Wednesday, November 25, 2015


i'm reading through a book called instruments in the redeemer's hands by paul tripp.  this is my second book by him (the other one was dangerous calling).  one thing that characterizes his writings is anecdotes about personal failures.  he's constantly recalling how he failed as a father, how easily angry he gets, how prideful he is, and how his heart constantly longs for attention.  of course he does all of this so to point us to christ.  but i can't help but to get the impression that he's just a terrible person, unfit for ministry.  with all these stories, i just don't know how godly he is.  it doesn't help that i had briefly met him when he was here in hong kong, and my five minute conversation had confirmed my dislike of him.

then again, i wonder how much of my dislike is caused by me being exactly the same.  but i don't like him, because i try very hard to do the opposite of what he does - to hide my anger, to subdue my longing for attention and to downplay my pride.  he reveals them even as i try so hard to conceal them.  maybe he's just honest.  i'm just too dishonest.

oh lord, have mercy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mindset Shift

i don't know how it came about.  slowly over many years, my mind has shifted from viewing ministry primarily as a 'helping' profession to a 'proclaiming/teaching' profession.

that i viewed ministry as a helping profession owes much to growing up in a small church.  the heart of a small church is the relationship.  people come and stay because they give and receive help from each other.  the pastor referees marital fights, provides counseling, and helps the needy.

this function of the church, i think, is intensified in an immigrant church like my church back in the u.s.  the church functioned as a community center.  my dad who is also a pastor counseled people on immigration laws and coached the new arrivals on how to adjust to their new life.  i remember him often picking people up from the airport, helping the elderly to go their dental appointments, as well as proclaiming the gospel.

so as i grew up, i thought being a pastor was about helping people.  my liberal seminary education reinforced this too.  when 'justice' takes the center stage of theology, then bringing people to that justice becomes the primary role of the pastor.

it's a long story of how my mindset started to shift.  i haven't attended an immigrant church since high school.  working in a bigger church had its inevitable effects as well.  in a big church, people cohere together around its common mission rather than the relationship.  there are just too many people to help!

but more than these, i think my paradigm of ministry shifted as i've come to be more and more convicted in the power of god's word.  it is god's word that helps, not me!  i've come to realize that we don't even really know what our problems are until we are steeped in the word of god.  i've come to see that it is not we who heal, but god who heals.  i've come to understand my job as one of a signpost, one who says to the world, 'there is a healer', and 'there is the one true god!'

of course i don't mean to minimize 'my' role or the role of the christian community as doers.  we are god's instruments.  but we are god's instruments insofar as we remind people that god heals, god helps, and god acts in their lives.  our healing is temporary, help is anemic, and our doing ultimately ineffectual unless they point people to the god who does these things.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Buddhist Chants

this summer, i went to bongti, thailand on a mission trip.  there we had the good fortune of seeing catherine, the 'mother' of all the orphans in the bamboo school, honored during the 'mother's day'.  the community selected worthy mothers of the community to come to the school and receive hugs and prizes from the school children.  it was touching to see all the children go up to catherine to show their affection for her.

but thailand is a buddhist country, and the sense of religious tradition was palpable.  it literally filled the air as we arrived at the school, since these buddhist monks were seated in the honored seats and chanted for over two hours.  i asked the people around me what the chants were about.  i was amazed to find out that no one knew!  the children didn't know.  the adults didn't know.  the teachers didn't know what they were chanting about.  apparently they weren't chanting in thai or in karen, but in some traditional language no one understood.

of course the fact that they chanted in a 'traditional' or a 'sacred' language created an aura of mystery.  and it seemed to me that the sense of mystery is precisely what this religion was built on.  it thrived on people's ignorance, rather than true understanding.  engaging the mind was superfluous.  

in contrast to religions that seem to be built on ignorance, christianity is founded on understanding.  yes there is 'faith' but faith always seeks to understand.  yes there is mystery, but the mystery in christianity occurs because our minds are small, not because we've eliminated it.  it grasps as much as it can, but realizes that god is even greater than our minds.  

'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.' 


One persistent worry I have is that my mind is going dull.  I read quite a bit for work, but mostly books and commentaries that echo my own thoughts.  I occasionally read fiction too.  While they're entertaining, most of times the insights found there seem trite.  I can't tell if this is because I've come to know too much that no insight seems profound, or because my mind has gone dull already that I can't see the profundity in these writings.  I want to write, but I'm afraid that all my thoughts will just be shallow.  What needs to be written that hasn't already been written?

but i'm going to try to write.  hopefully writing will help me to think more deeply.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why Make Statues?: Daniel 3:1-7

how quickly nebuchadnezzar forgets!  he recognized daniel's yhwh as the true god in the chapter before (2:47), but then makes a statue of himself in gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide.  he makes everyone in his realm bow down to it!

of course much could be said about how easily we forget god.  how we worship him one day and turn around just to engage in self-worship.

but i'm also struck by the very fact that king nebu and we love making statues.  

perhaps we want to feel larger than life.  for king nebu to stand on his own and to order the whole realm bow down to him would not have had the same effect as the whole realm bowing down to a ninety-feet golden image of himself.  that just looks much more impressive.  we want to be more than we actually are.

i'm sure king nebu had impressive features.  people who rise to those ranks often have remarkable talents.  i don't know anything king nebu, but it wouldn't be surprising if he had been a great general or a astute politician (though the bible does not depict him that way).

at the same time, however, i think most people's successes come mostly from chance, circumstance and dumb luck.  king nebu's father was probably the king of the babylonian empire, which probably did 90% of the work for him.  he probably had the infrastructure and resources to go out and conquer in ways that his predecessor didn't.  i don't know.  i would need to do some more research, but i think it generally stands - our successes are rarely individual achievements.

but we still love to exaggerate the little part that we played in our successes.  this is certainly true of myself as well.  i did okay in school and in life, but that's mostly because i had good parents, went to good schools (which led to other good schools), surrounded by good friends and given good genes.  in terms of school, my friend will hafer edited my college essay, which helped in getting into wheaton.  i had tracy landers who helped me with my divinity admission essays.  i got to all souls owing to another good friend chris jones.  even now, the successes of shatin church, if anything in the church could be counted as a success, owe to great children's program, tireless volunteers, and works of countless people in the church.  but i love taking credit.  i love making statues.

i think this is because we all crave recognition, and we need to exaggerate every little achievement, because we want to feel significant; and if we don't exaggerate but put our 'achievements' in perspective, they don't amount to much.

secondly we love making statues, because there is a desire in us to be ' permanent.'  even if king nebu dies, his statue would have remained.  he would have lived on, and we all want that, don't we?  most people don't make statues, but they crave immortality through their children or in the hospital wing that's named after them or in the 'difference' we make in people's lives.  we want to live on.

but of course this too is misguided, for statues are impermanent.  hospitals get torn down and our names forgotten by the second or third generations.

thank god for the gospel.

god sees everything in our lives and recognizes our little achievements.  we don't have to exaggerate or lie about them, for god cares about the very little things.  he sees and remembers everything.  and that's all the recognition we need, since the recognition by the greatest is the greatest kind of recognition.  and he lives on forever, and we too in him.  he gives us the kind of permanence that can't be compare to the immortality of a statue.

no need for statues.  just need to please jesus more.

thank god for the gospel.

Friday, June 20, 2014

pressure to conform

daniel 1:3-8

i've always been struck by how much daniel actually 'conforms' to the world in this story.  daniel is okay with his new name beltshazzar, which has the name of the babylonian god 'bel' in it.  he learns their literature filled with stories of babylonian gods. later, daniel becomes the head of the magi, becoming the secretary of the ministry of magic (2:48).

yes he does draw a line and chooses not to defile himself with food from the king's table.  but how could not eating the food actually keep him pure?  could one of the lessons of the story be that absolute purity in this world is impossible?  that a certain level of tarnishing is inevitable?   

in this world, staying perfectly pure is not an option.  we participate in a market system that's driven by greed; when we buy a banana, we participate in a structure that exploits workers in poor countries; we walk around in cities filled with images that exploit women's bodies for money....  it's inevitable that we participate in structural or institutional sins and can't stay pure. 

in this sort of environment, i often am tempted to despair and to not do anything.  why try so hard to 'not to defile' myself, when defiling is inevitable?  

i know people who don't eat meat, because meat is wasteful in that it produces unnecessary carbon dioxide and costs way too much to produce.  i often thought that not eating meat for this reason was silly, because what difference does it make?  let's face it, not eating meat is not going to catch on!  it's just not effective.  

i'm not sure how effective daniel thought not eating his king's food was in keeping him pure.  he's a smart guy, and i'm fairly sure he knew that it wouldn't make much of a difference.  

but he took a stance.  he drew a line, no matter how tenuous that line might have been.

i think what daniel's stance tells us is that we can't just despair and give in.  we need to be different.  we need to make a stance somewhere and tell ourselves and the world that we are a different people now that christ has come into this world as our king.  we must raise banners of mini-rebellions, not because they're going to change the world, but because we have now become a people who belong to jesus, people whose very existence remind the world that their king has already come; that the kingdom of god is coming.

Monday, February 20, 2012

radical choices

on my lunch break, i just read this nytimes op-ed about dolores hart.  the article started with the question' how do you marry god after you've kissed the king?'  an intriguing start, don't you think?  it then went on to talk about hart's career that reached its zenith in her role as elvis's sweetheart and her sudden departure from the star-studded hollywood to become a nun.  she's been a nun for the last fifty years.

there is much to be commended in dowd's treatment of her faith.  i do think faith forces us to choose radically.  jesus, after all, calls us to pick up our cross if we are to follow him.  the gate is small and the road narrow.

the piece ends ends with mentioning don robinson, whom hart almost married before she entered into the convent.  as she was preparing for her marriage to him, the thought that she was 'in love with god' apparently struck her.  so she traded her designer wedding gown with a coarse black and white nun's wear.

it's an interesting article, worth a read.  but i lamented this presentation of love of god vs. love of husband by dowd.  perhaps it's unfair to blame this on dowd.  after all, she's only covering hart's choice.  

i can't remember how it exactly goes.  c.s. lewis pointed out that it's not the fierceness of our love for our spouses that's wrong with us.  it's the lukewarm love that we have for god in comparison that's wrong.  i wholly agree.  as we love the god-given partners and experience its oneness, we are to be reminded of god's fierce love for us.  

i hope all of you love your spouses fiercely.  i hope you are reminded then of god's love for you.