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.