Monday, 9 February 2015

Learning biblical greek is a spiritual exercise

Moore College Logo
I have just begun my formal theological training at Moore College last week. And my week has been filled with Greek Intensive classes. In fact, biblical Greek is the only subject I am studying for the first two weeks. Now, here’s a lesson I learnt in the first week of college, which I think is the most important lesson of the week.

Learning biblical greek is a spiritual exercise. This does not mean that only Christians can study biblical Greek or get good marks in exams. What I mean is that when I study biblical Greek as a Christian, I should approach the subject with the same kind of humility and dependence on God as I would when I do a bible study, for example.

I suppose there is a sense in which everything a Christian does has a spiritual dimension to it, since the doer is a living spiritual being who lives before the face of God. However, I initially came to the Greek class thinking that this is a time where I simply learn a tool to really get into God’s word. To be sure, the language of biblical Greek is not divine in and of itself. However, I now realise that studying biblical Greek is much more than simply learning some grammar and memorising vocabularies. As I study biblical Greek, the grammar and the vocabularies, the words and meanings are found from the pages of Scriptures, which is the written word of God. As I engage with a phrase and try to discern the meaning of it, I am faced with the very word of God. Hence, the whole exercise of learning and memorising biblical Greek takes a very explicit spiritual dimension. Learning biblical Greek is more similar to doing a bible study than, say, learning aerodynamics, or even learning French.

I am glad that the lecturers at Moore college have impressed this reality upon me and keep on emphasising the importance of humbling ourselves before God through prayer as we study biblical Greek. I was humbled by the fact that each session began with a prayer even when we had three sessions back to back. I am also glad that I am not doing this alone, but in company of many other like-minded students who are willing to submit themselves to the Lordship of Christ.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Justification by faith, stated.

Lady Jane Grey (source: wikipedia)
Lady Jane Grey. A young lady who had an adamantium conviction regarding the authority of Scriptures and salvation by faith alone.
In a conference (a conversation or a dialogue) with a Roman Catholic monk, Dr. Feckenham, she states what the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone means.

Feckenham: What thing is required in a Christian?
Jane: To believe in God the Father, in God the Son, in God the Holy Ghost, three persons and one God.
Feckenham: Is there nothing else required in a Christian, but to believe in God?
Jane. Yes: We must believe in him, we must love him, with all our heart, with all our soul, and all our mind, and our neighbour as ourself.
Feckenham: Why then faith justifieth not, nor saveth not?
Jane: Yes, verily, faith (as St. Paul saith) only justifieth.
Feckenham: Why St. Paul saith, if I have all the faith of the world, without love, it is nothing.
Jane: True it is, for how can I love him I trust not, or how can I trust in him whom I love not; faith and love ever agree together, and yet love is comprehended in faith.
Feckenham: How shall we love our neighbour?
Jane: To love our neighbour, is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and to give drink to the thirsty, and to do to him as we would do to ourselves.
Feckenham: Why, then it is necessary to salvation to do good works, and it is not sufficient to believe?
Jane: I deny that, I affirm that faith only saveth; for it is meet for all Christians, in token that they follow their master Christ, to do good works; yet may we not say, nor in any wise believe, that they profit to salvation: for although we have done all that we can, yet we are unprofitable servants, and the faith we have only in Christ’s blood and his merits, saveth. 
 -- from The Literary Remains of Lady Jane Grey, as quoted on Lady Jane Grey Reference Guide (bold mine)
She was only 16 (or 17 at most) when she said this. And that was in a prison. Admittedly, she possessed an exceptional intellect, but more than that, she was possessed by the grace of God that gave her unwavering convictions. After some time, she was beheaded at the age of 17.

Will I have such clarity in my knowledge of God? Will I persevere with such an unwavering conviction? I pray that I will. How about you?

(I was first introduced to Lady Jane Grey and this quote by an online resource called Reformation Profiles from Ligonier Ministries.)

Friday, 2 January 2015

Top 5 from books I read in 2014

I managed to read 25 books in 2014. Some are probably not worth mentioning, even though they were useful for me. Here are five that I would recommend to others.

In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson
This book takes the top spot. It's written by a great theologian of our days, but it's accessible for any thoughtful Christian. Each chapter should be read as a unit, and as you do so, it will warm your heart by showing how great our Lord Jesus Christ is.

This little book is a gem. Written by a mother of 5(could be 6?), this book is full of Christian wisdom and honest words that will encourage any parents to remain faithful to God in all circumstances. For expecting mums and dads, this is highly recommended.

This book is fun and educational. Anderson has taken the task of analysing reader's worldview into a "choose your own adventure" form so you follow a trail littered with questions, flipping the book here and there. This novel approach makes the book fun to read, but also very useful in engaging reader and potential readers too. If you want to understand how different people think, this book is a good place to start.

I read this book some years ago, but it was great to return to it once again. With his usual concise-yet-weighty style, Packer explains the relationship between evangelism and the sovereignty of God. Reading this will encourages you to go out there and evangelise totally confident of and depending on God's saving power!

This book is probably not for someone who isn't trained in theology. Or, at least you would want to have a trained guide whom you can ask questions about. I was fortunate enough to have my MTS trainer, Mark Earngey as my "guide". Having said that, the book isn't difficult to read. The deep theology it handles is why you need to be careful about reading this. I can't say I understood everything, and there are certainly a few questions raised and unanswered by it, but I enjoyed the book overall.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Reading Plan 2015

Another year, another reading plan!
Last year, I planned to read 30 books. As expected, my reading didn't go as planned, but I ended up reading 25 books. Many of them were short (around 100 pages long) or not from the initial list, but I'm satisfied with the result. I've read more than the year before.

This year, I aim for 35 books, excluding 5 individual books from the bible. I've already started many of these, so hopefully, I'll get through most of them this year. Also, some of these are more like a study book or textbooks. I'm hoping these will help with my studies in some ways.

As usual, I will continue to read the bible throughout the year, not just the 4 books I selected within it. I'll simply try to pay a little more attention to those 4, perhaps consulting one or two commentaries at times.

1 & 2 Timothy

Systematic Theology by John Frame
God of Promise by Michael Horton
Westminster Confession of Faith by G. I. Williamson
The Cross of Christ by John Stott
Showing the Spirit by Don Carson
Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen
Living in God's Two Kingdoms by David VanDrunen
Antinomianism by Mark Jones

A Treatise on the Christian Faith by Hermann Witsius

The Early Church by Henry Chadwick
The Reformation by Owen Chadwick
Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

Other Christian
Leading Better Bible Studies
Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson
The Pleasantness of a Religious Life by Matthew Henry
Redeeming Science by Vern Poythress
The Pastor's Kid by Barnabas Piper
Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung
Hope Beyond Cure by David McDonald
The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne
The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper
God's Big Design by Vaughan Roberts
Counsel for Christian Workers by Charles Spurgeon
A Heart for God by Sinclair Ferguson
Fatherhood by Tony Payne

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Why You Are Australian by Nikki Gemmel 
Till we have faces by C. S. Lewis

Basic Greek in 30 Min. by Jim Found
Logic by Vern Poythress
Sheet Music by Kevin Leman
Basics of Biblical Greek by William Mounce
Grammar of Poetry by Matt Whitling
Grammar for Grown-ups by Craig Shrives
How Not to Write by Terence Denman

I welcome book suggestions, so feel free to comment to let me know. I may choose to read that book instead of what I listed here.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Guilt, Sin, Responsibilty, and Humanness

    A full acknowledgement of human responsibility and therefore guilt, far from diminishing the dignity of human beings, actually enhances it. It presupposes that men and women, unlike the animals, are morally responsible beings, who know what we are, could be and should be, and do not make excuses for their poor performance. ... decision-making belongs to the essence of our humanness. Sin is not only the attempt to be God; it is also the refusal to be man, by shuffling off responsibility for our actions. ... The commonest defence of the Nazi war criminals was that they were merely following orders. But the court held them responsible all the same.
    The Bible takes sin seriously because it takes man (male and female) seriously. ... Christians do not deny the fact - in some circumstance - of diminished responsibility, but we affirm that diminished responsibility always entails diminished humanity. To say that somebody 'is not responsible for his actions' is to demean him or her as a human being. It is part of the glory of being human that we are held responsible for our actions. Then, when we also acknowledge our sin and guilt, we receive God's forgiveness, enter into the joy of his salvation, and so become yet more completely human and healthy. -- pp. 119-120, from The Cross of Christ by John Stott (italics original, bold mine)

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Love your enemies

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Romans 12:19-20

Stephen stoned to death (image source: 
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice,“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Matthew 5:44

For years, whenever I was tempted to take revenge against someone for an unfair treatment, I had to remind myself that God will judge rightly in the end. The fact that God will judge everyone according to their deeds was a source of great comfort for me. (Not that I was ever seriously persecuted for my faith...) Either you are covered by the blood of Jesus, or you will face God’s wrath yourself. So I was able to leave vengeance to God, knowing He will most perfectly judge. But, while this prevented me from perhaps hating or harming someone, I wonder if this is in fact a Christian response in its fullness. Has not Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors? Ware not the last dying words of Stephen an intercessory prayer for the mob who were throwing rocks at him?

It seems I have been focusing too narrowly on the part in Romans 12:20 that says, “heap burning coals on his head.” May God grant me grace that I may love my enemies, feed them when they are hungry, give them drinks when they are thirsty, offer up intercessory prayers for them, and forgive those who sin against me.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

My grandmother and her gracious God

Just a couple of days ago, my grandmother passed away. She lived to a ripe old age, but her life was not without significant amount of suffering.

When she was pregnant with my mum and her twin sister, communists took her husband away, and she never saw him again. She became a refugee during the Korean War and travelled, on foot and by train, with her five children, from the North to Busan, the southern-most city of South-Korea’s mainland. She meticulously hid all her money while she travelled to keep it safe from thieves, only to lose it all to a con man.

Busan was over-crowded with refugees and she could not find any accommodation. After taking shelter under a bridge for few nights, with nothing to eat, she pondered whether to simply kill all her children and commit a suicide herself. Eventually, someone told her to go and ask for a shelter at a church. The church was already filled with refugees beyond its capacity, but the gate-keeper took pity on her and her tiny new-born twins, and took them inside.

She made living by buying some clothes from the US military, dyeing them to make them look different, then selling them at a civilian market. It wasn’t entirely legal, but the times were hard for everyone and she got by for a while.

Eventually, and quite extraordinarily, all of her 5 children survived, grew up and received good education. My grandmother herself was never taught how to read and write, but she learned to do so, partly because she had to for business, but also because she wanted to read her bible. Her hand-writing always looked like that of a second grade kid, but she read her bible with ease and clarity.

Her children all got married, and in time, she was blessed with 8 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren. She was never able to visit her homeland, somewhere in the mid-western part of North-Korea.

She was reasonably healthy for her age, especially when you consider the kind of abuse her body had to endure when she was younger. However, in recent years, with the onset of dementia, she deteriorated rapidly in terms of health as well as mental capacity. The near-loss of her moral judgment was particularly saddening, but her bible, and I believe, her Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ was never too far from her.

On the 16th of July, 2014, my grandmother was finally released from her suffering. By the grace of God, my grandmother was saved from her sins and this decaying world, and she will resurrect one day in new heaven and earth, with the new glorious body, forever to praise God’s mercy. By the grace and wisdom of God, I came to exist through her family, and was taught the glorious gospel from my youth, and look forward to standing along side my grandmother and joining in everlasting songs of praise to our gracious God who is mighty to save.

"[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4 ESV)

In 2012, with her then youngest great-grandchild, John.

Monday, 19 May 2014

O, the triviality! Flee from the triviality!

Of course, we do not use the word cool to describe true greatness. It is a small word. That’s the point. It’s cheap. And it’s what millions of young people live for. Who confronts them with urgency and tears? Who pleads with them not to waste their lives? Who takes them by the collar, so to speak, and loves them enough to show them a life so radical and so real and so costly and Christ-saturated that they feel the emptiness and triviality of their CD collection and their pointless conversations about passing celebrities? Who will waken what lies latent in their souls, untapped—a longing not to waste their lives? 
Oh, that young and old would turn off the television, take a long walk, and dream about feats of courage for a cause ten thousand times more important than American democracy—as precious as that is. If we would dream and if we would pray, would not God answer? Would he withhold from us a life of joyful love and mercy and sacrifice that magnifies Christ and makes people glad in God? I plead with you, as I pray for myself, set your face like flint to join Jesus on the Calvary road. “Let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:13-14). When they see our sacrificial love—radiant with joy—will they not say, “Christ is great”? 
 -pp. 128-129 from Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper

Oh, you precious soul! Flee from the triviality of this age, and live to display what is truly significant, the glory of God through Jesus Christ!

Wasting life by simply avoiding badness and providing for the family

Oh, how many lives are wasted by people who believe that the Christian life means simply avoiding badness and providing for the family. So there is no adultery, no stealing, no killing, no embezzlement, no fraud—just lots of hard work during the day, and lots of TV and PG-13 videos in the evening (during quality family time), and lots of fun stuff on the weekend—woven around church (mostly). This is life for millions of people. Wasted life. We were created for more, far more.
 - p.119-120, Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper

Saturday, 17 May 2014

To be happy and to be holy, now and hereafter

Now it is here demonstrated by eternal truth itself, that it is our interest to be religious; and therefore religion deserves to be called wisdom, because it teaches us to do well for ourselves: and it is certain, that the way to be happy, that is perfectly holy, hereafter, is to be holy, that is, truly happy, now. It is laid down for a principle here, 'Happy is the man that findeth wisdom' (Prov. 3:13) that finds the principles and habits of it planted in his own soul by divine grace;
 -- p. 23, The Pleasantness of a Religious Life by Matthew Henry (or original page 5-6)