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.