Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy New Year

Last night I took the courage to upgrade my Mac OS X from Panther 10.3.9 to Tiger 10.4.11. The happy results are I was able to install Missingsync 4.04 and the latest version of Journler. Missingsync makes it possible for me to synchronized my Mac with my (actually borrowed) Windows Mobile Toshiba e380. Journler on the other hand makes it possible for me to write my journal and other stuff. This enables me to to post offline which is the usual situation I am in right now.

This year, I need to spend a lot of times writing my paper. Hopefully, I can also blog regularly.

I preached in the church this morning and upon seeing that there were more locals than the internationals who attended the worship service, I requested Isaac (our official translator in the Jubilee Bible School) to translate for me. It has been a while since I preached with translator and I still found it uncomfortable.

Anyways, last night as I was preparing the sermon and I was looking for a good illustration to the introduction. I found this prayer from e-sword illustration tools.

May this be our prayer for the new year as well.

Lord, I confess before You that:

I have had longings and nudges from You which I did not translate into action.

I have made decisions without consulting You, then have blamed You when things went wrong.

I have said that I trusted You, yet have not turned my affairs over to You.
I have been greedy for present delights and pleasures, unwilling to wait for those joys which time and discipline alone can give.

I have often sought the easy way and have consistently drawn back from the road that is hard.

I have been fond of giving myself to dreams of which I am going to do sometime, yet have been so slow in getting started to do them.

Forgive me for all the intentions that were born and somehow never lived.

And now I claim Your promise to change me. Do for me what I cannot do for myself. Lead me into a new tomorrow with a new spirit. Cleanse my heart; create within me new attitudes and new ideas, as only You can. Amen.



Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Dela Paz November Update


Here is our latest newsletter. I hope somebody is still reading this blog.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The van broke down

The van spewed engine oil on the road on my way to the church when I was bringing the people to the church last Sunday. I wasn't aware of it until I picked up some church members on our way and told me that the van was spilling a lot of oil on the road.

I really felt bad about it. First because I still had to bring my family yet to the church and second the spilled oil was fatal for hundreds of motorcycles that pass on the road. I stopped on the red light in a turn and I left a pool of spilled oil there. The police found out about it and they put sand on it.

Maybe ten months ago, I noticed the leak from the engine and asked the mechanic to do something about it. He put new gaskets and oil seal, but after a week the oil started to leak again. I mentioned it to him and he started to reason out about the cylinder being loose. Although I think that a loose piston would not cause oil leaks, I didn't argue. It was hard argue with someone you don't understand and can't understand you. So when I called him last Sunday, he was kinda apologetic for doing a bad job.

Anyways, the van broke and the good side of it is I have a break doing the bus run. And it feels good. When I volunteer to do the bus run for the church's school and the nursery I thought it would be a relaxing drive and therapeutic at times. But the school grew and the number of students doubled within six months. This results to an unexpectedly long drive that took two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. It becomes really a serious difficult work. Not that I am complaining.

The van broke down, but it feels good. I almost praying that the repair will take longer. But again, I have to think about the children being driven dangerously in a motorcycle to the school.

The blogger's word verification and typing the characters you see in the picture to post this still annoys me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So little time, so much to do

I'm falling behind with my blogging. The main reason is we have been very busy in the training center. We had hosted a week of church planting seminar and another week of Condensed World Mission Course. These activities did not only involved teaching but lots of errands and food preparations. I hope to catch up with blogging soon. Also I can't post offline using MarsEdit because of blogger's word verification. This is very annoying.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Reading biblical narratives

Big percentage of the Biblical materials is narrative. Narrative is a literary form characterized by sequential action involving plot, setting and characters. The meaning of the narrative derives primarily from the actions of its characters. Rather than telling us how to live or how not live, stories teach us the same through the actions of the characters.

The purpose of these stories is theological. God uses them to teach us theology. The Bible gives us examples how to teach profound truth through stories and I believe we can use it to teach our people too.

Why did God choose narrative literature to communicate theological truth to us? Why didn't he communicate everything through essays or law? Think for a moment about these questions. Here Duvall and Hays list some of the advantages and disadvantages of using narrative to communicate theological truth.

Advantages of Using Narrative to Communicate Theological Truth
  1. Narratives are interesting, both to children and to adults.
  2. Narratives pull us out into the action of the story.
  3. Narratives usually depicts real life and are thus easy to relate to. We find ourselves asking what we would have done in that situation.
  4. Narratives are easy to remember.
  5. Narratives portray the ambiguities and complexities of life.
  6. God can include himself as one of the characters in the narrative. Thus he can teach us about himself by what he says and does in specific contexts.
  7. Narratives are holistic; we see characters struggle, but we also often see resolution of their struggles. We see the entire character.
  8. Narratives relates short incidents and events to a bigger overall story.
Disadvantages of Using Narrative to Communicate Theological Truth
  1. The meaning of the narrative can be subtle or ambiguous and not clearly stated; the casual reader may miss it altogether.
  2. The reader may get enthralled with the narrative as a story and miss its meaning.
  3. The reader may assume that since literature is narrative, it deals only with history and not theology.
  4. The reader may read too much theology in the narrative (allegorizing).
Here the pros outweigh the cons. The authors of the Bible thought the same. I agree with Duvall and Hays that God chose to use the literary device known as narrative as major way to communicate his big story precisely because the biblical narratives engage us in such a powerful way. They challenge us, interest us, rebuke, puzzle us, and entertain us. They stick in our memory. They make us think and reflect. They involve us emotionally as well as intellectually. They teach us about God and his plan for his people. They teach us about all kinds of people--good ones and bad ones, faithful, obedient ones and mule-headed, disobedient ones. They teach us about life in all its complexities and ambiguities.

Duvall & Hays, Grasping the God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading and Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, pp. 288-294

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Interpreting Revelation

to_chain_the_beast.jpgReading Duvall & Hays' Grasping God's Word has been a fascinating experience for me. The book provides me with the latest method in biblical studies. They are reinforcing the traditional methods that scholars find to be still valid. They also present some of the more effective approach to studying the different literary genres of the books of the Bible.

Here Duvall and Hays suggest specific principles in interpreting Revelation. The following are mostly direct quotes from their book:

Read Revelation with humility. We should resist "Revelation-made easy" approaches. Revelation is not easy. People who must satisfy their curiosity or people who are unwilling to live with any uncertainty are those most likely to read into Revelation things that are not there. Beware of interpreters who appear to have all the answers to even the smallest questions. "Experts who claim absolute knowledge about every minute detail of Revelation should be held in suspicion. Reading with a humble mind means that we are willing to admit that our interpretation could be wrong and to change our view when biblical evidence points in a different direction.

Try to discover the message to the original readers. Discovering the message to the original audience is top priority with any book of the Bible, but especially with this one. When it comes to reading Revelation, the tendency is to ignore the first Christians and jump directly to God's message to us. Some people use today's newspapers as the key to interpreting Revelation. But as Keener notes, this approach does not fit well with a high view of Scripture.

The best place to begin is with the question: What was John trying to communicate to his audience?" If our interpretation makes no sense for original readers, we have probably missed the meaning of the passage. Fee and Stuart remind us of how important it is to discover the message to the original audience: As with the Epistles, the primary meaning of the Revelation is what John intended it to mean, which in turn must also have been something his readers could have understood it to mean.

Don't try to discover a strict chronological map of the future events. Don't look for Revelation to progress in a neat linear fashion. The book is filled prophetic-apocalyptic visions that serve to make a dramatic impact on the reader than to present a precise chronological sequence of future events.

Take Revelation seriously, but don't always take it literally. Some who say we should interpret Scripture symbolically do so in order to deny the reality of scriptural truth or a historical event. When they say that something is figurative or symbolic, they mean that it is not real or that it never happened. That is not the intention of this book. We insist that picture language with its symbols, images, and figures is capable of conveying literal truth and describing literal events. Picture language is just another language vehicle, another way of communicating reality. In our way of thinking, Revelation uses picture language to emphasize historical reality rather than to deny or diminish it.

Pay attention when John identifies an image.
When John himself provides a clue to the interpretation of an image, we should take notice. In other words, we should pay close attention when John identifies or defines the images for his readers. We can not assume that images like lampstands would always refer to the churches. John may use the same image to refer to different things.

Look to the Old Testament and historical context when interpreting images and symbols. Revelation uses language at several different levels:

Text level: words written on the page
Vision level: the picture that the words paint
Referent level: what the vision refers to in real life

One of the most difficult aspects of reading Revelation is knowing what the images and symbols refer to. Even when we understand what is happening at the text and vision levels, we may not know what Revelation is saying, but we are often not sure what it is talking about.

The two places to go for answers are to the first-century historical context. Revelation uses much of Old Testament imagery. The book is filled with echoes and allusions to the Old Testament. In fact, Revelation contains more Old Testament references than any other New Testament book, with the Old Testament appearing in almost 70 percent of Revelation's verses. Psalms, Isaiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel make the most important contribution to Revelation.

Above all, focus on the main idea and don't press all the details. This last interpretive guideline is perhaps the most important of all. With most literary genres in the Bible, we begin with the details and build our way toward an understanding of the whole. With revelation, however, we should start with the big picture and work toward an understanding of the details. As we seek to identify the theological principles, we should focus on the main ideas.

The details of any particular section will heighten the impact on the reader but will not change the main idea. Resist the temptation to focus on the details so that you miss the main idea. Don't let the main point of each section or vision fade from view. As has been said, when reading Revelation, the main thing is to make the main thing the main thing.

*The image is from Meta-Logic Cafe'.

Duvall & Hays, Grasping the God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading and Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, pp. 288-294

Common errors in word study

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When we study the Bible, it is necessary for us to do word studies. The aim of word study according to New Testament scholar, Gordon Fee is “to try to understand as precisely as possible what the author was trying to convey by his use of this word in this context.” We as readers should not be the one who determine the meaning of biblical words; instead, we discover what the biblical writer meant when he used a particular word. Duvall and Hays insist that we should always keep in mind the distinction between determining the meaning and discovering the meaning.

Even though we do not know the original biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek, we can still do word studies. The use of exhaustive concordance like the Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance is very helpful. The idea here is to use a concordance that matches the version of the Bible you are using.

Duvall and Hays mention the most common word study fallacies that we tend to make when we do our Bible study.

English-Only Fallacy. We all know that the Bible was not written in English and even though we might think that a particular version is closer to the original, it is not the original. Here are some of the problems that may occur. First, a word in Hebrew or Greek is often translated into English by a number of different English words. The other is that we may not be aware that different words in Hebrew or Greek can be translated into English using the same English word. This error happens when we base our word study on the English word rather than the underlying Greek or Hebrew word, as a result gives us a unreliable or misleading conclusions. Looking up the word in an English dictionary would help us in understanding the word in a passage, but it will not in anyway gives us the right understanding and might lead us to a wrong interpretation. Any Bible teacher should have a working knowledge of the original language or learn to use the Hebrew and Greek tools.

Root Fallacy. We have this idea that the original root of the word determines the meaning of the word. I heard preacher who discussed the root of a word and used that meaning every time that word occurs in his sermon. Think about how silly it is in English to use the root of the word to understand the meaning of a “butterfly.” This is also true in biblical language. Just because we can recognize the root words of a Greek word does not mean we have discovered the “real meaning” of the word. It is true that the individual parts may accurately portray its meaning, but only if the context supports such a meaning. The context should give priority over etymology.

Time-Frame Fallacy. This error occurs when we try to tie a late meaning to the word and read it back to the Bible, or when we insist that an early word meaning still holds when in fact it has since become obsolete. I guess this also happens when we try to assign a very late idea to a related word that the first century Christians would not even had the faintest idea. D.A. Carson gives as an example when translators use the word “dynamite” for the Greek word dynamis to illustrate this kind of fallacy. He says, “I do not know how many times I have heard preachers offer some such rendering of Romans 1:16 as this ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the dynamite”… did Paul think of dynamite when he penned the word?”

Overload Fallacy. We commit this error when we include all the possible meanings a word could have. Any preacher should not take the same words from another book and apply its meaning to the word he is studying. The word may be the same but the context determines the meaning of the word.

Word-count Fallacy. We make this mistake when we insist that a word must have the same meaning every time it occurs. For example, if we are confident that a word carries a certain meaning in seven of its eight occurrences in Scripture, we might assume that it must have the same meaning in its eighth occurrence. Again word meanings are determined by context, not word counts.

Word-Concept Fallacy. We fall in this error when we assume that once we have studied the word, we have studied the entire concept. It would be a mistake to assume that we can know everything about the church just in studying the word “church” (ekklesia). This word study will certainly give us important information but the concept of the church or any concept for that matter is bigger than any one word.

Selective-Evidence Fallacy. When we teach we usually cite verses that supports our favored interpretation and we tend to ignore if not dismissed the passages that seems to argue against our view. This is selective-evidence fallacy. This error is dangerous because we do this mistake intentionally whereas we might commit other fallacies unintentionally. Although we want the Bible to support our convictions in every case, there will be times when its message confronts us for our own good. When that happens, we should be willing to change our view rather than twist or ignore the evidence found in the Scripture.

Duvall & Hays, Grasping the God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading and Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, pp. 133-135

Monday, September 29, 2008

Who's who: Arius


Arius had been trained at Antioch, with which city Alexandria had long been in dispute, notably about the way Scripture should be handled. About 318 Arius accused Bishop Alexander of Alexandria of subscribing to Sabellianism (the view that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were merely roles or modes assumed in turn by God). Though Alexander had probably been guilty of no more than an incautious use of language, Arius was concerned to emphasize the oneness of God.
Unhappily, he went to the other extreme. If the Father was absolutely one, where did the Son come in? Arius explained it thus: "The Father existed before the Son. There was a time when the Son did not exist. Therefore, the Son was created by the Father. Therefore, although the Son was the highest of all creatures, he was not of the essence of God."

This was no mere exercise in semantics, but an attack on the doctrine of God and a challenge to the very foundation of Christianity, which holds that Jesus is really and truly God. Alexander, who until then had had a high regard for Arius as an expert logician, brought him to meet with some of the diocesan clergy. Alexander himself chaired the discussion. Arius defended his position, but the others (joined belatedly by Alexander) contended that the Son is consubstantial and coeternal with the Father. The bishop commanded Arius to receive this doctrine and to reject his former opinions.

Arius was not prepared to do so, and in 319 he was officially anathematized, as were all others who made "shameless avowal of these heresies." There the matter might have rested, but Arius was cunning and persuasive. The emperor Constantine had been at first inclined to dismiss the theological differences as "of a truly insignificant character," but he was less concerned about the unity of God (which he imperfectly understood) than about the unity of his empire. The churchmen persisted, however, and Constantine convened the first ecumenical council of the Church, held at Nicea in a.d. 325.

Almost three hundred bishops were present, predominantly from the East. Arianism was the major item on the agenda. Arius and his supporters were given every opportunity to make their case and seemed confident of success. To their dismay, both Arianism and a compromise viewpoint were rejected, and the council produced a creed that upheld the orthodox position. Its crucial point was its insistence on Christ's being of the same essence with the Father, rather than of similar essence (a view the Arians would have accepted). The difference in Greek centered around the presence or absence of the letter Greek letter iota (i) ó i.e., whether it should be homoousios (of the same essence) or homoiousios (of similar essence). The orthodox at Nicea, notably the young Athanasius who was an invaluable aide to Bishop Alexander, rightly saw that this was not merely a battle over a letter, but that true Christian doctrine was at stake.

At the end of the council Arius was excommunicated, but within two years he deceived Constantine into thinking he was orthodox at heart. Athanasius, who became bishop of Alexandria in 328, would not have Arius back in the city, and this became a source of unrest, fully exploited by Athanasius' enemies. Even when the exasperated Constantine sent Athanasius into exile, Arius was refused Communion in the diocese and returned to Constantinople, where he soon died. Arianism was not dead, however, but persisted (often among the highly placed) until its final condemnation at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

J. D. Douglas in Who's Who in Christian History. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Presupposition

Every people group of different cultures brings their preunderstanding to the biblical text they are reading. But we could not help it, it just the way we are. However, we should never allow our culture to dictate the meaning of the Word of God. But if we talk to Christians from different cultures it is evident that their understanding of the scripture varies from one another. We judge the correctness (or the wrongness) of their interpretation from our own culture (more often western which more often than not is also based in our preunderstanding).

Presunderstanding like culture is not inherently bad. But it is a baggage that we bring to the text that causes us to color our interpretation and leads us to the path of misinterpretation. We could not abandon our preunderstanding and throw it into the trash when we encounter biblical passages that contradict it.

Duvall and Hays say that what we do want to do is to submit our preunderstanding, throwing all of our previous encounters with the text, placing it under the text rather than over the text. We must be able to identify our preunderstanding and then be open to changing it in accordance with a true serious study of the text. That is, after we have studied the text thoroughly, we must then evaluate our preunderstanding and modify it appropriately in the light of our current study.

However, nobody can approach bible study in a neutral manner. Total objectivity is impossible when we study the Bible. I remember being taught at the Seminary that we could only have unbiased and truthful interpretation if we approach the text with total objectivity. As Christians we serve the living God and we have the Hoy Spirit living with us. Our relationship with God is the most important aspect when we read the Bible and this relationship is what greatly impacts our interpretation of the text.

Duvall and Hays call this inherent quality among Christians as presuppositions. Presupposition is not something we want to renegotiate as we read the text. It is different from preunderstanding that need to be changed. Presuppositions should not change at all. We have several presuppositions about the Bible itself that develop out of our relationship with Christ.

Several presuppositions about Scriptures that evangelical Christians generally hold are as follows:
First, the Bible is the Word of God. Although God worked through people to produce it, it is nonetheless inspired by the Holy Spirit and is God’s Word to us.

Second, the Bible is trustworthy and true.

Third, God has entered into human history; thus the supernatural does occur.

Finally, the Bible is not contradictory; it is unified, yet diverse. Nevertheless, God is bigger that we are, and he is not always easy to comprehend. Thus the Bible has tension and mystery to it.
Though there are other presuppositions about the Bible that we Christians have. These are the most central ones. And I agree with Duvall and Hays that “these presuppositions have to do with how we view the entire Bible and serve as foundations on which to build our method of study.”

Duvall and Hays, Grasping God's Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, pp. 94-95.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Which translation is best?

Duvall and Hays suggest guidelines for choosing a translation. This is a direct quote from their book, Grasping God’s Word, which I find to be readable and practical and at the same time scholarly.

First, choose a translation that uses modern English. The whole point of making a translation is to move the message to the original to a language you can understand. History teaches us that languages change over time, and English is no exception. The English of John Wycliffe’s day or of 1611 is simply not the same as the English of the twenty-first century. There is little to be gained by translating a Greek or Hebrew text into a kind of English that you no longer use and can no longer comprehend. For that reason, we recommend that you choose among the many good translations that have appeared within 50 years.

Second, choose a translation that is based on the standard Hebrew and Greek text. The standard for the Old Testament is the Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS). For the New Testament the standard text is reflected in the latest edition of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (GNT) or the Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece. Along with the majority of scholars, we much prefer an ecletic original text rather than the Textus Receptus used by KJV and the NKJV.

Third, give preference to a translation by a committee over against a translation by individual. Translating requires an enormous amount of knowledge and skill. A group of qualified translators will certainly possess more expertise than any one translator possibly could. In addition, a group of scholars will usually guard against the tendency of individual scholars to read their own personal biases into their translation.

Lastly, choose a translation that is appropriate for your own particular purpose at the time. When you want to read devotionally or read to children, consider a simplified, functional translation such as the New Living Translation or the New Century Version. If you are reading to nontraditional or unchurched people, consider the Contemporary English Version or The Message. If you are reading to people with English as a second language, consider the Good News Bible. If you are reading to a “King –James-only” church, consider the New King James. But for your own personal study, we suggest the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version, Today’s International Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the English Standard Version, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, or the NET Bible.
English-speaking people have rich resources before them to compare different translations and have better opportunity to look at the best possible meaning of a particular passage according to its context. Bible translations in other languages remain limited to one or two translations. Only those who know English could point out the nuances and the discrepancies of the Bible’s translations in their own language. This makes it necessary to teach the students to learn at least English if not Hebrew or Greek. This is one of the many struggles of a Bible teacher trying to teach the local people to interpret the Bible.

Friday, September 12, 2008

King James Only?


I believe that the King James Version is the only trustworthy English translation. I found this declaration in many statement of faith I browsed in the Internet. They think that other versions of the Bible especially the modern ones are perversion of the word of God. They doggedly hold to this belief that trying to explain to them that KJV translators worked from an inferior Greek text constructed from a few late Old and New Testament manuscripts and that the later versions are based from older manuscripts that more likely reflect the original text would more likely to be ignored.

The irony here is that their fixation with KJV actually violate the intent of the translators who wanted to continue the ongoing ministry of making the Bible understandable to ordinary people.

They themselves expected opposition from those who refused to break with the tradition. They wrote:

For was anything ever undertaken with a touch of newness or improvement about it that didn’t run into storms of argument or opposition?... [King James] was well aware that whoever attempts anything for the public, especially if it has to do with religion or with making the word of God accessible and understandable, sets himself up to be frowned upon by every evil eye, and casts himself headlong on a row of pikes, to be stabbed by every sharp tongue.

So the church should always be ready with translations to avoid the same kind of emergencies [i.e., the inability to understand because of a language barriers.] Translation is what opens the window, to let the light in. It breaks the shell, so that we may eat the kernel. It pulls the curtain aside, so that we may look into the most holy place. It removes the cover from the well, so that we may get to the water…In fact, without a translation in the common language, most people are like the children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) without a bucket or something to draw the water with….
Furthermore, Duval and Hays in their book Grasping God’s Word mention two major obstacles contemporary readers are facing when they are using the KJV.

First as I mentioned earlier is that the translators of the KJV worked from inferior Greek text constructed from a few, late New Testament manuscript. Since the KJV first appeared, many older manuscripts have been discovered, and scholars contend that these older manuscripts are much more likely to reflect the original text. In contrast to the Greek text on which the KJV is based, scholars today are able to translate from a Greek text that draws back on more than five thousand New Testament manuscripts, some dating back to the second century.

Second, KJV is using archaic English words and phrases. In addition to the use of obselete terms such as “aforetime,” must needs,” howbeit,” “holden,” peradventure,” and “whereto,” the KJV is filled with out-of-date expressions that either fail to communicate with contemporary readers or mislead them entirely.

Undoubtedly, KJV was a good translation for the early 1600s because it was written for people during that time. But I think that many people who are using this version know KJV was revision. Everybody would have a hard time understanding even a page of the original 1611 version for its archaic English that used different spelling in our modern day English.

People who are using the 1769 KJV edition are unknowingly admitting the necessity to revise a translation. Thousand of changes had been made between the 1611 and 1769 version that they are literally different Bibles.

Why not continue the process of revision by drawing on the latest in biblical scholarship and using language that today’s readers can understand? Anything less seems to violate the intent of those who translated the original King James Version.

Duvall and Hays, Grasping the Word of God: A Hands On Approach to Reading, Interpreting and Applying the Word of God, 163-64.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

True Spirituality

I joined hands with a friend who is openly Pentecostal in starting a Bible school . I am not a Pentecostal myself but I have had spiritual experiences in my journey of faith. However, as a believers I find realy joy by being quiet and meditative. I am more comfortable when I do enjoy quiet moments with God. And I find myself preferring this than the ecstatic emotional experiences of my friends which I also do have from time to time. I just hope that people would see me as less spirit-filled because of this.

Bloesch rightly says that "true spirituality does not involve aspiring after extraordinary experiences of God or the Spirit. At the same time, we should earnestly pray that fruits of the Spirit might be manifested in our daily walk. If we serve Christ and our neighbor in love and diligently hold up the name of Christ before the world, we can have the assurance that we have indeed been baptized by the Spirit into the service of the kingdom of God. If we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33) even before our own happiness and security, we then have firm grounds for believing that we have indeed been born again from above, that the truth of the Spirit resides within us."
Faith must not be reduced to experience, but faith will entail experience--not only of God in his awesome holiness but also of God in his inexpressible joy and abounding love. Yet faith will always point us beyond our experiences; it will finally take us out ourselves into the service of God in the darkness of the world. The evidence of our new birth by the Spirit of God lies in the depths of our devotion to the gospel of God in our daily lives.

Donald Bloesh, The Holy Spirit: Gifts & Works, 16-7

Monday, September 08, 2008

Who's Who: Peter Abelard (1079-1142)


Medieval French philosopher, teacher, and theologian

Born in Brittany, Abelard studied with several of the great teachers of his day—including Roscelin (a rebel nominalist), William of Champeaux (an orthodox realist), and Anselm of Laon—at several locations in northern France, including Paris. Abelard first taught at Melun and Corbeil, and later at Paris. A bold and original thinker, he attracted large numbers to his lectures and counted many of the great minds of the twelfth century as his students, including Peter Lombard, John of Salisbury, and Otto of Freising. Many future leaders of Christendom were in attendance: several popes, twenty cardinals, and about fifty bishops.

While in Paris, Abelard lived at the house of Fulbert, who was the canon at Notre Dame. He fell in love with Fulbert’s niece, Heloise, and a son was born to her. Abelard offered to marry her, but she thought it better to enter a convent since marrying would hamper Abelard’s career in the church. Fulbert in retaliation ordered the castration of Abelard, who then retired to the monastery of St. Denis. The lifelong correspondence of Abelard and Heloise, known especially through her published Letters, has made the two of them classic figures among the world’s lovers.

In 1121 Abelard was condemned by the Council of Soissons for heresy and was forced to seek refuge. He found asylum in the remote monastery of St. Gildas in Brittany, where he stayed for ten years and was abbot until the monks forced him to leave. Returning to Paris, he remained popular with students. New charges of heresy from Norbert of Premontre and Bernard of Clairvaux resulted in Abelard’s condemnation by the church at the Council of Sens (1141) and the order to be silent. After a brief stay in a monastery, he began a journey to Rome to appeal his case. He stopped at Cluny where the abbot, Peter the Venerable, regarded Abelard’s case as hopeless and advised him not to continue. Abelard died shortly thereafter and was buried at Troyes; eventually Heloise was buried beside him.

Abelard’s training brought him into contact with two traditions of early scholastic thought, realism and nominalism. Abelard had difficulties with both and suggested an alternative, conceptualism—a meaningful “halfway house” to some, a heretical compromise to others. For Abelard there was reality both in the particular object and in the idea or universal (concept), although for Abelard the concept had reality only in the mind. His idea of reality caused his view of the Trinity to be regarded as heresy.

Further, Abelard had difficulty with church leaders because of his high regard for reason and its critical use in the study of theology and philosophy. Abelard, however, was not the forerunner of modern nationalism and atheism as some have judged. His own words attest that he was truly a Christian: “I do not want to be a philosopher if it means resisting St. Paul; I do not wish to be Aristotle if it must separate me from Christ.” Abelard sought to evaluate and understand his faith in the light of reason. His motto, “I understand so that I might believe,” reversed the order of Augustine of Hippo and Anselm of Canterbury. Abelard stressed the importance of reasoned experience. He also maintained that all persons should be able to read the Scripture and arrive at valid conclusions on their own.

Abelard’s most important contribution was the establishment of a critical methodology for theology. In reaction against the unreasoning pietism of some of his fellow monks, he stressed the value of a more analytical approach to theology, having been pointed in that direction by Anselm of Laon. Abelard lined up conflicting authorities on both sides of 158 theological problems in his controversial work of 1123 entitled Sic et Non (Yes and No). In an approach less dogmatic than Anselm’s rationalism, Abelard cited contrasting texts from both the Bible and the church fathers without harmonizing them. His collection of alternative views, however, was prefaced with rules for resolving such problems by distinguishing various senses of the words used.

Abelard’s disciple, Peter Lombard, continued that procedure in his Sentences, which became a standard textbook. For the next two hundred years, Abelard’s approach influenced the scholastic method of debating alternative positions and citing conflicting arguments, as seen, for example, in the writings of Thomas Aquinas.

Abelard published a more thorough presentation of his theology as Theologica Christiana in 1123 and 1124. He also wrote an autobiography, The Story of My Misfortunes, as well as other theological and philosophical works. - T. O. Kay & A. F. Holmes

J. D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort, eds,Who's Who in Christian History. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Preunderstanding

Preunderstanding referes to all of our preconceived notions and understandings that we bring to the text, which have been formulated, both consciously and subconsciously, before we actuall study the text in detail.

Preunderstanding is formed by both good and bad influences, some accurate and some inaccurate. It includes all that we have heard in Sunday School, at church, in Bible Studies, and in our private reading of the Bible. However, preunderstanding of biblical texts are also formed by hymns and other Christian music,pop songs, jokes, art, and nonbiblical literature, both Christian and secular. Likewise, culture constantly creeps in.

It may also comes from our own theological bias. For example, there was a time when theology for me meant Dispensationalism. So it was natural for me to approach the text with Dispensational leanings. Anything that did not fit with the meaning I was looking for, I will just simply skip or ignore. If we want to find out the realy meaning of the Biblical text, we should free ourselves of those preconceived theological views.

The authors go on to say that "preunderstanding including culture (or theological views) is not inherently bad, but it can often skew our understanding of the Bible, leading us down the trail of misinterpretation. We do not want to abandon our preunderstanding, throwing all of our previous encounters with the text in the trash. What we do want to do is to submit our preunderstanding to the text, placing it under the text rather than over the text. We must be able to indentify our preunderstanding and then be open to changing it in accordance with a true serious study of the text."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

God Uses Difficult Situations to Proclaim Christ

Text: Philippians 1:12-26

We, people love to complain. It seems natural for us to see negative things in almost every situation we are in. For example, it has been raining all week here in Mae Sai and we complain about it, we couldn’t help it. But when the sun shines, we also complain of humidity.

Have you heard the story about a man who looked at his house through critical eyes, and every place he looked it seemed that he always found something wrong. So he just decided to sell out and move somewhere else.

So he asked an realtor to help him sell the house. The agent came and they agreed to put out an ad about selling the house. But before the ads were sent out, he asked the owner to read it for editing.

The ad spoke of a good location, a well-maintained house, good grass yards, tall trees, a beautiful pond, good location and a great neighborhood. The man listened carefully, and then said, "Read that to me again, slowly." So the realtor read it to him again. Finally, the man responded, "Don’t put that ad in the paper. I’ve always wanted a place like that. I think I’ll stay right where I am."

I always believe that if we all just exert more effort, we can always find positive things in every situation even in the tragic ones.

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul adopted this kind of attitude (which is obviously not so with his other letters). The Apostle gives us some great advice in Philippians 4:8. Here is what he says:

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."

Now we all need to commit that verse to memory, because what so many of us do is the exact opposite - dwelling on negative, things that are untrue and wrong and impure. People focus so much on the negative that the media seldom bothers to feature positive news items because people just won’t listen to it.

We can break this pattern and we can start doing that today. Let us look at the Apostle Paul as he focuses on the positive.

In Philippians 1:12-26, Paul does mention some very negative things that are going on in his life - unpleasant circumstances, unreasonable people, and his uncertain future. But Paul goes on to show that God was able to use those negative things in a very positive way.

God Uses Unpleasant Circumstances to Advance the Gospel

A. Paul begins by talking about unpleasant circumstances. In vs. 12 he says, "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel."

We think we have troubles, don’t we? But how does your list compare to that of the apostle Paul? How many times have you been shipwrecked? How many times have you been beaten near unto death? Or how many times have you been arrested and imprisoned and chained up 24 hours a day?

Yet Paul says, "I look at all these things, and I see that they have served to advance the gospel."

Now the word translated "advance" here has an interesting history. It originally was used of "wood-cutters who go before an army, clearing a way through the underbrush so that the army can march forward unimpeded."

Paul is saying, "All these things that have happened to me have resulted in clearing the way so that the gospel might be preached more effectively."

The imprisonment was positively crucial because the gospel was able to penetrate the ranks of the Roman military even the royal house.

These were the positive development that under normal circumstances would have been closed to the gospel.

In vs. 13, he says, "As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ."

Now here is the situation. For 24 hours a day Paul is chained to Roman soldiers, each serving a 6-hour shift. So every 6 hours a new soldier comes in and chains himself to Paul. The soldier was doing his duty, making sure the prisoner wasn’t going to escape.

But Paul saw this as a wonderful opportunity to tell the soldier about Jesus. There was no way that the soldier could escape. And it worked, for in the closing chapter of this letter, vs. 22, Paul writes, "All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household."

Now that tells me that some of these soldiers became Christians, and the gospel made its way even into the pagan household of Caesar - all because Paul was in prison.

There was a second positive result. In vs. 14 he says, "Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly."

Paul is saying, "Because of my hardships, because of the things that have happened to me, other Christians have been encouraged. They have seen how God has protected me through difficult situations, and encouraged me, and given me strength beyond my own power."

"Now they’re facing difficult circumstances, too. But because of what they have seen, they’re convinced that God will take care of them, also."

You see, God can take the most negative things that happen to us in life, and make them positive, if we’ll just focus on the positive that is there.

So what are the unpleasant circumstance you have this morning? Are you chained to declining health? Are chained to a very difficult job, and you can’t make ends meet? Are you chained to a job that has no future? Are you chained to loneliness or grief or despair? Then you need to stop and ask, "How can God use this to advance the gospel?"

God Uses Unreasonable People to Proclaim Christ

Secondly, Paul talks about unreasonable people. In vs. 15 he says, "It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will." What Paul is saying is this, "There are some people who are envious of me, who see themselves as rivals, competitors in preaching the gospel."

Apparently, those who were preaching from envy and strife were not heretics. But they were jealous of the attention Paul was receiving and they were determined to sow seeds of dissension in order to give him trouble.

The motives of these believers were not good. Those who proclaim Christ whose motivation was selfish ambition implies that they did not preach to honor God or to help Paul but rather to gain applause and followers for themselves. They were not acting in pure motives.

Paul was convinced that these preachers actually desired to cause him additional problems while he was in prison.

What difference does it make? Paul asked. In essence he was saying, their motives are between them and God. Whether the preaching was done for false motives or pure, whether for show or for the sake of what was right, Paul was genuinely pleased that the gospel was being spread.

Now vs. 18 is one of the most incredible verses in the Bible. Paul says, "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice."

Now, only if many Christians could take Paul’s attitude the body of Christ would really look good and attractive to the unbelievers. Paul could have fought back and said something nasty things to these people who were opposing him but he did not.
It is sad that many Christians think that their main ministry is to criticize other individuals or ministries just because their methods and focus are different from them. Just like the Apostle Paul we should rejoice that we are all together, united in our main reason to be here and that is to proclaim the gospel of our Lord and God Jesus Christ.

Let us make our fellow Christians look good. Let us make the body of Christ look good. Let us pray for each other, let us pray for our fellow missionaries, let us help one another to proclaim the gospel... because it is our great joy whether in pretense or in truth, that Christ is being proclaimed. Amen!

God Uses Uncertainty to Exalt Christ*

Finally, Paul mentions his uncertain future. In vs. 19 he says, "I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance."

Paul is facing trial in Rome. If he is found innocent, he’ll be freed to preach some more. If he’s found guilty, he’ll be executed. He knew he was either going to live, or he was going to die, depending upon the results of the trial.

So he writes in vs. 20: "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death."

Here is what he is saying: "My concern is, when I stand before a pagan judge in a pagan court, that I won’t do or say anything to embarrass Christ Jesus, my Lord. My only concern is that I will have enough courage to stand up in their midst and by what I say and do that Jesus Christ will be exalted. Whether I die or whether I live doesn’t matter. All I want to do is exalt Jesus."

Vs. 21 is a very familiar verse. You probably have memorized it at one time or another. Paul says, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."

If you were going to write that verse, and truthfully describe your feelings, what would you say? "For me to live is money, and to die is to leave it behind." "For me to live is family, and to die is leave them alone." "For me to live is pleasure, and to die is to miss all the fun." "For me to live is fame, and to die is to be quickly forgotten." "For me to live is power and influence, and to die is to become insignificant."

The Living Bible paraphrases it this way: "To me, living means opportunity for Christ, and dying, that’s even better!"

In vs’s 22-24 Paul says, "If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;"

Kenneth Dodge tells about an 8-year-old boy named Frank. Frank had a date with his father to go fishing on Saturday. They were going to fish the whole day. On Friday night he had everything laid out. He was ready to go.

But on Saturday morning he awoke to discover that it was raining cats and dogs, and they couldn’t go fishing. So 8-year-old Frank grumbled and griped and complained all morning long. He kicked the furniture, the dog, the cat. Nothing was right. "Why does it have to rain today?"

His father tried to explain to him that the farmers needed the rain. But that didn’t satisfy Frank. "Why does it have to rain today?" he said. About noon the clouds broke and the sun came out. His dad said, "Well, we can’t go fishing all day, but at least we can fish this afternoon. Let’s go." So they jumped into the truck, went to the lake and fished all afternoon, and caught more fish than they had ever caught before. The baskets were full, and they had the time of their lives.

They came home, and mom cooked some of the fish for supper. As they were sitting down to eat, Frank’s dad looked at him and asked, "Would you ask the blessing?" Eight-year-old Frank prayed this prayer: "God, if I sounded a little grumpy earlier today, it was because I couldn’t see far enough ahead."

That’s the problem, isn’t it? We’re so caught up in the circumstances and people and things that surround us, that we just can’t see far enough ahead.

But when you take time to look, people, you’ll begin to focus more and more on the positive, because in Christ we have a wonderful future. It may seem uncertain right now, but we have a certain destiny in God. And one day we’re going to see Him face to face and be with Him for all eternity.

*The last point and illustrations are adapted from Melvin Newland's sermon

O nasty bug

It has been relentlessly raining here in Mae Sai for how long, I couldn’t remember anymore. The sun was able peek out of the thick clouds for a few hours in a given day. But boy, when it was out, it was hot and humid.

I was down with a nasty bug for almost a week. Shivering coldly at night and gritting my teeth trying to resist the excruciating headache, joint and muscle pains. It was a consolation that in the family, more often I was the one worst hit by the bug. Narlin wiggled out of it with just a little discomfort. Reuven is fighting it out with the bug today. He has fever and terrible headaches as well. We hope that it will be over tomorrow.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lamin Sanneh on expansion of Christianiy

In the 70's prophets of doom predicted that Christianity will experience a steady decline and its adherents would be greatly reduced. This is confounded with the resurgence of Islam. This fact seems to put the nail in the coffin.

However, by the year 2002 the continuous growth of Christianity in Asia and Africa come as a surprise to many. It could not be denied though that a decline is happening in its counterpart in the West.

According to Lamin Sanneh, “it had become clear that a major expansion of Christianity had been under way in Asia and Africa in spite of prevailing pessimism. In Africa in 1985, there were about 16,500 conversions a day. In the same period, some 4,300 people were leaving the church on daily basis in Europe and North America.

Many people, however, are skeptical about this growth not only because this comes from Africa but also because many Christians believe that these African Christians have abandoned the Christian exlucivism and instead become tolerant and inclusivist.

Nonetheless, the facts of the expansion of Christianity cannot be disputed. Lamin Sanneh offers an explanation and cites four major factors.

First, the expansion happened after the era of colonialism and during the period of national awakening. It can be assume that colonialism is a big hindrance to the growth of Christianity.

Second is the result of the Bible translations in local languages, in this case African languages. With the vernacular translation went cultural renewal that encouraged Africans to view Christianity in favorable light.

Third is that the locals stepped forward to lead the church. Young people especially women, were given a role in the church.

The last factor is a theological one: “Christian expansion was virtually limited to those societies whose people had preserved the indigenous name for God. That was a surprising discovery, because of the general feeling that Christianity was incompatible with the indigenous ideas of religion.”

Friday, July 11, 2008

Centrist evangelical

Most of the missionaries I work with, I reckoned are fundamentalist, in the sense that they hold to the essential fundamentals of the Christian faith. I admire and love them for that. Except that sometimes, I could not help but feel bad when we have the tendency to looked down on other Christians because they believe differently from them in some issues.

I have to meet yet a liberal in the true sense of the world. Liberal after the mold of Albert Schweitzer or John Spong. Today, people like them would not be sent by any denominational mission agency because of their "bad theology." But of course, they can always go on their own.

I meet a few who can be classified as moderates and progressive. But to most people who don't know the what theological liberalism is all about, they are easily classified as one.

Bloesch statements is a good reminder that we don't have to remain in both extreme sides of the balance.
My theological stance could be designated as centrist evangelical in the sense of remaining in continuity with the message of Holy Scripture and the wisdom of scared tradition. Being centrist must not be confused with taking the middle road between fundamentalism and liberalism. It embraces the truth in both camps and negates the untruth in these positions as well. Being a centrist evangelical means building upon the center or core of faith--the gospel of God's reconciling act in Jesus Christ attested in Holy Scripture and clarified by the fathers and teachers of the faith through the ages. But whereas the fathers and teachers are fallible, the Word of God in Holy Scripture is infallible. Yet this Word is not in propositional formula at human disposal but the reaching out of the hand of God upon the human heart and conscience.


Donald G. Bloesch, God the Almighty: Power, Wisdom, Holiness, Love. Down Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, p 12.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Year two and thanks to Ben!


This month, this blog turns two. I would say that the best thing that happened to this it being linked to Faith & Theology and it resulted to being linked to other theology blogs and actually visited by more readers. For some time this blog was also linked by Jim when I was still have the time and energy to write sensible posts.

Interestingly, this blog is linked with other from missionary blogs. Some of them became our friends and one of them; Jonathan actually came to work with us after learning about our location and ministry from this blog. He is still here teaching in the Bible School and doing street evangelism.

Ben has done something special not only to this blog but also to me personally. His friendly appeal solicited incredible response that I now have a good collection in my library. In addition, Megan (our fellow missionary who went home to the States last July) left her bookcase to us upon when she saw those good books.

A “passing post” about a need for a spare laptop after I had a disastrous computer crashes. I admit I have not recovered emotionally since then after losing half of my dissertation. However, the good news is somebody gave me a PowerBook G4 Mac Laptop. My theology professor in the seminary sent it to me. The laptop which apparently was donated by somebody whom I don’t know personally. I don’t even have an idea if that person is reading F&T but just the same I feel I need to thank Ben for that.

Reconnected and it feels so good!

Our Internet was reconnected last week (support money finally came). I might be able to post more regularly now. However, our hands are still full preparing the facilities for the Bible School. We hope to start classes on second week of August. YWAM (Youth With A Mission) volunteers are helping us in painting the dormitories. Four of the students from Myanmar came to help. Three of them are staying in our house.

The children’s home is ready to be occupied. We are praying for 8 children that God will give to us. We still need a lot of furniture like beds, tables, chairs and if possible a couch. The house is still bare at the moment but we know that God will use people to fill up these needs.

I had been spending a lot of time with my sons lately (one of the benefits of not having Internet). We played a lot of basketball last week. This is not possible to do in the last two weeks because of constant raining.

We are going to Chiang Mai again this month for our visa extension. The visa is costing us a lot of money. Nonetheless, God is proving himself to be the great provider.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Of cyclones and typhoons

I received two emails lately and I will share them with you. First is an email from a fellow worker whom I had the privilege of meeting here in Mae Sai last year. Here is part of his email.
Greetings from Bangkok, I fly back to Yangon early tomorrow morning for the second time in week. Please pray for me and numerous workers who are feeling a little bit tired from all this. I hope to rent a cell phone when I arrive. It's only $3000 to purchase a sim card there. I know you are thinking...wow, what a deal!! The 86 Nissam Salone [sic] that I rented last year was priced at $18,000. Insanity?! That's life under a military government whose Generals have absolute control over Myanmar's 52 million.

Our friend, home village was destroyed but PTL they are all okay. She was just there two weeks before the Cyclone struck sharing the gospel of Jesus to her friends in the Buddhist monastery. She told us of our there were many crocodile farms down there and now all the crocs are free. Our friend plans to wrestle the crocs to protect his daughter and niece. He's 73 now and still is in good shape!

Even though there is incredibly terrific news coming out of Myanmar in the past few months, it is horrifying to hear that 90% of the 200k that have died were children and elderly. They couldn't swim and the tidal surge was 12 ft high along the coast.

Here is another email I received from my sister who is living in the northern the Philippines.
It was a rainy Saturday morning of May 17. Mar and I, along with a couple we are trying to help workout their marriage, were traveling to Dagupan--I would go to my masteral class and the three to Baguio for the counseling. After sending the couple to the counselor and showing them their housing, Mar immediately returned to Dagupan and texted me in my class that we had to go home because the weather was getting worse. I excused myself from the class at 4 pm and rushed to the terminal where he was waiting. As soon as I arrived, the passenger van went.

And then, happened one of the most terrifying experiences in our lives. We were caught in the middle of a strong storm. Roofs were flying all over, huts and small houses were being carried by the wind, trees were uprooted and electrical posts fell across the street and tricycles blown to the field. I thought, the van we were in will be blown to the cliff. Mar and I were praying. The wind was so low and strong with heavy rains. Then I sang, "I will soar with you above the storm. Father you are king over the floods and I will be still and know you are God."

The usual travel of 4 hours has become 12 long hours of agony in fear. We were stranded at the town before Alaminos. At 2 in the morning, when the rain stopped, we decided to start walking home. I had goose bumps as I saw all the destruction. We had to jump over and crawl under the trees and grope in the dark. But God is so good. Pastor Jay brought his motorcycle and meet us along the way. 3 big persons riding on a small motorcycle. At 5 in the morning, we reached home.

The next morning, we saw the church's school without roof. The library was empty as the young people tried to save some of the books from the rain. The office was wet all over.

It is another experience that calls us to trust in the Lord. In less than 3 weeks the school is about to open. The authorities said it will take about 10 days before the electricity will resume. We need your prayer.

Long silence

I know it has been a while since my last post here. However, many things have been happening to our family and us lately.

Nanay Linda (Narlin’s mom) came about a month ago. It has been a joyous day for us especially to our children. It has been more than two years the last time they saw their Lola (grandmother). We are now enjoying good Filipino foods that taste right. Thai food is great but after a while, you starting to miss the dishes you use to eat. Nanay Linda also bought for us a satellite disk. She was bored watching TV shows that she could not understand. Now we can watch programs from back home also with HBO, ESPN, CNN, among others. I just do not know if it is good or bad in the end. You see, before the satellite, we do not watch TV at all.

We had a one-week English Camp. 32 young people participated from Burma and from here in Thailand. However, a rumor that the Myanmar government would close the border on May 9 because of the plebiscite we ended the camp abruptly on Friday afternoon. The government deliberately sowed confusion and planted fear to the Burmese people living in Mae Sai so that they all should go back to vote in the plebiscite. They eventually did not close the border.

Most of our waking hours are spent in repairing, painting and cleaning the house we are moving to next month. Narlin and I together with our kids and friend have been doing the work of a carpenter, painter, electrician and janitor. The house is in such a bad shape that we have to work in it full time or we might risk moving to the house that is unsafe to live in. Now, this is the reason that my time online has been very limited.

Moreover, we have been affected indirectly with the Cyclone that occurred in Burma. No, we experienced neither physical discomfort or weather disturbance but the emotional and spiritual anguish we feel for the people of Myanmar have been very intense. Some of our friends whom we have been working just few months ago are in Yangon. They went home to take care of some personal concerns. The cyclone caught up with them and they could not come back here sooner. Our Pastor whose family is in Yangon also went there for a relief mission. Many of us desire to go there to help in anyway but were not allowed by the government. Please continue to pray for the Myanmar people.

We are also hearing about the strong typhoon that passed over the northern part of the Philippines. Narlin’s family are directly affected so are mine. Although fewer lives are lost compared to Myanmar, the devastation is almost the same. Houses are destroyed. Properties are lost. Normal lives are disrupted. Love ones are lost.

Regular posting will resume soon.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Songkran festival and others



Songkran is finally over. Mae Sai celebrated the water festival longer than Bangkok or Chiang Mai. It was an ingenious way to beat the oppressive summer heat. It was a lot of fun indeed. My family really enjoyed this Thai New Year celebration every year. However, Songkran is not only about having fun. Although I guess, most of the younger generations think that this is what it all about. Nonetheless, the sense of community is stronger during the festival. The religious significance had been obscured.
Songkran Festival is the traditional Thai New Year. This is the time for Thais to pay homage to Buddha images, clean their houses, and sprinkle water on their elders in a show of respect. Anyone who ventures out on the streets is likely to get a thorough dousing of water, all in good fun, but also quite welcome at the peak of the hot season.
And the others:

It has been tough to be left alone to take care of four children, one dog. In addition, I have to look after three houses and lately a duplex.

A team from Chiang Mai consists of four people (Indonesian, Korean and Danish couple) arrived last Monday. They are in Thailand for three-month training with Vineyard. They went to Burma for ministry exposure. Moreover, they decided to help us in improving the children’s home. They had been cleaning and painting the house. I supervised them with the project. And since they are leaving tomorrow, I will continue the job tomorrow with my children. It will be fun.

Furthermore, our Pastor asked me (on a short notice) to teach in our summer Bible camp for two days for three hours. Because of the Songkran Festival, most of our members found themselves with nothing to do for the more than a week. Thus our Pastor decided to go on with the summer Bible camp for church members. This camp is a tradition that we started last year and I hope it will continue.

I find it strange that some people enjoy teaching or talking for long hours. I find long talk exhausting. One hour of teaching is good enough for me. I am very tired and my throat is painful. I am glad that it is over and I am going to have a break tomorrow (at least from talking).

My younger sister is coming this Saturday with two short-term missionaries. She is the coordinator for the Asia Vision Short Term Mission in the Philippines. And we are part of the ministry that will host missionaries every year. They will work with us for a month in the nursery and will help us teach English in the community.

Narlin is coming back soon on April 25. It is just a few days of waiting but it seems forever. Life is doubly difficult when your other half is missing.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Theological Word of the Day: Monophysitism

Reclaiming the Mind Ministries has started a blog called Theological Word of the Day. And for me whose understanding of big theological words is (still) very limited, I find this very helpful. I appreciate the effort people put in this project. I put the widget on the sidebar, however, for my own benefit I am reposting the words here as well.

Monophysitism
noun (Greek mono-, one- + Greek phusis, nature)
The heretical belief that the two natures of Christ came together in the incarnation to make one new nature. Condemned in 451 at the council of Chalcedon. Chalcedon held that the two nature of Christ, human and divine, remain completely in tact in one person.

Temperature theology

Summer heat come in full force this year. The weather is oppressive and the humidity is punishing. And those are understatements.

To beat the hot season, the people here in Mae Sai begin the water festival earlier. Children and young people are starting to pour cold water towards the people passing by. And in spite of inconvenience of getting wet in your best clothes, I guess it is a good way to beat the oppressive heat.

Anyway around the blogosphere, many discussions are going on about the greatness and influence of modern theologians from different traditions. However, I think theologians are great only to those who find their writings meaningful and that is to those who share their basic presuppositions. For Asian Christians, western theology is extremely theoretical —lot of speculations but no spiritual implications. I cannot blame them though; they write theology primarily for the analytical mindset of the West.

Thus relating temperature with theology, Klaus Klostermaeir says,

Theology at 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade seems after all, different from theology at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Theology accompanied by tough chapattis and smoky tea seems different from theology with roast chicken and a glass of wine. Now, what is different, theos or theologian? The theologian at 70 degrees Fahrenheit is in a good position presumes God to be happy and contended, well-fed and rested, without needs of any kind. The theologian at 120 degrees Fahrenheit tries to imagine a God who is hungry and thirsty, who suffers and is sad, who sheds perspiration and knows despair.
Klaus Klostermaier, Hindu and Christian in Vrindahan (London: SCM, 1970), p. 40

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cool change

If you are a regular reader, perhaps you notice the change in the design of this blog. My son helped me in changing it (and I am impressed). The content has been changing a lot as well. My intent, at first, was to blog primarily about my personal theological reflections related to mission works. But as I find myself most of the time away from the computer, I thought I could not sustain it.

I actually created another blog about our family’s personal updates, stories and testimonies for our family and friends back home. However, the longer I do it the more I realized that it is pointless and cumbersome to run two blogs. I closed the other one a few months ago and decided to do the personal and family blogging also in here, which I have been doing a lot anyway lately.

It is also a joy to know that many of my “real” (as opposed to virtual) friends and co-workers are now finding their way here. A couple of my readers came to Thailand and I had the chance to meet them personally and in that case, virtual friends became real. I am praying that what you read here will be a blessing. I know we will have disagreements but I hope that it will be an opportunity to learn from one another, just leave your comments in the comment section and I will wrestle with the answers.

Missional basis of the Bible

For some time, I have been meaning to pick up and read Chris Wright’s The Mission of God. However, I had been cramming a lot lately (I still am) that I have to set aside reading for a while. Last night, the children went to bed early and Narlin being away, I surprisingly found time to read myself to sleep.

The book is about interpreting the Bible from a missional perspective. Wright argues that although the Scripture provides the biblical basis for mission it is more correct to think on the idea of a missional basis of the Bible. “The entire Bible is generated by and is all about God’s mission."

However, that concept is not new to me. I heard about this in one of the mission courses I attended, I believe though that many of the ideas taught in that course came from this book.

I like what I have been reading. Since I do not have the time to do any book reviews (had not done many in the past and not in the near future). I point you to an excellent review over at εν εφέσω.

Here are some interesting thoughts:
Slowly but inexorably the world of Western academic theology is becoming aware of the rest of the world. The impact of missiology has brought to the attention of the theological community in the West the wealth of theological and hermeneutical perspectives that are, in some cases at least, the product of the success of mission over the past centuries.. Mission has transformed the map of global Christianity. From situation at the beginning of the twentieth century when approximately 90 percent of all the world’s Christians lived in the West or North (i.e. predominantly Europe and North America), the beginning of the twenty-first century finds at least 75 percent of the world’s Christians in the continents of the South and East—Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia and the Pacific. The whole center of gravity of world Christianity has moved south—a phenomenon described, not entirely felicitously, as “the next Christendom.” Others prefer terms such as the “The Global South” or “The Majority World.” (p. 38)
Wright believes that Western Academic theology if it wants to be relevant in contemporary and more so in the future Christianity should be engaged in doing theology with “The Majority World.” Failure to do so will mean that Western academic theology would find itself in the margins.

He also believes that Western Protestant could no longer assert that their method of interpretation of the Scripture is the only valid method. We should accept the fact that different culture read and understand the Bible differently from us (although I am Asian, the methods I learned are western). As Wright says,
We live in a world of a multinational church and multidirectional mission. And appropriately we now live with multicultural hermeneutics. People will insist on reading the Bible for themselves, you see. There is a great irony that the Western Protestant theological academy, which has its roots precisely in a hermeneutical revolution (the Reformation), led by people who claimed the right to read Scripture independently from prevailing hegemony of medieval Catholic scholasticism, has been slow to give ear to those of other cultures who choose to read the Scriptures through their own eyes, though the situation is undoubtedly improving. (p. 39)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Cramming


Last week before Narlin left, I did a lot of cramming. I prepared brochures, newsletter update and a presentation movie. Just in time, I finished checking Jared’s home schooling test papers, thirty minutes before Narlin took the bus to Chiang Mai. She needs to bring those to the school in Manila. I did those for most of the days of last week, until three o’clock in the morning and now I feel sick.

Now, I am alone here taking care of the four children and three houses. We are moving but not yet, so as of now we still have two houses. Our friend will leave for Burma and she asked us to look after her house and her dog. Let me think again... 4 children, three houses and a dog. (sigh)

Thin Yannat had a little fever last night. Perhaps it was because she “helped” us out washing and hanging the clothes and missed her afternoon nap. Today I forced her to take her regular nap. Jillian (my 12-year old daughter) woke up this morning not feeling well. Why is it that every one gets sick when the wife is not at home?

Monday was a holiday here in Thailand; however, I did not realize it until I went to the electric company to pay our bill. Why the hell, it is close? I just understand that my job as a bus driver does not follow the holiday. I woke in the morning and did what I usually do, pick up the kids from their homes and bring them to the church’s primary school. Why oh why, the church’s school is not taking on a holiday?

Now I thought I could relax… until Pastor told Sunday night that he wants me to teach the whole week on our Songkran Bible Camp next week. Now I have to go and prepare my lessons. I am cramming again.

*We are moving to the house in May.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Moltmann on purgatory

The real basis for the doctrine of purgatory is neither scripture nor tradition, but the 'church's practice of prayer and penance'. Since the beginning--so argument runs--there have been in the church prayers for the dead, good works, almsgiving, personal penitential practices, and the acquisition of indulgences, vicariously applicable to the dead, which free them from punishments for sin. The Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Certain Questions of Eschatology (17 May 1979) puts it event more clearly: 'The church rejects all ways of thinking and speaking through which its prayers, the burial rites and the cult of the dead would lose their meaning and become incomprehensible: for all this is in substance a locus theologicus.' But that means in plai term that theology is there in order to justify the existing practice of the church. Once this method is followed, there is no possible way of examining particular ecclesiastical and devotional practices for their conformity to scripture and gospel.

Jurgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, 99.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A glimpse... whatever

Narlin will go home to the Philippines for three weeks. She will attend the Philippine Women Missionary Union (PWMU) Triennial Meeting. I was hoping all of us could go but the airfare for five persons costs too much. This means I will stay alone with the children for three weeks. I cannot imagine life with out her. She does many things for the children and me. I will have a tough time filling her shoes.

For this reason, I am writing brochures promoting our ministries to the churches here back home. Hoping that what we are doing here can stir up enough attention for women to get involved in missions. I will also try to create a video presentation. Our prayer is that we can mobilize churches to support missions. My hands are full within the weeks.

We also have to spend time finishing up checking our children’s homes schooling tests. Narlin will bring these answered exam sheets to the School of Tomorrow. She will pick up the books we ordered online at the main school in Paranaque. The total cost for the workbooks is huge. Nonetheless, I am confident that God will provide.

I do not have the time to write (dissertation) anything this week. Writing is a bit tricky on me. If I decided to work on my dissertation, I can do it continuously if I there are no interruptions and distractions. Nonetheless, I really have not stop reading. I take a book with me wherever I go and my clipboard and take notes when I find something that I think would be useful for my research. I can read while when I paused to wait on the children when I am taking them home. I can read while driving and while sleeping (haha!) Ideas are forming in the back of my head, hoping that when I sit down to write my ideas will just flow out from my brain to my hands.

I am also trying to make the laptop usable again. I start saving money for the hard drive. Perhaps a few months from now I can buy it. I asked around how much it will cost us to replace the cracked LCD. If the shop will do it, it costs a lot and it is not practical to have it repaired. However, when I look at ebay at the prices of the LCD for Toshiba A75 Satellite, it is cheaper (though still expensive for me). It costs U$150. I have to work on having a credit card or paypal account so I can do purchase online. I can do the repair myself and perhaps I can again use the laptop for another five years.

When Megan learned about what happened to my laptop she generously gave us hers so that she and Narlin can continuously communicate about the ministry of Grace Home when she is gon. The only glitch is that the LCD is not working as well. However, when I look closely I can see blunt images on the screen. Therefore, I know that either the inverter or the back light has gone bad. Nevertheless we can use the laptop fine with an external CRT. I think it would be great if I can make the LCD works. I checked over at ebay and found out that the inverter cost U$18. It is affordable enough. However, I do not know if they are shipping to Thailand.

Within two months, we will be moving to another house. We love our present house. It is the most comfortable house that we ever had as a family. We live in an unfinished house almost all our lives together. Our present house is God's provision for us when we come here in Thailand. Most houses for rent here are bare, not a furniture. This house comes with beds, bedsheets, pillows, closet, everything that a nomad family would need is here.
So it is with a heavy heart we are leaving this house. We need to move on to another house. This house will be used for children home and hostel. The need for this kind of ministry here is just too immense for us to ignore. Pray for us.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Rambo in Burma


The most talked about Hollywood movie here right now is Rambo 4. Our Burmese friends love it so much. And they were amazed to know that Stallone speaks Burmese. Our co-worker wants us to watch the movie so badly that he rented a CD copy for us. When I slid the CD into the player and watched, I began to wonder how they were able to manage watching the movie much more finish it.

The opening scene is a clipping from an unknown journalist and I assumed that because it is a clipping, the picture would naturally be blurred and the sound incomprehensible. I thought the movie would become better as it went on. But to my disappointment, it got worst. The rented CD was filmed inside a movie house with a handy cam. I refused to watch it further because it was giving me a terrible migraine.

If my understanding is right, the movie is ban in Burma. But we are living in the border with thousands of Burmese migrant workers. The movie actually made them happy and jokingly told us that Rambo is the only solution to the relentless political problem in Burma.

In spite of Hollywood distortions there are grains of truth we can learn from the movie. For example, the continuous war and genocide of the Burmese junta against the Karen tribes is true. So are the missionaries who are risking their lives to help the internally displaced people.And of course, the tyrannies of the military agains the tribal people who oppose the government.

At Irrawaddy, the Burmese online news magazine, James Rose, an Australia-based media and policy advisor currently assisting various Burmese pro-democracy groups in Asia and the US, write in the opinion section about it.

The high levels of excitement over an aging Hollywood star, hacking and mumbling his way through Burma, may be odd to some, but it attests to the power of American cultural hegemony. This is a reality that even diehard anti-American hotheads must accept.

So, given the news spreading globally over the lavish red carpet openings and the musings of Rambo’s hulking front man, Burmese activists are given an opportunity to focus that spotlight so blurrily cast by Rambo.

Doing so is no easy task. The reasons are both generic and specific to Burma’s current media profile.

First, the generic problems.

Rambo is, of course, a product of the Hollywood entertainment machine. That word “entertainment” should not be forgotten. Most of those in the West who may turn out to view Rambo’s blood-spattered Burmese Days will be entering a sort of “switch-off-and-escape” mindset that makes movie-going such a popular phenomenon the world over.

Few would approach the Rambo experience as an opportunity to really learn much about Burma. Sly Stallone is not noted for his documentaries. Whatever is learnt will be of little real value, other than perhaps making people similarly seek the kind of cartoonish vengeance characteristic of the Rambo franchise.

As such, for the all the arguments that Rambo in Burma shows it how it is and depicts the savage reality of life under a heinous regime, such messages will be largely lost to the largely switched-off viewers and wasted on the smattering of earnest movie-goers eager to “feel” Burma’s tragedy.

Another angle on the generic shortfalls of a pro-Rambo media strategy is that this movie, like any other out of Hollywood, is about making money. More the point, it’s about making a small minority of rich people richer.

The extent to which this dynamic aids the cause of a free Burma is questionable. As soon as a cause is identified as “commercial” as appears to be the case with Burma, it tends to lose its shape and those who may have previously been able to influence the strategic culture will be marginalized as new profit-oriented methodologies are introduced.

Now to the specific problems related to Burma media strategies and Rambo.
The nature of the Burma demonstrations, to date via the world’s media, has been one of peaceful protest. The cry of metta (“loving kindness”) sent out into the Burmese air by the marching monks has become the banner under which the world has tended to view the current situation in Burma.

As such, introducing a snarling, blood-soaked, murderous Rambo into the media landscape and you have a classical case of what is known, in media terms, as a “mixed message”. The combination of two such diametrically opposed approaches to dealing with Burma’s dire circumstances tangles the whole Burma issue and removes some of the pillars of the bridge of clear communication to the world.

“Is Burma about peaceful change or is it about civil war?” once media consumers begin asking such questions, the answer is already more or less unimportant. By now, many tracking Burma via the world’s media coverage have already expressed their confusion and have begun the fatal process of moving on.

Media consumers in advanced economies like their causes simple and clear-cut. Few are inclined to take the time to assess and analyze a given situation. They want clean lines of entry. Confusion is the death-knell for any campaign seeking to gain public attention and support.

The latest Rambo movie does indeed offer opportunities for Burma activists. But, it must be along the lines of providing clarity to Rambo’s murky and simplistic critique of contemporary Burma and must make clear where Rambo sits in the overall anti-military movement. Wherever that position may be, it should not be on top or all-encompassing. For media purposes, the Burma democracy movement must ensure that it is a case of Burma using Rambo, rather than Rambo using Burma.