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.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Boy Scouts' Motto


S: Matthew 24

O: Different Christians have different interpretations of this passage, because of different views of eschatology. Some Christians believe this deals with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70, while others believe that it has to do with the Battle of Armageddon -- the ultimate Last Battle of the End Times.

In a previous Life Journal entry, I discussed how the parallel passage in Luke helps explain one of the mysteries here, the Abomination of Desolation.

But in today's reading, I was struck by what the main point was: The main point wasn't all these details about what's happening. The main point, which Jesus repeated several times in many passages was this: “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:42) (Thanks to Tim Bulkeley for highlighting this in a sermon in November.)

The reference to "just like the days of Noah" (Matthew 24:37), the two men, one taken, one left (Matthew 24:40), the two women one taken, one left (Matthew 24:41), the thief in the night (Matthew 24:43), "Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Matthew 24:44) , the parable of the faithful slave vs the bad slave (Matthew 24:45-51), the parable of the 10 virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the judgment seat of Christ (Matthew 25:31-46) all are shouting the Boy Scouts' Motto: "Be prepared!"

A: It's fine to discuss and debate your particular eschatological view with other Christians (as long as it's done in a brotherly manner) but at the end of it, it doesn't matter if you're preterist, postmillennial, pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, amillennial, or whatever.

All of us will meet our maker. Whether the rapture is today, tomorrow, in a million years, or is purely allegorical, we could step in front of a bus tomorrow or die in a car crash, or have a heart attack, etc. So we should always be ready. Always be following what Jesus wants us to do.

P: Father, when I am tempted to sin, may I remember this, and "be prepared". In Jesus' name, amen.

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

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Don't bother asking for God's guidance if you're planning to ignore him in the end


S: Jeremiah 42-43

O: Babylon had conquered Judah and carried off most of the people into exile. They appointed Gedaliah as governor of Judah, but Ishmael ben Nathaniah assassinated Gedaliah.

Johanan ben Kareah and other people who didn't have anything to do with the assassination feared Babylon retribution, and asked the prophet Jeremiah to ask God what they should do, promising “May Yahweh your God be a faithful witness against us if we refuse to obey whatever he tells us to do! Whether we like it or not, we will obey Yahweh our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.” (Jeremiah 42:5-6)

God told them to stay in Judah, for He would make the king of Babylon kind to them. God also warned them not to go to Egypt, because if they did, they would be caught up in Babylon's invasion of Egypt.

However, when Jeremiah had finished giving this message from Yahweh their God to all the people, Azariah ben Hoshaiah and Johanan ben Kareah and all the other proud men said to Jeremiah, “You lie! Yahweh our God hasn’t forbidden us to go to Egypt! Baruch ben Neriah has convinced you to say this, because he wants us to stay here and be killed by the Babylonians or be carried off into exile.” So Johanan and the other guerrilla leaders and all the people refused to obey Yahweh’s command to stay in Judah. (Jeremiah 43:1-4)

As a result, they ended up suffering in the war when Babylon invaded Egypt.

A: James 1:5 says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”

And so, indeed, we ask... but are we willing to listen when He tells us, through His Word, counsel of Godly believers, etc.?

My family is facing such a situation now... the prevailing counsel is going in one direction, but we seem to be resisting it.

P: Father, may we be obedient to Your guidance. In Jesus' name, amen.

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

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Missing the whole point


S: 1 Corinthians 8

O: Most Western people don't bother much with this passage, because they are never offered food offered to idols to eat. However, it is very common for us Chinese Malaysian Christians who come from non-Christian families to be faced with this. The traditional Chinese New Year family meal is first offered to the ancestors, and you are expected as part of the family to participate in it.

Many Chinese Malaysians, when we first become Christians, are told that the Bible says that we should not eat food offered to idols. So we end up massively offending our families by refusing to eat the food at the family dinner, because it had first been offered to the ancestors. Many non-Christian family members have come to the conclusion that Christianity is anti-family as a result.

But let's look at what the passage really says. Read the entire chapter (or even, the entire letter of 1 Corinthians) to make sure I'm not taking these verses out of context.

"Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that no idol is anything in the world, and that there is no other God but one." (v4) "But food will not commend us to God. For neither, if we don’t eat, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better."

So what is the point of this passage? Verse 7 says, "However, that knowledge isn’t in all men. But some, with consciousness of the idol until now, eat as of a thing sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled."

And verses 10-13 say, "For if a man sees you who have knowledge sitting in an idol’s temple, won’t his conscience, if he is weak, be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols? And through your knowledge, he who is weak perishes, the brother for whose sake Christ died. Thus, sinning against the brothers, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore if food causes my brother to stumble, I will eat no meat forever more, that I don’t cause my brother to stumble."

So what was the point? That you don't eat the food? No! It's "don't cause others to stumble"!

A: So what must we do? We are to be discerning and think about our actions! We are to evaluate whether our actions will draw people to Christ or push them away from Christ. Will eating draw people to Christ, push them away from Christ, or be neutral? There is no blanket answer, so we must do the hard work of evaluating each situation and not just blindly follow some man-made rules.

We as the Malaysian church need to do a better job of teaching our new believers this principle instead of just giving them a list of do's and don'ts. Let's not needlessly offend our non-Christian friends and relatives.

P: Father, help us to be wise and think about our faith, and learn your principles, instead of just blindly following rules. I know that I myself fall short of this time and time again so I need Your help. In Jesus' name, amen.

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

Saturday, September 10, 2016

May we be one


S: 1 Timothy 1:3-7 As I urged you when I was going into Macedonia, stay at Ephesus that you might command certain men not to teach a different doctrine, and not to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which cause disputes, rather than God’s stewardship, which is in faith— but the goal of this command is love, out of a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith; from which things some, having missed the mark, have turned aside to vain talking; desiring to be teachers of the law, though they understand neither what they say, nor about what they strongly affirm.

O: Over the years, like many people who are serious about studying the Bible and following Jesus, I have developed various opinions and views about different things which not all Christians agree on. For example, I personally think that it's quite possible for God to have created the various different lifeforms via evolution or over a long period of time; I strongly suspect that the Antichrist of Revelations was Nero and the Great Tribulation was the Neronic persecution; I think that it is right and correct to baptize infants; I have come to believe that Holy Communion/the Lord's Supper/the Eucharist is not purely symbolic but have some spiritual mystery happening behind the scenes; and think that the idea that things will get worse and worse until the Second Coming of Christ is probably erroneous.

However, I know many Christians who believe differently from me, and whose lives exhibit evidence of a living faith in Jesus. Many of these people are members of my same local church. I could spend endless hours arguing and debating with these people, to the detriment of serving Christ together.

I used to hold various views dogmatically and consider those who disagree with me as somehow "less" Christian. Ironically, most of those views I listed above are different from the ones I used to hold -- my earlier self may well have considered my present beliefs heretical.

I had a wonderful experience while studying for my Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I was part of what was then known as the Graduate InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and that fellowship blew me away with the fact that there were Christians from doctrinal backgrounds that in the 17th century were actually fighting wars and killing each other -- we had Arminians and Calvinists, Baptists and Catholics, Orthodox, etc. all united in serving Christ together on campus.

After our fellowship meetings, we often went to a coffee shop and discussed/debated our different beliefs -- but we did not let it hinder our working together for Christ on campus.

A: We need to agree to disagree agreeably on all these secondary issues. Part of the difficulty is what one person considers a "secondary issue" might be considered a "primary issue" by others.

But Jesus prayed for us to be united, just as He and the Father are united (John 17:21) and to love one another as He has loved us. (John 13:34)

P: Father, give us wisdom to realize when our disagreements have become endless arguments. Give us Your guidance when to agree to disagree agreeably. In Jesus' name, amen.

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

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Great Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat!

S: 2 Chronicles 17:3-62, 2 Chronicles 20, 1 Kings 16:30-33, 2 Chronicles 18, 2 Chronicles 19:2-3, 2 Chronicles 20:35-37, 2 Chronicles 21-23

O: Israel and Judah had split after Solomon, and the northern kingdom of Israel had had one bad king after another. There was war between Israel and Judah from the time of Jeroboam till the time of Zimri. Now, a new dynasty had taken over Israel under Omri during the reign of good king Asa of Judah.

After Asa died, his son Jehoshaphat became king of Judah. He was a good king, and followed Yahweh. Therefore God blessed him and Judah became prosperous.

Seeing that prosperity, Moab, Ammon and Edom formed an alliance and invaded Judah. Jehoshaphat was terrified, but called for fasting and prayer. So God spoke through Jahaziel: He would rescue them. So the worship singers lead the army of Judah going into battle.

God caused Ammon and Moab to attack Edom instead, and then Ammon and Moab fought each other! So in the end, all Jehoshaphat and his army needed to do was to gather the plunder! It took them 3 days to do that, there was so much of it.

Ahab succeeded his father Omri to the throne of Israel, and he was steeped in evil. Yet, inexplicably, Jehoshaphat made an alliance with him, having his son Jehoram marry Ahab's daughter Athaliah. Perhaps he thought it was worthwhile to do this in order to end the years of war between Israel and Judah since the split in Rehoboam & Jeroboam's time. But in doing so, he essentially was having his son marry a follower of Baal. This was in spite of Jehoshapat's good experience with Yahweh saving him, and in spite of knowing that his ancestor Solomon's marrying pagan princesses caused him to stop being faithful to Yahweh, which resulted in the divided kingdom.

Some time later, Ahab decided to attack Ramoth Gilead, and asked Jehoshaphat to help him. Jehoshaphat agreed, but wanted to consult a prophet of Yahweh about it, even though Ahab's prophets of Baal had already predicted victory. So finally Ahab called the prophet Micaiah, but warned Jehoshaphat that Micaiah never predicts anything good for him.

Indeed, Micaiah predicts that Ahab would be killed in this battle. Nonetheless, Ahab persists and Jehoshaphat foolishly follows him. Ahab took the precaution of disguising himself so that the enemy wouldn't know it's him, so during the battle, the enemy attacked Jehoshaphat instead, thinking that he was Ahab. Nonetheless, the Word of Yahweh by Micaiah came true as a stray arrow killed Ahab.

Later, another prophet of Yahweh, Jehu ben Hanani, admonished Jehoshaphat for helping the wicked, those who hate Yahweh. God is upset with Jehoshaphat for his partnership with such people, yet also recognized that Jehoshaphat was faithful to God and never worshiped other gods.

In spite of this, Jehoshaphat entered another partnership with the wicked, this time with Ahab's son and successor Ahaziah, the new king of Israel. Perhaps he thought it was OK as this time it was a business partnership and not a military one. They made ships to go to make money trading to Tarshish, but the prophet Eliezer ben Dodavahu prophesied that Yahweh would destroy it because of his partnership with the evil Ahaziah. So the ships were broken and the business venture failed.

The consequences of these illicit partnerships Jehoshaphat made with the house of Omri were far-reaching and nearly snuffed out the line of David in Judah! Here is what happened as a consequence after Jehoshaphat died:

Due to his marriage to Athaliah bat Ahab, the next king, Jehoram, became an evil Baal-worshipper and led Judah astray spiritually.

Ahaziah ben Ahab fell from though his window lattice and was gravely injured, and sent emissaries to Beelzebub to ask if he would recover. Yahweh sent Elijah to admonish him for consulting Beelzebub instead of Yahweh, and told him he would die.

Then his brother Joram became king of Israel, but by this time Yahweh had given up on the house of Omri and had the prophet Elisha anoint Jehu to replace the house of Omri in Israel.

While Joram was recuperating from battle injuries, his nephew Ahaziah ben Jehoram (son of his sister Athaliah), who is now king of Judah, came to visit his uncle, and Jehu fell upon them both and killed them, as well as other relatives from Judah who came later to visit, not realizing that a coup had occurred. Jehu then started a new dynasty in Israel.

Meanwhile Athaliah in Judah saw her chance and killed all the descendants of the House of David and grabbed power for herself! She then began a reign of terror, suppressing the worship of Yahweh in Judah and promoting Baal.

Fortunately, Ahaziah's sister Jehosheba managed to hide away baby Joash with the high priest Jehoida in the Temple. 6 years later, they managed a counter-coup and killed Athailah and restored the House of David to the throne of Judah.

A: Our choices have consequences. 2 Corinthians 6:14 warns, "Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?"

When we are seeking partners — whether in business or in marriage — we must be careful whom we choose.

The Bible doesn't make it black-and-white what it means by "yoking with unbelievers", but many Christians think that it means making a partnership. For example, the Bible has many examples of believers working for non-believers without condemnation, for example Daniel and Joseph both served pagan kings. But marrying non-believers seems to be almost completely negative (the only exception I can think of is the special case of Hosea and Gomer.)

P: Father, thank You for the example of Jehoshaphat, both good and bad. When we are making our choices, help us to remember and give us the wisdom to make godly choices. In Jesus' name, amen.

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

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Jeroboam's Folly


S: 1 Kings 11:29-39, 12:26-30, 13:33-14:13

O: In spite of the wisdom God gave Solomon, he did not stay true to the Lord but worshipped other gods. So God decided to remove 10 tribes from his kingdom. So God sent the prophet Ahijah to Jeroboam (11:29-39) and promised him, “It shall be, if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do that which is right in my eyes, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did; that I will be with you, and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you.” (11:38)

So afterwards, the 10 northern tribes rebelled from Rehoboam son of Solomon, and Jeroboam became their king. When Rehoboam was about to muster the troops to reconquer Israel, God told the prophet Shemaiah to warn,  ‘Yahweh says, “You shall not go up or fight against your brothers, the children of Israel. Everyone return to his house; for this thing is from me.”’ Thus, Rehoboam had to leave Jeroboam alone and Jeroboam’s kingdom was established.

But then later, Jeroboam stopped trusting God. (12:26-34) Instead of trusting Yahweh to establish his kingdom securely, he worried about the people continuing to go to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh there. ‘So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold; and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Look and behold your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”’ (12:28)

As a result, God condemned Jeroboam and his family who all abandoned Yahweh. The only one who stayed true to Yahweh in Jeroboam’s family was his little son. So God allowed this son to die before disaster strikes Jeroboam’s family, “All Israel will mourn for him and bury him; for he only of Jeroboam will come to the grave, because in him there is found some good thing toward Yahweh, the God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam.” (14:13)

A: So many children are named David these days, because David was a “man after God’s own heart”. This is in spite of David’s many sins — because he repented and turned back to God after he sinned.

But nobody is named Jeroboam. Instead, we read in later passages of the Bible, whenever a king is bad, he is compared to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.

Jeroboam could have been like David. God gave him the promise, if only he stayed true to Yahweh. But he didn’t, so now his name is mud.

We need to trust God, and repent when we sin, like David did. We must not allow human reasoning to draw us away from God, and to draw people we influence away from God.

P: Father, thank You that You are sent Jesus to pay for our sins. Thank You that You forgive us when we repent. May we not repeat Jeroboam's folly, and always repent and never abandon You. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Imperfect heroes


S: 1 Samuel 25:32-33 David said to Abigail, “Blessed is Yahweh, the God of Israel, who sent you today to meet me! Blessed is your discretion, and blessed are you, who have kept me today from blood guiltiness, and from avenging myself with my own hand.

O: We look up to David as a great hero of the Bible, but we also know that he was an imperfect man. Usually, we think of the adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of Uriah when thinking about this, but he had numerous lesser flaws.

Today's passage tells about one of those. David had kept good relations with Nabal's men, never raiding them and treating them well, but Nabal foolishly rebuffed David's men and insulted David when they asked for provisions. So David was about to exact revenge (which would then entail also killing every man in Nabal's household, not just Nabal) but Abigail's wisdom and quick action forestalled that.

David acknowledged that in the above two verses -- that Yahweh had stopped him from blood guiltiness by sending Abigail.

A: There are ultimately no human heroes. Humans can be good or bad role models, and even the same human, like this example of David, can be a good example in some ways and a bad example in other ways.

So, we cannot idolize anyone. Worship God alone.

P: Father, thank You that, although all have sinned and fallen short of You glory, You have sent Your Son to save us. In Jesus' name, amen.

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

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Transcendent yet approachable


S: Isaiah 55:6-9

6Seek Yahweh while he may be found.
Call on him while he is near.
7Let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts.
Let him return to Yahweh, and he will have mercy on him;
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
8“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
and your ways are not my ways,” says Yahweh.
9“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

O: It is possible to teach chimpanzees, orangutans, and other higher apes to talk to us using sign language. It might be possible for us even to teach them simple arithmetic, perhaps — 1+1=2, 2+2=4, etc. But it would be impossible to teach them calculus and differential equations.

This is not because calculus and differential equations are illogical or false — it is because these apes lack the intellectual capacity to understand them. The fact that apes are not able to understand this doesn’t prevent their truth from working as human engineers use them to build bridges, aeroplanes, etc.

God is way beyond human intellect, far more than humans are above chimpanzees. Therefore it is not surprising that some of God’s thoughts and ways could be incomprehensible to us. Trinity, free will v.s. predestination, works & grace, etc. — all these seeming contradictions can be perplexing, but the fact that we have difficulty grasping them doesn’t mean they are false.

Yet, in spite of all this, God wants to have a relationship with us — “Seek Yahweh while he may be found. Call on him while he is near.” The passage before this in Isaiah 52:13-54:17 prophesy the coming of Jesus Christ who was pierced for our sins (Isaiah 53:5), who was the sacrifice upon whom Yahweh laid our iniquity (Isaiah 53:6). That makes it possible for us to be saved, and to have a relationship with Yahweh God eternally.

A: While there may be things that are puzzling to us about God, it could well be a case of “calculus to chimpanzees”, so we should not let that prevent us from drawing near to Him and to have an intimate relationship with Him.

P: Father, thank You that You love us and adopted us as Your children, in spite of being transcendent above us. Thank You for sending Your Messiah to save us. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Don’t cause others to stumble


S: 1 Corinthians 8:8-13 But food will not commend us to God. For neither, if we don’t eat, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better. But be careful that by no means does this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to the weak. For if a man sees you who have knowledge sitting in an idol’s temple, won’t his conscience, if he is weak, be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols? And through your knowledge, he who is weak perishes, the brother for whose sake Christ died. Thus, sinning against the brothers, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore if food causes my brother to stumble, I will eat no meat forever more, that I don’t cause my brother to stumble.

1 Corinthians 10:27-33 But if one of those who don’t believe invites you to a meal, and you are inclined to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no questions for the sake of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” don’t eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for the sake of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” Conscience, I say, not your own, but the other’s conscience. For why is my liberty judged by another conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced for that for which I give thanks? Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no occasion for stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the assembly of God; even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.

Mathew 18:4-7 Whoever therefore humbles himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever receives one such little child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him that a huge millstone should be hung around his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of occasions of stumbling! For it must be that the occasions come, but woe to that person through whom the occasion comes!

O: We have a tendency to make laws out of the principles God teaches us. Here, the principle is “don’t cause others to stumble” but many Malaysian Chinese Christians end up pushing family members further away from Christ by refusing to eat the family meal at the Chinese New Year reunion dinner because the food had been offered to the ancestors first. This sends the wrong message of “Now that I’m a Christian, I am no longer part of this family.”

Jesus, in the Matthew passage, points out that causing people to stumble is a great evil. Our role here on earth is to be ambassadors for Christ — to attract people to Christ, not to repel them by our rigidity.

A: We must therefore take the trouble to think through and evaluate each situation instead of using canned answers. Our situation may be different from anther person's situation. We cannot just always take the solution that someone else has used before.

P: Father, please give us wisdom when faced with difficult situations and not use canned answers, but be wise in applying Biblical principles to the situation. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Problem passages: 1st Corinthians and Women.


S: 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

1Be imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ. 2Now I praise you, brothers, that you remember me in all things, and hold firm the traditions, even as I delivered them to you. 3But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonors her head. For it is one and the same thing as if she were shaved. 6For if a woman is not covered, let her hair also be cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or be shaved, let her be covered. 7For a man indeed ought not to have his head covered, because he is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of the man. 8For man is not from woman, but woman from man; 9for man wasn’t created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10For this cause the woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.

11Nevertheless, neither is the woman independent of the man, nor the man independent of the woman, in the Lord. 12For as woman came from man, so a man also comes through a woman; but all things are from God. 13Judge for yourselves. Is it appropriate that a woman pray to God unveiled? 14Doesn’t even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her, for her hair is given to her for a covering. 16But if any man seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither do God’s assemblies.

1 Corinthians 14:34-40

34Let the women be quiet in the assemblies, for it has not been permitted for them to be talking except in submission, as the law also says, 35if they desire to learn anything. “Let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to be talking in the assembly.” 36What!? Was it from you that the word of God went out? Or did it come to you alone? 37If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him recognize the things which I write to you, that they are the commandment of the Lord. 38But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39Therefore, brothers, desire earnestly to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking with other languages. 40Let all things be done decently and in order.

O: These two passages are very problematic for modern Christians because they seem to teach very misogynistic sexist nonsense.

I mean, “For this cause the woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.” Because of the angels? What in the world do angels have to do with anything? And “But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or be shaved, let her be covered.” and “Doesn’t even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?” No, nature doesn’t. What are you talking about, Paul? And hair length is clearly a cultural thing. In many cultures throughout the centuries, it's perfectly culturally acceptable for men to have long hair and women to have short hair. What nonsense are you talking about, Paul?

And what’s this nonsense about it being shameful for women to speak in church? And “as the law also says”? Mr. anti-Judiazer who argues against “the law” all the time — the term is used in their cultural context, not to mean the Old Testament, but rather, the rabbinic tradition — suddenly appealing to “the law”? And, just 2 chapters earlier, he was telling women that they must cover their heads when speaking in church... so they do speak in church?

Actually, many years ago, I have already come to an understanding about the chapter 14 passage that makes sense to me. Someone had pointed out to me that Paul was writing 1st Corinthians in reply to something the Corinthians and written to him asking a lot of things. So in 1st Corinthians, he is replying to many things stated in that earlier letter to him. What if he's quoting an argument from the earlier letter in 14:24-35? Remember, in their writing, there are no quotation marks.

Then the whole thing suddenly makes sense: some people were saying, “Women should keep quiet in church. They are not allowed to speak out but should be under authority. As rabbinic tradition says, if there is something they want to know, they should ask their own husbands at home. It is shameful for a woman to speak up like that in church.”

Paul then rebuts that with, “What!? Was it from you (men) that the word of God went out? Or did it come to you (men) alone? If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him recognize the things which I write to you, that they are the commandment of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. Therefore, brothers, desire earnestly to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking with other languages. Let all things be done decently and in order.”

In other words, some men were saying, because of the influence of the very misogynistic sexist rabbinic tradition, that women shouldn't be allowed to talk in church — which also means forbidding them from prophesying, speaking in tongues or praying. Indeed, in rabbinic tradition, the women were segregated behind the men behind a screen in synagogue and not allowed to speak, and they are required to ask their husbands at home. But Paul scolds them, pointing out that words from the Lord clearly come to women as well. The Holy Spirit enables women to speak as well. Don’t forbid them!

Orthodox Jews still separate the women to this day.
Now, if a passage from scripture seems to say something very obvious on the surface, we shouldn’t be eager to search for an alternate interpretation. However, there are many times when scripture seems to contradict itself, and here we have the very same epistle seeming to contradict itself — chapter 11 says women are clearly allowed to prophecy and pray in church, and the dispute is in how they’re dressed while doing that, while chapter 14 seems to be saying they can’t even speak!

So, we are compelled to search for an alternate understanding. I’m not claiming that my alternate understanding above is definitely unarguably the correct one, but it’s something that makes sense and does reconcile this seeming contradiction.

Now, how about the chapter 11 passage? We might argue that Paul was just being steeped in his own cultural context here and totally missing the bigger picture. So this is his own limited view, and not universal.

But if this is scripture, surely the Holy Spirit would have stopped him from writing it? Or at least, have him preface it with “I, not the Lord, say” like he did when talking about how he thought that staying single was better than marrying, back in chapter 7 verse 12? Also, why are these arguments based on the angels, for goodness sake? Shouldn’t it say something like “because in our culture it is shameful for women to uncover their hair or to have short hair” (which, indeed, it was — I’m told that, in their culture, to have uncovered hair in public was tantamount to announcing that you were a prostitute.)

I don’t think my technique from chapter 14 will work here, because the passage doesn’t seem to be followed up by a rebuttal. After this passage, Paul immediately goes on to discuss the next issue — holy communion.

So, how do we deal with this? I don’t know. I don’t know! Years ago, I would not have been able to accept this conclusion. But as I pointed out in my earlier Life Journal entry on the Abomination and Desolation, scripture was written so long ago in a different language and cultural context. It is not surprising that there are passages that we don’t understand when reading it in our own language and cultural context. For Matthew 24:15-30, fortunately, we have the parallel passage in Luke 21 to explain to us that the abomination of desolation meant, in their cultural and linguistic context, armies surrounding Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, I’m not aware of a passage like Luke explaining Matthew here for us to compare with to figure out what in the world Paul meant by “because of the angels” in relation to covering women’s hair. Oh well, that’s just too bad. But there's no need to get too vexed about this open question.

A: There are many passages which are puzzling in the Bible. It's not surprising, because it's such a big collection of books, and was written in a different time centuries ago and in a different culture. Things that were obvious to its original audience could easily be puzzling to us here and now.

So, we shouldn't be dismayed when we come across stuff we have difficulty understanding. There are many websites out there that discuss various difficulties. And of course, there may be things that nobody knows right now.

P: Father, thank You for Your Scripture, even the difficult passages. Help us to trust You anyway and give us Your peace. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Problem of Job


S: Job 42:1-6 Then Job answered Yahweh, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be restrained. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ therefore I have uttered that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I didn’t know. You said, ‘Listen, now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you will answer me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

O: People often recommend reading the book of Job as an answer to suffering, but from the very first time I read it, I have disliked it. What is this nonsense about God playing dice with our lives? Making a bet with Satan, of all things, and causing Job all this needless suffering?

The Bible reading plan I’m following took me through the book of Job this month (April), and I kind of gritted my teeth as I went through it, skimming over all the long-winded arguments between Job and his friends, puzzling over the enigma of Elihu, etc. Same old stuff.

But then towards the end of the month, I heard Pastor Tim Keller on Focus on the Family's International Broadcast. The podcast was actually from last year, but I'm about a year behind listening — I had downloaded the MP3s to my PC and have been listening to them slowly when I can during my commute.

Pastor Keller had some good insights that helped me. So this was a real timely “coincidence”. Haha, God’s divine timing again. 😜

People often point out that there’re many good things that God does with suffering. The Bible’s constantly talking about how suffering is a refining fire and we're like the metal ore that goes through and we come out the other side purer. So, if you were to ask, how does God use suffering in our lives, there’re lots of great answers to that.

  • Purifying us
  • Helping us not to put our material possessions first.
  • Removing pride and encouraging humility
  • 2 Corinthians 4:17, where Paul writes, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” If there’s no evil & suffering, there wouldn’t be any courage & sacrifice.
  • etc.
But these reasons can’t be all there is to it. After all, not everyone becomes better from suffering. Some people become better, but others become bitter.

When asked why God allows pain and suffering to happen to good people, Pastor Keller replied, surprisingly, “I don’t know”!!!! God has some unfathomable reason or reasons behind it which we can’t see. What is this reason? We don’t know. That’s why we call it unfathomable. Pastor Keller pointed out:

We know that if God is good, He doesn't enjoy our suffering. If He's powerful, He could stop the suffering, but He doesn't. So, if we know … if He said He doesn't enjoy suffering and we know He could stop it, but He doesn't, then the question is, He must have some purpose for us to be going through the suffering, that has to be good, but we have no idea what that could possibly be.

And that's the reason why, if somebody actually says, why does God allow evil and suffering in the sense of, what purpose does He have for allowing evil and suffering to continue, there the answer's gotta be, "I do not know. I have no idea." See, you would never have to sacrifice. You wouldn't have to give your life for someone else. Are we really thinking that sacrifice and courage are, you know, not important things? They're good things. That certainly doesn't feel to me, like enough of a reason for God to allow so much of the stuff that's happening in the world. But you can begin to get a sense of …ok, so because of evil and trouble, there's such a thing as sacrifice, such a thing as courage. Very often people find God because of suffering. People grow into Christlikeness through suffering. You can start to see some reasons. They're not sufficient. But in the end, every time I try to make a long enough list of things I see God doing through suffering, does this justify Him allowing the horrendous pain that we see. No. There's gotta be more reasons that we just don't know about.

And that's the reason why we have to in the end say, "I don't know."

We have to get to the point where, even if obeying God will bring us no benefit at all, we’ll still obey.
When my middle son was around 10, he used to say to me, "Dad, I'll obey you, but you have to show me why this is good idea." That's not obedience. That's agreement and I'm not your father, I'm your consultant. And what you're saying is, as long as I think it's furthering my interests as I see them, as a 10-year-old, brilliant and wise person that you are, who can see the end from the beginning, as long as what you're telling me fits in with my agenda, I'll be happy to listen to you.

And what I said is, "What you're really saying is, you're not gonna obey me." In other words, I am really not your authority at all. You don't trust me more than you trust yourself. You're using me as a way of getting what you want. And as soon as I ask you for something that you don't want, you're outta here.

And basically, as long as you're obeying God and you think you're getting good things from Him, you can't tell whether you're really loving Him. You might be just using Him. What you really love are the things you're getting, not Him.

How do you know when you’ve reached that point?
When you're getting nothing from obeying God, but God Himself, just knowing I'm pleasing Him. I'm getting nothing else out of it and then I know I'm loving God. Then I know that I'm actually serving Him and not myself. We're not using Him to serve myself.
There's no quid-pro-quo.
Until you decide that there isn't a personal benefit, it's really not obedience and trust.

That's probably the point of the book of Job, that because in the beginning of the book of Job, a very puzzling thing to most modern readers, God is having an argument with Satan. And God says, "Have you seen my servant, Job? There is none like him in all the earth." And Satan says, "Does Job serve God for nothing?" In other words, he's not a servant. He's actually not a servant. He's just using you to get things. As soon as you took away the benefits of service, you'd see that he will not serve you. I heard one person say that the theme of the book of Job that God can make men servants.

Part of the answer is that God allowed free will. He didn't create an evil world. He allowed free will and we screwed the world up, that still can't completely answer the question. For example, may I say, in the future, when we're in heaven, when we will love Him perfectly and all evil will be banished forever, won't we still have free will?

The author of evil is Satan and us and moral agents who have chosen to rebel against God. That's exactly right. But it still doesn't seem that God couldn't have stopped it. I mean, I don't see any reason why God … to say He couldn't have stopped it, doesn't seem to fit in with everything else. So, He's still got some plan and He's still got some purpose that I don't know.

So free will is part of the answer, but it’s not the full answer.
Job never was told. You know that one of the things that's most striking about the whole thing is, that when God shows up at the end, He just says, "Look who I am; look who you are" and never tells him, doesn't tell him anything about the dialogue with Satan. [He] doesn't tell him anything about anything. He just gives him no reason at all. And Job says, "Just seeing You, it's enough." But He never tells him why.

However, think about this. What if God had said in the middle of the book, He said, "Listen Job; I want you to know the reason why this is all happening is, you're gonna be someday one of the most famous people in the history of the world?" Hundreds of millions of people will say, "What a great God. What a great man. How much we've learned." You know, you're gonna be one of the key figures shaping the way people think about evil and suffering until the end of time. Then he would've said, "Oh, wow. Really! Okay, I better … stiff upper lip. I'll be okay." He wouldn't have been serving God.

He wouldn't have been serving God at all. What he would've been saying is, "Wow, okay. It's worth it." And he would've pulled it all together and he wouldn't have been doing it for God, which is the point. The point is, he wouldn't have been turned into the servant of God, who loved God for Himself alone. He loved God for Himself alone and that's what he learned and that's what changed the world by the meaning of the book. But in a weird way, of course, Job has glorified God, look it. You and I are talking about him here, thousands of years later. But on the other hand, he couldn't know that, or he wouldn't have actually grown into the man God needed him to be.

I think every instance of suffering, if you're asking the question how do I handle this? How do I face it as a believer? There's a core for all suffering and then there's always certain specific things that are peculiar to that.

So, for example, if you've been betrayed, you have to work on forgiveness. Whereas, if you're a farmer and the crop didn't come in and you're facing the loss of your farm, you see, in some ways, every bit of suffering is different. You're facing terminal cancer, you're gonna die. You have to deal with fear. If you're going through a divorce, you have to forgive. Everything is different. On the other hand, there's a core and here's where the core is I think. I read years ago a book by David Martin Lloyd-Jones. It was a set of sermons. It's called Spiritual Depression: Causes and Cures. He's got one chapter called "In God's Gymnasium." And he's looking at Hebrews 12, where it talks about trials and suffering, which are discipline for us.

The word for God disciplining us and training us through suffering is the word gymnasto, from which we get our word "gymnasium." And he said, it's a workout and here's how he says, think about, if you're doing an exercise, as you're doing it, you feel like you're getting weaker, right? So, let's just say you pick up barbells and you're doing bicep curls. Do you feel like, after 10, that you're getting stronger and stronger? No, you feel weaker and weaker, as you are actually getting stronger, because you're taxing the muscles, which will bounce back.

The important thing in the gymnasium is to simply go through it even though you feel like you're getting weaker and weaker and weaker, just go through it. Do it all. Do it all and when it's all over, you'll find that you've grown in so many ways. The core of suffering is to stay faithful, don't stop reading the Bible. Don't stop praying. Don't stop going to church. Don't stop obeying the Ten Commandments. Don't get into the medicating behavior we were talking about before.

Don't rationalize. Don't get into bitterness and self-pity. Do everything you can in prayer to simply say, "Lord, I'm just gonna take the next step. I don't know what I'm gonna do, but I'm gonna trust You. I'm gonna take the next step and every day I'm gonna go through my paces. I'm gonna go through the normal things that I always did as a Christian, but in suffering, I don't feel like doing; I'm gonna do them anyway, which means of grace Bible study prayer, fellowship, serving other people, worship. You just do it. That's the core.

A human father, when he sees his children learn to do something right, is pleased.
And I think our heavenly Father does that – have you seen My servant Job? There's none like him in all the earth. And then Satan goes out and screws up his life. The next day, you know, like he comes before God again and God says to Satan, "Have you seen My servant Job? There's none like him in all the earth. You've done this and this and this and he's still serving Me."

The end of this, whatever "this" is and we don't know in full what this life is truly all about. We have glimpses of it. We have the Scripture to look at. But when it's all done, if we have pleased the Father's heart, in the end, we've done well.

(For the full transcript of the discussion, go to these links on the Focus on the Family website: [Part 1] [Part 2])

A: So the end of it is that you have to do what Job himself had to do: trust God even when you don’t understand why these things are happening. Just like the little boy had to trust that his father understands things better, and loves him, and wants the best for him, so he has to obey even when he doesn’t understand the reasons. Sometimes God cannot tell us because we do not have the capacity to understand. At other times, like Job, God cannot tell us without spoiling the growth God wants for us. And unlike a human father, God is perfectly loving, and knows perfectly, so He doesn't make mistakes.

P: Father, when things seem out of control, help me to continue to trust and obey. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What was the Abomination of Desolation of Matthew and Mark?


S: Matthew 24:15-30 “So when you see the abomination of desolation – spoken about by Daniel the prophet – standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. The one on the roof must not come down to take anything out of his house, and the one in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen. And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe him. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Remember, I have told you ahead of time. So then, if someone says to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe him. For just like the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

O: What is this “abomination of desolation”? Daniel 11 & 12 first spoke of this: His forces will rise up and profane the fortified sanctuary, stopping the daily sacrifice. In its place they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. — Daniel 11:31. This prophecy was fulfilled when Antiochus IV Epiphanes tried to wipe out the worship of Yahweh and instituted idol worship in the Temple: On the fifteenth day of the month of Kislev in the year 145, King Antiochus set up The Awful Horror on the altar of the Temple, and pagan altars were built in the towns throughout Judea. — 1 Maccabees 1:54 (This quote is from the Good News Translation, unlike the other quotes, which were from the New English Bible, because the NET doesn't have the deuterocanonical books. “The Awful Horror” is GNT's translation of “the abomination of desolation.”

When I first read this passage in comparison with the historical records of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, it puzzled me, because the Romans destroyed the Temple -- they didn't set up pagan worship there like Antiochus did. Some theorized that it may have been the Roman Eagle being brought into the Holy of Holies.

However, by the time the Roman Eagle was brought into the Holy of Holies, it was too late to take Jesus' advice to flee. You would already have suffered through the horrible siege of Jerusalem.

The solution to this puzzle may be in the parallel passage from Luke. Unlike Matthew and Mark, he didn't write “Abomination of Desolation”. He wrote, “And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived." — Luke 21:20.

Ah! This suddenly makes more sense! Luke was writing to a Gentile audience, while Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience. Mark was the “Readers' Digest” Gospel — the earliest one, quickly produced so that the believers would have some kind of written account. So Luke took more time to explain certain Palestinian Jewish idioms of the time — one of which is that what Jesus meant by “when you see the abomination of desolation” was “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies”.

Image taken from here

This, then, also explains why the Christians fled Jerusalem when they saw the Roman armies starting to encircle Jerusalem, instead of staying to fight like patriotic Jews. Partly as a result of this, the non-Christian Jews regarded them as traitors.

A: There are many passages which are puzzling in the Bible. It's not surprising, because it's such a big collection of books, and was written in a different time centuries ago and in a different culture. Things that were obvious to its original audience could easily be puzzling to us here and now.

So, we shouldn't be dismayed when we come across stuff we have difficulty understanding. There are many websites out there that discuss various difficulties. And of course, there may be things that nobody knows right now.

P: Father, thank You for Your Word. When we have difficulty understanding various passages from it, help us to understand, and be at peace when we don't understand. In Jesus' name, amen.

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

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Be Holy Inside


S: Matthew 15:8,9 ‘These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine rules made by men.’

Matthew 15:16-20 So Jesus said, “Do you also still not understand? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the belly, and then out of the body? But the things which proceed out of the mouth come out of the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual sins, thefts, false testimony, and blasphemies. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands doesn’t defile the man.”

O: In Malaysia, people often get caught up in an outward display of piety instead of inner holiness. But before we gloat at the Muslims, remember that we Christians are also susceptible to this disease of the Pharisees.

In fact, Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees as whitewashed tombs — beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity (Matthew 23:27) often applies to people in the church as well.

So we must be careful to examine our hearts and our motives. Andrea Whitson wrote this convicting observation:

One upon a time, I was a young 20-something with all the answers. I had had a great education; I'd married my grade school crush; and, even converted to this cool, new Orthodoxy thing. I was ready to be right about just about anything at the drop of a hat. And, I'll admit, being right is still my most favorite thing and most frequent sin. I was walking home from work one sunny day on Galveston Island — worried about finances. Our lab had just lost a big grant and things were precarious. And, I ran into 2 homeless men on the seawall. They asked for money. They were hungry. And, one was honest enough to say he needed a drink as well.

Full of the "I am a fully paid-up, church-going Christian" righteousness, I ran home to fix them something to eat. From my years of working with the homeless (almost a decade by this time), I knew that it needed to be something that the alcoholic stomach could digest and that someone with poor teeth could eat. While I was searching through the fridge, I came upon two mini bottles of expensive champagne we had been saving. Combining my newly researched Orthodox understanding that I was to give alms and not judge people about their addictions or sinful state and my understanding from working with the homeless that an alcoholic who suddenly has no alcohol can suffer terrible withdrawal, I bundled the mini bottles with the lunch and headed back to the seawall. They were still there. They were happy with what I had for them and started to eat the yogurt immediately. Then, the honest-about-needing-a-drink one saw the champagne and something changed. He looked up at me as a person looking at another person. We were no longer players in his little repeat performance skit of begging. He smiled. And, drank the cool, expensive champagne. And, we talked for a while.

After a few minutes, I took my leave and from my position as his spiritual better — happy with the results of my beneficence — I said, "Well, I better get going. I have church tonight. I'll be praying for you, Anthony." And, he very kindly replied with a voice that gently corrected me for my false pride and fake righteousness: "If you will pray for me, I will pray for you." And for reasons I didn't understand yet, I walked away, silent and ashamed of my behavior.

When I walked into the house, the message light on the answering machine was blinking. It was a message about some additional work and funds for John. My worries about money had miraculously disappeared.

Weeks later, I ran into another homeless person. A woman begging at the local laundry mat. When I passed her about a dollar in change, the words just came out of me: "Please, pray for me." She sighed. Sat down and bowed her head and waited. She thought I was going to pray over her or lead her in the sinner's prayer. When she looked up, I explained, "No, I need you to pray for me." And that moment happened again. The moment when suddenly we weren't actors in our roles. We were people talking to each other. And tears were instantly spilling out of her eyes and she hugged me without shyness as if we were family who were greeting each other at Christmas and she prayed over me. No miracle phone calls followed. Although, there was a particular homeless man who prayed for me for years while I was going through infertility treatment in Boston. I saw him 3 days before I found out we were pregnant with Kate. He said it was going to be OK this time. And, I never saw him again.

This week, I encountered the damage that can happen when people see you as their mission field. There is praying for a person. And, then there is praying for the object of your personal outreach program. The eyes tell the difference. And, the damage to both souls in the second case can be considerable. If I was ever pompous enough to "pray for you" in the second way, forgive me. If you know me well, you know that I can be an idiot. And, on behalf of all idiots like me, I am so sorry if someone did that to you. I apologize for our united federation of pompous idiots. But, if you are the Christian with your life all together and bundled up in a neat package of goodness, please, I beg you — stop praying for people in this way and beg them for the favor of their prayers instead.

I'm sure the situation I found myself in this week came from a real desire to good in the world and help me — well, not particularly me, really. But you know, me as one of "those people who need praying over". And, I am sure that when these particular friends who were praying for me for so long look at my crazy life choices and all the evidence of my mistakes that follow me everywhere, that they think of me with the same pity that I had for the homeless for the decade I spent volunteering with them before I met Anthony on the seawall. (Yes, I still volunteered after that. But, it was very different.) But, it's dehumanizing. And, anything that dehumanizes another person separates us from God. Both of us. The pray-er and pray-ee.

A: Let us examine our motives when we do the “right thing” that we're also doing it in the right spirit. Let's not be so caught up in “tithing mint and cumin” that we neglect justice and mercy. (Matthew 23:23)

This morning on BBC News, I heard that Pope Francis, while not changing any Catholic doctrine, published new guidelines on family life that encourages Catholic officials to exercise careful discernment over "wounded families" and be merciful, rather than judgmental. I very much agree with Pope Francis on a lot of things. He is doctrinally orthodox but always seems to remember to interpret it in the light of Jesus' teachings about mercy and love.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

P: Father, help me to be holy inside. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalm 139:23-24) In Jesus' name, amen.

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

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Democracy v.s. the Divine Right of Kings


S: Proverbs 30:21-23 (Agur the son of Jakeh wrote) “For three things the earth tremble,
and under four, it can’t bear up:
For a servant when he is king;
a fool when he is filled with food;
for an unloved woman when she is married;
and a servant who is heir to her mistress.”

O: When I first read these verses, I thought to myself, “This is written by a royalist and is nonsense to justify the idea of the Divine Right of Kings. As a democrat, I totally reject this as a wrong and evil idea. It's just the opinion of Agur the son of Jakeh, not of God.”

I am also reminded of the story of Hang Tuah v.s. Hang Jebat from the Hikayat Hang Tuah. Here is a summary from Wikipedia:

The most memorable chapter in the work concerns a duel between Hang Tuah and his closest friend, Hang Jebat. Hang Tuah was falsely accused of adultery with one of his sultan's maids by his jealous rivals. Upon hearing the accusation, the sultan ordered Hang Tuah killed, without an investigation of his alleged offense. Hang Tuah was secretly saved, however, by his executioner, a bendahara. Hang Jebat was aware that Hang Tuah was being unjustly punished and in a show of support and deep loyalty for his friend, revolted against the sultan. The sultan's forces were unable to suppress Hang Jebat. The sultan later came to realize that Hang Tuah was innocent, and immediately regretted sentencing Hang Tuah to death. The bendahara then told the sultan that Hang Tuah was still alive, and that only Hang Tuah could overcome Hang Jebat's rebellion. Hang Tuah was immediately recalled and given amnesty. After seven days of fighting, Hang Tuah managed to kill Hang Jebat.

To me, Hang Tuah was no hero — he was a fool. The Sultan was wrong, and the Sultan was an evil dictator who should be deposed. Hang Jebat was right, and was unjustly killed by his friend Hang Tuah who was misguided. This kind of incorrect thinking is partly what enables modern politicians in Malaysia to continue to hold on to power in spite of the evil they do.

However, Matthew Henry, a 17th century Welsh Nonconformist minister, in his Commentary gives a different perspective on the passage:

Four sorts of persons are very troublesome. Men of low origin and base spirit, who, getting authority, become tyrants. Foolish and violent men indulging in excesses. A woman of a contentious spirit and vicious habits. A servant who has obtained undue influence. Let those whom Providence has advanced from low beginnings, carefully watch against that sin which most easily besets them.

So, perhaps this is not an approval of the Divine Right of Kings, but rather, an admonition that, if God allows you to advance from low beginnings, do not allow it make you proud and haughty. If you're allowed to become a king, then act nobly. Not that class mobility is prohibited, but rather, that we should act rightly when we are elevated.

Toby Sumpter, Pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho, has another take on this:

Here the servant is probably a member of the king’s cabinet, another subordinate official who has usurped the crown (Gen. 24:2, 1 Sam. 27:12). If the king is supposed to be a rock, a steady leader for the stability of his people, a revolt causes great tumult in the earth. The seizing of glory and power is rarely a good sign, and rarely are those who do so prepared for the task. Frequently, rebels who oust tyrants merely establish more tyranny or worse. People who are not ready to rule, who are suddenly given great power and authority frequently abuse it.

A: Both Henry's and Sumpter's interpretations have bearing on authority and democracy. As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

We must hold our leaders accountable, lest they become corrupt and abuse their power. We also must police ourselves when we get into any position of authority — even many pastors have ended up abusing their power over their congregation and become dictatorial. I myself in my authority over my students and my family must keep in mind that I am accountable to the Master above me.

S: Father, in my exercise of authority, keep me humble and accountable to You. May I not abuse any power you give me. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: The illustration is from The Tyranny of King Washington, an alternate-history video game which explores how things may have turned out if George Washington did not do the noble thing of instituting a democracy and relinquishing power after he won the American Revolution. George Washington could so easily have made himself king, but he was apparently motivated by nobler ideals, perhaps from his Christian faith, and so instead helped found a nation built on freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom for citizens to critique the government and hold their leaders accountable. I wish we and the rest of the world had these freedoms!
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

An Eye For An Eye Makes The Whole World Blind


S: Romans 12:14-21

14Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don’t curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. 16Be of the same mind one toward another. Don’t set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Don’t be wise in your own conceits. 17Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. 18If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. 19Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.” 20Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
21Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

O: Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi once said, "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind." Although he wasn't a Christian, he really caught the sentiment of this scriptural principle.

It's a natural for humans to want to take revenge, but this tends to end up with a cycle of violence. Generational feuds like the famous McCoys v.s. Hatfields, the Palestinians v.s. the Israelis, the Tutsis v.s. Hutus, etc. cause much misery and destruction.

Jesus told us to "turn the other cheek" and sometimes people protest, "But we have to protect ourselves." Yes, but to be consumed by vengeance will only bring destruction.

A: It's hard to implement, as it goes against our natural psychology, but God does want the best for us. What a testimony of the families of martyrs who forgave the killers, e.g. the Egyptian Christians who were martyred by Daesh.

In many cases, Christian forgiveness shown led the killers to the Lord. e.g. Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, and Peter Fleming's martyrdom and the subsequent forgiveness and witness of their families led the Huaorani "Auca" to Christ, and the martyrdom of an Assamese Christian family led their tribe to the Lord, and is memorialized in the song I Have Decided To Follow Jesus.

Indeed, as church leader Tertullian wrote in the second century, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church".

P: Father, it's hard to forgive when we've been wronged, so we ask for Your supernatural strength to do it. In Jesus' name, amen.

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

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sin & Restitution


S: Leviticus 4:27-28 Now if anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, and becomes guilty, if his sin which he has committed is made known to him, then he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without defect, for his sin which he has committed.

Leviticus 4:31 Then he shall remove all its fat, just as the fat was removed from the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall offer it up in smoke on the altar for a soothing aroma to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven.

Leviticus 6:4-5 then it shall be, when he sins and becomes guilty, that he shall restore what he took by robbery or what he got by extortion, or the deposit which was entrusted to him or the lost thing which he found, or anything about which he swore falsely; he shall make restitution for it in full and add to it one-fifth more. He shall give it to the one to whom it belongs on the day he presents his guilt offering.

O: This is in the Old Testament Law, which we are no longer under. However, the principle remains:

If we do something wrong, even if it's unintentional, it's still wrong. However, don't despair, forgiveness is available. And if the wrong is something we have done to someone that has caused them loss, we should try to make restitution. (I recognize that some losses are impossible to make restitution for.)

My daughter recently did something wrong unintentionally and was worried about it, but I reassured her that she could ask God for forgiveness and atonement has been paid for by Jesus. In the Old Testament, they had to sacrifice some animal, but Jesus has been our eternal sacrifice for all our sins. So we need to confess & repent, but after that, we should not wallow in our guilt, for the price has already been paid for.

A: When we sin, even unintentionally, and we realize it, we need to repent and receive God's grace. If the sin hurt someone else, if it is possible, we should try to make restitution.

P: Father, thank You for paying for our sins on the cross, making grace available to us. Help us to keep from sin. Remind me when I am tempted. In Jesus' name, amen.

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

Saturday, January 23, 2016

It's a relationship, not magic


S: Acts 19:11-18 God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul’s hands, so that when even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his body were brought to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. But some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were possessed by evil spirits, saying, “I sternly warn you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” (Now seven sons of a man named Sceva, a Jewish high priest, were doing this.) But the evil spirit replied to them, “I know about Jesus and I am acquainted with Paul, but who are you?” Then the man who was possessed by the evil spirit jumped on them and beat them all into submission. He prevailed against them so that they fled from that house naked and wounded. This became known to all who lived in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks; fear came over them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. Many of those who had believed came forward, confessing and making their deeds known.

O: In western literature, especially older works, we see things of Christ being held up to have magical power -- e.g. vampires cannot stand the cross, holy water, etc.

Even today, we see sometimes people invoke things of Christ for magical power, e.g. "Be sure to say grace before a meal, especially when travelling in countries where the food might not be clean, to protect yourself from indigestion."

The seven sons of Sceva tried to use Jesus' name as magical incantation to drive out evil spirits, but clearly it did not work.

God wants us to have a relationship with Him, not to use His name as a magical incantation. When Jesus said, "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13), He wasn't telling us a magical formula.

In any case, His name wasn't even "Jesus" -- the way we pronounce it in English is so far removed from the way He would have said His name, which is something closer to "Yeshua".

So, there is nothing magical about the sound "Jesus" -- in spite of what the old hymn "Jesus, what a wonderful name" might imply. It's who is behind that name that is important.

A: So, we must cultivate our relationship with Him, or as John 15:4 puts it, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me."

I, too, struggle with this as the daily responsibilities of life crowd in. But we need to make time daily to cultivate our relationship with Christ.

P: Father, as I juggle so many things daily, remind me to abide in You. In Jesus' name, amen.

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

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Learn the lessons of the past


S: Daniel 5:18-31 As for you, O king, the most high God bestowed on your father Nebuchadnezzar a kingdom, greatness, honor, and majesty. Due to the greatness that he bestowed on him, all peoples, nations, and language groups were trembling with fear before him. He killed whom he wished, he spared whom he wished, he exalted whom he wished, and he brought low whom he wished. And when his mind became arrogant and his spirit filled with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and his honor was removed from him. He was driven from human society, his mind was changed to that of an animal, he lived with the wild donkeys, he was fed grass like oxen, and his body became damp with the dew of the sky, until he came to understand that the most high God rules over human kingdoms, and he appoints over them whomever he wishes.

“But you, his son Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself,although you knew all this. Instead, you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven. You brought before you the vessels from his temple, and you and your nobles, together with your wives and concubines, drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone – gods that cannot see or hear or comprehend! But you have not glorified the God who has in his control your very breath and all your ways! Therefore the palm of a hand was sent from him, and this writing was inscribed.

“This is the writing that was inscribed: mene, mene, teqel, and pharsin. 26 This is the interpretation of the words: As for mene – God has numbered your kingdom’s days and brought it to an end. As for teqel – you are weighed on the balances and found to be lacking. As for peres – your kingdom is divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”

Then, on Belshazzar’s orders, Daniel was clothed in purple, a golden collar was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed third ruler in the kingdom. And in that very night Belshazzar, the Babylonian king, was killed. So Darius the Mede took control of the kingdom when he was about sixty-two years old.

O: Belshazzar knew what YHWH God had done in Nebuchadnezzar's life, and how YHWH had humbled Nebuchadnezzar and proved that He is the One True God. Yet Belshazzar insisted on thumbing his nose at YHWH.

Incidentally, skeptical historians used to claim that Belshazzar was a fiction. Firstly, Nebuchadnezzar had no son named Belshazzar or anything like that -- in fact, Nebuchadnezzar's son Amel Marduk (known as Evil Merodach in 2 Kings and Jeremiah) in had been assassinated by his son-in-law Neriglissar. And secular records said that the king of Babylon at the time of the Medo-Persian conquest was Nabonidius, not anyone named Belshazzar. Nabonidius was actually king of Babylon because he had overthrown Labashi Marduk, son of Neriglissar.

While secular historians acknowledge that a king of Babylon who was not related to Nebuchadnezzar could refer to Nebuchadnezzar as "father" because of the practice of using the term "father" to mean "predecessor", because of the lack of mention of Belshazzar in secular sources, many people pointed to this as another piece of evidence that the Book of Daniel was fiction.

However, in the 20th century, several archaeological discoveries showed that Belshazzar was indeed reigning as king in Babylon during the conquest by the Medo-Persians, and there's also now evidence outside the Bible that Belshazzar was killed in the Medo-Persian conquest. As a result, today, virtually no historians dispute the historicity of Belshazzar. (For more information, see and

Incidentally, the last line of today's reading talks about Darius the Mede. Just like Belshazzar used to have no evidence outside the Bible supporting his historicity, currently, there is no evidence outside the Bible supporting the historicity of Darius the Mede. But, as the case of Belshazzar points out, so what? Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. See for more information and for a defense of these and many other objections to Daniel.

A: We, too, usually know when we're doing something wrong... yet so often we give in to pride, temptation, lust, etc. and go ahead and do the wrong thing.

So let's be reminded by what happened to Belshazzar.

P: Father, when I am tempted, may I always run to you and away from the temptation. In Jesus' name, amen.

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

The picture is Rembrandt's Belshazzar's Feast.