Saturday, September 15, 2012

Klang Valley Bible Conference 2012

The Reason for God: The (True) Story of the Cross

Here is the positive case for belief in the Christian faith so far:
- There are clues to believe in a personal Creator God / Moral Law giver
- Not only that, we already presuppose God by living as if moral laws really exist
- That’s bad news: We break our own ethical standards by self centered living
- The solution is not moral improvement, but radical grace from God

But why must Jesus die on the cross for us in order for God to forgive our sins? Isn’t that His job anyway? Some calls it 'cosmic child abuse' (a fierce Father needs to punish the innocent Son before He could forgive the guilty).

Keller argues that real forgiveness is costly suffering. If someone damaged your car, you can either ask him to pay all/share the costs or you absorb the full cost of his misdeed yourself. Someone has to bear the payment.

If someone wronged you, you may try to take revenge and make him suffer. But it takes a toll on you – make you hard, cold, cynical, prejudiced and vengeful. The cycle of retaliation can spread and intensify (The Prestige). The other option is to forgive (refuse to make them pay for what they did). It is a form of suffering. But it leads to new freedom, life and peace. It breaks the cycle of violence.

 Shouldn’t we confront the wrongdoers to restrain them, ask them to repent or protect others? Yes, but out of love/first seek forgiveness. Otherwise what we seek is not justice but revenge, not their change but their pain. Example: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Since forgiveness means absorbing the debt of sin yourself instead of making the guilty pay for it, should it surprise us that when God forgives us that He went to the Cross and die there? It is important to realize that Jesus is not just a third-party bystander. For Christians, Jesus is God Incarnate. He is the Judge Himself receiving the punishment. He is eternally one with the Father. The cross is biblically portrayed as a Trinitarian conspiracy of love where the Father ‘so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son’ (John 3:16) and the Son voluntarily accepts the cross as the supreme expression of His own love: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends.” (John 15:13) It is not primitive deity that demands blood for their wrath to be appeased but God became human to offer his own blood so that he can destroy all evil without destroying us.

Some people argue that the cross is primarily a display of how great God’s love is for us. (Romans 5:8). His sacrificial death melts away our hate, awakens moral change and moves us to imitate Christ (moral influence). The sole obstacle to salvation lies in the subjective resistance of sinners. But unless the cross objectively rescues us, it would be an empty show of sentimentality just like a silly lovesick boy who declares, "Darling, I will prove my love for you by jumping off Niagara Falls". It is only a meaningful act of love if the beloved is in real danger so that diving into the waters would be an attempt to rescue her.

We can’t have a God of love without the cross. It is impossible to love people with a problem or need without in some sense sharing or even changing place with them. Consider parenting. If you don’t allow your children to hinder your freedom in work and play at all, they will grow up emotionally needy, troubled and over-dependent. The choice: You sacrifice your freedom or theirs. All love toward people with serious needs is substitutionary sacrifice.

Stott: The essence of sin is we human beings substitute ourselves for God while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us.

Ironies of the Cross: Properly understood, the Cross cannot encourage the oppressed to simply accept violence because Jesus died to honor justice. He identified with the oppressed.
He went to the cross to save the world by losing His life, to triumph through defeat, kingdom through weakness and service, glory by giving up everything. N.T. Wright: “The real enemy, after all, is not Rome but the powers of evil that stood behind human arrogance and violence… On the cross, the kingdom of God triumphed over the kingdoms of this world by refusing to join in their spiral of violence. On the cross, Jesus would love his enemies, turn the other cheek, go the second mile”.

This upside-down kingdom creates an alternate reality and reversal of values of the world with regard to power, status and wealth. It is a new counter culture in which we no longer need justify ourselves through pride of race, class, career and money, but transcend them in ways that are life-giving and community-building.

The stories that always seem to move us most deeply are those in which someone faces loss or death in order to bring life to someone else. (The Matrix? Lord of the Rings?)

A Tale of Two Cities: Charles and Sydney look very much alike and both love the same woman, Lucie. During French revolution, Charles was arrested and sentenced to die. But Sydney exchanged places with him so that he and his family could escape.

But the gospel is not just a moving fictional story about someone else. It is a true story about us. Jesus has come to us in our prison and despite our unwillingness to be saved has taken our place. When you realize that you are actually inside Jesus’ story (and He is in your story) it changes you inside out.

The fact that Jesus has to die for me humbled me out of my pride.
The fact that Jesus was glad to die for me assured me out of my fear. 

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Kairos Forum on Political Activism

Kairos Public Forum

New Political Activism and Realignment: Implications for Malaysia’s GE13

Venue: Saint Paul’s Church
             Lorong Utara Kecil
             46200 Petaling Jaya
             Petaling Jaya

Date: Monday 17 September 2012.

Time: 8.00pm to 10.30pm

Speakers: Dr. Bridget Welsh, Mr. Lim Heng Seng and Mr. Andrew Khoo

Brief introduction: Christian Political Concerns by Dr. Ng Kam Weng
Talk 1 - New Political Realignments & Realities  by Dr. Bridget Welsh.
Talk 2 - Sabahan and Sarawakian Restive Natives and Political Activism to Regain Constitutional Rights by Mr. Lim Heng Seng
Talk 3 - Civil Society & Recent developments in Law and Courts: Ramifications for Democracy by Mr. Andrew Khoo.
Open discussion - Chaired by Mr. Philip Koh

Speakers Biodata

Dr Bridget Welsh is Associate Professor of Political Science at Singapore Management University where she teaches courses on comparative politics, parties, political participation, gender and international relations. She has edited Reflections: The Mahathir Years (2004), Legacy of Engagement in Southeast Asia (2008), Impressions of the Goh Chok Tong Years in Singapore (2009), Transformations: The Abdullah Badawi’s Years in Malaysia (2013).

Mr. Lim Heng Seng is a partner with a legal firm in Kuala Lumpur. He served in the Malaysian Judicial and Legal Service from 1976 until 2001. He has also served as chairman of both the Industrial Court of Malaysia (1994-2003) and the Social Security (Socso) Appellate Board (1997-2003). Heng Seng is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for the Industrial Law Reports published by the Malaysian Current Law Journal. He is the advisory editor on Malaysian Court Forms published by the Malayan Law Journal.

Mr. Andrew Khoo currently serves as Chairperson of the Bar Council Human Rights Committee. He has been Chancellor (legal advisor) to the Anglican Bishop of West Malaysia since September 2001.  He also serves on the Home Council of OMF Malaysia and on the board of directors of CMS Asia. He is a member of the Steering Committee of BERSIH 2.0.

Mr. Philip Koh (Chairman) is a member of Kairos Board of Directors ; Advocate & Solicitor

* No registration required for attendance

Download the article: Social Impact of Christian salvation

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Gospel: Neither Religion Nor Immorality

The Reason for God: Religion and the Gospel 

Our main problem is sin (building our identity on anything but God). But why must the solution be Christianity? All religions teach us to do good and if I live a better life, isn’t that good enough?

 The Christian faith is much more radical than that. The problem is not that we don’t know stealing, lust, hatred, attachment to worldly things, selfishness, cruelty is wrong or sinful. The problem is we already know it but we still do it. We want to do good but at the same time, we also find another desire to do exactly the opposite. So just getting religious advice and teachings, laws and regulations, do’s and don’ts is not the solution. The diagnosis has to be much deeper than that. All other religions have founders who show the way to salvation, but only Jesus claims to actually be the way of salvation himself.

 The story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? When Dr Jekyll realizes that he is this living contradiction of good and evil, he decided to do all he can to get rid of selfishness and pride from his heart. He devoted himself to charity and good works, to drown his selfish nature with acts of kindness and sacrifice and pay for the wrongs he had done before. And it worked! He became the most moral and kind person, and stopped taking the potion at night to become Mr Hyde. Then one fine day Dr Jekyll thinks of all the good that he has achieved, and how much better a person he was compared to others. He says, “I can say with total honesty that my decision to do good has produced great results. You know how much hard work I spent to help suffering people… But as I smiled, comparing myself with others, comparing my acts of goodness with their lazy, cruel neglect to do good… at that very moment, a horrible feeling came over me and I looked down… I was once again Mr Hyde”.

At that moment, just when he has achieved his standard of being good and righteous, Jekyll transformed into Hyde again, this time without drinking any potion at all. Unable to control his transformations any longer, Jekyll killed himself. The moral of the story is this: Covering up our selfishness and pride with lots of good works and kind deeds won’t make us less self centered. Instead they only feed into our pride and self righteousness. Jekyll becomes Hyde, not because he is bad, but precisely because he is good.

If you define the purpose of your existence in terms of performance, you do good deeds motivated by self-interest (in order to get to heaven, escape from hell or to feel good about yourself, to meet expectation of others). In the end, the ultimate motive is still ‘yourself”. If you achieve it, you end up with self righteousness and pride. If you fail to achieve it, you will end up with despair and fear. Either way you still end up becoming Mr or Miss Hyde. There are two ways to run away from God and be your own Savior: Be bad and break all the rules and be good and keep all the rules. Religion says: “Do good, obey the rules – then I will be accepted by God”. The Good News: “I am accepted by God because of what Jesus has done – therefore I obey”.

What is the Difference?

 Motive: Religion operates out of fear, of consequences if we break the rules. The gospel operates out of a desire to please and resemble the One who gave his life for us. Identity: In a religious framework, you become self righteous when you perform up to the standards or despair when you do not measure up. The gospel is that I am so sinful that Jesus had to die for me yet I am so loved that Jesus was glad to die for me. It leads to humility and confidence at the same time. How we treat the other: In ‘religion’, group identity is formed through exclusion of those who are different. A Christian’s worth and identity is through the Lord who was excluded for me. Since I am not saved by my moral practices, then I would expect to find those who are different are superior to me in many ways. Suffering: Moralistic religion leads people to believe they deserve a happy life and rage when things go wrong. The gospel frees us from the spiral of bitterness when life goes wrong because Jesus the Righteous One also experienced suffering and rejection. It’s simply not true that if we live a good life, things will go well for you.

The Threat of Grace

 The gospel sounds too easy: “All I have to do is get a personal relationship with God and then do anything I want!” But you can only say that if you have not experienced it. “If I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with ‘rights’ – I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by sheer grace – then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me”. If Jesus had really bought us with His sacrifice, then we are not our own. We now belong to the One who gave up everything for us. There is no coercion or unwilling obligation; yet your behavior has been radically changed by the mind and heart of the Person you live. Analogy of Les Miserables: The paradox is that unconditional grace demands that the recipient give up control of his or her life. Actually we are not in control but enslaved by what ever we are living for. Grace is only a threat to the illusion tat we are free, autonomous and living life as we choose. The Christian faith is not religion or irreligion. It is something else altogether. PS: Why is it important to make this distinction clear?