Daddy blog

I started this blog when I was following the Life Journal Bible reading plan on YouVersion. (I've since completed that plan.) At that time, YouVersion didn't provide any way for people to respond to my notes, other than to "like" them. So this blog is here to remedy that problem. You may comment on my notes here in the comment section.
I also have a general blog.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Specially Chosen!


S: Romans 9:25-26 Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea, “Those who were not my people, I will now call my people. And I will love those whom I did not love before. And, “Then, at the place where they were told, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”

O: We were once strangers, foreigners to God's chosen nation, but now we've become naturalised citizens! We have been adopted by God to be part of His family! We did not first choose Him but He chose us! He knew us in advance and chose us to become like His Son! What a wonderful privilege!

A: Now that we have received such wonderful grace, that while we were yet sinners, God loved us so much that Christ died for us, let us love Him back and follow Him!

P: Thank You, Father, that while we were still your enemies, you first loved us! Thank You for Your forgiveness! May I never forget that and remain motivated to follow You! In Jesus' name, amen!

Note: I am highlighting one side of the Calvinist/Arminian debate in this post, that is, God's election. I personally believe both in God's election and human free will -- it is both that we choose God and God chose us.
Here is a pro-Calvinist (God's election) article.
Here is a pro-Arminian (human free will) article.
Here is an article that seems to have a view similar to mine.

Different sincere followers of Christ can have different interpretations of that truth, especially in secondary matters, and we must not allow that to break our fellowship, as Romans 14 points out.

A tragedy in the past is that churches have split and even wars fought between Christians because of secondary doctrinal matters.

When I was doing my Ph.D., I joined the Graduate InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (now known as Graduate Christian Fellowship) and was amazed to find Arminians and Calvinists, Catholics and Baptists, Methodists, Assemblies of God, Eastern Orthodox, etc. all united in Christ working together to reach the campus for Christ.

It was a beautiful picture of the united body of Christ!

After our meetings, we often repaired to a coffeeshop or something and many times, there were theological arguments over some of these very issues. But they were done in a spirit of brotherhood and never split the fellowship because of the good attitude.

By the way, I certainly am not saying that you must not discuss disputed topics. For example, I wrote this reflection some time ago.
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Righteous indignation?


S: Psalm 119:125-128 Give discernment to me, your servant; then I will understand your laws. LORD, it is time for you to act, for these evil people have violated your instructions. Truly, I love your commands more than gold, even the finest gold. Each of your commandments is right. That is why I hate every false way.

O: The Psalmist was filled with righteous indignation at the evil people he saw, just like we Malaysian Christians often are seeing what the UMNO-led government is doing. We Malaysian Christians have risen up to join our Muslim fellow citizens in denouncing the evil perpetrated by UMNO ever since the British left. We have denounced the corruption, the anti-democratic actions, etc. and large numbers of us have participated in the pro-democracy BERSIH rallies.

However, see what it says in verses 127-128. Do we truly love God's commands more than gold? Do we truly hate every false way and follow God's righteous commandments? Have we ourselves given bribes? Do we pirate movies and software? Do we truly love others as ourselves?

A: Even while we follow God's injunction to defend the defenceless and to stand up against injustice, we must also constantly remember that God first calls His own people to follow Him.

P: Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Idle Idols


S: Isaiah 44:6-20

O: We Chinese-Malaysian Christians are sometimes still very Chinese-Malaysian in our beliefs and not Christian enough. Many of us Chinese-Malaysian Christians hold very superstitious views about idols. Many of us fear the idols we see around us and think that somehow they might "contaminate" us with negative spirituality.

However, this, and many other other passages in the Bible make it clear that idols are merely wood, gold, etc. and they do not do anything -- idols are idle!

Yes, it is true that there are demons, but the Bible makes it clear in passage after passage that idols themselves are only bad because people worship them instead of the LORD God.

A: Do not fear idols. Worship only the LORD God. Fear the LORD God and walk in confidence in Christ.

P: Father, thank You that greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world! In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Fear Not Idols

This article was published in CBC News issue 40 (the newsletter of Community Baptist Church) and an abrdiged version was published in Asian Beacon. For many years, the article was available on the CBC website, but in the recent CBC website revamp, all the old CBC News articles had been removed, so I'm republishing this here.
Here in Malaysia, many Christians fear that idols, pictures of dragons, phoenixes, etc. have evil spirits behind them. I think that these beliefs are based on Chinese traditional beliefs and are contradictory to Scripture, as well as harmful for our Christian testimony.

For example, some Christians fear their family's religious altars might cause them demonic harm, and in exhibiting that fear, cause non-Christians to think our God is not so powerful. Many people have, after becoming Christians, destroyed valuable antiques just because they happen to have dragons and phoenixes decorating them – and hence needlessly giving some non-Christians more excuses to ridicule Christ. In many cases, people destroy clothes and household items that have images of dragons and phoenixes on them, even though nobody has worshipped those items, and there is no way for a non-Christian to make the mistake of thinking that the Christian worships those items.

That said, I have to also keep in mind 1 Corinthians 8:1, "Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." I want to be careful to say this in love and not in a "pride in my own knowledge" manner that will end up being more harmful than beneficial.

There are many injunctions in Scripture that speak against worshipping idols. I have no quarrel with that. But let us examine passages that talk about the nature of idols:

Habakuk 2:18-20
"Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, 'Come to life!' Or to lifeless stone, 'Wake up'' Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him."

Jeremiah 10:2-5
This is what the LORD says: "Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good."

Isaiah 44:9-20
All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing? He and his kind will be put to shame; craftsmen are nothing but men. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and infamy.

The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint.

The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is man's fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, "Ah! I am warm; I see the fire." From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, "Save me; you are my god."

They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, "Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?" He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, "Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?"

Deuteronomy 4:28
There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.

Psalm 115:4-8
But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats.

The tone of all these passages is one of derision, not of fear. The idol is portrayed as nothing. In the New Testament, we see, indeed, that Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 8:7 "Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one."

Hence, the reason that Paul advised people not to eat food offered to idols was not because there's any power in idols, but in order not to cause someone to stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:7-13.)

Therefore, there is nothing to fear from the presence of a picture of a dragon or phoenix, statues of Kuan Yin, Ang Kong, or Buddha, or a Chinese calendar in the house, except for the caution that it might stumble someone. This is why I have no objections to my parents' statues in display cases – they are clearly shown as objects of artwork, and not as shrines of worship.

Yes, demons are real, and demons do possess people, especially if the person has opened himself up to demonic influence by playing with the occult. But a believer who doesn't worship any idols should have no fear of idols. We should only be sensitive not to cause a weaker brother to stumble.

Chinese traditional belief teaches that the soul of the ancestors reside in the ancestral tablets and altars. This is very similar to the belief of many Chinese-Malaysian Christians' belief that evil spirits are present in idols.

As we have seen from the passages above, the Bible clearly teaches that idols are mere objects – works of human hands that have no power. If you as a Christian think they have power, you must seriously ask yourself, "Did my beliefs in this matter come from the Bible, or from non-Christian Chinese beliefs?"

"But wait," some may say, "how come in 1 Samuel 5 the idol of Dagon fell down before the Ark of the Covenant? Doesn't that prove that there is a demon inside that statue that was forced to worship God in the Ark?" Why should we believe there is a demon in the idol of Dagon? Can God not cause a statue to topple over, demon or no demon? If idols were really houses for demons, why did all the other passages talk of idols in the derisive manner shown above?

Another person may say "God puts His special presence on the Mercy Seat of the Ark. Demons imitate God. Doesn't that mean demons would inhabit idols?" Just because demons sometimes imitate God does not mean they can do everything God can do. In fact, we know for a fact that they cannot do everything God can do. Scripture talks of demons as inhabiting people, and in one occasion, pigs. I know of no Scripture talking about demons inhabiting idols (if you know of any, do let me know), yet I know of many passages that talk of idols as just dumb inanimate objects.

In his book A Biblical Approach to Chinese Traditions and Beliefs, Pastor Daniel Tong from Singapore said:

    The idea that demons reside in idols gives us cause for alarm, and indeed many have gone about destroying idols for fear that if they did not, the spirits would somehow cause them harm.

    ...Note that this thinking is not in line with the teaching of the Bible and only serves to give the wrong impression that the devil is very powerful, while our God and we, the children of God, are weak. The teaching that evil spirits reside in idols is an animistic perspective not supported or encouraged by the Bible, which holds clearly to the perspective that idols are nothing but the work of our own hands. Understanding this frees us from the fear of being confronted with and attacked by demons every time we encounter an idol.

    The Bible teaches that when people make offerings to idols, they are, in fact, making offerings to the demon/s behind the idol (1 Corinthians 10:20). That is to say, the image of the idol serves merely as camouflage to deceive a person into worshipping the devil, something most would not voluntarily do.

    ...When a person is caught up in the worship of the devil in this way, these disguises become for that person an idol, as he sells his "soul" in worship to the devil. Which brings us to the point that it is precisely our worship that the devil is after and if we understand this, we understand that demons are not present in idols but in the hearts and lives of all who bow down in worship to those idols. Idols are nothing. The focus of our worship is everything.1

I see a lot of harm done by this fear of idols, dragons, phoenixes, etc, which, as I have described above, I believe is un-Biblical and derived from Chinese traditional beliefs rather than from God's Word. Remember that "greater is He who is in you than He who is in the world" (1 John 4:4.)

Some people argue that while idols are made of inanimate matter, people worshipping them will give demons the "right" to inhabit them. I don't think this is Biblically sound, but even if it were, it still does not mean that just because an item has a picture of a dragon or phoenix on it that it therefore means that a demon inhabits it.

1 Corinthians 10:25-28
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it. If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' — the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience?

We can eat meat that has been offered to idols without question, as long as it won't cause someone to stumble. In the original context, the Pagan saying, "This has been offered in a sacrifice," meant he was basically telling you, "Come and participate in my worship of my idol." That was why the Christian should not eat it for the sake of the other man's conscience: the Christian was free to eat the food and no harm would have come to him. However, he might have caused the Pagan to stumble because he would have thought that the Christian was participating in worshipping his god, and no longer faithful to Christ.

So there's nothing wrong with the meat. We're neither better nor worse off if we eat it (1 Corinthians 8:8). Some people say, "Just say grace before eating any food that may have been offered to idols and you'll be fine," as if saying grace would "disinfect" it of demons (or germs)! But that is not what the Bible teaches.

A similar application can be made to clothing and other items with phoenixes and dragons on them. Some people fear that just because there is printed on a bowl a picture of a phoenix or dragon. We have already shown that there is no reason to fear idols, and this is even less than an idol. "But someone may have dedicated that bowl to a demon before!" Firstly, these items are mass-produced in factories, so it's unlikely that anyone has used them in idol worship. But secondly, even if they had been used in idol worship, so what? The principle from eating meat offered to idols applies here. If it is not likely to cause anyone to stumble, go ahead and use the item!

In fact, sometimes not eating will cause someone to stumble. How many parents have thought that Christianity was against respect for parents and family unity because their Christian sons or daughters suddenly refuse to participate in the family meal because the food may have been offered to the ancestors?

Yes, I know, some parents have adapted, because as the child continues to show respect and love, they have become reconciled and will even provide a "non-offered-to-idols plate" for the Christian. But I also know of others who have been unnecessarily pushed away from Christ by such actions. Remember the principle in Scripture is "do not cause someone else to stumble." The offence of the Cross is enough – let us not add unnecessary offences to hinder people from coming to Christ!

I hope this has been helpful. As I said before, I am very cautious that I don't become one whose knowledge has puffed me up, but rather one who is sharing the truth in love.

1. Appendix D: Images of Worship, A Biblical Approach to Chinese Traditions and Beliefs, Daniel Tong, Genesis Books, Armour Publishing Pte Ltd, Singapore, 2003.

Here are some reviews of this book by Ivan Lee, Maranatha Resource Ministries, and Select Books (Singapore).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

It's OK to feel down sometimes


S: Psalm 119:81-88 I am worn out waiting for your rescue, but I have put my hope in your word. My eyes are straining to see your promises come true. When will you comfort me? I am shriveled like a wineskin in the smoke, but I have not forgotten to obey your decrees. How long must I wait? When will you punish those who persecute me? These arrogant people who hate your instructions have dug deep pits to trap me. All your commands are trustworthy. Protect me from those who hunt me down without cause. They almost finished me off, but I refused to abandon your commandments. In your unfailing love, spare my life; then I can continue to obey your laws.

O: Among some Christian circles, people are told that it is unspiritual to ever have "problems" or to feel down. The Psalms give ample evidence that this is not Biblical.

The psalmist was certainly feeling down. He didn't let it drive him away from God, however -- he ran to God instead. He kept the faith, and asked God to protect him.

It is true that since I have come to know Jesus, I have changed from being a mostly introverted and depressed person to becoming a mostly happy and outgoing person. However, this deep joy doesn't mean that you never feel down, and we should not condemn people for feeling down. Feeling down in itself is not a sin.

A: When you feel down, run to our Father in Heaven!

P: Father, thank You that You are our comfort and our salvation. In Jesus' name, amen.
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hey, there, mighty hero!


S: Judges 6:11-12 Then the angel of the LORD came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the LORD is with you!”

O: Israel had once again stopped following God and so God allowed the Midianites to terrorise them, reducing them to starvation and forcing them out of their homes to hide in caves in the mountains.

Imagine how Gideon would have felt! Here he was, cowering in a winepress to hide from the Midianites, trying to thresh his grain where there was no wind to blow the chaff away.

Then here comes this angel and he greets him as a "mighty hero"! "Who me? What mighty hero?!!"

But we know what happened: God used Gideon and a tiny army of 300 men to defeat the mighty Midianite an Amalekite army described as "a swarm of locusts" and camels "as numerous as sand on the seashore"!

Gideon was no "mighty hero"... except that God had commissioned him and God was with him! God even deliberately reduced his 32,000-strong army to 300 men “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.”

A: Have you felt inadequate to the task that God has called you? I certainly have. Yet, if He has called you to the task, then you're a "mighty hero" -- "I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13)

P: Father, when I feel discouraged by the challenges I face, remind me that, if I am doing what You want me to do, then I, too, can be a mighty hero. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)