah, the long-awaited King, and included something about his origins, the ministry of his forerunner, his brief ministry of teaching and miraculous transformation, climaxing in his death and resurrection. These elements are not independent pearls on a string that constitutes the life and times of Jesus the Messiah. Rather, they are elements tightly tied together. Accounts of Jesus’ teaching cannot be rightly understood unless we discern how they flow toward and point toward Jesus’ death and resurrection. All of this together is the one gospel of Jesus Christ, to which the canonical Gospels bear witness.

Read on for the rest of sermon transcript

The gospel is Christcentered, theological, biblical, apostolic, historical, personal, universal and eschatological.

Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Date: 22 to 24 October 2007 (Monday to Wednesday)
Time: 8:15 p.m. nightly
Venue: Tropicana Clubhouse, Petaling Jaya
Speaker: Don Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, USA
Free Admission

We hope to see you there! For further information, please visit our website

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul

The spiritual term ‘dark night of the soul’ is one of the most misused or abused term concerning the spiritual life by both Christians and non-Christians alike. Many Christians will describe having a negative spiritual experience, experiencing a bad life event or feeling dryness in their spiritual life as a ‘dark night’ experience. The term ‘dark night of the soul’ is like a classic literary book. Everyone has heard about it but nobody has read it!

‘The dark night of the soul’ was coined by a Carmelite monk called St. John of the Cross who lived in the 16th century. John is a Christian mystic and poet with extraordinary experiences of God and his teachings have shaped much of our understanding of spiritual theology today. The ‘dark night of the soul’ is a metaphor in which St. John describes the journey of a soul in its purification and progress towards union with God.

John of the Cross actually taught that there are four ‘nights’. They are
(1) The active night of the sense
(2) The active night of the spirit
(3) The passive night of the sense
(4) The passive night of the spirit

According to John, a new believer or beginner comes to God because of the pleasure God gives him or her. I am sure we remember the glorious day when we first became a Christian. It like falling in love. Everything is a fresh and vibrant. Every spiritual experience is pleasurable. Reading the Bible, prayer, and fellowship is a joy. God feels so real, loving and warm. John wrote that God gives new believers pleasurable spiritual experiences of the senses. This is the beginning of the spiritual life and as spiritual infants we crave for the pleasurable spiritual experiences which God is giving us. This is the active night of the sense.

Unfortunately we become addicted to these spiritual pleasures. We want more and more of these spiritual pleasures. If we do not get it, we begin to work harder to experience it. We think that by working harder at the spiritual disciplines (reading the Bible, prayer, and fellowship) we can recreate such pleasures for ourselves. This is the active night of the spirit.

During these two active ‘nights’ we have been loving God for what He can give us rather than who He is. We also believe that by our spiritual disciplines we can achieve deeper love for God (which means more pleasure). God needs to wean us off (1) our dependence on spiritual experiences, and (2) our idea that spiritual growth can be the result of our trying harder. He does this by moving us into the passive night of the sense.

The passive night of the sense is when we do not feel God’s presence. We also do not feel pleasures in spiritual experiences. It is not that God has abandoned us. He is still with us and within us. It is just we do not ‘sense’ His presence. We often call this a ‘darkness’ and describe our spiritual life as dry, arid, duty, obligation, and boring. When we are spiritual infants, God feeds us with spiritual milk by using a ‘spiritual milk bottle.’ When we are spiritually older, He starts us on a weaning diet. However, most of us still prefer the bottle. And how do we react to this? We react by looking for the presence of God. We work harder at our spiritual disciplines, attend more spiritual retreats, and even by artificially creating emotionally stirring ‘worship’ by music and choruses. Yet, we always leave empty.

It is by His ‘absence’ that the Holy Spirit is able to work to detach our spirits from their attachment to pleasurable spiritual experiences so that we can love God for who He is, not for what He can give. It is moving us from meditative to contemplative prayer. This is like a marriage. Initially a marriage is defined by the relationship of what the husband and wife can give to each other. Later it is the relationship itself. This inner work of the Holy Spirit to detach us from our attraction to spiritual experiences and worldly things is called the passive night of the spirit. It is passive because we now realise that our spiritual growth is purely by grace and not by our efforts. The dark night of the soul prepares us for union with God.

The dark night of the soul is brought by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Personally I do not think every Christian will experience this. However, I do know of some Christians who are in the ‘dark nights’ and has been for many years. How do we know we are in a dark night phase and not because we are harbouring some sins or suffering from depression? This is where a spiritual director, a mentor or a Christian counsellor will be of help. The dark night experience is painful. The person who is devoted to God cannot understand why he or she is in the dark; crushed, powerless, and abandoned. This is the final purification. The other side leads to a deep mystical union with God.

Helpful reading

Download text of The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John’s of the Cross here

Kieran Kavanaugh (ed.) (1987), John of the Cross: Selected Writings. The Classics of Western Spirituality series. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press)

R.A. Herrera (2004), Silent Music: The Life, Work, and Thought of St. John of the Cross. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans).

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Can We Do "Tai Chi"?

Dr Alex Tang wrote a good discussion on "Christian and Tai Ji Quan" (Read the entire article here):

"There are Christians who believe that Christians should not involve themselves in all types of martial arts because these martial arts have their origin from the Eastern religious traditions (Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Animism). However there are other Christians who believe that it is possible to separate the physical aspects of the martial arts from their spiritual aspects. Then the physical aspects can be practiced as a form of exercise and for self-defense. One example is taiji quan, which can be, practiced by all age groups especially the elderly. Throughout the history of the Church, there have been many examples of the Christians taking a pagan festival, removing its spiritual contents and adopting it as a Christian festival. Notable examples is Christmas (worship of Saturn by Romans and Yule festival by the Scandinavians) and Sunday (Sun God Day).

For those Christians who believe it is possible to separate the physical and spiritual aspects of taiji and embrace the physical aspects as a form of exercise, I would offer the following guidelines:

(1) Regard the graceful rhythmic movements of taiji quan as physical exercise, as one would with aerobics. Remember that our bodies are temples of God (1 Corinthians 3:16) and we are to take good care of it.

(2) Meditate on the goodness of God as you go through the various movements. Do not leave your mind blank but use the time for Christian meditation and prayer. The Bible also teaches about the need to achieve balance in our body, mind and soul.

(3) Discuss your reservations with your instructor. Find out his or her view of taiji and whether the instructor regard taiji as purely a physical exercise or religious. Avoid instructors who regard taiji as religious exercise. See what is being taught in the advance classes. Some instructors only introduce religious meditation and instructions in the advanced classes. Learn from instructors who regard taiji quan as exercise.

(4) Avoid learning in dojo or hall that have a shrine. Traditional dojo is a place devoted to religious exercises watched over by the dojo’s spirits. Open spaces like a park would be an ideal place to practice taiji.


When Paul was teaching about food offered to idols, he is teaching in a culture similar to ours (Romans 14:14-18). He taught there is nothing wrong with eating food offered to idols as long as we are convinced that it is alright. What corrupt our soul is not what we eat but what is in our hearts. However, if by eating food offered to idols will stumble a fellow Christian, then we are to avoid it. It is the same with taiji quan. If we are convinced that we can benefit from it as a physical exercise, are aware of its spiritual snares and it does not stumble our brothers and sisters then we should practice it. Let us remind ourselves that our mandate is to redeem culture and the Holy Spirit who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world."

Monday, October 01, 2007


by Pauline Jasudason

Suloshini, 14, declared to me that she is homosexual. Shocked, I asked, "Why?" little suspecting the stark tale she was about to tell.

Suloshini is the youngest in a family of four. She lives in a squatter settlement about 5 minutes' drive from the swanky Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel. Her mother is paralysed from waist down and her father died when she was three. One older brother ran away from home a long time ago and yet another is in jail, awaiting death-by-hanging for drug possession. Her eldest brother, who supports the family, physically abuses mother and sister often to vent his frustrations.

Sometimes they have no food to eat and that's when her brother will come home angry and bitter for failing to provide. Suloshini tries to stay away from home but when she does get back, her brother would be waiting...

"Whom did you spread your legs for today?" he would demand, and then proceed to beat her.

Streetwise and tough – on the outside, at least – Suloshini says in a matter-of-fact manner: "We don't need men! My girlfriends and I, we will love each other."

Hope amidst tragedy

I met her at a camp where we were teaching computer skills and reaching out to kids from welfare homes and orphanages. Some neighbours had enrolled Suloshini into such a home to escape her brother's oppression, but she felt captive and shackled by the rules of the home.

I told her to take the new environment in her stride and affirmed the strength I perceived in her. I told her to stay in school. I told her getting an education could give her a handle on life. She confessed shyly, "I've always wanted be a doctor. I want to heal my mother." I was amazed at the inextinguishable hope still flickering in the harsh winds of poverty. I told myself: stay in touch with this girl, and if nothing else, offer her friendship and a listening ear.

I cringe at Suloshini's impoverished state of existence. I cannot (even now) imagine not having all those things I take for granted: a safe place to call home, food on the table at mealtimes, and the assurance that I am loved.

Identifying with humanity

At dinner with some church youths last night, I ordered chicken curry.

"You're not fasting?" one of the teenagers asked in disbelief. They had decided to go vegan for the 40-day Lenten season. Everywhere in church there are signs that encourage reflection and sacrifice – the weekly "Way of the Cross" (meditations on the journey of Christ between his condemnation by Pilate up to his death), the palm leaves in place of flower boquets, and an increase in people attending daily services.

Simultaneously, the church's seasonal bible study materials in the first week of Lent guided us to Isaiah 58, which says, among other things: "No, the kind of fasting I want calls you to free those who are wrongly imprisoned and to stop oppressing those who work for you. Treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Feed the hungry and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as day." (Isaiah 58:3-4 & 10, New Living Translation)

"Fasting enables comfortable people to share the lot of the hungry poor, and from this hunger to look to God as the source of life and nourishment," the New Jerome Bible commentary says of this passage. It adds, "To fast and yet neglect the poor perverts religion."

People are alienated because we alienate them - both by the social structure and by looking the other way. People in need mirror how we are also poor in spirit and in need for God and one another.

An opportunity lost

The computer camp ended. November school holidays began and Suloshini was sent back to her family for the break. She ran away, and never returned to the welfare home when the new school year started. When I went around to the home in January, I was too late – she was nowhere to be found.

I have no idea where she is, I don't know if she is still in school, I don't know if she's gone back to her family.

"She will not be found if she does not want to be. She's a street-savvy kid and she knows her way around," the director of the welfare home said.

I kick myself for failing to tell Suloshini in clearer terms that I am a friend. Even with fasting or giving up small luxuries, I don't know if I can ever 'share her lot', or ever understand the grim realities of her life. Lord, help me.

Questions for reflection

Abraham Maslow, in his famous "hierarchy of needs" contends that there are five progressive layers of needs: the physiological, the needs for safety and security, the needs for love and belonging, the needs for esteem, and the need to actualise the self, in that order.

1. Who are those in need around you – at your workplace and local community? Think of individuals or homes that you can visit or talk to. Identify with them and show your interest in their lives.

2. What resources can I free up (time, money) to share with those who have less?

3. How can I respond to God's call in Isaiah to be "a light that shines out in the darkness"?

A New Kind of Urban Christians

As the city goes, so goes the culture.
Tim Keller

His speaking style is disarmingly low-key, almost professorial, but only the rarest professors make every word count the way Tim Keller does. For 16 years, he has been preaching at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, distilling biblical teaching into arrestingly simple phrases that convey the radical surprise and gracious truth of Christian faith. One such typically piquant phrase is the source of the Christian Vision Project's big question for 2006: How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good? Keller's vision of a church keenly committed to the welfare of its city attracts 4,000 worshipers each week to Redeemer's four rented locations, sends them out into many forms of charitable service through the church's ministry Hope for New York, and fuels a church-planting effort that embraces Baptists and Pentecostals as well as Presbyterians, immigrant neighborhoods as well as Manhattan. Fifty years from now, if evangelical Christians are widely known for their love of cities, their commitment to mercy and justice, and their love of their neighbors, Tim Keller will be remembered as a pioneer of the new urban Christians.

In the winter of 2006, two movies mirrored the fractured and confusing relationship between Christians and culture. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe struck fear in many secular hearts. Some journalists saw it as an ominous sign of growing right-wing power that a company like Disney would make a movie that had such profound evangelical appeal (and, arguably, content). And why did Disney pull the plug on the gay-friendly TV reality series Welcome to the Neighborhood? Isn't this, the pundits asked, what happens when you let Christians influence culture?

At the same time, The End of the Spear, the account of five evangelical missionaries martyred in Ecuador, upset some Christians when it was discovered that an active gay man was playing Nate Saint, the lead role in the movie. Conservative cultural commentators were divided. Some, like Eugene Veith of World magazine, urged Christians to see the movie and judge it on its artistic merits, not on the morals of its actors off screen. Others urged a boycott. Major questions about Christianity and culture were raised on hundreds of websites. What makes a movie "Christian"? Do all the actors have to be Christians? If not, which kinds of sinners are allowed, and which are not? Is spiritual compromise inevitable when Christians try to enter mainstream cultural production?

The relationship of Christians to culture is the singular current crisis point for the church. Evangelicals are deeply divided over how to interact with a social order that is growing increasingly post-Christian. Some advise a reemphasis on tradition and on "letting the church be the church," rejecting any direct attempt to influence society as a whole. Others are hostile to culture, but hopeful that they can change it through aggressive action, often of a political sort. Still others believe that "you change culture one heart at a time." Finally, many are attracted to the new culture and want to reengineer the church to modify its adversarial relationship with culture. Many in the "one heart at a time" party play down doctrine and stress experience, while some in the reengineering group are changing distinctives of evangelical doctrine in the name of cultural engagement. That is fueling much theological controversy, but even people who agree on the need for change disagree over what to do to our doctrine to reach the culture.

None of the strategies listed above should be abandoned. We need Christian tradition, Christians in politics, and effective evangelism. And the church has always contextualized itself into its surrounding culture. There are harmful excesses in every approach, however. I think that is because many have turned their specialty into a single magic bullet that will solve the whole problem. I doubt such a magic bullet exists, but just bundling them all together is not sufficient either.

Instead, we need a new and different strategy.

City Within a City

My first strategic point is simple: More Christians should live long-term in cities. Historians point out that by A.D. 300, the urban populations of the Roman Empire were largely Christian, while the countryside was pagan. (Indeed, the word pagan originally meant someone from the countryside—its use as a synonym for a non-Christian dates from this era.) The same was true during the first millennium A.D. in Europe—the cities were Christian, but the broad population across the countryside was pagan. The lesson from both eras is that when cities are Christian, even if the majority of the population is pagan, society is headed on a Christian trajectory. Why? As the city goes, so goes the culture. Cultural trends tend to be generated in the city and flow outward to the rest of society.

People who live in large urban cultural centers, occupying jobs in the arts, business, academia, publishing, the helping professions, and the media, tend to have a disproportionate impact on how things are done in our culture. Having lived and ministered in New York City for 17 years, I am continually astonished at how the people I live with and know affect what everyone else in the country sees on the screen, in print, in art, and in business.

I am not talking about the "elite-elites"—the rich and famous—but about the "grassroots-elites." It is not so much the top executives that make MTV what it is, but the scores of young, hip creatives just out of college who take jobs at all levels of the organization. The people who live in cities in the greatest numbers tend to see their values expressed in the culture.

Do I mean that all Christians must live in cities? No. We need Christians and churches everywhere there are people! But I have taken up the call of the late James Montgomery Boice, an urban pastor (at Philadelphia's Tenth Presbyterian Church) who knew that evangelical Christians have been particularly unwilling to live in cities. In his book Two Cities: Two Loves, he argued that evangelicals should live in cities in at least the same percentage as the general population. If we do not, we should not expect much influence in society.

Once in cities, Christians should be a dynamic counterculture. It is not enough for Christians to simply live as individuals in the city. They must live as a particular kind of community. Jesus told his disciples that they were "a city on a hill" that showed God's glory to the world (Matt. 5:14-16). Christians are called to be an alternate city within every earthly city, an alternate human culture within every human culture, to show how sex, money, and power can be used in nondestructive ways.

Regarding sex, the alternate city avoids secular society's idolization of sex and traditional society's fear of it. It is a community that so loves and cares for its members that chastity makes sense. It teaches its members to conform their bodily beings to the shape of the gospel—abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within. Regarding money, the Christian counterculture encourages a radically generous commitment of time, money, relationships, and living space to social justice and the needs of the poor, the immigrant, and the economically and physically weak. Regarding power, Christian community is visibly committed to power-sharing and relationship-building between races and classes that are alienated outside of the body of Christ. The practical evidence of this will be churches that are increasingly multiethnic, both in the congregations at large and in their leadership.

It will not be enough for Christians to form a culture that runs counter to the values of the broader culture. Christians should be a community radically committed to the good of the city as a whole. We must move out to sacrificially serve the good of the whole human community, especially the poor. Revelation 21-22 makes it clear that the ultimate purpose of redemption is not to escape the material world, but to renew it. God's purpose is not only saving individuals, but also inaugurating a new world based on justice, peace, and love, not power, strife, and selfishness.

So Christians work for the peace, security, justice, and prosperity of their city and their neighbors, loving them in word and in deed, whether they believe what we do or not. In Jeremiah 29:7, Israel's exiles were called not just to live in the city, but also to love it and work for its shalom—its economic, social, and spiritual flourishing. The citizens of God's city are the best possible citizens of their earthly cities.

This is the only kind of cultural engagement that will not corrupt us and conform us to the world's pattern of life. If Christians go to urban centers simply to acquire power, they will never achieve cultural influence and change that is deep, lasting, and embraced by the broader society. We must live in the city to serve all the peoples in it, not just our own tribe. We must lose our power to find our (true) power. Christianity will not be attractive enough to win influence except through sacrificial service to all people, regardless of their beliefs.

This strategy (if we must call it that) will work. In every culture, some Christian conduct will be offensive and attacked, but some will be moving and attractive to outsiders. "Though they accuse you … they may see your good deeds and glorify God" (1 Peter 2:12, see also Matt. 5:16). In the Middle East, a Christian sexual ethic makes sense, but not "turn the other cheek." In secular New York City, the Christian teaching on forgiveness and reconciliation is welcome, but our sexual ethics seem horribly regressive. Every non-Christian culture has enough common grace to recognize some of the work of God in the world and to be attracted to it, even while Christianity in other ways will offend the prevailing culture.

So we must neither just denounce the culture nor adopt it. We must sacrificially serve the common good, expecting to be constantly misunderstood and sometimes attacked. We must walk in the steps of the one who laid down his life for his opponents.

The Worldview of Work

There is another important component to being a Christian counterculture for the common good. Christians should be a people who integrate their faith with their work. Culture is a set of shared practices, attitudes, values, and beliefs, which are rooted in common understandings of the "big questions"—where life comes from, what life means, who we are, and what is important enough to spend our time doing it in the years allotted to us. No one can live or do their work without some answers to such questions, and every set of answers shapes culture.

Most fields of work today are dominated by a very different set of answers from those of Christianity. But when many Christians enter a vocational field, they either seal off their faith and work like everyone else around them, or they spout Bible verses to their coworkers. We do not know very well how to persuade people of Christianity's answers by showing them the faith-based, worldview roots of everyone's work. We do not know how to equip our people to think out the implications of the gospel for art, business, government, journalism, entertainment, and scholarship. Developing humane, creative, and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel can be part of this work. The embodiment of joy, hope, and truth in the arts is also part of this work. If Christians live in major cultural centers in great numbers, doing their work in an excellent but distinctive manner, that alone will produce a different kind of culture than the one in which we live now.

Jewish society sought spiritual power, while Greek society valued wisdom (1 Cor. 1:22-25). Each culture was dominated by a hope that Paul's preaching revealed to be an idol. Yet only in Christ, the true "wisdom of God" for Greeks and the true "power of God" for Jews, could their cultural storylines find a happy ending. The church envisioned in this article attracts people to Christianity by showing how Christ resolves our society's cultural problems and fulfills its cultural hopes. "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength."

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