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Posts Tagged ‘prodigal’

Reading and Reflecting 1

Returning to God: repentance, restoration, renewal; it’s a slow and tough climb – at least for me. Hungering for His Word and communing with Him in prayer is sorely lacking I confess. I’m starting to enjoy being with fellow believers but still feel awkward trying to be in the presence of God. I’ve been “attending church” pretty regularly in the past few months, but often it’s hard for me to “get into it”.

Well, maybe it’s not surprising – after all, it’s been almost a decade. And maybe I’ve gotten too accustomed to wallowing in the mire and muck of this world’s mud.

So, what to do?

Books.

Wait! What about the Book? Am I reading the Bible? I’ve tried, but the words are too familiar. Don’t get me wrong. There’s much to be learned, much to be meditated on and live out. It’s hard to explain, but I just don’t have the same appetite for the Word as I used to. This is sad. This is bad. But that’s my current reality.

I need to be provoked and prodded out of my slumber.

In desperation, I’ve been reading feverishly, hoping to be provoked and inspired to hunger after He who transcends all earthly pleasures and pursuits. Here’s what I’ve read so far:

BibleTellsUsSo EmbracingTheOther BurningReligion GodSexSelf Way2Water

Currently, I have several books on the go (the first two are giving me a headache!):

ReimaginingTheSacred Loving2Know NonviolentCommunication ForbiddenFriendships

At some point, I am hoping to post brief reflections/reviews of each book. I find summarizing the main points helpful – hopefully it may  help others too.

I find that reading these varied books do stimulate my appetite and stir me me to want to pursue God again – but I don’t quite know how to move from the cereberal to the contemplative …

OK, back to my reading!

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A brother was asking me about to what extent do we need to pursue the academic study of the Bible.  This proved not to be an easy question to answer, given my prior obsessively intellectual approach to the Word. On the other hand, I simply cannot stomach the mindless, out-of-context and mystical talisman approach to Scripture that your typical Joe Christian is guilty of.

In my case, I have found it challenging to begin reading the Bible again after a decade long abstention. My strategy thus far has been to simply read from a variety of translations so that I can hear God’s voice afresh: NET, ISV, ESV, the VOICE, and NIV 2011. Thus far, I have resisted the urge to delve into commentaries (partly because I sold off 98% of my vast library and kept only Thiselton’s NIGTC commentary on 1 Corinthians; and I am not about to fork out $$$ to rebuild my library).

In an earlier post, I mentioned 2 books I felt all Christians could benefit from; of course there are more, and I’m thinking since my brother Bob’s a mature believer, he should be able to handle these two books by the controversial OT scholar Peter Enns:

  • The Bible Tells Me So
  • Inspiration and Incarnation

Or maybe I should be more cautious and suggest he read Scot McKnight’s fine little book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible instead.

In the end, we both agreed that the key is to just live out the Word instead of erecting obstacles to obedience or letting our curiosity detract us from the clear commands we ought to obey.

 

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The Amazing Race

For some time now, my dear wife has been hounding me about how we need to be good stewards.  In particular, she wanted us to invest our money in a very specific way – which didn’t make a lot of sense to me, not to mention being very risky (at least to me). But recent unfolding of events seem to have justified my wife’s wisdom and decision.

Our church’s LifeGroup is working through Francis Chan’s book You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity. chanI have to confess at first I wasn’t really engaged.  First of all, I didn’t know much about Francis Chan because by the time I first heard of him, I was already selling off my massive theological library. Truth be told, however, it was mainly because I didn’t want to have my spiritual slumber disturbed. But I discovered recently that he’s pretty cool; I mean, he even got to speak at Google! How I wish all Christian couples could read this book so they can clear their heads of the silly fluffy notions of romance and marriage!

Anyhow, I was skimming his book, and came across these words in the book’s final chapter:

I was told by a marathon runner that you should try to run the second half of the race faster than the first.  And once the finish line is in sight, many runners sprint. They use up every ounce of energy they have left because they know they can collapse once they break the tape.

I want to run my life in that same manner. I want the second half to be stronger than the first. In America, the norm is to do radical things for Christ when you are 18-25, then slow down once you are married. When you have children, your service to Jesus slows to a crawl – you have your family to think about. Then it’s only a matter of time before you forget you are even in a race. Instead, you focus on building a home and settling down.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can run faster as the race goes on.

He closes by reminding us (emphasis mine):

Time flies. And it flies faster each year. So don’t procrastinate.

Like a game of hot potato, you should get rid of your possessions as fast as possible. Invest everything you can in the Kingdom. Your life is going to be over any minute, and you are going to regret holding on to things you weren’t able to keep.

I am scared how everything is happening so quickly. From meeting my dear brothers at work (Hendri, Bob, Jim, Matt) and how they have encouraged / exhorted me; to the timely message of Francis Chan’s book; to my wife’s financial stewardship foresight; to our (OK, mainly her) decision to once again be a part of a local body of believers (i.e.: accountability).  Make no mistake: I am absolutely terrified. However, I am so glad that I have my wife alongside me as my running partner in the second half of the race!

One thing is becoming very clear: I don’t want to be a spectator on the sidelines of life; hell no! I want to run the Amazing Race to the very end. Damn it! I am tired of being a wimpy Christian – “I don’t want to be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease”!

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I can’t believe what happened.

This past Sunday, at my wife’s behest, we “officially” made the decision to join the local church we had been attending off and on.

Largely because I was getting tired of running from the “Hound of Heaven”.  At work, over the past year or so, I’ve had random encounters with a few colleagues who turned out to be Christians!  Needless to say, they’re now praying for me and keeping me accountable. And that is probably the other main reason why I did not oppose my wife’s desire for our family to join – so I can be more accountable.

Still, on one level, nothing has changed for me. I still have the same hang ups, hesitations and hopes (however dim) regarding “institutional church”. I still have my worldly appetites, attitudes and actions. In short, I’m still very much in recovery mode.

In light of past disappointments, disillusionments and departures, I ask myself: What will be different this time? Will I be able to carry through with my commitment? Will the church members accept me for who and all that I am? Will my voice be heard and my vision at least be considered? Will I be able to find my place within the church community where I can serve with my gifts?  (Not that church is the only locus where one can exercise their gifts.) Will I be able to endure all the politics?  Will they be able to put up with me?

It’s not even been a week since becoming a member and I’m already an anxious wreck!

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Return of the Prodigal: Part 3

When I re-read Ian’s email from October 2015, the sentence that jumped out at me was of course this one:

As some of you already know, I have become convinced that what we know as “church” today, is actually little more than a shallow, cultural imposter of the church as God has designed us to be.

The email was an invitation to find out more about “lifegroups” (aka “small groups”, “fellowship groups”). Since I make no distinction between church as “Sunday morning service” and other gatherings, I concurred heartily of course with Ian’s comment.

Indeed, the interactive and more intimate setting would afford us greater opportunities to live out the Christian life, especially its relational and communal aspects. I was  disheartened that only one other couple showed up. Clearly, most people still view Sunday morning as the main (and most important) event.

  * * * * *

Because brother Ben was so patient and persistent in inviting me every time he saw me, and because I appreciated his quiet and humble zeal for the Lord, I finally gave in and attended the men’s bible study.  As luck would have it, it was the last Saturday of the month, which meant breakfast was served! For me of course, it is not about the food, but rather, the implications of a shared, common meal.

I have to confess that it was with some trepidation that I ventured to attend a bible study group again, based on past experiences, as it often seems an exercise in futility: largely a cacophony of questions left unanswered, random comments thrown out haphazardly (often out of context), disagreements over trivia, and over-spiritualized “applications” of the text (without taking care to first bridge the hermeneutical gap).

However, I was largely pleased that Ben, who facilitated the discussion, kept things on track by staying close to the text (the group was studying the Book of Esther). Still, judging from some of the participants’ comments, I think there should be a regular offering of a workshop on basic biblical interpretation, perhaps utilizing Fee and Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth as a guide (with D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies close at hand). I think this would go a long way towards reducing the frequency of some of the egregious and eyebrow raising remarks often heard in bible study groups!

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Return of the Prodigal: Part 2

You already know this. What you long for cannot be found in the “church worship service.” That is not where authentic body life happens. But as you also know, when one has been deeply wounded it is difficult to trust—and to love—again.
(Ian, email to me on May 18)

I have to confess how good it feels to have someone, especially someone from the “clerical caste” (who, as a group, are not often known for harbouring dissent but rather, casting judgment) actually understand me and my struggles with church. He’s in the system and yet not fully of the system, which is why I think we connect.

I reached another milestone recently: a few weeks ago, my wife and I attended one of the church’s Lifegroup gatherings. I have to admit I didn’t know what to expect, but it was great to hear everyone’s stories. I was relieved it wasn’t one of those canned small group meetings with so much artificial sweeteners added; so glad that Ian and Sherri kept things raw and real.

However, in a follow-up email conversation with Ian, I told him “I still have some hesitation and trepidation”, to which he once again was able to put his finger on the “root cause” of my fears (damn, this guy’s scary!):

… the real reason you are so cautious about re-entering church again, is that it again exposes your heart to the potential of (what I call) “love wounds,” of being damaged and disappointed by those you have loved so deeply. So that puts you in a real bind, my brother. You are forever going to be discontent with “shallow, show-up, go-home, change-nothing church.” But to go deep again is going to expose your heart again to the risk of pain…

I should mention that this exchange was initiated by my inquiring why a prominent couple (family) left the church recently, since it really bothered me (even though I hardly knew them at all). And of course, because we both love music, Ian nailed it by closing his analysis with some lines from Nazareth:

Love hurts, love scars,
Love wounds and mars
Any heart
Not tough
or strong enough
To take a lot of pain,
take a lot of pain

Love is like a cloud
Holds a lot of rain

Maybe I’m just the Tin Man …

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In an earlier post, I explained how I started “attending church” again after a lapse of over 10 years. In 2014, I attended maybe 3 times. My excuses included: too busy with my new job, too busy caring for my sister who’s battling brain cancer, and of course, I’m not ready to return to being hurt and disappointed again.

But my wife was (lovingly, for the most part) pestering me to join her and our daughters who were attending more frequently. So I made a promise that in the new year I would go more often.  In the meantime, I dropped by occasionally on Tuesday evenings for some table tennis.  Occasionally the talk turned to theological matters which, oddly, piqued some fond memories …

I’ve surprised myself. Starting out at once a month, I now find myself attending every other week almost regularly. More importantly, there are times – lying at bed at night, on the bus early morning on the way to work – when I can almost hear the Voice of Him who I’ve turned my back on for so long. Yet the dark clouds of doubt, disappointment and disillusionment continue to follow me as well, threatening to drown me with a torrential flood of despair.

Seems that I’ve got to carry my load
Keep on down that long winding road
But I’d like to sit down for a while
Got a dark cloud following me
Seems that fate just won’t let me be
Got to keep on pushing down the road

Seems to me this road has got no end
But maybe it gets better round the bend

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