My unassisted heart is barren clay,
That of its native self can nothing feed:
Of good and pious works Thou art the seed,
That quickens only where Thou sayest it may:
Unless Thou show to us Thine own true way No man can find it:
Father! Thou must lead.
[Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). Translated by William Wordsworth]
I. Seeking God: Psalm 42:1-2*
These days, it is popular for Christians to attend seminars that feature foreign speakers who share their expertise in innovative worship and prophetic ministry that promise to kindle higher spiritual experience. However, eager and hungry souls who hanker after such promises may be disappointed, after having tried all these spiritual innovations to find that God remains an inference, a temporary trip rather than an ever present reality. It is no wonder the quest for that spiritual fads and fashions remains a phenomenon among churches today.
Other Christians may confess to a sense of spiritual jadedness resulting from a style of worship characterized by wooden routines of dead tradition that suffocate the longing soul (‘ritual murder’). Perhaps a better way is found in contemporary worship offered by big modern churches that are epitomes of visionary leadership, congregational enthusiasm and certainly organizational sophistication. Surely God is pleased with the impeccably organized programs and the awe-inspiring music that fosters energetic and enthusiastic worship? Continue reading “The Pursuit of God: Simplicity and Surrender”
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
It is encouraging that many Christians are actively engaging social-political issues to build a better society. Their coordinated and concerted efforts have gained them publicity and respectability; indeed, they may have won new ‘friends’ in the high places of political power. On the other hand, the elements of ungodliness, be they militant gays, permissive postmodernists or cynical atheists resolutely resist and reject any effort to infuse Christian values into society at large. Some religious extremists even threaten the safety and well-being of churches. These forces seem determined to plunge society headlong to self-destruction.
It remains an open question, then, as to whether the Christians will succeed in arresting the disintegration of society. It will be easy for Christian social engagement to wane when the unbelievers persist in hardening their hearts. Christian activism must be backed by Christian holiness if the recent gains are to be lasting. We must heed J.C. Ryle’s warning in his classic book, Holiness* that “Sound Protestant and Evangelical doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is more than useless: it does positive harm. It is despised by keen-sighted and shrewd men of the world, as an unreal and hollow thing, and brings religion into contempt” (p. xxi). Or in J.I. Packer’s words, “Credible opposition to secular ideologies can be shown by speaking and writing but credible oppositions to holiness can only be shown by holy living.”/Keep in Step with the Spirit (Revel Pub 1984), pp. 102-103./ Perhaps this is what Heb. 12:14 means: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Continue reading “Holiness and the Social Witness of the Church”
I have a confession: I used to look down at the piddling goat. It is too weak to pull a plough or give milk in abundance like the cow. It cannot serve as a beast of burden like the lowly donkey, the transporter par excellence for farmers and armies up till World War II. It is too small to give people a ride, much less match the magnificent horse bearing a conquering king. It is more than useless. It is a nuisance as it eats up anything, including the vegetables in the garden or even the lovely flowers left behind for our dearly departed at the cemetery.
No wonder many Chinese couples avoid having babies in the Year of the Goat. However, these couples may change their minds after watching National Geographic documentaries. They will be filled with admiration for the amazing feat (pun intended) of the surefooted and plucky goats frisking with abandon at the narrow edges of vertical cliffs.
And if only they could hear the heart beat or heart bleat of the goat. Continue reading “Cheers for the Maligned Goat”
Related Posts: Worship of God and Ways of Man and I Find it Hard to Worship God in Church
Without doubt Christians in Malaysia are filled with a sense of foreboding as Islamic authorities seized the Alkitab, the Courts through unreasonable judgments effective curtailed their freedom of religion and the Prime Minister failed to censure aggressive Islamic NGOs for their slander and threats against the Malaysian Church.
It is heartening to see many Christians turning to the Lord in times of social crisis, seen in their fervent prayers in revival meetings. Crisis however brings up the best or the worst from us. Christian worship and revival meetings can become either an avenue of psychological escapism or a platform for spiritual renewal and social engagement.
Middle class Christians may be tempted to compensate their sense of social impotence by turning to other-worldly spirituality. Hence, a surreal emphasis on spiritual power in some revival meetings and a tendency to rally around men of charisma or self-styled apostles and prophets, if only that anxious believers may have a ‘touch’ of omnipotence mediated to them. Unfortunately, such focus on ‘touching’ spiritual power can distract believers from building genuine relationships based on shared lives to ensure the members of the community of faith will stand in solidarity with one another in the face of hostilities.
Spirituality then becomes a form of social-psychological pathology as distressed Christians seek consolation in the pie in the sky, resulting in personal resignation, passivity and indifference towards social engagement. Some find solace in cloistered personal piety; others delight in claiming victories in the heavenlies; and still others yearn for abundant material blessings – all without requirements of mutual accountability within the community of faith. Pre-occupation with revival meetings provides convenient excuses to the Church as it retreats from its holistic mission of witness and responsible engagement with an unbelieving, if not hostile world.
These observations are not meant to disparage current revival meetings but to challenge Malaysian Christians to recover the full dimensions of holistic worship adequate for strengthening personal spiritual formation and building community relationships and forging shared vision for social engagement. Given the present crisis I shall focus on holistic worship and social engagement with an unbelieving world. Continue reading “Christian Worship in Times of Crisis: Escapism or Engagement with the World?”
Christian Worship in Times of Crisis: Escapism or Engagement with the World?
What is Biblical Celebration-Worship?
Ralph Martin describes worship as “the dramatic celebration of God in his supreme worth in such a manner that his “worthiness” becomes the norm of living.”/1/ Few Christians would dispute with such a concise and balanced statement. What it means in reality is another matter, however, since we do not worship in abstraction. Week after week we go to a church and get involved with ¬people in a worship service. Worship services assume diverse forms. They appeal to people differently and obviously meet different needs. People may express disappointments over some aspects of their worship meetings and may even suggest improvements. Nevertheless, they keep going back faithfully to their church worship meetings. The reality of God must have been experienced and their needs must have been met somewhat, regardless of occasional complaints. I shall bear in mind such human expectations as I try to crystalize some thoughts about three different forms of worship. Continue reading “Worship of God and Ways of Man”
I Find it Hard to Worship God in Church, but what is Worship?
Someone asked whether I actually worship God in the Sunday service because I remain ‘stiff’ and quiet when other church members are happily clapping and singing songs of praise. I confess that nowadays I find it hard to worship in church. I have to try very hard not to be distracted by the loud music that I may rest and repose in God’s presence. Obviously, my idea of worship is quite different from the music-driven worship that is popular in churches today.
First, I should clarify my understanding of corporate worship which is:
the activity of a congregation of true believers giving reverence, adoration, praise and thanksgiving in response to the incomparable glory and ineffable holiness of God, while expressing gratitude to the magnificent grace and goodness revealed in the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ, and finally receiving the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit through the sacraments and preaching of the word to enable us to live a life of obedient service to the triune God. Continue reading “I Find it Hard to Worship God in Church, but what is Worship?”