Month: October, 2013

Thank You Famine in Singapore?

Just a li’le bit,” he said. “It’s all pre’y good.” It didn’t take long for me to notice there is a dearth of the letter “t” among some Americans.

We suffer from a different dearth in Singapore. I think we are suffering from a famine of “Thank You.”

I was at the supermarket and alerted the cashier that she had entered $30 for a $20 voucher I gave her. She frowned unhappily, never once thanked me, and complained that other customers would not tell her.  I guess that was her way of saying, “Thank You.” But can a complaint about other customers take the place of “Thank You”?

Do we thank mom or wife for fixing dinner? I can understand when people don’t thank their mom or wife, but I notice there are guests who don’t even thank their hosts. Is it really so hard to understand that we need to thank someone who hosts us at a meal? Some tell me it is not our cultural habit to thank people. Maybe you can accept that at a cultural level, but I like to suggest that it is a Christian quality to thank people who serve us, show us kindness or love.

If we have trouble thanking people we can see, can we say we have been thanking God whom we cannot see? An attitude of thankfulness to God spills over to thanking people and vice-versa. In fact, is there any real difference? When the ten lepers were healed, and one returned to thank Jesus, did he know he was thanking God in human flesh?

Yes, I am concerned about Singapore Christians not having a thankful heart. But what I fear most is that I find my own crop of “Thank You” growing poorly. There are people I need to thank whom I have not.  And there is a God before whom I need to bow my knee in deliberate thanksgiving. Will you join me to grow a bumper crop of “Thank You” and then replant it everywhere?  

Apostle Peter 13: From Confusion to Clarity [Acts 1] – (Part 2)

Bible Reference: Acts 1:1-11

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Apostle Peter 13: From Confusion to Clarity [Acts 1] – (Part 1)

Bible Reference: Acts 1:1-11

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Apostle Peter 12: We saw his Kingdom Power and Majesty (Part 2)

Bible Reference: Mark 9:1-13

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Apostle Peter 12: We saw his Kingdom Power and Majesty (Part 1)

Bible Reference: Mark 9:1-13

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Misunderstanding the Kingdom

What is the Kingdom of God? “The Kingdom of God is within you,” (Luke 17:21, KJV) so most Christians would reply. Most take this to mean that when we become Christians, the Kingdom of God is inside of us, in our hearts and minds, and it is similar to being saved.

The KJV is not incorrect to translate the Greek word as “within” on account of the normal usage of the word. But meaning is decided first and foremost by context.

20 One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”

Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs.  21 You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 7, NLT)

The Pharisees ask the question on “when” the kingdom of God would come. Jesus’ reply cannot be that the Kingdom of God is already within the Pharisees! Those who insist on “within you” as the correct translation don’t realize how hard a time they have explaining why Jesus says the Pharisees have the kingdom of God within them.

Jesus’ reply has two main parts, the first is a direct answer to the “when” question of the Pharisees.  He says that the Kingdom of God is not observable as they may expect. It is another way of saying what is affirmed elsewhere, that we will not know when the kingdom of God will come. Then he follows with the enigmatic statement, “the kingdom of God is within you” (KJV) or “the Kingdom of God is already among you” (NLT).

The question of the Pharisees assumes the kingdom to be in the future. And Jesus agrees with that assumption but also insists that the coming of the kingdom is not observable.

After answering the “when” question Jesus addresses the “where” question, which was not asked. “You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”  To this Jesus also adds, 23 People will tell you, ‘Look, there is the Son of Man,’ or ‘Here he is,’ but don’t go out and follow them.” In short, Jesus is saying, if you are looking for the Kingdom of God (or the Son of Man), don’t look for it here and there.  The Kingdom of God is located right here, among you. Jesus is referring to himself!

This is completely consistent with other passages of Scripture that tell us the key to the coming of the Kingdom lies in the coming of the King. Without the King, there is no Kingdom. While the Kingdom has a future element, which Jesus acknowledges, it has a here and now aspect the Pharisees fail to recognize.

In effect, Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, “The Kingdom of God is not ‘here’ or ‘there’, it is right here in your midst, standing here among you. The King has come, so the Kingdom has come. There will be a future revelation of the Kingdom at a time you cannot observe.  But what you can and ought to know is that the Kingdom of God is right here in your midst.”

Let me show you why it is so inadequate to understand the Kingdom of God as something within / inside you. And I will limit myself to a selection from Matthew’s Gospel alone.  Jesus told many parables about the Kingdom of God that just cannot mean it is some spiritual possession inside us. The Kingdom of God is like the four types of soil encountered by the sower, referring to four types of people. The Kingdom of God is like wheat and weeds sown in the same field, and eventually the weeds will be burned away, referring to two types of people. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed or yeast which grows from small beginnings into something huge, or something that affects all mankind. (Matthew 13) The Kingdom of God is like the tenants who killed the son of the landlord (Matthew 21:33-46).The Kingdom of God is like a feast to which people are invited (Matthew 22:1-14).

There are scores of passages that describe the Kingdom of God as something that is external to us. The imprecise reading of Luke 17:21 in the KJV is not an issue in itself.  The issue is that we use the imprecise reading and ignore the myriad references where the meaning is clear.

If we want to understand the meaning of the Kingdom of God, we need to allow all the occurrences to speak to us and not just one verse. And if we understand that one verse incorrectly, we are doomed to miss the point.

Apostle Peter 11: My Two Big Scandals (Part 2)

Bible Reference: 1 Peter 2:4-10                                        Matthew 16:21-23

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Apostle Peter 11: My Two Big Scandals (Part 1)

Bible Reference: 1 Peter 2:4-10                                        Matthew 16:21-23

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Scandal

We choose our scandals.

Historians choose not to paint Thomas Jefferson as a slaver and a pedophile who abuses his 15 year old slave. But Bill Clinton’s lesser indiscretion is a scandal. The media today reports the scandalous ransom of Republican Congress to defund Obamacare, but the fortitude of the Democrat Congress for defunding the Vietnam War leading to America’s withdrawal from Vietnam. What is outrageous depends on our perception of what is simply not acceptable to us.

Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.  He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (Mark 8:31-32).

What Jesus said was so outrageous to Peter that he stood up to Jesus.  Peter is like a courtier in the presence of a king.  Not just any king, but the Messiah, the king who will bring in the Kingdom of God. Peter is loyal. He must tell his king what is true and good.  The plan that Jesus lays out is crazy, and it is his solemn duty to correct Jesus.

Years later, Peter recalls his struggle with the scandal of the cross. He says Jesus is “‘A stone that causes people to stumble / and a rock that makes them fall.’They stumble because they disobey the message” (1 Pe 2:8). It is so impossible to think that God’s plan is for Jesus to die on the cross in payment for our sin! It is so outrageous that the just should die for the unjust, the sinless for sinners, the good for the wicked.

The path Jesus was to take was difficult enough.  But Peter tried to discourage him from that path.  Peter, reprimanded Jesus. This was so outrageously wrong, Peter just had to oppose the plan. Now Peter’s action is so outrageously wrong that it is a scandal to Jesus.

“How can I follow you if you embark on this plan?” Peter demands of Jesus.

“And how can you follow me if you reject my plan?” Jesus demands of Peter.

This is the scandal of the cross. To all who can accept this scandal of God’s grace comes eternal life.

PYE

Holiness

What is a holy person?

The naked Sadhu living another existence? The Buddhist monk detached from the world? The Catholic monks and nuns cloistered away in monasteries?

A young seminarian living in a trailer home has offered to host a famous preacher coming to his church evening service.  Three little children in a small place guarantees toys strewn all over, and space hardly enough to move. He regretted offering to host. As he drove the big-wig preacher from the airport, he kept apologizing for his humble, and quite tumbled home.

When the preacher got to his home, he immediately played with his kids though he was in his preaching suit and tie.  He laughed with them; they rode on him as horsey, and laughed till their faces beamed like little cherubs. 

When he sat down for supper with them before the evening service, he was so appreciative of their hospitality, and made the seminarian wife feel like a million bucks.

That night, after the preacher was gone and the children put to bed, the seminarian turned to his wife and said, “I feel as though Jesus has just visited us.”

“Funny you say that,” she replied, “I was thinking the exact same thing.”

We often think of holiness in terms of what people don’t do.  When we strive for holiness, we don’t steal, lie, cheat, sleep with other people’s spouses, etc.  These things are true, but they are only the outward demonstration of holiness. We can be all that and still not be holy.  We are reminded, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Pe 1:15). We need to think about holiness as things we do, not just what we do not do.

The holiness we do results in a holiness that keeps away from sin. Holiness for us refers to an absence of a sin habit. Before the absence of this sin comes the presence of a character shaped after God’s character.  PE


Peter’s Babylon

She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (1 Pe 5:13-14a).

Most scholars believe the Apostle Peter wrote from Rome and John Mark was with him. The term “Babylon” is not real Babylon, but it refers to another city, that is, Rome.  Some believe that Simon Peter was writing from a small city called “Babylon” which existed at that time.

It appears to me that it is far more probable that Peter’s Babylon is Rome.  We see the mention of Babylon in Revelation 14:8 and 17:5.  It is a political code-speak against Rome and not the literal city of Babylon. John explains the Babylon is the city that rules over the kings of the earth (Rev 17:18).

This creative political rhetoric is necessary because Christians were facing increasing pressure as Peter was writing, and by the time John wrote Revelation, that persecution had come in full force. It is not expedient to antagonize the powers that be, yet people needed instruction. It is common for us to find ancient writers using a creative political rhetoric that allows his audience to understand him but causes the censor to dismiss the document as one that might harm the interest of Rome (codified in the Roman laws of treason [leges maiestatis]).

Babylon is synonymous to a city of exile. The Babylonians exiled the Jews in 586 BC. Peter writes to his audience as the Diaspora, the exiles that are scattered about.  He sees Rome as the new Babylon and uses Babylon to identify Rome and its role. He turns to the experience of the Jews in exile under Babylon as a reference point for Christians in exile because of Rome.

The phenomenon of calling one city by another name is not new. For instance, Isaiah 1:10, calls Jerusalem “Sodom” and “Gomor-rah.”  Two cities are used to refer to one. Isaiah does this to indicate the judgment about to fall on Jerusalem.

It is most probable that the majority opinion is right, that Peter’s Babylon is the city of Rome.  PE