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The Presence of God

5I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. … 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15)

From time to time, the Holy Spirit of God will move powerfully in the midst of a group of Christians praying, and that presence of God will be undeniable.  But if we do not practice the presence of God in our private prayer, it is unlikely that we will experience the presence of God in corporate prayer.

In fact, Scripture tells us that when the Holy Spirit comes on a heart that is not prepared to receive him as a true child of God, strange things happen to the person who so receives the Holy Spirit.  (1 Sam 19:23-24)

First, we need to seek the presence of God during consecrated time.  That is to say, we need to set aside time to be with God in prayer and experience his presence there through the normal engagement in prayer — starting with thanksgiving, confession, etc.

Experiencing the presence of God in prayer is a wonderful thing.  It makes our faith real.  It establishes a relationship with God, and in that, we truly abide in the vine (i.e. in Christ).  Our prayer takes on a different dimension — it gets answered!

Next, the Christian who has first experienced the prayer presence of God can learn the experience of the perpetual presence of God. This happens when the Holy Spirit of God fills our life that the moments of a day are passed in God’s presence. There is a God-consciousness and a God-communion throughout the day.

Many Christians have not experienced the first and so cannot experience the second. Let us seek the presence of God in prayer and truly grow in our Christian walk.

Praying through Pain

“Pray that you will not give in to temptation.” (Luke 22:40)

Jesus said these words to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane as he got himself ready for his own betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. 

This was a temptation to avoid pain, not a temptation to indulge in sinful pleasure.  The temptation they were about to face was a pain-temptation, not a pleasure-temptation.

Christians today are more alert to pleasure-temptation than we are to pain-temptation. One example of a pain-temptation is suicide. Suicide is an act that says, “I have enough of this pain, I cannot take any more of it, I will end it by ending my life.

Our complacency towards pain- temptation is so humanly typical that we see this in the disciples also.  Despite Jesus’ call for them to pray that they do not give in to the pain-temptation they were about to face, they fell asleep. The pleasure-temptation of sleep was too much for them.

Jesus called them a second time, “‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.’” (Luke 22:46)

We tend to think that we should be delivered from all pain.  That was not the case with Jesus, and not the case with the disciples. Let us ask the Lord for strength not to give in to pain-temptations.

Our Hazy Future

I guess I’m wrong.  I tell people in America that Singapore is a boring place.  We never have earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, or volcanoes.  We have no snow, ice or hail, and the only bad weather we have to deal with is humidity.  We enjoy good boring weather.

I forget that from time to time, we get overwhelmed by the weather changing activities of our neighboring country. Of course, our complaints are “childish”, all we have to do is to give them the money to fight the fires and all will be well, right? If you believe it, I have a piece of swamp land I like to sell you!

As Singaporeans scramble to get face masks, our national leaders scramble to persuade our neighbors to more neighborly behavior.  Singapore is a small country. We are incapable of strong action.  Let’s be realistic about this.  The pledge of our leaders express their good intention rather than actual ability to effect change in the behavior of our much larger neighbor.

The smoke we face is bad, for sure.  I hate to be a bearer of bad news, but I would like to suggest we put things in perspective and see that there is a greater threat than smoke from forest fires.

I am not an alarmist by nature.  I did not rush out to buy gold for security.  I did not think year 2000 would plunge us into chaos. I did not think the Kohoutek comet or the Hale-Bopp comet would end the world. And more recently, I was totally unconvinced that a sequestration of spending by the American government would be a fiscal cliff, and it was not even a bump. But I am concerned about the effects of global warming.

Projections is that the world will be warmer by 1.5 to 5.3 Celsius (or more).  The sea level is expected to rise from a few centimeters to 25 meters (and of course some predict even higher). From what I read, it appears Singapore is prepared for a rise of up to 59 cm.  If the sea rises 25 meters, we will be in big trouble! It is difficult for any nation to build sea walls or raise it’s land to compensate a rise in sea level by 25 meters.

I wish I were more knowledgeable on what to expect.  Would it be a sea level rise of less than 60 cm or 25 meters? If it will be 25 meters, many countries will disappear.  There will be a global refugee problem.  There will be wars fought over land and freshwater.

Again, I am not an alarmist.  I am just very limited in my knowledge, and I would suggest that experts can also be sensationalistic.  For instance, I will assume the global warming will be at the scale that is predicted, that is, up to about 6 degrees Celsius.  One scenario will be the melting ice at the polar caps, water expanding in volume when heated, etc, and the sea level rise by 25 meters. A different scenario is that the currents carrying warm and cold water will cease, and beyond a certain time, the hot temperature will cause the Atlantic heat conveyor (Thermohaline Circulation) to slow or stop, bring about a new ice age, or extreme cold and heat.

The options we have before us are: (1) a fundamentally similar world that is hotter by up to 6 degrees Celsius with a rise of sea level that is less than 60 cm.  (2) The same temperature rise resulting in a sea level rise of 25 meters. (3) A temperature rise leading to a global cooling that follows. (4) A temperature rise that leads to cooler poles and a hotter equator.

Perhaps the only scenario Singapore is incapable of handling is #2, a dramatic rise of the sea level. According to some even scarier estimates, the whole of Singapore will be under water. Will Singapore be rebuilt to survive below sea level?  Will Singapore relocate (like the people of Kiribati who are in the process of relocating)? Will there be global and local conflict over land and freshwater?

Now think of our haze.  There is no denying the haze is highly disruptive.  But our future is truly hazy.  Our current haze will pass.  Let us pray for wisdom to discern the truth from the false assurances or the alarmist scares about our future as a nation in light of global warming.

One persistent question folks ask is why there is so much suffering in the world, and so much evil.  “Why doesn’t God stop the evil people?” While it is not right to place our incendiary neighbors in the category of people who do great evil, the principle is the same.  One important reason why people suffer is the free choice other people exercise that result in suffering.

Some jihadists decided to kill innocent bystanders because they chose to do so.  Their free choice resulted in the suffering of the innocent.  The Japanese invaded many countries in Asia in WW2 and caused widespread death and destruction with untold suffering.  They were exercising their free choice to do evil. A drunk chose to drink and drive and in the process struck and paralyzed a teenager for life.

Much (not all) of our suffering result from our God-given privilege of free choice. This is a right he has given humankind, and does not retract it when it is abused.  God does not retract the free choice of Indonesians because we don’t like the pollution they cause.

Where we stand as Christians is to recognize that we too have the free choice to address the problem. We can choose to equip ourselves better to handle the haze.  I notice the barely effective masks most Singaporeans wear.  Can we not protect ourselves better? I also notice that our air-conditioning does not handle pollution.  We need to consider air purifiers in our homes.

Peter Eng

Prayer and Anointing

The early church practised the laying on of hands regularly when they pray.  It is not a practice that is limited to big occasions like an ordination. When they prayed for the sick, they did so by anointing the sick with oil.

Such faith symbols have meaning but we have neglected them.  They seem to demand so much of the anointer and the anointed.  But let’s hear the Word of God:

Are any of you suffering hardships?  You should pray.  Are any of you happy?  You should sing praises.  Are any of you sick?  You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.  Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well.  And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.  (James 5:13-15  NLT)

Does your Electronic Bible Work?

I’m so deeply committed to “more-is-better” that I hardly notice I am addicted to it.  If this program has 30 Bible versions, it is better than the one that has 5.  If my e-book stores the Bible and 1,000 more titles, it is better than the Bible alone. When I got my smartphone, I enjoyed the freedom it gave me. Now, I don’t have to bring my Bible to church anymore.  I just read off my phone.  But I think last Sunday will be the last time I do it.  My electronic Bible doesn’t work.

It works fine.  It just doesn’t work for me.

Two Sundays ago, I got onto the MRT (Subway) and made my way to church with a Bible in hand.  It had been some time since I did that.  As a pastor, I had my Bible with me in the church office.  When I preach now, I tend to use the slide presentation and read the Bible off the projection. Last Sunday, when I attended church as an ordinary worshipper, something happened.  Suddenly I felt like my teenage years again.  When I held a Bible in my hand, I had to behave as a Christian. It doesn’t mean I don’t behave as one when I don’t hold a Bible.  It is just that my Bible is a public commitment to Christ that allows others to place me.  The thought crossed my mind, “I think life is easier holding a phone.” But if I were to live out my life as a Christian, I need to reach the point when behaving like a Christian is the norm.  I need to get used to the Bible in my hand and the responsibility it places on me.

I feel that the phone has taken over too much of my life.  When I am with someone and a signal comes, it could be an email, a text, or a phone call.  What do I do?  I try not to interrupt my conversation with the person I am with, and just ignore the signal.  But somehow that is hard to do.  It is like I don’t understand why a customer service person may be talking to me, and stops to listen to a phone call.  After all, I took the trouble to come and stand in front of you.  “Why do you put me on hold in favor of the person who phones up? Next time, I will phone and interrupt your conversation with a live person.”

My electronic Bible doesn’t work because it does too many things. I have come to see the tyranny of my phone.  When I have nothing but a physical Bible with me, I can only read the Bible.  I am not interrupted by phone calls, distracted by emails, summoned to action by texts.  Some of you may have the discipline to block everything out and focus on the Bible.  I can do that too.  But for me, that takes too much effort, willpower.  And I would rather reserve my energy, my effort, my willpower to read God’s Word.

I enjoyed driving my kids around.  They could take the school bus (they’re free in America). But I got up early to drive them to school and got to work early.  All that just so I can spend a bit of alone time with them.  Family time is great, but I want alone time with each of my kids.

Then I think of God my heavenly Father.  He wants alone time with me.  He wants to have me to himself, and not shared with another person or interest.  He wants to speak with me, to listen to me.  This is when my phone Bible does not work.  Every now and then, I tell God, “Timeout please, I gotta respond to this email / text / call.” I know God wants a dedicated time from me.  He looks forward to it as I look forward to the time I spend with my kids. But it seems my phone gets in the way.  The phone used to be for phone calls only, but now, it connects me to everybody around the world all the time.  I really shouldn’t put  God on hold.  But that is hard to do when the very phone I use to read his Word is buzzing with other messages.

I think it is inaccurate to call our alone time with God “Quiet Time.”  I need not utter a single word and still be distracted by other things.  That time we spend with God is essentially consecrated time, holy time, set-aside time.

For me in ministry, there is an added distraction when I spend time with God.  It is the challenge of reading the Bible for myself or for other people.  That line is difficult to draw.  The message I have for my flock is often God’s message to me first.  Yet, if I were to read in order to teach, I am not really spending alone time with God.  I would be coming to God with a ministry agenda. I need to come to him just to listen to him, and talk with him about my stuff.  There is certainly a need for me to read the Bible for God’s message in ministry, and there is a need for intercessory prayer for all of you. But that should be separate from my consecrated alone time with God.

Over the past years, I have been reading the computer version of the Bible more and more, and less of the paper copy.  The computer version is so convenient.  I can make notes, I can look up something immediately when I have a question, and even know when someone has just sent me an email — of course, I am never tempted to pause and read your email.

The electronic Bible is still superior when I am doing work.  But it doesn’t work for me when I need to spend time alone with God.  The pew Bible works well because it is there. But it is not my Bible.  It is not enough that I read a Bible. I need to read my own copy.  I need to write in the margins as the Lord speaks to me, I need to underline what the Holy Spirit impresses upon me.  My Bible records God’s conversation with me. The pew Bible doesn’t do that.  The pew Bible is not my consecrated Bible.  It is shared with other people.  I need my own copy to personalize as God speaks to me one-on-one.

The pew Bible doesn’t work for me.  My phone Bible doesn’t work for me.  These little compromises diminish my alone time with God.  The Maker of heaven and earth wants to spend time with me. I think I can find space on my desk for a Bible.  I think I can find the strength to bring one to church.  I think I can tune off the world when God and I are together.

Peter Eng

Effective for Jesus

What does it mean to be effective for Jesus?

“Meet on Wednesday, not Saturday,” says this loud booming voice from heaven.  So we moved our meeting from Saturday to Wednesday.

Don’t you wish it were that easy?  I do.  Instead, we met on Saturday and learn that it is not a good day to meet. We explored different nights and finally settled on Wednesday night for prayer, dinner and meeting.

One of our core values in to be effective for Jesus. This value is so utilitarian that if you have been fed a diet of spiritually correct speech, it may seem that effectiveness is contrary to dependency on God.  These are not true opposites.

God calls us to use the ability he has given us to reason and plan, and therein become effective for him.

We rejoice in the Lord that with our move to Wednesday, we are now better able to invite loved ones and friends whom we think will benefit from our meeting.

The sooner we recognize that something is not working and prayerfully seek God’s wisdom, the better off we will be. That is what we mean when we say we want to be effective @TheWell.

I wish there was a voice from heaven.  But God choose to make us grow by requiring us to learn.

Faith in the Public Square

Mike Huckabee was a Baptist pastor who became the governor of Arkansas, ran for the Presidency of the United States, and among other things, is the host of the The Huckabee Show on Fox News Channel.

There are some things l like about what this man is doing. One of them is how he brings good moral and social values into the public square. Another is his readiness to talk about faith in public.

I know he is new to my friends in Singapore. Enjoy the clips below where Huckabee interviews Francis Chan.  You will see two men committed to Jesus engaging the public.

 

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZR1I-ULyAj0[/youtube]

 

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OOsh_ebRQg[/youtube]

Media, Politics and the Kingdom of God

In my previous blog, I had talked about how Channel News Asia represented the Malaysian General Election 2013.  There is a term for this. It is called Dominant Culture Rhetoric.  This means CNA reports the position of whoever is in power.  If the opposition had won, they become the Dominant Culture and CNA will report things from their perspective.

In contrast, some sites in Singapore are filled with Contra Culture Rhetoric.  These are the sites that attract people who oppose everything that is held by those in power.  All policies are consistently opposed, regardless of their soundness (like the Occupy Movement).  Their role in the larger scheme of things is to provide a platform for dissent. In practical terms, they can improve good policies by pointing out where the weaknesses are.  Contra Culture Rhetoric tends not to have a direction of its own.  They function just to oppose.  It is like the football fan who goes to the game with the T-Shirt “Referee Kayu” (Referee is Dumb [Wood]). They are not there to see if the referee does a good job.  They have decided ahead of time he is not going to do a good job.

I want to make clear my position to you.  I adopt a Counter Culture Rhetoric. This is the type of cultural rhetoric found in the Bible.  The Bible was not pro-Roman empire, nor was it anti-Roman empire.  If it were pro-Roman, you will find the Roman worldview represented.  If it were anti-Roman, you will find a seditious worldview.  We don’t find either.  Instead we find the Bible has its own agenda.

When Jesus came, he inaugurated God’s Kingdom.  It is not a “spiritual-only-kingdom.”  Such a view is Dominant Culture Rhetoric.  It is the view that says it doesn’t matter who holds political power on earth or what they do, the Kingdom of God is a personal thing, it is within your heart.

Interestingly Liberal Theology and Conservative Theology have their own brands of Contra Culture Rhetoric. Liberals have Liberation Theology, and conservatives have disparate expressions such as Reconstructionism, Dominion Theology and Kingdom Now Theology. These see the existing political leaders as evil and are in need of replacement or at the very least, they are the antithesis of Christian values. They tend to suggest a vague and more ideal government, but their main task is to criticize the existing governments.

I believe the Bible is Counter Culture.  It was not pro-Rome, it was not anti-Rome.  The Kingdom of God had its own agenda.  At times it fit into the Roman structure, at times it was diametrically opposed, and at times it was unrelated to the Roman worldview.  Let me give you an example.

The early Christians value human life as people created in God’s image.  They couldn’t love God without loving people. The Roman worldview did not accord an equal value to all human life.  Infanticide was common.  Slaves were killed without any legal consequences.  People of lower social status did not get the justice they needed.  The early Christians set out to realize God’s Kingdom.  They did not try to overthrow Rome under the banner of these human rights abuses (which would not have been seen that way during that time). Instead they rescued abandoned babies and raised them as their own. They insisted that slaves and masters were both brothers in Christ.  The spiritual egalitarianism as the basis of their social interactions rejected the stratified rights found in Roman society. They advocated a legal framework that recognized the equal right to life of every human being.  Instead of killing political leaders, they worked to redeem them from error, sin and destruction.

Counter Culture can, and does confront Dominant Culture.  But it is a moral-ethical confrontation not a confrontation by swords and spears.  It is the rejection of evil by living-out and advocating virtue. Counter Culture has its own culture and does not find its raison d’etre in opposing Dominant Culture. The Kingdom of God is neither pro-government nor anti-government.  Secular governments operate with a set of assumptions.  Some are right and some are wrong.  Secular governments create laws and work out their goals, which may be right or wrong.  The Kingdom of God is based on a different value system – the one taught by Jesus Christ.  The existing government can remain, reform or be replaced.  Jesus Christ is not Democrat or Republican. When he returns, Christ will fully realize his Kingdom on earth.  The Kingdom of God is neither a ‘personal-only/spiritual-only kingdom’ nor is it ‘Kingdom Now.’

Christians are called to live-out and to proclaim the inaugurated Kingdom of God on earth now, and the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God when Christ returns.  We are to live for the present expression of God’s Kingdom while we wait for Jesus himself to bring earth into its glorious future.

My rhetoric is consciously Counter Culture.  I do not have dog in the political fight.  We have a worldview whether we are conscious of it or not. Mine is to live-out and proclaim God’s Kingdom.  You will see me advocating and rejecting things done by the same political entity.  My faith is neither in the PAP, nor WP nor SDP, etc. When I lived in America, I was neither Democrat, nor Republican, nor Libertarian, nor Independent.  I do not live for or against the institutions of man.  I live for the Kingdom of God.

So help me God.

His unprofitable servant,

Peter Eng

A Mind Trap in Politics and in Faith

I have listened to the Singapore Media coverage on the Malaysian election and it tells me more about Singapore Media than it does about the Malaysian election.

Before the election, I hear this: the opposition (DAP & PAS) is strong, BN is not playing the race card this election, if the opposition wins, the Islamic Party (PAS) wants to introduce Hudud (Islamic penal code).

After the election, I hear this: BN won. Opposition is unhappy and claims there are irregularities at the polls, but not a single specific is given.

If I just listen to such information, I would be quite concerned that the opposition might win.  And after the opposition lost, it sounds like they are sore losers. Perhaps there is real danger of Hudud, perhaps there isn’t. I don’t know enough.

The Roman statesman Cicero used to ask his slaves to go to the market place to see what the satirists and comedians are saying. They have a pulse on what is happening politically. And by chance, I came across a YouTube video.  A satire on the election.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjGG5sxt0WM[/youtube]

I didn’t understand everything he was saying, but what I could understand was quite amusing.  So I decided to ask Malaysians what he meant, and I got a earful!  It seems the grievances of the opposition are not frivolous after all.

Suddenly I realize I am a victim of Channel News Asia – again. How so?  They raise issues like Hudud.  The net result of listening to the discussion on the danger of Hudud being introduced into Malaysia is that some will think it is a problem if the opposition wins because it is a coalition that includes PAS which wants to introduce Hudud.  Some will think it is not a problem for the opposition to win because the introduction of Hudud would require a change in the constitution which PAS will never be able to swing.  Those who think Hudud is a real danger if the opposition wins will lean towards BN.  Those who do not think it is a problem do not necessarily lean towards the opposition.  So raising the issue of Hudud is a net loss for the opposition and a net gain for BN.

Channel News Asia does not address the issue of why Bangladeshis show up in droves with new Malaysian identifications and money in their pockets, and does not press home the issue of the finger ink that can be easily washed off.  If Channel News Asia focuses on these, again, some will form the opinion that BN is not guilty of fraud, and others will think they are guilty.  The net result of such deliberations will be a net loss for BN and a net gain for the opposition.

I don’t know enough about Malaysian politics to render an opinion about who is better or worse.  But I want you to be aware that Channel News Asia has highly biased reporting.  They do not tell lies, but by selecting the issues in a certain way, they create a prejudice in us. They support BN.

Why I am talking about this?  For one, I am interested in how information is disseminated.  I don’t have a dog in the fight in Malaysia’s General Election.  But I have an interest in how people try to condition our thinking with the information they give.

I find this to be true in the realm of faith and life.

Let’s take the example of homosexual marriage. If the subject is framed as a “tolerance” issue, it is hard to say, “I choose to be intolerant.”  But the issue is not about tolerance, it is about God’s intention for us.  The Bible is clear that homosexuality is not God’s intention, and that it is sinful in his eyes. But that is probably not the way to frame the conversation.

The agenda to promote homosexuality as no more than an alternative is clearly grievous to God.  Evangelical Christians begin to polarize at the other end, and see their task as confronting the homosexual agenda. Our response is due in part to how we frame the issue.

Homosexuality, like many other anti-God agendas, are grievous to God.  Infanticide is grievous to God. Pre-marital sex is grievous to God. Abortion is grievous to God.  Substance abuse is grievous to God.  How do we frame these other issues?  Do we not oppose these agendas by declaring the Good News that they can be delivered from these sins through Jesus Christ who loved them and died for them?

The devil is sly – like the media.  He frames the issue in such a way that he wins.  If we become tolerant of homosexuality, then this sin becomes acceptable and he wins.  If we become intolerant of homosexuality, then homosexuals become unreachable for Christ and he wins.  The only question is whether he wins big or small.

Christians need to reframe the homosexual issue.  We should not enter into a conversation that gives the devil the victory regardless of the outcome of that conversation.

I am not the expert in this conversation, but I like to suggest that Christian conversation should focus on how to be effective agents of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin and redemption in Jesus Christ.  Perhaps we should talk about how to reach people with a certain sexual proclivity. We need to talk about how they need Jesus like any other person.  If a person has a proclivity to substance abuse, we frame our conversation with them in terms of hope in Jesus.  If a person has a proclivity to steal, we speak of salvation in Jesus.  These people may or may not see the need for salvation – just like the homosexual. But we do not have a conversation with these people as though they are our “enemies.” We see them as victims of sin and we love them and long for their deliverance.  We should learn to extend the same love towards homosexuals.  They are not our enemies. Like us, they are sinners in need of redemption.

The public conversation about homosexuality is framed in such a way that the devil wins.  I invite better minds than myself to reframe the conversation so that Jesus wins regardless of how the conversation goes.

In your humble service,

Peter Eng