Wrestling with God

Often we think we have it all figured out in regards to our decisions, desires and directions in life. Recently, I had been excitedly (and impatiently) waiting in anticipation of a big life decision. I purportedly had prayed about it, reflected on it during many sleepless nights, set my aspirations and reasoning in writing, and even sought out the counsel of my closest brothers, friends and my church’s elders/pastors.

I was confident that my decision was the correct one, but now that my self-imposed deadline (to make the decision a reality) looms ever nearer, I am experiencing FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). Argh! Why God?! Why did you have to throw that wrench into my neat and tidy plans?! We are quick to blame God aren’t we, when things don’t go according to our plans or timelines!

I had coffee this morning with one of the pastors and he shared his journey and experience with me. He reminded me that it is part of the refining process; and at the end of the wrestling match, I will surely walk away with a limp, even if in the end, my original decision turned out to be the correct one. The point is that up to now, perhaps my flesh had been controlling the agenda and setting the desired outcome, my protestations of  “seeking the Lord in prayer” notwithstanding.

So … let the wrestling match begin ….


Apart, We’re Only A Part

[lyrics are mine]

Love and shalom, together we are whole
The vows we made, the ties that bind
Connecting us together, soul to soul
Love is beautiful, love is blind

What can quench desire, the burning fire
Love bears all things, love is fragile
Seasons turn, memories burn: funeral pyre
Promises expire, passion only lasts awhile

Just took one match, just a spark
To break the trust, to lose what’s real
Watch everything burn, sitting in the dark
Two sad, too mad, two numb to feel

Alone, apart, we’re just a part
Only One, only One can make us whole
Don’t know how or where to start
To fill the hole, the hole in my soul

Judge Not?

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matt. 7:1-2; ESV)

I’ve been musing on Matt 7:1-6 which was the sermon text last week at our church. If one has been a Christian for any length of time, one will know that mantra of “Don’t judge me!” is often bandied about anytime loving admonishment is attempted on an errant believer. Of course, this sentiment is also very prevalent in society at large as a protective mechanism to deflect any and all concerns one might wish to call out regarding another’s moral behaviour or manner of living.

We all naturally bristle at self-righteous people who go around pronouncing accusatory barbs with an air of superiority and in an unloving, critical spirit, but if we’re honest, we have to admit to doing the same at times.  As such, this passage from the so-called “Sermon on the Mount” warrants a closer look.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that the English word “judge” automatically evokes a negative understanding. In fact, one version (CEV) translates verse 1 as: Don’t condemn others, and God won’t condemn you. However, the semantic range of κρίνω is much broader and encompasses these meanings: “discern, evaluate, separate, decide, distinguish, give preference, to approve, to interpret” in addition to “judge”.

As usual, context is determinative of meaning, and in the passage before us, it seems to me that what Jesus is teaching may be better stated thus: Be careful how you discern and evaluate another person’s actions—judge them fairly and not in a condemnatory spirit, for you wouldn’t want others to evaluate you unfairly. God alone has the right to judge, so do not presume to act for Him, lest you be judged by Him! With Matt. 7:1,2 serving as a thematic heading to the larger passage (7:1-12, with vs. 12 serving as a summary and conclusion, both in its nearer and larger contexts), the theme of discerning/evaluating carefully/fairly runs consistently from the example given in 7:3-5, through to the  exhortation in 7:6 to not be undiscerning (obviously we need to “judge”, i.e., undergo a process of discernment in order to know who are “dogs” and “pigs”).

That said, we are indeed to be careful not to usurp God as the only rightful Judge (Rom. 14:10-13). Interpersonal relationships, especially in the community of God’s people, are always challenging. We are not to criticize, condemn, or complain about others, but at the same time, as a body of believers, we are commanded to carry out the “one another” exhortations. Part of this will entail loving correction based on careful and fair evaluation of the behaviour or situation. This is the tension we must live with, but thankfully we have the Spirit within to empower and guide us, as well as the mirror of the Word to remind us of our own failures and faults, so that we might speak the truth in love in all humility and gentleness.

I plan to write another post giving practical tips on giving and receiving feedback.

Gentrification of Christianity

Thought-provoking talk by Sho Baraka .. love the little rap at the end!

Hopeful New Year

Well, another year is upon us.

After I re-read the some of my recent posts, I realized they may come across negative and critical … and maybe they are.

Confession: I am bouncing back and forth between discouragement/anxiety and joy/anticipation. Why? Because I am living in an “in between” time, a temporary transitional time that seems so long. This state of uncertainty and waiting was triggered by a recent decision, the rightness of which I fluctuate between absolute confidence that it is God’s will and doubt that is amplified the closer we get to the target date.

So, please: read those dark and downer posts in light of this context.

But I am hopeful that the Lord will guide me to what He would want me to do. I have sought the counsel of others, but ultimately, it is up to me to prayerfully discern and decide.

Random Musings on Worship

Last night, our church had a New Year Eve’s service that we couldn’t attend because we were out of town. However, with FaceTime, I was able to virtually be a part of the gathering. Of course, this disembodied experience wasn’t quite the same, but nevertheless I enjoyed the virtual worship experience and was thankful to “participate” in it.

I was unable to sleep well, and so, as I lay restlessly in bed, thoughts about worship came to mind; in particular, these words popped up:


This got me thinking about how we can improve and innovate. Specifically, I would like to see our church form a “liturgical design team” so that every worship meeting can be more intentional, integrative and imaginative.

While I do not doubt that there is a lot of prayer, thought and planning that goes into the sermon and the choice of songs, I am talking about the holistic view of the entire meeting in its formative, transformative and performative aspects. I intend to expand and clarify on these and other points in future posts, but for now, I want to encourage my church to embrace a “thicker” theology and practice of worship. Though my ecclesial background has been Baptist, Brethren and simple/NT/house church, I am opening my mind to learn about and embrace some aspects of traditional liturgical practices as long as long as they don’t compromise my core biblical convictions.

Mystery and Marvel

In his book, Miracles, C.S. Lewis writes  that the “Central Miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. . . . Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this.” And yet, Christians—perhaps because of familiarity, but also perhaps because of ignorance—seem to take the miracle of the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth for granted. Part of this may be due to the safe, superficial, and sentimental telling of the Advent narrative.

From the virgin’s womb, the eternal Word became flesh. How can we not marvel at such a profound mystery?

No wonder that church history is replete with heretical notions concerning Jesus and the Trinity. The Nicene Creed was hammered out in response to modalism (Sabellianism), adoptionism, and Arianism. Later, the Council of Chalcedon gathered to refute Apollinarianism, Nestorianism and Eutychianism. Such battles for doctrinal purity and precision were not motivated by mere academic nitpicking or dispassionate intellectual inquiry; no, these heresies struck at the heart of who Jesus is in relation to the triune Godhead.

Perhaps one of these advent seasons we shall be treated to more substantial “Christmas sermons” to stir us to marvel more at the mystery and majesty of the Miracle of the Incarnation. In the meantime, our hunger will find some satiation from our poets if not our preachers.

They sought to soar into the skies
Those classic gods of high renown
For lofty pride aspires to rise
But you came down.

You dropped down from the mountains sheer
Forsook the eagle for the dove
The other Gods demanded fear
But you gave love

Where chiselled marble seemed to freeze
Their abstract and perfected form
Compassion brought you to your knees
Your blood was warm

They called for blood in sacrifice
Their victims on an altar bled
When no one else could pay the price
You died instead

They towered above our mortal plain,
Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn,
Aloof from birth and death and pain,
But you were born.

Born to these burdens, borne by all
Born with us all ‘astride the grave’
Weak, to be with us when we fall,
And strong to save.

— Malcolm Guite, “Descent”