Friday, 22 May 2015

Not assuming the gospel

Could you have preached that sermon if Christ had not died on the cross? Could you have developed that Christian leadership principle had Christ not been crucified? I’m not saying be impractical—the Bible has much to say about being practical—but make sure that the practical is tied to the message of Jesus. Otherwise we are on the road to an assumption that will lose the gospel.
   – p. 41, Marks of the Messenger by Mack Stiles

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Trusting God who rules over all things.

God is to be trusted when his providences seem to run contrary to his promises. God promised to give David the crown, to make him king; but providence ran contrary to his promise. David was pursued by Saul, and was in danger of his life, but all this while it was David's duty to trust God. Pray observe, that the Lord by cross providences often brings to pass his promise. God promised Paul the lives of all that were with him in the ship; but the providence of God seemed to run quite contrary to his promise, for the winds blew, the ship split and broke in pieces. Thus God fulfilled his promise; upon the broken pieces of the ship they all came safe to shore. Trust God when providences seem to run quite contrary to promises. 
  -- from A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson, pp. 86-87, explaining the doctrine of providence (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q11)

Saturday, 9 May 2015

The wicked flourish.

The wicked flourish. This seems to be very much out of order; but God, in his providence, sees good sometimes that the worst of men should be exalted; that they may do some work for God, though it be against their will. ... He makes use of the wicked sometimes to protect and shield his church; and sometimes to refine and purify it. 
  -- from A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson, p. 85, answering objections to the doctrine of providence (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q11)

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The grand design of preaching

The word is called a hammer. Jer. 23:29. Every blow of the hammer is to fasten the nails of the building; so the preacher's words are to fasten you the more to Christ; they weaken themselves to strengthen and settle you. This is the grand design of preaching, no only for the enlightening, but for the establishing of souls; not only to guide them in the right way, but to keep them in it.
  -- Thomas Watson (from A Body of Divinity, pp. 1-2)

Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Jeremiah 23:29 (ESV)

Image credit: "Thomas Watson (Puritan)" by Eugenio.Graziano - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 20 April 2015

I've never been to a mission before... or, have I?

Here's an excerpt from my latest prayer letter. See the whole thing, including pictures here!

Thank you for your prayers as I went on to my first College Mission. I had a great time with other college students and the local Christians at Gymea Anglican Church. I was able to participate in many evangelistic efforts with the church, and also learnt a few lessons I will remember for a long time.

I could tell you many things, but there is one lesson I really want to share with you. Before I went on the college mission, I was thinking that I had never been on any kind of mission and that made me feel quite nervous about the whole thing. Although I conceptually understood that the whole world was the mission field, for me, mission happened only in places like Pakistan, Peru, or at least somewhere in the Northern Territory. However, as I listened to many Christians at Gymea sharing their own experience of being marginalised at work or among friends because of their faith in Jesus, it dawned on me that Sydney was a mission field in a very real way. Sydney is a place where Jesus is not honoured and worshipped by many people, and there are plenty of people who are willing and capable of making evangelism difficult. I do not wish to minimise the unique challenges and greater difficulties overseas missionaries face. But it would be also wrong to think that Sydney is not a mission field. It is just a different mission field compared to one in Pakistan. It was as though the mission field has come home, rather than me going to a mission field.

One practical implication I realised is this. I should never assume a friendly reception of Christian message by the society in general. And they would not always warmly welcome the Christian living (of which evangelism is a part) that is a necessary consequence of the Christian message. Sometimes they may welcome our message and us, but by and large, the gospel message will be rejected and the gospel living will be scorned. And, that's okay. We are on a mission field! Oppositions are to be expected. In fact, it's only natural for people to reject the gospel. But the gospel is still powerful and saves everyone who believes. There is no other hope for the lost and dying people of Sydney than to hear that Jesus died and rose again to bring people home.

So, then. Shall we continue proclaiming that one Name that can save?

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)