A hymn for a season

This is one season of my life, which is not over yet, that I will never ever forget. It is both bitter and sweet in its own ways. I am now reading a book by Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace, where he included this hymn by John Newton. I cried buckets when I read it.

Prayer Answered by Crosses 
By John Newton

I asked the Lord that I might grow 
In faith and love and every grace, 
Might more of his salvation know, 
And seek more earnestly his face.

‘Twas he who taught me thus to pray; 
And he, I trust, has answered prayer; 
But it has been in such a way 
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that, in some favoured hour, 
At once he’d answer my request, 
And by his love’s constraining power 
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, he made me feel 
The hidden evils of my heart, 
And let the angry powers of hell 
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea, more, with his own hand he seemed 
Intent to aggravate my woe, 
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, 
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this? I trembling cried; 
Wilt thou pursue this worm to death? 
This is the way, the Lord replied 
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I now employ 
From self and pride to set thee free, 
And break thy schemes of earthly joy, 
That thou may’st seek thy all in me.

pearlie

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus


Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
by Nichole Nordeman
Album: Jesus Firm Foundation, Hymns of Worship (Provident, 2013)

I found this new version of the all-too-familiar song Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus and I fell in love with it. I love how the chorus was given a new twist, all with a more modern tempo.

"I wanna grow dim...standing next to him" - my favourite part.

pearlie

New toy or old tricks?

I have been trying to learn to read, write and speak Mandarin all my life, but to no avail.

When I was young, I did not have the interest. And having a teacher that took short cuts with us obviously didn't help. (She encouraged us to use our own version of pinyin, whatever helps, in our reading and not actually read the characters. Her exams questions were all word for word from the weekly exercises she gave us in class, and all I did was just memorise and regurgitate the answers. I did not learn a thing.)

When I went to university, I tried again but it didn't go further than just one year of classes and soon enough, with no practice and no interest in pursuing it further, I lost all that I have learnt.

When I started work, I bought books but they stayed on the shelves.

Many years have passed since then and now I am trying again. And I certainly hope it will come to something. I have purchased an iPhone/iPad app from StickyStudy, and after just two days with it, it seems promising. Here is how it looks like and it works perfectly on my iPhone as flashcards.



I have also downloaded a pinyin bible to read, and like when I was learning NT Greek that John is simple enough in Greek to practice and learn the language, it seems to me to be the same in Mandarin.

John 1:1
太初有道,道与神同在,道就是神。
tai4 chu1 you3 dao4 , dao4 yu3 shen2 tong2 zai4 , dao4 jiu4 shi4 shen2
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 3:16
神爱世人,甚至将他的独生子赐给他们,
叫一切信他的,不至灭亡,反得永生。
shen2 ai4 shi4 ren2 , shen4 zhi4 jiang1 ta1 de du2 sheng1 zi3 ci4 gei3 ta1 men2, jiao4 yi1 qie4 xin4 ta1 de, bu4 zhi4 mie4 wang2 , fan3 de2 yong3 sheng1
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

I only hope that this is not just a new toy, or in my context, old tricks that didn't work.

pearlie

Books on books

I have been searching for books on books, the history of books and soon after, on reading. And I found these two:


Introduction to Book History
by David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery (Routledge, 2012)


A History of Reading
by Alberto Manguel (Penguin, 1997)

Introduction to Book History has a cover I really love, or I believe any bibliophile will love. Based on a few reviews I read, the book is quite technical. But for a 176-page book, it carries a price tag of USD31.99 or more, and it is indeed quite pricey.

A History of Reading it turned out, is quite a popular book it seems. And viewing the preview and book description, it might be a more interesting read compared to the first. But after reading this review by Douglas K. Hartman and Tariq M. Abdulaziz, I decided not to get it. The review says, "...does he have the scholarly dexterity to represent the complexity of reading's past while placing the people, practices, local events, and facts of his and others' personal histories in the larger context? After reading his book, we think not."

But God being God - obviously knowing what I was looking for to read, interjected this book into my path. I quickly bought a copy without much ado about it.


Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books
by Tony Reinke (Crossway, 2011)

For one, I was unusually attracted to the reviews of the book printed in the first few pages, and I even found these reviews enlightening, which is rare for me. Here is what Andrew Peterson said in his review of the book, "This is the perfect book for someone who doesn’t like to read, or who likes to read but isn’t sure it’s a good use of their time, or who loves to read a little too much and needs to proceed with discernment. Reinke has made a wise, theological, and edifying case for why words matter. I’ll mention Lit! every time someone asks me why in the world Christians should read fiction—a question that never fails to shock me. Now, instead of snapping, ‘Are you serious?’ and spouting opinions, I’ll just smile and slip them a copy of this book."

I have just begun reading it and love the very voice of the book. Just listen to this: "Illuminated by the gospel, we now perceive and enjoy God’s truth, goodness, and beauty—whether it’s in the blazing sun of the inspired Word of God, in the moonlight of creation, or in the starlight of great book...As strange as it sounds, our eyes are filled with the Creator’s glory in literature because we read in the presence of God’s radiance."

The author's quest to write this book was generated by these questions he had in his own reading:
What makes reading books like swallowing a large vitamin?
Why should I prioritize book reading in the first place?
What do I lose if I don’t read books?
What biblical convictions must I have before I shop at the bookstore?
Does the gospel really shape how I read books? How so?
What books should I read?
What books should I not read?
Should I read non-Christian books? Why or why not?
How can I best read nonfiction books?
What, if anything, can a Christian gain from reading fictional literature?
How can I determine the difference between good fiction and bad fiction?
Where do I find all the time I need to read books?
Should I write marginal notes in my books?
What are the pros and cons of reading books on an e-reader device?
How can I encourage my friends to read books?
How can I use books and reading groups to encourage other Christians and to build my local church?
It certainly promises a delightful reading, on reading. I look forward to spending my coming days in relishing this book and hope to follow up with a review.

I find myself rubbing my hands in glee as I dive in.

pearlie

If I die...a follow up

I blogged about this last week. I could not get it off my mind and have been thinking of it quite a lot. I was not sure what and how to get about it but I am now a bit clearer as to what I need to do.

For one, I have finally gotten my will done up. I have wanted to do this for a really, really long time but I kept putting it off. In my opinion, he is a responsible person who gets his last will and testament done.

My next step is to deal with the small stuff.

As it is with most people these days, my life is quite tied up to the digital world. I find it weird if this blog and my Facebook, though not very active, would be left unattended and silent if I die suddenly. I want my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts removed, but I would like my blog to live on, albeit left suspended.

And what about all the books that I have amassed? If my son does not want them, I would prefer them to be given to a library than to have them left unused. As far as my ebooks are concerned, I have already accepted the fact that they are really just for my consumption.

And what about my passwords - my husband or son need to have them, in a safe way.

I have figured what I want to do with www.ifidie.org and I hope it works when the time comes.

After doing all that, i.e. coming up with instructions and wishes, the next step is a pretty tough one I'd say - writing notes and letters. It feels weird writing them when you are not dead and I wonder how it would be for others reading them when I am actually dead.

pearlie

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever. Amen

Art
My devotional reading this morning was on the last portion of The Lord's Prayer, "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever," (Matt 6:13) and thus completing the readings on the Lord's Prayer in R. Kent Hughes' The Sermon on the Mount. And with this, I thank God for the valuable lessons that when I utter the prayer from now on, it is with better understanding and awe of my God.

As much as this doxology may not be a part of the original prayer (it does not appear in any of the oldest manuscripts for the Gospel of Matthew), it is fitting close to the most complete model of prayer given by Jesus.

In all our prayers, we need to confess and proclaim that God is indeed the King, absolutely free and sovereign; the Omnipotent, the all-powerful one who can do anything; and the Forever Glorious, whose splendor and honor we can look and depend upon.

When he stood with Pilate, Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). The kingdom of God is indeed out of this world, not in our dimension and yet we are already citizens of it through Christ under his kingship, reign and power. How amazing!

Jesus also said that apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Hughes here gave mention to a very interesting painting by a French painter Émile Renouf, where "an old man dressed in fisherman's garb, seated in a boat with a little girl beside him. Both the elderly gentleman and the child have their hands on a huge oar. He is looking down fondly and admiring upon her. Apparently he has told her that she may assist him in rowing the boat, and the child feels she is doing a great share of the task. It is easy to see, however, that it is his strong, muscular arms that are actually propelling the boat through the waves...(it) is a parable of what a soul can do when it depends upon God."


The Helping Hand (1881) 
by Émile Renouf

(I have always wondered how people can sit for hours in front of a painting in a gallery. Now I understand. I would do that with this painting and find out the meaning behind the expressions of the man and the girl, and feel their feelings.)

The blatant fact is this: if we do not believe that he is indeed the King who is omnipotent, who can do anything—for some hold on to a "sick God" theory in that whilst he is all-loving he is not all-powerful—then we have no reason to pray, at all. The very fact that we are commanded to pray affirms the very sovereignty of God.

pearlie

Book Review: Pearl of China by Anchee Min


Pearl of China
by Anchee Min

I bought 4 of Anchee Min's books back in February and have read all of them except this one, until today. Whilst I found those 3 books just okay and even though this one is over 300 pages long, it has so captivated me that I could not put it down.

Not being American and though I'm Chinese by ethnicity, I have never been back to China and my historical knowledge of China is sparse, I have not known about Pearl S. Buck till now. I am now looking forward to reading her books, especially The Good Earth.

Some have said that they would rather the book been written from Pearl's vantage point, rather than from a friend's, in this case, a fictionalised version of a friend, Willow Yee. I would disagree and felt that Min did a great job in telling the story from a Chinese perspective.

It speaks of a girl who got to know a very special friend in Pearl and how their relationship grew and grew; and when Pearl had to leave China, the tone of the book averted to one of pining and longing. I must say, I have not cried so much reading a book, it is embarrassing!

What was unexpected was the Christian "flavour" of the book. Even though the message of the gospel of Jesus was not at all apparent and there were several parts where I winced at the dialogue when they talked about the faith, particularly on a work-based salvation rather than grace (though the hymn that holds center point in this book is John Newton's Amazing Grace)--not sure if it was intended by the author or if it was her misconception--I found it quite refreshing to read how Christianity took root in China. And it felt so encouraging to read about how the characters held on to God in their acute suffering and persecution. But of course, this is a work of fiction, albeit historical, things might not have happened as depicted. 

I have really enjoyed reading it, an excellent read indeed.

pearlie

The most delightful book ever


Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day
by Winifred Watson (Persephone Books, 1938)

I had a long tiring week and I felt a need to temporary lose myself in a happy nowhere land of make believe. I scoured the list of books I have in my Kobo reader but they were all either too serious or too gloomy.

So I went to Goodreads and searched for an "easy read" and found Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson. I got my hands on a copy yesterday evening and it was such a delightful read. Had I not been so tired last night and had it not been so late a night, I would have finished it then. I woke up earlier this morning than planned and so I thought I might as well soak myself back into the story and had a most wonderful morning in a long time.

It is a Cinderella-like fairy tale: sweet, poignant, funny. The dialogue is absolutely amazing and Watson's story telling skills captivating. It has been awhile since I got so caught up in a read, not since my childhood days when I used to get buried in books.

It is certainly not gloomy but lighthearted yet unexpected. I kept wondering what's the next wonderful thing that would happen to Miss Pettigrew in the remaining of that one day. The definite book to read when you need something feel-good.

This has become my favourite and I will certainly read it over and over again.

pearlie

Stephanie Wong's Vocal Recital

A wonderful night of French, German, Italian and Chinese art songs by a very talented lyrical soprano, Stephanie Wong. I was pretty tired but I enjoyed myself. I only wished I was familiar with the songs. 

pearlie

If I die

I am taking audit classes on Ezekiel for the past couple of months. This question was asked by one of my classmates on Monday in his presentation requirements for credit on Ezekiel 36: what is one thing that you really hope for?

The first thing that entered my mind was death, so that I may live. It is a complicated thought. No, I am not thinking about suicide. Yes, I still want to live on here on earth - for the sake of my family at least. I am thinking more in line of Paul's "for me to live and to die is gain." 

But that is not what I am trying to get at here.

What has been filling my thoughts for the past few days is this: what will happen if I die suddenly?

It will be too late to say what I want to say to people I want to say them to. It will be too late to tell them what I need to get done and not done. It will be too late to tell them how to get access to my digital stuff. Mostly trivial stuff, but still...I need them to know.

Then I thought there should be an email service provided for that purpose, in that you write your notes while you are alive and when you die, the letters will be sent to the recipients.

And yes, I found this site that does that exactly: http://ifidie.org/

I have created an account but I have not done anything yet. I don't know how and where to start.

pearlie

I Forgot My Phone

I saw this YouTube video yesterday and I found it so poignant.


Written by/Starring Charlene deGuzman
Directed by Miles Crawford

I do see my phone like an extension of me. I find it a very useful tool to do the things I want and need to do. But if I have to choose, I prefer the company of people—I'd rather have a good chat with them than to check Facebook (I used to only go to Facebook about once a month. It's about once a week now.) And I'd rather behold the plate of food in front of me and dig in rather than taking a picture (I am usually so eager to sink my teeth in it that by the time I remember to take a picture of it, it's too late.)

But I do feel like the girl in the video. I find myself in those situations very often.

pearlie

"Hallowed be your name" (Matt 6:9b)

Like many, I have been reciting the Lord's Prayer since childhood. But never quite truly understood this part of the prayer: "Hallowed be your name". What does it mean to pray that God's name be hallowed? God is already holy and why pray that his name be holy? What is the significance of God's name?

One of Pastor Marvin's sermons that is memorable to me is this one he gave on the third of the Ten Commandments - Exalt God's Name Always as well as this one where he spoke on this portion of The Lord's Prayer - Pray for our Father's Good Name.

The question is this: what does it mean for a person to have a name? What does it mean for God to have a name?

Just as we know a person by name, we know God by his name, and more, since we now choose names for our children for mere euphony purposes. (Though I did choose my son's name for both how it sounds and what it means, as most Chinese do.)

As such, God's name is for us finite beings to know the infinite God. His name speak of who God is - his character. God's ultimate name is I AM, but he is also known as YHWH ShalomThe LORD our peace, YHWH JirehThe LORD will provide, YHWH TsidkenuThe LORD our righteousness, YHWH NissiThe LORD our banner, El ShaddaiGod Almighty, El ElyonGod Most High and many more.

It is through his names that we get to know who he truly isbut again, he is I AM, he is all and more, infinite. eternal, unchangeable, self sufficient.

So what does it mean to pray that his name be hallowed?

It is for God to be known as who he truly is, and his character be seen in all the world so that all will come to see and honour him, and that all praise and glory will be given due to him. (Marvin Wong).

It is asking God to "cause his Word to be believed, to cause his displeasure to be feared, to cause his commandments to be obeyed, and to cause his person to be glorified" (John Piper).

"How is [God's name] hallowed amongst us? When our life and doctrine are truly Christian." (Martin Luther)

Our lives in our thought, word and deed must reflect the holy name of our Father in heaven. "We cannot truly pray 'Hallowed be your name' without dedicating ourselves to him." (R. Kent Hughes)

pearlie

Jesus' high standards from the Sermon on the Mount

There are situations where I find myself with people whom I wish I could just give a nod and leave them there, giving them their last word. But I can't and won't. I would still sit through it no matter what is lashed at me.

Pastor Marvin has been preachingand is still preachinga sermon series on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 - 7) and I have committed to do my daily devotion with R. Kent Hughes's The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom (Preaching the Word), studying, meditating and praying on these most radical and revolutionary lessons from Jesus.

I have been steeped in weekly and daily lessons on anger and hatred and revenge. As such, when I was confounded in this situation with this difficult person, it is a hard lesson. I have gotten so frustrated. In times of frustration, I resort to writing as a therapy and I must confess, it wasn't nice things that I wrote. No expletives, no crudeness, plain old wit but not good.

But my question is, can't I regard it like an imprecatory psalm, which I have done before here. 

The answer I found, is no, I can't.

Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell." (Matt 5:21-22, NIV)

Hughes said, "the Israelites...felt that God's direction of their historic relations with other peoples, such as his command to exterminate the Canaanites and the imprecatory Psalms, supported (even called for!) this hatred of others. What they failed to take into account was the fact that those and similar commands, including the imprecatory Psalms, were judicialnever individual." (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom (Preaching the Word), Crossway, 2001: p.140) (emphasis mine)

As much as I have done it not out of hatred but as a therapy for my frustration, the fact that I have thought it, it is like I have committed murder and will be liable for the same judgment.

pearlie

Dallas Willard (1935-2013)

Here is a question you might get asked during ice-breaking sessions: Who would you like to meet in heaven? Or is that a book title?

Other than the obvious like Jesus (he is omni-present anyway), the prophets and disciples and definitely Paul (loads of questions to ask him though the line will be long), my list will consist mainly of writers.

C.S. Lewis tops the list and now I'll have Dallas Willard in it as well. I bought a couple of his books back in my book craze days but have not read him until last week, albeit a different and newer ebook edition. 

He was indeed brilliant. John Ortberg gave a splendid tribute to him as per my post yesterday. (I think I have listened to Ortberg's sermons before in mp3 - I really like his writing and how he puts it here.)

_______________________________
For Dallas's students and friends—and these categories largely overlapped—the best moments, the ones I will miss the most, were the moments with no hurry, no schedule constraint, nothing in the world but time and God and love. Then you could ask him, "Hey, Dallas . . ." (There are a thousand stories that begin with the statement, "Someone asked Dallas.")
"Hey Dallas . . ." You could see him thinking—not about the problem, which he had worked out long ago, but about how to express it in a way that those of us listening might be able to grasp it. So that it would not be a "pearl cast among swine"—one of dozens of Scripture passages I heard him explain better than any professional exegete.
Dallas and I used to play a game. I would ask him for definitions of all kinds of words. And every definition would contain a clarity and freshness and precision that would require folks to sit and reflect for a while. "Hey Dallas . . . ," and then I'd ask him about any word or concept that mattered, and would receive a brief education in the possibilities of redeemed thought.
The word spirit. "Disembodied personal power."
Beauty. "Goodness made manifest to the senses."
disciple is "anyone whose ultimate goal is to live as Jesus would live if he were in their place."
Dignity is "a value that creates irreplaceability." (This one, he graciously attributed to Immanuel Kant.)
Dallas was ruthlessly committed to logic, clarity of thought, and the constant cultivation of reason. He held such commitments because they were indispensible to navigating reality, and because helping people navigate reality is indispensible to love.
"Hey Dallas, what is reality?"
"Reality is what you can count on."
"Hey Dallas, what is pain?""Pain is what you experience when you bump into reality."
Because of this, Dallas had a deep aversion for Christian speakers or writers who use emotion to manipulate a temporary response from their listeners—a response that bypasses their "mental maps" and leaves the audience in worse shape than when they started. He said at one conference that speakers should never tell stories. This prompted a group of publishing types to propose the "Dallas Willard Study Bible," with all the stories taken out. (Pretty much just Leviticus.)
"What is spiritual maturity?"
"The mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do in his or her place."
"What exactly does it mean to glorify God?"
"To glorify God means to think and act in such a way that the goodness, greatness, and beauty of God are constantly obvious to ourselves and all those around us. It means to live in such a way that when people see us they think, Thank God for God, if God would create such a life."
...
For many, he was a little like the wardrobe in Narnia. It's not about the wardrobe; it's about a luminous world to which the wardrobe opens.
Yet you love the wardrobe after all.
_______________________________
pearlie

Hearing God - the quiet inner voice

I have been quite discouraged lately, and I felt my prayers were like monologues. I did try to listen and I did read the Bible but when it came to my prayers, it was like facing a wall.

That was when I went searching for good books on Christian living and spirituality and found Dallas Willard's Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. I immediately bought a copy and started reading it straightaway.

Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God
by Dallas Willard, IVP, 2012

It is an excellent book.

Willard firmly says that God do speak to us and we do hear him when we listen. He says, "people are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to...he can and does guide us by addressing us."

One of my favourite parts of the book was when Willard used this analogy to explain why we need to be in Christ, to be given a new life to live and breathe in him, and how if we are dead to him we will never see or understand him and in the same way if we are dead to the world, and alive in Christ, we should not be "understanding" or succumbing to the world. He writes, "Though alive as a cabbage, it is dead to the realm of play. Similarly, a kitten playing with the string can make no response to numbers or poetry, and in that sense the kitten is dead to the realm of arithmetic and literature...without this [new] birth we cannot recognise God's workings: we do not possess the appropriate faculties and equipment. We are like kittens trying to contemplate a sonnet."

Brilliant!

In all my life, thus far, I am absolutely sure that God literally spoke to me, though not in an audible voice, twice. And in both times, with only two words. Brief, but powerful. My life and my faith have certainly been strengthened as a result.

Willard has now helped me confirm it and I am now nudged into pursuing this continuing conversation with God that I hope will grow into communion with him and finally a union with my God.

pearlie

p/s I just discovered that Dallas Willard has just died recently on May 8, 2013, aged 77. Here is a tribute to him by John Ortberg.

God is not mocked

In response to all the cheating that is happening in my country:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
~ Galatians 6:7-8

pearlie

An incubation and a meal

I am onto the last portion of the book of Genesis as I read R. Kent Hughes book on it. It felt like I was moving into the excitement that you get when you come to the closing of a historical saga. I did say that I can only take a chapter of Hughes' book a day, since every chapter is like a sermon with insights into the given passage and life application points. But today, I read six chapters at one go! It was like, "What next? What next?" And Hughes certainly has many great insights in this most favourite historical account of mine.

There is no doubt that I have learnt so many lessons today, but two of them have left a stronger imprint in my mind.

First is a statement that he quoted from John Walton's Genesis, NIV Application Commentary. It refers to the time when Jacob and his entire household was to move into Egypt in order to survive the great famine, and I quote, "the time in Egypt is not an interruption of the covenant but an incubation of the covenant people."

I love the word "incubation". It reminds of certain periods of my life when all is quiet and peaceful only to have problems and troubles piling in one after another. God gives us times and periods of incubation. I am reminded that I must use these times to enjoy the presence and the holiness of God, and then I can stand strong beneath his wings when trials come, which will definitely come in this broken world. I can even say that life here on earth is like an incubator for us to grow in God and be fed by his goodness and his Word before we are reunited with him in his full presence in the day to come.

Moreover, Hughes highlighted that "astonishingly, Israel would not become a great nation in the land of promise but on the pagan Nile!" Even so for the Christians in this broken world of ours, where hatred, revenge, murders, lies and slanders thrive.

The second truth that I am now holding close to my heart refers to when Joseph invites his brothers into his home for a meal, when his brothers have not yet realised who Joseph really was. Hughes was quoting Westermann, "the meal was not just an expression of communion (Gemeinschaft), but engenders and preserves this commonality. The acceptance of a guest into the fellowship of the meal is therefore simultaneously the granting of participation in one's own existence" (Claus Westermann, Joseph: Eleven Bible Studies on Genesis, 1996).

I shall remember this the next time I attend the Lord's Supper and with that I look forward with hope to be eating with my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ in the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Rev 19:9)

pearlie

I am an Esau too?

I am getting along pretty well with Kent Hughes' Genesis, Beginning and Blessing and finally met Esau for all that he was. Just like Lot, I never identified with Esau until now.

Here is what Hughes said: Esau despised his birthright. He was no villain, but he was young, attractive with an unbridled nature. He was spontaneous, extroverted, impulsive outdoorsman - a good guy, as we say. A prince of men, prime favourite both with men, and women, and children, with a good word and a good gift from the field for them all. But the tragedy was, that was just about the sum total of who the man was. He was a man of the present and cared not at all about the covenant's future promises of Canaan and a multitude of descendants. What good were they in the present? Even the firstborn entitlement to a double portion of the inheritance meant nothing now. But he did become a good man after a 20-year hiatus and received Jacob with much grace.

So how are we like Esau? Do Christian things mean little or much to us? Is heaven faraway and disconnected to real life? Do we despised our heritage, both the biblical heritage and our own Christian heritage?

I just found our that King Herod was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau and Hughes said this well, that the "ultimate sons of Esau and Jacob (Herod the King and Christ the King) testified to the significance of the path we take up...For every generation, the challenge is the same - to see that there is more to life than a meal, or a video game, or baseball, or a party, or a movie, or an indulgence of some kind - to see, as Paul puts it, that the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."

Are we selling what God has given us through his Word, our churches, and our families for a cheap pleasure?

pearlie

DA Carson's ebooks at 75% off!

Logos.com just had a March Madness tournament of your favourite author and this was how it fared, with DA Carson emerging the "winner". As such, a selection of his books are with a 75% discount, which is really a very good deal.

Check it out here as well as the discounts available for the other authors.
http://www.logosmarchmadness.com/



pearlie

A rhythmic chant on God's omnipresence

I read this poem in Kent Hughes's book on Genesis. An absolutely beautiful and astonishing poem, by Hildebert, the twelfth-century Archbishop of Tours.

First and Last of faith’s receiving, 
Source and sea of man’s believing, 
God, whose might is all potential, 
God, whose truth is truth’s essential, 
Good supreme in thy subsisting, 
Good in all thy seen existing;
Over all things, all things under,
Touching all, from all asunder;
Centre thou, but not intruded, 
Compassing, and yet included;
Over all, and not ascending, 
Under all, but not depending;
Over all the world ordaining, 
Under all, the world sustaining;
All without, in all surrounding, 
All within, in grace abounding;
Inmost, yet not comprehended, 
Outer still, and not extended;
Over, yet on nothing founded, 
Under, but by space unbounded;
Omnipresent, yet indwelling.
~ Hildebert

pearlie

So many books, so little time


Just when I thought I have gone passed my book fever over the past few years, it looks like I am back at it again, albeit in an electronic form. A good friend of mine forwarded me an email from Logos.com offering a really good price on the Norman L. Geisler Apologetics Library. With an average of RM10 per book, it is definitely a steal. How could I say no. (Let me know if you like the promotion code, provided it still works for you.)

All is good except that my "next-read" list is getting longer and longer, and I am still stuck on the same three books with the endings still so far away.

pearlie

I became weary...

Someone disappointed me today,
I became weary
Pondering on people I didn't like,
I became weary
With no one whom I can talk to,
I became weary
Feeling that I am oh so lonely,
I became weary

All was but my expectations
My flawed judgement
My selfishness
My conceit

O God, O God, have mercy on me
Jesus, You are indeed all that I need

You are humble
You are generous
You are good and righteous
Jesus, you are perfect in all your ways

You pray
And abide with the Father
You seek
And save those who are lost
You love
And pray for your persecutors
You forgive
With your life, your blood on the cross

© 2013 Pearlie Ng
All rights reserved

I am a Lot

I have just finished the section on Lot in my devotion material on Genesis, and I am not so comfortable with it. All along my understanding of Lot has not been more than -- here's Lot, he separated himself from Abram, he settled in Sodom, Sodom is to be destroyed, he got out, and his wife turned into a pillar of salt for looking back.

But now I am beginning to see that we are, or at least I am, so much like him, and that is scary.

From the Genesis description of Sodom, we know that it is a town that was bad to the core. Ezekiel in 16:49 contends to that: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. Hughes writes, "Sodom and Gomorrah were terrible little towns in which the inhabitants cared only for themselves while they brutalized and oppressed each other". Historian David Wells wrote, "There is violence on the earth. The liberated search only for power. Industry despoils the earth. The powerful ride roughshod over the weak. The poor are left to die on street grates. the unborn are killed before they can see the rich and beautiful word that God has made. The elderly are encouraged to get on with the business of dying so that we might take their places. The many forms that violence takes in our world provide stunning reminders of how false have the illusions about freedom will which we have, for two centuries, been enticed in the West".

So Sodom and Gomorrah were bad and so is the world we live in now.

Then Hughes wrote, "Lot was a conflicted soul, at the same time both offended and allured by Sodom. He liked the prosperity, the comforts, the 'culture', and the prestige. But he was worn down by the filthy lives of lawless men and perpetually tortured in his righteous soul by the deeds he saw and heard. As such, he is the prototype and paradigm of so many believers today. He is not a caricature, a joke written on the pages of antiquity. Lot is for real!"

Bear in mind that Peter called Lot "righteous" three times (2 Pet 2:6-9). So there is no question about his righteousness -- he is not yet perfect, but still righteous on account of his faith. But Lot got comfortable, albeit worn down, in Sodom. I am getting comfortable in this world I live in. Lot saw many shameless things happening in Sodom but probably did nothing about it. Probably he couldn't do much. I am seeing many shameless things around me, in TV, in the movies, in books, in the news, and I am doing nothing about it. I couldn't do much. He compromised by offering his daughters when people demanded for him to present to them the two guests in his house.

Have I compromised by selling my soul to the world for comfort, for entertainment, or just to fit in?

pearlie

Simple faith and belief?

I have reached the section on Abram's faith being counted as righteousness and here is where I got stuck.

According to Hughes, Abram was a moon worshipper but he believed in Yahweh when Yahweh called him.

I reckon I am looking from my perspective where the Word has been revealed to us and we believed, have faith and continue to seek understanding.

How was it for Abram? Is it as simple as God spoke and he believed?

Maybe I don't understand it as much because I grew up in a Christian family, I knew God from young and gradually grew in faith. And yes, I do not have one conversion date, which used to bother me a whole lot, but not anymore.

Maybe I can even liken my faith experience to the Israelites as being already the chosen people of God, but whose hearts still needed circumcision.

In that line of thinking, maybe Abram's faith is the model for the conversion of non-believers nowadays. With no background in the knowledge of God, God spoke to them, whether through friends or sermons or Scriptures or even dreams, they believe and have faith.

Simple faith and pureness of belief, and that faith is counted as righteousness through Jesus.

pearlie

Politics in the Bible



I caught this on CNN.com today. A very interesting look at the Cyrus Cylinder, an ancient clay cylinder, on which is written a declaration in Akkadian cuneiform script in the name of the Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great.

In this TED talk, Neil MacGregor, the director of The British Museum, talks about how the cylinder symbolizes tolerance as it plays its role over history from the time of Cyrus up to when the cylinder was found in the 19th century as evidence to the Cyprus event in the Hebrew Scripture, to when Israel becomes a state, to now in the political history of the Middle East.

What does all this mean to us?

I had Genesis 14:1-24 for  devotion today and I have to admit that I skimmed through the reading of the passage. I don't even understand contemporary politics very well let alone who Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Goiim, Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim and Zoar king of Bela were. I have read through the entire Bible before and I don't even remember there are these kings mentioned in the book of Genesis!

And as I read -- or skimmed through rather -- the passage, I began to wonder why Moses was so detailed here when he was so brief in the other accounts? I have come to learn that as much as I am not so drawn to politics, it is one of the most important things that shaped our lives. It is politics and history of the nations as we have it that shaped the lives of our biblical forefathers. It is how Jesus has stepped into our confused and troubled world as he came as a helpless babe, as a saviour of all mankind.

Our story that is our history, is laden with politics. And I need to pay more attention to it, past and present.

pearlie

My Buddhist temple experience

Comparative religion is a subject that has always interest me, living in a multi-cultural country, and I have taken two of such subjects under my Masters of Christian Studies: Ministry in a Pluralistic Context and Religion in Malaysia - Islam. Interestingly, my course of work has brought me to two encounters with Buddhism and Islam.

I don't think I have blogged about my very interesting encounter with Buddhism before but here it is.

Several years ago, I was to go for a meeting with my firm's partner with a client in Melaka. He is a very staunch Buddhist and in my assignment on Buddhist Meditation, he actually spent two to three hours with me as I interviewed him on the subject to fulfill the requirement for my paper, God bless him. Anyway, before we went to Melaka, he called my colleague and I into his room.

"I need to make a detour to a Buddhist temple in Melaka for a meeting and they will be serving lunch. I understand both of you are Christians, would you mind eating in a temple?" he asked.

I wasn't expecting this at all but before I could do anything, my colleague chirped, "Sure! Not a problem at all!"

I found myself in a quandary. I only had 2 seconds to to work out the whole chapter 8 of First Corinthians as well as to tackle these two questions: if I say no, will I be given time to qualify and explain myself? And if I do that, how will I explain my colleague's enthusiastic yes?

Two pairs of eyes were on me. I did not have time to think. I have to make a quick decision.

"That should be alright," I replied, but I am sure he noticed my hesitancy. What he did not hear was my silent qualification and continuation to my statement. "Alright for now, but I will reassess it when we are there," I thought to myself.

The drive to Melaka was a worrying one. The what-am-I-going-to-do phrase must have went through my mind several thousand times in the one and half hour journey.

We soon arrived at the temple situated in the core zone of the Malacca Unesco World Heritage Site. It is a typical Chinese temple but it is quite a temple. We were led through the main door, crossed over the main worship area, into a very nice landscaped corridor, passing through another worship area with a huge ballast of idols and urns for joss sticks into a moderately large meeting room.

There was only one old but huge conference table and we were all directed there for a seat and inadvertently I became a temple meeting attendee. I told myself I have to tell my dad this, that I actually attended a Buddhist temple executive committee meeting! (I was then in my church's Local Church Executive Committee and my dad was the Chairman several years before and subsequently the church's lay-leader.)

The meeting evolved around the topic of taxation. The committee wanted advise from my firm's partner on income tax pertaining to the rental they received from houses that devotees donated to the temple. They began referring to an official letter sent by the income tax department to the temple. The person referring to the letter was seated next to me and I noticed that the letter looked old...really old...I leaned over for a closer look and saw the date in the letter...it was in the year 1945...Wow...

"How many houses are we talking about?" the partner asked.

"48."

I hope no one saw the expression on my face. I was expecting two, or five at most, but 48? Wow...

It is one experience I will never forget.

Then it was lunch time.

"We have gotten some really nice food from Melaka town. The famous ones. Come, come. Help yourselves."

It was a casual spread and some of the food is still contained in the take-away packages, hence I deduced these were not food that has been offered to idols. I did not at that time have much of a deeper understanding on 1 Cor 8 (not that I do now as well) and I thought to myself (1) food was not idol offerings and (2) the context of lunch was not religious, and so it should be okay, and went ahead and ate together.

But I still wonder to this day if I have made the right decision. I am quite certain I have, but I am not 100% sure.

pearlie

Free online courses!

I know that both MIT and Harvard offer free online courses but how about one website that offer free online courses from these universities?

Berklee College of Music
Brown University
California Institute of Technology
Columbia University
Duke University
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Emory University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Johns Hopkins University
Ohio State University
Princeton University
Rice University
Stanford University
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
The University of British Columbia
University of California, Irvine
University of California, San Francisco
University of Edinburgh
University of Florida
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of London International Programmes
University of Maryland, College Park
University of Melbourne
University of Michigan
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pittsburgh
University of Toronto
University of Virginia
University of Washington
Vanderbilt University
Wesleyan University

Check out www.coursera.org. My good friend Melissa told me about it and it is simply awesome. Believe it or not, I have signed up for Songwriting, followed by Foundations of Business Strategy and a few more on psychology. I am looking forward to them. Songwriting will just be for fun, the business one should give me a  newer perspective of it compared to when I did it so many years ago, and psychology will be new albeit something I have always wanted to do. Just hope I will follow through them all.

pearlie

What will happen to my books?



I have never wondered back then what will happen to my mini library when I die. Maybe because I was still in my 30s when I amassed volumes after volumes of commentaries and theological tomes. I am not exactly old old yet, but I am beginning to wonder what will happen to my books in the future. My son might get them but will they be as valued as I value them? And on top of that, I have practically stopped buying printed books but have been buying one ebook after another. What will happen to these electronic copies when I die? Can they be legally transferred from my account to my son's account?

I read a very relevant article about it this morning (Will Your Children Inherit Your Ebooks?) and I think I will have to come to admit to the fact that by the time my son gets them, the volumes would either have been superseded by newer editions or they would have been rendered irrelevant. Truth be told, I have never needed my dad's books. To me, they are pretty old editions and not really of my interest, except maybe for the Perry Mason series.

About my printed books, I am now thinking I might as well donate them to any libraries that really need them. They are not being efficiently utilised at the moment, but I would need some time to "part" with them before I can make that decision. So they stay ... for now.

My ebooks are a different story though. Unlike the printed books where I have practically bought them on sight - i.e. I see, I like/want/need, I buy, I shelve - I only buy the ebooks when I really wanted to read them. And with that criteria, I have not purchased any "reference" material. Moreover, I made sure that I do not buy any ebook until I have finished the one I am reading -- though I must say I have veered from that rule this month when I bought 6 books at one go from www.kobo.com! The good news is I have finished 3 of them already and I have started on the 4th, which is one of the NT Wright volumes that I have mentioned here yesterday. So about my ebooks, I suppose I am fully aware now that when I purchase them, they are an investment for only my consumption. Period.

pearlie

The brilliant mind of NT Wright

I was introduced to the debate on the New Perspectives on Paul (NPP) back in 2008 (my previous post on the subject here). Since then I had this view that NT Wright together with EP Sanders and James Dunn are on the "wrong" side, and the likes of John Piper on the "right" side.

But I was already aware at the same time that I need to be careful not to fully subscribe myself to anything wholesale without deeper study, thought and prayer but to keep an open mind with Scripture as my foundation and guide. And later in that period as well, I remember my lecturer Kar Yong saying we should not dismiss Wright altogether. Moreover, my seminary's principal was and still is Rev Ezra Kok, who studied under James Dunn.

So, I shelved the subject along with NT Wright to be tackled later at an opportune time. I have yet to return to the topic of NPP but time has come for me to discover the brilliance of NT Wright.

I have posted on my current line of thought back in December last year about Genesis and its theology when I spotted a very interesting title in the bookshop - Evil and the Justice of God. The book's author is NT Wright.

I purchased a copy and I was utterly impressed by his mind, his thought and line of argument. He does not answer the most pertinent question on the origin of evil, a question I have already put to rest as something that may not have an answer, at least until we meet God, but he tackles evil from our current perspective as well as from the OT and NT perspective.


Evil and the Justice of God
by NT Wright (SPCK, 2006)

I like his first chapter - "Evil is still a four-letter word: The new problem of evil". He summarized how we see evil these days into these three points:
1. We ignore evil except when it hits us in the face
2. We are surprised by evil when it hits us in the face
3. As a result, we react in immature and dangerous ways

One of the dangerous ways in which we react is to really delineate ourselves as good and the party who did wrong, evil. This has been so clearly portrayed in our society today. When things go wrong, we labelled the other party as evil and we become, albeit subconsciously, as good, true, right and pure. But that is certainly not what God said.

There is no one righteous, not even one.
~ Romans 3:10

After finishing the book, I have new respect for NT Wright. I ended up buying his published 3 volumes out of 6, of the Christian Origins and the Question of God series. These are huge tomes, it will be a huge challenge for me to finish reading them but I have started on the first volume. It is my prayer to complete them within 2013, God willing.

I may find myself not agreeing fully with him in these volumes, but it will be a delight to get into his mind and discover his thoughts on God.

pearlie

My daily devotion

Pastor Marvin preached from Nehemiah 8 yesterday. This is the 17th of his 24-sermon series on the bible as a whole. He drew focus on the rebuilding of the people of God through His own word, and that it is always His word that God directs His people to.

One thing that struck me most from the sermon is when he said that we can be sure that whenever we open the bible and read it, God is at work in us. This is a reminder and encouragement to me to be fervent in the reading of His word everyday.

I am not very good in keeping schedules. Timetables don't work for me - I tried, setting the time and all - but it just doesn't work in the long term. So I am trying a checklist. I have a to-do list in my iPhone and the "Devotion" item is now permanently there everyday and I make sure I get to check it as done every morning. I hope this will last.

The other thing I have decided on is to use R. Kent Hughes series on Preaching the Word as my daily devotion reading. I have tried the day-to-day devotional materials like D.A. Carson's fabulous For the Love of God (Vol 1 & 2), but for someone who cannot keep schedules, having a must-read-everyday book became quite a stressor!

So I thought a "dateless"-a-message-a-chapter book would be ideal. There are many of such books available, but I have to find the right one with the right depth and breadth that I need. I have read the one on Ecclesiastes by Philip Graham Ryken in the Preaching the Word series back in 2011. I did not use it as devotion material then and have found it a more beneficial read if I were to go slowly chapter by chapter, but it defeated my purpose of my book challenge, i.e. to read as many books as I can in 2011/2012. So this time, with my interest in the book of Genesis, when I purchased the book in the series, I found that there are 75 chapters in the book! It will take me almost forever to finish it as a regular read. So I decided to use it as my devotional material, which is a perfect fit for me.


Genesis, Beginning and Blessing 
by R. Kent Hughes (Crossway Books, 2004)

This morning, I read the passage on the creation of Eve as Adam's helper. Hughes has several insights that are new to me and they really make sense. One of them is this: I have always wondered why God would have Adam try to find a helper amongst the animals to be his companion. Hughes suggested God did that to create an awareness for Adam, that as he named the animals, he realised that not one is like him and that he needs someone just like him to be with him. And when Eve was presented to Adam, he broke out with an adulation of poetry, the first recorded human utterance in the bible:

This at last is bone of my bones,
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.

And Hughes quoted a line from the Merchant of Venice, which I thought was so beautiful.

For she is wise, if I can judge her,
And fair she is, if that mine eyes be true,
And true she is , as she hath prov'd herself,
And therefore, like herself, fair, wise, and true,
Shall she be placed in my constant soul.

God created man and woman to be devoted to each other, to be by each other's side. It is when we find ourselves especially in times of difficulty and conflict, we must remember that marriage is a covenant that is before God, before husband and wife, and before the community. It is not just a legal document between two people.

pearlie

JSTOR Register and Read


I have not been so active checking my fellow bloggers contribution to the blogosphere, but good thing I did this morning. Reb posted this on the STM blog recently and I have just signed up:

"JSTOR, an online digital library filled with quality academic papers, journals, and books, is now offering free access to everyone through their newly announced " Click here for more details.

I have not been active at all in the academic side of my life lately. I graduated from the seminary in 2011 and somehow, that was it, for now at least. I had tried to kick start it again by attending classes end of last year - on Paul's Prison Letters - but I have not even thought about let alone started on the two assignments due in the next few weeks.

This points to the drift that I am done with studying for now. I'll see when my academic thirst will rise up again.

pearlie

What a taxi driver taught me about prayer

Much have been preached, taught, said and written about prayer. But I have not really understood it. As much as I am not satisfied with my view, it was more fatalistic in nature. I thought that things are as they are: willed and purposed by God. And they will be as they are, whatever we do. But God still commanded us to pray, and so I pray.

But I changed my mind today and have begun to understand it a bit differently. At least I now no longer have a fatalistic view of prayer. It all started with a taxi cab behind me on my drive to work.

I am somewhat a stickler for common courtesy on the road - as in, take your turn, line up and don't jump queue, make way for each other, and I firmly believe that if all drivers practice a give-and-take courtesy, driving will be a much better and less stressful experience.

Anyway, this morning, a taxi stopped short behind me without jumping queue when he had the opportunity to. I smiled, uttered a quiet thank you and by reflex prayed for him. I worked in a project last year in an organisation that manages the industry and I have learnt of their hardship in making a living as a taxi driver in our country. At that moment, I had the compunction and desire to bring their needs to God. And that very moment, I asked myself, why did I do it? What is prayer? Will it make any difference?

I then recognised and admitted that most of my supplication prayer for others are usually without much conviction. It is not because I do not care for them, I do care and very much at that but I had believed that God is in control and He has it already in His plan and His purpose. And I had believed that we pray so what we too remember and have them close to our hearts when we bring them to God in prayer.

But now I am beginning to see how wrong I was!

After I prayed for the taxi driver, I asked God why did I pray and what exactly am I doing? As I talked to him,  I began to understand it this way: God is indeed in control over his creation and the world that we all live in. His prevenient grace is over all societies and communities. But those who have committed their lives to him are his beloved and he listens to them. Anything that his beloved bring to him in prayer, he will in his time and purpose give his attention. We are like children bringing our cares and desires to our Father in heaven, who listens and responds as he sees fit.

I am glad I understood prayer better now and I will definitely be praying with more conviction and praying more for those in need, with the assurance that God wants to hear what cares I have in my heart so he can be a big part in my life.

There is still much mystery in the discipline of prayer, and I hope to unearth its truth slowly but surely as I spend more time praying to my God. Amen.

pearlie
Photo (c) 2006 Austin, Canada