Thursday, 29 December 2011

God is good because...

This is a little philosophical and theological exercise. How would you answer the following question:

Does God say He is good because He is good, or is God good because He says He is?

In other words, is God good when measured against some kind of standard of goodness, or does God appear to be good because He is the definer of goodness?

How you answer that question will not only reveal your understanding of "goodness" but also your understanding of God and the bible, His word.

Here's my take.

Christians understand and believe God is good. We believe God is good because the bible says so. And since the bible is God's word, His revelation of Himself, we trust what He says about Himself. Once we have met His Son, Jesus as Christ, our Lord and Saviour, we cannot help but trust what He said. And He said the bible is absolutely trustworthy.

So, the bible, God's word tells us that He is good.
Now, however, when He tells us He is good, do I understand it as God meeting certain criteria of being good, hence He can say that He is good? In other words, is there a kind of standard with which we can (and God can) measure God to see if He is good or bad?
Three options I think we have.
1) There is no standard to measure what is good and evil.
2) There is a standard and God does not meet that standard.
3) There is a standard and God does meet it.
Option 1 is invalid since to choose that leads us to conclude that there is no meaning of good and evil. The bible is babbling meaningless words when it says God is good, since if there is no standard with which we (or someone, even God Himself) can judge what is good and evil, how can we even have the category of goodness? It's like saying God is thick or round, but there is no category for measuring God's thickness or round-ness. It is an absurd position. So we reject that option.

Option 2 means that God is not good since God fails to meet the standard of goodness. It is simply contrary to what the bible says. Hence, we reject this option also.

Option 3 is the only valid one we can accept, if the bible is reliable. There must be a standard of goodness, and God meets that. Should He failed to meet the standard, He would not be good, and the bible would be misleading us by telling us that He is good. But the bible is trustworthy and tells us truth about God. So, there is a standard of goodness, and God does measure up to it.

This lets me answer the first part of the initial question in affirmative. God says He is good because He really is good.

Now, then, if God is saying He is good because He actually is good, must we reject the idea that God is good because He says He is? The phrase does appear to suggest that God could be an evil despot but tricks us into believing He is good by telling us with almighty force that He is good? Or can we still say that He is good because He says He is without harbouring some kind of suspicion that God could be lying to us about His character?

I believe we can. I believe we can say that God is good because He says He is good. Not only that, there is a sense in which we must insist upon.

Let me explain.

Earlier, we established that since the bible is trustworthy, and the words like good and evil are not meaningless but meaningful, it is necessary that there is a kind of standard of goodness and God fulfils that standard. But what is this standard? Or, rather more importantly for my current arguments, where does this standard come from? Is the goodness defined outside God? Is the standard of goodness external to God? Then He is judged by an external authority to be announced good. God could have all the power and strength in the world, but His moral standard, His goodness cannot be sustained by Himself. This is unbiblical idea. God is the creator of all things, visible and invisible. All authority is of Him and from Him. The standard of goodness must be internal to God. God defines what is good and evil. He reveals this through His word and supremely in His Son. We are all made in His image, so we can make sense of goodness that God reveals, and even if one has never been taught about the bible, in general, he can agree with what good is when shown to him.

So there is a sense where we can say that God is good because He says He is. If you cannot agree with that statement, it reveals something about your trust (or mistrust) in His revelation of Himself through the bible. We can validate whether He is actually good or not by measuring His actions against His words and we see the supreme vindication of all this exercise in His Son. In Jesus, His Word became flesh, and showed to us that God is good by His own supreme, excellent, and absolute standard He has Himself defined.

The important point of all this is that all these arguments I presented hinge upon the reliability, sufficiency, and authority of the bible as God's word. Without God's revelation of Himself by His word, the bible, we can only have speculations about God's character and even if you may affirm all the right things about God, you do not have a solid foundation to stand upon.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Can science prove naturalism is true?

It is only more recently in history that this 'pragmatic naturalism' has expanded to become an (unjustified) absolute. For Christian reasons, science began by talking about natural causes only, for science was just that - a method for investigating natural causes. In recent years, however, this has been turned on its head so as to claim that science therefore proves that natural causes are the only causes. This is a rather bizarre twist of logic, and only a little examination will show it to be unreasonable. Whether or not naturalism is true, it cannot be proved true by the very activity that pragmatically chooses not to discuss the alternative. The scientific method (as practised by the scientific community) will never 'discover' supernatural causes, since it does not look for them and by definition cannot accept them. This may or may not be a useful way to investigate the universe, but on its current constitution that is how science investigates the universe. A theory that incorporates supernatural intervention is, on current widely-accepted understanding not a scientific theory.
 - p40, Unnatural Enemies by Kirsten Birkett (italics original)

That modern science came from Christians intending to discover the natural laws that God had woven into the world is indisputable. In order to discover the natural laws, they had to take on a pragmatic naturalism, that is, to leave out the discussion of all supernatural or spiritual explanations outside the labs in order to to focus on the natural causes, not implying that natural causes are the only causes in this universe.

Take heart scientists who are Christians, excel at what you do, for you are not and never will be discovering something that will explain away God's truth or His own existence. Only, remember to be steadfast and resist temptations to bend truths somehow to prove or support what you believe about God.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

About church: a note to myself

Of many areas of theology, the theology of church has been the most difficult for me. I think I can give a definition of church, a gathering of Christians. And yet, I often find myself qualifying that definition, having noticed that seminaries, mission organisations, or denominations are NOT church, even though they are "gatherings of Christians", are they not?

 I don't know when I will grasp the meaning or the reality of church more clearly, but here's a few articles that I found helpful in thinking about church.

That second article is titled strongly for a purpose, nevertheless, I hope you can keep a clear head to read and comprehend what he's saying there.

I have been on his side of thinking for a long time, even as I greatly admire people like John Piper and Matt Chandler who are pastoring to multi-site churches, and are being used by God in a truly wonderful way. I believe multi-site churches are a compromise at best and should not be seen as an acceptable model.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

P plate fine

Driving back from Canberra last Sunday.

Me: Oooh, ok, there's a police car behind me with lights on. I'm gonna have to slow down and stop.
Wife: Really?
Me: I hope I wasn't speeding, for a moment, I might have gone over the speed limit, I don't know. If I have, this might be my first time getting caught. :-(
Wife: ...
Police Officer: This is a random breath testing, can I see your driver's license, please?
Me: Oh, yep. (feeling confident and relieved that it's not about speeding, handed over my license.)
PO: Please count to 5 here.
Me: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. (feeling more confident. Of course I didn't drink any alcohol that morning, nor the night before.)
PO: Ok... I also noticed that you didn't have your P plate displayed at the back.
Me: What?!?! No, really? It must've fallen off somewhere.
PO: No, well, you show me where you had it on. Just watch the cars driving past.
Me: Yeah, sure.
Came out of the car, walked around to the back. And, of course, just as PO said, it wasn't there.
Me: Oh, ok... but... but... I normally have them on, just here. (Pointing to the right side of the number plate.)
PO: So, when did you have it on?
Me: Urm... yesterday...? (O how I wish I did not say that...)
PO: See, there's dust here where you are pointing, you didn't have it on for a while.
I started walking around to the front of the car, thinking, "surely, the front one must still be there."
PO: Yeah, the front one, do you have the P plate at the front?
Me: What!?!? (To my shock and horror, the front one was missing too.)
PO: Where do you have it on, usually?
Me: (Somewhat unsure this time, point to the right side of the number plate) Around here...?
PO: There's dust and bugs as well here. See, you didn't have them on for a long time. You lied. I don't like being lied to.
Me: (By this time, I was so shocked and started feeling miserable, had my hands on top of my head.) I.. I have spare P plates in my car, I'll put them on right now.
PO: Yeah? I got lots of them. I can give you some if you want. Do you want them?
Me: No, no, I got some here. I'll just put them on right now...
PO: Well, I'll be right back, this won't take long. (Walks back to his car.)
Me: (getting back into my car and to my wife) Whe... when did we lose our P plates?
Wife: ... I don't know...?
Me: It must've fallen off somewhere and we didn't realise it for a while.
PO: (returning to us) You have driven without your P plates, and there was dust and bugs on the spot where you said you had your P plates on, obviously you did not have the P plates for a while. You are receiving the penalty and the instructions are on this paper. Do you have any questions?
Me: .... no.
PO: Ok, sorry to keep you waiting, have a nice day. (Walks away.)
Me: ... (sigh) ...
Me: (drive away)
... silence in the car for several minutes ...
Me: Sorry, Sulahya. I should've checked.
Wife: That's ok. (smiles)
Me: (sigh)
... more silence in the car for many more minutes ...
Me: Sorry, Sulahya, but... Arrghhh, I'm so upset!
Wife: It's okay. (more smiles)
Me: I mean, sure, I didn't have the P plates on. I'll pay the fine and take the demerit points, but why did he accuse me of lying?
Wife: ...
Me: I feel like writing a letter to the police department for an apology. I don't care about the fine, but why accuse me of lying?
Wife: huh. (small laughter)
... some time later ...
Me: Ok, ok. I have to confess that when I said, "yesterday...?" I was kind of lying. I didn't know whether the plate was on the car yesterday or not.... I just assumed it was on, and I was hoping that he would let me off with just a warning if I told him I had them on yesterday. I should forgive the policeman for accusing me of lying.
Wife: Ok.
Me: Yes, I forgive him. I decided to forgive him, and I forgive him.
Wife: Ok.
... some hours later ...
Me: Oh, I realise that I had been breaking the road rules many times, and I take this as God's gracious warning. I'm not even going to bother appealing for leniency. I'll just pay the fine and I will thank God for reminding me of His grace in my life.
Wife: Yeah... Ok.
... the next day ...
Me: (after paying for the fine online) Oh, God. I'm still upset. What is going on? Why, why am I so upset still?

[The dialogue with the police officer is as accurate as I can remember it. I wish I had the recorded conversation available to me.]


Deep down, I am upset more because of the moral accusation of lying from the policeman than the fine I received. But there is also a sense of being trapped by him (when he asked me when I had the P plate on, since I just assumed I always had them on and didn't pay much attention to it) and also a sense of lost opportunity of appeal for leniency because I didn't say the right words at the time (the policeman informed me well that the conversation is being recorded). But, ultimately, I now realise that I am so upset and unable to let go because I am not satisfied with God's forgiveness and Jesus's righteousness imputed on me. I am hurting from PO's moral accusation because my heart was saying that God's promise is not enough! It is good time to remind myself of Romans 8:1, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. O, that my heart be satisfied with Him!

I am not a fan of turning any of unfavourable life's events into some kind of lessons. There are cases where such approach may not be appropriate. But in this incident, I need to learn some valuable lessons, and they are:
1) Believe in Jesus who have paid for my sins completely. I no longer need to defend myself. No need to seek my own justification. Jesus is my justification. God declared I am forgiven. True, I am a liar, deserving eternal hell. Also true, that I am blameless in God's eyes, accepted into the blissful heaven where He reigns.
2) Resolved to be satisfied with what God says about me, rather than what people say about me. How long shall I go on fearing men, rather than God?
3) Resolved to speak truth only, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, all the time. Even in a situation where I *might* be able to escape a penalty by telling a half-truth, I must speak the truth. (In my recent experience, when the PO asked me when I had the P plates on, I should have said: "I do not know. I just assumed they were on, because I don't recall taking them off.", instead of squirming out, "... yesterday...?")
4) Resolved to keep to the law of the land to my best ability. It does not honour Jesus to break the law of this land.
5) Resolved to apply the gospel again and again to my own heart, knowing that it is both the sharpest sword to pierce my dull conscience as well as the most soothing balm to my hurting soul.

Also, from The Critical Question for Our Generation:
Ray Ortlund: “The worst this life can shove down our throats, but with the nearness of Jesus, is heaven on earth. The best this life can give, but without Jesus, is a living hell.”

I agree. And this whole event for the past few days, as much as my heart is still sore and grieving, has forced me to rely on Jesus more and for that I am grateful to God. It is His grace that I received this fine. It is His grace in my life that the PO stated the obvious that I am a liar. It is His grace that I continued to seek comfort from God. It is His grace that I can now say that it is His grace. It is all Him. I can boast in none but Jesus.

For those close to me, I ask for your prayers that I may be restored to peace and joy in Jesus.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

A young boy, political opinions, and Christianity

Charlie, an 11 year old from Sydney, has written an articulate opinion piece, and it was published by SMH yesterday.
As soon as saw it, I knew it would become popular, nay, semi-sensational, and apparently it did, mostly because anti-Christian people naturally love hearing arguments against Christian activities. It almost doesn't matter whether it is a strong, persuasive argument or not, as long as it is against Christianity, or more accurately, their understanding of Christianity.
Anyway, the opinion itself was very well written, I thought, for an 11 year old.
But, I would make a couple of comments about the following in particular:

By all means, Mr Nile, you go out and be as Christian as you want; I respect that entirely. But that does not give you and your supporters the right to attempt to shape a future generation of adults in your mould – that is a religious conservative.

Firstly, you seem to have a naive view of political engagement. Anyone and everyone who comes into a political arena brings his own beliefs. A Christian brings his Christian beliefs and they form their opinions. A muslim is influenced by his beliefs. An atheist brings his atheistic beliefs (that is, there is no God) into his political opinions, and I'm sure he tries to argue his case in hope that his policies will bring good to the people and the nation. Not only this is inevitable, it must be this way. You try to separate a person's beliefs and his opinions, you get hypocritical opinions. You will never get a genuine voice anywhere, unless you allow people to live, act, speak from their beliefs. No doubt, the pervasive naivety about the separation of church and state contributed to your error.

Secondly, if you are simply opposing Fred Nile's opinions and his political influence, whatever your motivation, that's fine. Let me repeat that. I'm a Christian, and I support Fred Nile in some of his political opinions, but I will not stop you from opposing him, whatever your motivation. But there is difference between opposing a political influence and attacking someone's right to a political influence. If you are hoping that he should not be allowed to voice his opinions and exercise his political power that he has, then you are only asking for trouble. You are denying his right to a political activity. Ever heard of freedom of speech? You know what you get when you deny others' freedom of speech? Totalitarian society.

Charlie, you wrote very well, and I believe you have a talented mind. In time, you will be able to understand and articulate issues and opinions even better than this. Keep yourself humble, and keep learning. You have a great potential, and I don't say this to many people.

For the SMH editors and readers who had to rely on this article to express your thoughts, I don't have much commendation for you. Not because it's from an 11 year old (I have a great respect for young minds, you only need to be aware of just a little bit of history to realise the amazing capacity and potential of young minds), but because it's not very strong and articulate as you think. You are only betraying yourselves when you get so excited about this piece. You only exposed your own ignorance on the fundamentals of the democratic society of Australia which comes from a rich Christian heritage.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Prayer for the anxious

Ah, Lord. I feel anxious again. I feel this dread and fear. I am burdened. Forgive me my sin of anxiety. Heal me, God. Heal my heart of this dread, fear, this heaviness, and give me that easy yoke, the light burden. Let me rest in You. (Matt 11:28-30)

Monday, 18 July 2011

What Bible is not about

The Bible is not an ethical textbook. The biblical writers are interested in revealing God's plan of salvation. They were not concerned to integrate the scattered moral elements into a systematic whole. Moral ingredients are dispersed throughout the text of Scripture and when these ingredients are gathered together they do not in themselves present a totally comprehensive picture. There are many gaps, and these do not allow us to correlate everything into an entirely comprehensive arrangement.

p. 248 The how and why of love: An Introduction to Evangelical Ethics by Michael Hill

Take the bible as a ethical textbook, you will get some crazy religious people.
Take the bible as the progressive revelation of God's plan of salvation, centred on Jesus, you get a life-transformed (and transforming), love abounding people.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Easter weekend

Easter weekend is over and all I hear is how great or not-so-great their trips and dining experiences were. That's to be expected from non-Christians, but, brothers and sisters in Christ, how was your Easter weekend when you are conversing with non-Christians?

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A note to myself: About Joy

A Christian hedonist says "God is my joy," NOT "joy is my God."
Delighting in the LORD and simply feeling delighted are two different things.
I must remember that.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Reforming our prayer life

If you are serious about reforming your prayer life, you must begin with your heart. Unconfessed sin, nurtured sin, will always be a barrier between God and those he has made in his image.
True, sometimes when we try to clean up relationships that have soured in the past, the other party remains intransigent. But that is between that party and God; you and I must watch our hearts.
This is true even when the offense has been entirely on the other side.

-- p. 76, A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D. A. Carson

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Why do I serve where I serve, and why do I do the things that I do?

As someone who has taught seminary students for more than fifteen years, I worry about the rising number of seminarians who, when asked where and how they think they might best serve, respond with something like this: "Well, I think I would like to teach somewhere. Every time I have taught, people have told me I have done a pretty good job. I get a tremendous sense of fulfillment out of teaching the Bible. I think I could be satisfied teaching Scripture."
How pathetic. I know pagans who find satisfaction and fulfillment by teaching nuclear physics. In any Christian view of life, self-fulfillment must never be permitted to become the controlling issue. The issue is service, the service of real people. The question is, How can I be most useful?, not, How can I feel most useful? The goal is, How can I best glorify God by serving his people?, not, How can I feel most comfortable and appreciated while engaging in some acceptable form of Christian ministry? The assumption is, How shall the Christian service to which God calls me be enhanced by my daily death, by my principled commitment to take up my cross daily and die?, not, How shall the form of service I am considering enhance my career? This is not to deny that Christians may derive joy from work honestly offered to God, whether that work is vocational ministry or research into the properties of quarks. But it is one thing to find joy in the work to which we have been called, and another to make joy the goal of life, the fundamental criterion that controles our choices. It is one thing to weigh a Christian leader's evaluation of our gifts, and another so to focus on our perception of our gifts that self-worship has crept in through the back door. It is one thing to think of people as a live audience that will appreciate our displays of homiletical prowess, and another that passionately shapes each sermon to convey the truth to God's people for their good.

- p. 82-83, A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D. A. Carson

What challenging words. What truth! How often I take good works that God has called me to do into a kind of performance before them for my praise and sense of fulfilment! O, that God would bring a reformation in my heart!

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Justification is not enough

Can it be said that justification is not enough for a Christian? Of course this needs some explanation.
I bring this to my mind because as an important and great ground the justification is for our reconciliation with God, yet, without the sanctification, and later glorification, what hope is there for a Christian? What joy of looking forward to the greater days to come is there? What strength of picking myself up after a stumble is there, if God is not working sanctification in my life now and there were no promise of glorification in the life to come?

Thanks be to God, that I am not only saved, but also being saved and will be saved through the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Reflections after reading "Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor" by D. A. Carson.

An ordinary pastor. What does it mean to be an ordinary pastor? Carson's book certainly isn't intended to define what it means to be an ordinary pastor. Less was it to encourage pastors to be ordinary. The purpose and intention, as I understand, was to encourage pastors, but also any Christians, in their Christian walk. In that respect, he has produced a wonderful book. It sure has encouraged and challenged me to think about my life as a Christian, although I do not hold a title, pastor.

What was most striking for me from this book was, however, the title itself. Once I started learning about Tom Carson, the subject of the book and the father of the author, I could not help but feel that this pastor was no ordinary man. Sure, the size of the church he was ministering at never grew to a point where it could be called big or significant regionally, let alone internationally. He did not author a book. He did not start a seminary. He was not involved in a major theological controversy worth mentioning. In fact, even the book about him by his son concludes at mere 160 pages.
If these are what all counted in a Christian pastor, yes, perhaps the book was titled very aptly; at least his achievements were very ordinary, and I believe this is the reason the book was so titled. Yet, when I discovered the way he honoured others, even those who mistreated him so unjustly, or the way he put his sin of bitterness to death so promptly and persistently, or the way he rejoiced with those who were joyful with no reservations and envy, or the way he faithfully committed himself to God's sure word, the bible, day after day, week after week, year after year, the way he kept on loving his wife and his children through all the ups and downs of life, I found myself thinking that this is no ordinary pastor, but an exceedingly extraordinary one.

Then, I soon felt a slight blush. I was somewhat embarrassed for what I had just thought. To think that a godly character was an extraordinary thing in a Christian man revealed how low my moral standard had sunk. By no means I am trying to minimise the fact how great and wonderful Tom Carson was, the lasting impression I have from reading the book is my desire to be like this godly man. But to think that, simply because he was a godly man, although he did, of course, have some weaknesses, this pastor was no ordinary Christian, I believe I have a very slackened sense of Christian discipline and character.

That brought me back to agree with the title, "Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor." He was an ordinary Christian. Perhaps extraordinary by the world's standard in terms of Character, and insignificant by the world's measure of success. Nevertheless, he was a very much significant servant for God's mission and in His Kingdom, and very much ordinary in his character as far as God's moral vision for His people goes.

Now, what about me? I don't need such a godly man as Tom Carson to compare to reveal my short comings, an hour of drive together with me on busy Sydney roads will be more than enough. I might as well be called an "extraordinary" Christian in the opposite way in the Kingdom of God, if He was not so gracious to save such a sinner as myself. So I do not need to despair about my sins, yet, I can, nay, must set my goal ever higher; indeed Tom Carson is not my goal, but Jesus Christ Himself had set the ever clear and bright standard I must run towards. He had gone through the adversaries in life without stumbling, and now sits on the right hand of the Father and sent His Spirit to empower me in my walk as a child of God. How will He find me on the Judgment Day? Will He find me faithful?

(I highly recommend reading this book for any Christians wishing to be encouraged and invigorated in their desire for growth in godliness. You can purchase this book from Amazon, BookDepository, or Koorong.)

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

If you are brutally honest with yourself...

[But] a ruthless honesty will always leave us shattered by our inadequacy. the world is a frightening place. If we are not a little bit scared, we simply don't know what is going on. If we are pleased with ourselves, we either don't have very high standards or have amnesia in regard to the central reality, for 'it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God' (Heb 10:31). Pascal said, 'Fear not, provided you fear; but if you fear not, then fear.'

- p. 223, Life At Its Best by Eugene Peterson

Monday, 14 March 2011

The gaping hole

In my craving to be happy, I acknowledge that at the center of my life there is a gaping hole of emptiness without God. This hole constitues my need and my rebellion at the same time. I want it filled, but I rebel at God's filling it with Himself. By grace, I awake to the folly of my rebellion and see that if it is filled with God my joy will be full.
- p. 164, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper

The Goodnews is not that you are given a way to salvation by obeying the law. It is not even that you can come to serve God simply by you toiling away. The radical nature of the Goodnews is that God is here to serve you in a way that is glorifying to Him and joyful for you.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Lego and the bible

The Brick Testament.
Someone put LEGO to a very good use by visually telling the biblical accounts.
See this empty tomb.


See the whole story of Jesus here: The Brick Testament

(HT: 22 Words)

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

God defines me.

This is a response to a question posed by a friend at work. If you find this hard to understand, that's because it's lacking the context. Please just move on.

As a Christian, I no longer measure my self-worth by human standard because it's pointless. I used to measure myself against other people to see if I was any better than them. It wasn't hard to find someone who seemed morally worse than I was, which made me feel somewhat good about myself. But then I met Jesus. Then I understood that
1) I was morally bankrupt. In Jesus, I saw how high God's standard was.
2) comparing my moral behavior with others didn't do any good to me since God knew my heart and trying to soothe my conscience through comparing myself to other people itself was deemed evil in God's eyes.
3) even if measuring my self worth against other people was an acceptable thing, I no longer see the need of it since God says that I'm more precious than I could ever imagine myself to be and that I am pure and blameless in His sight through the blood of Jesus.
4) since God has declared I am of great worth, it's just not satisfying for me to get a sense of self worth by comparing myself to others anymore. Why go after the ignorant's opinion about me when the perfect and all-knowing Judge tells me who I am?
5) going to God for His approval instead of getting my own sense of self worth liberates me from judging others. I'm so bad only God can save me. So how can I look down on other people? I still make this mistake time to time but the gospel foundation reminds me that I can no longer boast about myself.

So in a sense, I kind of accept my own limits as you suggest, but in a different way. I accept the fact that I am a sinner and yet I have every reason to pursue the life of holiness because no matter how miserably I fail each day, I can try again afresh. I don't need to be fatalistic about myself. You might think why I should try at all if Jesus has paid the debt then. That's because my "taste" has changed at a profound level when Jesus met me. I find it much more joyful to keep on trying and find God's grace where I fail, than to just accept my sins and reveling in them.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Joy for a Christian

For the Christian, human joys are a small foreshadowing of the joys that are in store. Terrestrial happiness is only a foretaste of eternity. As the book of Revelation 21:4 puts it, "God will wipe away every tear, and there will be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away." It is in this spirit that the Christian awaits this final moment of destiny, relishing the gift of life while every day proclaiming, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus. We are ready."

- p. 308, What's so great about Christianity by Dinesh D'Souza

My pastor and friend Bernie quite often emphasises joy. Joy of being a Christian. Joy offered to a Christian. Joy of knowing God. Joy that God eternally enjoys. Joy that is promised.
At first I thought it was quite a new approach to living the life as a Christian. But then I discovered (thankfully) that Bernie was not the first Christian to say it. John Piper does it. Martin Lloyd-Jones did it.
And I started seeing it in the Bible for myself as well.
Lately I saw it in the concluding paragraph in an apologetic book by Dinesh D'Souza quoted above.

These days, I wonder why it took me so long to realise that God is joyful and it is good news for us that God is joyful and we have so much more joy to experience and look forward to as Christians. It could've been my personality that I'm born with. It could've been my childhood upbringing. It also could be coming from my sin. But whatever the cause, the important thing is that I know there is immense joy offered to me. I feel as though I am only starting to see why and how the good news of Jesus is the good news for me as a believer.

The doctrine of election

The doctrine of election tells me that I have nothing to boast about myself. But for so long, I've been using it to look down on others since they have nothing to boast about themselves. "Sure, I don't deserve to be loved by God but neither are you!"

As usual, the problem is not the doctrine, but it's my superficial belief in the doctrine. It is my depraved mind that abuses a good doctrine to hide my insecurity about myself and to justify my unloving heart.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Australia Day

My Australia Days in the past several years usually consisted of sleeping in, and then going to the Strathfield Park to cheer for volleyball teams from my church in the annual Korean Volleyball competition, then spending the rest of the evening with close friends, usually stuffing myself with a large amount of Korean food. In short, I stayed well within my comfort zone as a Korean immigrant, not involving myself with much of what was going on in the wider Australian community.
This year, I spent the Australia Day a bit differently. I didn’t go watch my friends play volleyball among other Koreans. My wife and I went to attend the Australia Day Convention held at the St. Andrew’s Cathedral. It was a Christian event, so it could be argued that I still stayed within my comfort zone. I don’t deny it. But the biggest difference was the fact that I traveled to the city on a train, and during the train trips and while I was in the city, I got to witness the various ways people celebrated the Australia Day.

There were people who were obviously headed to beaches. It was a hot day. These young and lively looking people were in groups, carrying very little other than a small bag and a towel. There were others who were with family. Some were with their prams and little kids with them. I don’t know if I will ever try to get to city with my kids by train. It looked very hard.

There were some people who carried with themselves the blue Australian flag. To my surprise, some of those people who carried the flags weren’t typical Australians with blond hair and fair skin. Some might already feel offended by my phrasing of “typical Australian with blond hair and fair skin” because it sounds so anti-multicultural and even sound remotely racist. I know there are thousands of non-Anglo looking Australians. I know there are Aborigines. Many of my friends who are Asian descend identify themselves as Australians, and I’m fine with that. But whenever I travel outside Sydney, most people I meet are white. Central Coast, South Coast, Blue Mountains, Canberra, Brisbane, Tasmania, Cairns, Parkes, Orange. These are some places that I have visited to spend at least a day or two and I saw mostly Anglo-saxon people, so I think the “typical Australian” is not a bad term to use to describe the people group. But I digress.

There were Indian looking family who held Australian flags. I saw an Asian looking family with flags. I think there were some inter-racial families with flags too. All these were pretty cool. The struggle to reconstruct the culture after the “White Australian” policy perhaps is finally yielding some fruit.

However, there were some sights that made me to ponder on the national identity of Australia. That sounds a bit over the top, since I didn’t think that long and hard, nor do I consider myself to be knowledgeable enough to make a profound statement about a big topic like this. But I couldn’t resist this thought, this concern for the future of Australia.

Even though I was impressed by the number of the “non-typical Australians” who carried the Australian flags, what stood out the most for me was the rough-behaving young “Aussies.” These people looked so healthy physically, and they were obviously proud of it since they were wearing so little. Some guys were topless, displaying his large but lean muscles and various tattoos around his arms and back. They spoke loudly among themselves, and moved with a dominant presence. There was a hint of drunkenness. Many people were quietly watching them and some people changed their direction to stay out of their way. These people were either oblivious to the fact that many people were finding them intimidating or, even worse, enjoying it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay for anybody to drink a little bit and have some fun with friends. You could get a bit loud perhaps because you are “tipsy” or maybe a little bit drunk. But why especially on this day?
What I found most troubling about these people were the fact that I hardly witness that kind of behaviour on any other days. Why is it that on the Australia Day, on the day designated to reflect on the national identity and celebrate it, I get to see so much of anti-social behaviour? This Australia Day where all Australians are reminded of their national identity, why are you guys out about in this manner? The Australia Day is the day when some people are awarded for their excellent contribution to the country as a community because the leaders of the nation believe that these people have made it better for the people of the land and want to recognise it, and want to encourage it. Australia Day is for Australians. But why are there so many people, especially young people (some of them were even carrying the blue flags or wrapped in them), who only seem to care for the immediate “fun” and “pleasure” only for themselves? Is it the best way you could celebrate the Australia Day? They seem so proud of the nation Australia, but I hope they could give a good reason for it.

All these were a very good opportunity for me to reflect on the identity and future of Australia. It was good because it made me think about where I stand and what kind of community I am living in. It was timely too, since within a couple of weeks time, I will officially pledge my loyalty to this nation and become an Australian citizen. I will probably remain Korean in many ways, but my national identity will be Australian. And before I am Korean and before I am Australian, I am Christian, which means my ultimate and true citizenship is in heaven. But while I journey along in this life, I will be shaped by and shaping the Australian community. I still don’t know how to describe definitely what Australian values are. I just know some phrases which are thrown about so often in different ways. Hopefully, in coming years as I grow older and grow my family, God willing, I will get to understand more about Australian values and culture, but also contribute to it in positive and productive ways.

Written: 5-Feb-2011

Edited: 2-Jun-2014

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Fear of men and unbelief

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
- 1 Corinthians 1:22-24

I realised that I didn't really believe this. I kept on hoping to persuade a non-Christian by showing how reasonable and intelligent Christian faith is. I was trying to make sure that the hearer understood that I was no fool by anyone's standard. I was giving so much effort into presenting the Christian faith in a way that sounds smart and reasonable. I was hoping that they wouldn't classify me as one of those "crazy Evangelicals" on TV, or fanatical Muslims, or ridiculously religious looking Hindus, and so on. I just didn't want to look foolish.

I foolish I have been indeed.

Faith in Jesus actually is the most beneficial, smartest, wisest decision anyone could make, but to outsiders, it'll never look that way. And the bible so plainly says so. What have I been trying to do all this while?

It was my insecurity and fear of men. It was my unbelief in the power of God in the gospel of Jesus. It crippled me in preaching the gospel, and robbed me of the joy and confidence in God's power. Instead, just as I feared, my arguments only fell to the ground and didn't penetrate the hearers' conscience or logic. I tried. I failed. Thank God I failed, otherwise I might have boasted in my "evangelism."

Oh, save me, Lord, from my idols of reputation and acceptance before men. May I be like those apostles who rejoiced when they were flogged because they were counted worthy of suffering for the Name of Lord (Acts 5:41). May I be secure in what You say, that I am your beloved son and you count me as pure and blameless, washed spotless. May I trust in Jesus instead of trusting in my logical arguments. May I find peace and acceptance in God through Jesus rather than seeking the approval of men. Save me or I die, Lord.

Gospel and the reference point

If wisdom, which is perfected in the gospel, is to have any impact in the world, it must be seen as the implication of that gospel. Far from removing the wisdom literature of the Old Testament from the concern of Christians, the gospel completes and interprets it. With the total perspective of Old and New Testaments we have the basis for understanding the fear of the Lord and how it brings us to a comprehensive view of reality. The nature of the unity of all things and the proper distinction between them are obscured once we have rejected the ultimate points of reference. The Christian mind begins with the being of God as Trinity. It is not just vaguely theistic in some unspecified way. To say, 'I believe in God' is not good enough unless it is the God of the Bible we are referring to. The secular mind has rejected this most significant reference point and has consequently cast a cloud of ignorance and folly over every area of its knowledge. Humanism defeats its own goal of the good of man. It cannot know what is the ultimate good of man since it has rejected the possibility of the God of the Bible existing. New gods have taken the place of the true God, and technology has been turned into a particularly tenacious twentieth-century idol. It is a very powerful god since it is the diversion of something that was at the centre of God's purposes for good.
-pp.547 Gospel and Wisdom (Goldsworthy Trilogy)

You can get your copy of Goldsworthy Trilogy from Koorong, Bookdepository, or Amazon.

Science and Christian faith

It was hard, but finished reading Gospel and Wisdom. I'll be posting a couple of quotes from the ending part of the book.

Because science and technology are expressions of the cultural mandate they must be affirmed and welcomed by Christians. Indeed, the Christian view of man and creation provides the scientist and technologist with a perspective of their pursuits which not only made them possible, but which should have prevented them from creating the monster. When the cultural mandate is accepted on the basis of revelation, the proper distinctions between God, man (scientists) and the world can be maintained. But when it ceases to be seen as mandate, that is, as task authorized by a superior it comes to be regarded as the natural extension of the autonomous man. Removed from its benign relationship to the order of the universe, it is adopted as the power base for all kinds of domination. The domination of man was intended to reflect the gracious shepherd rule of God, but it became corrupted into self-seeking power play. Wisdom urges us to go on struggling to translate the fear of the Lord as the beginning of the knowledge into the means of living by faith in the world. Its base in the doctrine of creation, and its emphasis on the practicalities of life here and now, provide a check against the wrongful use of an orientation towards the future life to our responsibilities in the present. Wisdom reminds us that the resurrection life will be reached by means of our pilgrimage through this life in this world.

- pp546-547 Gospel and Wisdom (Goldsworthy Trilogy)

Saturday, 22 January 2011


Sometimes I do a shadow boxing. Not a physical kind. Mine happens within my own mind. It usually goes like me imagining a sparring partner making a statement, and me trying to respond to that statement.

My shadow boxing partner: Christianity is crap!
Me: Well, yes and no. If you mean by Christianity a kind of religious pretension that you can get to heaven by attending a church, say the right things, and refrain from certain sins, you are right. Christianity is crap and below. But the Christianity as it is meant to be, the truth of Jesus, the living faith in Him, and the community of His redeemed people, then, no, Christianity is the best thing you could ask for in this world.

Partner: Ok, but church is really crap. I heard of enough horror in the church. They are just a bunch of hypocrites.
Me: Yes, and no.
Yes, there are plenty of horrible things that happened in churches, and by the churches. I tell you, the church I attend to isn't necessarily the nicest place you would want to be. Most of time, they are really nice, but once in a while, they will make you feel hurt and sin against you even. They are anything but a perfect people. Yet, I tell you, that Jesus called His church His bride. I wouldn't go around bad-mouthing the bride of the King. The bride is far from perfect, and we still have much to learn, and we should. But just be careful when you are speaking about the King's bride. The King loves His bride.

Partner: Nay, cut the crap. Jesus is no King. He's fake. He's the crappest of all!
Me: No, you are crap. Shut up. I might say yes and no for some things related to Christianity because there are always people involved. And people are sinners whether Christians or not. And so you will find "crappiness" in those things. But no. Jesus is good. He is perfect. He is sinless. He is better than you can ever imagine. That goes for me too. He is always better than I expect Him to be. He never deserves to be called "crap". But this amazing King endures such an insult even now. His grace endures. His mercy continues. But beware, there is a day coming. He will stop the mouths of slanderers and shine His light of glory in full. That's when my joy will be complete, to behold His beauty and worship Him. No, He is not crap. You really should get to know Him better before it's too late.

(Photo source: Eric Conveys Emotion)

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Control and unbelief

How pervasive is my unbelief.

God said that He is good and gracious, and He had demonstrated His character over and over again. Through creation, the seasons, and mornings after nights. He had proved His goodness towards me over and over again so intimately. And He had sent His Son to redeem this world full of rebels against Him, proving His gracious character once and for all. At a great cost to Himself, He showed His character is trustworthy. And yet, my lack of faith in God is more pervasive than I'd like to think. It is only when I do realise an incident, an expression of that unbelief, that I am appalled and frightened.

Here is one of those incidents.

I have had really wonderful past few days. It was my first time entering a new year with a wife. And I spent really good time with close friends who welcomed us into their house, nay, more into their lives and made us feel loved and encouraged. It was one of the best beginnings of the year I had.

But then, today, I suddenly felt as though I had to make sure that they knew I really enjoyed the time and want to do it again. I felt I had to tell them in a special way how much I appreciate their friendship.

Why, you might be thinking, that sounds good and right?

It was then when God illumined a corner of my heart to make me realise that my desire to let my friends know about my appreciation towards them was very much tainted with another desire that was more sinister. I need to have a control over this relationship I enjoyed in recent few days. I wanted to make sure it continued and I felt fearful at the thought of not being able to have such wonderful fellowship again in the future. I felt as though I needed to do something to make the relationship more concrete. I felt I needed to take control of this precious relationship that I enjoyed so I could have such a great fellowship again in the future.

But why? Why did I come to feel this way? How did I come to decide that I needed to take control of this relationship?

Did I earn this wonderful friends first place?
Was there anything that I did to make these friends come into existence? Did I cause this friendship? Did I create the wonderful, joyful, fun, and encouraging time myself?
No, no, no, and no.

I was only given a joy ride and before I knew it, I was riding in it. Not as a driver, but as a passenger. I'd rather be a passenger when I'm on a joy ride, not a driver. The driver's working while passengers are having fun.

So why try to take control of it now? Why feel the need to take the control of it now?

Answer: I do not trust that God would grant me such wonderful time in the future, unless I do something about it to secure it now.
I do not trust that God is full of grace and goodness that all these things that I enjoy are simply result of His overflowing kindness towards me.
I enjoyed these recent days, but why? I must've earned it by my effort. I did it! I somehow, by some kind of good deeds that I had done, I deserved their friendship and joyful time we had!

How wrong I was. And how good that I WAS wrong! All is gift, and all praise and glory is to Him who gives abundantly!

Oh, Lord, I believe that You are kind towards me because You are full of grace. Help my unbelief, and take control of my life.

(Photo source: photobucket)

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Responding to an atheist's provocation: I don't know how yet.

I saw a provocative slogan on the Richard Dawkins Foundation website.

I don't think a campaign with this slogan actually went live, but I'm not sure.

Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.

I didn't like it from the start. That other slogan, "There's probably no God, now stop worrying, and enjoy your life" was at least honest. This slogan plays on the common confusion among people about correlation and causality. See: and try to understand this cartoon.

Anyway, I thought about how I could best respond to this kind of slogan, and I am still thinking.
I thought of a couple of options so far:
1) Ignore it. Dismiss it. Avoid the confrontation.
This was my first reaction.
Obviously this is an intentionally written to be provocative. A friend from work told me it's a hyperbole. So how should I respond to a hyperbole? One option is ignoring it. They are attacking at their own time of choosing, with their own choice of words and medium. So? I could try to choose my own time, medium, words, whatever to present a case for Christianity against atheism or other world views.
This could be useful if I feel that I'm not ready to take on the particular provocation. I must learn to rest knowing that God's truth will remain even if I do not defend it. It is His truth that defends me on the last day, not the other way around, ultimately speaking.
2) But then, if I actually met someone who asked me about it personally, I'd probably ask him a few things and depending on that I might respond to him in a few different ways.
What would I ask?
One thing I would ask is this: What do you mean by religion? Define religion for me. Chances are, Christianity won't fit into your definition of religion. Or, your definition of religion will actually include the atheism, or it might even expose that you have a religion of your own called science. Ok, I'm not saying just because you trust science, you take science religiously. However, I know several people who do take their trust in science to the point where it can only described as a religion.

What other ways would you respond to it?

(Photo source: The Richard Dawkins Foundation)

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

King's English: let there be light

We tend to think of light and darkness as equal and opposite powers, but of course they’re not. A battle between light and darkness is over in an instant. Wherever light is present, the darkness must give way. Yet darkness has no power to push back in the other direction. Light shines. Darkness doesn’t darken. It can only have a shadowy existence. It is not a positive thing. It is a lack of a positive thing. And when Light shines, darkness is defeated.

So well put. But the whole point of the post is even better.

See it here: Let there be light.