Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hope for Myanmar

I can not seem to blog about anything when my mind is being bothered in what is happening in Yangoon. We live very close to Burma and our closest friends here are all Myanmar nationals. I know their stories, their sufferings and their hopes that someday Myanmar will become a free country. My heart breaks when soldiers and police started firing at protesters and killed people in the process. The monks who mobilized the masses to join the protests are all forcibly locked up in their respective monasteries. According to the news the protests falter after the crackdown. “The streets of Myanmar's two biggest cities were eerily quiet on Saturday after a brutal crackdown on demonstrators seeking to end 45 years of military rule. Soldiers quickly snuffed out one small demonstration in Yangon, dragging several men to waiting trucks.”

This development is really sad as I ponder upon the sacrifices that the monks and the people made for almost a month. I do not want the protests to end. I do not want it to end this way. I want it to end the way it should be, attaining its goal—freedom for Myanmar people. But there is still hope. My hope has been kept alive by people who have been protesting in their own countries where the Myanmar embassies are located. Hope has been kept alive by Christians who are not only praying for a peaceful change in Myanmar but for Christians who follows the biblical mandate to speak against injustices and be in solidarity with the suffering people of Burma.

This is accidentally posted here.

The picture is from Yahoo! News

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Protests in Burma

I wrote in our church bulletin last Sunday about the situation in Burma. We need to pray for Burma as the Buddhist monks initiated protests in Rangoon and other cities. The number of protesters is growing each day. And because most of my co-workers are from Burma, I’m hearing a lot of humors. The Burmese security forces started firing directly on the protesting monks and demonstrators. My friend told me that the government means business and that they are ready to kill to stop any revolution. I don’t that the revolution that happened in the Philippines in 1986 will also happen here. The Philippine revolution against the Marcos regime was successful because the military turned their back against the government and joined the people’s movement. Here I don’t see that happening, at least not yet.

The Bush administration issued statements about the situation in Burma. According to Irrawaddy, Burma’s leading authoritative news paper, Bush announced “three major measures against the military regime. First, he said, the US will tighten economic sanctions on the leaders of the regime and their financial backers. Secondly the US will impose an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members. Thirdly, the US will facilitate the efforts of humanitarian groups working to alleviate suffering in Burma.” But one wonders, is that what America can do for a country who have been suffering from an oppressive military regime for more than twenty years? The international community has been enraged with what happened to Burma as it has been suffering under the military regime who rules the country with tyranny and violence. People suffer from hunger and disease, illiteracy and ignorance, poverty and despair.

I received an email imploring me to join the protests. The email expresses something that is so true and I have been witnessing everyday as I worked with Myanmar people from different ethnic groups. Here is the content of the email.

Burma is ruled by one of the most brutal military dictatorships in the world. For decades the Burmese regime has fought off pressure--imprisoning elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy activists, wiping out thousands of villages in the provinces, bringing miseries from forced labour to refugee camps.

But last Tuesday Buddhist monks and nuns, revered in Burma, began marching and chanting prayers. The protests spread—now they're growing by tens of thousands every day, as ordinary people, even celebrities and comedians join in.

Peaceful protesters numbered 20,000 on Saturday, 30,000 on Sunday, 100,000 today. This week, they could win a new life for their country. In the past, Burma's military rulers have massacred the demonstrators and crushed democracy. This time it can be different—but only if the world stands with the Burmese.

Global leaders are gathering now in New York for the annual United Nations summit. In speeches and press interviews, we need them to show Burma's military junta how grave the consequences will be if they crush the protesters with violence this time. Click below urgently to sign the emergency petition supporting the peaceful protests in Burma, it’ll be delivered to UN Security Council members and the UN press corps all week.

If you want to join the peaceful protests and be counted in please click here.

At this point, I still do not know how Myanmar Christians are being involved in the protests. But we are one in our desire and aspirations for a peaceful change in Burma.

The picture is from with Burmese Protesters

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Too many motorcycles

This morning our young Burmese co-worker broke to us a bad news. “The young man in our neighbor died of a motorcycle accident last night” he said awkwardly smiling showing his black-stained teeth because of his incessant betel nut chewing .

I was trying to recall who was that reckless young man who died unnecessarily but I could not remember him at all. You see, I don’t spend much time in the Day Care Center where my wife and some Burmese fellow workers are taking care of the children while their parents are working very hard. In the center, my wife teaches free English and leads Bible study to the parents of the children and neighbors who want to learn. I just come to the center to pick-up the child and drive them home or vice-versa or do some cleaning up or repair works.

Anyways, back to the accident. Deaths from motorcycle accident are very common here in Thailand. This is not unusual because everybody rides it from a child of ten to a grandmother of seventy. We have been here almost two years and I already heard stories of more than ten accidents related to motorcycle. A friend even saw a motorcycle with two passengers plunge about ten meters up to the air after a pick-up in full speed crash unto it. Also, my wife saw young men and his motorbike rolled ten times when its driver tried to make a u-turn in full speed. And my wife was not exaggerating. Well I hope so.

I started driving the van here two months ago. And the ever present of speeding motorcycles from different directions are making me confused and sick. I mean, I may die of hypertension or heart attack or worst I might find a motorcycle under the van.

I tried to ride a motorcycle taxi in Chiang Mai and I made a promise to myself, I will never ever do it again. I am afraid I might not make it back in one piece to my wife and children. It is a fast way of transportation but very dangerous. Here, you may not die of accident. But if you have a weak heart, you may die anyway. And I’m not exaggerating either.

Thaiwebsites. Com says that:

Way too many young people still die unnecessarily in Thailand due to car and (mostly) motorcycle accidents. The actual number of deaths on the road is reportedly around 30,000. Many more of course get maimed for live, or require expensive medical care (if they can afford it). Reasons are discussed forever.

Motorcycle deaths of course are mostly among young males. Still to common (especially in the side streets) one sees youngsters driving around without helmet protection. Motorcycle taxis seem to be allowed to carry passengers without requiring them to wear a helmet.
Especially in view of the rapidly declining birth rates in Thailand, the thousands of people killed yearly in motorcycle accidents will be surely missed in the future.
The picture is from with a very sound advise saying motorcycle taxis are fast but not safeway of transport...we recommend you walk at all times.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

By what authority?

Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapid, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. 1995. 192 pp

Chapter 2

Fifty years ago, the West and its missionaries thought that the entire world will become Christian. However, this somewhat prideful forecast about the conversion of the entire world to Christianity is not happening. In fact, as Newbigin himself claims, the West is now largely secularized and become itself is becoming a missionary field as well.

The Western Christians believe that because of their “better culture,” progressive civilization and wealth have become the authority to make the world a better place. And missionaries brought this idea with them. They think that because they are ministering to primitive, backward and poor countries, they could use those qualities as the source of their authority in spreading Christianity. Apparently, according to Newbigin this is not in anyway true.

After fifty years, nations that are predominantly Islam, Buddhist and High-Caste Hindu consistently refuse to accept Christianity and its missionaries. They asked the question: “What right do Christians have to preach to them?” If mission is understood to involve merely calling people of other faith to conversion then other religions would questions its validity. In fact, if this is the only reason in doing mission, even from within Christianity itself, its validity will always be questioned.

As missionaries do the task in which they are called to do, the question “by what authority you do this?” will always be asked. To answer simplistically by quoting the Scripture would not work. This question could not be answered with the usual “in Jesus’ name” for it entails another question, “who is Jesus?” who obviously is not known outside Western Christendom.

Newbigin proposes several answers to this question. First, he answers it with a confession. “I believe. It is a personal commitment to faith that cannot be demonstrated on grounds establish from the point of view of another commitment. A Christian commitment is distinguished that it is a commitment to a belief about meaning of the whole experience in its entirety—namely the belief that this meaning is to be found in the person of Jesus Christ.” (15)

Second, this confession is that Jesus is the supreme authority—that Jesus is Lord. This implies public, universal claim that was bound eventually to clash with the cultus publicus of the empire. The confession “Jesus is Lord” implies a commitment to make good that confession in relation to the whole life of the world—its culture, and its politics no less than the personal lives of its people.” (17) The Christian mission is thus to act out the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord of all.

Third, Newbigin believes that God chooses whom he will and calls them to his service. The authority to preach the gospel actually lies on the doctrine of election. (A chapter of this book is dedicated to explain this view). It is God who chooses, calls and sends. If he was asked about his authority to preach, Newbigin would answer that he is only a simple servant of one whom God has chosen and for the sake of all—Jesus Christ.

So what is our authority to preach the gospel? The answer—the authority is the announcement of the gospel itself. I couldn't agree more. The gospel in itself is powerful and authoritative. We can not make it more or less authoritative. I feel terrible when somebody (usually a missionary) would belittle a proclamation of the gospel for not being done according to their learned effective method. As if their own way of presenting the gospel is what makes it authoritative. The gospel is God's Word, the gospel is Christ, proclaim through the power of the Holy Spirit. Then tell me, what is more authoritative than that? It is authoritative whether one recognized it or not.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Stanley Hauerwas Prayer before "debate" with Paige Patterson

Contentious Lord, God know you must love a good argument. How else are we to explain the people of your promise, the Jews? Moreover, you have told us that our salvation come from those argumentative people, a people threatened by the world, yet refusing to be distracted from their arguments with you and one another concerning the faithful living of your law. Teach us, the grateful people, to love your Word, that we, like the Jews, may argue our way into loving you and one another. Argument, it seems, is your salvation--an alternative to the violence of the world.

But, we we contend together, save us from pride and the vanity pride nourishes. Remind us that it is not a matter of winning, but rather of the up-building of your church, the body of Christ. Too long divided, help us glimpse as we contend with one another the unity of your church. Indeed, make us your witness so that the world, observing how we argue, will say, "See how they love one another; they would rather argue than kill."

Stanley Hauerwas, Disrupting Time: Sermons, Prayers and Sundries. Eugene OR: Cascade Books, 2007. p 81

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lesslie Newbigin: Missionary-Theologian par exellence

There are times when we could have read a certain book few years earlier, we think that perhaps our outlook might have changed and our life might have taken a different course. Lately, I had picked up Lesslie Newbigin’s book, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. I became familiar with Newbigin's excellent ideas because when reading books about theology and mission, his name usually would appear as an authoritative source.

In this book, I learn that Newbigin was an internationally esteemed British missionary, pastor, apologist, theologian and ecumenical statesman. He also served in India as missionary evangelizing in the villages. He was a minister in the United Reformed Church in United Kingdom and a bishop of the Church of South India. He served as the general secretary of the International Missionary Council and associate general secretary of the World Council of Churches. Upon learning that he was both a missionary and an illustrious theologian compels me to read his books.

Thus I would like to share some thoughts as an outcome of this reading (I intend to do it on all the books I will read). This will be done in series of short summary and I will try to include my personal comments based on my experience in the mission field and student of theology. I expect that this would be good learning experience.

In chapter 1, Newbigin laments the fact that missions had no place in the central teaching of theology. Mission, for a long time, in any seminary is studied as branch of practical theology. And this is true even in the Asian seminary that I had attended. Today, mission is very important to the life of the church because the radical secularization of the Western culture, its churches are no longer missionary. There is a renewed debate about missionary task in the older churches. More Christians in the “old churches recognize that a church that is not ‘the church in mission’ is not a church at all.” Newbigin states that the book hopes to place the debate about the church’s missionary tasks will be placed in a broad biblical perspective and in the hope that to do so will release new energies for the contemporary mission of the church, not only its global dimensions but also in its application to the tough new paganism of the contemporary Western world.” (2)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Out for the weekend

I usually blog on weekends, Fridays and Saturdays, because these are the only days whem I have the chance to sit in front of the computer. That is when I am not expecting any important emails during the weekdays. The whole family will be out of town for a visit to the immigration office. This means a 10-hour drive for me. No reading while traveling. But I hope to make it a very relaxing long drive. I will be posting next week and it will take another weekend perhaps for another post to appear here. Pray for traveling mercy.

Hope for new world

One consequence of the powerful grip of pagan religiosity on the mind of the Western culture that has had the Bible in its hand for so long is the fact that the resurrection of Jesus is constantly spoken of as if it had reference only to the individual human person. It has been treated as the ground of our hope for a personal future. It is this, but it is much more than this: it is the ground of our hope for a new world.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, p. 106

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sponged Spong

Our good friend, Ben Myers over at F&T did a fine job of critiquing Spong's book Jesus for the Non-Religious. His post started a good discussion about the good Bishop and his theology. A few months ago, my friend and I had a good conversation about Spong. My friend is convinced that Spong is one of good things that is happening in contemporary biblical scholarship. This is my responds to the discussion which was a result of my reading of McGrath's A Passion for the Truth.

I appreciate Bishop Spong’s effort to free Christianity from the shackles of the Fundamentalism and its tenets. However, as I read his attacks on fundamentalism, I understand that he seems to start with the premise that the people within the fold of fundamentalism are all simple-minded and ignorant. That they have been imprisoned by the churches or its leaders imposed authority over them. But we know that this is not necessarily true. Many people who consider them themselves fundamentalist know how to think critically for themselves. Most of them believe that fundamentalism is a better option than modern liberalism which Spong is trying to propagate. All of us know the problem of fundamentalism. The weakness of this movement is well known and we don’t need a Bishop Spong to tell us about it.

I try reading Spong’s books but somehow I lost the motivation to continue. His tirades against fundamentalism and his praises of liberal scholarship made me weary to read more any of his books. Perhaps if fundamentalism did not exist the good Bishop will have nothing to write about. I just wish that he would stop attacking it and write something proactive rather than reactive. Here I would like to follow the criticism of Allister McGrath in his book, The Passion for Truth. I will quote extensively from this book because I know I can never tell this better than he does.

McGrath says that if we will reject fundamentalism, what are we to replace it with? There is a real need to rescue the Bible from fundamentalism; but those who claim to rescue it often shackle it to their own ends. And this is where Bishop Spong, whose somewhat modern theological competence is vastly exceeded by his ability to obtain media attention, comes in. In his Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism—a work which have been dismissed as utterly inconsequential were its writer is not a bishop—Spong offers to liberate the Bible from a fundamentalist stranglehold. But it soon becomes clear that the Bible is to be “liberated” only to be enslaved to the latest cultural norms prevailing among the Greater New England liberal elite. This work is as aggressive in its modernity and intolerant and dismissive of the views of others.

For example, at one point, Spong tentatively advances the idea that Paul might have been a homosexual. A few pages later, it seems to have become an established result of New Testament scholarship, leading Spong to the conclusion that one of the church’s greatest teachers was a ‘rigidly controlled gay male.’ The hard historical evidence for this dramatic assertion? Nil. One cannot help wondering if the New Testament is being less than subtly massaged here, to fit the sensitivities of a retrospective liberal conscience.

Bishop Spong recognizes that his views are unpopular, and believes that this is because they are thoroughly up to date and intellectually respectable. Sadly, they are just unpopular. Spong constructs a fantasy world in which his own vision of a politically correct culture leads him to impose political and social stereotypes upon the New Testament with a fierce and uncritical dogmatism assumed were only associated with the likes of Jerry Falwell (and Al Mohler, I should add). The pseudo-scholarly character of Spong’s approach has been pointed out by N.T. Wright. Commenting on Spong’s attempts to cast himself as a persecuted hero, standing on the truth in the midst of a fundamentalism ocean, Wright remarks:
Spong rushes on, constructing imaginary historical worlds and inviting us to base our faith and life upon them. If we refuse this invitation he will, no doubt, hurl his favorite abuse-word at us again. But if everyone who disagrees with Spong’s book turns out to be fundamentalist, then I suppose that all fundamentalist churches in the world would not be able to contain the new members who would suddenly arrive on their doorsteps.

McGrath emphasizes that it is not enough to argue for the need to wrest the Scripture free from those who imprison it with the severe limitations of a fundamentalist approach. But too often, the professed liberators of Scripture proceed immediately to imprison it within their own worldview. And we all know this is no liberation; this is merely a change in dictators.

I’m not a fundamentalist but given a choice I would prefer to side with fundamentalism as Spong’s modern liberal worldview seems to undermine the authority of the Word of God. I may add that the authority of the scripture is not bestowed by humanity nor the church, its authority is inherent in the words of the Scripture. This authority is merely recognized by those who read and believe in it.

Just one evangelical scholar would say… “If I am asked why I receive Scripture as the Word of God… [I answer] … Because the Bible is the only record of the redeeming love of God, because in the Bible alone I find God drawing near to us in Jesus Christ, and declaring to us in him his will for our salvation. And this record I know to be true witness of his Spirit in my heart, whereby I am assured that none other than God himself is able to speak such words to my soul.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Social Action-Gospel Dichotomy in Mission

This question still lingers in my mind, why do NGOs that specializes in social actions could not work side by side with a local church? Yes, they have a relationship but the relationship seems to be concerned on the business side and is so fragile. I have high hopes that an NGO here could develop a partnership with a church for the sake of the gospel, but I know I was just dreaming. In reality, the NGO is more concern on the physical needs of the people. I admire their desire to provide for the spiritual needs of the people but how can they do it without the help of worshiping community. And how could a community extend its social ministry when it could not even sustain itself. Lesslie Newbigin rightly observes that:

The concern of those who see mission primarily in terms of action for God’s justice is embodied mainly in programs carried on at a supracongregational level by boards and committees, whether national or ecumenical. The concern of those who see mission primarily in terms of personal conversion is expressed mainly at the level of congregational life. The effect of this is that each is robbed of its character by its separation from the other. Christian programs for justice and compassion are severed from their proper roots in the liturgical and sacramental life of the congregation, and so lose their character as signs of the presence of Christ and risk becoming mere crusades fueled by a moralism that can become self-righteous. And the life of the worshipping congregation, severed from its proper expression in compassionate service to the secular community around it, becoming a self-centered existence serving only the needs of its members. Thus both sides of the dichotomy find good reasons for caricaturing each other, and mutual distrust deepens.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introductin to the Theology of Mission, p 10

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Complete in Christ

8See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.9For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.
In this passage the Apostle Paul starts making his direct attack against the false teachers at Colossian church. He warns the believers against the danger of being taken captive of empty and misleading philosophy.

The Apostle Paul used the word “no one” suggesting that he has a particular person in mind. Perhaps the Apostle Paul was thinking of the leader of the false teachers among the believers in Colossae and perhaps his listener knew very who he was talking about.

Paul’s warning is that no one takes you captive. This phrase is actually one compound word in the original language and it literally means “to kidnap” or “being taken captives as spoils from war.” This means that the false teachers are being are being pictured as those who steal people for slavery. The picture that the Apostle Paul is trying to paint here is that these false teachers are trying to ambush the believers and drag them away into spiritual enslavement.

For Paul, it is unthinkable that those whom God has redeemed and set free through their faith in Christ would become captives just because of ignorance. Ignorance makes them vulnerable and causes them the victory in the war against false teachings.

This is the challenge that is being set before us this morning. We are Christians, we are redeemed. Christ paid dearly for our freedom so that we can enjoy life more abundantly. But it is sad to see that many believers have been deceived by the enemy, live a defeated life and believe the deception of the false teachers and the promise of this world. And it is simply because of our ignorance. Our defense against these attacks by the enemy is to know Christ more and his Words.

The weapon and the tactics that the false teachers are using to capture believers are “through hollow and deceptive philosophy.” It is interesting to note that the word “philosophy” is used only in this verse in the entire New Testament. And using this verse to say that the Bible is against all contemporary philosophical teachings is far-fetched. Clearly, the Apostle is not against good or even Christian philosophy, so to speak. So what kind of philosophy is the Apostle is attacking here?

Philosophy that depends on human traditions

Paul is attacking a philosophy which depends on human traditions. By “tradition” Paul likely means the various practices and ideas that are prevalent during those days which perhaps assimilated within Christianity. Tradition is that which is given from one generation to another. Just because people have believed something and handed it down through the years does not make it true. More often than not, tradition serves to carry on errors.

Here in Mae Sai, I learn that the word “traditional Christians” has different meaning. I heard this mentioned by many Christians here. Traditional Christians are second or third generation Christians who really never have a personal faith in Christ. Their being Christians are actually handed to them by their parents. And because of this, many of those who considered themselves Christians are still captives of the practices and concepts of the world around us and not based on the word of God. If you consider yourself a traditional Christian, it is about time we learn from Jesus and his words.

Philosophy that depends on world’s basic principles

Hollow and deceptive philosophy depends on the basic principles of this world. Basic principles have various meanings. Originally it denoted the letters of the alphabet, its root meanings being “things in a row.” The term then came to be used of the elements of learning such as ABC and of physical elements of the world.

Furthermore, it is also being used as of the basic spirits or supernatural powers believed in ancient times that controls over and direct heavenly bodies (Galatians 4:3). Here in this passage, it is more likely that Paul was speaking about the “spirits who control the stars and the planets.” We know it when Paul refers for example with angel worship in chapter 2 verse 18.

One example of this today is astrology or any teachings similar to this. People who believe in astrology thought that their lives have been predetermined long ago. In Paul’s time people believed that stars and planets influenced lives and controlled people’s destiny. They could only escape from this rigid determinism if they know the secret word by which the false teachers claim they can provide.

This philosophy or teaching claims that this is an advanced in spiritual knowledge but in reality is a step back to spiritual infancy and demonic captivity. We may not believe in things like this, but if we believe more on the wisdom and teachings that depends on the basic principles of this world rather than Jesus’ teachings then surely we will be deceived. This will hinder our growth and weakens our resolve to serve God and live like Jesus.

Accept philosophy that depends on Christ

We should accept philosophy or teaching that depends on Christ. Jesus Christ is the standard by which all teachings is to be measured and any system, whatever it claims, must be rejected if it fails to conform to the revelation God has given to us.

Verse 9 is the most powerful words use in the Scripture that describes the divinity of Christ. It is apparent that the false teachers were teaching that Jesus was not God. And any system or philosophy that teaches that Jesus is not God should be considered as blatantly false. Here, the Apostle Paul proclaims that all the deity dwell in bodily form.

Paul also proclaims that Christ is the head over rule and authority. He is more powerful than the spirits who control the starts and the planets. Angels bow before him whom the Colossian believers are worshipping.
These claims should encourage us to fully trust in Christ. We have the confidence that even though we may not follow the traditions of our ancestors or the system of belief in this region, we are safe in Christ and we are doing the right thing. The spirit of this world can not harm us because we have Christ who is the fullness of God and who is the head over all power and authority.

In Christ we have been made full

This statement is the main point of Paul’s argument. Given that Christ is fully God and really human, we believers are made full in him. This denotes our essential union with the Savior. If we are united in Christ, our every spiritual need is fully met. Possessing him, we possess all. There is no need for us to turn to the philosophy of this world, the ritual of our religions, or the spirit-beings we believed are all around us. All we need is Jesus Christ.

In Christ we are complete. We are spiritually complete because our fellowship with God through Christ. We are complete in good works because we believe and follow Christ teachings and his will. We are complete in our thinking because we know that what concerns us ultimately is God. All believers in Christ are complete in Christ and we do not need to know the teachings of other religions to make us think so.


I should say that every one of us has a choice. We can choose to follow human wisdom and teachings or we can come to Christ and follow his teachings wholeheartedly. To follow human wisdom can make ourselves vulnerable and be kidnapped by the powers of this world. However, to follow Christ is coming to the one who alone can give us completeness.

Our faith, our God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is sufficient for our needs. The people around will say that our life is lacking if we do not follow some principles of this world. And we may actually feel that there is a lack. It only means that we need to keep moving, keep walking on the road which God has laid before us. For as we keep walking, Further up and further in, we will experience the fullness of God in our lives.