Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The Lims, have experienced deep pain and sorrow the last few years. We have had three funerals in less than two years with the last two merely six months apart. My beloved brother, mentor, and friend, Nian, passed away on April 10th and his beloved wife followed barely six months later.
Lay See fought bravely, valiantly, courageously to live for the sake of her daughters whom she literally loved more than life itself. She underwent chemotherapy, willingly gone through painful procedures so that she may be around to love, guide, protect her precious daughters now that Nian is no longer around.
Ultimately she could not sustain the fight. Her spirit was willing but her body was too battered, bruised and weary. She went home to glory, to be with the Lord with the blessings of her beloved daughters.
As uncles and aunties our hearts are broken for our beloved nieces. Debbie, Rachel, Eunice. We do not know what to say that can be of comfort to you, but we do know what we want to do. We want to love you and we want to assure you that you will always be special to us. You will always be welcome in our homes and we will want always to look out for you. We will follow your careers, your lives, your ups and downs with great interest. We will log in to your face books on a regular basis (that is if you first approve us as friends!)
The Seremban Gospel Chapel has also gone through what the church fathers called the ‘dark night of the soul’. Two distinguished, godly and caring elders have gone home to be with the Lord within six months. And this after much fervent, believing, persevering prayers have been made for them.
It does seem that the heavens are silent and God has chosen to be absent and that we mere mortals are left to fend for ourselves the best way we can.
Many over the years can identify with these feelings of abandonment. I suppose one of the most documented painful periods of recent history must be that of the Jewish holocaust where six million men, women and children were put to death by the Nazis in WW II, simply because they were members of the wrong race.
One of the most articulate spokesman of this dark era, has been Ellie Wiesel author of the book, aptly named Night. His whole family was captured by the Nazis and sent to their death camps. He and his father were eventually separated from his mother and sisters in the death camps. This is his horrifying account.
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.
Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.
“ I glanced at my father. How he had changed! ... The night was gone. So much had happened within such a few hours that I had lost all sense of time. When had we left our houses? And the ghetto? And the train? Was it only a week? One night—one single night?
God is not lost to Wiesel entirely. During the hanging of a child, which the camp is forced to watch, he hears someone ask: Where is God? Where is he? Not heavy enough for the weight of his body to break his neck, the boy dies slowly and in agony. Wiesel files past him, sees his tongue still pink and his eyes clear, and weeps.
“Behind me, I heard the same man asking: Where is God now?
And I heard a voice within me answer him: ... Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows.
„Shortly after the hanging, the other inmates celebrate Rosh Hashanah, by blessing the Lord. the Jewish New year, but Weisel cannot take part.
“ Blessed be God's name? Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled. Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? Because He kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabbath and the Holy Days? Because in His great might, He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many other factories of death? How could I say to Him: Blessed be Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers end up in the furnaces? ... But now, I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man.
Did Jesus create the death camps and rejoice in the deaths of his people?
John 11.11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."
12His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." 13Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, 15and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."
16Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
Jesus Comforts the Sisters
17On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18Bethany was less than two miles[a] from Jerusalem, 19and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21"Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
23Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
24Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
25Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
27"Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ,[b] the Son of God, who was to come into the world."
28And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you." 29When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34"Where have you laid him?" he asked.
"Come and see, Lord," they replied.
36Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"
The NIV translation, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled (v. 33), is common among English translations, but it does not do justice to the language. The word for deeply moved (embrimaomai) can be used of snorting in animals (for example, Aeschylus Seven Against Thebes 461) and in humans refers to anger (Beasley-Murray 1987:192-93). The second word, troubled (tarasso), is literally "troubled himself" (etaraxen heauton). So a better translation would be, "became angry in spirit and very agitated" (Beasley-Murray 1987:192-93).
Jesus is angry at death itself and the pain and sadness it causes evident in the wailing (Westcott 1908:2:96; Brown 1966:435; Michaels 1989:203). Thus, his anger at death itself and the reign of terror it exercises. Anger at death that takes the best and godliest from us. Angry that death takes from us that which is most vulnerable and helpless. Angry that death should find it necessary so often to inflict so much pain, suffering and indignity on those we love before finally silencing them forever.
Jesus knew what it was like to be abandoned, forsaken, forgotten and stripped of all dignity :
Mt 27.45 From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi,[c] lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"[d]
Jn19 28 (Later), knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." 29A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. 30When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
“It is finished” refers not, it is the end, I can no longer fight death. No, “It is finished” refers to the fact that death is vanquished, that with the death of Christ, death died.
My dear friends there are many questions we cannot answer this evening. There are many things we do not understand and may never understand. But if we are to be angry, this evening, let us be angry with death, with sin and corruption and evil that leads to death but not at Jesus. For he too hated death. And for that reason he died, friendless, rejected, alone, abandoned in extreme physical, mental and emotional pain.
He died, that death may not reign and have the final say. Instead, death may be slain and we can triumphantly say:
54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
55"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"
56The sting of death is sin, and the power
of sin is the law.
Nian, the husband died on a good Friday- when Jesus died, death died (– John Owen – The death of death in the death of Christ)
Lay See died on Sunday – a special day for Christians. Before that the Jews worship on the Sabbath, which is Saturday. But we Christians changed it to Sunday – because Christ was resurrected on the Sunday.
Good Friday – death died. Sunday - new resurrection life so that death, sorrow, suffering, pain will never have the last and final say.
THERE IS A HOPE
by Stuart Townend and Mark Edwards
Copyright (c) 2007 Thankyou Music.
There is a hope that burns within my heart,
That gives me strength for ev'ry passing day;
a glimpse of glory now revealed in meager part,
Yet drives all doubt away:
I stand in Christ, with sins forgiv'n;
and Christ in me, the hope of heav'n!
My highest calling and my deepest joy,
to make His will my home.
There is a hope that lifts my weary head,
A consolation strong against despair,
That when the world has plunged me in its deepest pit,
I find the Saviour there!
Through present sufferings, future's fear,
He whispers, "Courage!" in my ear.
For I am safe in everlasting arms,
And they will lead me home.
There is a hope that stands the test of time,
That lifts my eyes beyond the beckoning grave,
To see the matchless beauty of a day divine
When I behold His face!
When sufferings cease and sorrows die,
and every longing satisfied,
then joy unspeakable
will flood my soul,
For I am truly home.
May my life be always defined by a hope that is rooted firmly in the truth of Your glorious resurrection. May my current sufferings remind me that though I am in this world, I am called by You to embody a vision of life as You would have it. May I always look ahead, knowing that by Your grace alone, You will indeed lead me safely home.
Friday, October 09, 2009
She went on, “ We teach them the doctrine of God and that God is trustworthy and in sovereign control not only of our lives but the universe. Yet issues of trust and dependence upon God remain a major problem. What they were taught and how they live do not seem connected.”
I thought about her comments long after our time of fellowship was over. Why the disconnect between theology and experience? We teach that God is loving, merciful and compassionate. Yet for many, the dominant experience of God is that of fear. Mike Mason articulates this feeling well. In his book, Practising the Presence of People he wrote:
“For years I had believed in Jesus, worshipped Him, followed Him, even loved Him. But I had never felt we were friends. He was someone who kept me on edge, not someone with whom I could completely relax. Whenever I came to Him, I always felt bad for all the ways my life didn’t measure up. Like Peter, I would say in fear, “go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!” In a sense, instead of inviting Jesus into my life, I kept telling Him to go away. I knew I wasn’t good enough for Him and never would be.”
Mike Mason knows all the right theology. He knows that it is wrong for him to make himself acceptable before Jesus would receive him. The basis of his relationship and indeed ‘friendship’ with Jesus is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Yet knowing that he was saved by Jesus, did not make him feel safe with Jesus. Again we see here the disconnect between theology and experience.
This led me realise that our feeling, our experience is a truer barometer of our belief system than our ability to rationally spout out our theology. Our head tells us that God loves us and is for us and not against us. Our feeling or emotion tells us “ I am not so sure about that!”
The reason is that very often our memories of God’s dealing with folks we know and folks that we love tell us that God has abandoned them. Our prayers for deliverance, for healing, for help were ignored. These memories forged out of a myriad of experiences, then create the theology we really believe in our hearts. What we really believe is that “ God is not for us but against us.” But this belief is embedded in us so subliminally that we are not conscious of it at all. Most of us would recoil in horror and despair if this is pointed out to us. But our feeling, our emotion or better still, our heart do not lie to us. What we really believe in our heart of hearts may not be what we believe in our head.
Similarly, our memories of how people treat us, especially key authority figures like fathers, teachers, pastors may distort our understanding of who God is. If our father is a stern, distant and authoritarian figure, then our mental picture we have of God our heavenly father is the same!
Hence lecturers in bible seminaries cannot just teach correct theology. Even though the theology we teach is firmly grounded and faithful to Scripture. Like the Puritan pastors in 17th century England, we must also be ‘physician of the soul’. We must not only teach our students, we must pastor them and know what is in their hearts.
How do good people turn evil? How do nice boys turn evil? Calvinists will point to their understanding of the total depravity of man and say that all mankind have sinned and there is no such thing as an intrinsically good man. Granted that this is true, we still need to ask, why do born again Christians, generally regarded as good people still commit moral lapses, still sin and do evil? Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University asked a fundamental question: “ How well do we really know ourselves, how confident can we be in predicting what we would or would not do in situations we have never encountered. Could we, like God’s favourite angel, Lucifer, ever be led into the temptation to do the unthinkable to others?”
As Christians we ask the question: “Can born again Christians be swept up with an evil regime like Nazi Germany and cooperate with them to kill innocent Jews?” Zimbardo, did a pioneering study examining the ways good people can turn evil. In his famous Stanford Prison Experiment he got students( arbitrarily chosen) to play the role of guards or prisoners. The reason for the experiment is to “ better understand the mentality of prisoners and correctional staff, as well as to explore what were the critical features in the psychological nature of any prison experience.” In his experiment, he discovered that ‘situations matter’.
Writing about the Stanford experiment In his book, The Lucifer Effect, he noted that ‘within certain powerful social settings, human nature can be transformed ....(for e.g. ) good people suddenly becoming perpetrators of evil as guards or pathologically passive victims as prisoners in response to situational forces acting upon them’. Zimbardo argues that the situations and the systems within which people operate are as much responsible for the evil perpetuated (say, guards in a prison environment) as the individual guards themselves. Zimbardo emphasizes that ‘systems provide the institutional support, authority, and resources that allow Situations to operate as they do.”
This understanding is not new. Much research had been done in the past and a large body of evidence in social psychology supports the concept that situational power triumphs over individual power in given contexts. Zimbardo points out however that “ most psychologists have been insensitive to the deeper sources of power that inhere in the political, economic, religious, historic, and cultural matrix that defines situations and gives them legitimate or illegitimate existence.
A full understanding of the dynamics of human behaviour requires that we recognise the extent and limits of personal power, situation power, and systemic power.” Not allowing for such an understanding, whenever abuses occur in any given situations, the blame is then placed solely on the individuals perpetrating the evil, be they prison guards, or corrupt officials. The reason put forward for the abuse is the existence of a few individual “bad apples”. The system itself or the situation plays no part. Zimbardo argues strongly that while individuals must accept responsibility and personal culpability, a dysfunctional and corrupt system produces situations or environments in which corrupt and evil acts perpetuated by individuals are bound to occur.
This is what happened in his Stanford University Experiment. Given a lot of leeway and little direct supervision by the system, ( Zimbardo himself) ordinary students in a situation where they get to exercise enormous powers playing their role as guards inevitably abused their power over their fellow students playing their roles as prisoners. In the same way we can see how politically a corrupt national system of governance allows situations to degenerate to such an extent that corruption or abuse of power and authority by individuals within the system will occur as a matter of course. This is documented in Africa with Somalia and Zimbabwe as the best known example of failed states. Zimbardo puts it simply, “ Bad systems, create bad situations create bad apples create bad behaviours, even in good people.
Using Zimbardo’s insights may help us better understand why pastors of mega churches fall morally so often and so spectacularly. The system in which these pastors operate in values success (interpreted in terms of size of congregation, how large the budget is, how big and impressive the building and on how often they appear on national radio, TV and magazines) and rewards success exceeding well. At the same time the system encourages CEO type aggressive independent leadership where entrepreneurship and not accountability or team leadership is emphasised. This creates situations in which the pastors are almost a law to themselves. As long as they deliver, in terms of mesmerising messages and the numbers of members keep on increasing, they are free to do what they are “led by the Holy Spirit” to do.
Inevitably within such settings, the pastors are influenced negatively and moral lapses occur! When these pastors fall ( and mega pastors are not the only ones who fall!) we tend put the blame squarely on the pastors themselves. Granted, the pastors are individually accountable and personally responsible for their moral lapses. But not enough attention has been put on the system and the situations that the system produces. This remains a blind spot and that is why pastors of mega churches continue to fall with depressing regularity. We can take these basic tools of systems, situations and individuals to diagnose why certain churches fall out with their pastors regularly too. Or why certain churches seemed always to be heading for spilt every so often.
However potent as these combined forces of system and situation are, Zimbardo in his research discovered that there are some individuals who did not conform to the system. Who stood against the system and who did not allow the situations they were in to dictate what they do. Often at great cost to themselves they disobeyed and went against organisational authority when they felt that what they were asked to do were unethical and evil. Zimbardo called these people heroes who succeeded in resisting situational influences. We recall the anonymous man who stood up against the might of the Chinese tanks during the Democracy Movement at Tiananmen Square in Beijing , in 1989. The whistle blower that blew the cover of Enron also deserves an honourable mention. I wonder in Malaysia whether Lim Guan Eng, who went to prison defending a young Malay woman can also be regarded as a hero.
If there is such a thing as the “banality of evil”, is there also such a thing as the banality of heroism? There will be if each Christian were to live out his or her calling to be a disciple of Christ. And if each local church is faithful to its witness to Christ. It is helpful and encouraging for us to know that we in the church have the theology and the pastoral wisdom to deal with sin and evil. As Christians we acknowledge our own personal fallenness. We also recognise the existence of a personal malevolent devil who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom it can devour.
Our fight is also against principalities and powers, not just human sin and weaknesses. Therefore we have a realistic view of sin and evil. On the positive side we thank the Lord for the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our lives making us a new creation. Under the power and enabling of the Spirit, we can not sin. However and this is where Zimbardo is most helpful, the fight against sin and evil is not strictly limited to personal spiritual warfare. It is also a war against institutionalised systems and situations mired in sin, and against worldviews and value systems.
It is a spiritual warfare that we cannot wage alone, but in the context of accountable relationships, rooted in meaningful relationships in a community deeply committed to the Lordship of Christ. A community of God’s people that is committed to create an alternative system. One that seeks seriously to reflect the holiness, the righteousness, the love and mercy of God. A people who are daily renewed by the Word of God. And weekly by corporate worship which spills over into daily costly obedience in personal, family, work and society. A community that is not afraid to evaluate and critique its own system and to examine the system’s effect on situations and individual behaviour. If these were to take place, heroic persons and heroic living will indeed be banal!
Andy Stanley on How Leaders Make Their Mark
Andy Stanley opened Catalyst 09 with an illustration from the Ridley Scott movie, Kingdom of Heaven. In this movie, set in the medieval Crusades, the blacksmith has a phrase inscribed in his shop in Latin: “What man is a man who does not leave the world better?”
Andy then set up this tension: If you have the leadership gift, you want to make a mark, to leave the world better. But you won’t know your legacy, even your greatest mistake, until years later. The defining moment will happen when you don’t know it’s happening. So the problem/challenge for leaders is you don’t know the thing you’ll do that will make the biggest difference.
What to do? Andy drew insights from the Book of Joshua:
When Joshua enters the Promised Land, he is on the verge of making his mark. The incident that I believe marked Joshua is when he's a couple of days out from attacking the city of Jericho. In Joshua 5:13, Joshua saw a man in front of him with a drawn sword. Joshua asks him, "Are you for us or against us?" The man (angel) answers, "Neither. No." In effect, he's speaking for God: “I have not come to be a part of your story; I’ve come to see if you’re willing to play a part in my story.”
Later, when Joshua was 110 years old, he addresses the nation and says (23:8), “Cling to the Lord your God as you have done this day. … Take diligent heed to yourselves to love the Lord Your God…. Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Why this is so challenging to me: I would like to think that at the end of your life you will be able to look back and see that you have made your mark. To be able to love the Lord your God and to say to the generation behind, “There is no greater thrill and joy in the world than to lean your leadership gift into the will of God for your life.”
I learned from my father, “God takes full responsibility for the life wholly devoted to Him.” Even when he was literally punched in the face during a church conflict, even when he was verbally attacked, he devoted himself to God.
Be consumed not with who’s for me or against me but whom I’m for. That brings freedom:
Thy will be done, thy kingdom come.
Making our mark isn’t worth our life. Living to make my mark is too small a thing to give my life to. But to be positioned to be open to whatever God wants to do through me, IS something worth giving your life to.Honesty time: Are you energized by making your mark, or devoting yourself to God, allowing Him to do His work in and through you?
(An Out of Ur article by Andy Stanley)
Friday, November 30, 2007
Gospels or Christmas fairy tales? What’s the difference?
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago in a faraway land, there lived a king and his beautiful queen. The queen had everything she wanted, yet she remains desperately unhappy. For she could not conceive and she grows older year by year. At this time of the year, it was customary for the queen’s fairy godmother to visit the royal family…..
We know straight away that this is fairy tale. When we read fairy tales we put our normal, hard nosed, objective, scientific world view aside. To enter into a magical land of princes and princesses, fairy godmothers and evil witches, dragons and goblins. Where magical beings cast spells that make the impossible, possible.
Now read Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. Doesn’t it sound very much like a fairy tale? A young teenage girl is visited by an angel and she is told that she is to give birth to a son even though she is a virgin. Aren’t angels the Jewish equivalent of Han Christian Andersen’s fairies and fairy godmothers? The fact that the teenage girl is a virgin and yet she is to give birth to a baby seemed to set the scenario for fairy godmothers to cast their spells to make the impossible, possible. Aren’t we asked to put aside reasonable objections and enter into a fantasy world where angelic beings exist and virgins give birth to children?
The gospels are rooted in history
If we compare a typical fairy tell with the gospel records, we immediately see a basic and intrinsic qualitative difference. Fairy tales make no attempt to root their stories in history. In a fairy tale, the year is not specified. The reign of the king cannot be verified historically. The magical kingdom cannot be located on any map.
In contrast the gospels are rooted in history. Consider Luke’s careful introduction in Luke 1:
1Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, 2just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
As Luke later records the story of an elderly priest and his wife, notice the rich personal, historical, political and geographical details that he provides:
In the time of Herod king of
Similarly, Luke tells us that Mary came from the
Throughout his Gospel and in Acts, Luke gives us a plethora of specific names of actual persons, towns, countries, political systems. All of which can be checked objectively for accuracy.
The gospel makes a reasonable case for what it records.
The fairy tales make no attempt to convince us through facts or reasoning that fairies exist and they can do magic. The suspension of logic and reasoning is the whole point of fairy tales and fantasies.
Admittedly the angel Gabriel’s prophesy of a virgin birth is difficult to verify. We only have the testimony of Mary and Joseph. Their righteous and upright characters can be attested by those who know them. But the pregnancy of a woman who has yet to be married, must surely work against their testimony. Who will believe their story of a miraculous virgin birth? Surely it cannot be reasonable. For no virgin woman in history has ever given birth. Should we then just believe? Just as when we read fairy tales?
Note however the way Luke tells his story. He does not begin immediately with the virgin birth of Jesus. Instead, Luke begins with Gabriel’s prophesied birth of John the Baptist to
So when Luke went on to record the angel Gabriel’s prophecy about the virgin birth it is not so incredulous, so fairy tale like after all. If God could make a barren elderly woman give birth miraculously, he could enable a virgin to give birth miraculously too. It is therefore reasonable for us to conclude with Luke that “nothing is impossible with God”. It is possible for a Virgin to give birth.
This was precisely the answer that the angel Gabriel gave to Mary’s perplexed question:
Lk 1. 34"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
35The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37For nothing is impossible with God."
Faith and Reason
One of the gospel writers’ chief purpose is to lay reasonable grounds for us to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the longed for Messiah and our Saviour. Right from the beginning the gospels challenge us to ask, “ who is this man?”. The gospel records show us that Jesus is no ordinary man. Consider, the following facts. The gospels tell us His birth was prophesied. His birth was miraculous. The gospels record that Jesus had authority over the spiritual world. Demons had to obey his commands. The winds and waves, powerful forces of nature were stilled at his word. The sick were healed and the dead came alive again. All these incidents were verified by witnesses who were still living when the gospels were written. In the light of all these, the gospel writers ask us, isn’t it reasonable for us to believe that Jesus is who he says he is. God himself?
Faith and reason are not in antithesis to one another. We are not to put on our critical thinking hats in the seminaries and bible colleges. Only to put that off, and put on our faith hats in church or when speaking to church members.
Don’t get me wrong. Faith is still required. Luke could only put forward a reasonable case for the virgin birth. We still can insist that Mary and Joseph were lying. The numerous recorded miracles of Jesus did not convince the chief priests and religious officials to believe in him and obey him. In fact when confronted with the incontrovertible evidence of authority over demons, these religious figures attribute the miracles to be the work of Beelzebub rather than God!
However Luke and the other biblical writers do not ask us to have a blind, uncritical faith in God. Because the words and deeds of God are rooted in history, we can check their authenticity. The prophecies (Word) can be verified for accuracy and reliability. Likewise physical miracles (deeds). A man born blind can now see. A man lame from birth can now walk.
Therefore as we engage in rigorous, serious and disciplined study of God’s Word, using all our critical thinking faculties, our faith will be strengthened, not weakened. All glory to God!
 The gospel of Luke is taken as a representative of the gospels.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Festschrift for Dr David (Past Chairman, OMF, Malaysia)
(Essay in Honour of Dr David's 70th Birthday)
Evangelical spirituality or Evangelicalism has always emphasised the importance of the cross. Indeed John Stottargued that “the cross is at the centre of the evangelical faith. Indeed….it lies at the centre of the historic, biblical faith..” Stott pointed out that JI Packer called the atoning death of Christ for sinful rebellious humanity as Evangelicalism’s distinguishing mark. (Stott 1986:7)
The apostle Paul in Philippians chapter two gives us a lovely vignette of the character, person and life of Christ :
5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus’ life was the embodiment of self-denial, sacrifice, suffering and cross bearing. As disciples of Jesus we are called to be like Christ. Luke records Jesus saying, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Lk 6.40) . Discipleship as understood by Luke in his gospel and Acts, involves “‘both a way to walk and a mission to fulfil” (Charles Talbert quoted in Wilkins 1992: 271). Discipleship means to follow Jesus and become like him in the totality of our life. It involves the whole person, what we do and who we are. When Jesus called men and women to follow him, he warned them to consider what Wilkins calls “the twin prerequisites of discipleship – cost and cross”. There is a cost to pay and a cross of suffering to bear. Luke’s gospel records many such “cost and cross passages”. (Wilkins, 1992:217)
Consider the following verses:
(Cost, Cross) "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Lk 9.23).
(Cost )"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. (Lk 14.26)
(Cost) He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 60Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the
However, difficulties arise when we try to faithfully apply the teachings of the above passages. Wilkinsin his seminal study on discipleship pointed out that
these cost and cross messages in the Gospels are some of the most difficult passages in Scripture to understand rightly. He goes on to say:
“when we try to apply Jesus’ challenge to count the cost, we often struggle with going to extremes. Some people emphasise counting the cost so strongly that they have been accused of advocating ‘works salvation.’ Some people who do not include any challenge to count the cost have been accused of advocating ‘easy believism’. (Wilkins 1992: 220)
Young people (below the age of 30)(Buster generation) have often complained to me as their pastor about the older folk’s (the booster generation also known as silent or builder generation in the States), someone born between 1927 and 1945, Dr David’s vintage) severe and even harsh demands on them. They claim that discipleship as understood by the booster generation is arguably more demanding and more narrow than biblically warranted. Pose them the question, “Should Christians emigrate” and the answer inevitably would be a resounding no!
“Is discipleship always about suffering and taking the least attractive option? Given a choice must a Christian always choose the harder and more sacrificial option? Is there no place for a theoretical chemist, a nuclear physicist, a brilliant pianist and the like, to emigrate so as to find a happy niche to pursue his or her career in a developed country? (see Hwa Yung2007: 20)
Let me try to flesh out some of the problems, young people face with the Gospels’ cost and cross passages as they seek to follow God’s will in their choice and place of career. Consider the following fictitious case study:
A young man (from the busters generation, born between 1965 and 1983) fresh from his PhD studies in Theology from
The first man he asked for counsel come from the booster generation (someone born between 1927 and 1945).
“Simple, young man. Go to where the need is more serious”, was the older man’s counsel.
To which the young man replied, “ But the need in both seminaries is serious. The one in
“Young man, the seminary in the developed world will always be able to attract intelligent, gifted men and women. Not so many man or woman would be so willing to go teach in the third world seminary. You take the harder road, the road less travelled. After all the Lord said, ‘ "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”. (Lk 9.23). In addition ponder upon these verses (and he goes on to quote the passages above)
Still not quite satisfied, our young man sought out another respected mentor, someone from the baby boomers generation ( born between 1946 and 1964).
When the young man explained his dilemma, the second mentor replied,
“ What is most important is that you engaged in a ministry which allows you to best develop your gifts. Remember with your PhD, you are a specialist, you need to be in a place that allows you to pursue excellence and be an agent of change. Obviously the seminary in the
“But what about the biblical call to taking up the cross, self denial, and sacrifice?” asked the perplexed young man.
“Remember Daniel and his three friends?” replied second mentor. Opening his bible he read from Daniel chapter 1,
‘3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility- 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king's table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king's service.
6 Among these were some from
God placed Daniel and his three friends in an elitist and privileged environment. He gave them special ability to do well in their studies. They did so much better than their Babylonian rivals. They demonstrated excellence and in later years were instrumental in ensuring an efficient and corrupt free administration. God could have put them in an obscure and insignificant village. But that will be a waste of the special abilities or gifts that He had given them.” Concluded the second mentor.
Before we examine whether the counsel given to the young man, were biblically correct and acceptable, let us look at the issues at stake here.
On the surface both the booster and boomer generation respectively, will like to claim that their advice was based on scripture. Both will be surprised that their advice to the young man may be based on values, tradition and understanding of discipleship which are characteristic of their generation or socio-cultural era. This may or may not be based on a perspective and interpretation that is biblically correct. We all come to the biblical text wearing our cultural and generational biasness or lenses. This is the reason why for many years, good biblical Christians in
Here is a snapshotof the booster generation who are missionaries of the traditional school.
“The boosters were brought up in a world which had experienced the Great Depression and World War II. In both events, people endured great hardship and won through. Boosters were hardworking, single-minded, persevering, committed, frugal and willing to turn their hands to whatever needed doing for the sake of goal…..
As missionaries, boosters provided the model of missionary service still followed by traditional missionary societies today. They went out in response to a clear, firmly held sense of all to a particular country with a particular society for life, sight unseen. They were prepared to go anywhere and do anything. No sacrifice was too great for the sake of the gospel, and however great the hardship, resignation was unthinkable….” (Donavan and Myors 1997: 42,43)
In contrast, as Donavan and Myors point out :
“the baby boomers were born into material prosperity as a result of the hard work of their fathers….they were aware of the horrors rather than the glory of war – through hearing about the Holocaust and Hiroshima…..baby boomers became the protesting, questioning, pragmatic, yet idealistic generation. They hold themselves responsible for their own lives and choices and respect the right of others to do the same…..the baby boomers bring to mission specialised knowledge, skill, vision, energy and willingness for hard work. They place great importance on using their God given skills and training to the maximum to His glory. Fulfilment in their work is very important to them, as is continuing professional development. If these things are not available or do not seem likely to happen, boomers will become frustrated and discouraged and may leave the mission.” (Donavan and Myors 1997:43,44)
The defining characteristic of the booster generation is their hardiness, their commitment, their readiness to bear the cost and cross of discipleship. Theirs is a disciplined generation that says, “ No bible, no breakfast”. So their advice would inevitably be: go where the need is greatest. Imitate Christ in self denial and self sacrifice.
The boomers’ on the other hand, place a deep importance on using their God given gifts, skills and training to the maximum for God’s glory. “Fulfilment in work is very important to them, as is continuing professional development”. (Donovan and Myors 1997:44). Therefore to the boomers, being in a place where they cannot use their skills to the best makes no sense. It cannot be honouring to God. They identify such a situation with the unfaithful servant who given one talent by his master, did nothing with it. Instead, he buried it under the ground. (Mt 25.24-28) So the boomers’ advice is predictable: be in a place where you can use best use your gifts for the Lord’s glory.
These distinctive generational and socio-cultural perspectives are the lenses that the boosters and the boomers bring to their reading and understanding of Scripture. The purpose of this essay is to examine the respective generational perspectives and see whether they are in line with biblical teaching.
Arguably the most influential leaders in
The torch is now slowly but surely passing on to the baby boomers generation. Many from this generation are currently the senior pastors, and senior Christian leaders in churches, and organisations, both secular and Christian today. Their influence will rise even as that of the booster generation wane.
Therefore it is important for us to ask whether the booster generation’s emphasis on self denial, and sacrifice, is more of a generational cultural perspective rather than necessarily a biblical perspective. Conversely, has the baby boomers’ generational cultural perspective soft pedalled the biblical demands concerning the cost and cross of discipleship? Has self fulfilment taken priority over Christ centeredness?
It is important for these conflicting perspectives to be sorted out properly based on biblical principles and understanding. If not, unnecessary conflict in their understanding of the demands of discipleship between the booster generation and the baby boomers generation will hinder the progress of the Gospel.
Let us now consider the Gospels’ cost and cross passages in more detail. It is clear from the passages that there is indeed a cost and a cross to discipleship. However Wilkins argues that :
“the same cost of discipleship is not demanded for all. Jesus personalises the cost of discipleship according to what he knows are the priorities of a person’s heart. For example, the saying on hating father and mother and leaving family must be balanced with incidents such as the one involving the Gerasene demoniac. The Gerasene man, out of whom were cast a legion of demons, begged to accompany Jesus, yet Jesus redirected his attention, telling him, ‘Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you. (Mk 5.18; Lk 8.38-39). Here the person is told to go back specifically to his household and friends to tell them of Jesus. Jesus knew the heart of the person, knew what was best for the proclamation of the Gospel, and did not call the person to the same kind of ‘cost’ to which others were called. His calling was personalised in line with Jesus’ knowledge of the priorities of his life and Jesus’ intentions for him.” (Wilkins 1992: 110, italics, mine)
In consistently asking all Christians to always take on the more difficult and less travelled path, we forget that Jesus did not uniformly ask the same cost of discipleship for all his disciples. Some were asked to leave father and mother, others to stay home. Some like the rich young ruler was told to sell everything he has and give to the poor.
22When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." 23When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. 24Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the
At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mk 10.22)
But Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea who were also rich were not told to do the same. For these two men, wealth was not the issue in their lives.
Similarly to consistently advise Christians to a place where they may fully utilise their gifts may be akin to urging Christians to put self fulfilment and development above Christ. Our priorities must be the Gospel and the
In the final analysis, the Gospel’s cost and cross passages must be understood at two different levels. So far we have been concentrating on the first level which is directed to the would-be disciple of Jesus. These passages tell the would be disciple what it cost to respond to the biblical call to salvation. Which is essentially a call to the
In presenting our evangelistic message, we must make clear that there is a cost to being a disciple of Jesus. The good news of the Gospel as Grayston puts it, is not a “time-share presentation detailing the benefits. We do not pander to the ‘what’s in it for me?’ mentality of the world”. (Grayston 2007:41) It is clear that true faith means having an allegiance to Christ alone. No other allegiances must hinder a person from a life of discipleship and obedience to God. Hence no ‘idol’, be it ambition, family or personal desires for power, wealth and influence must take precedence over Christ. Christ sternly taught: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. (Mk 9.43). There is a thus a cost to pay and a cross to be carried.
The second level in which the cost and cross passages need to be understood is the continuing cost of what it means to live out the call of God upon our lives, once we are now his disciples. It is a more than a question of vocation. It involves the whole person before Christ. It asks the question, “ In all that I am, in all that I do, am I living in conformity to Christ? Am I obedient to His call and will in my life?”
Without a good and biblical understanding of call, it is difficult to properly apply the gospel’s cost and cross passages. Either we are too hard or we are too soft on ourselves. We find it hard to find the proper balance. Therefore on a personal level, the conscientious Christian may have the tendency to be harder on himself than biblically warranted. Given a situation where he is given a choice between a ‘harder’ option and an ‘easier’ option, he will always opt without much thinking for the harder option.
For in his mind, this will always please the Lord. For he fears that the easier option is a temptation to put self above Christ. Therefore in taking the harder option, he has the assurance, that he is certainly not pleasing himself. For given a choice he will choose the easier option. But amidst all this troubled soul searching, it is not pleasing the Lord which is the main motive. It is taking the easy way out in ensuring a guilt
The uncommitted Christian on the other hand as Hwa Yung so perceptively put it, “will take the path of least resistance in life, spiritually and emotionally” ( Yung 2007:23)
So how do we understand God’s call upon our lives? One of the best definitions of calling is that given by Os Guinness. Calling according to him is much more than a job or even a vocation. It involves not only what we do, but who we are, the complete person before God He writes:
Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service. (Guinness 1998: 4)
In other words, calling gives us a focused sense of purpose in our life, a reason for being not just doing a task, or a job or responsibility. A biblical purpose is always an unchanging reason for being. It holds true for you regardless of your circumstances or season of life. As Boa puts it “When a Christ-centred purpose become the focus of your life, it harmonizes all the other areas, such as family, work, finances and ministry”. Life without a transcendent source of purpose and calling would be an exercise in futility. Malcolm Muggeridge puts it well,
“It has never been possible for me to persuade myself that the universe could have been created, and we, homo sapiens, so-called, have, generation after generation, somehow made our appearance to sojourn briefly on our tiny earth, solely in order to mount the interminable soap opera, with the same characters and situations endlessly recurring, that we call history. It would be like building a great stadium for a display of tiddly-winks, or a vast opera house for a mouth-organ recital. There must, in other words, be another reason for our existence and that of the universe than just getting through the days of our life as best we may; some other destiny than merely using up such physical, intellectual and spiritual creativity as has been vouchsafed us”.
Understanding call in terms of life-purpose, life-task help us to release the full potential of Christians to serve the Lord according to their talents, gifts, burdens and passion. As Steven Covey writing in the context of secular management observes:
“when you engage in work (ministry) that taps your talents and fuels your passion that rises out of a great need in the world (church?) that you feel drawn by conscience to meet; therein lies your voice, your calling, your soul’s code”.  (Boa 2004:5)
It is therefore possible that God’s call upon our life, vocationally, may be to a place and a lifestyle that on the surface is comfortable and luxurious. Nonetheless, in God’s wisdom, it would prove strategic, effective and essential for the proclamation of the gospel. Nehemiah’s position as cup bearer to King Artaxerxes was a privileged, cushioned and influential position. So too, Daniel and his three friends. It would be a great mistake to ask Nehemiah, Daniel and his three friends to go to a small village in the Babylonian empire simply because we believe mistakenly that Christ asked us to always take the more sacrificial and less attractive option. We must not rule out the possibility that God may have placed them where they are.
On the other hand, Dr Paul Brand , a world renowned hand surgeon in his early years worked in an unknown Christian missionary leprosy hospital in
“A skilled and inventive surgeon , he pioneered tendon transfer techniques with leprosy patients, and opened up a whole new world of disability prevention and rehabilitation for the most vulnerable and helpless in society. In the late 1940s, he became the first surgeon in the world to use reconstructive surgery to correct the deformities of leprosy in the hands and feet”.
Dr Paul was highly honoured for his pioneering surgical work. Among them:
He was Hunterian Professor of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1952; in 1960 he received the Albert Lasker Award for outstanding leadership and service in the field of rehabilitation; in 1961 he was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II with a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for promotion of good relations between the Republic of India and Great Britain; in 1977 the Damian-Dutton Award for outstanding contributions in prevention of disabilities due to leprosy; and the US Surgeon General's Medallion for his rehabilitation work in Carville, LA..
He passed away in 2003. So Dr Paul Brand chose the harder, more sacrificial route in his early years as a doctor. Later he chose the ‘easier’ route and moved to
Surely not. He responded to the continuing call of God on his life. Dr Paul Brand surrendered his life to Christ. His life was like the other great Paul, the apostle who wrote:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2.20)
Henri Nouwen sums it up well:
“Whether we work in an office, travel the world, write books, make films, care for the poor, offer leadership, or fulfil unspectacular tasks, the question is not ‘What do I most want?’ but ‘What is my vocation?’ The most prestigious position in society can be an expression of obedience to our call as well as a sign of our refusal to hear that call, and the least prestigious position, too, can a be a response to our vocation as well as a way to avoid it.” (Nouwen 1996:77)
It is thus helpful to realize that Jesus personalized the cost of discipleship according to each individual. One person’s weakness is another person’s strength. Our Lord and Shepherd knows our hearts intimately and he personalizes His call accordingly. We cannot demand the cost of discipleship to be the same, on all and sundry. In addition, a proper understanding of calling will help us to better evaluate the insights, the strengths and weaknesses of the booster and boomers generation understanding of the cost and cross messages of the Gospels. If we clearly understand God’s will or calling for us, then we must be prepared to pay whatever cost Christ may have for us. We must be willing to bear whatever cross He may have for us.
Christ may send us to an impoverished third world country. A country without proper medical care, running water or electricity. Where it is a severe trial just to carry out we routine daily chores, like cooking and washing. But at the same time, it may be a place where the people are responsive and seek the Lord with great fervour. Or He may send us to a place where we have access to the best medical care and every possible modern conveniences. But where the people are cold and hardened against the gospel. Conversely, Christ may send us to a place that is modern, developed and where the people are zealous and hungry for the Lord!
In the end, however, the cost of discipleship to each individual is the same for all true disciples of Christ. We are to completely surrender our lives to the Lord. To go where He send us without question. For finally: “The cost of discipleship is one’s own life”. (Wilkins 1992: 218).
 Stott, John. The Cross of Christ.
 Wilkins, Michael Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship,
 However I am not suggesting in any way that Dr David subscribes fully to the Booster generation’s worldview. In his advice to young and old, he seeks prayerfully to discover the will of God together with whoever is seeking his counsel. He certainly doesn’t give un-reflected standard advice.
 Yung, Hwa, "Should Christian Emigrate," Understanding the Modern World Through Modern Eyes, October 2007, Kairos Publications
 Consider the Pauline theme of equality within the social structure in Gal 3.28; 1 Cor 12.13; Col 3.11
 See Kath Donovan, Myors, Ruth, "Reflections on Attrition in Career Missionaries: A Generational Perspective into the Future," in Too Valuable to Lose, ed. William D. Taylor (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1997).
 We think of Rev Peter Young, David Boler, Rev Loh Soon Choy, Elena and Harold Cooke and others like them. Dr David himself was the first chairman of the OMF Malaysia.
 Because of space constrains we will leave out the busters generational cultural perspective. Besides we want to major on the influence of leaders. The busters as a whole are still too young to exercise wide spread, national influence.
 Some of the points of difficulty between the booster, boomers and buster generation had been documented by Donavan and Myors in their article quoted in the essay.
 John Grayston, "Devotional on Ps 27," Encounter With God, October to, Dec, 2007,p 41 .
 “Harder” is relative. Teaching in a third world country may be more difficult in terms of physical conditions. But teaching in a ‘liberal’ seminary may be ‘harder’ emotionally, socially and academically. One may very well be ridiculed, marginalised and put into cold storage for your evangelical views.
 Although in his article, Yung is writing about issues pertaining to ‘migration’.
 Os Guinness, The Call (
 Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image (
 Quoted by Kenneth Boa in Conformed to His Image, p 455
 Stephen Covey, The 8Th Habit (
 In 1966 he was seconded to the United States Public Health Service Hospital in
 Henri Nouwen, Can You Drink The Cup? (Mumbai: Pauline Publications, 1996), 77.