Better to marry than to burn with passion – 1 Cor 7:9

Recently wrote a short essay for my brother who was curious as to why Christians have an urgency to marry.  This arose after a discussion within my family where I asserted that Christians should either seek a marital spouse or stay celibate.  Contemporary views of dating without an urgency to marry is not one of the options provided in Scripture, explicitly or implicitly (yes, this also means that prolonged discussions about marriage whilst in the midst of exclusive dating relationships and prolonged engagements are excuses Christians make for not committing to the urgency of marital union or complete celibacy!)

Read for yourselves my exposition of 1 Corinthians 7 (“The Beautiful Gifts”)!  It is meant to be a preface to the Ephesians 5 essay (“The Great Gospel”) I wrote more than 1/2 yr ago.  Definitely geared towards challenging Christians who think dating without an urgency to marry is O.K., or even non-Christians who have strong views against early Christian marriages (like my family and Cadence’s family).  Frankly, I’m very tired of the cultural arguments against early marriages and I would rather marry early than to burn with passion, since I’m pretty sure I’m not receiving the gift of celibacy.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Better to marry than to burn with passion – 1 Cor 7:9

Soul Obsession – “Theology” and Evangelism

Taken from the blurb of the titular book – “Nicky Cruz is known by millions through Run Baby Run, the dramatic book and film of his early life, which told of his transformation from New York’s most feared gang leader into one of the world’s most famous and effective evangelists…

Nicky then asks whether you have what it takes to make a difference.  Having a Soul Obsession requires: Passion, for Jesus; Mercy, to see people through Jesus’ eyes; and Vision, to know the purpose God has for your life”.

Excusing the rather Americanised expressions and film trailer-like blurb, this enjoyable book was given to me as a birthday present back in my first year in university.  The book is a sort of biographical sequel to Nicky Cruz’ first book “Run Baby Run”, and it covers some new insights to his new European evangelistic ministries.  However much I respect evangelists like Nicky Cruz, like all saints in Christ we still run the danger of misrepresenting the gospel.  I happen to come across this book again after my fiance was going through the stuff in her flat, and I noticed that I had one page which I deliberately tabbed.  Of course, when I picked up the book, I didn’t know why I tabbed it, until I read what was on the page:

“There is a time and place for arguing doctrine and debating theology, but not when trying to reach someone for Christ.  One of the greatest strengths of our ministry is that we decided years ago to leave theology to the scholars and instead focus only on the love of Jesus.  When we reach out to a neighbourhood, we leave our arguments at home and bring only a soft shoulder and a tender heart.  We love people because Jesus has put a burden in our hearts to save them.  And the more we reach out, the greater our compassion grows”.

5 years ago when I was serving the Christian Union in LSE, this paragraph stuck in my mind as something inspiring. Why did people bother debating the nuances of infant or believer’s baptism?  What is the motive of finding out whether the Angel of the LORD is just some ‘theo’phany, or an actual Christophany?  Does it matter if the authors of the Old Testament knew Christ or just knew a monotheistic Unipersonal God?  Should we learn to sing hymns or rock n’ roll praise?  The questions continued and made me cynical of all types of doctrinal debates.  I decided to put things back to the Matt Redman-esque “heart-of-worship”.

Theology should however never ever be detached from evangelism.  In fact, evangelism is a subset of theology.  Christian theology should be grounded in the Word of God, the Spirit testifying to Christ, the Christ testifying to the Father.  Without this Trinitarian method of revelation, we cannot possibly come to call on the name of the LORD.  Yet, Nicky Cruz, through poor expression, comes to relate “theology” as a scholarly subject relegated to the confines of a Harvard campus (as the paragraph would later on describe, he said he has never met anyone who was ‘saved’ by theology).  I do not doubt Nicky Cruz’ compassion, and neither am I criticizing Nicky’s interpretation of the word theology — rather, I am looking at what “theologians” have done to the word “theology” so as to give Nicky such an interpretation.  If Nicky is right, then indeed the contemporary theologians have come to look at “theology” as a subject of luxury, something to be studied but not practised nor lived out.  If the theologian’s favourite Latin quote is ‘crux probat omnia’, yet continually fails to live a cross-centered life, as opposed to someone like Nicky whose theology far surpasses ours despite his poor usage of theological terminology, then “theology” is given a dirty name.  It becomes taboo.  And it should not be that way.  It should be simple – because the Word of God, which Christian theology is founded upon, is not just for scholars and intellects.

Doctrinal purity prevents us from preaching a false gospel.  I have increasingly approached people with the conviction that they should learn more about Jesus, rather than tell them simply to believe in Jesus.  We can love these people, but they in turn will worship Christ because of man’s love.  Man’s love is a confusing thing, unless we take care to clarify that it is not the work of Zeus (Acts 14) but the love of an ascended Christ.  There is something eery in evangelism when Christ-focused theology is not applied — even the blurb to Nicky’s book implied it.  “Nicky then asks whether YOU have what it takes to make a difference”.  In many ways, yes — but it starts from understanding what CHRIST has done to make a difference before He uses us as mouthpieces for His Word.  There are many success stories of people converting to Buddhism, extreme strands of Catholicism,Islam… to isolate Christian testimonies as ‘true works of God’ is to misunderstand whether true salvation comes by simply uttering another name.  No – true salvation comes from knowing what the Person “Jesus Christ” represents.  Knowing His relationship with the Father and the Spirit (John 17).  Knowing His death and resurrection and ascension. No person can know all those things in one go, but through conversations, discussions and relationships with the people of Christ, the non-Christian can come to accept his or her salvation offered when the Father gave the Son as a gift to all people.  Altar-calls and evangelistic events have their place, but it is the day-to-day grind of the Christ-focused Christian which discerns the true light from the deceiving glimmers of the misrepresented gospel. The trouble with biographies on famous evangelists is that the reader tends to carry with him or her the conviction to be like the evangelist, but fail to conform to Christ, the true image of God.

God has pointed me back to this book to point out a widespread problem of our age.  We don’t need more of contemporary theology — but we need more of the type of theology which pushes us to have a soul obsession to reach out to people and tell them not what we can do, but what Christ has done on the cross to redeem all of creation and the Christian’s soul.  To end with Mike Reeves’ analysis of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics (Vol 1):

“The book ends with an important sermon on how to do theology. Theology, he [Barth] argues, is what the Church does to check that what it preaches is actually what God has revealed. There are three marks, he says, of a theology that lives up to that task: it must be biblical; it must be confessional; and it must be (as the title Church Dogmatics suggests) done for the Church and not merely for the academy or for intellectual amusement. Theology is worship in the field of thought. In our situation today, where theology is so divorced from our Church life, it is a sermon we would do well to hear.”

Soul Obsession – “Theology” and Evangelism

Sexual Identity

(PS:  New theme for new year!  I don’t think I’ll be in the habit of changing a new theme every year, but anyone who knows me also knows that I like many types of art and art graphics is one of them.  If I ever get my hands on a personal domain, I will spend quite a while on the custom art!  I hope this theme is easy on the eyes for the readers, because my previous theme’s font was a bit small (It would be OK if I was writing short posts like this one, but that is rare given the biblical commentary nature of this blog))

In response to Glen’s posts on science and cosmology, it is no doubt apparent that Christ has claim over all aspects of life, along with the famous (perhaps overused but there’s a reason for that) quote by Abraham Kuyper:

There is not a square inch
in the whole domain of our human existence
over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all,
does not cry: ‘Mine!’

Over the past few months I’ve increasingly seen the use of Facebook for several purposes, one of which is the outbursts of truth statements made on people’s walls, ‘about page’ just the same way Christians use theirs (I’ll get onto that perhaps another day). Many friends who proudly proclaim the rainbow banner (both Christian and non-Christian) tend to look at sexual identity in the following lines:

“It’s all about love really”
“It doesn’t say specifically that homosexuality is a sin”
“Christians who think that (‘insert thing which bugs the writer off the most’) is a sin is judgmental”

Now, I think there are several confusions here but it is perhaps too quick to just send off a general message to these people. Here are a few thoughts. The people who say these things may have:

  1. Been on the receiving end of some hurt from church or from Christians who have little faith in Christ (thus, having little good works to show it).
  2. Caricatured views of an unbiblical God from Christians who have bad theology (this includes an overemphasis of God’s love or overemphasis of God’s judgment without any reference to Christ and the glory, rather than shame, of the cross).
  3. In connection to point 2, a misunderstanding of the Christian life.  There are specific passages (namely Romans 1:18-32, that famed Leviticus 20:13, amongst others) which have meanings read into it which are grammatically and contextually out of place, especially those who claim that it refers to a particular strand of sexual immorality or homosexuality (c.f. Newsweek article).
  4. Been preached to ceaselessly about the sin of homosexuality (as opposed to other sins which are also very serious, and the Christians themselves have been hypocritical and overly forgiving of).  I could care less whether a non-Christian decides to be heterosexual or homosexual because we are not in the business of behaviour modification, but in changing the depths of people’s hearts in their willingness to become living sacrifices for Christ Jesus (Romans 12:2).

In societies like Hong Kong and certain parts of the Bible-belt in the States, it is extremely difficult to hold to one’s sexual identity without being immediately persecuted, either as failing to be a ‘man’ (e.g. under traditional Chinese patriarchal mode) or the old Adam married Eve, not Steve argument. Political stigma and drama doesn’t make it easier either.

The video clip I posted is a good example of Christians engaging with the homosexual pornographic community (brought to my attention from Paul Blackham’s ‘blog’ here). However, I can imagine all types of malarchy from people reading all types of things into the video so I want to make some things clear:

  • However much the video is about love and not about judgment, the very fact of the matter is that the ministry is reaching out to a community that already understands what it means to be guilt-racked by an impersonal deity. Surah 2 (Al Baqarah) of the Qu’ran makes a fine case of a God who preaches judgment without explaining how “He” can love and be merciful without any solution of doing away of one’s sins, save at “His” whim. That type of thing is so strong in people’s minds that they have forgotten the tender compassion of a Christian loving them without also being one of them.
  • This is not a message for a particular strand of homosexuality (i.e. homosexual porn) – this is a general message of Christian truth materialised through Christians living, rather than simply preaching like Jesus.
  • There should be no doubt as to the Christian stance throughout the video – we are not condoning homosexuality nor pornography, but we want to preach God’s redeeming and new creation love through our presence, in the light of God’s impending judgment on all who stand outside of Christ (homosexual or not!).
  • This deserves a fuller post (perhaps even a short essay!), but any Christian who is also homosexual, who believes that God did not state clearly enough whether homosexuality or pornography is a sin has forgotten or is unclear on his object of worship – beginning with the Holy Communion of Three Persons, not an impersonal monotheistic deity.

The clip is short, only about 10 or so mins long. The XXXchurch ministry is focused entirely on curing people of their porn addiction, which is a cultural problem in the wave of low (if at all!) internet censorship.  This does not stop people in China who have ways around web censorship; and this all stems from a heart problem since the fall of Adam.  If you happen to be struggling with this problem, keep looking to Christ and let the Spirit fill your heart with the love and glory of the cross where we find our pain is destroyed and our healing begins.

Gal 5:13-17  For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  (14)  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (15)  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.  (16)  But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  (17)  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

As a side note, specifically look out for the email from the organiser of the show to the XXXchurch ministry near the end of the clip which is particularly touching.

[blip.tv ?posts_id=1556233&dest=-1]

Sexual Identity

There and Back Again

Harlo.

Finally arrived back in Hong Kong since last Friday.

Things I have learnt in the last 3 1/2 months:

1.  China is thirsty for the eternal living water.

2.  It is easy to dumb down the gospel for quick-fire conversions.  The Chinese do not need half-hearted missionaries – they need people to engage in relationships with them.  How do you suppose the idolatrous thinking from the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong is going to evaporate because you simply preached “Christ crucified” a la 4 spiritual laws style without explaining who Christ is and what the crucifixion means?  It is throwing biblical jargon to an unlettered blue-collared man, their object of worship merely a man who sacrificed himself for them.  Where is the prophecied son of God, Visible of the Invisible, Head of all creation who reconciled the whole world to himself through the cross and is positively pleasing in the Father’s eyes on our behalf?

3.  If the Spirit is willing, no matter how incapable you perceive yourself in speaking in a foreign language, He will speak through you without a filter.  He has enabled me to preach and evangelise to local Christians in Mandarin with my pitiful 3 months of learning and by and by almost not a single word was wasted on working out what on earth I wanted to say!

4.  There are plenty of amazing witnesses who have been pulled out of rural villages, telling of visions and dreams concerning Christ.  However, there is also an over-emphasis on these ‘incredible’ stories, making the average-joe Christian doubt whether he or she is saved considering the less spiritual drama prior to salvation.  If we were all dead in God’s eyes before being given the Holy Spirit, is that ‘amazing’ story of circumstantial changes going to cloud the greater truth concerning all Christians that we are actually risen from the dead in Him?

5.  Do not forget to find the RSS feed of your favoured blogs and subscribe to them via http://www.bloglines.com.  It is frustrating in a country like China where most blogs are blocked, but some websites can legitimately work around it.  I have spent hours and hours catching up with blog-readings – unless you are into that time-consuming sort of thing, get that RSS feed!

Resources to share:

1.  Paul Blackham, the pastor @ Tarleton Farm Fellowship, has started a new archive of his work!  Find the link at the right hand panel of my blog!

2.  Carolina Tam, a sister-in-Christ from Hong Kong, is now in England working at the All Souls Clubhouse and sharing her experiences there as well as on Speaker’s Corner.  Riveting stuff @ “Oil in the Lamp“.

3.  Ben Hung, a brother from UK has just started a new blog @ “I know that my Redeemer lives“. woot woot.

4.  I have completed a commentary on Numbers (check out my “Sermons/Papers” page), and still working on Deuteronomy.  I will not be posting Deuteronomy till I’m done unfortunately!  So please direct your opinions to my Numbers commentary if possible because I’m sure there are plenty of things there for other Spirit-led siblings to discern!

Specific things to share:

1.  I am now engaged!  Tentative date is December 2009.  Please pray for my fiance Cadence and my steadfastness during this period as both our families have gone slightly nuts over the idea of an early marriage.  Since the engagement in Sept/October period, it has been a blessing and has taken both of us closer to Christ than ever.  For all those brothers and sisters in Christ reading, I have said it once and I say it again – don’t settle for conventional dating when Christ wants to get married to us!

2.  There are a few ‘underground’ fellowships in China with several awesome Spirit-led siblings – pray for these people!  They are especially lacking in Christian male leaders who can speak Mandarin sufficiently.  Pray for the raising up of more Christian leaders!

3.  A friend and I helped lead a Bible study on campus for approximately 9-10 weeks and covered the book of Colossians whilst we got to know between 10-20 students from the intensive Mandarin course.  Over that period we have had many Christians and non-Christians from several backgrounds asking questions during and outside of the Bible study time.  Pray for more idols to be shattered in their minds as the Trinity is preached faithfully – it sounds like they have more ridiculous caricatures of Jesus Christ than westerners make of Him.  My teacher, my friend’s host family and my own host family now have their own Bibles to devour and to understand the deeper implications of what Jesus had done for us.  I will be uploading a little tract I wrote to them after some further necessary edits considering my relatively poor handling of Chinese.

4.  The Communist party and the generalisations made by those peering into China are cliches for a good reason – because these locals genuinely have a duty to share in their weekly or monthly Communist party ‘fellowships’ whether they have noticed some illegal activity concerning Christian evangelism or whatnot.  Christian bookstores do not blatantly sell Bibles, unless you have gained the trust of the shopkeeper who will eventually sell you the Bibles and different variations (i.e. Bibles with commentaries/study Bibles).  However, praise Jesus that many are tired of this ‘ratting-out’ attitude and many simply go to say how great the party is, only to return home with the same confusion in their minds as what (or should I say Who) Truth really is.

For this month I’m hoping to prepare for the mission trip in January, but meanwhile (besides Deuteronomy) I’ll be hoping to post some food for thought especially in this hyper-hyped period that is Christmas.  To give it a head start, here is a comment I received (amongst others in the last three months on this blog which have been very encouraging and humbling):

Religion should be a choice. However, if in choosing Christianity you get a free lunch, or a free pencil or a free bible, or free shelter, then that really is not a choice for Christianity, but a choice for that free pencil, or free bible, or free shelter
I have always been a supporter of helping Children… but not in such circumstances. Providing free education Without implications. Providing free education for the sake of providing free education, not for the sake of the enhancement of Christianity.

I would say emphatically that in accepting the knowledge of the true Christ crucified, you are getting more than a free lunch, pencil, Bible and shelter – you are getting Christ himself as your inheritance and participation in that love and glory which Christ experienced before the foundation of the world:

Joh 17:4-5  I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.  (5)  And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
Joh 17:24-26  Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  (25)  O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.  (26)  I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

There is no such thing as giving without implication.  If you are already enslaved by the shackles of sin, then every philanthropic deed is marred with a Satan-glorifying intention – the idea that there can be an ounce of hope or salvation which does not come from the Sent One who gives Redemption its very meaning is nothing short of heresy.  I would rather the free provision of shelter remind them of the eternal home, glory and love which they will inherit (John 17; Hebrews 11), than provide a man-made house to remind them that life is a self-persisting struggle and nothing more.

There and Back Again