Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Home Coming Message for Sister Lay See

Oct 26th 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.
35Jesus wept.

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.

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

Disconnect between the head and the heart

Recently some of us, lecturers from our local seminaries, gathered together and had a good time of fellowship and discussion. We were talking about the training of our students. In the ensuing discussions that followed, one senior lecturer commented in a mixture of exasperation and frustration, “ how come some of our students do not seem able to integrate their theology and their everyday lives?”

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.

Evil comes dressed in coat and tie

The film “Taken” starring Liam Neeson , a 6’4” hunk of a man, ought to be compulsory viewing for all parents of young daughters. Briefly the film is about how two young American girls on holiday in Europe were duped and subsequently kidnapped by a nice boy that they met at the airport. The boy looked friendly, helpful, clean cut and decent. It seems that sometimes evil does come dressed in coat and tie. Therefore parents be warned!

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!

Want to make your mark?

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)