Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Some reflections on different ways to see the world - Affluence, poverty, making a difference

Here are some reflections about how people in the West and those in low-income countries see things differently.

In the West, we want to see how we can make a difference. We want to see how we can fight injustice and alleviate poverty in the world. But for the poor in low-income countries, it is a matter of whether there can be any difference at all. If daily existence is a struggle, how can one find hope in the midst of injustice and poverty? Only a relationship with Christ and his identification with injustice and poverty can give us true hope and comfort.

In the West, we get to choose. Yes, we don't always get to choose, and there are those among use who are marginalised and disadvantaged. But comparatively, many of us get to choose - to study hard to go to university or work hard to learn a trade, save up for a holiday overseas, go to church and spend time with friends on the weekend, etc. Yet for many who live in low-income countries, the only choice is to keep staying alive and not to give up hope. They don't really get to choose in the way we do. There is no such a thing as a holiday overseas to see what the world is like. There is no such a thing as going to university - that is, for most of them because there aren't too many places at university, if there is one at all.

Many of us (not all of us, of course) in the West live in affluence. With our money and relatively high social status, we have the power to help the poor. We find satisfaction and meaning as we give to them. But for many who live in low-income countries, they learn to share with others with the little they have. Sharing resources out of poverty and powerlessness produces a profound sense of grace, hope and love that those living in affluence cannot fully understand.

None of the above means that living in the affluent West is wrong. Nor does the above mean that the rich should all become poor. It is not about guilt. But I hope the above helps us to learn from each other - to see the world from another perspective. I think God sees the world from all the different worldviews, and he knows exactly what the poor have to go through.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reflection: The word "truth" in the Bible

I have been thinking that "truth" is one of the most misunderstood words in the Bible, for we keep thinking about the "truth" in modernistic terms. But truth, truthfulness and embodying truthfulness are all interrelated within the biblical worldview.

And if you know Greek, check out Ephesians 4:15. The Greek does not literally say, "speaking the truth in love". Instead, it's "truthing in love", which means embodying and living out the truth in love!

"Speaking the truth" may be part of it, but there is so much more. If we only speak the truth without living it out in love, then we are quite hypocritical, aren't we? On the contrary, if we live out and embody God's truth and truthfulness in love, then what we say has credibility. Imagine that we can truly care for others, give them grace, and show them genuine love, then people can truly see some measure of who God really is.

I tend to think that what Christ did on earth was to embody God's truth in his life, suffering and death, and God vindicated him by raising him from the dead. I think Paul tried to follow Jesus' life pattern, and he asked his Christian communities to do likewise.

Cruciformity and being leaders - Part 4 (Tim Gombis)

In his fourth blog post on Christianity and Christian Leadership, Tim Gombis has the following to say.

Cruciform leaders do not view people as the means to achieve other goals.  The people to whom we minister are the goal.  The whole point of Jesus-shaped leadership is to take the initiative to see that God’s grace and love arrive into the lives of others.

Christian leaders are servants of others on behalf of God, so people are the point—not my goals, plans, vision, or ambitions.

This may be obvious, but there is a vocabulary set used among ministry leaders that very subtly perverts and corrupts our vision for cruciform ministry.

We talk about “results,” or we want our ministries to be “effective.”  We look for ministry strategies that “work.”

When we talk like this, we reveal that we are envisioning something bigger than or beyond the people to whom we minister.  We subtly become the servants of that other thing and we look at the people as the means to get there.

This is one way that pastors’ hearts function as idol factories.
He says it so well.

Click here for Tim Gombis' entire blog post.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The gulf between us and the poor

Sight Magazine has reprinted this article. Check it out here.

Here is a quote:
I do believe that Scriptural truths are universal and the poor do not have moral superiority over the rich, and hence at least in theory our material affluence should not adversely affect our ability to understand the Bible. But I wonder whether our wealth can be a hindrance that stops us from fully understanding the plight of the poor and the Scripture.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Jesus-shaped leadership and today's trend in the Christian circle

His his second post on Cruciformity and Christian Leadership, Tim Gombis suggests that we should take a look at Mark 10:42-45 and Deuteronomy 17:14-20, and says,
Taking a cue from these texts, I will discuss cruciform Christian leadership by contrasting it with worldly leadership practices.  This may help us discern how perverted ambitions, hidden idolatries, and destructive practices subtly affect how leadership works in Christian communities.
And then he says that a Jesus-shaped leadership looks like this:

An unrelenting commitment to the delivery of the love and grace of God into the lives of others (or, the life of another), and taking the initiative to see to it that this happens.
For many years I have had the privilege of working with Christian leaders in churches, Christian organizations and even Christian ministry training colleges. What is disturbing is the increasing trend of importing leadership skills and methods in the corporate world into the Christian community.

What happens in practice is not the outright unrestrained pursuit of self-promotion or self-interest. Rather, the issue is the lack of an “unrelenting commitment to the delivery of the love and grace of God into the lives of others (or, the life of another), and taking the initiative to see to it that this happens.”

This is the trend I observe in recent years: Instead of treating people with grace and love, Christian leaders resort to policies and procedures – and all too often, statistics and numbers (which are used to measure the so-called “performance”). The rationale is that policies and procedures – and numbers – are not wrong. The Bible is not against them, they say. So, as long as they work for the “greater good” (e.g. more people to come to church, or more money to give to the poor), it is okay to use them, even though in the process love and grace are missing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all Christian leaders act like this. Not at all. I love the church, and I hold nothing against those who have ill-treated me. There is no unforgiveness. My concern is the health of the church, and where we are heading.

Gombis says it so well, and is worth repeating. Jesus-shaped leadership is about
An unrelenting commitment to the delivery of the love and grace of God into the lives of others (or, the life of another), and taking the initiative to see to it that this happens.
(By the way, Dr Christopher Wright has something really good to say about Deut 17:14-20 in his commentary.)

Click here for Tim Gombis' entire blog post.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cruciformity and being leaders (Tim Gombis)

For many years I have not been able to convince people in Christian leadership that to be a Christian and to be a Christian leader one has to start with following the Crucified Christ, so that we might experience the power of resurrection. But more than often people reject this notion, because they think it doesn't work in practice.

I am, therefore, glad that Tim Gombis is writing something in his blog about this. Here are some excerpts from his first post on this matter.

"By cruciformity I mean having every aspect of our lives and church communities oriented by the cross-shaped life of Jesus."

"Cruciformity is a powerful notion because it is the only way to gain access to the resurrection power of God.  When we shape our lives according to the life of Jesus, we experience his presence by the Spirit, and God floods our lives, relationships, and communities with resurrection power."

"When I talk to people training for Christian leadership about cruciformity, however, I discover the assumption that it isn’t easily practiced in ministry."

"I wonder if this is because our imaginations are shaped by worldly conceptions of power.  We assume that at some point cruciform leadership would fail."

Click here for the entire blog post from Tim Gombis.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reflection: The message of 2 Chronicles

Recently my son (who is in upper primary) was reading 2 Chronicles. As it happened, I finished reading 2 Chronicles not long ago. I said to him that I thought a message of the book is that we should rely on God rather than ourselves or other resources. (The successive kings of Judah - as recorded in 2 Chronicles - had to learn to rely on Yahweh. It's a point clearly made by the chronicler.)

Then my son said to me, "I think the message of 2 Chronicles is that people do sin against God, but God still forgives them." Then he said that the kings in the book kept sinning, but God is merciful.

I think he has a point, and in fact spot-on.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What Is the Mission of the Church? (Tim Gombis's interactions with De Young and Gilbert)

My previous post referred to Joel Willitts' review on the book What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert. Here I will provide links to the various posts in Tim Gombis' blog, where Gombis interacts with the book. Gombis sometimes interacts with the book directly, and sometimes indirectly. I will try to list both types of posts below.

First post.
Second post.
Third post.
Fourth post.
Fifth post.
Sixth post.
God's Love for Creation.
Seventh post.
Receiving Service to the Poor and Needy.
Eighth post.
Ninth post.
Stetzer's review.

(This list is not meant to be exhaustive. I may have missed some of Gombis' posts here.)

What Is the Mission of the Church? (Joel Willitts' review on a book by De Young and Gilbert)

The questions around social justice and the mission of the church are important. A new book came out this year by the following title.
What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert.
Joel Willitts has been blogging on this book in Euangelion, and yesterday he summarised his posts in one post. While I do not totally agree with Willitts on everything, especially his understanding of social justice (although I don't totally disagree with him on that topic either), most of the time I really like what he says in his blog posts. His review is well-written, important and really worth reading. Thank you indeed, Joel, for writing this up for the church today.

Click here for the entire review by Joel Willitts.

(Tim Gombis has also been blogging on this book. Click here for more info.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Interpreting Revelation - Two of Michael Gorman's suggestions

In his book, Reading Revelation Responsibly, Dr Michael Gorman suggests five concrete strategies to approach the Book of Revelation. Here I would like to mention two of them.

"Recognize that the central and centering image of Revelation is the Lamb that was slaughtered. In Revelation, Christ dies for our sins, but he dies also, even primarily, as the incarnation and paradigm of faithfulness to God in the face of anti-God powers. Christ is Lord, Christ is victorious, and Christ conquers by cruciform faithful resistance..." (page 78)

"Focus on the book's call to public worship and discipleship. Revelation calls Christians to a difficult discipleship of discernment - a non-conformist cruciform faithfulness - that may lead to marginalization or even persecution now, but ultimately to a place in God's new heaven and new earth. Revelation calls believers to nonretaliation and nonviolence, and not to a literal war of any sort, present or future. By its very nature as resistance, faithful nonconformity is not absolute withdrawal but rather critical engagement on very different terms from those of the status quo. This is all birthed and nurtured in worship." (page 79)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Australian survey identifies key "blockers" to embracing Christian faith

Sight Magazine has an article on a recent survey on Australians' attitude towards Christianity. The survey collated data from over 1,000 Australians across the county.

According to the report, 23% of "Protestants/Evangelicals" are not at all active in practising their faith. On the other hand, 23% of them are extremely active in doing so.

Also, Christianity's top 10 belief "blockers" are:

1.   Church abuse
2.   Hypocrisy
3.   Judging others
4.   Religious views
5.   Suffering
6.   Issues around money
7.   Outdated
8.   Hell & condemnation
9.   Homosexuality
10. Exclusivity

These are, of course, not surprising. The list here reflects what we already know as we interact with people. It should be noted that the list above does not necessarily reflect the actual beliefs of Christianity. (For example, Jesus was totally against hypocrisy.) But the issue is about how Christians live out their faith.

Click here for the full article in Sight Magazine and here for links to the report itself.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Capitalism, democracy and slavery (Clarke and Dawe on ABC)

Last Thursday John Clarke and Bryan Dawe on ABC 7:30 (10th November 2011) was really good. They talked about the current international economic problems, with reference to democracy and slavery in the ancient world in (Western) civilization. Take a look!

Click here for the link to the clip. (It's 2 min 31 sec long).

Will the earth be destroyed, according to 2 Peter 3:10? (Tom Wright)

It is often thought that 2 Peter 3:10 speaks of the earth being burned up in the future. In a previous post I referred to Dr Christopher Wright's view on this matter. In this post I will refer to Bishop Tom Wright's view on this verse. The following is taken from his devotional commentary, Early Christian Letters for Everyone, pages 119-120.

"As with the rest of the New Testament, Peter is not saying that the present world of space, time and matter is going to be burnt up and destroyed. That is more like the view of ancient Stoicism - and of some modern ideas, too. What will happen, as many early Christian teachers said, is that some sort of 'fire', literal or metaphorical, will come upon the whole earth, not to destroy, but to test everything out, and to purify it by burning up everything that doesn't meet the test. The 'elements' that will be 'dissolved' are probably the parts of creation that are needed at the moment for light and heat, that is, the sun and the moon: according to Revelation 21 they will not be needed in the new creation. But Peter's concern throughout the letter is with the judgment of humans for what they have done, not with the non-human parts of the cosmos for their own sake.

The day will come, then, and all will be revealed. All will be judged with fire. That is the promise which Peter re-emphasizes here over against those who said, at or soon after the end of the first Christian generation, that the whole thing must be a mistake since Jesus had not, after all, returned. Many in our own day have added their voices to those of the 'deceivers' of verse 3, saying that the early Christians all expected Jesus to return at once, and that since he didn't we must set aside significant parts of their teaching because, being based on a mistake, they have come out wrong. But this merely repeats the mistake against which Peter is warning - and, in fact, this is the only passage in all first-century Christian literature which addresses directly the question of a 'delay'. It doesn't seem to have bothered Christian writers in the second century or thereafter. They continue to teach that the Lord would return, and that this might happen at any time (hence: 'like a thief', in verse 10, picking up an image from Jesus himself)."

(Click here for the previous post on this topic.)

Will the earth be destroyed, according to 2 Peter 3:10? (Christopher Wright)

In his book, The God I Don't Understand, Dr Christopher J H Wright has the following to say about 2 Peter 3:10. Dr Wright challenges the thought that the earth will one day be destroyed entirely (ie. "burned up").

"At the time of the King James Version, the only available Greek manuscripts had the final verb of that sentence as 'will burn up', and so this thought entered Christian expectations. Much earlier manuscripts that have since been discovered indicates that the original word was 'will be found'. What this probably means is that as the purging fires of God's judgment do their work, the earth and all deeds done on it will be fully exposed and 'found out' for what they really are. The same Greek word 'found' is used in a similar way in 1 Peter 1:7, also in the context of the purging judgment of fire: '... so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which purges even though refined by fire - may be proved [found] genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed' (same word, my emphasis)." (pages 199-200)

Dr Chris Wright then cites the newer English translations, NET, NRSV and ESV, to illustrate this point. Then he says,

"So we should understand the destructive fire of this passage as the fire of God's moral judgment, which will destroy all that is wicked. In this sense it is exactly parallel to the destructive water of God's judgment at the time of the flood, which Peter uses in the preceding verses as the great historical prototype for the final judgment to come: 'By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed [same word as in vv. 10 and 11]. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly' (2 Peter 3:6-7, my emphasis).

"The language is the same: destruction. But what was destroyed in the flood? Not the earth itself, but the wicked people on it at the time. Likewise what will be destroyed in the fire? Not the earth itself, but all that is sinful upon it. That is why Peter can urge his readers, in view of the coming destruction, not to try to escape out of the world but to live morally godly lives in it (2 Peter 3:11), in preparation for the new creation, 'where righteousness dwells' (v. 13). Thus, we should not see in this passage an obliteration of the universe, but a moral and redemptive purging of the universe, cleansing it of the presence and effects of all sin and evil." (page 200)

(Click here for another blog post on this topic, which refers to Tom Wright's book.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Embracing both victory in Christ and his cruciform life (Tim Gombis)

Tim Gombis' recent post in his blog is again insightful. Here is an excerpt.

"God has come in triumph and Scripture expresses this reality with the rhetoric of victory.  But there’s something wrong about triumphalism.

On the other hand, we are saved by the cross of Christ and our existence as Christian people is cruciform.  Our lives are patterned after the cross-shaped life of Jesus.  But there’s something wrong about extreme asceticism and self-loathing.

So, which is it?  What mode of life should the church adopt?  Is it okay to celebrate creation and enjoy life without feeling guilty?  Alternatively, should we really seek out suffering and be purposeful about lament in light of God’s deliverance in Christ?

It seems to me that the church’s task is manifold because of the complex character of creation and especially its current condition of brokenness.  It’s the global church’s task to understand, live into, and speak truthfully about the character of the world in all its facets."

Click here for the entire blog post.

A comprehensive understanding of sin (Tim Gombis)

Sin manifests itself in many ways at many levels, resulting in a web of evils that destroy humanity and God’s good creation.

Here are some excerpts from Tim Gombis' blog (8th November 2011) about what sin is. Very helpful.

"Personal idolatries and ambition drive people to sin, which often draws others into participating in the destruction and self-destruction.  Others who find out about wrongdoing have their own motivations for responding rightly or wrongly, choosing either to participate in cover-up and denial or to exploit the situation to their advantage.  The multiplication of these motivations and decisions results in a bewildering web of deception and staggering personal, inter-personal, and institutional destruction."

"Personal, inter-personal, and systemic dynamics of corruption are all involved."

"The brilliant horror of the cosmic power of Sin is that sin begets sin on a massive scale and pervades everything. Sin invites and provokes sin. Sin runs down social networks and multiplies exponentially, destroying lives, reputations, and institutions, without respect for reputation or past credentials of honor."

Click here for Tim Gombis entire blog post.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Greek Evangelical view of the Greek economic crisis (in Michael Bird's blog post)

Mike Bird posted something really interesting in his (and Joel Willitts') blog. The economic crisis in Greece is affecting the whole world at the moment. In this blog post Mike Bird has asked Dr. Myrto Theocharous (M.A. Wheaton College. Ph.D Cambridge Uni ), Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at the Greek Bible College in Athens, to be a guest writer.

She provides some reflections from Habakkuk as a Greek evangelical herself. Here are two excerpts of what she has to say.

"In the crisis that we face today, although all have sinned, some have sinned to become wealthy and some have sinned to survive. Lots of Greeks see that not everyone is paying to make things right, thus perpetuating an unjust system where the elite always manage to escape with their funds unscathed. It is the lower strata of society that have to carry the burden for the sins of the powerful: their salaries are slashed, thousands have lost their jobs, cannot pay for their rent, stores are closing down one after the other – all sheep to the slaughter for saving the banks."

"How does the evangelical religious minority react to this? On the one hand, the traditional approach continues: the church remains focused on spiritual issues and individual guilt, while passively submitting to the government (appealing to Romans 13) and trusting the EU’s “roadmap” on how to get out of the financial mess. Some tend to emphasize the church’s “heavenly” citizenship and the imminent coming of Christ, which render political involvement futile. Evangelistic efforts and charity continue, both of which focus on saving individuals from the clutches of what seems to be an irredeemable society. Without discounting the traditional approach, some are beginning to place greater focus on systemic evil, assessing what should be the level of their political involvement and what direction it should take. For some the evil lies in the productivity-killing corrupted socialist system of Greece, while for others it is to be found in the poverty-generating greed inherent in global capitalism." (emphasis added)

Click here for the entire blog post. See especially how Dr. Myrto Theocharous applies Habakkuk to the situation.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Serving the poor through incarnational love (Tim Gombis)

Tim Gombis recently posted an excellent post in his blog (on 2nd November 2011). Here I cite from his post some profound insights about serving the poor. I will highlight a few things in this colour.
If we seek to help others motivated by guilt or emotion, we will typically seek to pacify our own immediate feelings rather than seek to do what’s in the long-term best interest of others. 
Doing good that ultimately helps is something radically different.  It requires incarnational love and boldness to get involved personally with difficult situations.  It may also take long periods of time to build trust and establish healthy relationships of mutuality.  Further, most ministry situations will require that we relate from our weaknesses rather than our strengths. That can be very disorienting.
Perhaps most difficult—and why guilt and sentiment hinder rather than help—doing good challenges us to discern when and how to act in ways that benefit others in the long run.  We may have to fight our impulses and resist the manipulations of others in the interests of avoiding doing immediate and long-term damage.
Beyond all this, Scripture doesn’t motivate service to the poor and needy out of guilt.  Solidarity with the suffering and service to the poor and needy are motivated eschatologically and sacramentallyThat is, we are motivated by a future-orientation toward the day of Christ and by an awareness of where we have access to the life-giving and sustaining presence of Jesus.
We could look at a number of texts, but I’ll just point to John 12:25-26:
Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
If you grasp too tightly to stuff and give yourself to lustful accumulation, you will lose your life.  But if you let it go in service to Jesus, you will honored by God himself!  That’s the eschatological orientation.
But Jesus goes on to say that “whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.”
Where is Jesus?  Read the Gospels.  Where is he? 

Jesus spent his days on earth with the poor, the outcast, the shamed woman in the Samaritan village, the despised and traitorous Zaccheus, the single mother from the red-light district in Syro-Phoenicia.  Jesus goes on to say in John 15 that when we serve others we are sustained by Jesus’ own joy.  There’s a “sacramental” character to serving those in need.  That is, those actions and patterns of life are encounters on earth with the very presence of Jesus.
We serve others, especially those in need, because that’s a pattern of life that is sustained by the life-giving and joy-generating presence of Jesus.  And we serve because that’s the mode of life that has its end in exaltation with Jesus himself at the final day.
....... Christian leaders would do well to cultivate language that expresses these motivations, shaping the imagination of God’s people to serve the world joyfully in the name of Jesus.
Click here for the entire post by Tim Gombis.