Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The ultimate test of faith is to receive nothing in this lifetime and yet believe in Christ that he is faithful and that he will fulfill his promise.

God will make everything right in the end. It may not even be in this lifetime. Many of the heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 did not receive the things promised, all these people were still living by faith when they died. They lived with the end view in mind- that there is a better city than the present one. So they were longing for a better country - a heavenly one.

These heroes of faith were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated...they wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

These Christians would be looked upon as pariahs, as abandoned by God by today's Christianity.

Yet the verdict of God is that these were commended for their faith.

So what is faith?

Faith is believing in Christ even when walking in darkness - when the reward of faithfulness is more darkness.

Faith is clinging on to Christ even when the bottom fell out - when the reward of faithfulness is calamity and tragedy.

Faith is trusting in Christ even when the peers turned against you - when the reward of faithfulness is rejection and betrayal.

Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Monday, October 11, 2010

In sickness and in health....

When I see illness ravages her body, my heart breaks into thousand pieces. She is no more the same. No matter how severe the contortion, nothing can hide her inner beauty. She has never murmured a single word of complaint against God. In her condition, any lesser person would have whined all day long. She just goes about her daily chores with the strength that God gave, though now taking much longer time than before. Throughout 26 years of ups and downs, I seldom see her cry nor crumble under crisis. She possesses that quiet confidence, I know it’s the faith that is forged over long years of walking with God.

Then she broke down and cried. I know it’s unusual. I saw for the first time her vulnerability. She began to take step to slow down her work. I have taken her to physiotherapy, chiropractic sessions hoping that the condition can be corrected. Each day is a daily battle against deterioration of her condition. Strangely, I find those times to be faith building and relationship deepening. It’s easy to make the vow ‘in sickness and in health’, but when one is being confronted with reality, that is when rubber meets the road and the traction will reveal the true character of one’s commitment. I discovered that I love her dearly and would gladly step down from my ministry to care for her. That day might come sooner than I can prepare for it.

I have always long for a community that cultivates and reflects a deep faith. So much of what I see is shallow. We know how to celebrate victory of healing, but inept when healing does not take place. We display our lack of pastoral sensitivity to those who continue to suffer because our theology compounds their guilt. Many in the church go through suffering silently. The theology of triumphalism may appeal to the crowd, it will certainly precipitate crisis of faith to the undiscerning.

I revisited the Book of Revelation for strength and solace. I have preached this Book many years ago but nothing comes close to seeing and feeling its impact upon the suffering church. The vision was given in the context of a suffering church. John himself was exiled in Patmos Island without the possibility of coming out alive. It seems that life does not make sense, a faithful disciple of Christ who had served Him for 60 more years was now discarded in a God forsaken Island. John saw a vision of Christ and the word that Christ spoke was most comforting: “Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1) The vision of God sitting on His throne in heaven was shown to John. John saw myriads and myriads of angels worshiping God and the countless host of angels celebrating and exalting the Lamb who was slain to purchased men for God (Revelation 4 &5). Revelation 6 to 19 describes the war of Satan waged against God’s people and the injustices inflicted by the inhabitants of the earth on the saints. God’s people greatly suffered because of persecution of their faith. Many were killed and seemingly defeated by Satan and his hosts. God meted out his judgment upon the earth through earthquakes, famines, sea pollution, earth being scorched & plagues. I would not want to live in the time that is described in Revelation 6 to 19. Revelation 20 is a breather, an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, which is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. After the thousand years are over, Satan is released and goes out to deceive the nations and then he is thrown in the lake of burning sulfur. Satan will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Then John saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had passed away. He saw the Holy City coming down out of heaven from God. God tabernacles right in the middle of his people and he lives with them forever.

God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

It dawns on me that we have complicated our interpretation of the Book of Revelation. All that we need to know its quite simple. And it is this:

In life we will have suffering and even defeats (Rev 1)

We need to know that Jesus is the author of life and he is the living Christ who holds the key of life and death (Rev. 1). We therefore do not need to fear death.

We need to constantly lift our eyes upward and see that God is still sitting on the thrones with myriads of angels worshiping him and that Christ has already purchased us with his blood. We belong to God forever. No one and nothing can touch our lives unless permitted by God. Even if persecution, illnesses ravage our bodies, God sustains us by his grace.

We will go through great suffering because of our faith in Christ. The final script has not been written yet. Satan may have temporary an upper hand over us. But his time will soon run out when God wraps up history.

We all look forward to the day when God ushers in the new heaven and new earth. The paradise lost shall be regained. We will learn to get use to the new existence where there is no sicknesses, no pollution, no moral impurity, no injustices, and no death. The lame shall walk, the mute will speak, the blind see, the deaf hear.

Everything good, beautiful, wholesome that takes place now and here on earth is only a foretaste of what is to come.

Anything bad, ugly, broken even beyond repair will find its full redemption and restoration on that Day.

Meanwhile, I still need to routinely take my wife to UMSC for medical attention, the unending rounds of chiropractic sessions, and the ferrying around to do errands. Life has to go on but we look at it in a God-centered perspective.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Not Guinness Stout

When I first met Dr. Os Guinness was in Singapore Bible College many years ago, his public lecture was thought provoking and intellectually challenging. He is a first class social critic. He has not changed much when I met him at Edinburgh during the World Reformed Fellowship General Assembly. He delivered an inspiring lecture on the topic "Standing Fast in faith in the Advanced Modern Global Era." What caught my attention was his warning to the Global South Church that one day we will face the similar issue of declension like the church in the West.

I am reminded by Paul to guard the gospel because the message of the gospel can easily be distorted, altered to suit the itching ears of the modern generation. All it take is one generation of neglect to preach the unadulterated gospel of Christ, the next generation will reap the consequence of dilution, distortion and perversion of the gospel. The gospel of health and wealth may help to grow large churches but what kind of churches are these? Will these Christians still follow Christ, worship Him and love Him if their health and wealth were removed from them one day?

Henry Guinness lost his inheritance when he became a missionary to China. Guinness Stout beer has been in existence for more than 100 years. Os Guinness would have been a rich man if his father had not gone into mission field. He has a brand name but without the wealth associated with it. Yet Os Guinness is contented and at peace with his Maker for the circumstance that he found himself in. Os is a prolific writer, a great thinker. In my brief encounter with him, I found him to be warm and personable. He has a brilliant mind and he uses his intellect to glorify God.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

In Christ Alone

Sitting in the front row with the full view of Kristyn and Keith Getty leading the worship was like being transported into the throne room of God. “In Christ Alone” is my favorite song. Kristyn has an angelic voice but what came across powerfully is the way she expressed her devotion to Christ. It just comes from within and flows out naturally to the external.

I chatted with Keith and Kristyn and found them to be friendly. Keith co-wrote the song “In Christ Alone” with Stuart Townend when he was 25. Ten years later Keith is an accomplished modern hymn writer. His musicality through the piano playing is unique. I invited them to come to Malaysia and to conduct hymns and songs writing workshop. They responded enthusiastically. I told them to come for holidays.

They left for home in Ireland after the concert, which they hosted for the World Reformed Fellowship General assembly. Two days later the airport in Edinburgh was shut and no fly zone was imposed throughout UK. We were stuck in Edinburgh but her songs and hymns reverberated in my mind and heart for a long time.

Kristyn and Keith are both young and God is using them to bless the church worldwide. The songs are theologically sound and with depth, poetic and catchy. They grip your heart and move your emotion. They bring you closer to God. I never expect to meet them at the World Reformed Fellowship General Assembly. It is a treat from God.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Stuck in London

I would have enjoyed London given a different circumstance. The art galleries and museum here are world class standard but sadly I lost all interest. All I wanted is to go home. Heathrow airport remained closed. The feeling of being trapped in an expensive place without money and credit card is unnerving. I had moved three times and lived in three different homes in a span of 7 days. Each host was kind enough to house me. The last one, Lai Meng and William, overwhelmed me with their generosity and grace. They told me I could stay as long as I like. The last two days I spent my time in CWM office. Tried as hard as I could, my mind just would not absorb any things I read. It was so unreal that I sometimes felt lost. The newspaper reported that it is unsafe for the airplanes to fly as the plane engines would suck in the volcanic ash and turned the silica into glass and crippled the engines completely. BBC daily news added to the fear of flying as it continually showed the ferocious volcanic explosion shooting the ash into the sky 5 miles high. Any plane was to fly into the volcanic plumes would be suicidal. The scientists and mathematicians in UK use the mathematical model of probability to calculate the risk factor of flying. The model together with Satellite mapping is able to project the area of coverage of the ash cloud. It is also able to tell the different zones of density of the volcanic ash. Using this model of projection, the Civil Aviation Authority decided to go for a blanket ban for all flights.

I think so much about Constance, Sarah and Sam. I think about church and the people who are close to me. I reflect on my life and ministry. Ironically I am due to preach the topic in CDPC this Sunday: Leaving and Living the Legacy. When one is facing with the possibility of death, many things become insignificant, only a few things matter. My mind suddenly becomes crystal clear on how I want to live my life and on what I will change the way I do ministry. This is a whole new experience for me.

The book that I read last month “The Last Lecture” by Randy takes on a new meaning. Randy had only six months to live when he was diagnosed with cancer. He prepared his last lecture and it was intended as his legacy for his children.

I was alone in the CWM meeting room. I read the Scriptures and prayed. I poured out my heart to God and I cried unashamedly. The emotional upheaval was too much to bear. I could identify with the psalmist who lamented: “Why am I so discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again – my Savior and my God.”

Every alternate day, I had to take the underground train to Earl’s court and then walked to MAS office to rebook my flight. The MAS telephone line was impossible to connect. Thousands of passengers jammed the phone. Every time when the flight is cancelled one has to go to MAS office in Cromwell to rebook the flight. No one in MAS management or in any airline has come up with a system that can help passengers during crisis. Every other airline faces the same problem.

Since the British government dispatched its warships to repatriate those stranded, I fantasize that Malaysia PM would send his submarines to rescue Malaysians, I was jostled to reality when I called the Malaysian Embassy in London only to be greeted with the voicemail. Voicemail is a great modern device to deter people from being reached. I kept calling; the same voicemail repeated the same thing all the time. In time of crisis, I discovered who my true friends are and that I don’t matter to my country.

I am now in Heathrow terminal 4 with 9 hours to kill before the flight would take place. What a relief when the Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis announced that all UK airports will be reopened for short and long haul flights last night.

Reading Psalm 40 reassures me: “I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the LORD. Oh, the joys of those who trust the LORD.”

I know that my feet with touch Malaysia soil when I woke up tomorrow. God is great and he is good.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Allah Controversy

What is the crux of the matter? Has the Catholic Church “Herald” the right to use “Allah” as the name of God in Malay language? The Home minister revoked the license for Herald publication. The Catholic Church brought the case to the court for hearing. The Federal Court ruled in favor of the Catholic Church.

Following the ruling of the High Court, there is an uproar among the Muslims. Three churches were attacked on Jan 8. The Metro Tabernacle church was torched. The home explosives did not detonate on the front door of the Assumption Catholic church and also the front door of Life Chapel Protestant church. Clearly some extremists expressed their anger through violence.

Why is there such a reaction from certain section of the Muslim community? Today (Jan 8) the Muslims were protesting in the mosques across the country. PM and Home minister gave them the green light to voice their upset but told them that their gathering must not be out of control. Wisdom dictates that such sanction will lead to serious repercussion. PM failed to seize the moment to lead the nation with courage and wisdom.

In the midst of religious conflict that might lead to bloodshed like so many countries in the world – how can Malaysia with moderate Islam as the official religion of the nation model moderation? How can a nation with diverse cultures and diverse religious faiths model civility? In the words of Os Guinness, in a world torn apart by religious extremism…no question is more urgent than how we live with our deepest differences- especially our religious and ideological differences. Its time we think about civility. Civility is the ability to live with deep respect for one another in the midst of severe differences. A civil person or community is one who appreciates liberty, diversity and unity. We owe it to our children to build a nation that every Malaysian can be proud of. If we cannot resolve the religious differences now, we can certainly help make the nation safe for diversity.

Three things for any society to practice civility – understanding, respect and yielding of rights

It begins with the voice that articulate understanding. The Christian community needs to tell the Muslim community that we understand your fear and concern – the fear of confusion and the concern for conversion. To the Muslims who do not have any knowledge that the name “Allah” predates Islam, and that the Arab Christians had been calling their God “Allah” for centuries, they felt that the name “Allah” is being hijacked by Christians. They felt that “Allah” is the personal name of the Muslim God only. Even for those who may now came to know the historical context of the origin of the name “Allah”, they felt that the political and religious context in Malaysia requires that the Christians to be more sensitive. They insisted that the Christians stopped calling their God “Allah.” Just as the name “Allah” is personal to the Muslims, it is also very dear to the Christians in East Malaysia who have been using that name even before Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaya to constitute the Federal Malaysia. The Sikh community in Malaysia has also been using this name all these while. The Sikhs chose to maintain their silence and do not wish to be drawn into the controversy.

There is only one God who is the creator of the universe. The Scriptures of Muslims, Christians and the Sikhs may have different revelations of “Allah”, each group worship Allah and follow Him in the ways that they understand from their respective Scriptural revelations. There is absolutely no confusion at all. The Sikh will never think that “their Allah” is the same as the Muslims or the Christians. No one is confused except the politicians.

The fear of conversion is understandable. But the Muslims have the Constitution to protect them. They have the government machinery to their advantage. The conversion of Muslims to Christianity is very negligible in Malaysia as compared to the thousands of Sabahan and Sarawakian Christians who converted out of Christianity to Islam. It is an open knowledge that Muslim missionaries are sent to the schools in East Malaysia for their Dakwah movement.

For civility to flourish in any society, deep respect must be accorded to every single person regardless of whatever faith he or she professes. The greatness of a nation is how the powerful protects the interests of the weak, how the strong take cares of the welfare of the weak, how the wealthy share its wealth with the poor, and how the majority esteems the minority.

Respect means that we do not force our views on anyone. We can accept that others do not share our views, whether be it politics, or religions. We give the other persons or the group the freedom to practice their faith. Even God does not force anyone to believe in Him or to worship Him. The freedom of choice is a great gift that must be respected.

The moderate voice of some Muslims like Marina Mahathir, Tenku Razaleigh is to be lauded. The Christian community needs to also convey its deep respect for the Muslim faith. Malaysian history shows that there is no incident of Christians bombing the mosques.

Yielding of Rights

If every community insists in its right, then conflict will escalate. Yielding one’s right is much more difficult to do. It involves humility, and self -denial. In this case of the Allah controversy, it is much more difficult to do. The Muslim Ummah and the Christian churches need to come together more often to build relationship. There are common projects that both communities can work together for the good of the nation. When there is friendship, there will be trust and when there is trust, fear will not present.

The way forward is for the two communities to have interreligious dialogue. Study each other Scriptures, examine history and look at other nations how Muslims and Christians have lived harmoniously together. Yielding to rights mean that I do not insist my way is the best way and I do not insist that you must follow my way. What it does mean is that I give you the space to explore the truth and allow you to hold on to your religious conviction.

The way forward is for PM and his cabinet to model humility and deep respect for the rights of each community in this land. Their voice will have moderate influence over the general populace.

For the Christian community, we must continue to do good and we must never repay evil with evil. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

It’s a challenging time; let us love the Muslims and this nation.