[Life must be imbued with meaning if it is to be worth living. But how can meaning be sustained when the end of life seems pointless? Even if one diligently gathers wisdom for three score and ten years, life must still go the way of the grasshopper. It is hard to keep faith in a good God who orders providence when misfortune strikes and one loses everything that has been regarded as blessings of God. Faith clings precariously to a thread worn thin as one suffers unbearable pain caused by terminal illness…
The defiance of the hard core skeptic or Stoic in the face of pointless and overwhelming suffering seems heroic when he counsels that the best way to find peace is to renounce any hope of finding meaning in life and to submit to fate. But is not the resignation of oneself to everything without complaint nothing more than a capitulation to inscrutable fate? Is life not reduced to groping in the dark where all things are colorless and grey? Without beauty and meaning, one loses the desire to act and sinks into paralyzing resignation.
The Christian believer may seem to share the same kindred spirit with the Stoic when he prays through his suffering, the immortal words of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Thy will be done.” But his prayer is a reposeful confession of faith rather than an utterance of despair or resignation. For he knows something that a person without Christ cannot know. He knows that he is entrusting his life into the hands of the heavenly Father rather than capitulating to impersonal and capricious fate.] Continue reading “God Stoops to Turn Our Resignation to Restfulness”
Introduction: Shortcomings prophetic movements in history
Richard Lovelace acknowledges that while it is difficult to frame strong biblical arguments for limiting prophetic utterance to the apostolic period, nevertheless it cannot be denied that various revival groups which exercised the gift of prophecy such as the Montanists (2nd century), the Zwikau prophets (16th century) and the Great Awakening (18th century) often ended up “treating the Scripture as an addendum which was more or less unnecessary once a Christian obtained direct access to the mind of God through the Spirit…People who begin by being open to extrabiblical revelation will give Satan an opportunity to wean them gradually from Scripture and establish himself as the ultimate authority.” These ‘prophets’ became incorrigible and fell into error. Failed prophecy brought despair, leaders abandoned carefully planning. Indiscreet zeal led followers to act without prudence or discretion and to do unseemly things that discredit both revival and Christianity.
Prophecy in this post does not refer to predictions of future events. It is (1) the speaking forth of what the Holy Spirit has spontaneously brought to the mind, (2) with the purpose of edifying, encouraging and comforting God’s people (1 Cor.14:3). It is noted that there is no succession of apostolic and prophetic office since the closing of the biblical canon (Eph. 2:20). While Christians should be open to occasions when the Spirit gives a prophetic word to guide the church, nevertheless, there should be no institutionalization of prophetic office today. Believers, especially leaders who exercise authority are profoundly aware of human fallibility. As such, the sharing of any prophetic word must be subject to the supervision of local church leaders (elders in the New Testament) and all prophetic claims must be tested by Scripture.
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27).
We secretly relish in schadenfreude when misfortune strikes a wicked man, but we can only be bewildered by the disproportionate suffering that afflicts a righteous and blameless man, like Job. To be sure, we are given a glimpse of divine mystery when the prologue of the book of Job explains that Job’s sufferings are due to a wager between God and Satan. Satan sneers at God and insinuates that his kingdom is based on expediency since Job’s loyalty to God is gained through the blessings of God. God allows Satan to hurt Job, confident that the outcome will conclusively prove Satan wrong. Continue reading “The Suffering of Job: From Tragedy to Triumph”
It seems that my blog post, “God Has Answered our Coronavirus Lament. Contra. N.T. Wright” has caused offence among some ardent admirers of N.T. Wright. It has been suggested in the social media that I was small-minded and most uncharitable in trying to discredit someone just because of theological disagreement. It was alleged that my response betrayed vanity and presumptuousness as I tried in vain to discredit a world class scholar who is unquestionably way far more accomplished than I am. One critic concluded that I have been so caught up with abstract theologizing that I have lost the ability to empathize and offer pertinent pastoral counsel to people who are struggling with their faith in times of crisis.
I re-read my response to NTW to see if indeed I have been guilty of the charges levelled at me. To be honest, I am still puzzled in trying to identify the grounds on which these defenders of NTW drew these awful conclusions about me when other readers responded positively to the same post. Continue reading “Trusting God in Times of (Covid) Crisis”
The doctrine of the providence of God assures believers that the Lord is sovereign over the circumstances of their lives. Indeed, “The Church is His special care and charge. He rules the world for its good, as a head consulting the welfare of the body.” (John Flavel)
Meditation on God’s providence will foster both gratitude and fortitude in believers. Flavel in his classic book, The Mystery of Providence demonstrates how the Reformed doctrine of providence provides practical advice on how believers may grow in sanctification and enjoy the peace of God through times of affliction (excerpts given below).
APPLICATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF PROVIDENCE
How may a Christian discover the will of God and his own duty under dark and doubtful providences?
In order to answer this question we must consider what is meant by the will of God and what by those doubtful providences that make the discovery of His will difficult and what rules are to be observed for ascertaining God’s will for us under such difficult and puzzling providences.
How may a Christian be supported in waiting upon God, while Providence delays the performance of the mercies to him for which he has long prayed and waited?
It is supposed in this case that Providence may linger and delay the performance of those mercies to us that we have long waited and prayed for, and that during that delay and suspense our hearts and hopes may be very low and ready to fail. Continue reading “Finding God’s Peace in Times of Afflictive Providence (Covid-19 Crisis)”
NT Wright almost took away my simple Christmas joy in his article: The Revolutionary Politics of the First Christmas. He writes, The Christmas story in Luke’s gospel climaxes with Jesus in a feeding-trough because everywhere else was full. Matthew’s version ends with Joseph and Mary whisking the baby off to a foreign country because the authorities wanted to kill him. Putting these together, the heart of the story is precisely Jesus the homeless asylum seeker.
The original, historic Christmas stories are about power. They are about the kingdom of God breaking in, dangerously and unexpectedly, into the kingdoms of the world. [I read it that NTW here has in mind political systems in contrast to the kingdom preached by Jesus in his ministry]
Protestant devotional literature was once well-served by popular writers like E. Stanley Jones, Eugene Peterson, Philip Yancey, Gordon MacDonald & J Oswald Sanders but today they are fading from the scene. The writers who are taking their place are eclectic in their approach to “spirituality.” Some are inspired by writers like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and Jean Vanier who wrote from the tradition of Roman Catholic spiritual theology while others betray traces of New Age spirituality. Not surprisingly, the word “spirituality” has also proven to be an amorphous catch-all word. Nowadays, a lot of what goes as Christian spirituality is actually some form of syncretism mixed with disturbing and unorthodox theology (e.g. Richard Rohr). But to be fair we need to judge modern spirituality writers on a case by case basis. For example, the rediscovery of “spiritual disciplines” (c.f. Roger Forster & Dallas Willard) has been helpful to Protestants looking for “handles” as well as a map of spiritual progress in their devotional exercises & spiritual formation. Continue reading ““Old Wine” Spirituality Remains the Best”
Believers who insist on observing the dietary laws given by Moses in the Book of Leviticus recoil at the idea of eating pork since they regard the pig to be ritually unclean. Abstinence from pork becomes a paramount symbol of religious commitment as their strong and instinctive sense of revulsion is accepted as the “feeling … Continue reading “Pigs and Prayers & Epistle of Barnabas”
Believers who insist on observing the dietary laws given by Moses in the Book of Leviticus recoil at the idea of eating pork since they regard the pig to be ritually unclean. Abstinence from pork becomes a paramount symbol of religious commitment as their strong and instinctive sense of revulsion is accepted as the “feeling of rightness” that confirms a trustworthy “doctrine felt as fact.” Their friends may be bewildered as they wonder whether such an ancient scruple could serve as a benchmark of spirituality in modern society. However, it is advisable for these friends to approach this matter gingerly as their casual remarks could become a cause of offence.
Celebration in Contemporary WorshipThese days it is not uncommon to come across worship meetings where song leaders vigorously urge the congregation to freely give praise to God in the name of celebration. The songs chosen in these meetings seem to engender a euphoric, if not jubilant mood. Emotional spontaneity becomes palpable with lines of bodies … Continue reading “What is Biblical Celebration-Worship?”
Celebration in Contemporary Worship These days it is not uncommon to come across worship meetings where song leaders vigorously urge the congregation to freely give praise to God in the name of celebration. The songs chosen in these meetings seem to engender a euphoric, if not jubilant mood. Emotional spontaneity becomes palpable with lines of bodies swaying along to the loud beat of the drum. The high point of celebration-worship comes when members are urged to ‘sing in the spirit’ as they follow cues from the musical team giving notes of ‘chords progression’. The crescendo is rounded off with a flourish of ‘clap offering’.
It would be churlish to doubt the appropriateness of celebration-worship today. Christians who have been battered throughout the week need to be emotionally and spiritually recharged, and what better way to recharge them than through celebration in church worship? Indeed, many visitors to church testify that they come because they are attracted by the celebrative spirit of our services. Who can resist the contagion of joy?