Thursday, 3 April 2014

A body that has been undone on behalf of another

(Cover image source: Booko)
Here's another wonderful quote from the book, Loving the Little Years.

My very kind and wise husband once left a note for me on Easter morning, two weeks after Daphne was born. He wrote, “To my wife, before she even goes near the closet on Easter morning,” or something romantic like that. In it, he encouraged me to realise that there was no more fitting way to celebrate Easter (or any part of the Christian life) than in a body that has been undone on behalf of another.
-       p. 60, Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic

It seems I should learn not only from Mrs. Jankovic, but also from Mr. Jankovic.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Fat souls are better than clean floors.

(Image source: Booko)
I can clearly remember one night when I was big pregnant with Blaire and realized too late that we were out of tortillas. I figured I would just make some quickly. When I started this project I was alone in the kitchen. About a minute and a half into it I had been discovered. Four chairs into the kitchen, four children anxiously awaiting a chance to help. I remember Titus actually bumping into the back of my legs with his chair and very politely saying, "Excuse me, Mama! 'Scuse me!" Then came the real action: Titus wildly dusting flour on the tortilla I was rolling, someone cracking into the drawer and passing out rolling pins. Everyone rolling, and dusting, and rolling, and wadding the dough back up and having a grand old time too. I looked out of the haze of flour and elbows feeling very ready to blow the whistle, and I saw my husband smiling at me and laughing. He nodded at me and said, "It's okay." I knew what he meant. Fat souls are better than clean floors. They were so delighted to be in the thick of it -- dinner was late, I could have slept standing up, and we were doing exactly the right thing -- throwing flour around the kitchen. And it was okay. I don't even remember cleaning it up (quite likely because I was asleep on the couch while Luke did it all!). Most of the time the children do not know that what they are doing is overwhelming.
  - p. 52-53, Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic (italics original)

There are times when we do need to pull our kids and tell them what are acceptable or suitable behaviours and what are not. But I am far more often tempted to be driven by my preferred lifestyle to shape their behaviours, forgetting that I must nurture their souls and connect with their hearts first. Fat souls are better than clean floors.

I am still reading this book through, but I highly recommend it to any parents, especially those who have or want to have more than 2 children. Try Booko to find the book.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Most Misused Verses in the Bible

Image Source: Booko
There are some common misunderstandings and misapplications of certain passages of the bible. Some are more harmful than others, but all deserve to be corrected. This book, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, is helpful in checking your own understandings of certain bible passages, and to also learn how to better your interpretative methods. You may not agree with every interpretation of the author in this book, but you will appreciate his methods. If anything, this book will cause you to give more care and attention whenever you read the bible.

One caution from me, however.
This book is correcting common mistakes, and is full of great information. With it, you can be tempted to just use the newly acquired knowledge to pick out every mistake someone else is committing. You will want to and need to correct them in some way, but you must use wisdom and approach them with grace and humility, sometimes choosing another time to address such mistakes, so that they may not be discouraged and that you aren't simply showing off. Watch out for your own pride, and this book will prove to be greatly useful.

For another short review of this book, see this blog post by Trevin Wax over at the gospel coalition.

(Check Booko for places to buy this book.)

Thursday, 20 March 2014

I am an awful teacher.

This year, for the first time in my life, I started teaching in a Special Religious Education class, commonly known as the Scripture class. It was a daunting thing to take on, but at the same time, I was eager to do it as part of my ministry training (by the way, I have begun my MTS Apprenticeship this year and the Scripture class is part of the job/training I am doing this year).

It’s something I had never done before. I didn’t even attend a Primary School in Australia. So, it’s understandable that I was so busy focusing on getting the teaching content ready and getting through it during the class. But, it dawned on me yesterday as I was preparing for the class that I hadn’t been as faithful as I should have been with the Scripture teaching. I felt that I had been doing the bare minimum to get by in the class. I was getting the teaching content ready so I won’t embarrass myself by running out of things to say, for example. I also felt that I had been lacking in prayer for my students.

After the class, on the way to my car, I met another Scripture teacher from my church. My class went reasonably well, I was thinking, despite the kids getting quite loud and distracted – we did manage to get through the material the way I hoped to do. But as I was talking to the teacher, I had to confess to her that I had realised that I hadn’t been as faithful in praying and preparing for my classes. And then she reminded me that it’s important to prepare thoroughly, but it’s perhaps more important to be there for those kids and through the relationships they will learn much about God and how wonderful He really is.

With that, I felt even more rebuked and convicted that I had been an awful teacher. I had been just so busy “doing” things in the class, I hardly paid attention to any of the students! Not only that, even I could see that some kids were becoming more disengaged because of the way I had related to them. I could give various excuses for this, being a first time teacher, in a system that I am not familiar with, with 20-odd number of kids who are very talkative, etc, etc, it’s hard to relate with them in the class in a generous, kind, patient, gracious, and helpful way. Nevertheless, these excuses do not make me a good teacher. I still have to confess that I had been an awful teacher.

I am thankful that God had brought this fact to my attention. I am glad to see it. But I am praying that God would so grow and equip me that I would be a better teacher for these young students. I am also praying that these kids under my care, albeit for only meagre half an hour once a week, would grow in their true knowledge of God and love Him who love us first for whole of their lives. Will you pray for me and for my students? 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people —greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me—a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”    Luke 18:9-14 (HCSB)

I knew this parable. I knew for a long time. I heard and read this passage many times. But until today, my understanding of this parable was quite off the mark. All this time, I thought the meaning of this parable was about condemning religious hypocrisy. But today, I was privileged to listen to two different sermons by two different men from my church on this same passage. And both corrected my faulty understanding and hammered in the gospel of grace into me through this passage. You see, Jesus was telling this parable to those who trusted in their own good works (v.9). Those who tried to earn a good standing with God by their own efforts. Those who were confident that they were righteous before God because they were doing so many good things. By this parable, Jesus was turning their world upside down. He was saying, and He is saying to all of us even today, that we can never be right with God by our own efforts, yet, at the same time, that God is happy to declare us righteous when we recognise our sins and appeal to Him for mercy.

How does or can God forgive a sinner when even a morally upright person like the Pharisee isn’t good enough for Him? You may or may not be clear on how this works, but if you are wondering, you should keep on listening to this man, Jesus who told the parable.


Why don’t you come join us in journeying with Jesus? (Today's talks on the passage above will be available in a couple of days, morning and evening talks.)

Edit: The talks are now available, both the morning talk and the evening talk.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Reading Plan 2014

Last year I had 24 books in my reading plan. I had to abandon a book after reading first few chapters, and there were many others that I didn't even get to start on. There were other books that I read outside my initially planned 24 books. In the end, I read about 14 books, just slightly above 50% of my initial plan. You'd think I would now adjust my reading plan and reduce the number of books, seeing what I could realistically achieve. Nay, this year's reading plan has more books than last year. Perhaps I will still only read 50% of them, but that would mean I will have read more books than last year. Also, I hope that I will give more focused energy into reading books that I will in fact read more than 50%.

I recognise that the number of books I read isn't so important, and it can be even worse if the number serves to boost my ego. My hope in reading more books and posting what books I plan to read is so that:

  1. To be encouraged myself to pursue a life of serving Jesus
  2. To increase my knowledge of God and His Word
  3. To better understand the culture with the view that I may evangelise to people more effectively
  4. To train myself in reading more efficiently
No doubt my list will go through changes as it did last year, but here is my current list. Also, from this year, I've included the bible as part of the reading list, even though reading the bible was assumed in previous years, I thought it would be helpful to make it explicit.

Theology

Bible (HCSB)
John Calvin's "Instructions in Christianity" by Joseph Pitt Wiles
In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson
God of Promise by Michael Horton
Cross of Christ by John Stott
God Has Spoken by J. I. Packer
Revelation of God by Peter Jensen
The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson
A Clear and Present Word by Mark Thompson
Gospel-centred Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy
Consolations of Theology ed. by Brian Rosner

History/Biography

The Reformation by Owen Chadwick
The Pastor by Eugene Peterson

Other Christian

Leading Better Bible Studies by Karen Morris and Rod Morris
Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson
The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall
Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick
Fatherhood by Tony Payne
An Alarme to Unconverted Sinners (A Korean Translation) by Joseph Alleine
Sermons of Jonathan Edwards
How Long O Lord by D. A. Carson
When I Don't Desire God by John Piper
Confessions by Augustine

Culture/Novel

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Bring up the bodies by Hilary Mantel
Why You Are Australian by Nikki Gemmell
Atheism Remix by Al Mohler
Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius

Other

Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought by Vern Poythress

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Most Pleasant Life


When he was on his deathbed, Matthew Henry said to a friend, "You have been asked to take notice of the sayings of dying men - this is mine: that a life spent in the service of God and communion with Him is the most pleasant life that anyone can live in this world."
 -- Location 131, from 10 People Every Christian Should Know by Warren Wiersbe

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Recognising a true church

To summarize: a true church will be recognized by its unity in relationships, its holiness of life, its openness to all, its submission to the rule of the apostolic scriptures, its preaching of Christ in word and sacrament, and its commitment to mission. 
  -- p. 272, from Know The Truth by Bruce Milne (2nd edition)

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Escaping the fine when caught without a ticket

There was a ticket checking on the train.
A lady behind me was caught for not having her student card on her, but was let off. The policeman who was checking the tickets was kind. He explained to her the rule about carrying the student card when traveling on a student fare, even though she probably knew that anyway, and he said he would let her off this time. He was not speaking in a manner that was disrespectful or condescending. He was serious but not overbearing. I was slightly impressed with his dealings and quite pleased with the outcome.

And then I thought, "hey, this is a good illustration of grace. She was caught for breaking the law, but was forgiven and was let off from bearing the consequences of her crime." But soon I realised it wasn't. This wasn't a good illustration of God's grace. Several reasons could be laid out, but I list just two.

Firstly, the breaking of the law was not committed against the policeman. He was only an enforcer, not the offended. This is a huge difference. God is not simply a law-enforcer. He is the "victim" of every sin we commit. All sin is primarily against God. Hence, the grace of God we receive as sinners is forgiveness, not just "being let off." Only the offended can forgive, an enforcer can only let off.

Another big difference is "how" the offender was spared of the punishment. The policeman let her off at no cost to himself. It cost him practically nothing to let her off. I am no law expert, but I'm pretty sure that, as a policeman, it was his prerogative to issue a warning instead of a fine. So he was not risking anything. When God forgave us, it cost Him. It's hard to imagine how anything could cost God, the Almighty being. But the bible tells us clearly how costly God's forgiveness was. It cost Jesus. His suffering and death. It may remain as mystery how God could suffer, but the fact that He did suffer is no mystery. Our God did not dispense His forgiveness in a cool, distant way. He clothed Himself in human flesh and hung on the cross. If the policeman's action were to be any closer to the real meaning of God's grace, he would have had to issue the fine and then pay it for her himself. It still doesn't come much closer (of course not!), but it would be closer than just letting one off the hook.

If a policeman caught you for not having a train ticket, or speeding on the road, and he let you go with just a warning, you'd be quite happy. I'd be very happy and even feel somewhat thankful towards that policeman. Now, then, hear this. Because of our sins, our rejection and rebellion against God, we are headed for judgment. But God has given us His Son, Jesus, so whoever trusts Him for safety and forgiveness would be spared of His judgment. That's what makes my heart sing. This is why I can look forward to the future. How about you?

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Is this what happens at an ordination?

There are some things Eugene Peterson says or writes that I disagree with. But he writes many things that I found helpful too.
I think the following quote (a bit lengthy I know) from one of his books is worth pondering on, especially for those who are or plan to be ordained for the Christian ministry.

  The definition that pastors start out with, given to us in our ordination, is that pastoral work is a ministry of Word and sacrament.
  Word. But in the wreckage, all words sound like 'mere words'.
  Sacrament. But in the wreckage, what difference can water, a piece of bread, a sip of wine make?
  Yet century after century, Christians continue to take certain persons in their communities, set them apart, and say, 'You are our shepherd. Lead us to Christlikeness.'
  Yes, their actions will often speak different expectations, but in the deeper regions of the soul, the unspoken desire is for more than someone doing a religious job. If the unspoken were uttered, it would sound like this:
  'We want you to be responsible for saying and acting among us what we believe about God and kingdom and gospel. We believe that the Holy Spirit is among us and within us. We believe that God's Spirit continues to hover over the chaos of the world's evil and our sin, shaping a new creation and new creatures. We believe that God is not a spectator, in turn amused and alarmed at the wreckage of world history, but a participant.
  'We believe that the invisible is more important than the visible at any one single moment and in any single event that we choose to examine. We believe that everything, especially everything that looks like wreckage, is material God is using to make a praising life.
  'We believe all this, but we don't see it. We see, like Ezekiel, dismembered skeletons whitened under a pitiless Babylonian sun. We see a lot of bones that once were laughing and dancing children, adults who once aired their doubts and sang their praises in church - and sinned. We don't see the dancers or the lovers or the singers - or at best catch only fleeting glimpses of them. What we see are bones. Dry bones. We see sin and judgment on the sin. That is what it looks like. It looked that way to Ezekiel; it looks that way to anyone with eyes to see and brain to think; and it looks that way to us.
  'But we believe something else. We believe in the coming together of these bones into connected, sinewed, muscled human beings who speak and sing and laugh and work and believe and bless their God. We believe it happened the way Ezekiel preached it, and we believe it still happens. We believe it happened in Israel and that it happens in church. We believe we are a part of the happening as we sing our praises, listen believingly to God's Word, receive the new life of Christ in the sacraments. We believe the most significant thing that happens or can happen is that we are no longer dismembered but are remembered into the resurrection body of Christ.
  'We need help in keeping our beliefs sharp and accurate and intact. We don't trust ourselves; our emotions seduce us into infidelities. We know we are launched on a difficult and dangerous act of faith, and there are strong influences intent on diluting or destroying it. We want you to give us help. Be our pastor, a minister of Word and sacrament in the middle of this world's life. Minister with Word and sacrament in all the different parts and stages of our lives - in our work and play, with our children and our parents, at birth and death, in our celebrations and sorrows, on those days when morning breaks over us in a wash of sunshine, and those other days that are all drizzle. This isn't the only task in the life of faith, but it is your task. We will find someone else to do the other important and essential tasks. This is yours: Word and sacrament.
  'One more thing: We are going to ordain you to this ministry, and we want your vow that you will stick to it. This is not a temporary job assignment but a way of life that we need lived out in our community. We know you are launched on the same difficult belief venture in the same dangerous world as we are. We know your emotions are as fickle as ours, and your mind is as tricky as ours. That is why we are going to ordain you and why we are going to exact a vow from you. We know there will be days and months, maybe even years, when we won't feel like believing anything and won't want to hear it from you. And we know there will be days and weeks and maybe even years when you won't feel like saying it. It doesn't matter. Do it. You are ordained to this ministry, vowed to it.
  'There may be times when we come to you as a committee or delegation and demand that you tell us something else than what we are telling you now. Promise right now that you won't give in to what we demand of you. You are not the minister of our changing desires, or our time-conditioned understanding of our needs, or our secularized hopes for something btter. With these vows of ordination we are lashing you fast to the mast of Word and sacrament so you will be unable to respond to the siren voices.
  'There are many other things to be done in this wrecked world, and we are going to be doing at least some of them, but if we don't know the foundational realities with which we are dealing - God, kingdom, gospel - we are going to end up living futile, fantasy lives. Your task is to keep telling the basic story, representing the presence of the Spirit, insisting on the priority of God, speaking the biblical words of command and promise and invitation.'
  That, or something very much like that, is what I understand the church to say - even when the people cannot articulate it - to the individuals it ordains to be its pastors.
  - pp. 502-505, from Life At Its Best by Eugene Peterson, italics original (or from the book, The Gift: Reflections on Christian Ministry)