Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Watch and Pray" - A Holy Week Meditation

"Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matt 26:41)

'Watch and pray' is a theme I have adopted for holy week this year. I like the NASB rendition of Matthew 26:41. Keep watching and praying vividly expresses the Greek verbs. They are command verbs addressed to the hearers, something to be followed like a soldier to a commanding officer's instructions. In the Greek, while both verbs, 'watch' and 'pray' are in the present tense and in the imperative moods, their voice differs.

Watch is in the active voice. It means that the subject is the one to perform the action. Jesus's disciples were commanded to watch. Pray is in the middle voice. There is no English equivalent for this middle voice. There are two things involved. Not only is the action expected to be performed, it is also performed on the person himself. An example may help. it is like a man on the top of the mountain, shouting and anticipating an echo in return. This listening to the echo keeps one in a discerning mode, to hear the prompting of the Spirit of God. Eugene Peterson translates "Watch and Pray" clearly in this
Stay alert; be in prayer so you don't wander into temptation without even knowing you're in danger.
Hence, not only watch and pray are to be treated as one action, it keeps an eye on the external as well as the internal. Sometimes we tend to think that watching is looking out for the external forces of evil. That is too narrow an interpretation. When we watch, we maintain a careful look at what is happening outside as well as inside. Likewise, when we pray, we keep a ready heart not only to intercede for one another but to watch out for temptations that lurks in our hearts. True watchfulness and prayers is always mindful of any temptation that spring up.

Unfortunately in the gospel narrative, the disciples failed miserably. Knowing that his execution is near, Jesus prayed and watch for his own temptations to flee from the troubles ahead. He asked if it is possible to avoid the cup. He asked that no matter what, God's will be done. Imagine after realizing that there is no way out for him, when he returned to his disciples, three times, they were found sleeping. It is like a tornado approaching the house, and yet the people are still relaxing and sleeping, oblivious to the coming disaster.

When we watch and pray, we must be aware that unrighteous thoughts may emerge. Once a heart is stilled, thoughts of evil may appear and tempt us toward bad deeds. By watching and praying, we see reality in all its fulness. We recognize that life is not what it seems.
  • We see clearly that our stress to meet office deadlines is nothing compared to the strain of family members seeing a loved one dying in hospital.
  • We see that we are unrighteous in ourselves, and will be ashamed. When we pray for others, we are also humbled to recognize the need of others to pray for us too.
  • We see that the problems we face in the rich West or our affluent society are nothing compared to the poverty and immense illness happening in the other 90% of the world.
Are we sleeping disciples in a spiritual sense? Do we realize how depraved we are in our hearts? That if we were to be stripped one day to our barest essential, we will be thankful for the bread crumbs we see on the table. About possessions, when a person's multimillion dollar shares plummets to the status of junk bonds, will he then be able to see any meaning in life? About relationships, when a person's loved ones disappear in the time of need, will she then start to wonder where her real and true friends are? Maybe, spending more time building relationships are better than earning more money. About our future, when are we going to do what we have always wanted to do, knowing that life is unpredictable and we do not know when we will die? Certainly it will be a pity when anyone exchanges his most capable years of his life in order to do the least desirable work. What a pity when a person's best asset (of youth) in life is spent on the least desirable goals. All too frequent I have heard people saying: "I wish I could have done this when I am younger." What good will it be to have all the money in the world when one cannot use it? Or to have all the time in the world, but without knowing what to do with it. One of my favourite illustrations about the paradox of life goes like this.
  • When we are young kids, while we have all the time and energy in the world, we have no money.
  • When we become adults, we have no time, except earning money with great energy.
  • When we become old, we have more time, more money, but no more energy like before.
Being watchful and prayerful in our youths, keeps us focused on fleeing from the temptations of youth, especially any greed over money. We avoid stealing or covetousness as we watch our hearts carefully. As adults, we watch and pray to learn to see the limits of our efforts. We can then realize that no matter how much time we put into our work, there is always work that continues to pile up. Nothing can ever be fully done. When we become old, as we watch and pray, we pray that our recollections of life is not one of regret but one of thankfulness. We may have moments of regret but we ought to realize too, that time to see God is fast approaching. Hence, I am strongly in favour of inter-generational church members to be in any church congregation. We need to learn and to be reminded of the many phases of a person's life.

My prayer for you my readers, that at any point of our life, God will be there with you. That whatever temptations you sense arising out of your hearts, God will strengthen you, to overcome them with you. God will help give you a sense of hope, that as we remember Jesus's death on the cross, we will not give up hope. We will continue to keep faith. We will live out faith and hope in the bond of love. May the story below, encourage all of us to maintain a posture of "Watch and Pray." It is not easy to determine ourselves to follow and obey Christ. Jesus himself admitted the tough struggles. However, because he is able to overcome, we have this confidence that with his help, we too can overcome. Until that victorious moment arrives, we need to continue this stance of watching and praying not only for holy week, but for all the weeks God has created and ordained for our good enjoyment."
"I think that If a man does not guard his heart well, he will forget and neglect everything he has heard, and thus the enemy, finding room in him, will overthrow him. It is like a lamp filled with oil and lit; if you forget to replenish the oil, gradually it goes out and eventually darkness will prevail. It is still worse if a rat happens to get near the lamp and tries to eat the wick; it cannot do so before the oil is exhausted, but when it sees the lamp not only without light, but also without heat, it tries to pull out the wick and it brings the lamp down. If it is earthenware it breaks, but if it is brass, the master of the house will fill it up with oil again. In the same way, through the soul's negligence, the Holy Spirit gradually withdraws until his warmth is completely extinguished. Finally the enemy devours the ardour of the soul and wickedness spoils the body, too. But if a man is sound in his attachment to God, and has only been led away through negligence, God in his mercy, sends his fear to him and the remembrance of punishment and so prepares him to be vigilant and to guard himself with more prudence in the future, until his visitation." (Abba Orsisius) from [Benedicta Ward, ed. Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 161-162.]


Sunday, March 16, 2008

"No Frills Airline" (funny)

My wife shared this video she got from a friend. It's hilarious....

Jolt Quote XIX

"A Christian is a free lord, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all."

[From Martin Luther's Freedom of the Christian"]

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Million Thank-Yous

Someone sent me this. The Bible says, "In everything give thanks." (1 Thess 5:18) But this is taking it a little too far........
Really funny, but after a while, it gets on your nerves. See how many "Thank yous" can you tolerate? (Hint: for maximum effect, turn on your speakers)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Malaysian Elections (8 Mar 2008)

Elections are big events. In societies where governments rule, sometimes with an iron rod and a heavy hand, the voting period is that one rare moment in time, when the ordinary citizen has some 'power' to influence the selection of the government. We see 'powerful' and influential candidates, canvassing for votes in many creative ways. Both carrots and sticks methods are used, often creatively. Candidates go to charity events or be seen in public places where the poor and underprivileged are honoured. They hug the elderly. They assure the middle class that life will be better when they are in charge. They kiss babies. They come to our houses, knock on our doors and personally deliver their political manifesto and statement of promises to us. Malaysia is no exception. Elections are very colourful, both literally in the streets as well as their political speeches. Facts are deemed 'truth' under the hands of witty politicians. Emotions can be easily raked up, to pander support for self, as well as to pour hot coals on the opposing parties.

Malaysia will be conducting its elections this coming 8 Mar 2008. There are a couple of serious issues we need to be prayerful about. I will list them down in no particular order of importance.

This year, the church (especially Roman Catholic), has stepped out to say something. It is a political taboo for the church to be involved in any way, no matter how small, in 'politics.' The problem actually lies in the definition of what politics is all about. In a universal way, every single human being in society is already in politics, whether we like it or not. The fact that ordinary citizens are given the heavy right to vote is already a political act. The main difference lies in the definition of what politics means. From the ruling powers, politics is essentially maintaining power and control. It is only during the election period, this power is at stake. The politicians ask: "What does it take for me to retain control?" There are generally two ways. Either I get positive counts in the voting numbers, or I try deny the opposition their numbers, either by putting the opposition in the negative light, and give themselves a positive image.

There are reasons why the church should not be involved in this way, no matter how small. I shall give three reasons.
  1. DISTRACTS: The move is distracting. Church members cannot concentrate on the main Christian message whenever their leaders are involved in political statements.
  2. EASILY MISINTERPRETED: Political topics can be easily misinterpreted from all corners. If one endorses opposition parties like DAP, PAS or Keadilan, the opposition claims you are 'pro-people', while the ruling government sees them as anti-government.
  3. IT AFFECTS PRAYER: Christians are asked to pray for those in power, our leaders that they will lead the country peacefully. When statements like these are made, people are forced to choose and it becomes hard for them to pray. Prayers must be for all persons elected to uphold the constitution, to rule fairly and justly no matter who is elected. In fact, the Church should lead the way not to give in to fear, but to pray for ALL politicians canvassing for votes to be fair and just. They may fight terribly. They may slander each other shamelessly. However, after all the euphoria, and when emotions are cooled down, whoever is elected must stand up to their responsibilities.

Since last year, racial tensions in Malaysia have risen considerably. The Indian minority, upset with racial discrimination, poverty and hardship in their ranks have protested and demonstrated with physical anger. It has propelled the racial problems in Malaysia to the forefront. The Chinese so far have not protested in such similar manner, but the underlying unhappiness can be felt all over the country. As long as they manage economically, they will simply sit back and let the government rule accordingly. What happens when their economic prowess gets curtailed? I dare not dream what will happen. Moreover, both Chinese and Indian communities have been angered by overzealous Muslim religious leaders who become body snatchers in the name of religion. They said that the Indian or the Chinese had converted to Islam prior to their death, and confiscated their body in order to conduct an Islamic burial. The evidence of their conversion has become a great point of contention. Whatever the case, the religious and the racial factor are two powerful forces that can disrupt peace and harmony. Pray for religious and racial tolerance throughout. Pray for mature leaders. Pray for wisdom among public speakers that they do not work up the wrong emotions.

Pray that the social fabric will be strong in terms of openness and continued efforts to build bridges. Pray that whoever the leaders are, they will be filled with wisdom from above to rule well. True power is always from above. Pray for the people to take their vote seriously, and not to throw away their votes foolishly. Recent developments have painted a glum outlook on the leadership of Malaysia.
  • Prime Minister continue to practice racial politics. See here.
  • Prominent Minister's Sex Scandal. See here.
  • Ethnic Tensions Rising. Check it here.
  • Continued Questions over the Prominent 'alternative' opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim. See here.
  • Government is afraid that they may lose their two-thirds ruling majority for the first time in history. May have violent consequences. Check it out here.
Pray that the day will come where people will vote not based on their race or religion, but on a good leader. We pray. We discern. We vote. That is the Christian way.

For those who are not Malaysians, or who are neighbours of Malaysia, it is also in your interest to pray. Loving your neighbour as much as yourself should not be restricted to a person or persons. It should include nations.

(a) DISCERNMENT FOR VOTERS: Let voters make informed choices by discerning whatever information they can get about the candidates. They can discuss with friends and relatives, but their vote should remain secret.
(b) SELF-CONTROL BY POLITICIANS: That they do not stir up emotions that cause widespread harm. That they learn to look beyond ethnicity and religion. Every human being deserves fairness.
(c) PEACE: Thomas a Kempis mentioned four sources of peace which I feel, as Christians we need to learn from.
#1 - Strive to do another's will rather than our own
#2 - Choose always to have LESS rather than more.
#3 - Always reach for the lowest place, and take a lower rank than others
#4 - In all things, let the will of God be one's highest desire.

"The man who does all this crosses the frontier of the land of peace and inward rest."
[Thomas a Kempis's Imitation of Christ, Book III, Ch 23.3, (IN: Greenlawn Press, 1990), p118-9]

May the Malaysian voter, regardless of race, language or religion, choose wisely.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Incarnational Spirituality

Dr David Benner is one of my favourite authors. He will be in Vancouver to give two talks.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Christian One-Liners

These one-liners can make one laugh, not because they are funny, but on how much truth it reveals. I do not know the origin but they can be obtained from many places like here, here and here. I have indicated those I like with (*), the more the better.

  1. Some people are kind, polite, and sweet-spirited-until you try to sit in their pews.

  2. Many folks want to serve God, but only as advisers.

  3. It is easier to preach ten sermons, than it is to live one. (**)

  4. The good Lord didn't create anything without a purpose, but mosquitoes come close.

  5. When you get to your wit's end, you'll find God lives there. (**)

  6. People are funny, they want the front of the bus, the middle of the road, and the back of the church.

  7. Opportunity may knock once, but temptation bangs on your front door forever. (**)

  8. Quit griping about your church; if it was perfect, you couldn't belong.

  9. If the church wants a better preacher, it only needs to pray for the one it has. (**)

  10. God Himself does not propose to judge a man until he is dead. So why should you? (**)

  11. Some minds are like concrete, thoroughly mixed up and permanently set.

  12. Peace starts with a smile.

  13. I don't know why some people change churches; what difference does it make which one you stay home from?

  14. A lot of church members who are singing "Standing on the Promises" are just sitting on the premises.

  15. We were called to be witnesses, not lawyers or judges.

  16. Be ye fishers of men. You catch them - He will clean them.

  17. Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.

  18. Don't put a question mark where God put a period.

  19. Don't wait for 6 strong men to take you to church.

  20. Forbidden fruits create many jams.

  21. God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called. (**)

  22. God grades on the cross, not the curve.

  23. God loves everyone, but probably prefers "fruits of the spirit" over "religious nuts!"

  24. God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.

  25. He who angers you, controls you!

  26. If God is your Copilot - swap seats!

  27. Prayer: Don't give God instructions - just report for duty!

  28. The task ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us.

  29. The Will of God will never take you to where the Grace of God will not protect you. (**)

  30. We don't change the message, the message changes us.

  31. You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage him. (**)

  32. The best mathematical equation I have ever seen:
    1 cross + 3 nails = 4 given. (***)

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