My Favourite​ Books 2018

Here are my favourite books this year. Again, there is no ranking in mind; indeed it is my belief that as readers — readers in Christ specifically —  to “reflect” seems much more helpful and practical than to “rank” or to “review” as we ought to listen to one another, teach one another, learn from another, and hold fast to what is good together in humility 🙂

(For last year’s list see my favourite books 2017)


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Chris Hutchinson’s Humility: Why the Way Up Is Down is absolutely a gift to the Church! I know I have literally just mentioned my reluctance to “rank” books, but this book can be regarded — if I have to pick — my favourite out of all “favourites”. Very few authors have written about the danger spiritual pride. As the author himself states, humility is the greatest neglect of the Church today. Many conferences and books nowadays talk about church models or spiritual gifts, yet rarely does one touch on the subject of humility. Since those who attempt to write about humility often risk being thought as not humble themselves, I am thankful that Hutchinson took up this difficult task.

I don’t think we as believers have, in general, grasped how heavy and painful the consequences of pride are. Pride causes us to be quick to spot sin in others but not in ourselves; pride hinders us from seeing even our own pride. When we do see pride manifesting in a person or a group, however, what we see should not be that we are any better than the “other”; instead, we see how we are equally, if not more, capable of such sin. There are many ways to describe the first sin of Adam and Eve, but the older I get, the more I find myself leaning on explaining it fundamentally as pride, a desire to be like God.

Humility can only be attained through Christ. Hutchinson writes that the humble person who continuously focuses on Christ does not think about himself, for “he is consumed with how best to love and serve His Lord.“ As Mike Sharett says, “The humble do not recognise their humility; the proud do not recognise their pride”. The author pinpoints the various manifestations of pride which include traditions, self-pity, or even “humility” itself in the form of pious activities like prayer or church attendance. When we think we have subdued pride in one area, it often pops out somewhere else (p.12).

Hutchinson also says how we treat others reveals what is on our hearts. Andrew Murray writes, “humility before God is nothing if not proved in humility towards men.” A.W. Tozer says, “the more abundant the experience of grace, the more intense the consciousness of being a sinner.” Do we always have Paul’s mindset of viewing ourselves as “the worst of all sinners”? Are we willing to serve others in menial tasks?

Interestingly, a real incident illustrated in the book, that is, “lay saints” amazed by their pastor sweeping the floor, was actually my own experience. I still remember the first time I saw my pastor sweeping the floor. I was joyful and grateful but also in shock, since after all, the hierarchal structure is so deeply ingrained in our mind. Rarely do we picture a “leader” cleaning the toilet or picking up the trash. I love the story of the author giving himself and the leaders in his church each a “staff black plunger” to remind them how the kingdom is upside-down.

Hutchinson also touches on the fact that we do not always honour the unnamed saints but tend to idolise celebrities. He gives many on-point observations on how the Church has adopted the world’s structure: churches publishing names of the largest givers as if they are the most honourable; leaders given special parking spots with titles printed; churches paying media to report their good work; Christians outdoing each other by eloquence and number of biblical citations in prayers.

The author’s take on the sensitive topic of social justice and cultural war is also full of wisdom: our act of helping the poor and oppressed result from our growth in grace, not a desire to seek a “perfect” social structure of this world or to force the world to imitate the Church (p.120). Over-emphasizing “culture wars” often tempts us to attribute false motives to our neighbours and neglect our own sin in the Church.

Even more challenging is Jesus’ own teaching that leaders are not to be called rabbi as we are all brothers (Matt 23:8). We live and lead by the Spirit, not by academic excellence. I am thankful as a PhD student myself for the reminder of not taking pride in our education, “PhDs add nothing to our ability to show Christ…We should not try to impress the world with credentials when the world will not listen to Moses or the prophets” (p.152). Hutchinson sums up beautifully that “the church is blessed with many doctorates but we are even more blessed with people from a walk of life and educational levels”. 

The book also asserts the need of a plurality of leaders and a “humble” structure, “A church that is serious about humility will have a leadership structure that by design hinders pride and celebrates meekness” (P.161). Finally, I love the author’s concept of planting “gardens in the world of factories”. These gardens are humble churches that promote no men, brand, or business model but Christ (p.142 and p.18). Only by taking the living water of Christ as the source can blossom as such gardens. 

The book makes me grieve and rejoice at the same time. Grab a copy if you can.

41Y8mi7xKmL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgScott Sauls’ From Weakness to Strength is another book that leaders and “lay-people” alike will benefit from. I have always respected Sauls for his embodiment of grace and his openness to share his struggles — both qualities are rare today among those who have been given a big platform. 

In the book, Saul talks about the danger of ungodly ambition, isolation, and envy, as well as how to grow from criticism and insecurity. Sauls writes, “In America, credentials qualify a person to lead; yet in Jesus, the chief qualification is character. Similarly, what matters to many people the most are the products we produce; yet in Jesus, what matters is the kind of people we are becoming.” To be frank, I find these phenomena just as prevalent in my Chinese culture. Sauls also observes that “what’s on the inside—whatever has always been there—will come out under pressure“ (chap 1).

Like Hutchinson, Sauls quotes Francis Schaeffer that “there are no little places and no little people.” At the same time, we should not always expect leaders to have everything right. Think of John Calvin who executed a man for doctrinal disagreement, Jonathan Edwards who owned slaves, or Martin Luther King Jr who had extramarital affairs. Their stories are not here for us to condemn each other, but to show us how we still have hope in spite of our foolishness. 

We also need to remain open to critiques in humility. A few great quotes regarding this from Sauls are “Father in heaven, always grant me character that is greater than my gifts and humility that is greater than my influence“ and “Christians have most influenced society not as some sort of moral majority but as a life-giving, love-driven minority.” The pastor-author also quotes from Madeleine L’Engle who writes, “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want.

“The more conservative we are in our belief that every word of Scripture is true, the more liberal we will become in how we love every kind of person,” writes Sauls. Are we becoming the least offended and the most gracious in the world? I personally believe just because the gospel is offensive does not mean we are to be offensive people (indeed it should be quite the contrary). As Sauls suggests, we need less “I am right and you are wrong” and more compassionate listening today.

Sauls’ upcoming book Irresistible Faith is another gracious and truthful read that many will enjoy. Soon to be released in January 2019, the book includes several real-life stories about the faithful that have moved me deeply.

9789887840114Written in Chinese, Wang Yi’s Loud Contemplation (originally translated as Contemplation Loudly) contains a collection of short entries on various topics such as marriage, the Lord’s day, the Church, pride, and “patriotism”. Before I translate some of these into English, I would like to mention a few things first…

Wang is now probably most known for his letter My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience (an absolutely profound and moving letter) that has been circulated widely since his and his church members’ recent arrest. Although what this church has faced is one of the largest religious crackdowns recently, this kind of trials is nothing new (hence Wang wrote previously he had long expected being arrested). This past year, at least 316 house church members have died (“house church” in China no longer carries the same meaning as before; it simply means “unregistered church” regardless of whether it is denominational or not). In 2017, it was estimated more than 223,200 Christians have been persecuted with 347 sentenced and over 2000 abused.

Wang’s letter, while encouraging many, seems to have led some to perceive him as someone who overlooks what is called today as social justice; the truth is nonetheless the opposite. Wang is among the most outspoken — both in words and in actions — Chinese leaders who have laboured for years in caring for the marginalised. He was formally a human-rights lawyer who served the oppressed. In the Church, he is often asked why he talks about politics; in public life, he is often criticized for talking about the gospel. To Wang, “politics” and the gospel intertwine with each other; there is neither the division of the public and the private nor of the sacred and the secular. However, Wang is as the letter says not striving for a social reform; but he believes a gospel-based response towards the world’s suffering does not result in Christians raging as moralists standing on higher ground, or cynicism, or by “escaping” from the reality. Many believe his involvement with the society’s injustice is, in addition to his faith, another reason why he has been treated as an enemy of the state.

As a Reformed Christian, Wang stands strongly on certain doctrines; his conviction is displayed intensely throughout his writing, especially in the section on (double) predestination. Although I personally at the moment do not adhere to this system he holds to (my own conviction is the closest to the Schaeffers, Lewis, and Ben Witherington III…), it does not change at all on how much I respect him. I was left sickened the other day by Christians who mocked his suffering just because he is a Reformed leader.

His stance and argument on the death penalty in this book may also trouble many, perhaps especially those in the West. I myself also do not share his view. On the other hand, Wang speaks very harshly against abortion. These three things alone are enough to make me wonder how some believers in the West would receive Wang as it is my impression that some “progressive” (I hate to use this term) Christians in the West who often tweet angrily about the government and the lack of social justice (in which I believe Wang embodies) are often the same ones who bash on the reformed tradition, advocate the demolishing of death penalty, and sometimes remain neutral on the topic of abortion. My point here is not to argue who is right or wrong; I am simply curious about whether they will brush Wang off completely based on “doctrinal disagreement” (which we often do) despite he has helped so many of the oppressed in China. To be honest, I have also wondered for the past few years what the same Christian leaders would do if they were put under the same totalitarian regime — would they still speak so loudly against the brutality of the political system, and would they refuse to work with the “conservative” (as they would label it) Christians who are fighting against the system? 

Now to the wisdom of this book we turn. Wang writes that the faithful should be more aware of their own sin than others’, and that it is an act of loving others to take care of our own sins first before others’. Wang also writes that when a believer constantly whines about his disappointment about his family or church (or the Church), it is not because his church is not being a wonderful witness (although it may be so), but that he lacks faith in the lordship of Jesus who governs all things. This speaks to me so much.

Wang also reflects on his past failure to love his wife with grace. He writes once again that a loving husband ought to take care of his own sin first. He recalls the many times when he judged his wife with the old law.

Wang also addresses the problem of many giving up on gathering as a body on the Lord’s day. Since the Church is our home, and home means “being together”, how can we say we have turned to the Lord if we refuse to go home? I appreciate him drawing from the symbol of water flowing from the side of Jesus; just as Eve was formed out of Adam from his ribs, the Church as the “second Eve” was formed from the side of Jesus, the second Adam, when He was pierced. 

I also love how he describes the Lord’s day as a temporal concept that the Lord uses to train us to rest in Him. Yet many have turned this temporal concept into a spatial concept. They think of “going to church” merely as travelling to one place from another, and hence the always arrive late at meetings while leaving early. 

Wang also devotes a section on discussing the different facets of pride. Pride, according to Wang, can be manifested in a variety of “-ism”. Ultimately, it is a form of focusing on the self.

In the section on “patriotism”, Wang asserts that as those who love the Lord and neighbour, we ought to love our country and its citizens. Nevertheless, it is neither a love in the form of any “-ism” nor an act of forming a “Christian patriotic association”. How then is our love for our earthly country and neighbour embodied? Wang says the answer is located primarily in 1 Timothy 2:1, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.” As those who give our ultimate loyalty to Christ, we are no longer part of the world’s system. Yet we can easily become part of the world’s system when we wrestle against the world for power and financial interest.

The church history of China has much to teach us. Please do continue to pray for the saints in China and the persecuted worldwide.

5169icoIW3L._SX324_BO1204203200_Centered on the topic of “a knowledge of faith”, Dallas Willard’s Personal Religion, Public Reality? has been the most thought-provoking among all that I have read this year. I think I had been carrying a rather low view of “knowledge” for awhile — it was not that I didn’t care for “spiritual knowledge”, but I was kind of sceptical of its importance given my experience of spiritual pride. After all, “knowledge puffs up and loves builds up.” 

Yet Willard’s view of knowledge is full of life. He starts off by asserting the relationship between faith and knowledge. Abraham, for example, left not knowing where he was going because of his knowledge of God and His provision. He did not practice a blind faith or a leap of faith as romanticised by many, for faith is based upon knowledge of God and God’s ways.

Willard also urges Christians to pursue humility. The preliminary to have an interactive relationship with Christ in His kingdom is humility, for “only the humble person will let God be God”. As always, Willard emphasises spiritual disciplines as ways not to earn favour but to increase our openness and sensitivity towards Christ. 

Another thing that I fully agree with Willard is that that we can indeed have fellowship with the dead — through their writings. How ignorant is it that we do not recognise God can speak to us through the writing of saints who have passed away? To me, God speaking to us through the timeless work of the saints who are with the Lord is a biblical view of the concept of the communion with saints (which include the dead). Of course, however, as Willard argues, spiritual reading can never replace real fellowship. 

I also appreciate one specific term that he uses: “Cosmic Christ”. What a splendid way to describe Christ! Willard asserts that through His death and resurrection, Jesus disrupts and ends all human systems. Being under Christ’s lordship does not mean adhering to an organisation or political party. Good traditions among churches shall be respected, but these distinctions are not the truth. Equating them as mere Christianity is false. We should also be careful of falling into the trap of sensualism.

Chapter 7 contains a fascinating discussion on “Christian pluralism”, although I think some may misread what Willard is arguing here. What Willard is essentially saying, I believe, is that we are judged according to the light given to us. He writes, “We are first and foremost saved through Jesus, not specific historical knowledge of Jesus.” We are also first and foremost known by our love for God and men. Nevertheless, Willard reassures us the need to teach the gospel faithfully; but again, it is not our place to judge who is “in” or who is “out”. God, after all, will not let anyone who doesn’t deserve to be saved to go unsaved (he acknowledges this is a beautiful paradox, for we all, having fallen short of His glory, do not deserve salvation.)

In terms of “leaders and pastors”, Willard emphasizes that their job is not to force others to join certain denomination or rituals but to help people to know Christ. Pastors must not claim to know what they do not know. Leaders who like to “get people who do things for the church” will often burn out and cause others to experience the same.

In the final chapter, Willard argues discipleship is in the end for the sake of the world. Sadly, discipleship today has been watered down into “religiously motivated activities and events”. True discipleship, however, is a divine service found in real life, ordinary life.

764744Leonard Sweet’s Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There invites us to practice love by being attentive. As we love God and people, we become more attentive to Him and others. Today, we do much talking but little listening and paying attention (consider how we pray in our everyday life and how we treat one another). Sweet also deals with our failure to recognise Jesus in creation and in others. Think of the disciples who, despite having spent much time with Jesus, still couldn’t recognise the resurrected Christ!

This book came into my life at such a timely moment. Have you ever had the experience where the Spirit — not your own intellect or whatsoever —  prompted (or nudged, heh) you to pick up a book? It definitely happened to me a few times, and this time it was no different. While I love Sweet’s take on a “Christian” semiotics (I am currently working on musical semiotics as a musicology student, but I had no clue during the time of purchase that the author talks about this topic), this book also confirms and sheds even more light on what the Lord has been teaching me this year, that is, to recognize the Christ who is at work in others, and to help others to see the Christ who is already at work in them.

Let’s be honest: we don’t always do that as Christians. We often like to storm into other people’s lives rudely and violently to interrupt God’s work. We love to read signs, but not signs of how God is working in the other person; we read and interpret signs of whether they are “in” or “out”. We also tend to give others dead “solutions” (which sometimes actually can come in the form of “scriptures”) instead of life-giving words without first listening and observing where people are at. We expect people to listen and to follow us while we ourselves have not learned to read, to listen, and to follow the Christ who is at work in others.

And that’s why Sweet’s book is an important one. Instead of taking the place of God to make “final judgment” and overwhelming others with formula-like speeches, he encourages us to see and helps others to see the Christ that is already there in lives. We labour with God to strip away the delusion that hinders others from seeing Christ as the true reality. A beautiful quote from the book says, “Love engenders a spirit of wonder, where fear spawns anger and distrust. Fear seeks to quash wonder and to impose. Love frees to wonder and invite.” (p. 21) Sweet speaks against the fear that permeates religion and the business-like regime of selling or marketing religion.

Sweet defines nudge as “God working in us and through us to bring to fruition what God is already doing” and us “helping people connect the dots of what God is doing in their lives to the degree that their lives can be so” (p.70). Nudge aims to “bring people less to a decision than to an impression: not just to an hour of decision but a lifetime impression of God’s presence and the nearness of God’s kingdom.”

Sweet also talks about his preferences on certain “terms”. What Willard calls spiritual disciplines, for example, are what Sweet calls “life practices”. I somehow also think Sweet and Willard are very similar in their thinking on humility. Everything that Sweet has talked require us to first and foremost adopt a position of humility. For example, “we are no longer the center of attention when we pay attention”. We let Christ increase when we are “God-witness”, not “I-witness”. We will never learn to decrease until we realise “it is not about self-improvement but self-replacement”. I especially appreciate the saying of “witness requires with-ness”. Too many of us  “witness” yet have not learned the ministry of presence. Jesus disciples by spending time with people, not giving out formulas or written assignment.

51rHGKPSPTL.jpgJohn Mark Comer’s God Has a Name shows us the downside of having a low view of God, of prayer, of mercy, of God’s righteous anger (and hence of love) — although I guess the author probably would not have put it that way. Concerning how we view God, Comer reminds us that we become like what we worship, and that what we think about God reveals our hearts. Comer talks about the irony of “not tolerating intolerance” and using Jesus as a “self-help” guru. God is neither an impersonal energy force nor a chapter in a systematic theology textbook but a living person, a relational being who wants to know and to be known (pp. 847-849).

Comer draws us into a deeper appreciation of the mystery of how God responds — a lot of us don’t pray as if we actually believe God will act accordingly to an extent that can “alter the course of history” (pp.969-973). Comer asserts, “Beware of anybody who claims to have it all figured out. There’s a lot of mystery here, and we need to respect that.” (the need of humility once again as stated in 1 Cor 8:2). 

Comer describes God’s anger as a parent-like love. A new perspective that I have never considered is that “passive wrath is when God does not act, and that is the judgment.” For example, when a guy gets caught in an affair, we often think of it as God’s wrath. But it actually is God’s mercy, for God’s wrath is when he gets away with it. Comer indeed believes most of God’s wrath is either present and passive, or future and active, “…one day God will act decisively to put an end to evil forever, but in the meantime, God’s way of dealing with sin is often to step back and let it run itself into the ground… sin is its own punishment, and obedience its own reward.” Sometimes, however, God does take sin seriously to the point of death (chapter 4).

Comer’s idea of generational sin is also eye-opening. According to Comer, generational sin comes with the first layer of the parents’ sin producing consequences for the children’s future, with the second layer being sin functioning sort of like DNA repeating itself in the next generation. Finally, I appreciate how he encourages us not to take a principle in the Bible and turn it into a promise.

4147y42biu1l-_sx326_bo1204203200_Ray Ortlund’s Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel discusses beautifully how our earthly marriage points to the divine romance between Christ and the Church. I first came across Ortlund a few years ago through his book, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ, and I was struck by how he wrote with such passion and compassion. An incredibly gracious and wise pastor-author, he always moves beyond dry theology to draw all to see Christ’s magnificence (you have to love his definition of God’s glory).

In this book, Ortlund draws a parallel between the heavens and the earth coming together in the first creation and Adam and Eve coming together in the first marriage. The shift from the “cosmic majesty in Genesis 1” to “a common everyday reality in Genesis 2, a young couple falling in love” calls us to a deep mystery. One of my favourite portions from the book are printed on pages 111-112,

“If the Bible is telling us the truth about reality, then the universe we live in was created primarily with marital romance in mind. The heavens and the earth were created for the marriage of Adam and Eve. The new heavens and the new earth will be created for the marriage of Christ and his bride. The whole of cosmic reality exists as the venue for the eternal honeymoon of the perfect husband with his perfect bride in marital bliss forever and ever. This is the breathtaking claim of the Bible. Human marriage has always been intended by God to serve as a prophetic whisper of the eternal marriage.”

It is not good for the man to be alone.” How Adam and Eve compliments one another points us to the nature of God as love, a fundamental mark of his Trinitarian being. The ultimate reality of the universe is relational. “For this man to be alone in a world created and ruled by the God who is love—the very fact that it is a perfect world makes his alone-ness unthinkable,” writes Ortlund. 

It is also through this book that I came to know these beautiful words spoken by N. T. Wright in a recent interview,

“If you believe in what it says in Genesis 1 about God making heaven and earth—and the binaries in Genesis are so important—heaven and earth, and sea and dry land, and so on, and you end up with male and female. It’s all about God making complementary pairs, which are meant to work together. The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth and . . . the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity, so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.

This book reminds me of Frank Viola’s From Eternity to Here.

71oKFNeN7HL.jpgSpeaking of Viola, his Insurgence: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom is also another wonderful new book that focuses on the topic of our allegiance to Jesus Christ and His kingdom. Those who are tired of seeing Christ being imposed with labels such as “conservative”, “progressive”, “left”, and “right” will find themselves resonating heavily with what this book says. Viola’s definition of God’s kingdom is in a way similar to Graeme Goldsworthy’s definition from The Gospel and The Kingdom which statesGod’s people in God’s place under God’s rule”. With this book, he provides a practical outlook on how this kingdom of light should look like today.

“The Church ought to be a place bearing the DNA of divine life.” By submitting ourselves to Jesus Christ our king, we are no longer enslaved by the world’s system which is run by Satan. In the section titled “The Better Place”, Viola writes, Our life together as God’s people is the only evidence the Lord left in this world that He has inaugurated a new world through Jesus. God uses His kingdom community, the ekklesia, to model the new social order that Jesus brought in through His ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. My question to you and every other Christian who is part of a church today is this: Is your life together embodying God’s kingdom to the world around you? If so, how?”

Another insight that I appreciate from Viola is that as those who commit ourselves to God’s kingdom and hence our brothers and sisters, we no longer claim “ownership” of our things — whether the spiritual or the material. Everything is given freely to us by God, and we, as stewards, are to not “own” these gifts (in a worldly sense) but to use and share them with the wisdom from above for God’s purposes.

Viola observes that a majority of today’s Christianity stresses on obeying and submitting to Jesus without first emphasising on how we need to be captured by the glory and beauty of Christ. What happens as a result of this neglect is an obedience out of guilt, fear, and even earthly ambition (such as wanting to be praised or recognised). Many of us burn out by “the god” of serving God (p.131). I personally think this is the trend in many “traditional” Chinese churches (I have talked about this in one of my earlier posts).

This another quote from Viola— probably my favourite part of the book — is worth remembering, ”Any demand that the Lord puts on us is motivated by love. And it also provides the power required to fulfil it. Therefore, all of the Lord’s commands aren’t really demands. They are promises.”

As many teachers have argued, God’s kingdom is the binding theme of the Bible. If you want to know more about the author’s take on this subject, there is a podcast by Viola (https://frankviola.me) consisting of twelve 3-minute episodes talking about God’s kingdom. I myself have learned so much over the years from the Viola’s podcast, blog, and books.

the-man-god-uses-oswald-smith

Oswald J. Smith’s The Man God Uses is a short yet encouraging Christian classic. I actually got it for one pound! The message and structure of this book are great as a devotional. The book provides many fundamental elements concerning our pursuit of God that many of us tend to forget, given that we are often tempted to forsake our first love as we age.

Smith encourages those who want to be used by the Lord to begin with love, to give the Lord our supreme love with an undivided heart. Smith quotes A.B Simpson, ”everything in Jesus and Jesus everything.” Stressing the centrality of Jesus Christ, Smith writes, “Thousands and thousands believed victory was in a doctrine, some believed it was in an experience, but when they came to realise that victory was in a Person, they stepped out of defeat into victory.”

What is the victorious life? Smiths answers, “It is the out-living of the indwelling Christ. As He indwells in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, He lives out His life from within. Jesus is living it in and through you. You cannot live it, but He can.” We indeed often forget that we have “Christ in you, the hope of glory”. We are, as Smith says, “God-inhabited” through the Spirit.

Smith also asserts that no matter how gifted or equipped we are, there will be little fruit if we do not pray. He also writes that it is better to have the heart right and head wrong rather than the opposite; and that it is better to have theory wrong but the practice right rather than the opposite. Smith asks himself, “Noah walked with God. Enoch walked with God. Could not I? Am not I more precious to God than my work, my possessions?” May we share the same mindset as Smith who concluded that, “God wants me, not merely my service.”

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Finally, Karen Marsh’s Vintage Saints and Sinners. This book is a delightful read consisting of the author’s narrative and appreciation of 25 Christians who have impacted her faith. These 25 include well-known men and women such as Augustine, A.W. Tozer, Brother Lawrence, Dorothy Day, and C.S. Lewis. Meanwhile, it also introduced me to those I had never heard of such as Amanda Berry Smith, Mary Paik Lee, and Howard Thurman. Marsh tells these stories to show us how human these saint-and-sinners are with their struggles and doubt, and that as Eugene Peterson once says, “we don’t become more spiritual by being less human”.

One of my favourite passage actually lies in the Foreward by Lauren Winner who writes,

“If you live in response to Jesus, the world will look different to you than it looks to your neighbours who, instead of attending to Jesus, pass their days in attention to the stock market, the New Yorker, or the devil. If you live in response to Jesus, you’ll look out your window and see a world created by God. You’ll see the powerless crucified by the powerful, and you’ll see the crucified One rising, and because you see those things—because you see the world with an eye attuned to Jesus—you’ll organize your life differently than your neighbour whose eye is attuned to the Dow Jones. Because they see differently and respond to what they see, saints often flout local convention and violate local norms. They often scandalize and unsettle. Sometimes they get arrested and killed.”


These books have nourished me so much. Many of these authors, despite their different background and writing styles, seem to share a few similar concerns which perhaps reflect also a common hunger within the Church today: Many of us hunger for a living Christ instead of a dead religion, and many of us have been let down by the disunity and lack of humility in the Church. To truly embody the living Christ and manifest His kingship, we need to learn once again how to decrease and let Him increase by “resurrecting” the pursuit of humility. Onwards to 2019.

On anguish, the dragon, Revelation, and things are not always what they seem

For the past two weeks, I’ve been waking up in deep anguish. Sometimes life in Christ is a beautiful paradox — the Lord promises us peace that transcends all understanding, yet Paul had great sorrow and anguish over his own kinsmen in flesh to a point where he would rather be cursed in order his family in blood could be saved (Romans 9:2-3). Moses, too, pled with God by saying he would rather be blot out from the book of life for the Israelites to be forgiven (Exodus 32:32).

I am certainly nowhere close to Paul. But to suffer with those who suffer (1 Cor 12:26) seems to carry more weight than to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:25). It is not just sympathy but a type of empathy — you are putting yourself in the shoes of others. Is this not how our suffering with our fellow brothers and sisters should look like? Many Christians lament about the lukewarmness in the Church today, but lukewarmness does not only manifest itself in our relationship with the Lord; it also shows when our nerves become numb towards our persecuted brothers and sisters. We are of the same body — of the same bone, of the same flesh.

It seems even more painful when those of the body share the same bloodline with you. I am speaking as a Chinese. The church history in China has much to teach us. The increasing hostility towards believers in China has been, as many suggest, the most severe kind ever since Mao’s times. 

I have never experienced any horrifying treatment myself. I have heard stories from my parents who grew up under the Cultural Revolution, and have read stories of the famous Chinese saints — those who died as martyrs; those who did not renounce their faith and ended up living to a good old age; those who gave themselves to the three-self church with regret; and those who did but with great pride. Now, we have access to news about the persecuted brothers and sisters, but as some of my friends agree, what we see reported on the news are but a small percentage of what is going on.   

I have not actually suffered, but I find myself trembling at times. After all, it does appear the churches in China are being slain one by one. With the new “skywatch” and “social-scoring” system, it only makes removing the saints more easily. (If you don’t know what I am referring to, consider reading Dr. Michael Brown’s article). During the passport control in my recent visit to mainland, my relative was asked by a Chinese officer, “you have removed a face mole, right?” It may sound funny, but that’s how detailed they go about your face.

And yes, I tremble. I begin to question if the Church can indeed survive and blossom in such an environment. I was not questioning God’s goodness or His sovereignty. I was questioning about the building of the Church. Because things just don’t seem like it.

Then I remember Jesus said, “I will build my Church. And the gates of Hades shall not prevail it.” And Yes, He will. I trust my Lord, therefore I trust His words.

And then I remember what I have been saying repeatedly to my friends this last term — and it seems like God is now testing me if I actually believe what I have said: I used say, our faith is, as Dallas Willard says, not a blind faith. Our faith is based on true spiritual knowledge. “We live by faith and not by sight” does not mean we see nothing — it just means that we do not, as Tim Mackie teaches, walk based on what things seem to appear as outwardly.

What does it mean in this context? It means although outwardly, it looks like the Church is being torn into pieces, we know God is still building; He is building His kingdom by using, as Joni Tada says, one form of evil — suffering —  to overcome another form of evil — sin. He is still the Cosmic Christ in the word of Willard.

Consider Hebrews 11:13,

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”

Even our forefathers saw the promises from a distance.

Ecclesiastes 1:9-18, on the other hand, reassures us by saying, “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing is new under the sun.” Posters saying things like “We the People need religion” and “We exalt Xi and his new socialism for a New Era” can be found from roads to apartments to public toilets in this country where the official religion is atheism, but even my non-religious aunt calls it idolatry.

Meanwhile, many persecuted saints are forced to sign papers to renounce their faith in Christ and pledge their final loyalty to the government. If they do not do that, they will be put into jail, and their kids cannot go to school. With the new system just mentioned, some will eventually be banned from social activities such as shopping for daily essentials.

But it is indeed nothing new. This is history repeating itself. Nero has become history, but the spirit only takes another form and another shape to operate. In Revelation For Everywhere, N.T. Wright who identifies the beast as Nero writes, “…the Christians were faced with a stark alternative: stay true to the lamb and risk losing your livelihood, the ability to sell or buy; or capitulate to the monster…then everything will be all right, except your integrity as one of the lamb’s followers.” (p.121) Remember the beast forces the people to take its mark or else, they cannot buy or sell.

In addition, the beast, although having been wounded, recovers and continues to draw people to worship him.

Sam Storms, quoting G.K. Beale, explains in Kingdom Come the symbolism of the beast’s recovery: “Therefore, whenever any major opponent of God reaches his demise, it appears as if the beast has been defeated, yet he will arise again in some other form, until the end of history.”

Last week, a post was written by an American brother and author named Ryan Johnson about a dream he had on China and Trump. I am not going to comment on his dream or his interpretation whatsoever. I believe in divine dreams (indeed I had such an experience at 6 on the day I was saved), prophetic dreams, and even dreams from the enemy that promote fear and condemn. I also believe even the most genuine believer can be prone to error, and the most controversial saints can still pronounce truth. The most important thing to consider is always whether what is said builds up the Body or not. And I bring him up because his article argues that the spirit that has captured the ancient Emperors of China, Mao, and Xi is ultimately the same one (he calls it “the spirit of the Dragon”).

Regardless of his wordings, there is indeed “the spirit of the age”. Satan as “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 16:11) manifests himself in different forms throughout human history. Ideologies, demonic doctrines, cultic worships are just some examples. Behind all these is the unwavering truth that the human history intertwined with the divine history is a story of two kingdoms.

What does this leave us with? On top of praying for all men and leaders in high positions that we may lead a peaceful life, godly in every way (1 Tim 2), a few thoughts from several men that I respect came to mind (They do not necessarily lead to any micro-conclusion. They just popped up in my brain).

R.T. Kendall has always argued, with his interpretation of the parables of the ten virgins, that there will be a “great awakening” before the Lord’s return (while I do not follow his interpretation of this parable, I respect him a great deal).

Frank Viola recently observes that leaders from different Christian tribes will begin to work together. He sees God raising up a “radical and absolute tribe of Christians” devoted to Jesus Christ and His kingdom and that a “growing number of worldwide Christian Millennials will be stirred by the Spirit of God to hunger for the deeper things of Christ.”

(Many Christians of my generation in Hong Kong have left the more “traditional” Chinese churches in which there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor, where rituals are more emphasized than the Spirit. While some have given up on meetings, some flee to churches where spiritual friendship is encouraged, and that the less privileged, such as domestic helpers and refugees are honoured.)

Sam Storms argues, based on Revelation 11, that there will be a vast global harvest of souls coming into the kingdom at the end of the age. I also long for such a harvest, and I tend to believe, as many others do, that this may include many Jews coming to Christ as Roman 11 hints.

I bring these up because, in a more general sense, hard times of persecution often provide the Church opportunities to experience purification and drop our tribal comfort to labour as one. One detained saint writes, “There is a secret that they don’t know: the church will never be broken up, for the gospel has created a deep-rooted community bound together by a common purpose”.

The Church also shines the brightest when we love as one, for as Jesus says, we will be known by the world for our love (John 13:15). In addition, Jesus has continuously prayed for us to be one (John 17). As we pray the same prayer, we find ourselves becoming the answer to that prayer. This ought to be our prayer, especially since we are living in a time where, as Rico Tice says, there is great hostility but also great hunger in the world for Christ.

Revelation — actually, the entire Bible — is affirming one single truth, that “to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14). The Lord is a consuming fire who purifies us by burning out the perishable, the destructible, and the shakable in order to produce an imperishable, indestructible and unshakable kingdom ruled by love and service.

And remember, things are not always what they seem like with their outward appearances. Let Him build, and let us co-labour with Him walking by spiritual sight in love.

“Forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Forgiveness is so hard. As I read the letters written by the persecuted saints of the Chinese underground Church  — both the arrested and their families — and reflect back on the on-going trials our brothers and sisters have faced over the years, I can only say the Father’s love, which results in His forgiveness, is really beyond our comprehension. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Do I have the same heart to extend the same mercy if it’s me who is mistreated in such ways?

I encourage you to read the letter written by Pastor Wang Yi that I have posted previously. Meanwhile, check out Brent Pinkall‘s facebook if you want to keep updated with English posts. Some of the letters written by the wife of Elder Li made me cry.

In another letter issued by the church pastored by Wang Yi, the hymn written by Watchman Nee, who was persecuted by his faith decades ago, was quoted:

Let me love and not be respected;
Let me serve and not be rewarded;
Let me labor and not be remembered;
Let me suffer and not be regarded.

‘Tis the pouring, not the drinking;
’Tis the breaking, not the keeping—
A life suff’ring to seek others’ blessing,
A life loving and true comfort giving.

Not expecting pity or concern,
Not accepting solace or praise;
Even lonely, even forgotten;
Even wordless, even forsaken.

Tears and blood for the righteous crown
My price shall be; losing all,
My cost for a faithful pilgrim’s life.
’Twas the life, O Lord, that You chose to live
In those days when on earth You walked,
Gladly suff’ring all injuries and loss
So that all might draw near and repose.

I cannot see how much farther I shall go;
Still I press on, knowing there is no return.
Let me follow Your pattern, so perfect and true,
Bearing all gratefully without complaint.

In this time of trial, O my Lord,
I pray that You would wipe my hidden tears away;
Let me learn, O Lord, You are my reward;
Let me be others’ blessing all my days.

I pray that our love will not grow cold for our brothers and sisters as well as the world. Remember those who are in prison. Suffer with them as we are one body.

A Profound Letter by Wang Yi: My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience

Read this profound letter by Chinese House Church Pastor Wang Yi who, together with his local brothers and sisters, has been repeatedly persecuted and jailed for his faith. He has been once again taken away to jail yesterday. Many members of his church were beaten.

May we weep yet rejoice at the same time. May we be encouraged by his words.

His letter only makes the visions in the book of Daniel and Revelation even more real.

Chinese version: 王怡牧师的声明:信仰上的抗命

 

Jewish Vision of Nationhood Through the Eyes of Moses Mendelssohn

A few days ago, I wrote down my thought on Romans 9-12 (see the previous post). Today, I attended an AKC lecture at King’s College titled Dreams and Nightmares: Jewish Political and Literary Visions of Nationhood, c 1840. Considering that it was a 50-minute-only lecture, the information given was quite a lot.

This lecture asks the following questions: how do religious dreams shape modern political visions, or do new political aspirations reshape older religious dreams? Do religion and politics inspire or clash with each other?

Hopefully, as Christians, we know at least a little bit about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. As argued by our professor, Jews experienced not only a loss of political authority but also fell into a partial captivity as exiles. The sovereignty of religion had departed from them.

With their hope rooted in the ancient land, Jews continued to live according to God’s commandment in every aspect everywhere they go. They are still longing to rebuild the temple and expecting their Messiah to return.

Some Hebrew poems that we have read, like that written by Judah ha-Levi titled “Won’t you ask, Zion”, are actually deeply moving. Sometimes I wonder why I am so ignorant of Paul’s love for His brothers in flesh.

The most interesting thing I have learned, however, is Moses Mendelssohn’s view of the Jewish vision of nationhood.

Moses Mendelssohn, the grandfather of the famous composer Felix Mendelssohn, was a celebrated Jewish philosopher. Many equated him as the symbol of the Jewish Enlightenment. In 1769, a Zurich pastor named John Lavater and Mendelssohn debated with each other on Judaism and Christianity, and ever since, he devoted a majority of his time on Jewish apologetics while urging the pursuit of peace between Jews and Christians.

Unlike many Jews of his times and today, Moses Mendelsohn believed Jews should not act on the “political side” of the dream of their nationhood. Mendelsohn specifically quoted from The Songs of Songs (e.g. 2:7 and 3:5) to argue that without the miracles and signs as mentioned in the Scripture, Jews must not take the smallest step in the direction of forcing a return and a restoration of our nation.

In other words, Mendelssohn believed that “the return to the holy land” cannot be assumed as an embodiment of any political meaning; it has to remain in God’s realm.

This is fascinating because this view aligns so much more with the view that many New Testament believers hold (perhaps excluding Christian Zionists).

One wonder if the grandfather’s work had anything to do with Felix Mendelssohn’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity. Regardless, Felix demonstrated how one could be Jewish by ethnicity, Christian by religion, and German by culture.

Regardless, just like what I have written in the previous post, we should always love and respect our neighbor – both Jews and gentiles – while praying that they may all see and put their faith in the Lord Jesus, the Seed of Abraham and the promised Seed of the Serpent-crusher.

All Israel Shall be Saved

One topic that intrigues many Christians is the salvation of Israel proclaimed by Paul in Romans 9-12. Here are some of my thoughts regarding this matter.

First thing first — as basic as it may sound — you cannot just jump ahead to chapter 12 without reading the previous chapters.

Equally important is our understanding of what Israel can mean in the Scripture.

Most of the world would understand Israel as the nation-state of Israel that was declared by 1948.

But the Scripture also gives Israel three meaning: Jacob, the second son of Issac; Jews as the chosen race in the Old Testament; and the new people in Christ who consists of believing Jews and Gentiles.

In Genesis 12, we see God promising to make Abraham (then-Abram) a great nation and his name great. God blessed him so that he could become a great blessing himself, in whom all the families of the earth shall be blessed. In Genesis 17, God made a covenant between Him and Abraham — again, with the promise of making his name great, but this time God especially emphasised he will be the “father of nations”, that nations shall be blessed through him.

These promises can be linked back to Genesis where God promised Adam and Eve the seed of the Serpent-crusher. Galatians 3:19 referred Christ as “the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. “ 

Galatians 3:16 speaks, “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.” Verses 3:27-20 further say, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”

To put it shortly, Christ is the Seed, the seed of Abraham. As we put our faith in Christ, we also become Abraham’s seed, co-heirs with Christ according to the promise.

So what is the Israel that Paul is talking about in Romans 9-12?

Let’s begin with chapter 9 first,

Romans 9:1-2 “I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit – that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” (if only we share Paul’s heart…I mean, Christ’s heart!)

In verse 3, Paul went on to say he would rather be cut off from Christ for the sake of his brothers – “my kinsmen according to the flesh” – these are, as verse 4-5 continue, the Israelites whom to them belong the adoption, glory, covenants, laws, worship , promise, patriarchs, and from their race and according to the flesh is the Christ!

So here Israel refers to the Israelites, the Jews as the chosen people in the Old Testament.

Paul knew people would ask him questions such as, why then are the Israelites still not saved yet? Why do they still reject the gospel? Therefore, in verse 6, we see a but…

“but not all who descend from Israel belong to Israel…” (Romans 9:6). Paul reminds us that not all children of the flesh are children of God; the children of promise are those who put their faith in Christ, the seed of Abraham.

In Romans 9:15-18, Paul asserts that God will have mercy on whom I will have mercy with reference to the story of Pharaoh. Nevertheless, one, when reading this passage, must remember Pharaoh hardens his heart first initially. God searches and knows his heart, and then he declares he will harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21; 7:3). God knows Pharaoh will resist Him (3:19-20).

Romans 9:27 describes the number of sons of Israel is like the sand of the sea, but only a remnant of them will be saved. Logically, Paul here is still dealing with the Israelites in flesh as the chosen people in O.T.  Paul went on to speak that his desire and prayer is that they may be saved (Romans 10:1)

In Romans 10, Paul begins to, just as he has done in other epistles, stress that the new humanity in Christ consists only of those who confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9). In Christ, there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all (Romans 10:12).

Paul then asks, “has God rejected His people?” (Romans 11:1) with an immediate answer of “By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” Again, we here Paul talking about the Israelites according to flesh.

In verse 4-5, we see Paul confirming that there is indeed a remnant among the Jews chosen by grace. 

Romans 11:11 and 14 have great implications to us as gentile Christians. Paul writes that salvation has come to gentiles to make Israel jealous. Again, Israel here refers to Israelites according to flesh. Are we living our Christian life — enjoying Christ’s riches —-in a way that make them jealous?

Romans 11:15 further impresses, for Paul says this rejection is for the reconciliation of the world. Their acceptance, however, is even more glorious as life from the dead!

Romans 11:18 gives us a sober reminder that we need to remain humble. We are not be arrogant to the Jews, for we were once wild olive shoot who are now grafted in to this olive tree, sharing in Christ as the root.

I am curious, however, that can Christians do the same like the Jews who were broken off due to their unbelief? Can we wilfully the same? After all, you cannot be broken off unless you were initially part of the tree with God as the root. I ask this question even though I am not an Arminian.

Here comes the most mysterious part, concerning the mystery of Israel’s salvation (of course).

Verse 11:15 tells us that a partial harding has come upon Israel until the fullness of gentiles has come in. Israel here then clearly refers to Israelites according to flesh.

The most debatable verse is 11:26, with the claim that all Israel will be saved. Is Paul talking about  Israel as the whole race according to flesh? or the remnant of Israelites? Or is it the “new Israel” consisting of believing Jews and gentiles?

In my opinion — based on the previous chapters where Paul repeatedly stress that the seed of Abraham are those who believe in Christ, and that those who are in Christ are the same tree, and that not all who descend from Israel are from Israel — all Israel means the whole of the new people in Christ consisting of the fullness of Gentiles and the fullness of the remnant of believing Jews.

Nevertheless, if one proceeds forward to verses 11:28-29, where Paul writes that “regarding the gospel, they are enemies for our sake, but regarding election they are beloved, for the gift and the calling of God are irrevocable”, we see that he is once again talking about Israelites according to flesh.

What does it leave us with? We can never be so certain when something is not explicitly explained, lest it leads us to spiritual blindness and pride. A few things are sure: we are not to be arrogant to the Jews (and of course we are not to be so to anyone!); there will be more Jews coming to Christ; our job is to live a life that attracts others, including Jews whom Paul says will be made jealous by us, to the way of Christ.

On the other hand, is the nation-state of Israel today the “promised land” to the Israelites? With full conviction, my answer is no. As many Christians would agree, all the Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Christ; they are not to be found in a political entity. The Church is now the New Jerusalem. However, it is my personal conjecture that God will use the nation-state as a means to draw the remnant Jews back to him, just as He has always worked all things for good. How? of course I cannot say exactly – the best I can give are perhaps 1) with the establishment of the nation-state, Jews await even more eagerly for their promised political Messiah. However, the long wait may frustrate them eventually, leading them to gradually see Christ is indeed the promised king. 2) Since many Jews are no longer scattered but regathered in the state is Israel, Christians are able to preach the gospel to a multitude of them more easily by going there.

I know these are just my silly human speculations. Our job is, as I mentioned, to live a life that can draw all kinds of non- believers to Christ (by the grace of God, of course). Love them as you would love yourself. Love them with the love that you have received from God.

It is fascinating that while we are tempted to debate, Paul ends his writing praising the Lord. Romans 11:33-36 are probably one of the most beautiful praises written. How unsearchable and how inscrutable are God’s judgments and ways! Who has known the mind of the Lord; who has been His counselor? Who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid? Indeed, let us praise along with Paul, declaring that all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him!

Tired of Serving

Friends coming from at least four different traditional Chinese churches have shared that young people are getting tired of “serving” in their churches. The same dry systemical routine leaves them dull and weary, and with their struggles come more guilt – be it self-imposed or from others.

As I listen, I also ponder, what leads us to our tiredness and boredom from “serving”.

When we get tired of serving, it does not necessarily mean we are too busy. It does not necessarily mean we are not gifted enough. It also does not necessarily mean we have bad motives or are lazy.

Perhaps some of us are looking for a living Christ more than a dead programme, more than a dead routine, or a mundane ritual?

Perhaps we are looking for loyalty to Jesus rather than to a scheme or to an organisation?

Regardless of what reason it is to each specific case, Christ has to be the source. He is the source of love, life, and strength. Instead of renewing a responsibility-check or a “worship plan”, we need a renewed vision of Him.

We need to be recaptured His love and captivated by His beauty every single day.

It really struck me the other day that, before asking Peter to “feed his sheep”, Jesus asked him if he loves Him for three times. His primary question was if he loved Him, not if he knew Him well enough, or if he had all the charismatic leadership qualities.

All things, from wanting to know Him to depending on Him, from loving our fellow brothers and sisters as well as loving our neighbor, they all find their root in our love for Him.

Perhaps He asked Peter three times to remind him his three denials of Jesus. But even if so, Jesus did not have the intention to guilt him but to show him grace, that the prerequisite to “feeding the sheep” is primarily our first love for Christ instead of having lived “a perfect Christian life” without failure. 

Let’s go back to our first love when we find ourselves weary and drained, for indeed He is the source of life, love, and light!

No Longer Bothered By “Who Are The Least of These?”

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34–40 ESV)

I used to be among those who are bothered by the misuse of this passage: while I absolutely loved the ones who used this passage to encourage the Church to care for the poor and needy in the society, I always thought it is still important to understand the “least of these my brothers” as a reference to our brothers and sisters in Christ, since throughout the New Testament, “brothers” are used constantly as those who belong to the family in Christ,

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46–50 ESV)

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  (1 John 3:17. ESV)

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20–21 ESV)

But gradually, I realise it doesn’t matter (perhaps it does, but not to a degree of stubbornness), for the “the least of these” – be it the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, or the naked, may very well be our brother or sister tomorrow. Even more so, our acts of love often times are actually the channels where people come to taste and find the grace and goodness of Jesus Christ.

It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that we love those around us as Jesus Christ would love them. We love them in a way that we acknowledge they are just like us, created originally in His likeness to be loved and pursued by God; and simultaneously, to love and pursue God. It is not our job to guess or determine whether one will come to faith in the end or not; we are simply called to love our God (and therefore our brothers and sisters because of our union with Him) and our neighbours.

Spiritual, Godly, and Human

Knowing God’s disapproval of sin, we often strive to become more “Christ-like” and “godly”. Yet Jesus Christ is both God and human. If we are to become more Christ-like, we will only become more human than before. As Eugene Peterson writes, “We don’t become more spiritual by becoming less human.”

True “spirituality”, “godliness”, and “humanity” go together. The more “spiritual” and “godly” we become, the more “human” we are.