Friday, December 28, 2012

30 Years Ago in Christchurch

I walked down memory lane over Christmas. It was 1st March 1982 when I first set foot in Christchurch, the city of my spiritual rebirth and if there were a city that had shaped my formative years as a Christian it had to be Christchurch. Interestingly, the bus we took into the city stopped right in front of the make-shift Christchurch library and the first book that caught my eye was a book on St Augustine whose Confessions rates as one of my all time favourites. The pastor on Sunday also mentioned Augustine, one of the imperial rhetoricians in Rome, but when he found Christ he gave up everything and became pastor in a small north African town in Hippo and served there for more than 30 years until his death. The Lord spoke to me through the example of Augustine and though dead his witness shines bright and guides those who can see beyond outward appearance.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Morning

Christmas morning in Dunedin is one of the quietest times of the year. There were sounds of church bells ringing as I walked to Knox Presbyterian Church. It was a lovely service as the minister read from John's prologue with congregational responses. At the end of the service a Samoan brother chatted with me for 30 minutes, the longest time I had spoken to a church member since I attended church 4.5 years ago in Singapore. He was a lovely man who came to NZ, straight to Dunedin in 1966, married a Kiwi and now happily retired. He shared with me his life story how when he was a boy growing up in Samoa he never listened to God-things though both his father and step-father were ministers. He was in such a bad shape that he fell off a train from Wellington to Auckland while drunk but walked to a farm to get help for his horrific injuries. What amazing grace of God. He shared how his life was changed 9 years ago and he felt like a new man. Now he prays 6 or 7 times a day and reads the Bible all the time. This lovely Samoan brother spoke as he had tears in his eyes. Now he gives his money to old folks and helps the needy. When I hear testimony such as this I know indeed my redeemer lives and no man can pay his own ramsom but that Christ has to come to earth as man and die for all our sins.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Snatched into Paradise: Paul's Heavenly Journey

This may sound boring for some but the best times I have had over these holidays are reading a number of monographs. James Buchanan Wallace's book on Paul's Heavenly Journey (2 Cor 12:1-10) is one of the best books I have read on any topic of the New Testament. Wallace, unlike many scholars did not downplay Paul's estatic experiences but rather he highlighted how these experiences are crucial in Paul's theology. Wallace examined a number of church fathers including Origen and Symeon the theologian and concluded that for Paul and his early interpreters, "such experiences draw human beings out of themselves through a taste of the goodness and glory of God...Being seized by God and brought up into the divine life draws human beings out of their realms of immediate concerns and selfish desires. When human beings recognize that another dimension of reality exists and that this dimension is sweeter and greater than self, only then can they be motivated to abandon selfish passions and desires." (p. 337).

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cricket, Dim Sum and Sermon

This Sunday will go down as one of the most memorable. After rising early to bright sunlight I was eager to go to church. The senior pastor preached a sermon about Christmas and what it meant to risk much by God and those who chose to respond to the angelic invitation announcing the virgin birth. Later we talked and for the first time a pastor actually asked for my advice - what commentaries series would I recommend. Smyth and Helwys! Then we had lunch with my friend whom I knew from 1999 and we had Dim sum lunch. How wonderful it was to renew friendship and fellowship over a meal.

At 2.30pm I rushed to the Universal Oval to watch Otago played Wellington in T20 match. No doubt the star of the game was Jesse Ryder but he got out early making 37 runs and Wellington's run chase piltered out and they lost by about 80 runs. It was an idyllic afternoon with such great weather and awesome cricket from the Otago Volts all round. I can't help thinking that if the Lord wants me to serve in New Zealand, I would have no hesitation, but then there will be little risk and I probably watch cricket all day. I looked around the ground and there were a few Indians and the rest were all white Kiwis. I am the only Chinese Asian. The kiwi bloke sitting next to me was friendly and it helped that I showed some knowledge of NZ cricket. My icebreaker was "Jesse should be playing in South Africa" and we chatted and he hoped Jesse Ryder would rejoin the blackcaps when NZ plays England next March.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Spending Christmas with Family

When a friend asked me to climb Mount Cook 12 years ago my reply was a quick "No thanks". He recently told me how to keep warm sleeping on the snow. Though it is summer here, some nights have been down to 8 degrees which is 3 times colder than what I used to in Singapore.

Anyhow, I might just have a chance to spend Christmas on Mount Cook stopping over there from Queenstown to Christchurch. When I bought the tickets yesterday it was the first time that I thought this would be one Christmas that I will spend with my son. It took me a while to decide to go on a holidays but when my son got his first job yesterday I thought that would be a nice way to celebrate flying over Mount Cook and making a round trip from Dunedin to Queenstown then to Mount Cook onto Christchurch and back to Dunedin in 3 days.

Spending Christmas with family has always been put in the back burner as I have preached on most Christmas days since 1994. Even though the family is with you but when you are on preaching assignment it is hard to enjoy the day except to focus on the Christmas messages. I remembered once it bore fruits when I interviewed a member for baptism and she told me that she came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through the sermon I preached the year before. Since hearing that testimony I have been reluctant to decline Christmas preaching invitations.

I told my son that once he graduates, we as a family will find one Christmas day where father, mother and son spend Christmas together somewhere without preaching distractions.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Malaysian Christians Free to visit Israel for 21 Days

Yesterday's Malaysian Star newspapers had the headline that the government lifted restrictions to visit Israel. Before that Malaysian Christians were only allowed to visit Jerusalem for 10 days. The Menorah you see on my blog was purchased in Jerusalem during my friend's pilgrimage there in 2005. So it is a Jerusalem menorah which I treasure greatly, a sign, perhaps that I will wait until the government abolishes all restrictions for Malaysians to visit Israel any-time and for whatever length of time permitted by Israel like for any other country. Indonesia, the biggest Muslim nation in the world has never imposed any restrictions on her citizens to visit Israel and I don't see why Malaysia should be overly cautious if it wants to be known as a moderate Muslim nation where 40 percent of its population are non-Muslims. As much as we welcome the softening on the part of the government, I find it ridiculous that we should treat this partial lifting of restrictions as an early Christmas present to Malaysian Christians as some have called it.

The Longest Day (Heb 4:8-10)

The longest day in the Southerm Hemisphere turns out to be one long gloomy and rainy day. What a contrast! Yesterday was all bright and sunny for 15 hours but today no a ray of sunshine is in sight. Indeed darkness prevails but there is hope of another day. Today brought great joy to my heart as my son secures his first real job albeit part-time as he needs to complete one more paper over Summer school, then a full-time job may beckon provided he performs.

Johannine Worship of God

Raimo Hakola's Identity Matters: John, the Jews and Jewishness (Brill, 2005) makes a strong argument that the Jewishness of Jesus is fundamental in understanding John's teaching on the worship of God in ch. 4. "the new worship in the Johannine sense does not mean spiritual worship as contrasted to external forms of worship. The contrast is rather between the worship apart from Jesus and the worship established by Jesus. Although the new worship  is not bound to any given place or local traditions it is bound to the person of Jesus. The true worship in spirit and truth is thus a response to Jesus' revelation of the Father" (p. 108).

Thursday, December 20, 2012

World Economy: Justice for the Poor

Besides reading theology I have the opportunity to read some of my son's books on economics, especially on world economy and international trade. Not that I am interested in economics per se but globalization and international commerce are for all to read in the book of Revelation chs 17 and 18. Horst Siebert's The World Economy: A global analysis (2007) is very readable even for amateur observers of global trends.

"Work while it is still Day"

It's the first time in Dunedin that we have the sun whole day from 6am to 9pm. But as the day goes by, darkness shall come and there shall no longer be light. I have been in New Zealand for 16 days and hardly a day goes by without me thinking and praying for New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

From John to Paul

After reading on John for 10 days I have now turned my attention to Paul. For another 10 days I hope my study on Paul will take me to the end of the year and preparation for the new Semester will begin in earnest. Moyise's Paul's use of Scripture contains a chapter on Paul's exegesis of the creation stories in Gen 1-2. Understanding how Paul used Gen 1-2 is crucial in interpreting Paul's idea on women's role in church as seen in 1 Cor 11 and 14 read together with 1Tim 2. John's scriptural reference in his Gospel is perhaps more nuanced and subtle than Paul where John could cite Psalm 82: "You are gods" without much explanation and then expects his readers to understand Jesus' argument that as the Son of God he is entitled to claim equality with God.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Milestones in Dates

After not writing for 12 days I guess it's a milestone to write twice in 12 hours. I suppose it is too great a chance to let it go by since today's date 12.12.12  happens once in 100 years. Knowing that there is little chance of living for another 100 years it seems fitting to record some landmarks. First, it's been 25 years since my working life began. I have worked for a full 20 years after deducting about 5 years I was engaged in theological study full-time. It's also 5 years since I left my ministry as pastor in Sabah.

12 is a great number in many ways. We have 12 months to a year. 12 hours of daylight. 12 Zodiac signs. 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. Time and seasons are divided by 12s. 12 above all is the number of the people of God. There are 12 tribes and Christ has 12 apostles. The New Jerusalem has 12 gates and 12 foundations.

This year  I have reached 4 cycles of 12s and in another 12 years I would reach a ripe old age of 60. Knowing how quick the last 4x12s have gone, I know this present cycle of 12 will fly by in no time. Whether I have another cycle of 12 after this round is purely God's grace. If I survive the next cycle, anything beyond that is pure grace upon grace. 84 is a good number for it is 7x12 and if I should reach it with praises on my lips and proclaiming still the gospel of my Lord Jesus I shall be truly content, counting the days and presenting to God a heart of wisdom.


Phases of Life

Just as I visited my son when he was finishing High School I am now with him as he completes his University studies. We move from one phase of life to another. Soon my son will seek employment and I should be free financially from supporting his studies. He is excited about the prospects of working part-time for an online education company developing contents for NZ curriculum. As a father my role is more as a friend and counsellor but now he has to stand on his own feet and survive in the real world. My first real job was as a law tutor at a College until I was employed as a Law clerk north of Auckland. That was 25 years ago and I can well remember how nervous I was in my first few days at work while at the same time working hard to be on top of things.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Father first, then Preacher?

I remember watching a movie with a title like, "I know what you did last summer". Lectures ended about a month ago. But my work does not seem to end or get any lighter. In the first two weeks of my "vacation", I examined two MTh theses. I wrote a 1,500 word report for the first one and a 3,000 word report for the second dissertation. Thank God that I have graded 17 exams scripts of Greek 1 within days after the exams in the 2nd week of November. For the past week, I have been going through 19 New Testament essays. Every year I set a different question. This is the first time in 5 years that the topic is not directly about Jesus. I set the topic: "Discuss the portraits of Peter in the synoptic Gospels with special reference to the theme of discipleship." I hope I will finish grading all essays before I go on leave. After I return from leave, a third MTh thesis awaits examination.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

General Conferences and AGMs

I was hurrying to Paya Lebar Methodist Church last Thursday to witness the installation of my friend and colleague as the new President of TRAC (Trinity Annual Conference) and also another friend who was ordained as elder with the title, "Reverend" on the same night. I was filled with a sense of pride for my colleague because he has been a good friend and one of the few who truly has encouraged me in my workplace with his humility, warmth and transparency. I was also joyful to witness a few of my former students announced as pastors of various churches. Finally, I could see fruits of my teaching ministry though I wished I had time to talk with them after the service.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Scholar in the Heartlands

What is a scholar? A scholar is one who has spent a great deal of time in studying something in detail. Or a scholar is one who has special knowledge in one particular area. I always thought that a scholar is one who has published at least two books (by prestigious publishers) and on this count, I don't qualify. Yet, I realize as time passes that I am now in the ministry of scholarship. Not many Christians or even pastors associate scholarship with Christian ministry, perhaps explaining an anti-intellectual strand in the church that refuses to go away despite advancement in education and knowledge in all fields.

But today I travelled by bus and MRT to a number of locations, in the heartlands of Singapore. Singapore is a beautiful city with many trees. Early in the morning it is fresh though by 9am, it is already pretty hot. I had breakfast in a coffee-shop at Bukit Batok heartland. There were crowds of people but I managed to find a seat and waited 20 minutes for my mee soup to arrive. While drinking my kopi-C siu tai (coffee with evaporated milk with one sugar) I read an MTh (Master of Theology) thesis on the Acts of the Apostles. While many people were chatting away and Singaporeans love to talk and some talk a bit too loudly with good cheers, I focused on examining this MTh thesis and wrote comments with my pencil. Only yesterday I completed the examination of another MTh thesis on Paul's mission expectations for his churches. I wrote a 1,400 word report filling up more than 3 pages in small print.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Romans or 1 Corinthians in July 2013?

I am rather pleased with myself that in the past 3 or 4 days after the Semester ended I managed to get some writing done for my course offering on John's Gospel next January 2013. I have been fretting a little that over the 4.5 months' Semester from late June until 9th Nov, I was kept busy lecturing and attending to many administrative matters.

Johannine Christology (John 1)

After writing lectures on "born-again" of John 3, I returned to John 1 and wrote lectures on Johannine Christology this morning. It's holiday here and indeed Jesus Christ is the light that has come into the world and we rejoice now in His light (In your light, Lord we see light, writes the Psalmist). John's Gospel starts off with a prologue and the rest of chapter 1 is superb in introducing who the Word/Jesus Christ was. He is...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

John's Prologue & Persecution of Christ's Followers

I spent the week-end writing lectures for my course on the Fourth Gospel next Semester. I wrote 34 slides for the prologue of John from 1:1-18. While meditating on John's Gospel all week, it was timely to hear a sermon preached from John 15:25-16:4 this morning. "The world hates you because it hated me first". The sermon answered several questions in my mind. Following Christ often invites persecution even when you are as loving and as peaceful as Jesus was.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Resting in the Trinity

Today is Sabbath's day. I am resting in the Trinity. I have had a crazy week after returning from KL. After the Faculty consultation on Monday, I taught my last class on NT 1, finishing with the Acts of the Apostles on Thursday. I spoke about the Holy Spirit in Acts, never an easy topic in a class setting. I spoke about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, especially the five occasions where the Holy Spirit was said to come upon individuals or groups of believers from Acts 2, 8, 9, 10 and 19. Then on Friday, I had a chance meeting with a MTh candidate who was holding a book on the Trinity - Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine by Khaled Anatolios (Baker Academic, 2011). This must be one book that I truly look forward to reading since I listed my favourite theological book as The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381 (RPC Hanson, 1988). Why do I read historical theology, especially history on the trinitarian doctrine? The simple answer is I rest in the Trinity as I meditate and reflect on God, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit - One God in Three Persons. No doubt the historical controversy of the 4th century is also a controversy of biblical interpretation; how best to understand the texts about God in the OT and God in the NT, especially in God's revelation of Himself as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. As I read, I know God; as I meditate I am caught up in the divine; as I look up and rejoice, the blessed holy Trinity excites my soul because even as Jesus, the Son says, "My Father and I will make our home in you" and "I will send my Spirit and He will abide in you and will never leave you." The Triune God making his home in us, in me as a living soul whose every breath comes from the Giver of life for only in Him is life and peace and all good things come from Him who alone is good.

Monday, October 29, 2012

"The Lord will magnify his instruction..." (Isa 42:21)

I conducted an 10-hour seminar on the book of Revelation in Kuala Lumpur during the long week-end. More than 200 people attended the seminar over 2 days. The participants had such a hunger for God's Word that I seldom see elsewhere. I was given no rest with questions coming in hard and fast even during the breaks. My voice was barely holding when we finished at 5pm on Saturday. My hosts were most hospitable and we had wonderful fellowship over meals around Petaling Jaya.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Teaching John's Gospel in Jan 2013

I shall be teaching a course on the Gospel of John as part of the Master of Ministry and Master of Divinity programmes. It will be held on Wednesday afternoons beginning the 9th January 2013. A synopsis is provided below:

John’s Gospel remains the favourite Gospel for many Christians since its reception in the Early Church to the present day. The Gospel’s appeal lies in its simplicity in conveying profound truths about God and the knowledge of God through His Son in the Holy Spirit. We will attempt to answer the question addressed by Pilate to Jesus: “What is Truth? (John 18:38). The course will look at the Gospel’s literary and theological aims in presenting Jesus as the Logos made flesh. It will look at how John fulfils his stated purpose that “these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31) through his arrangement of the Gospel narrative, the use of symbolism and multi-layered language and the nuanced use of the Old Testament. We will examine a main concern of John’s Gospel – on how spirituality is developed and sustained for believers through communion with the Father and the Son and living in community with one another in love. We will also discuss how homilies/sermons could be crafted from John’s Gospel.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Purple Patch

It has been an amazing week. On Monday I participated in a seminar on Rev 11 at Singapore Bible College. I met old friends and the former Dean was kind to make time to greet me at the end of the seminar. There was a number of faculty present including the Dean, an OT professor, and others. Altogether there must about 40 postgraduate students and members of the public who came for the Seminar. The Q & A lasted 45 minutes and we ended at 12 noon sharp. The 2 hour-seminar went very quickly. The Director of the Ichthus Research Centre of SBC was friendly and expressed interest in my research into the book of Revelation.

On Tuesday I taught 3 hours of Greek to 17 students and we have reached the Aorists and then the Perfect tense. It was hard going because students have many things on their minds including deadlines for essays. At night, I went to the other side of Singapore in the east coast at Changi and taught 2 hours on the Book of Zechariah to a group of about 35 participants at SACC. The feedback was excellent as I probably pitched it right and felt the Lord's strength and wisdom to communicate the truths from Zech 3-6. It was a long Tuesday as I finished work at 5:30pm preparing for the Open House and my friend came and picked me up at 6:30pm and by the time I reached home, it was 11pm and bed-time was 1am.

I rose early this morning because of the Open House which went incredibly well. A total of 130 people turned up, 85 for the English and 45 for the Chinese Department. As Acting Dean of Students ad charged to write a full report for Trumpet I attended all the sessions. The Chapel service was packed for the first time except for annual graduation service when parents of graduating students attend and overseas visitors. My colleague preached a wonderful sermon on Prayer of Moses and a Korean student sang solo in Mandarin. We finished on time and lunch was next on the schedule. Due to the unexpected turn-out of 28 people walked without registering earlier, the food was gone in no time but the caterer somewhat managed to conjure something in quick time and there was even seconds for those who wanted more. The rain poured down hard and the dining hall was packed to the brim and we could not hardly hear one another though we sat at the same table.

I rushed off earlier before the visitors were taken to tour the Campus as another event was unfolding at MPH - Blood Donation Drive. I talked to several people about to donate blood and at the end 27 people successfully gave their blood for a good cause. Thanks to the staff of Red Cross who came and left late at about 6:30pm. In between I managed to prepare my lectures for John's Gospel tomorrow as I decided to completely revise my notes for this year's class which has an interesting mix of students compared to previous years.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Preaching Marriage, Divorce & Children's Welfare

This must be one of the toughest weeks since I joined TTC as lecturer. After 3 hours of teaching Greek yesterday morning I had to rush to make last-minute revisions to my notes for an evening Seminar at SACC on the book of Zechariah. I slept at 1am in the morning with my Chapel's sermon on my bedside (literally). So this morning at TTC Chapel I duly preached one of the toughest messages I ever embarked on from Mark 10:2-16. It took almost 45 minutes with Chinese translation. It's slightly longer than usual as I would preach for about 40 minutes maximum on a Wednesday. Several things came up last minutes. Thankfully I was in the zone since early morning and I started praying earnest praying for the 11:30am service from 9:15am onwards. Late yesterday I received news that my interpreter fell ill and there was a last minute replacement. I normally would meet up my interpreter a day or two before to pray and go over the script to make sure there was no problems with the translation. I also normally summarized my sermon if I see the time is running away from me and it means the translator has to be on his or her toes and not stick with the prepared text. Unfortunately, I could not do that this morning because of the last-minute replacement and it was already good of her to take up this difficult task of translating into Chinese without worrying about me changing and chopping the text. After the opening hymn and call to worship I sang a Greek song (Luke 18:13) with half my Greek class. Those who stood with me were brave men and an encouragement to their lecturer. More than the sermon, the song received positive feedback - several students told me that it made Greek came alive to them - singing Greek and reading Greek is a totally different experience!

Monday, October 1, 2012

TTC Open House 2012

If you are thinking of theological education, you may want to come to our TTC Open House next Wednesday, 10th Oct 2012 (register here). There are already 91 prospective students registered for the event. The Faculty will be more than happy to meet with participants after community lunch. Those outside Singapore who come are welcome to stay overnight at the College, free of charge. See you there.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Final Quarter & Happy Sukkoth!

Today is the last day of September and tomorrow we begin the final quarter of the year 2012. Nine months have come and gone. Today is also Mid-Autumn Festival (15th day of the 8th month in the Chinese calendar). More significantly, it is the Feast of Tabernacles at sundown (15th day of Tishri, the 7th month the Hebrew Calendar).

Friday, September 28, 2012

Marriage & Divorce and Children's Welfare (Mark 10:1-16)


Marriage, Divorce and Children’s Welfare (Mark 10:1-16)

When I was given this passage from Mark 10 to preach on some six months ago, I thought it would be something not overly relevant. However, in recent weeks we have heard much about getting young people to get married and have more children, if not for personal gain but at least to alleviate the declining birth-rate in the country. Come November, we will have a brand new Ministry of Social and Family Development, all in the name of nurturing and encouraging stronger Singaporean families. I welcome that! However much the idea of marriage and building larger families are seen as hot button issues, it is pertinent for us to see marriage and families from God's perspective. Marriage is indeed of antiquity, among the oldest institutions in the created order as far back as Genesis chapter 2. As Jesus says, "It is God who joins the man and woman together and the two shall become one flesh". And whatever "God has joined together, let no man put asunder." With these sayings, we can deduce several things about marriage.

Friday, September 21, 2012

"Did Jesus Have a Wife?"

I read C.E. Hill's book a couple of months ago on Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy (OUP, 2010) and this book is more relevant now than ever since the news broke a couple of days ago about a coptic text alleging Jesus had a wife. For the first two or three hundred years after the four Gospels were written, many other Gospels have come forward to make certain claims about Jesus or Jesus' teachings and the orthodox Church basically rejected all these accounts or gospels in favour of the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Even long before these four gospels became the canonical gospels in the mid-fourth century, these four gospels held sway in the churches throughout the Roman empire over all the other accounts. By early 2nd century AD, Christians began compiling the four "canonical" gospels into a codex and together with Paul's 14 letters (Hebrews included) became the most popular early Christian writings bound in a codex or received as a collection. From Irenaeus of Lyons, Justin Martyr of mid to late second century to the giant of a scholar who compiled the Hexapla, Origen of Alexandria and Caesarea (185-254AD), these orthodox church fathers defended the four gospels as authoritative texts against all claimants including the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Barnabas and many so-called "gospels".

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ageing Trusting in God

David Parker's chapter on "The Sayings on Marriage and Divorce" in his The Living Text of the Gospels was God-sent. I read that in Woodlands Regional Library. I am preparing a sermon on Mark 10:2-12 on Jesus' teaching on marriage, divorce and the possibility of re-marriage. I thought I just got over preaching 4 sermons during the Day of Prayer last month, but in 2 weeks' time I shall be preaching again in Chapel. It's my turn, once a year which means it is unlikely I will preach in Chapel in the next Semester. Whew!

This morning I shared a 12-minute devotion with TTC staff on "Ageing trusting in God" based on Isaiah 46:3-4 and Psalm 71:7-8 and vv. 17-18. I shared how we humans worry about so many things, especially when we are getting older; whether we can sustain our current standard of living once retired and also worried about our health. I shared how the Isa 46 text meant for me even as a young man in my late 20s when I gave up everything to follow God. I shared how I served among the indigenous peoples of Borneo for 14 years with low pay. How was that possible? Because of God's promise that even in my gray hairs He will carry me and God will not forsake us. I shared how as we age we do not become irrelevant because God still wants to use us "to proclaim his strength to the next generation".  I shared about my preaching last Sunday where I spoke to many youths in the 2nd service and felt I was not touching them in their needs. We need to understand our generation Y better and minister to them. I shared that as a Christian there is no such thing as retirement as we will serve God until it's time the Lord calls us home. I sensed many of the staff were blessed and praised be the name of the Lord.

And later tonight I shall be sharing a 20-minute devotion on prayers. I was just looking with envy on Mike Bird who got his PhD about the same time as I got mine but he is way ahead (30 publications or so) with his writing and publications. Mike is going to serve at Ridley College, Melbourne next year and may he prosper there in the Lord. I have not published anything since 2005. I have written about 5 essays that need polishing up (footnotes). But I have been preaching non-stop in the past 4 years. One sermon takes about 20 hours, 100 sermons take 2,000 hours - with that kind of time you can write 2 or 3 full-length monographs. Lord, shall I stop preaching and write? There is a time for everything, says the Lord!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"Fire from Their Mouth" (Rev 11:5) at SBC

I am honoured to be invited to give a response to a paper titled, "Fire from their Mouths: Power of Witnessing in the Face of Hostility and Suffering" (Rev 11:3-11) by Dr Chee-Chiew Lee of Singapore Bible College. This talk is part of SBC's Ichthus Seminar organized for students and the public. If you are free on 8th October (Monday, 10am to 12noon), you may register with the SBC website here. I look forward to participating in this Seminar and renew my acquaintance with friends at SBC. I wrote a 1,900-word response. I thought I should keep it to a 2-page reply but it ended up taking 3 full pages. When my colleague at TTC gave a paper on the number 666 of Rev 13:18 last year, I wrote a 3,000-word response. Dr Tan Kim Huat's article on 666 has been published in the Trinity Theological Journal (you may order TTJ online here). If you order the journal and write to me, I will send you my response.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Integrity in Leadership (1 Samuel 12)

This morning I preached two 40-minute sermons. It's only about 9pm that I am feeling tired, after a high of preaching and seeing many people blessed. Usually I preached better in the 2nd service but today it was the reverse. I found the second service hard going. Perhaps it was because I was addressing some difficult issues - concerning leaders like the prophet Samuel was totally honest and transparent as a leader. I also spoke about "Dress Code", one issue that was a live issue in the past couple of years in Singaporean churches but only now I found the courage and opportunity to address it. I gave the example that we should welcome everyone including prostitutes to our worship service. We cannot be legalistic and judge them for who they are or what they wear. "They could come as they are", I said but "they do not stay or remain as they are". The Gospel will transform sinners when we put our trust in the Lord Jesus. It's called repentance. Concerning modesty in apparel, I cited 1 Peter 3 and 1 Tim 2 about women dressing in modesty as the apostle Paul commanded in the name of the Lord.

As I also preached in the same church 2 weeks ago, it was altogether 3 sermons within 14 days. It happened that the College is in its mid-Semester break and lessons will begin tomorrow. I thought I have a couple of weeks' rest as far as preaching is concerned but after the service ended today, the elders invited me again to speak in their prayer service this Wednesday night. May the name of the Lord be glorified!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rosh Hashanah 5773 (Happy Malaysia Day)

Today is the last day of the year 5772. By tomorrow sundown, we will usher in the New Year, 5773. It's Rosh Hashanah, the 1st of Tishri, the 7th month in the Hebrew Calendar. This is the sacred month because on the 10th day, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) will follow and then the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth) on the 15th Tishri lasting 8 days.

It happens that tomorrow, 16th September 2012, Sabah my homestate celebrates its 49 years of independence within Malaysia which came into being on the 16-Sept-1963. Some people see this year's Malaysia Day as significant as Sabah enters its 50th year as a state within Malaysia. In biblical terms, 50th year is the Year of Jubilee, the favourable year of the Lord. Jesus preached the favourable year of the Lord when he preached from Isaiah 61 in Luke 4. Even now, the Year of Jubilee, the year when debts are forgiven and the land restored to its original owner, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached for the forgiveness of sins and through the Gospel we enter into our inheritance of the promised land, the kingdom of light, not of this world but of God's kingdom in heaven. As such we are citizens of a new city, a new State, a new government or kingdom that belongs to God.

If you are celebrating Rosh Hashanah or Malaysia Day or Sabah's Jubilee Year, may the Lord Jesus Christ bless you and be with your spirit.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Are you Past your Prime when You are 50?

Today's Sunday Times has this article: "Over the Hill at 50?" While there is much talk on youth and the future generation (today's youths), the older generation may well feel left out, even for those who are just turning 50 or in their early 50s. Are you past your prime when you are 50? For Christians, the answer is definitely No! In fact, the 50s and 60s could be your prime. By then, you have known the Lord for 3 or 4 decades, even for those not born into a Christian family. Experience comes with time, especially time in the Lord. One of the requirements for an overseer is that he is not a novice (1 Tim 3). In 1 John, it is the "fathers" who have known the Lord from the beginning. One has to be tested with time and I doubt whether it is advisable to appoint anyone as elder or pastor if he has not been a Christian for 10 years.

If you are serving in a Seminary as lecturer or professor, it is unlikely you are in your early 30s unless you come to the Seminary straight from graduating. An ideal Seminary professor should be one who has known the Lord for a length of time, and he has done post-graduate study in theology (this takes time). Often for most lecturers, from an undergraduate degree to a doctorate in theology takes 15 to 20 years. This is due to time spent in ministry after a Bachelor degree and then some even stop at Masters and serve in churches again before going for their PhDs. By the time they gain their doctorates, they are likely to be in their early 40s. This means after some years in teaching, it is only by their 50s that they are established in their teaching ministry as professors of theology. Not to mention some of the professors come from a professional backgrounds in other secular work which no doubt is helpful in Seminary teaching since most church members are working people and it is important that professors know at first hand what goes on in the world with all the struggles and challenges.

Hence, it is only in the 50s, some find that they are in their prime. With people living longer nowadays, I can't see why those in ministry can't serve until they are in their late 60s or early 70s, health permitting. I know citing Moses as an example is not exactly a great model in the modern world, but Moses started when he was 80 years old and when he had completed his 40-year of service, his strength was the same as when he started, by the grace of God. He could have gone on for another 40 years if God had allowed him to enter the promised Land.

Friday, September 7, 2012

How do we read Scripture?

I read a few chapters of John's Gospel today. From John 16-17, then I read John 14-15. After that I read John's passion narrative from ch. 18-20. How do we read Scripture? Whenever I chance upon a text that I feel the Lord impresses on me I jot it down with my pen (I always have a pen with me). Today I read how the Lord says that we should ask the Father for anything so that our joy may be full. I believed and wrote down my prayers. Then in John 14, Jesus says that whatever we ask in His Name he will do in order that the Father is glorified in the Son. Again I wrote down another prayer. I have two prayers and I wait on the Lord to answer them and according to His Word, the Father will answer my prayers in Jesus' Name and my joy may be full in the Lord.

I also read how the Lord answered the temple police who came to arrest him in the garden. When he identified himself, "I AM" they fell down - kind of slain in the Spirit! Interestingly, sinners fall down in the New Testament in the power of God. Ananias and his wife Sapphira fell down and died at Peter's rebuke. Saul the persecutor fell from his horse when the risen Christ confronted him in his pursuit of the disciples.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Socrates on Exile in Plato's Republic

"Exile is a condition for engaging in philosophy freely. As a citizen of nowhere, the philosopher can be a messenger of wisdom destined for all."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 390 AD) on Bishops

"Now we, on the other hand, indiscriminately elevate to bishoprics anyone and everyone, provided they are willing. We pay no attention to previous performance, recent or long-standing, to behaviour, to learning, to associations, not even the attention one needs to distinguish the rattle of a false coin. People whose worth has not been demonstrated by the test of time, or fire, appear spontaneously as candidates for thrones. If he only realized that, for the most part, people elevated are worsened by power, who in his right senses would put forward a person he does not know?... How is it that precious stones are hard to find, fertile land rare, bad horses everywhere, and good ones bred only in rich stables; but that you can find a bishop anywhere, totally untrained, but all ready-made in dignity?" Three Poems on Himself and the Bishops, in The Fathers of the Church (Catholic University Press, 1987), p. 61.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Origen's Homily on Numbers

"For the Spirit of God rests on those 'who are pure in heart,' and on those who purify their souls from sin. But on the other hand he does not dwell in a body subject to sins, even if he may have once dwelt therein. For the Holy Spirit cannot suffer the company and fellowship of an evil spirit. For it is certain that an evil spirit is present in each one's heart at the moment of sin, and it plays its part. Assuredly when room is given to an evil spirit, and we receive it through evil thoughts and wicked lusts, the Holy Spirit, feeling grieved and having been, so to speak, crowded out, flees from us." Origen, Homily 6 Numbers 11:16-25; 12:1-15.

Samuel, the Prophet (1 Sam 10-12)

I have been reading two commentaries on 1 Samuel as preparation to preach on 1 Samuel 10 & 12. My next sermon is titled, "Integrity in Leadership". I would recommend David Toshio Tsumura, 1 Samuel (NICOT; Eerdmans, 2007) and Tony W. Cartledge, 1 & 2 Samuel (Smyths & Helwys Commentary; Macon, Georgia: 2001).

Sunday, September 2, 2012

49 Stops & 1 Sermon

The bus I took to church must have stopped 30 times along the 49 Stops to my destination. It was a 65-minute ride but the return trip was even longer. From Kembangan MRT I stopped at Bugis and took a bus to Chinatown and alighted. After drinking coffee for a while I took the Bus 961 and it was another 60 minutes before it stopped at Bukit Timah Beauty World where I had burger for lunch. By the time I reached home it was 2:45pm, exactly 7 hours after I left home. I preached on 1 Sam 10 with the topic, "Anointed for Leadership" with three sub-themes - Provision, Power and Prophecy for leadership. Saul was said to prophesy along with other prophets when the Spirit came upon him. For those God would anoint to be a leader, He would provide: Saul was given 2 loaves of bread and at the end of chapter 9, he had the thigh portion, the best portion for those who are favoured by God (or the prophet). Leadership demands sacrifices and often we suffer financial disadvantage when we serve as leaders because our time, energy and occasionally our own money is spent to serve the Lord. But the Lord will provide. The second point is the anointing is also empowerment. In the beginning of the sermon I explained what anointing meant. 1) special calling 2) consecrated or set apart for a task 3) empowerment. Saul was anointed and empowered to lead as king. The third point "prophecy" was a sticky point because I sensed the church was probably not quite ready to accept the full teaching on this. What I am interested is the truth and the will of God on any subject-matter and be like the Lord Jesus, "teaching the way of God in truth without seeing the face of men." (Matt 22). I ended by referencing the NT in Luke 4:18-19 and Acts 1:8; 2:17-18. I preached a 40-minute sermon. It was a combined service and the church was full. I was touched by two testimonies of two sisters after the sermon. After the service, 7 or 8 people came up and thanked me for the message. We had fellowship over mee-hoon and I left the church at 11:45am with joy in my heart knowing that I had glorified the Lord Jesus and edified His Church. During my Mcdonald's lunch, I took out my large Bible, small note book and pen and prepared for the next sermon in the same church in a fortnight's time.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Origen & Scripture

What have I been doing in August? I have been reading on Origen (185-254 AD). Today I took out from the library a book by Peter W. Martens, Origen & Scripture: The Contours of the Exegetical Life (Oxford UP: 2012). I am about half way through the book. I took the book to Bukit Batok for lunch and later to Chua Chu Kang for dinner. Lord, your Words are more precious than my daily food. Martens wrote about Origen's sacrifices in his pursuit of scriptural scholarship: "Scriptural study was always in competition with some other activity or distraction." (p. 101). How true! For Origen, he had to give up or repudiate worldly possessions, food, clothing, sleep, and sex in order to devote to the study of Scripture. What about you?

Friday in Review

The month of August ended last night with a bang - TTC's Cultural Night. I went down to the Plaza where the event was held to check on things - making sure all the preparations were in place. The students organizing the event were a wonderful bunch. My job was a breeze and we waited for our guests to arrive from Orchard Road Presbyterian Church. The ladies' fellowship there had donated gifts and goods to the international students for some years now and this year they graced us with their presence. Two tables were specially laid out for them.

Before the 6:30pm start for the Cultural night, we had our monthly Faculty Colloquium. The topic was interesting - a survey of the evaluation of a sermon from a well-known local preacher. As usual we had lively discussion and I added my two cents' worth. For me, evaluating a written sermon is like weighing a dead fish. There is no life in it. A sermon by its definition is an oral proclamation - not to say the sermons should not be scripted, but even it is fully scripted, it is the oral delivery of the message that matters as Paul says, "My preaching was not with wisdom of words but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power." (1 Cor 2).

For Friday Chapel at 11:30am we had an unusual guest in Bruce Cohn, a professional actor who acted out parts of the Luke's Gospel in 40 minutes. It was powerful presentation of the dramatic narrative of the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Luke. As we are looking into Luke's Gospel for my NT 1 class, it dovetailed very well and the presentation made the sayings and story of Jesus came alive. Jesus' sayings were revolutionary and radical in his age and they are still as radical and revolutionary in our day.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Gonzalez's Theology of the Spirit

"As we look at the worldwide church in the 21st century, there can be little doubt that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit will be a central issue in our century as it has never been before. While many of the more traditional churches are losing membership, and some even seem to have lost hope, vibrant and growing churches throughout the world stress the work of the Spirit in their midst. There is no doubt that this may lead to excesses, of which many could be cited. But there is also no doubt that all Christians throughout the world need to rediscover what the Scripture says about the Spirit. Thus a theology for the 21st century will be largely a theology of the Spirit." (Justo L. Gonzalez, Luke [Westminster Press, 2010], p. 10).

Chrysostom on Preaching

"Preaching makes me healthy; as soon as I open my mouth, all tiredness is gone." This saying is ascribed to John Chrysostom d. 407 AD (see von Campenhausen, Fathers of the Greek Church, p. 145). I wish I had read this quote earlier. I just turned down an invitation to speak in a Church Camp in KL. In recent months, I had felt weariness from preaching; 2 weeks ago, I preached 4 sermons on the Day of Prayer on a day we set aside at College for prayer. I said to my colleague, "Perhaps now the Chaplain could excuse me from preaching for the next 4 years!" Earlier in the month I preached in a church along Joo Chiat Road. Although I took taxi there and back, I was tired from the journey, preparations and the sermon plus seminar after the Sunday service. This Sunday I shall be preaching in a church in the East Coast. As pastor of Constantinople, Chrysostom preached almost daily: "I cannot let a day pass without feeding you with the treasures of the Scriptures." How I wish more pastors and congregations are of the same mind as Chrysostom, esteeming the Scriptures as treasures more than all the wealth on earth and pastors would labour to feed the flock with the finest of wheat, even the words of Christ.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Origen's Bishop in Alexandria

Origen's dispute with Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria is one mystery which scholars found hard to unravel due to insufficient evidence as to what led to the split between Origen and his Bishop. Hans von Campenhausen's The Fathers of the Greek Church on "Origen" has this beautifully written passage: "It is clear that for all his love for peace and personal humility, Origen could not concede to the office of the bishop the importance which was claimed for it, and that for reasons of theological and religious principle. In his opinion, the thing that matters in the long run, the living knowledge of the truth, cannot be transmitted and controlled by officials. All the rights which the bishop is accorded and possesses, the sacraments which he administers, the power of excommunication and absolution which he exerts, remain purely external so long as they are not impregnated with real spiritual power. This cannot be effected by the office as such but only by the Holy Spirit, by the right attitude of love and knowledge which God gives and which the spiritual teacher above all communicates" (p. 53).

I was looking high and low for Origen's own confession or sayings on this and could not find any until I read of his homily on Luke 2:49-51 on Jesus' submission to his parents: "If Jesus the Son of God is subject to Joseph and Mary, shall I not subject to the bishop? God appointed him a father to me. Shall I not be subject to the presbyter, whom the Lord's choice set over me? I think Joseph understood that Jesus, who was subject to him, was greater than he. He knew that the one subject to him was greater than he and, out of reverence, restrained his authority. So each one should realize that often a lesser man is put in charge of better men. Sometimes it happens that he who is subject is better than he who appears to be in authority. Once someone who enjoys a higher position understands this, he will not be lifted up in pride by the fact that he is greater. He will know that a better one is subject to himself, just as Jesus was subject to Joseph." Origen Homilies on Luke, p. 86 (translated by Joseph T. Lienhard in the Fathers of the Church. Vol 94)

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