Friday, June 17, 2011

Nurturing The Imagination of Children

Chee Siew Hoong wrote in Kairos magazine: "Nurturing our children’s literary imagination takes place primarily through conversation. We can
discuss themes, characters, writing styles and ideas in the books that they have read. In classical education, discussions take on a more argumentative flavor as the child grows older; as she gives
an intelligent defence of her opinions, her thinking is both stretched in capacity and depth."

Welcome to the Children’s Library!
We are open every Saturday @ 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with story-telling sessions at 11:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m.

The Children’s Library is a community library for kids in Puchong and the surrounding area. Everyone is welcome to enjoy the high-quality and award-winning story books available in the English language. Come and experience the cozy reading space and the fun story telling times with other children. The books are geared for children pre-school to age 12.

Do join us in encouraging your child/children to read and to be good listeners as stories are read to the whole group. For any questions or comments, please send us an email at

PS: A group of us will be discussing the book "The Reason For God" by Tim Keller on the topic of hell and divine judgment this Sunday 19 June 2011 at CDPC Puchong. Guests are welcome!

Next Sunday 26 June 2011, I will be preaching on Suffering and the Sovereignty of God based on the book of Job at Klang Presbyterian Church (11 am). Feel free to drop in and worship with us.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thots about Hinduism, Buddhism and the Conscious Brain

Here are some thoughts about Hinduism and Buddhism. Both are concerned with satisfying karmic debt. The Hindu quest for the right guru and the Buddhist quest to be awakened for parinirvana, assume no relationship between creator and creation.

The Christian Gospel announces the stunning news that at a moment in geohistory, God became man to reconcile man to God. The historicity of the incarnation of Christ makes the Gospel uniquely relevant to the urgent issues of a scientific age. It is this reality that makes the Christian Gospel worthy of consideration for both Hindus and Buddhists.

My personal conviction is that the Christian faith embodies revelatory truths rooted in geohistorical events that culminated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Such a belief is neither verifiable nor falsifiable by any discipline of human inquiry.

Christianity is a faith that seeks understanding and not a faith that results from understanding. Thus, the primary impulse to believe in the metaphysical must have been hard-wired in our minds. Indeed, contemporary neuropsychology suggests that the human brain is evolved for religious cognition. Our minds are optimized to interpret metaphysical signals that machines and our natural senses are unable to measure.  Thus, belief in God finds corroborative support in our interpreted experience of the divine. This universal desire to make sense of our experience as human beings, who long to understand more than we know, marks us as the religious animal.

One of the most important questions Christians may ask of its own tradition is, “Did God reveal himself outside the Judeo-Christian cone-of-experience?” How can we account for the fate of the 99+% of humans who ever lived, and who died without having heard the Gospel because they existed outside the geohistory of the biblical faith? Does being born in the wrong time or wrong place doom one to damnation? How does the limited cone of experience generated by any religion, say Christianity, with its focus on Palestine from c.1500 BC to AD 30, count as a universal revelation of God to creation?

Another area worth observing is the effort made by many Buddhist communities to engage the maturing disciplines of the neurosciences. Both Hinduism and Buddhism have long been concerned with the nature of human consciousness  and its collateral effects on personality, emotions and memory. The sense of a unified consciousness that we all experience (unless we suffer from schizophrenia, multiple-personalities or other forms of memorial dementia) as colonies of trillions of individual cells, let alone the mitochondrial cells within our somatic ones, cannot be readily explained scientifically. Indeed, in consciousness studies, neurotheology is as much a resource as the philosophy of mind and the neurosciences. The achievement of trance in Hindu rituals and altered states of consciousness in Buddhist meditation remain little understood by modern science and beyond the scrutiny of even powerful machines such as functional MRIs. There is much debate concerning the veracity of interpretations of what these machines measure. Do they measure the cause or the effects of such meditations and mind-controls? Are there Christian analogues practiced by medieval mystics, long forgotten when the Church adopted modern philosophy in its theological doctrines? Can an interdisciplinary approach yield a more holistic understanding of what these ancient religions seek to convey?

These and other such questions are well beyond the scope of this introduction. But I hope to convey the immense amount of interesting work that remains to be labored over by investigators and practitioners of these living faiths. The Christian world ought not to fall behind in understanding how we think and what transpires when our brains are traumatized by physical or psychological stimuli. As we learn to delay our demise and live longer, the essence of what it means to be human, to be alive and to prepare for death takes on new dimensions of urgency.

What we can begin to answer is how the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be relevant to a Hindu or a Buddhist seeking alternatives or simply curious about what other faiths of the Axial Age have produced. Although the basic quest of the Hindus and Buddhists reflects those of other faiths, only the Gospel of Jesus expressly claims a divine will to reconcile us to our maker.

I hope this introduction to the great wisdom beliefs of Hinduism and Buddhism has helped you begin to think through a set of worldviews shared by a quarter of the human race.

Perhaps … if the Buddha met the Christ,
there might not have been a need for Buddhism at all.

PS: What is consciousness?
The notion of a unified consciousness shared by a colony of trillions of cells, which make up a human body is a cognitive illusion performed by the brain and interpreted by the mental operations of the mind. A further consequence of our thoughts is the brain’s capacity to navigate the perception of time at each instance of a moving present, and then stitch up the instants seamlessly into a moving duration. Finally, it needs to recall past awareness as memories by consolidating experiences into memorably recallable units of cognition. These collective calibrations of experiences conspire to delude us into believing that we are indeed a singular person with a unified volition.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

What the hell is Hell?

This sermon Podcast from CDPC Puchong can be downloaded here

Do you remember the first time someone preached the gospel to you? Was it a good or bad experience? My first experience with a classmate who tried to share the good news with me was not very pleasant. It was a rather forceful presentation with heavy emphasis on eternal punishment, hell fire and brimstone. I can’t recall the exact words but the gist of it was something like: “Hey, do you know where you go after you die? Let me tell you. If you don’t believe in Jesus, you will suffer forever, like barbecue roasting in hell. You will gnash your teeth and scary worms will crawl all over you”. You catch the drift… Have you come across zealous evangelists like that?

My friend’s evangelistic approach actually worked quite well for other classmates. There was a mini revival in school! Certainly God, in his sovereignty, can use even less-than-perfect methods like this to work out his good purpose. But the more he threatened me with the lake of fire for not believing in Jesus, the more determined I was to pick a quarrel with him.

Now that I look back on it, as a believer, I can understand that he actually means well. If there is such a thing as hell, then it would be loving and compassionate of him to warn me about it even if I don’t like to hear it. It’s like if you are asleep in a house that’s on fire, you would wish that the people who saw it will wake you up and tell you to escape quickly from danger. If hell exists, it would be cruel of him to keep quiet and let me die just because he is afraid of offending me. Yes, I can see that now…

But…Even though he probably means well, some classmates and I still think that his way of sharing the good news probably has plenty of room for improvement. Not sure about you but I felt like he’s trying to manipulate people with scare tactics. There was a hint of superiority and pride. Yes, it’s true that Jesus preached about hell and judgment, but He also cried and wept for sinners to turn away from sin and be rescued. Where is the sense of sadness? Where is the sense that: “Unless I am saved by the grace of God, I will end up in hell too? I am not any better than you are. All of us deserve hell unless Christ took our punishment on the cross, for us.”

You see… Unless people sense that Christ-like humility and earnest compassion in us, they may easily be put off by such graceless attitude and become hardened and reject the gospel because it seems to portray a God who is cruel, random and narrow, happy to burn people forever in hell if they happen to disagree with Him.

But… What about good atheists who are kind to other people? Are they going to hell too? How narrow-minded is that? How can God be full of love and yet send people to hell at the same time? These are difficult and serious questions that prevent people from coming to faith. How can we give a reason for our hope to people who ask such questions?

On the other extreme, for many people today, if they think about hell at all, they think of it as a joke or a cartoon strip. Probably you have heard of the one about: “How can there be gnashing of teeth in hell if some people die without any tooth left? Punch-line: False teeth will be provided.” And people go ‘hahaha’… With common jokes like that going around, it’s no wonder that the reality of hell is so often ignored, laughed at, ridiculed and trivialized. We hear people saying, “Oh I’d rather go to hell because all my friends are there and we are gonna party and play mahjong together. It’d be loads of fun.”

And if we are really honest, very often, even Christians are often embarrassed to talk about hell at all for fear of making people uncomfortable. “Let’s focus on the positive side of things instead and forget about all this hellish stuff”. As a result, the biblical teaching about hell is simply never discussed or preached from the pulpit. Most church goers do not even miss it all that much. Do you ever wonder, “Gee… I just can’t wait. When is pastor going to preach on hell again?” Over time, we just neglect and dismiss this doctrine altogether. So how do we affirm a biblical teaching of hell in a culture where tolerance is supreme and divine judgment is not taken seriously?

We probably cannot address everything in a couple of minutes. There is great mystery about the afterlife and what we cannot speak; we must pass over in silence. But we can look at what God has revealed in His word and say something about THREE questions that may help us get a more balanced perspective on hell, help us to comfort the spiritually fearful and at the same time, terrify the spiritually complacent.

Read on or download the full transcript

What the Hell is Hell?