Friday, 31 October 2008

Reformation Day

Just before today is over, let me share a quote from Martin Luther, one of the leading figures, if not THE figure of the 16th century reformation.
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved. To be steady on all fronts besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
- Martin Luther

I like that manly voice of Luther.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The pattern for Christian living

[...] there's always something that has to be left behind if you're going to embrace God's vocation for you. One rather portentous but nonetheless very profound way of expressing this is to say the Christian life according to the New Testament is to be lived according to the baptismal pattern, which means that experiences of renunciation even to death (or what feels like death) constantly precede experiences of resurrection in which you're made rich again. But the resurrection doesn't come until after the death. And it's round the circle of that pattern for each of us over and over again: death followed by resurrection is the recurring sequence. This is part of the Lord's discipline for our personal living, just as it's part of the pattern of the Lord's work in the church and in the world.
- p.170, Never Beyond Hope by J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom

I just finished reading this book, Never Beyond Hope. I didn't do the study guides, though. It's probably worth going through this book again sometime in the future, perhaps with some other people. Then, I may do the study guide at the end of each chapter.

You can get this book at Koorong or from Amazon.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

True evangelism and why we need evangelism within our churches now

Another video.
This one is a bit long, just over one hour, but it is worth listening to.

God forbid I stop preaching the gospel, so help me God.

(HT: Reformation Theology)

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Where the hell is Matt?

I've watched this video before, and I really liked it since the first time I watched it. I watch it when my heart feels cold or sad time to time.

Watch the video.

Every time I watch it, it makes me look forward to the day when, from every nation and tongue, we will all together sing and dance with complete joy and happiness. Not celebrating humanity as in this video, but celebrating Christ.
Oh, how I long for that Day.

What do you feel from watching this video?

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Monday, 20 October 2008

What I'm up to

While it is highly unlikely that anyone would be wondering why I am not updating this space, I thought I should leave a short note here, so to counter any anxious waitings from anyone.

For the next few weeks, my postings here will be sporatic, due to, but not limited to,
1) Sermon preparation: it's going to take up most of my after-work time, or at least it should be. Oh, and please pray for me.
2) Reading: I have been laying-off some books that I should've read a while ago. They include Getting the Gospel Right, The Religious Affections, Never Beyond Hope, etc.
3) Finish watching the dvd, Battling Unbelief. This is excellent. I highly recommend this to everyone.

and some more.

I hope to be able to blog again sometime soon.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Book Review: The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment

The author, Tim Challies, is a popular Christian blogger. He is gifted in writing, and his theology is well-informed and reformed. He tackles the topic of spiritual discernment systematically, and I found it helpful. It also shows that his wide reading, which helps the content of the book interesting and engaging.

Strangely enough, however, the last chapter, where the author delves into very practical steps of spiritual discernment, was the biggest dissappointment. I wouldn't say that I didn't learn anything from that chapter, I think there were some helpful things to learn from his steps/list to discernment. But having a list of steps, in a particular order, felt too rigid and pragmatic for me to digest. Tim Challies himself acknowledges that the steps will come more naturally as you grow in discernment, and the order will not be always kept the same. I think it is to be taken as a helpful starting point as you learn to discipline your own way of thinking, but not as a rule to be followed all the time. I think that's what the author intended anyway.

All in all, it was an easy to read, helpful, and persuasive book, in which a Christian brother calls for spiritual discernment with love and conviction. I would recommend this book to young and mature Christians.

[You can buy this book from Koorong or Amazon among many places.]

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

A Grief Observed: the supremacy of God in grief

Ok, one more quote from the book, A Grief Observed
The notes have been about myself, and about H., and about God. In that order. The order and the proportions exactly what they ought not to have been. And I see that I have nowhere fallen into that mode of thinking about either which we call praising them. Yet that would have been best for me. Praise is the mode of love which always has some element of joy in it. Praise in due order; of Him as the giver, of her as the gift. Don't we in praise somehow enjoy what we praise, however far we are from it? I must do more of this. I have lost the fruition I once had of H. And I am far, far away in the valley of my unlikeness, from the fruition which, if His mercies are infinite, I may some time have of God. But by praising I can still, in some degree, enjoy her, and already, in some degree, enjoy Him. Better than nothing.
- p. 62-63 A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

I am hearing the hallmark of Christians, namely, other-centredness. And even more so I smell Piper in this text of Lewis in saying that we enjoy what we praise. Interesting.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

A Grief Observed: grief feels like suspense

I think I am beginning to understand why grief feels like suspense. It comes from the frustration of so many impulses that had become habitual. Thought after thought, feeling after feeling, action after action, had H. for their object. Now their target is gone. I keep on through habit fitting an arrow to the string, then I remember and have to lay the bow down. So many roads lead thought to H. I set out on one of them. But not there's an impassable frontierpost across it. So many roads once; now so many culs de sac.
- p. 47 A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

Monday, 13 October 2008

Faith or gratitude

I just watched the fourth session of Battling Unbelief. It may be a little hard to understand at the beginning, but it is an absolute gold. Buy it or borrow it. Watch it, learn from it, and repent and trust in God's never-ending grace.

What did I learn?

Simply put, faith and gratitude, both are indispensible in the life of a Christian. However, it is faith, not gratitude that produces good works. (Watch the dvd to understand the full meaning of this sentence!)

I have spoken out of ignorance just a few days ago, that we do good works as Christians because we are thankful to God, in a conversation with a muslim work colleague. Given the context of the whole conversation, that was not a completely wrong answer I believe, but Oh, how I regret that moment, and I wish I had made a better, more accurate, more convincing answer to him.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

29 years

God, in His mysterious grace, saw fit to bring this sinner into the world 29 years ago today, rather than not suffering my offences against Him from the start. 29 years of stumbling and offending God, while being carried by His grace, safely and sound all along. 29 years of mixed motives and impure desires. 29 years of God overcoming my resistance.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
- Psalm 73:23-24

Thank you God, empty handed, in filthy rags, I come to You. Receive me, wash me, and clothe me.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

A Grief Observed: love and idolatry

C. S. Lewis says:
"I must think more about H. and less about myself.
Yes, that sounds very well. But there's a snag. I am thinking about her nearly always. Thinking of the H. facts - real words, looks, laughs, and actions of hers. But it is my own mind that selects and groups them. Already, less than a month after her death, I can feel the slow, insidious beginning of a process that will make the H. I think of into a more and more imaginary woman. Founded on facts, no doubt. I shall put in nothing fictitious (or I hope I shan't). But won't the composition inevitably become more and more my own? The reality is no longer there to check me, to pull me up short, as the real H. so often did, so unexpectedly, by being so thoroughly herself and not me."
- p. 18 C. S. Lewis in A Grief Observed

"Images of the Holy easily become holy images - sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are 'offended' by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not. But the same thing happens in our private prayers.
All reality is iconoclastic. The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness. That is, in her foursquare and independent reality. And this, not any image or memory, is what we are to love still, after she is dead. [...] Not my idea of God, but God. Not my idea of H., but H. Yes, and also not my idea of my neighbour, but my neighbour."
- p 66-67 C. S. Lewis in A Grief Observed

Lewis shows something very insightful about idolatry and love. If you are to love someone you must love her as she really is, not someone whom you wish to love. If you are to love God, you must love God as He really is, not a god you wish to love. In the case of loving another human being, if you fail to see, know, and love her as she really is, you are only going to judge her against your imagining of her, and you will only deeply hurt her. When it is a case for God, it becomes idolatry. And God will not tolerate that for long.

This is another reason why we must keep reading the Bible, which is God's own revelation to us, not human imagination or wishful thinking about God.

Lewis says,
I need Christ, not something that resembles Him. I want H., not something that is like her.
- p 65 C. S. Lewis in A Grief Observed

We must acknowledge and love God as He truly is. And we must acknowledge and love other people as they truly are.

(Oh, and as a trailing thought, given that we must acknowledge and love God as He truly is, and we must do the same for other people, do you see why God is more satisfying than anything or anyone else in the whole universe and beyond? Just take some time to ponder on that.)

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Communication by words

BBC reports that Ammon Shea from New York likes reading dictionaries. Yes, dictionaries. His interest may surprise you, but what he says about communication and words is gold.

"I'm not against big words per se or fancy or obscure words, obviously I love them, but I'm opposed to using them for their own sake," [Mr. Shae] says.
"If words are to form a communication, you use them as a tool to communicate to people and it's pointless to intentionally use a word that no-one else knows."

Christians who want to bring the gospel to others should remember that whomever you are speaking to. If you are talking to a friend at work, why don't you try using languages they use to present the biblical truths and the gospel to them, instead of the religious, church-like terms that are so foreign to them, or have become too much of a cliche to them that the meanings are lost to them? Hard? If you know the gospel really well, you will soon get better and become much more effective in presenting the gospel. If you don't know the gospel well, if you vaguely know it, or if you only memorised it in point forms, you won't do well in this, but at least you will discover that you don't know the gospel well. You can work on that. If you know the gospel well, you will do fine after a few times of practice, I think, to that particular person with his particular language and cultural background.

A question spinning off from this is, what does it mean to know the gospel well?
I'll leave it for you to think about it for now, but I'll post about it sometime soon.

A word I hate: cute

[English is not my first language, nor is the Australian culture my native one, so this post is to be taken with a grain of salt.]

How do people use the word, cute?

I don't see an inherently bad meaning within the word, but when I hear the word used around me, it's often used inappropriately I think. I think when people use the word, cute, to describe someone, it carries a sense of superiority over the person you are describing, and I find that disturbing. I mean, for example, why would you describe an elderly couple walking along together, crossing the arms, or holding hands, cute? No, no, you don't say that! That's not cute. You don't say that's cute. You say that is beautiful! When you see a long-lasting relationship like that, you ought to say beautiful, not cute. Or, why would you describe a young boy trying to grow up and acting adult-ish and say, cute? Cute? That's so feminising and condescending to be attributed at a man, however young (or old) he is! Now I come to think of it, it is often the girls who use the word, cute, to describe people, and girls, as far as know, don't really like to be called cute. They know there are better words they want for themselves like pretty, beautiful, attractive, lovely, enchanting, sweet, etc, but not cute! Sure, guys use the word cute too, and there are times when it is used without any subtle or the almost-subconscious attitude of superiority, but it is rare.

I think the word, cute, is often used by women who want to be in a higher, or more authoritative position than men. How often do we hear on TV where women describe a man cute when they find him attractive and have a lustful desire for him? And those women are often very dominating in their character and in their relationships. Some may think I am drawing a conclusion too quickly too harshly, but I really think this common and disrespectful use of the word, cute, is a reflection of the society which is deeply affected by feminism, and full of manlike women and full of feminised men.

It could be just me, but think about it when you hear or say the word, cute, the next time.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Tangled mind

It feels a little harder to write these days. There are a few topics that I want to write about, but before it gets past a paragraph, thoughts get jumbled up in my head. I keep on deleting the last sentence I wrote, and then re-write in a slightly different way. Then I move around the sentences and become totally unhappy about how the ideas are laid out and expanded in the paragraph (or not). Even writing this short paragraph was a struggle.

Clear mind, I ask, God, to wonder at your marvellous works. May my mind be at peace, despite the things and people trying to stir up my old dirt.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Book Review: A Grief Observed

I was hearing some alarm bells ringing when I first started reading the book, A Grief Observed. The foreword and introduction to this short book sounded as if C. S. Lewis gave up his belief in God through his time of grief. Even as I was reading the first chapter of the four, I was feeling uneasy when Lewis seemed to give up his hope of heaven, and makes much out of death. But I believe Lewis was simply being honest, honest about how he felt. As the book progressed, this seemingly un-Christian confession was elaborated and in the last chapter of the book, his faith and hope in God was restored, or rather, more at the front of his confession, since I do not think Lewis had lost his faith at any point in the earlier chapters.

Regarding the real content of the book, or what I learned through it, I don't know how to put it. I am not sure if I learned a great deal about grief, since this book is a very personal memoir than a book that was intended to teach you about grief and how to deal with it. And I cannot say that I enjoyed the book either, for there in the book, I found a soul, a Christian brother, agonising over his wife's death. I will not say it was a bad book, or not worth while reading, I just find it hard to describe the book and my experience of reading it, because the book is utterly honest.

I think it would be helpful for anyone who wants to minister to others, and all Christians ought to do so. Although I said this book isn't intended to teach you about grief, hearing from such an articulate and honest Christian brother how he felt as he went through a dark and painful time surely helps when one of your friends is in a similar situation. Or even for yourself as well.
Additionally, while he does not develop his ideas fully in this book, his insights about other issues in Christian living in general also seep through. I will post up some quotes from the book which I think show such insights in coming days.

Now, although I said this book would be helpful for any Christian, it is not a must, nor is suitable for everyone in all different stages in their Christian walk. So, while I would recommend this book to Christians, I think you will want to take time in reading it, and ask God for wisdom how you take in what is in this book.

Friday, 3 October 2008

James Fong Update - 3-Oct-2008

James Fong's heart condition continues to improve, although his heart is still very weak compared to an average person.
Read about how he has been walking with God in recent days and pray for him.

[Update 13-oct-2008: a typo fixed, thanks, Sharon.]

The Religious Affections - 7: the twelve unreliable signs - a summary

So, I've finished the Part II of the book, The Religious Affections.
As much as I would like to give you more comprehensive details about all these, I think my attempt will only diminish the insight Edwards had in writing. So I encourage you to read the book yourself. It isn't as hard as you might expect.

That said, I'll put the twelve unreliable signs found in the Part II of the book in my own words, in hope that it will give you an introductory insight into these matters.
First thing first though, you will have to read the book to understand what Edwards means by "the religious affections", but let me simply use a different, common phrase, "Love for God" to keep it simple. This phrase, "Love for God" carries so much misunderstandings these days and I suspect for many of us that it conjures up only an incomplete picture. I hope you will meditate deeply on what that "Love for God" really means biblically. Perhaps I will post up what I have found so far some time, but at this point, let me simply say that this love for God must be both emotion and actions. Some neglect one or the other and distorts the meaning of love, keep guard against such teachings.

So, these are unreliable signs, that is to say, that we cannot draw any conclusions about a person's spiritual state, whether he is truly saved, or not, whether their new-found zeal and hope, joy, or any other good qualities are in fact rooted in true grace from God.
1) The fact that a person has a very strong love for God is no reliable sign.
2) The fact that the love for God is making great physical effects on the person is no reliable sign.
3) The fact that the person can articulate their experience of love for God precisely and with zeal is no reliable sign.
4) The fact that we didn't try to and/or make ourselves to love God is no reliable sign.
5) The fact that these love for God is accompanied by the bible passages popping up in your head is no reliable sign.
6) The fact that the person seems to show love for others is no reliable sign.
7) The fact that love for God shows up in many different ways is no reliable sign.
8) The fact that there was a specific sequence of emotions that came to the person which ended up in joy is no reliable sign.
9) The fact that a person gives much time with much zeal in church/ministry activities is no reliable sign.
10) That the person loves to sing His praises and worship God is no reliable sign.
11) That the person is very confident and sure of his love for God and of his salvation is no reliable sign.
12) That the person has an amazing or heart-warming testimony is no reliable sign.

I hope this list got you interested in what Edwards is saying in his book. Oh, and I hope you are not under a wrong impression that all these signs mean your love for God is not genuine. The items on this list are UNRELIABLE signs, which means that if your love for God is genuine and true, you might have these signs/symptoms. It is just that we cannot draw any conclusions from these signs whether your love for God is true or not.

Ok, guys, you would do well to follow this up.

Mark Driscoll is writing a book about porns and masturbation, "Porn Again Christian." The first chapter just became available, you can read it here.
From the book:
And, we must refuse to speak in sanitized clinical euphemisms like calling adulteries “affairs,” fornication “dating,” and perverts “partners” because God uses frank words for deplorable sin so we will feel its sickness without anesthesia.

NOTE: Mark is writing this book specifically for guys only, and as it may contain some materials that may stumble sisters, he recommends that sisters to refrain from reading this book.

[Update: Steve let me know that this book is specifically targeted for guys, and asked that, unless in a special circumstance, only brothers to read this book. I've updated this post accordingly. - 3-Oct-2008 3:15 PM]

Back from the camp

Came back from the High School Ministry camp yesterday. As it is often the case in my experience, it was tiring, yet good time spent together.

Thank you Dave for preaching God and His gospel with such accuracy and love.