Monthly Archives: November 2008

Advent is upon us

So in church today we celebrated the onset of the advent season. I think it actually begins tomorrow, on the first day of December, but since this is the closest Sunday…

Anyways, a point in the sermon today struck me. I know I’ve read it time and time again in the Bible. But have you ever wondered what it means to have Jesus as a Brother?

We commonly refer to Him as Master, Lord, Saviour, Treasure, King, Friend, Mediator, e.t.c, but we seldom relate to Him as a Brother. To set the record straight, we should not be drawing comparisons of what He is as a brother from our earthly relations. The way we should view all our earthly relations should be through the lens of Christ. We understand friendship as he has demonstrated it. We understand marriage as a parable of Christ and the church. We understand fatherhood in relation to God as Father. So we should likewise understand brotherhood as Christ is a brother to us. 

Let’s look at some of the Bible verses that point to the essence of this relationship:

  • For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. – Matthew 12:50
  • Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” – John 20:17
  • In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:10-17
  • For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. – Romans 8:29

The first thing of note is that the brotherly relation is in some respects one way. Jesus calls us brothers, but we don’t refer to him as brother. If I’m correct, I think the same is true of friends. We are called friends. But I don’t think the apostles ever addressed Jesus as Friend (or Brother). It was always Master or Lord. It leads me to think whether we should reconsider the use of such relational names. I think it does damage at times by constraining the transcendent glory of Christ. It almost seems a product of a generation of overemphasis on the immanence over the transcendence of God. But I digress. The main point is that we are His brothers.

It becomes clearer by looking at the other verses how we are His brothers. We are sons of God because of God’s saving grace. And God’s saving grace does not just free us from the condemnation of sin, but He is bringing us into glory. The sons of God are saved for a glorious destiny. This glorious destiny is to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. In this way Jesus is the firstborn among many brothers, for it is His glorious likeness we are being fashioned into.

At this point I wish to stress the unique of His Sonship to our sonship, His glory to our glory. Note that in John, He distinguishes between “my Father” and “your Father”, “my God” and “your God”. The way He relates to the Father is infinitely different from the way we relate to the Father. As the Son of God, He has far greater glory than the glory we will come into, and deservedly so.

But cutting straight to the point, we are nevertheless sons of God, and thus we are the brothers of the Son of God. We know we are the sons of God, and the brothers of Christ if we do the will of God.

What did Christ achieve for His brothers? Hebrews says He was made like His brothers in every way that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for their sins. The Son of God became incarnate, being made like His brothers in every way, that He might lay His life down for them, making atonement for their sins and reconciling them to the Father.

I think what struck me about the sacrifice of Christ was when I thought about it in the relational terms of Him sacrificing Himself for His brothers. In all likelihood of embarassing my own brother when he reads this (and I’ll do it regardless), I have experienced in real and tangible ways the love of Christ to me in the love my brother has shown to me. The amount of sacrifice and tough love He has shown me echoes the gracious love of Christ towards me. I’ve seen and heard of siblings who do not get along, and many who are torn apart by jealousy, but I’m extremely thankful that God has mercifully blessed me with a brother who has been a constant pillar of love in my life, a rock I can depend on at all times. I know he’s only human, and he has struggles, yet this only helps to make the love of Christ all the more wonderful, because if I already receive this much security from my brother, then why do I still doubt in the power of Christ to work all things for my good?  

So hopefully without sounding too mushy, in belated conjunction with Thanksgiving, here is a tribute to my brother, who also just turned 23 last Wednesday – you are the brother everyone would love to have, and whom I was blessed with 🙂 The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

Encouraging when discouraged

This is something I’ve always struggled with. How do you encourage others in their walk with God when you’re hitting discouraging times?

You know what the right thing to do is. But this sort of knowing is merely intellectual assent. Your mind thinks one thing but your heart seems to disagree. And when others need encouraging, you’ll say what’s on your mind, but the condition of your heart makes you feel like a hypocrite.

I’ve come to realise that something wonderful happens when you proclaim truth. When we don’t just mentally agree with truth, but we proclaim it, something mysterious happens in the heart. Hearing truth from our mouths raises our affections. We know, we speak, and then we know. 

It’s hard to describe.

I think this is why prayers should be said aloud. Truth doesn’t seem to affect the heart until you audibly hear it. This is also why the Bible should be read aloud. And this is why preaching (and sitting under preaching attentively) is important. In his wisdom, God transforms our hearts through the hearing of His word. We all too often read Romans 10:14 and 10:17, where Paul talks about faith coming through the hearing of the word of God, and then proceed to interpret it in a cultural context. That is, in those days, the Bible was not a written word, and so people had to hear it. 

I’m advocating a more literal interpretation. The spoken word has a unique transformational power that the written word does not. God spoke the world into being. He did not write it. You might accuse me of being dogmatic. But I ask you to give it a shot. Don’t just silently read your Bible, or silently pray in the depths of your heart. Use your voice. 

Similarly, the Bible also commands us to sing. The church has a voice. Use it. This is why some of our most powerful experiences of God seem to come from singing. I think we sing truth more than we speak it.

It is important to stress that all this is to be done in light of truth. Not any truth, but Truth, with a capital T. Only Truth transforms the heart. And this Truth is Jesus Christ. He is the star of the Bible, the focus of our prayers, and the anthem of our songs. When we preach, we are to preach Christ crucified. When we encourage, we are to encourage in view of Christ. Our testimonies are to point to Christ, not to ourselves.

A Christless Truth is no truth at all, and has no power to renew the mind and transform the heart. So we must be zealous in keeping him at the center of all things.

Insomnia, caffeine or Heroes?

Strange. it’s 1:24 in the morning and I can’t fall asleep.

I figured I might as well get up and do some work.

It can’t be that cup of tea I drank 6 hours ago. I’m not really the sort of person to suffer from insomnia. And for once, I’m actually not consciously staying up to stream Heroes live. 

Well. Here’s a quick update of my life so that friends who I’ve not stayed in contact with can know what I’m up to.

1. I’ve hit a fresh batch of work, so it’s going to be a bit of a grind for the next few days.

2. It’s already week 6. I only have 2/3 weeks of term left. This term has gone by rather quick.

3. I still don’t understand a word of my calculus and probability/statistics lectures. Add this to my skipping of the macro and econometric lectures (the former lecturer is plain terrible, the latter lecturer is longwinded and confusing and has better class notes), and I’m only going to 3 lectures a week. Sometimes 2, as I occasionally skip Linear Algebra, which is easy enough to understand that the lecture is not fully necessary.

4. I am addicted to peanut butter. I’m not sure why. But I better try to reduce my intake. There’s a lot of sodium in there.

5. The weather’s been nice. Some cold spells here and there, but it’s been good. Well except for those rainy days. It’s probably rained a lot more this term than the whole of last year.

6. Google QWOP. Most addictive online game of the moment. Give it a shot if you have nothing better to do. My best was 41.6m. Then I gave up. Takes too much concentration.

7. Love student deals. You get lots of food for a good price. In this sense, I am very Asian.

8. Have not made much progress on reading. The Confessions of St. Augustine is not easy to read through. I was a bit too gung-ho getting a relatively unabridged version. It’s not the words that are difficult. It’s the grammar that’s confusing.

9. I love the Wii.

10. My friend has a 42-inch Samsung LCD(it could be plasma, but I’m pretty sure Samsung only manufactures LCDs) TV in his room. The sight of it is permanently burnt into my brain.

11. I finally figured out how to watch my 3pm kickoffs.

12. Cooking takes a considerable amount of time (not to mention the shopping trips). I am still surprised at how much time has elapsed whenever I finish cooking. And I think I’m a reasonably fast cook.

13. Red Alert 3 was an easy game. Brainlessly fun. Typical Command and Conquer. Would like to play Fallout 3, but have more important issues to attend to first.

14. I love cartoons. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I just love sitting down and watching an animated film. By the way, does anyone remember Titan A.E.? I think it’s an amazing film.

If you, the reader, know me personally, please leave me a comment to let me know how you are doing. Or Facebook me.

Before the Throne of God Above

Amazing hymn, really. I could write a lot on it, but I think the beauty of the hymn lies in the concise yet poetic manner in which the author expressed such fundamental biblical truths. So I’ll let it speak for itself.

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea
A great High Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me
My name is graven on His hands
My name is writen on His heart
I know that while in heav’n He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me
To look on him and pardon me

Behold him there! the risen Lamb
My perfect, spotless Righteousness
The great unchangeable I AM
The King of glory and of grace
One with Himself I cannot die
My soul is purchased by His blood
My life is hid with Christ on high
With Christ, my Savior and my God
With Christ, my Savior and my God

Quick words on the doctrine of election

In light of all that I have read recently, I note that the doctrine of unconditional election is often misunderstood. Also, I know I should not be troubled by comments on my blog, but the most recent one was rather disappointing. It does feel terrible to be accused of deciding who the elect is, something which I do not do. And I think it feels even worse because I sense that this same accusation lies unsaid in the minds of people I know who do not believe in this doctrine either. So I just want to write a few quick words to clear this issue up as best as I can. If you want a detailed biblical argument, search for the appropriate resources on DesiringGod.

1) Election is an act from God’s perspective, not ours. God chooses the elect. We don’t determine who the elect is.

2) God’s choosing is not contrary to our choosing. Rather it is the premise of our choosing Him.

3) God chooses who receives His gospel as well as the means by which they hear the gospel. This is why evangelism is necessary. God makes His appeal through us. Man must hear the call of the gospel.

4) It gives us confidence for evangelism. Unconditional election places God as sovereign in salvation from start to finish. It is God who has power to save. It is by His grace that we are given the gift of faith, by which we are justified. God chooses who He will impart this grace to. As such, we know there are lost sheep out there who God will certainly bring back into the fold because He has chosen to set His grace on them and will bring His decree to pass. This is why we witness in the power of God, and not by clever words or acts of powers. This is why we are confident that even the hardest of hearts can be overcomed, simply because it depends on the sovereign power of God, and not on human will or means.

5) It is the surest foundation of God’s love for us. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. This is unbreakable heavenly logic. God chose us before the foundation of the world for a destiny far beyond anything we can presently comprehened. It is by His power we are saved, and it is by His power we are preserved. We may be faithless, but God will always be faithful, as He has been since before the foundation of the world.

6) Man is still morally responsible for his sin. He is not exempted by this doctrine in any way.

News Watch #1

I’m wondering whether I’ll do this consistently to award it its own category.

Here’s an extract from the BBC article, “US stars scoop MTV Europe Awards”

Sir Paul was greeted by rapturous applause from his home crowd on being presented with the one-off lifetime achievement award by U2 frontman Bono.

“These MTV awards are great and glamorous occasions, but on behalf of all the artists in this room, I will tell you something,” he said.

“I think we all suspect someday when all of us are gone and this great hall is no longer here, we sense, we fear our names will be forgotten.

There is one person in this hall tonight whose songs we know will be here now and forever.

There is one person in this hall tonight whose work is immortal.

There is only one Paul McCartney.”

There is only one person whose songs we know will be here now and forever. There is only one person whose work is immortal. He was, is, in that hall, and He is present everyone. There is only one Jesus Christ. The truth is our names will eventually be consigned to the dustbin of history. But His name will go on forever and ever. 

A bit short-sighted Bono. And I think that hammers the last nail in the proverbial coffin of speculation that Bono is a Christian.