Friday, February 17, 2006

Going home.

I believe all of us are storytellers. There is not one or two, but many stories of life, of living; that we carry with us. When I look at the person standing across me in the train, and another browsing at the Sociology section of a bookstore; I thought, “Surely, this man/woman has something to tell me”.

Well, I never did approach them. No one would be quite mad as to strike a conversation with a stranger unless by some divine intervention, I suppose. But I am reminded by how great an effect stories can leave us. Especially of Isaiah- a prophet, who told a great story of comfort to Israel.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins”. – Isaiah 40:1-2.

Now, I must say, I have never wronged against another greatly. I was a school prefect, for goodness sake; surely there weren’t linear relations between me and any law-breaking incidents. Given such 'righteousness' upheld, I never knew what it meant to be pardoned- til now.

I watched an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show ( a talkshow which I consider evangelistic, if only given large injections of theology; instead of mere namby-pamby anthropological sentiments). 2 men were seated next to each other- one having crashed his car into another, dragging his wife and child some 50 metres across the street; a consequence of mindless car-racing.

How courageous both of them must be- one, facing his family’s murderer; the other, facing justice. Perhaps, appearing on national television required them to retain their composure at all costs. Yet, when the man who lost his family finally spoke, clearly; all composure from both sides was shaken. “I just want to tell you that I forgive you”, he said; as tears rolled down his cheeks. By then, the man, least expecting forgiveness;broke into a sob. “You have no idea how it feels like to be forgiven when you least expect of it- I do not understand this at all, but I thank you”.

This man nailed it across the wall. We have no idea what it feels like to be forgiven when we least expect of it. The Israelites were least expecting God’s flood of mercy and forgiveness; certainly not when they had been in exile. Exile was, in biblical sense; a punishment for disobedience. Adam and Eve were banished from the garden of Eden, after they fell into sin. (c/f Genesis 3:23)

But now, we are bombarded with the ultimate act of forgiveness- God telling His people that they were pardoned- their sins were counted no more. They were flabbergasted. Well, so am I. Yet, I feel a deep sense of relief and peace. My burden of not knowing when I have gone far enough or done enough is lifted. Not because I earned the reward, but because God has called- “Comfort, comfort my people”.

Perhaps, there are among us who are in exile. Some of us, caught in a cyclic trap of work and toil. Some of us; in an emotional turmoil. Some of us; drained from aimless walking.

Be comforted. You are going home- and what a story it is!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Love. Simply.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends...1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

Although Valentine's Day is especially dedicated to over-priced chocolates and roses... i mean; couples of all ages, it is nonetheless; a day worth celebrating love. I am thankful that Life is filled with celebrations like these-



even, growing-up-days!

Celebrate simply, love- not just today, but every day.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Letter of Apologia.

A kind, anonymous commentator left 2 responses on an earlier posting. This is my attempt to answer the first of the two.

“Christians claim that they do not worship idols but the Catholic school I was studying in have idols of Jesus in classrooms and in the school chapel (and of course, in the church). The idols look Caucasian (more like Irish). By having Jesus' idol in front of you while praying isn't that tantamount to praying to idols (although it is supposed to look like Jesus) just like the hindus and the buddhists. Besides, who knows how Jesus look like? He is an Israelite no doubt(not the Israelis of to-day) from the Middle East. Who has an original photograph or painting of him? Or is it enough just to imagine how he looks like and make an idol of him? How was he dressed when he was crucified? Christians say Jesus is the son of god because he was born miraculously without a father. What about Adam who was created as the first human being without a father and mother (at least Jesus has mother). Surely he has a much better claim to be the son of god? Why should god wait thousands of years to send his so-called son Jesus to earth? Did god make a mistake? Another question that bothers me is the situation of millions of people between Adam and Jesus who have no knowledge of Jesus and yet carried the sins of Adam. How are they to seek forgiveness from god? Or do they form a special group of human beings who do not carry the sins of Adam? Why am I bothered, you may ask? Why not, they could be my ancestral lineage and have to go hell because they had no chance to know the teachings of Jesus (Christianity)”. - Anonymous.

Dear Anonymous,
Thank you for your interests in this. I shall try to answer your questions, although I have no real theological expertise. :) Allow me to restructure your questions, nonetheless.
You are troubled by

a) the figures of Jesus in the church when the 2nd commandment is clear to Man that he is not to make carved images.

b) Jesus’ claim to being a ‘son of God’ when he was given to birth by a human mother.

c) whether God made a mistake only to rectify it thousands of years later by sending Jesus to the world

d) how people in pre-Jesus days (ie Abraham and King David) could obtain forgiveness from God without Jesus as their propitiator of sins.

Here are my 2 cents’, and I welcome (in fact, with open arms; more constructive feedback, corrections, criticism) -

a) You were right to say that there were no pictures of Jesus or even Paul for that matter, and therefore no one of our days will know for certain how Jesus looked like. Therefore, praying to an image of Jesus would probably render us praying to just about anybody, apart from Jesus. Images and religious art displayed in the Catholic churches have been a part of their traditions. The Catholics’ arguments are these- They do not worship the statues/ religious art nor do they think that these statues are living in any way, but that these art forms are representations, amid small ones; of God in one way or another. Therefore, statues and images are displayed in the church for veneration purposes rather than worshipping purposes.

b) The claim “Son of God” is made to denote the special and unique relationship between the Father and the Son (Jesus, that is); rather than to denote a biological relationship. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and therefore explained how he was sinless, for he was not born of the flesh of men, but was incarnate to the world with a mission- to be a propitiator of the sins of men. (c/f Luke 1: 26-38) Unlike Adam who was created by God, Jesus was not created at a certain point of time; but was in existence in eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Nicene Creed proclaims as such- “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate” Jesus is the image, the representation of the invisible God. (c/f Colossians 1: 15).

c) God is all-knowing and foresees all things. Therefore, he knows all outcomes of his choices, and also the outcomes of men even before they happen. With such omniscience, God does not make any mistakes. The Apostle Paul says that even from eternity God has planned to give us saving grace in Christ Jesus as our Savior. (c/f 2 Timothy 1:9) In other words, God not only foreknew in eternity the sinful choice that Adam would make (and Lucifer before him), but he also planned to give us grace through Jesus Christ. Why God took a few thousand years to actualize this plan, we do not know; for God’s redemptive plans are active and unfold in time. Yet, God’s revelation for redemption that signified His divine foreknowledge is clear. (Gen 3:15) “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." and the prophecy of the suffering servant by Isaiah(c/f Isaiah 53), among the many examples shown in the Bible.

d) The Covenant of Grace, promised eternal blessing for all people for trusting in the successive promises of God and ultimately for accepting Christ as a substitutionary covenantal representative. It is the historical expression of the eternal covenant of redemption and covenant theologians see Gen 3:15 as the historical beachhead for the covenant of grace. The Covenant of Grace became the basis for all future covenants that God made with mankind such as with Noah (Gen 6, 9), with Abraham (Gen 12, 15, 17), with Moses (Ex 19-24), with David (2 Sam 7), and finally in the New Covenant fulfilled and founded in Christ. These individual covenants are called the "biblical covenants" because they are explicitly described in the Bible. Under the Covenantal overview of the Bible, submission to God's rule and living in accordance with his moral law (expressed concisely in the Ten Commandments) is a response to grace - never something which can earn God's acceptance (legalism). – source: Wikipedia, on covenant theology. As I have asserted earlier, God’s redemptive plans are active in history, present and future and unfolds in time. Therefore, it is not that the people in pre-Jesus days need not the propitiation of sins by Jesus, rather; it was marked that the climax and centrality of God’s redemptive actions were made at the cross. It was the due to the centrality of the cross that Jesus could say, “It is finished!” (c/f John 19:30)

I shall try to elaborate on the centrality of the cross later.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Bulletin: Interfaith Dialogue @ University of Malaya

Is Jesus the Only Way? (From the map, looks like it is not :) )

An atrocious statement it is, but come scrutinise it for yourself at-

Interfaith Dialogue Series II

Topic: Basic Beliefs of 4 Major Religions
Date: 6 February 2006
Time: 8pm (7.30pm for a good seat)
Venue: Auditorium, Kompleks Perdanansiswa (Follow poorly-drawn arrows for directions)

A Smooth 27 January Evening.

Who says jazz can’t be serious? Armed with 3 saxophones and his band members for the night at No Black Tie- Kerong on piano, Syam on guitar, AJ on bass and John Thomas on drums, Greg Lyons has certainly proven the point that jazz has every reason to be serious about; amid the fact that it can sometimes be fooled around with.

It didn’t take him long to bring his point across, too- a performance that was neatly choreographed, bundled and presented with strict professionalism. One couldn’t help but to notice what a seasoned performer he was, and how it contributed to the versatility of the music selection played that night.

The performance was a delight, even to one; to which jazz wasn’t his usual cup of tea. You wouldn’t find anything too hardcore beyond your understanding in the showcase; just smooth contemporary jazz for easy-listening over good company. Nevertheless, the improvisations were blatant enough for jazz-lovers to rave about. Overall, it was a good mix of both introduction and sense of familiarity for music lovers, regardless of whether you are in for the jazz or not.

His rendition of “African Skies” was certainly noteworthy to be mentioned over and over again, for its distinctive change in tempo and arrangement complexity. Yet, it was in “Truffles” that was most striking to the heart for the night. Despite being a relatively easier number, Greg and Kerong displayed a more melancholic mood of showmanship, in which Kerong shone in his softer touch on the ivory keys. Special mention, however; must be given to the only classic performed for the night- “The Nearness of You”. The number was indeed a special treat and ear-candy for classics enthusiasts and one must certainly pat Greg and Kerong on the shoulders for giving the number its due loveliness.

However, the person to watch out for in the near future; was the young and charismatic John Thomas. At 20, he has already established a stronghold in the Malaysian Jazz scene with his bold and unpredictable beat. You would want to watch him play again and again.

Verdict- So, the performance was a tad too smooth and contemporary for my liking for a 2-hour seating of jazz. However, it was no less a sterling performance by the seasoned saxophonist and the equally promising band that he had for the night. One would obviously not mind throwing away his black ties for more of these.