Thursday, March 31, 2011

Japanese Boy Teaches Lesson In Sacrifice

EDITOR'S note:

THIS letter, written by Vietnamese immigrant Ha Minh Thanh working in Fukushima as a policeman to a friend in Vietnam, was posted on New America Media on March 19. It is a testimonial to the strength of the Japanese spirit, and an interesting slice of life near the epicenter of Japan's crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It was translated by NAM editor Andrew Lam, author of "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres." Shanghai Daily condensed it.

How are you and your family? These last few days, everything was in chaos. When I close my eyes, I see dead bodies. When I open my eyes, I also see dead bodies.

Each one of us must work 20 hours a day, yet I wish there were 48 hours in the day, so that we could continue helping and rescuing folks.

We are without water and electricity, and food rations are near zero. We barely manage to move refugees before there are new orders to move them elsewhere.

I am currently in Fukushima, about 25 kilometers away from the nuclear power plant. I have so much to tell you that if I could write it all down, it would surely turn into a novel about human relationships and behaviors during times of crisis.

People here remain calm - their sense of dignity and proper behavior are very good - so things aren't as bad as they could be. But given another week, I can't guarantee that things won't get to a point where we can no longer provide proper protection and order.

They are humans after all, and when hunger and thirst override dignity, well, they will do whatever they have to do. The government is trying to provide supplies by air, bringing in food and medicine, but it's like dropping a little salt into the ocean.

Brother, there was a really moving incident. It involves a little Japanese boy who taught an adult like me a lesson on how to behave like a human being.

Last night, I was sent to a little grammar school to help a charity organization distribute food to the refugees. It was a long line that snaked this way and that and I saw a little boy around 9 years old. He was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of shorts.

It was getting very cold and the boy was at the very end of the line. I was worried that by the time his turn came there wouldn't be any food left. So I spoke to him. He said he was at school when the earthquake happened. His father worked nearby and was driving to the school. The boy was on the third floor balcony when he saw the tsunami sweep his father's car away.

I asked him about his mother. He said his house is right by the beach and that his mother and little sister probably didn't make it. He turned his head and wiped his tears when I asked about his relatives.

The boy was shivering so I took off my police jacket and put it on him. That's when my bag of food ration fell out. I picked it up and gave it to him. "When it comes to your turn, they might run out of food. So here's my portion. I already ate. Why don't you eat it?"

The boy took my food and bowed. I thought he would eat it right away, but he didn't. He took the bag of food, went up to where the line ended and put it where all the food was waiting to be distributed.

I was shocked. I asked him why he didn't eat it and instead added it to the food pile. He answered: "Because I see a lot more people hungrier than I am. If I put it there, then they will distribute the food equally."

When I heard that I turned away so that people wouldn't see me cry.

A society that can produce a 9-year-old who understands the concept of sacrifice for the greater good must be a great society, a great people.

Well, a few lines to send you and your family my warm wishes. The hours of my shift have begun again.

Ha Minh Thanh

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

We cannot find God without God

....We cannot find God without God. We cannot reach God without God. We cannot satisfy God without God - which is another way of saying that our seeking will always fall short unless God's grace initiates the search and unless God's call draws us to him and completes the search.

If the chasm is to be bridged, God must bridge it. If we are to desire the highest good, the highest good must come down and draw us so that it may become a reality we desire. From this perspective there is no merit in either seeking or finding. ALL IS GRACE. The secret of seeking is not in our human ascent to God, but in God's descent to us. We start out searching, but we end up being discovered. We think we are looking for something; we realize we are found by Someone. As in Francis Thompson's famous picture, "the hound of heaven" has tracked us down. what brings us home is not our discovery of the way home but the call of the Father who has been waiting there for us all along, whose presence there makes home home.

- Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (emphasis mine)

Justification and Sanctification

There is a distinction between Justification and Sanctification. Justification is solely the work of God. We thus have the righteousness of Jesus and so God declares that we are righteous through our faith in Christ and Christ alone. (Rom. 4:3; 5:1,9; Gal. 2:16; 3:11).

Sanctification is God working through us to produce a Christ-like character even though we have been justificed (Phil 2:13). We do not have instant sanctification because it is a process where we have to actively submit to the working of the Holy Spirit in our life.

We have to resist sins and seek holiness as we grow in the Lord. This is not legalism because Sanctification does not take away Justification. That is to say even though we may live imperfect life, we are still justified.
To confuse Sanctification with the filthy works of man and legalism is dangerous. The Bible is clear that we are to live holy lives and to avoid sin (Col. 1:5-11). Yes, position-wise, we are eternally saved and justified. We cannot earn our salvation. However, that does not mean that we continue to live in the sin from which we were redeemed.

Yes, we are continually affected by the temptations to sin and the battle between the redeemed of the Lord and sin will continue (Rom. 7:14-20) until the Second Coming. Only then, that we will be delivered from our bodies of death (Rom. 7:24). To claim that since we have been forgiven by the complete work of Christ and therefore we do not need to avoid sins and live a holy life is to trample the blood of Christ underfoot (Heb. 10:29).

Rev Albert Kang

Monday, March 28, 2011

Considering the Naked Gospel Summary

I’ve reviewed some specific sections and issues from Andrew Farley’s The Naked Gospel.  He wrote the book in order to relieve people from the bondage of legalism which can come from misunderstanding the gospel.  That is a great thing.  But Farley seems to misunderstand the gospel in a different way.
He begins the book by inviting theological discussion.  Theological disputation is an important thing, but it must be done properly.  Where Farley, and his book,  ultimately fails is how he pursues theological disputation.
His book is filled with exegetical and hermeneutical errors.  Texts are often taken out of context.  His method of interpretation is profoundly flawed. He ignores texts that may have something to say about his points.  When talking about how we won’t stand before God at the Great White Throne, he tosses out Matthew 25 due the fact that it took place before the Cross.  Nor does he refer to Romans 14:9-12.
9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.  10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  11 It is written: ”‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’”  12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
He fails to make theological distinctions which are of great importance.  As a result of this, he has a one-size fits all approach.  For him, all roads lead to justification.  One of my professors, Richard Pratt, often told us that you have to use the right medicine from the medicine cabinet.  We are to rightly diagnose the problem, and then give them the proper practical theology to address that problem.  If you have heart problems, taking medication for erectile dysfunction can be deadly.  There is no one medicine for all problems.  The gospel has many elements to it (regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification etc.), and we must give them the proper one.  To offer the medication of justification when they have a sanctification problem is part of what keeps Christians in immaturity.
Another problem that disturbed me was the consistent use of the straw man argument.  Farley consistently portrays those with whom he disagrees in the worst possible light.  For example, he hones in on those who think we must confess our sins (post-conversion) and that the Spirit convicts us.
Convict means “to find guilty.”  Within a judicial system, conviction is followed by sentencing and then punishment.  Inside the word conviction is the term we usually reserve for a person who is incarcerated- a convict.  So should the verb convict be used to describe interaction between the Holy Spirit and children of God?  Probably not.
He’s right, IF that is the only meaning and intended use of the word.  As a professor of applied linguistics, you would think he would know this and explain this.  But he stacks the deck so his view sounds reasonable and the other view does not.
One definition of convict is to make aware of one’s sinfulness and guilt.  As a Christian, I remain sinful (Farley would disagree) and do wrong things (he’d agree).  The Spirit convicts me, in part, but making me aware of my wrong-doing in specific areas.  He is not condemning me, but humbling me and leading me to repentance (most of the churches are told to repent in Revelation 2-3).  Moreover, conviction can refer to a firm or fixed belief.  The Spirit convicts us in that sense too.  He established firm and fixed belief in us about what the Bible teaches and how we are to apply it.  These are the ways in which most Christians use these words- not in the way Farley claims.
As a result, this book- while well-intentioned- can do much harm to those lacking a sufficient biblical theological background to make the distinctions that Pastor Farley fails to make.  I hate sounding like a nit-picky, fault-finding guy.  But this book presents too many problems on too many fronts.
I’ve noted other books that may be of good use in understanding regeneration and justification.  A book that may be of good use in understanding sanctification is Walter Marshall’s The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.  It is built on the reality of our union with Christ.  So, in some ways it is what Farley tries to do without the many theological errors that Farley embraces.  We do live out our new identity in Christ, being assured of His love for us due to the substitutionary death of Christ.   This would be a more fruitful use of one’s time and money.

Cavman Considers

Monday, March 14, 2011

Viper In Your Heart

"Let no man think to kill sin--with a few, easy, or gentle strokes!" - John Owen

I once found a snake in my backyard, coiled behind a bush, ready to strike and release its dangerous poison into one of my children. Actually, my son James discovered it and ran to me for protection. My neighbor killed 23 of them in his yard this past year. As I snuck up on the legless beast, I drew back my shovel, knowing that I had one good shot at a quick, clean kill. After that, if I had only wounded it, I'd be in for a nasty fight. 

No responsible father would deal gently and sensitively with a poisonous viper roaming a backyard full of children. A real man would pursue the creature until he saw its death and then put up barricades to prevent future intruders. 

Sin is a real viper, often curled up in the heart of your chest, waiting to release its venom into your marriage, your children, and your soul. Deal violently with it. Cut its head off and rejoice in victory over it. Then barricade your family against future sin by cultivating a deep love for God, His people, and His kingdom.

Kirk Cameron

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Living Without Prejudices

One of the hardest spiritual tasks is to live without prejudices. Sometimes we aren't even aware how deeply rooted our prejudices are. We may think that we relate to people who are different from us in colour, religion, sexual orientation, or lifestyle as equals, but in concrete circumstances our spontaneous thoughts, uncensored words, and knee-jerk reactions often reveal that our prejudices are still there.

Strangers, people different than we are, stir up fear, discomfort, suspicion, and hostility. They make us lose our sense of security just by being "other." Only when we fully claim that God loves us in an unconditional way and look at "those other persons" as equally loved can we begin to discover that the great variety in being human is an expression of the immense richness of God's heart. Then the need to prejudge people can gradually disappear.

Henri Nouwen

Monday, March 7, 2011

Casting Stones?

Recently, a woman from Serdang, Malaysia, was exposed on the internet for being an abuser of animals. She had killed a mother cat and its two kittens. Her acts of cruelty were caught on CCTV and the video posting went viral on the internet. The acquaintances of this woman recognized her from the video and posted her personal information online. This cat abuser began to receive threatening messages on her phone and Facebook account.
Some well-meaning Christians posted admonitions such as ‘not to cast stones’ at this woman. They were, of course referring to John 8:2-11 about an account of a woman accused of adultery. The people had captured her with the intention of killing her by stoning. Jesus prevented the lynching by saying, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!”

This scripture is often cited by Christians who consider any criticisms or corrections on the perpetrators of a crime or sin to be wrong. The gist of the misapplication is: “How can you point out my sin when you are a sinner yourself”. In short, “Who are you to judge me?” In this instance, the perpetrators would turn the table on the accusers and thus cover up their sins or crimes. 

This is a total abuse of the Word of God because the vilest criminals can continue their criminal activities or sinful actions under the supposed protection of this scripture. Did our Lord actually forbid any corrections? Was He against justice being done? Are we forbidden from pointing out acts of injustice, murders, cruelty, sins and crimes that are committed by others simply because we are all sinners?

Paul gave this advice to his son in the faith, “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that others may take warning” (1 Timothy 5:20). As for fellow believers, Paul was clear about the importance of correction when he wrote: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.”

Paul had no problem in rebuking erring Christians and churches and often he did so sternly. I believe the Lord allowed the Bible to record an incident where Paul rebuked Peter for hypocrisy. Peter was eating with the Gentiles and had enjoyed their fellowship until some Jewish brethren arrived. Peter then avoided eating with the Gentile brethren totally (Galatians 2:11-14).

Was Paul without sins, when he used very strong words against Peter? Paul actually wrote this incident as an example for other Christians to follow:

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” (Galatians 2:11).
When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all…” (Galatians 2:14).

Why was Paul so harsh in rebuking Peter publicly? Why did he not follow his own advice to counsel and restore Peter privately? Why was there no apparent humility and gentleness in the use of words against this ‘chief’ apostle?

In my observation, Peter’s hypocrisy was similar to that of the Pharisees and Sadducees whom Jesus rebuked publicly. Peter’s action contradicted that of the teachings of Jesus and thus Paul said that Peter “stood condemned”. Peter had the highest responsibility when he was appointed to lead the early believers and by publicly behaving hypocritically, he influenced others to behave likewise. 

“The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.” (Galatians 2:13).

Since this hypocrisy was publicly displayed, Paul therefore did not privately admonish Peter but made the rebuke a public one. In fact, Paul’s rebuke was of similar intensity as that of the Lord’s against the Pharisees for hypocrisy (Matthew 23:25).

Was Paul sinless like Jesus? Obviously not! Paul was clear that he was a sinner and even considered himself as the “worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15-16). By rebuking Peter, was Paul “casting stones” at this very important apostle? So, are we “casting stones” when we point out the sins of our brethren or expose the injustices, prejudices and crimes of society?

It is thus important for us to understand the distinction between speaking out against sins, crimes, injustices and prejudices and “casting stones”. If we were to blur this distinction and seek to become ‘politically correct’, then we, the believers, will no longer be able to call people to confession and repentance of their sins. Jesus had no problem in identifying sins and named them as such. Today, the Church has to do the same. The purpose is not to condemn the sinners or criminals because they are already condemned in their present states. The purpose is to call these people to repentance and turn away from their wicked ways. 

What is the meaning of “casting stones”? During the time of Christ (and even today, in some extreme societies), women who were caught in adultery were not let off with admonitions, fines or imprisonments. They were killed! People at that time were most happy to implement the ancient laws of killing the perpetrator by stones and rocks. It often became a carnival of sheer lust for blood and murder. 

The “casting stones” approach is the carrying out of punishment that would end up in the death of the perpetrator. Therefore this story is not against pointing out the sins and crimes of others but about giving them a chance for redemption and restoration. Condemnation or passing the final judgement upon a person’s life is therefore the privilege of God alone. He is the only One who is without sins. Exposing sins and crimes by calling these by their names does not constitute ‘casting stones’.

What happened to this cat abuser from Malaysia? Because of the massive public response on internet and in the media, this girl was caught. She was forced to face the music and finally issued a statement of public apology. Christine Lai, the president of a non-governmental organization, Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better (MDDB), represented the feelings of most animal lovers when she expressed shock. Even though, she was appalled by this woman’s cruel action, her organization was willing to help this cat abuser if she were to be truly repentant. 

Christine said, “We are willing to sponsor her to get proper psychiatric treatment at the University Malaya Medical Centre. We urge the authorities to help her, but at the same time take proper and immediate action on her, as a reminder of her cruel act. We told her that she would be monitored by us and she should perform community works.”

Charges were filed against this woman for animal cruelty, under Section 44 of the Animals Act 1953. If she was found guilty, the authorities would fine her RM200 or imprison her for six months or both. This approach is not only redemptive but it serves as a warning to the potential animal abusers or those are still abusing animals.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Letting Go of Our Fear of God

We are afraid of emptiness. Spinoza speaks about our "horror vacui," our horrendous fear of vacancy. We like to occupy-fill up-every empty time and space. We want to be occupied. And if we are not occupied we easily become preoccupied; that is, we fill the empty spaces before we have even reached them. We fill them with our worries, saying, "But what if ..."

It is very hard to allow emptiness to exist in our lives. Emptiness requires a willingness not to be in control, a willingness to let something new and unexpected happen. It requires trust, surrender, and openness to guidance. God wants to dwell in our emptiness. But as long as we are afraid of God and God's actions in our lives, it is unlikely that we will offer our emptiness to God. Let's pray that we can let go of our fear of God and embrace God as the source of all love.

Henri Nouwen