Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Book Experience: (electronic or paper?)

Kindles and iPads are increasingly threatening the traditional place of bookstores and libraries. For all its power and process, there are some things technology can never replicate fully. Take the humble bookstore. I will rather sit for hours in a room full of books on bookshelves, instead of four walls with only my Kindle or e-reader filled with a digital collection of thousands of books. I can smell a real book but not a Kindle. I can flip and feel the difference of each book I flip, but as far as the Kindle is concerned, every book feels and flips the same way. I can hold the book, dog-ear it, choose a nice bookmark companion, and to use the book to reserve my seat in the library. Not the Kindle. Someone may steal it.

I read a lot. I work a lot with computers. I have e-reader apps on my computing devices, all loaded up with books. Yet, nothing beats the humble book. I do not have to touch a button to search for the book I want. I do not have to make sure the device is sufficiently charged before use. All I need is to stand next to the bookshelf and browse. Nothing beats the touch and feel of a real book. It brings back memories of the trouble I have taken to purchase that book. It conjures up ideas on what else I can do with the book.

The eBook is not so. Can I lend it to a good friend? Can I use my highlighter to make notes on it? Can I write a special message on the book, and ask my wife to read it, with lots of love? No. There are some things a Kindle cannot do: Replicate the traditional book reading experience.

What can we do? Three immediate things come to mind.

First, support your local bookstore. Do not let the price do all the talking. As much as possible, buy books from a bricks and mortar book company. Don't forget the small second hand bookstores too.

Second, form a book club to talk about books. This helps cultivate the reading habit for both printed as well as digital books. Talk about it. Market it. Publicize it. With greater publicity, it benefits both printed as well as digital content providers.

Third, read a book. If you like a book that you have read in the digital format, why not get a printed copy for keeps?

Long live books! Especially printed books.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tulips by the Wayside

Tulips. A Spring Delight.
Spring is a beautiful time. Whether we are in the park, driving on the roads, or walking along the streets, we can easily glimpse a beautiful part of nature. Even flowers in the wild, long considered weeds are deemed pretty to look at. I enjoy the spectrum of colours. I marvel at the creativity behind the beauty. I ponder at the sights of nature that beg a question: "Can we ever explain beauty?"

No. Beauty is not to be analyzed or studied. It is to be admired and appreciated. Sometimes, the only way we can capture the scene is to snap a picture of it. Yet, as far as the camera is concerned, a photographic image is only in terms of pixels, resolutions, and a closely captured digital frame of bits and bytes. A picture may speak a thousand words, but that alone can never replicate the feelings and the awe of seeing the actual flower. I think about how the digital wave has transformed the world. We are communicating on Facebook more and more, as face to face chatting becomes less and less. We are rushing ahead on technological efficiency and scientific efficacy while missing out on personal interactions and relational touch. We are substituting the historical collections of printed books with digital scans or book reproductions on our electronic readers.
As I look at flowers, I think of how beauty is appreciated in the Songs of Solomon.
"Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land." (SS 2:13)
What if our Christian testimony is like the flowers that bloom when the season comes? Three things come to mind.

A) Blooming like Flowers

As Christians, we are called to be the salt and the light of the earth. We are to be living testimonies for Jesus. We are to let the love of Christ shines through in our daily behaviour, actions, and thoughts. Our transformed inner lives are to be catalysts of change in society. As flowers flourish their best in their best seasons, Christians can shine their best versions of Christ in their unique ways. The media may tell us otherwise, that Churches are full of hypocrites, and Christians are but morality police more interested in the heavenly realms more than earthly realities. Not necessarily. Christians can still bloom like flowers. Like the tulips, they show their presence to anyone who walks past. Like the flowers, they bring about a sense of peace and serenity to help people marvel at nature and creation. Being able to be at one's best is a mark of grace and beauty. It is witnessing at its best.

B) Growing Beautifully

Like the tulips, beauty enables the beholder to enjoy creation. There is no law against wanting to be beautiful and perfect as far as good living is concerned. Like the tulips, there are many beautiful shades of colour and floral combinations. If a Christian does a good work, there is no need to explain it. Likewise, as Christians grow to be like Christ, it not only encourages the Church, it motivates others to start wondering why Christians are doing what they are doing. Growing beautifully as Christians in Christlike ways is one of the most powerful witnessing Christians can ever do.

C) Making Beautiful Memories

As the saying goes, a face can launch a thousand ships. Likewise, a pretty flower can stimulate a lingering memory. Christians who do a good work can witness far beyond that one time sharing experience. The tulips do not have legs. Neither do they fly all over the world to talk or to manifest their presence. Even though they are largely stationary, by blooming and being beautiful where they are can instill a long memory in observers and passers by. Beautiful memories are generally cherished. They bring back a glimpse of a wonderful world. They point us to the hope of humanity. They lead us back to God. All conversions contain pockets of memories of how Christians have been used to touch one's lives. In fact, my own conversion is not one act of evangelism or witness, but a compilation of beautiful memories in my earlier years. Learn from the tulips. Let each season of our witnessing help store a spiritual thought, a lingering memory of what Christ has done for us.

Like the tulips, may Christians appear gracefully wherever they are. Live gratefully wherever they are. Show graciousness whenever they can.

"'Deep beauty' is the kind of beauty that shines from the inside out. It is the kind of beauty that cannot be painted on, surgically created, or purchased. It is the kind of beauty that doesn't wash off. It is spiritual attractiveness. Deep beauty springs from virtue. It is the beauty of being chaste and morally clean. It is the kind of beauty that you see in the eyes of virtuous women like your mother and grandmother. It is a beauty that is earned through faith, repentance, and honoring covenants" (Elaine S. Dalton, "Remember Who You Are!").

Friday, April 27, 2012

Wildflowers in Spring (Spiritual Lessons)

Weeds thrive where there are empty patches.
Spiritual Lessons from wildflowers in Spring.

Weeding is a major part of any gardening hobby. While pedestrians and onlookers enjoy the pretty flowers blooming in Spring, there are much work done on the background that do not appear obvious to the public eye. Weeds!

In British Columbia, the dandelions are commonly found throughout the province. While it is generally considered a weed by many, the petite yellow flowers make it a beautiful landscape in public parks or private gardens. Introduced from Europe, it is said that these flowers open brightly during the day and close during the evening.  I have heard that the flowers even have a medicinal use. As far as the gardener is concerned, these are weeds to be eradicated. The dandelions not only become an eyesore, they consume nutrients meant for the cultivation of other plants.

I wonder if there is something that we can learn from the pervasiveness of the dandelions. I think of at least two lessons: Deep Roots and Vacant Land.

A) Deep Roots

There is a passage in which Jesus teaches us about weeds and the kingdom of God. He says: "Jesus told them another parable: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared." (Matthew 13:24-26)

Indeed, the weeds appear to just come up on their own. No one in their right mind will be planting weeds. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is likened to the man planting "good seed." This good seed is like the good work that we do, the gardening that we do. When no one is watching, and when we are sleeping, this is where the weeds start their growth. It is the enemy that plants the bad seeds. Thus, while man works by day, the devil works by night. Both appear at about the same time. The trouble with weeds is that since weeds have deep roots, they are not easily destroyed.

When we try to dig out the weeds, it is not enough simply to remove the flows and the top of the weed. Much digging is required in order to remove the entire weed. Lots of soil needs to be removed in order to reach these deep roots. Another reason why these weeds survive so well is because most people never bother to remove the roots. When this happens, the weeds simply grow back even after the flowers and the leaves are removed.

Remarkably, when asked about the weeds, Jesus prefers not to look at the temporal nature of weeds, but the final judgment instead. The point of the parable is that the weeds will always be around to haunt us. The evil will try to frustrate us in all of our works. Any attempt to get rid of evil is at best temporary. The evil will return. With deep roots, they will come up seasonally. 

B) Vacant Land

Yellow dandelions grow deep roots.
Another reason why weeds thrive is the presence of empty space. Friends have told me about the need to seed the lawn regularly so that there will be minimal vacant space for any unwanted weeds to exist. Grass seeds will fill up whatever available space so that the lawn will be clear of any kinds of weed. Overseeding is recommended. Not only will the lawn be thicker with good grass, it will prevent weeds from coming. If there is no room or nutrients for weeds, they will be crowd out.  Timing is key. Overseeding is recommended for early Spring and late Fall. The latter is best done in late September before the Winter steps in.

This reminds me of Jesus exorcising an evil spirit from a man.

“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”(Matthew 12:43-45)

It is not enough to simply be cleansed once and for all. One needs to remain pure throughout. Likewise, a cleared land from weeds is not enough. The land needs to be planted with good seed, otherwise the weeds will return. The good seed is the Word of God.

Are we filling our lives with the Word of God? It is not enough to be cleansed once, and then do nothing. Once we are cleansed, we need to remain vigilant against the evil one, from sowing seeds of evil again.

My friends. Learn from the weeds. Grow deep roots so that our faith continues to grow through all seasons of life, while surviving the hard falls of life. Fill up all vacant parts of our lives with good deeds and good seeds, namely the remembering, the storing, and the practicing of God's Word. For the time will come, that when the Lord appears, may our lives be flowers that bloom when the season has arrived.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Science is Reductionistic

In our world of electronic gadgets, an Internet era of smartphones and social media, we elevate science and technology through the latest and the greatest paradigm. What's new today will be old tomorrow. Tomorrow will be outlived by the day after tomorrow. Technology when we look forward is poised to turn our present existence and possessions into an artifact, relegated to a small memory in history.

As I was reading the late Chuck Colson's daily devotional (Week 17, Tuesday, p101) in A Dangerous Grace, I was struck by how reductionistic science can be. Colson was reflecting on an article in the Boston Globe that was trying to explain tragedy from the standpoint of science.

  • Presumption: The bloodbath in Bosnia is because of something in our genes
  • In biopolitics, politics can be explained by the scientific branch of biology
  • Since biology can explain politics, it must be able to explain evolution.
  • Biopolitics justify the need to exist, by ethnic conflict and aggression (natural selection)
  • Aggression is actually an "evolutionary advantage."
Colson was apparently appalled at the way the journalist tries to explain violence and aggression through evolution in a manner that is distant, impassioned, and impersonal. No moral dimension was discussed. People become victims due to their genes. What is right or wrong is simply blamed on natural phenomenon. By linking warfare, violence, and ethnic cleansing to something as normal as our natural food chain and evolution, the whole idea tries to reduce man into a helpless pawn in the universe of human selection.

One of the basic tenets of science is the law of thermodynamics. In the second law, it states:

"Heat does not flow spontaneously from a colder region to a hotter region, or, equivalently, heat at a given temperature cannot be converted entirely into work." (Reference:

In other words, there is a reduction of heat from a hot to a cold region. There is no such thing as an increase of 'cold' for cold is simply a loss of heat. Trying to use science and evolution to explain human behaviour or morality is simply not using science correctly. Science after all depends on assumptions. It does an excellent job in explaining how things work, but is like a fish out of water when it attempts to explain morality, philosophy, and even the arts. My point is, science and morality are completely different domains of understanding. While morality can be used to explain the use of science, science cannot be used to explain the human morality. Is there an evil gene? Is there a happy gene? When such things happen, the homosapiens species will have been reduced to a gene or a scientific piece of data. Not only is it reductionistic, science when used this way will eventually reduce the human being into a zero, just like the person who dies, and the body decays and ultimately perishes into the ground. It is appealing but the whole idea is downright deceiving.

Is there a "freedom" gene? Is there a "criminal" gene? By identifying and subsequently blaming one's behaviour on genetics, one faces even greater questions of life. What then controls these genes? What is the intelligence behind the genes? If the reductionistic feature of science is extrapolated to the intelligence arena, man will be somewhat less and less intelligent over time!

The logic is mindboggling. Colson then brings up his alternative. Call the violence and aggression as sin. Call the overall purpose of living as not reducing the whole explanation into a theoretical premise, but to see it as an opportunity for redemption of mankind. Science reduces matter to the lowest entity, like the half-life constant decline of chemicals. Science reduces a machine into its parts. Science when used on human behaviour is ultimately reductionistic.

Christ came to earth to redeem the world. He comes to give us life and life abundantly (John 10:10). Science is reductionistic. Christianity is redemptive. If one uses science to interpret human behaviour, the goal is eventually an atom, a molecule, a gene or a DNA. If one looks from the eyes of faith, and from Creation of God, the human person is not only redeemed, the human person is free to achieve his/her highest potential, as God has made us to be.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thanks Vancouver Canucks!

It has been another exciting year. For the second consecutive year, the Vancouver Canucks ice hockey team has won the President's Trophy as the best team in the regular 82 game series. For the second year, it has failed to win the more coveted Stanley Cup. On Sunday, the entire city was silenced by the overtime goal that clinched the First Round series for the Los Angeles Kings, and knocked out the President's Trophy winners. For many, it was a shock at how an 8th seed team can beat a #1 ranked team in just 5 games. For the more skeptical, it was only a matter of time before the Canucks lose. Again! I have much hope this year, which was one reason why I advocated: "Believe again!" at the beginning of the playoffs. Alas. That was not to be.

Rather than looking back with regret about failed strategies or lost opportunities, I think the better approach is gratitude. For two years, the whole city has been captivated by great winning performances by the Vancouver Canucks. Their powerplay for a long time has been rock solid, becoming the best powerplay team in the league for a fairly long period of time. They united the whole city together. They played good hockey. They have spurred on many organizations and businesses in terms of profits and economic activity. You can tell how passionate the players have been, the coaches, the organizational leaders, and so on. No one play to lose. Everyone tries their best to win. After all, many have even said that the Stanley Cup is the world's most difficult trophy to win. If that is the case, there is no reason to fret. Live to fight another year. If not this year, maybe the next, or sometime in the future.

Honestly, when after watching Game 3 of the Canucks-Kings series, halfway through I feel sick with all the fighting, the shoving, and the violence played out on the ice. It was not skills or player brilliance but bullying of all sorts happening. I wanted to just turn off the TV after that. I thought, if playoff hockey is about violence, fighting, bruising, and bullying, then it is not worth it. Skill is more elegant than size. Strategy is more beautiful than brute force. Playing is better than fighting.

I admit that my heart sank when the Kings scored the Overtime goal. So did many of my friends in Vancouver. Last year was perhaps the closest we can smell the Cup. While many other teams did not even win anything, Vancouver at least got another trophy: The President's Trophy. This too is not an easy feat, considering that it is awarded to the team with the overall best record, just like the top student in schools, or the top prize in any regular season competition. Why lament at the lost when we can cherish and celebrate the achievements?

This is the attitude we need to have. Give thanks for the best efforts. Learn from the mistakes. Have a restful Summer. After all, out of 30 teams, only one can win the Stanley Cup. Likewise, out of 30 teams, only one can win the President's Trophy. The Vancouver Canucks may not have won all the cups. They may have gotten only one, albeit a less prestigious one. Nevertheless, the fighting spirit and the good hockey that has been played out deserves our continued claps.

Two words describe how I feel: "Thank You."


Monday, April 23, 2012

The Lamp - An Exciting Faith Movie

My Church is currently going through a sermon series on the book of Ecclesiastes. Some of the remarkable statements of the book are the phrases:
  • "... Everything is meaningless!" (Eccl 1:2b)
  • "... there is nothing new under the sun." (Eccl 1:9)
  • "Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun." (Eccl 2:11)
If we can ask for anything that we want, what will we ask for?

"You can have anything you want in your life, including happiness, and I am about to tell you the secret of how to get it."

I preached yesterday on Eccl 1 and 2 on: "Human Wisdom: A Chasing After the Wind." In it, my main point is that all human wisdom is ultimately a chasing after the wind. As long as we try to accumulate things for ourselves, getting and grabbing stuff and ideas on the earthly world, we will eventually come to a dead end: Meaninglessness.

If there is anything on earth that we can ask, what will we be asking for? Will it be an extension of our life? Will it be a million dollars before it gets all used up? Will it be a material gain that will finally perish? Will it be a relationship that ends eventually in death? What will it take to remind us again that things on this earth have only one destination: meaninglessness?

If that is the case, should we not pay more attention to what Paul writes?

"Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Col 3:2)

I am excited about this upcoming movie. It speaks of the deepest human desire that cannot be met by material things or earthly concerns. There is something better. It points to Someone even better.

See the clip here or below.

Great movie for the family!


Sunday, April 22, 2012

"How Now Shall We Live?" (Charles Colson)

TITLE: How Now Shall We Live?
AUTHOR: Charles Colson (with Nancy Pearcey)
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1999, (580 pages).

In remembrance of Charles Colson (1931-2012), who died yesterday, I will reflect on one of Colson's bestselling book.

Based on his central conviction that Christianity must go beyond being simply a private and personal religion, Colson argues powerfully that Christians ought to contend for the faith in every walk of life. They are called to expose false worldviews for its errors, enable one another to live enriched lives for God, share Christ through understanding how non-believers think, and to learn to build society based on biblical principles. Colson is quite hard on the Church at large.

"The church's singular failure in recent decades haw been the failure to see Christianity as a life system, or worldview, that governs every area of existence. This failure has been crippling in many ways. For one thing, we cannot answer the questions our children bring home from school, so we are incapable of preparing them to answer the challenges they face. For ourselves, we cannot explain to our friends and neighbors why we believe, and we often cannot defend our faith. And we do not know how to organize our lives correctly, allowing our choices to be shaped by the world around us. What's more, by failing to see Christian truth in every aspect of life, we miss great depths of beauty and meaning: the thrill of seeing God's splendor in the intricacies of nature or hearing his voice in the performance of a great symphony or detecting his character in the harmony of a well-ordered community." (xii)

He then proposes the following central questions for any worldview to answer.

  1. Creation - Where did we come from, and who are we?
  2. Fall - What has gone wrong with the world?
  3. Redemption - What can we do to fix it?
The large 580-pages volume comprises of 5 parts that attempt to make sense of this central questions from a Christian point of view. 

Part One talks about why worldviews matter. Colson begins with a leader of the Prison Fellowship in Ecuador called Dr Jorges Crespo de Toral, who like him had left a career in politics to serve God in the prison ministry. Being a new creation of Christ means one needs to help live out this reality by helping to create a whole new world for others. Christianity as a worldview, by default, is in conflict with every other worldviews. Rather than believing Samuel Huntington's tri-cultural clash (Islamic, Western, Eastern), Colson insists that it is only 2: Christianity and every other system. Using the oyster analogy, Colson says that it is the spiritual order (the oyster) that forms the material order (the shell).

Part Two tries to tackle the question of Creation. He takes aim at Darwin, whose evolution theory presumes that God is not necessary. He makes a strong case that only Christianity is able to justify the basis of human dignity, and adequately explain the world as it is.

Part Three explains the human dilemma, of pain and suffering, of disease and death, and how to explain the meaning of evil. He raises the many aspects of evil happening in the world, and how inadequate other views are. Finally, he zooms in to the love of God, in which while people are still sinning and failing away, God comes in love to redeem the world.

Part Four talks about redemption. Like a mini-modern version of Ecclesiastes, Colson goes through the various ways the world tries to bring about meaning, through scientific advancement, through searching for meaning, through good intentions and good works, sexual liberation, pleasure, and the futility of it all. He then tells us what true redemption is:
  1. Christianity accurately DIAGNOSES the human condition.
  2. Christianity provides the best ANSWER to the problem of in.
  3. Christianity's offer of SALVATION is based on historical truth.
Part Five is the application of the whole framework. If the first four parts are the theories, this part is the practical. In it are the answers to the question posed by the title of the book. Christians are called to be transformed people who transform culture. Transformed people are called to:
  • Go beyond religious duties and to engage culture at large
  • Engage by applying truth for one's own family first
  • Engage through ethical standards and moral assertions
  • Engage the neighbourhood
  • Help create a good society
  • Learn to proclaim God's truth everywhere God shows us.
Colson's conviction electrifies the entire book.  The tone of his conviction will certainly ruffle many feathers, even Christians. In a world in which many cities elevate pluralism above any one ism, equal rights above any one truth, and ensuring that Christians stay within the four walls of their own church buildings, it is easy to take potshots at Colson by asking him to mind his own business.

Colson is not easily dissuaded. He knows in his heart what God stands for. He wants to be a part of the redemption party of doing everything he can, not the relaxation party of doing nothing. He wants to share the good news in every area of life, instead of being hemmed into one area only called religion. He wants to give leadership and guidance, because he is deeply concerned that doing nothing is one of the worst positions any Christian can take.

The Christian world has lost a great voice. We do not have many people of such convictions nowadays. While Christians are largely divided over his tough views about being involved in every part of society, most of them acknowledge one thing: Colson is a leader with a powerful voice.

If only there are more people like him, people who argue with passion, love with compassion, and live with conviction. We will miss Colson. Thankfully, he has given all of us a gift through his writings and speaking ministry, This book is one of them.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

The LORD Our Pacesetter

There has been many versions of the famous Psalm 23, also known as the Shepherd's Psalm. Often read at funeral services, or during difficult times, it brings comfort to the soul. Here is one version that enables us to ponder and to reflect about learning to pace ourselves in a fast-paced society. Maybe, it is not the world that is fast-paced. It is our lack of self-discipline that ALLOWS our hearts to be distracted by the world. May this version remind us about the Lord as our Shepherd.

THE LORD IS MY PACE SETTER (Author: unknown)

The Lord is my pacesetter; I shall not rush.
He makes me stop for quiet intervals.
He provides me with images of stillness Which restore my serenity.

He leads me in ways of efficiency through calmness of mind,
And his guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things To accomplish each day,
I will not fret, For his presence is here.

His timelessness and his all-importance Will keep me in balance.

He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity
By anointing my mind with his oils of tranquility.
My cup of joyous energy overflows.
Truly harmony and effectiveness
Shall be the fruits of my hours,
For I shall walk in the pace of my Lord,
And dwell in His house forever.



Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Kregel Blog Tour: Larry Moyer's books on Evangelistic Sermons

TITLE: Show Me How to Illustrate/Preach Evangelistic Sermons
AUTHOR: R. Larry Moyer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012.

ISBN: 9780825438806 (254 pages)
ISBN: 9780825433566 (368 pages)
There are two books that I will be reviewing together in one post. Written by the same author, it is about the practical implications of communicating the gospel over the pulpit. It is about designing, demonstrating, and showing readers, pastors, teachers, and communicators on the hows, the whys, and the whats of the message.

Book #1: How To Preach Evangelistic Sermons

The author starts off with a candid appraisal of his own humble beginnings. He shares about his early years of being corrected for not speaking clearly enough. With help from his seminary professor and a speech therapist, Moyer eventually hones his speaking skills and is able to let his passion drives his speaking. The book is arranged in two parts. In the first pare, he looks at the opportunity to learn to improve one's skills no matter how difficult it is. He clarifies what expository preaching is. He probes into the reasons why expository and evangelistic sermons are few and hard to find. He tackles the challenges of dealing with such topics. He warns preachers against 4 erroneous assumptions and provides 6 different ways to communicate an evangelistic message. While it is normal to expect preachers to prepare messages targeted at believers, Moyer makes a point to remind preachers how to design a message for unbelievers even in a non-evangelistic setting. This part essentially helps readers make the most of all the possible opportunities to bring about an evangelistic message, that evangelism is both to believers and non-believers; both good times and bad; both service and sermon; both expository and evangelistic, etc.

Part Two goes into the nitty-gritty of designing, preparing, and preaching an evangelistic sermon. Using a generous helping of stories, examples, and illustrations, Moyer shows us how to communicate seemingly simple terms such as 'sin' or 'sinner.' He makes a case for ensuring our message be simple enough and understandable not only by laypersons, but for non-believers. That means clarity and frequent explanation of terms. He points out the need to let grace and truth flow together as one body. Content-wise, it is critical for sermons to have good illustrations. Context-wise, it is important to understand the audience and the setting. In terms of method, repetition, humour, length of message are all crucial elements of an evangelistic sermon. Most of all, the message needs to aim at the hearts of men for the Spirit of God to touch.

The Appendices complement the book with an example sermon on John 3:16, Luke 19, and ways in which we can creatively ask questions of the audience.

Book #2: How to Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons

Moyer provides this companion volume to the first book that can be a useful reference for preachers, pastors, and teachers.  In a nutshell, illustrations need to be relevant, pertinent, sufficient, engaging, believable, understandable, and appropriate.  He then provides a library of illustrations that cover three major aspects of an evangelistic sermons: Sin, Substitution, and Saving Faith.

This book shows us the hows, the whats and the whys on using illustrations in sermons. It gives readers a one-volume collection of illustrations, checklist, and topics. What is most useful for me is the way in which the author guides readers on the use of each illustration, with "Possible Entrance" and "Possible Exit" like parenthesis of each illustration. That to me is in itself worth the price of the book.

My General Comments (Both books)

These two books form an important resource for all preachers and teachers. In fact, sermons ought to be evangelistic as the Word of God needs to be constantly preached to both believers and unbelievers. The latter needs to hear the good news. The former needs to be reminded of the gospel. I find the book useful for three reasons. Firstly, it shows us what expository preaching really is and that evangelistic sermons ought to be the staple of every Church. As a student of Dr Haddon Robinson, I find myself nodding my head at every page I turn. Moyer has applied Haddon's teachings in many ways, faithfully and diligently. Secondly, it reminds all preachers that preaching is hard work and not to be taken lightly. This hard work includes the need to continue to improve our speaking and communicating skills, the need to use fresh examples, and the need to continue learning and growing as students of the Word. Thirdly, this book is a resource that preachers can readily use when they preach. Although the title of the book refers to 'evangelistic sermons,' the illustrations are so good that they can be readily applied in many different kinds of messages. In fact, this book may very well encourage preachers to learn and to collect more illustrations from other sources, especially from a more personalized perspective. What I particularly like in this book is the way the author shows us 'possible entrance' and the 'possible exit' of each illustration. That easily is worth the price of the book.

That said, I have a few observations which I hope to see greater improvement. Firstly, it will have been better for the two books to be combined into one volume. For those of us with library of books, it is so easy to pick up one book and then misplace the other. Moreover, if not for the blog tour requirement, I will not have noticed that these two books are supposed to be purchased in pairs! Perhaps, the cover of the book can indicate something to show readers that there is a companion volume to the book.  Secondly, a preface or an introduction will be good for the prospective reader to get a map of where the author is going. In such an introduction, the author can also share with readers what the book is meant or not meant to achieve. Perhaps, share the philosophy behind the book clearly in the introduction. Thirdly, have a conclusion and a list of resources for the interested reader to look at.

As a preacher and pastor, I feel that these two books form an important resource for the sharing of the Word of God over the pulpit. Congratulations and thanks to Larry Moyer for sharing this wonderful resource and for serving the preaching community with books like these.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided to me free by Kregel Publications without any obligation for a positive review. All comments furnished above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Everything is Meaningless." Is it?

This coming Sunday, my Church will begin a series of sermons on the book of Ecclesiastes. After swimming through the books of Titus and Philemon, we are swinging back to the Old Testament for wisdom. Lasting about 10-12 weeks, we will be going through the entire book, covering all 12 chapters. The general theme of the sermon series will be: "The Search For Meaning." Along the way we will deal with issues of life, noticing the cyclical rhythms of the world we live in, of human philosophy, the follies of riches and pleasures, the limits of human wisdom, the futility of living in a rat race, and many heart gripping issues surrounding meaning, or the lack of it. There will be several guest speakers, with me of course at the helm preaching about once every fortnight. Let me begin this meditation on Ecclesiastes 1, most famously remembered for its recurring proclamation in verse 2:

"'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." (Eccl 1:2)

Is this statement of meaninglessness factual, or emotional? Is it only meaningless for the Teacher, or is it a statement of truth for the rest of us? Let me begin by sharing an interesting exchange between Ravi Zacharias and a man who attended his talk.
Man: "Everything is meaningless!"
Ravi: "Everything is meaningful."

Man: "Everything is meaningless!"
Ravi: "Everything is meaningful."

Man: "Everything is meaningless!"
Ravi: "Everything is meaningful."

This went on for a while until the man got a little peeved.  In reply, Ravi gently explained:

"Let me tell you why. If everything is meaningless like you have said, then what you have said in the first place is meaningless. You have effectively said nothing!"
How true. If everything in itself is devoid of meaning, then the very words that we speak is meaningless. One common understanding of Ecclesiastes is that everything without God is meaningless. I hold that view. Yet, that does not mean that we can easily dismiss everything secular or anything that does not mention God at all. God has created this world as it is.

How To Read Ecclesiastes

It is because everything is meaningful, we have a reason to study Ecclesiastes. I like to suggest three keys to adopt when reading this book. Firstly, there is meaning in this world even without mentioning God. This does not mean that I disagree with the Teacher in Ecclesiastes. The difference with God is that meaning becomes more complete, more beautiful, and more significant in the light of God. Without God, there is meaning but incomplete, and unsatisfactory. In going through the philosophical arguments and complaints about the world, it is also important to recognize the person making such observations. The writer is able to complain because he is in search of something MORE meaningful than what he has. His cry of meaninglessness stems from the frustrations of a search that is without God. Just like the prodigal son who seeks to enjoy the world away from his family. After squandering away his inheritance, he realizes that life is more then sheer pleasure and materialism. Relationships form his core need and purpose of existence.

Secondly, as we read Ecclesiastes, remember that it is embedded in a genre of wisdom literature. There are important lessons for all of us to learn. In the Old Testament, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs are part of the Wisdom books called the ketuvim in Hebrew.

Job deals with the issues of pain, suffering, justice, and God's sovereignty. Psalms contain many hymns, songs that describe faith and trust in God through the ups and downs of life. Proverbs give us great advice on how to live an honourable life of integrity with lots of practical applications for living.  The song of songs is a joyful declaration and singing of the wonders and splendours of married life, an a relationship between couples in love. Ecclesiastes augment these wisdom literature with a journey through searching for meaning in all the wrong places, only to learn that only in God, will our search be redeemed.

Thirdly, Ecclesiastes remind us how finite we are, how imperfect are our human efforts, and the futility of any kinds of search for meaning devoid of God. Do not be too quick to jump to the conclusion in chapter 12. Be intentional in going through the first eleven chapters to explore honestly how we all feel inside our heads and our hearts.

Here is the rough outline for the next few weeks. Note that they are subject to change.

Stephen Miller calls the Book of Ecclesiastes as a tussle of "Smartest Man vs Toughest Question." We may not be the smartest man on earth, but we can all participate in the search for answers to life's toughest questions. May we have a meaningful ride as we join in the search through Ecclesiastes.


Friday, April 13, 2012

"The Crime of Living Cautiously" (Luci Shaw)

TITLE: The Crime of Living Cautiously: Hearing God's Call to Adventure
AUTHOR: Luci Shaw
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2005, (146 pages).
Reviewed by: Conrade Yap

I have been more conscious that one of the biggest causes of boredom is the lack of risk taking. In fact, I will venture to say that one of the reasons for apathetic believers is due to the lack of faith-based risk living. This is the core conviction of Luci Shaw, a writer, poet,  and wonderful friend of Regent College. As creatures of comfort, we are used to retreating behind safety barriers into our cocoons of mere believing, instead of venturing ahead toward risk taking. Shaw begins with an insightful quote from Helen Keller which sets the tone of the book, that living cautiously is not what we are called to be.

"Security is mostly superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either daring adventure, or nothing." (Helen Keller)
Using her bungee jumping experience, she confesses that life is far too precious to be lived cautiously. Her poem about her daddy is a touching tribute on how a man has boldly lived his life to the full. Such bravery is evident in missionaries such as her father in the uncharted islands in the Pacific.

She urges the reader to make a distinction between human impulses versus God's calling. The key difference is that God's calling avoids the extremes of "reckless foolhardiness" and "fearful timidity."Even the popular CS Lewis confesses that he himself is a "safety-first creature." We are not created to be comfortable in a happily ever after mode, but to risk in a manner that brings out the best person we have been created to be. The fear barrier needs to be broken to be replaced by a Spirit-filled imagination and a faith-filled trust in God exemplified by St Patrick's Breastplate of Christ over and in all of us. One of the first things to prepare us toward greater faith living is to relinquish our hold on ourselves. We need to say no to the accumulation of power for self, toward the empowerment of others for Christ. We need to get a better sense of our mobility that is not defined by the world. We need to empty ourselves of ourselves and to fill ourselves with Christ.

Shaw also deals with the impediments to risk-taking. For instance, challenging the status quo or the social and societal norms. It can be a lonely experience, just like how the prophets of old have been sidelined, ignored, and left ridiculed. Taking risks also involves the risk of relationships, when we go against the general flow. Shaw makes a firm case for us to take risk taking into the unknown through a close relationship with the known God in heaven. Every chapter begins with a memorable quote. Every chapter ends with a poem, and some questions for reflection and discussion.

Closing Thoughts

The book can be used as guide to help us for meditation and faith growth. It can also be used as a Bible study to lift us above any level of mediocre living. I like especially the reflective tone throughout the book, packed with wise observations of life. I appreciate the many biblical images and references used together with the poetty that combines the best of prose and powerful narrative, with a rhythmic poetry that weaves truth and beauty together.

"As Roger Housdon has said, 'It is precisely the crack in our lives that can let the light pour through' (in risking everything). Adventure breeds adventure. Once experienced, it cries out to be lived again in different realms." (112)

Shaw's writings and reflections brings back wonderful memories of my time at Regent College, and the experiences that I hear regularly from the professors and students. More importantly, Shaw has given us an example of how important it is to live beyond ourselves. Is living cautiously a 'crime?' I do not think it is so. Yet, there is something that Shaw has hit upon that deserves to be carefully considered. When God's calls, it is usually to learn to trust Him, by risking the temporal for the eternal.

Let me close with this excellent quote:

"The kind of life Jesus lived would appear to be foolishness to any uninformed onlooker (he had no money, no home, no car, no organizational support). His close friends proved unreliable (with the exception of a few women), and his death was a scandal, a scandal that turned the world around forever. The cliff edge of our anxiety about the future may indicate that God is calling us to a new and different level of faith. When we walk, praying for guidance, to the edge of all the light we have and breathlessly take that first step into the foggy mystery of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen: either God will provide us with something rock-solid to land on and stand on, or He wil teach us how to fly." (137)

If you feel bored about Church, or lethargic in your faith, pick up this book. Read it and let it point you to the Scriptures. May your heart than burn with a passion that increasingly believes that while living cautiously may be a crime, risking all for God may become a joy. Unspeakable joy.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Believe Again

I have not really been a hockey fan until I arrived in Canada. Even then, soccer is still my first choice of sports. During the Olympics, it will be enjoying the many graceful movements of synchronous swimming or the gymnastics display. It is also admiring the way the marathoners push the physical limits of the body or the record breaking sprints of the relays and the swimming speed races. During the World Cup Soccer, I eat, drink, sleep, and talk soccer. The Stanley Cup playoffs is the equivalent of the madness surrounding World Cup Soccer, especially when the home team is playing for the Cup.

Today marks Day 1 between the Vancouver Canucks and the Los Angeles Kings. After the terrible riots last year when the team lost Game 7, this year, the team is back with more experience, more determination, and I pray more grit.

The city and the authorities have put up a nicely made video to remind all to celebrate responsibly. I like it. As a resident in Vancouver, I am all for the home team. May I urge all in Vancouver and in BC to BELIEVE AGAIN.

Go Canucks Go! It's time to believe again. This time, it will be different.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Great Visual on the Trinity

God is Spirit. We cannot see God in any material form. Only in Jesus can the early disciples touch and experience the physical presence of God. In the New Testament era, believers will learn to sense the presence of God primarily through the Holy Spirit.

The doctrine of the Trinity has been a core belief through the Church era. There had been multiple heresies surrounding the doctrine. The Muslims and Jews often accuse Christians of believing in 3 Gods. Others simply failed to understand why there is 3 persons, yet 1 God. The Unitarians decided to forget about the Trinity doctrine and to simply profess one God, period. In other words, there is only one God, meaning that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are 'less' than the true God. In the 3rd and 4th Century, the Arian controversy arose out of Arius assertion that Jesus is created by God, and thus not God. As the movement gained traction, people are increasingly getting confused about the doctrine of God and the Trinity. Out of this formidable challenge arose the Cappodocian Fathers. The three great scholars and theologians, namely Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesaria, and Gregory of Nyssa, contributed greatly to the Fourth Century meeting of the Council of Nicea, out of which we get our Nicene Creed. This creed essentially puts away all doubt regarding the doctrine of the Trinity and enabled the Church to be united once again.

Through the ages, there has been other controversies surrounding the Trinity doctrine. There is Docetism in which some theologians argue for the person of Christ being 'seem to exist.' Nestorianism asserts that God has 2 natures that Jesus is God in heaven but human on earth, and the two natures are separate. In other words, God cannot be both man and God at the same time. Sabellianism is a form of modalism in which the Trinity is seen as 'modes' rather than persons. In other words, the identities of Father, Son, and Spirit, are primarily understood in terms of the ways the Three deities work. It is easy to be confused by all of these heresies. That is why I find this visual done up by Tim Challies a helpful summary of the Trinity.

I like this visual because it is simple. It highlights the potential heresies. It helps us to understand the doctrine a little better. For a better resolution, you can download the file here. Like all illustrations, we need to understand that such a picture only points, not describe who the Trinity is. Like the sun, we cannot directly stare at it in order to make out what the sun looks like. We can only see it from a distance, and only with safety goggles. This visual is like that safety goggles.


Sunday, April 08, 2012

He Is Risen!

Today is a happy day indeed. Christians declare triumphantly the resurrection of Christ. It is historical. It is a fact. It is witnessed by hundreds of people, many at different places. The gospels recorded it. There is solid evidence that points to the resurrection of Christ. Most powerfully, the biggest evidence is the transformed people who have become disciples of Christ.

Today in Church, I told a Easter story for children, celebrated Holy Communion, and preached an Easter Sermon based on Luke 24. It is an eventful day. I returned home, tired but contented.

While Christians remember and celebrate the Triduum, the three days leading to Easter, many Jews remember the Passover beginning Friday 6pm to Saturday. This is especially poignant for Messianic Jews, who straddles between two great traditions. One such person is Lauren Winner, who embraced Christianity from Judaism. Writing in the Washington Post's religion column, Winner argues that her Jewish background and the Passover Seder helps her to appreciate more of Easter Sunday. The kind of remembering essentially transports the past into the present, making the whole ritual very meaningful. While Jews observe the Passover Seder, Christians observe the Eucharist. The Passover Seder is the remembrance of how God delivered Israel from Egypt, and how the angel of death 'passed over' the Israelite families, and instead killed every firstborn boy of the Egyptians. I find it interesting that Winner takes issue with the Johannine version of the Passion account, in that it is particularly  the killing description of Christ, inflicted by Jews. Apparently, this is a sore point, that depicted the cruelty of the Jews to Jesus. I suppose being having a Jewish background myself is in itself an advantage. I do not experience the same kind of conflict like Winner. Yet, I think there is something important to learn from Winner's article. Christians need to read the Scriptures with sensitivity. Just because Jesus has been killed by Jews does not mean all Jews are bad.

Unfortunately, there is still some ill feelings between some groups in  both Judaism and Christianity. If Jews practice openness, and Christians practice love and acceptance, the divide will not be as wide. Perhaps, Winner is right. The message of Easter and the Passover can both be remembered with one guiding attitude. Love. In particular, the love of God.

The fact is there is one thing that makes us all common. We are all sinners, and we all need forgiveness.


Saturday, April 07, 2012

Silent-Sober Saturday

Today is the last day of Lent. It is a busy week for the Christian Church worldwide. The Lent period of fasting, watching, praying, and remembering Jesus, this week is the culmination of all the Lenten preparations. Disciples remember Jesus' last Supper. Christians observe a quiet worship as they recall and read Scriptures on Good Friday. It is a sober occasion. What about Saturday?

In a world where activities and movements fill in the gaps of any empty slots, people may be wondering about Saturday. What is happening?


The gospel writers are largely silent. This is largely because Saturday is the Sabbath. I imagine the time after Jesus died. People went back to their homes. They returned to their former careers. They soaked up the usual routines of life. Nothing really happened.

Sometimes, silence makes the loudest noise. We need to be patient. We need to learn to wait. We need to live soberly, and quietly reflect on the deep deep love of Jesus.

Do not rush. There is no hush. If you really want to be doing something, pray. Read scripture. Maintain a casual atmosphere with friends and family. Take things easy. Go slow and steady. Be kind.

Then wait.


Friday, April 06, 2012

Were You There.... (Good Friday 2012)

Let me be brief today, that we may reflect on Christ's betrayal, arrest, humiliation, and crucifixion. The words of the hymn say it all. Listen to the words. Watch the video here.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?


Thursday, April 05, 2012

Maundy Thursday Reflection 2012

We are entering into the three days leading up to Resurrection Sunday. These three days are also known as  the Holy Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and sober Saturday. Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday marks the night of the Last Supper, before Judas betrays Jesus. The three significant things that happened during this night are:
  1. Jesus washing the disciples' feet;
  2. Jesus sharing the Last Supper
  3. Jesus commanding the disciples to love one another and He has loved them.
Take a moment to pray. Then watch the following video clip that reenacts the final night.

[Note: The Youtube video has been provided by a user named 'MormonMessages.' There is no need to be alarmed. The focus is on the last night of Jesus with his disciples.]


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Thoughts on Newsweek's "Christianity in Crisis"

(Picture Credit: Newsweek,  2 April 2012)
This week, there is an article on Newsweek that gives a provocative title, 'Forget the Church, Follow Jesus.' The title is attractive. The theory however is deceptive. If I may even put it, it is not simply bad ecclesiology. It is at best a misunderstanding of what Christ lived for, and at worst, a mischievous way to ride the ways of controversial press hype at the expense of the Church.

If you read the article itself, you will find the main argument as follows: "Christianity has been destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists. Ignore them, writes Andrew Sullivan, and embrace Him."

Beginning with a description of Thomas Jefferson's efforts at cutting out and pasting in of various bible passages that depict the real Jesus, Sullivan argues that there is a 'real' kind of Christianity that we need to recover. Before we can do that, we need to dismantle the current version of Christianity that has been politicized, abused by the priesthood, and used by unscrupulous self-help, and self-seeking Christian superstars. He passionately calls us to go back to Jesus alone, using people like Francis of Assisi as a model.

My Comments

Destroyed? Is he saying all Churches?

Forget the Church? Is he saying all Churches are useless?

Follow Jesus instead? Is he saying that Churches themselves are not following Jesus?

I find Sullivan's article mind-boggling.

While I agree that the Church in general has been getting more negative publicity nowadays, that in no way means it is destroying Christianity. Arriving at such a conclusion is overly simplistic. If we do so, we will also easily conclude that with Jesus, the law is destroyed. Yet, remember what Jesus Himself has said:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17)

The same gospel writer even says this of the Church.

"Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hadesd will not overcome it." (Matthew 16:17-18)

While I agree with Sullivan's description of some of the damages done to the Church image by some politicians, some priests, and some polished speakers claiming to speak for Christ, I am disappointed that his article has generalized the Church in such an unfairly negative image. Sullivan admits that he himself is a believer in "Jesus' divinity and resurrection," but by his call to 'forget the Church' he is denying Jesus' teachings that the way to build the kingdom of God is through the Church that is founded on Christ. Instead of forgetting about the Church, the proper way is to redeem it.

Did Christ abolish all the laws of the land and to call for a civil rights movement against paying taxes? No! He says that we ought to render to God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's. Did Christ forget about men and women simply because they are beyond hope? No! Christ came to redeem all mankind. This is the essence of Good Friday. Note the contrast:

"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:7-8)

Imagine where we would be if Jesus were to give up on the Jews and the people during the 1st Century. Did He say that the will of God be done only when people show signs of repentance? No! While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is the good news of Good Friday. This is the reason for Passion Week. This is because love overcomes all boundaries. Christ died for all, both righteous and unrighteous. This is the way of Jesus.

Unfortunately, Sullivan in his article misses the point. By giving up on the Church, he is essentially giving up on the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus is not resistance from the Church but redemption of the Church. It is not battling our own fellow believers, but to resist the worldliness that has infiltrated the Church. Sullivan himself admits:

"I have no concrete idea how Christianity will wrestle free of its current crisis, of its distractions and temptations, and above all its enmeshment with the things of this world. But I do know it won’t happen by even more furious denunciations of others, by focusing on politics rather than prayer, by concerning ourselves with the sex lives and heretical thoughts of others rather than with the constant struggle to liberate ourselves from what keeps us from God."

For someone who has 'no concrete idea' about his key proposal to forget about the Church, Sullivan is downright irresponsible to call people to leave their churches. Embracing Jesus is to embrace the people of God through redemption, beginning with ourselves.

This article looks good and promising on the outside, but when we read the article itself, it is full of potholes that the unwitting Christian can fall through. It is again a misguided ecclesiology at its best, and mischievous shot at the Church at its worst. To publish this at the beginning of Holy Week is not only a distraction to what many Churches in the Church are trying to encourage congregations to follow Jesus, it is a discouragement for true believers who are already trying to show the best of Church.


Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Holy Week

This is Tuesday leading to the great event in history. An event that has been enshrined in the Apostles' Creed (see bold words below).

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN. [The Apostles' Creed]

(Credit: Friendship Presbyterian Church, Georgia, PCUSA)
It is an event that is remembered by Churches all over the world. Holy Week is the final week of Lent, and is marked by the following days:

Day 1 - Palm Sunday
Day 2 - Remembering how Jesus cleansed the temple (Matt 21:10-19)
Day 3 - Reflecting on how the Sadducees question the resurrection (Matt 22:23-33) and how Judas begins to scheme about betraying Jesus (Mark 14:10-11).
Day 4 - Watching and Praying
Day 5 - Maundy Thursday (Recalling events on the night Jesus was betrayed; (Matt 26:21-25))
Day 6 - Good Friday - (Remembering how Jesus was arrested, betrayed, forsaken, deserted, unjustly punished and humiliated)
Day 7 - Holy Saturday - The gloom of the death of Jesus and the doom of dashed hopes
Day 8 - Resurrection Sunday / Easter - The hope and the glory.

My Reflection on the Withered Fig Tree for Day 3

Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”(Matthew 21:18-22)

I find the scene a big contrast in human emotions. Jesus took a look at the fig tree that failed to bear any fruits, and cursed it. As a result, the fig tree withered immediately. The disciples were amazed and show great concern for the fig tree. It is a contrast of how Jesus sees the world, and how the disciples see the world.  I have three thoughts with regard to the short passage above. Firstly, it is an image of judgment. The fig tree has not been bearing fruit in the first place. Perhaps, it is taking its own sweet time. Perhaps, it is waiting for the right time. Unfortunately, when the time comes for judgment, results are expected. Jesus the Judge is visibly upset about the fig not doing what it is supposed to do. When the Son of God needs the fruit when He is hungry, imagine the disappointment when the fig tree failed to produce?  Why not then put it out of misery quickly? Why waste the water, the sunlight, and the nutrients on a tree that will not bear fruit?

Secondly, it is a reminder to ourselves: Are we always preparing ourselves to be ready? Military forces all over the world constantly hold war games and drills to keep the soldiers in tip top conditions. Nobody really knows when the next war will be. The next best thing is to be ready. On Palm Sunday, the donkey was ready. The disciples were ready. Even the people at Jerusalem were ready with their clothes and palm leaves. The fig tree was not ready.

Thirdly, it is a passage about faith. Jesus says that with faith, one can do what Jesus has done. With faith in Jesus and a restored relationship with God, not only will we escape the judgment on our sin, we sit with Christ on the side of righteous judgment. Interestingly, Jesus submits himself to let God's will be done. While some people will tend to see great faith in terms of getting what they want, Jesus sees greater faith in terms of doing God's will. This is the essence of faith: Trusting God to do what is best, not according to what we want.

Be watchful and prayerful through the Holy Week.


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