Sunday, May 31, 2020

Pentecost Sunday & Harvest Festival

The Feast of Pentecost is a harvest festival (Lev 23:22). But this year in Sabah, Pentecost Sunday coincides with the weekend Harvest Festival of the Kadazan-Dusun and Murut (KDM) peoples of the land. As a result of the CMCO, celebrations were muted. In church online setting, I specifically requested that the worship team performed a traditional dance and they chose one of my favourite Dusun Christian song (watch here - last few minutes of the video). On Pentecost, the command of the Lord is that the people rejoice in His presence and celebrate His goodness with family, friends, Levites and foreigners (Deut 16:11). For God, God's community includes everyone, not like some countries that practice discrimination and exclude the foreigners and migrant workers as part of the community.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Ezra's Leadership of God's People (Ezra 7-10)

Ezra 1-6 must be read together with Haggai and Zechariah 1-6. These chapters concern the rebuilding of God's temple under the leadership of Zerubabel and Joshua, the high priest in 515BC. But it appears that after two generations, things in Judah began to fall apart. Again, God raised leaders to restore His people. The walls of Jerusalem fell into ruins and God sent Nehemiah to rebuild the ruins and restore the walls. But Ezra who was a contemporary of Nehemiah (450BC) took a leading role in restoring worship and spirituality of the people of God. King Artaxerxes of Persia seemed to favour Ezra a great deal as we read in Ezra 7-8. In what capacity did Ezra serve the king was not entirely clear though he could be one of the scribes or secretaries of the palace. Nevertheless, it is clear that Ezra gained favour in the eyes of the king like Nehemiah did, and both ascribed royal favour as a sign of divine favour that God's hand was upon them in all their endeavours.

Harvest Festival & Pentecost 2020

Today is Harvest Festival in Sabah, the first of two-day public holidays. It is the major festival of the majority group of the indigenous peoples of Sabah, the Kadazan-Dusuns. It coincides with Pentecost Sunday which is also a harvest festival (Lev 23:9-11) when first fruits are harvested and sheaves of wheat are gathered from the fields (Lev 23:10). It is also called the feast of Weeks (Deut 16:10) because Pentecost (as the Greek word indicates) falls on the 50th day after Passover, which is after 7 weeks (7x7) in total.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Twin Publication

This morning I came across a blogpost accessed by a reader dated 19 December 2018. In it I spoke about my plan to publish my memoirs. Little did I think that exactly a year after that on 19th December 2019 my book, Departure Points was published (see here). In the blogspot I mentioned that I had reached 83,000 words and at the end, my book exceeded 93,000 words. With small margins, my publishers managed to squeeze that into a book of less than 200 pages. Front pages alone totalled about 14 pages with maps, lists of villages and towns visited, etc. I was thrilled that one of the church leaders who bought the book mentioned that when he read the first chapters, he compared that with Hudson Southwell's Uncharted Waters (Southwell's mission work in Borneo in the 1920s to 1950s).

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Filing Tax Returns 2019

Government services in Malaysia are very efficient. One needs just an hour to renew or issue a new passport. Last week I queued up for 20 mins before entering the Income Tax office and another 20 mins at the line where I obtained a new password for my e-filing. My salary income in 2019 is less than RM5,000.00 for two months of work which ended February 2019. How did I survive? By July 2019 I was entitled to access the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and I am still drawing from it to supplement my income now. It may last another year but not much longer. Retirement is on the horizon for the priests they retire at 50. Anyhow, priests of old in Israel were taken care of from the temple fund, but I have no pension, no life insurance, and meagre EPF savings.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

One Month as a You-Tuber

Today is exactly a month since I started my You-Tube channel. I have 35 subscribers and garnered 694 views within 30 days. I never thought that I would start a You-Tube channel but when my church commenced online service 5 weeks ago, I thought I should start a channel too, at least to upload my preaching and songs onto You-Tube. This also helps to alleviate the problem of the lack of storage on my i-Pad. I can save my online preaching on You-tube and spare my computer. My MacBook which I used to write my two books broke down a month ago and I still could not decide whether I should repair it since it would cost me an arm and a leg (one month's salary) to fix it. I might just buy a new one with a year's warranty and better specs. The month of May 2020 marks 14 years since I started blogging in 2006 when I was pastor in my home church, Likas KK. But starting a you-tube channel is a new ball game for me. People are more visual rather than wordy or just hearing by the ear (though Paul says that faith comes from hearing) and if this you-tube channel could reach a few more people for Christ, I shall be content. May the name of Jesus be glorified. Last Sunday I received some encouragement from one friend from outstation who watched my sermon online. That's the advantage of social media in this day and age because You-tube is open to the public and people can access it anywhere in the world.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Pentecostal Preaching

Once I was the author of a highly rated biblical blog, so much so I was interviewed twice by popular bloggers in the United States and another interview by a Swedish blogger. I was asked whether I was a Pentecostal and my answer did not seem to satisfy anyone, let alone a true blue Pentecostal. If one defines a pentecostal as one being baptised by the Holy Spirit, then I am a pentecostal. Then my theology is that everyone ought to be baptised in the Holy Spirit, so in a sense every Christian is a Pentecostal. If one defines a Pentecostal with one who had spoken or has the gift of speaking in tongues, then I also qualified to be a pentecostal because my experience of the Spirit-baptism was followed by speaking in tongues, though it was not immediate (as I was baptised in the Holy Spirit around 3pm) but spoke in tongues in the evening about 7pm when I had gotten back to my room at varsity. But then if one insists that one must speak in tongues to be a Pentecostal, then I am a border-line pentecostal because I am not convinced by the biblical evidence that every baptism of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by the speaking in tongues. God is sovereign and the Holy Spirit is sovereign as He fills whomever He wills as human hearts are cleansed by faith and repentance.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Preaching in front of a Camera

I have now preached two sermons before a camera with the assistance of a couple of crew technicians. The sermons were later uploaded to the church You-tube channel (@multimediasibip). The potential of reaching the masses is huge as there are already out of the District viewers who followed the online Sunday services. But I am under no illusions that this form of ministry will replace the face to face meeting and contact among members. When the mind is free to roam, the devil has a field day and there are many competing forums or other online services within the denomination and outside of it. The last days' teachings began with Jesus warning against false prophets and false teachers. To distinguish the truth and error is not for the simple but the knowledgeable and those gifted to discern the spirits. "Test every spirit for many false prophets have gone into the world" (1 John 4). Preaching in front of a camera is better than just sitting or standing at home speaking with a microphone into a laptop or handphone either for audio or video recording.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Church Reopening and Lack of Enthusiasm

CMCO stands for conditional movement control order. MCO started on the 18th March 2020 and soon it will be 70 days next Tuesday. Life under the MCO has changed forever. Church life has also changed. It is an irony of ironies that for some church leaders when it was business as usual before the lockdown, they were all for church services but now think reopening of churches for worship is not that urgent. Before the MCO, people encouraged others to attend church. Now with the light at the end of the tunnel, some refuse to see the light and insist, to quote, "We will wait for the Ministry of Health to inform us that Covid-19 is no longer a threat to public health". This is a defeatist statement at its worst. No government in the world can guarantee any sort of health assurance. Covid 19 may not go away and we might have to live with the threat of the viral infection for years to come. We just need to adapt and stick to the SOP as a given in our daily lives and also during public outings and gatherings as and when permitted. Ultimately, our lives are in the hands of the living God. Yet, let's look at the facts. Malaysia is probably one of the safest countries in the world with much credit going to the government for quick action in imposing MCO on 18th March which took many people by surprise. But it turned out to be a great decision when compared with UK that seemed to waver in the early weeks and now they are suffering in terms of death rate and daily new infections.

14 & 70 Years

Some numbers are spiritually significant as they contain symbolic inference and reference. The New Testament has 14 years as being a long time like what Paul mentioned in Galatians that he was not seen by Christians for 14 years before reappearing again (Gal 2:1). Then there are these 3 epochs of 14 generations spelt out by the Gospel of Matthew. I suppose 14 stands for a long time because it is double that of 7. Seven years is a complete cycle of years or a cycle where Israelites work for 6 years and then on the 7th year the land is laid fallow for a year before sowing is resumed in the 8th year. God promises to bless his people three-fold on the 6th year so that they don't have to worry about their needs on the 7th year and also the 8th year until harvest time. Then 70 years is the span of a man's life on earth (Psalm 90).

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Spirit: Leadership & the Rebuilding of God's Temple (Haggai 2 & Zech 4)

I might be preaching another long sermon this Sunday. I have already started preparations in earnest and hopefully by Thursday when the recording is done, I shall be truly prepared. I will focus on Zech 4 but like most Scripture unless you read and understand the surrounding context, it is almost impossible to understand this rather bizarre vision of Zehcariah of a lampstand with two olive trees, one standing on the left and the other one on the right side of the lampstand. The first attempt of rebuilding the fallen temple started as soon as the exiles returned to Yehud/ the province of Judah (537BC). But within months, the work was stopped by local opposition (Ezra 1-6) and it was not until the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah that the work recommenced, some 20 years later till then temple was completed in 510BC. One of Haggai's pronouncement was that, "God's Spirit is with His people" and that they should not fear but rise up to do the work of the rebuilding. It is one thing for the prophet to declare God's Word but another thing for the people to feel the impact and believe the word by the mouth of the prophet.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Teachers' Day: "Despise not the day of small things" (Zech 4)

I was surprised yesterday by two well-wishers who sent me Teachers' Day GIF. Though I'm no longer a teacher or lecturer, but as pastor I teach through my preaching and teaching especially among the young teenagers before the MCO. Several hours later I was again surprised by an invitation to teach at my former College at Namaus which I left almost a year and a half ago. I had mixed feelings to be honest but at the face of it, I did not break my promise to others now that the leadership of the College had changed hands. I know everyone there. The rhetor now used to be a Treasurer-General (after my stint and another) and when he was the Evangelism coordinator he drove me and family into the Melangkap Campus on 30th Nov 1994 to commence my full-ministry in the Lord. Even the couple of new lecturers appointed early this year are my long-time friends.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Hebrew & Greek

How much and how deep the Church at large has fallen! How little Hebrew and Greek make up the Curriculum of Bible or Theological Colleges in the region! Some may have one or two introductory courses to fulfil certain accreditation requirements or fulfil certain "spiritual" needs ((just to tell the world the College offers Hebrew or Greek), but it is at best scratching the surface when most students after 3 or 4 years of theological training know next to nothing about the two biblical languages. At best they pick out some word studies, some may even comment on them in their sermons but their knowledge of Hebrew and Greek is at best superficial. Reading church history (not to mention the first few centuries of mostly Greek theologians) is one antidote. Luther was excellent in Greek and has sufficient proficiency in Hebrew while John Calvin was master of both Hebrew and Greek where most of Calvin's commentaries were on the OT books. When Calvin lectured and taught, he first read out the Hebrew text aloud and commented on the Hebrew text and expound on it exegetically with all its theological richness either in Latin or French.

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Importance of the Septuagint (Habakkuk 3:2 LXX)

In my undergraduate years I don't remember any lecturer mentioned the Septuagint, though it could be due to my lack of attention in class. But by the time of my post-graduate years, I have put the Septuagint (LXX) in the forefront of my studies, first whether John of Revelation alluded to the LXX or MT in his many allusions and echoes of Scripture. Since then in my teaching, even in the first year of OT or NT introduction courses, I would always make sure that my students know the centrality of the LXX for the study of Scripture, not just for the NT but also to the OT. First, the NT authors about 85% of the times when they cited or quoted Scripture, it was from the LXX and not the MT. Even the study of the OT cannot underestimate the importance of the LXX as it is one the most authoritative and fascinating translations of the Hebrew text (275BC) and later taken to be authoritative by the early church fathers.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Preaching in Church Again

It was a recorded sermon for online service this Sunday. But I was glad when I stepped into the church, first time in 50 days since 17th March 2020. It was surreal. There were only 5 people in church but yet meeting them lifted my spirits. I thought I had to wait but my turn was up and I was asked to preach in front of the camera straight up. I did not feel anything so I asked for the worship song to be played and after listening to it for one minute I felt ready to commence my sermon. I thought it would last at least 60 minutes but I stopped when I reached 52 minutes with the closing prayer and benediction. I preached about the baptism of fire in Malay but perhaps I should preach one in English and get it uploaded or might it be easier to just put English sub-titles? I prepared 20 slides but I touched upon 18 of them over the course of 51 minutes from the preaching of John the Baptist in Luke 3:1-16 and Jesus' first sermon in Nazareth in Luke 4. I tried to explain in God's economy or salvation history, Jesus is to come to earth twice; his first coming 2,000 years was the age of grace or the year of the Lord's favour (Luke 4) but in his second coming it will be the day of vengeance when this baptism of fire plays out in full.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

"You must prophesy against many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings" (Rev 10:11)

Revelation 10:11 is a verse that I have lived with constantly since I commenced my study on the book of Revelation in 1999. But only in the past week it became clear to me that this Scripture is being fulfilled in my life and ministry. Despite the travel ban to many countries during the Covid-19, the world is connected like never before as the internet boom has been upon us for the last two decades and especially in the past 10 years where various apps and social media platforms have proliferated and each and everyone who has something to say to the world is able to do so with relative ease. As for Revelation 14:6, I wrote in a paper before that the angel flying in mid-air proclaiming the eternal gospel is a sign of global connectivity and communication through the internet that almost 2/3 the world shares at this present time.