|| My Confessions.|| 2017

fullsizeoutput_1d3If you are going to read only one post I have written this year, I invite you to consider this one, since I am really opening up myself this time.

I have always held this to be true: if you think you have seen and tasted enough of Christ, just wait until he strips away your pride one layer by another. As long as you are willing, you will see how much more He actually is. Years after years, this claim only proves itself to be more solid than ever. On this year’s reflection, I deal with the issue of love; the digging of my wounds; and the matter of death.

. . . On Love . . .

The most quoted verses on love, following John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 13, is probably 1 John 4:19, We love because he first loved us .

For years, I understood it this way: Because God loves me, I should love people.

In other words, it is like a win-win deal: God, since you have done this to me, I’ll do this to others.

The words “command” and “ought to” in other related verses (John 13:14; Mark 12:31; 1 John 4:21, 1 John 4:11; ) further justify this way of thinking.

But “We love because he first loved us” is not a deal. Rather, it is a cause-and effect.

It isn’t until these past few years have I finally grasped the cause-and-effect relationship on our spiritual life: feed on Christ and the fruit (of the spirit) will naturally come. There is absolutely no way you can bear any fruit when you are detached from the root (Jesus Christ), “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

In other words, try living your spiritual life by human effort; you will run out of gas pretty soon.

Well, the same on love.

Feed on divine love, and your love for others will naturally grow.

Yet try loving people by your own effort; you will run out of love-gas right away.

In other words, the principle is simply “Loved people loved people.”

Sounds all too easy right, but this is indeed the most incredible truth I have learned this year. Ephesians 5:1 says we are beloved children. As loved children, we love others. “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else,” (1 Thessalonians 3:12)

I love how Scott Sauls says, God is not just loving, God is love. If you have experienced His love in Christ and continuously immerse yourself in His love, loving people should come naturally. You – just – can’t – help – it. You just want to keep loving people.

Of course I have made it look too simple, since love also consists of self-denial; that, takes a life-long training.

. . . On Wounds and Healing . ..

Throughout the years, I have learned to let God deal with my sin more and more willingly. “Where sin runs deep, Your grace runs deeper” has finally become a personal experience for me.

But one thing I had not let him do until recently, was to let him deal with my wounds.

Sin and wounds are not the same, yet I had been confusing the two.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” I mistook sins as wounds, so I, in the name of love, covered up my wounds without actually having God deal with them.

Where there are wounds, there comes the need of healing. Healing, like Scripture says, requires reconciliation and forgiveness.

Yet like Marshall Segal writes, “Reconciliation does not require closeness. It does require forgiveness and brotherly love.” I, though, mistook reconciliation, forgiveness, and brotherly love as closeness. 

And since I believe a follower of Jesus should always strive for reconciliation and forgiveness, and because I thought these two equal to closeness, I felt incredibly guilty every time I had the thought of leaving the situation.

Looking back, I cannot actually believe how many lies I have told myself and my close ones in order to run away from my wounds. To repress my pain. To justify my ignorance.

Likewise, another common mistake is to assume forgiveness as “I’m okay”, even when things are not okay.

When this “I’m okay” becomes habitual, you are essentially preventing God from intervening and dispensing grace, meaning you are not really depending on Him completely.

It means you don’t really believe God knows the best (The old me would have never said this, because I never liked the phrase “God knows what’s best for you.” I rolled my eyes every time I heard that phrase, because it just sounds too self-centered. )

But now I have realised that, God does know and want what is best for you, because ultimately, it is for His purpose.

Like Beth Moore says, “A broken heart heals when we allow the healing to go as deep as the wound went.”  Wounds that have been accumulated for one year, two years, even seven years, or a life-time. I am so glad I have finally, after ages, allowed Jesus Christ to dig up my wounds and actually deal with them. I would have never realised my wound has been so much deeper than what I thought it was if it wasn’t His active pursuit.

I am no longer hiding, defending. and pretending. I find myself as I am found in Him. I am grateful that grace, as a person, has picked me up once again.

“My life is a witness to vulgar grace—a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request—“Please, remember me”—and assures him, “You bet!” A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus the Christ, who left His Father’s side not for heaven’s sake but for our sakes, yours and mine. This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.” – Brennan Manning. All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir (pp. 193-194).

. . . On Death and Resurrection . . .

These past few months, two of my friends passed away because of cancer. They were both around my age. It is crazy how cancer drains people. People age so fast within a year, a month, and even a week.

I am much closer to the girl who passed away later, but both of them are known for their remarkably joyful spirits, often expressed through their genuine laughter and smiles, even in the midst of struggles.

Although I have known the girl for only about 10 months, I got to become much closer to her during summer when she was in the hospital.

It is easy to quote the psalmist to say joy comes in the morning. Nevertheless, the sorrow you see in her family may tell a different story.

But I do believe in the communion of saints. I really do; it is not some bizarre abstract metaphor. Therefore one thing I know I can do, is to live on with the joy and strength that she embodies when she was still here on earth. Her joy is my joy, and her strength is my strength.

I don’t care about what “religious” or “spiritual” view you hold; if you have felt the heavy weight of pain that comes with separation and death, you will h-o-p-e, in desperation, that death will be crushed to death.

Whether you agree or not, I believe humans are created with a body that feels the pain of the flesh, a heart with emotional capacities, and a spirit that connects with God.

If even in the midst of all the brokenness in this world, you still think this life is worthy to be lived and celebrated, then an expectation of a life that is everlasting shouldn’t come surprising to you.

Otherwise I really don’t know what you can be living for when there is nothing to look forward to.

When we Christians talk about eternal life, we are not just talking about the length of life – we are talking about the quality of life as well.

Eternal life is not (merely) life after death, it is God’s divine life flowing within you since the moment you receive it.

Humans currently are just on a detour.

Many people, including my dear agnostic friends, believe there is a God, but this God, in their eyes, is a god that embodies hatred and death. You know what, if this is indeed what God is like, I won’t worship this god, too. I absolutely won’t.

But I worship the God who is love and life. His name is Jesus Christ.

“Describe the God you’ve rejected. Describe the God you don’t believe in. Maybe I don’t believe that God either. ” – Tim Keller

Check out my Top 10 Books of 2017 here || Check out my Top 10 Songs of 2017 here

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According to The Light Given

Have you ever occurred to you that, you want someone to come to faith so badly, and they do seem to be responding, but then you are just not sure if they are “really saved”. This thought occurs especially more often, I guess, when that person is on his or her death bed.

He doesn’t really grasp the notion of trinity though.

She didn’t really pray that sinner’s prayer though (I am not a fan of this, but it seems like a good example.)

So is he/she in or out?

Our worry does little good, though. Here is the comforting truth: God will judge according to the light each one has been given.

Just continue to be a “dispenser” who lets Christ’s light shine through you; the rest, leave it to the Lord.


P.S. One night, I just suddenly broke down during prayers. There are several people who have been so exceptionally dear to my heart that I want them to come to Christ sooner. My prayers were more like groaning, since I had uttered all I could in words already.

In despair, the Lord spoke, do you really think I love them any less than you do? Do you think I don’t want them to come to Me?

The truth is: God loves these ones more than you love them. Much more.

The God that I trust and pray to, is the God whose love is beyond our comprehension. Like, actually, beyond our comprehension. As Ephesians 3 writes, the width, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love, surpasses all our knowledge.

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Top 10 Books | 2017 |

I think this year may have been the year in which I have read the most “Jesus” books (I don’t like to use the word “spiritual” because of the cultural baggage it comes with…) There is no specific ranking for the Top 10 – it is simply too hard to rank them one by one.  Hopefully my few words on each may inspire you to take a look at some of them.

  1.  The Pastor: A Memoir (Eugene Peterson)
    Eugene Peterson remains one of the biggest influences on my walk in Christ. Like Scott Sauls (another “hero” of mine) writes, “Peterson’s books on pastoral ministry in particular (they are magnificent), his emphasis on ordinary faithfulness over a shallow pursuit of extraordinary experience, his repudiation of Christian celebrity, his inspiration toward “a long obedience in the same direction…”  have mentored many. This book is filled with heart-warming stories of how God has shaped Peterson’s pastoral, tender heart that truly embodies grace as a Person.
  2. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (N.T. Wright)
    Wright’s writing sometimes seems to be unorganised (for me), but this book articulates well against the common misunderstanding of Christian faith of being “going to heaven when you die” whereas the reality is “heaven coming down to and on earth”. We Christians have not lived as resurrected people.
  3. Waiting On God (Andrew Murray)
    A wonderful daily devotional by Murray on an active and hope-filled waiting on God.
  4. Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity (Greg Boyd)
    I am definitely not an “open-theist”, but it does not at all affect how much I appreciate this book. I have truly enjoyed this book and am thankful for its publishing. Boyd’s love and patience for his father is an inspiring pattern to all of us, not to mention he so eloquently articulates many things that I have tried to expressed in words, yet find it difficult. I think every believer should read this.
  5. All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir (Brennan Manning)
    Many modern-day Pharisees enjoy condescending Manning in either an out-there or a subtle way, but Manning’s life, as recorded in this memoir, exactly manifests “where sins run deep, Your grace runs deeper” (Romans 5:20).
  6. Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (Eugene Peterson)
    See my book review here
  7. God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Story-Line of the Bible (Vaughan Roberts)
    Based on Graeme Goldsworthy’s work, Roberts summarises how the kingdom of God is the central theme of the Bible. I came across this book during my time in The Hookses with the brother and sisters in my local church.
  8. A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, & Mission Around the Table (Tim Chester)
    A refreshing read on sharing meals with non-believers by Tim Chester, one of my favourite authors of today (not that I have read many of his books).
  9. You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions (Tim Chester)
    See my book review here
  10. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness (Tim Keller)
    A great little book by Keller, even the non-habitual readers should read it! What we need most today are indeed messages like this: not I but Christ.

“Honourable Mentions”

  1. Heaven Misplaced (Douglas Wilson)
  2. A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Miroslav Volf)
  3. Art & the Bible (Francis Schaeffer)
  4. Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good (N.T. Wright)
    See my book review here
  5. Love That Lasts: How We Discovered God’s Better Way for Love, Dating, Marriage, and Sex (Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke)
    See my book review here
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Do You Agree With This Statement?

“What we need more today is an expression of Him rather than a defense of Him.” This is what I have been feeling as I grow in my faith over the years. Hopefully, it won’t offend anybody.

I agree that But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15), but there have been too many apologetics who are marked with an argumentative spirit that is directly in contrast with Paul’s gentleness and respect expressed in this verse. (As you can guess as well, I prefer much more ‘to give an answer’ than to the translation of ‘to defend’.)

Of course, there are also many apologists who I respect, such as Hank Hanegraaff. Interestingly, having dedicated most of his life to apologetics, Hank decided to join the Eastern Orthodox Church after reading books by Watchman Nee and meeting Christians in China, “ I saw Chinese Christians who were deeply in love with the Lord, and I learned that while they may not have had as much intellectual acumen or knowledge as I did, they had life.” says Hank awhile back (This is his decision, and I hope brothers and sisters honour that.) Although I did not go his route, I, too, had a similar experience, where a group of brothers and sisters, full of His life and joy, rekindled my love for Him after my 10 years of being a Christian. Nee definitely has been a big influence.

To avoid confusion, let me clarify: for me, giving an answer to our faith comes naturally as part of an expression of Him: why would we not want to share Him and give answers if we have experienced His resurrected life? But without the Spirit, a mere intellectual defense filled with head-knowledge is empty. Our answer-giving originates from our overflowing affection for Christ and others, not from a desire to defend Him, ourselves, and our argument. The first kind serves Him and others; the latter kind serves our own ego. In the present age characterised by division and brokenness, we need a full expression of Him as a corporate instrument that is known for His love, His grace, His truth, and His power.

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Simply Good News by N.T. Wright

thFirst, let me quote Wright first from somewhere else, “The problem with being a theologian is that everyone expects you to say everything all the time. If you write a book about one part of the gospel, they think you don’t believe the rest.” 

I quote this because I am tired of people saying Wright denies the penal and substitutionary aspects of Jesus’ crucifixion, especially when page 46 of this book demolishes this misrepresentation very clearly. Just because Wright does what he often does, namely, emphasising the Christus Victor aspect of the crucifixion of Jesus, does not mean he denies penal substitution. Rather, as he has presented in this book, Penal Substitution falls into the bigger picture of Christus Victor. Like Tim Keller says, Paul uses many different paradigms, and we can too. I like how Wright puts it, that, on the cross, not only did Jesus died for us, but He put death to death and thus, claiming victory as King. As stressed by Wright, merely holding the view of Penal Substitution can often lead to a shallow understanding of the gospel, causing us to live as if it is not “in heaven as on earth” but rather “in heaven as in heaven”. In this view, the “Good News” often ends up being simply good advice with the back story being “we are going to hell”.

But the full gospel is more than “Jesus dying for our sins so that we can go to heaven”. What is so good about this news is that Jesus Christ, as God in person, has returned to become our King in accordance to the Bible (namely, O.T.) to fulfil God’s plan of rescuing the world through the call of Israel and revealing His glory to nations.

While I echo with Wright’s assessment, I personally find Simon Gathercole’s The Gospel of Paul And The Gospel of Kingdom in a way more comprehensive and helpful in tackling the problem. Gathercole explains how the gospel carries three major themes: 1) the identity of Jesus as Messiah, 2) his work of atoning sacrifice and justification, and 3) the inauguration of a new dominion. These three are inseparable, and we cannot minimise the importance of any single of them. The tendency of many, however, as Wright has argued, is that many often overlook 1 and 3.

Also, I find Wright sometimes bit wordy and repetitive. Still, just as many of his other work, Simply Good News is to be cherished. My favourite chapter is the humorous chapter 8. Wright observes that we often reverse the order (and thus the priorities) of the Lord’s Prayer because of our individualistic understanding of the gospel. Very true indeed!

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Honouring One Another

A few weeks ago, I heard one of the best messages in my life. It was given by John Snelgrove, one of the founding pastors of The Vine Church in Hong Kong. When Pastor John opened with the statement, “One of the greatest dangers today in the Kingdom of God is jealousy”, I knew it’s gonna be a great message. I am perhaps biased since this is a statement that resonates with me deeply.

He shared briefly of a recent experience he had with a local church leader throwing shades to another church by saying, “Yeah, their church is growing, but  _____________…” 

“Get off your ‘buts’!” said Pastor John.

That’s right. I have heard too many “but  __(insert complaints/ mockery/ distrust/ resentment______…” as well in my life. Lord have mercy, I am sure I have done the same. As someone who likes to follow ministry leaders on social media, I have also been shocked by the lack of grace many times. Where is the fruit of speaking well of one another? “Honour one another”: is this not what the Lord has taught us?

Drawing from Matthew 20 and Phillip Yancey’s well-known book What’s So Amazing About Grace, John left me with two incredible lessons: 1) When we are jealous about others, we are actually jealous about God’s generosity; 2) Listen to this when you are young: don’t get caught up in the world’s ranking. The way the world ranks men is not how God’s Kingdom works.

After the message, some new comers wanted to receive the Lord into their lives. What followed was a beautiful communion, in which John said, “Many church services often let the pastors, deacons, and elders take the bread and wine first, but today, we will do something different: we will serve these new ones first.” He then charged those sitting around the new believers to serve the bread and wine to these ones first. Meanwhile, he also asked the Philippino sisters, who laboured six days a week as maids, to partake of the bread and wine before the rest of us did. This kind of serving expresses the beauty of Matthew 20:16 “So the last will be first, and the first last.” This kind of honouring one another is indeed the way of Christ.

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