How Do I Get: The Right Answers

Can life make any sense? Or are you doomed to make the same mistakes and hope Fortune will smile on you once in a while? In all the apparent randomness of our world, what’s surprising is for anyone to claim to have the answers. Because as we all know, no one can have all the answers. And that seems like that’s just what I’m doing here and what my church St John’s is attempting to do in October as we seek to do a series of online talks on honor, joy, fulfillment, meaning, certainty, and the most Aussie value of all: a fair go.

But whether you think there’s an answer or not, your response and attitude to the big questions of life like meaning and fulfillment will impact how you live. I was encouraged to watch our pastors David ask his barista about why she believed fulfillment was the important question and Ronaldo who interviewed his barber in a similar way. Despite all the corruption in the world, I was reminded that in each of us the pursuit for life remains. Whether it is man’s search for meaning as Victor Frankl recognized or Pascal’s observation that “all men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

So why ask these questions? Because while I believe no one but God alone has all the answers, everyone looks for them. But why would we look for something that we would never have a capacity for? As CS Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Without joy or fulfillment, meaning or certainty, honor or equality, death is the only logical choice. We need these answers. Not because we can know all of them. But because we were made to know the ones that matter to us. We need them to live a proper life.

I suppose what I’m saying is not to waste this opportunity. You can avoid thinking about these things. You can live hedonistically only for your own pleasure. But that is still an answer. And we would love to know what you think. How is it working out for you? Join us online athttps://www.facebook.com/stjohnscathedralparramatta stay tuned for Oct 18th, 25th and Nov 1st where we’ll answer a survey of the people of Parramatta to provide some and not all of the answers. But we hope they’ll be the ones you need.

The Half Time Review: In Praise of Folly by Erasmus of Rotterdam

I think that to truly understand a book you have to both know what it’s about and understand it enough to give your opinion about it. Unfortunately there are few books I have time to truly understand. But it doesn’t mean that I haven’t benefitted from reading them. First impressions are important and so I wanted to start writing ‘half time’ reviews of books that have shaped me during my first reading. I don’t claim to give an analysis of the book. I’m simply reflecting on its effect on me and what I think it’s about. This week, the book I read was In Praise of Folly by Eramus, the last medieval humanist of the 16th century.

In Praise of Folly is a speech given by Folly who’s personified by a woman. In it she extols herself as the god above gods because underneath all appearances, it’s folly that makes the world go round. Life is absurd. The foolish truly know how to live. The wise are truly fools. Folly shows no quarter as she goes after peasants and knights but especially priests, popes and kings. It’s almost as if she’s saying, ‘is life really what we think?’ The world of folly is a world up side down and yet…it’s the real world she’s referring too.

Folly of course mediates Erasmus’ voice through biting satire. It doesn’t come across as bitter but playful. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which meaning he intends to convey because of his paradoxical prose and double entendres. It’s common wisdom never to listen to someone sing their own praises. But at the same time, truth is found in the strangest places. If Folly is the jester’s voice to the enthroned king shouldn’t we pay attention to her? I think by the end of Folly’s speech the message is clear: while much of what passes for wisdom in this world is folly like the scholar who publishes works no one will read, what is foolish is what is truly wise. A Christian is God’s fool – a holy fool whom no one takes seriously but is really how life ought to be lived.

I loved Erasmus’ wit and use of irony. In a dark world, humor refreshes the heart and cuts through hardened spirits. He rightfully exposes the corruption in much of Christendom at the time. But for all his perceptiveness, I can’t help but pity that he couldn’t link his high sense of morality with the truth of Christian faith. He is like an artist who paints a clear picture of the world but then walks away when it finally looks like his painting. He had no problem poking the stick at bad popes but never paused to think about whether there was a problem with what the church had taught herself. Either way, In Praise of Folly made me laugh and smile and I hope it’ll do that for you too.

Religious Beliefs Are Not Private

This much is certain: The greatest thing each person can is to give himself to God utterly and unconditionally—weakness, fears, and all. For God loves obedience more than good intentions or second-best offerings, which are all too often made under the guide of weakness.” ― Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

I often see people irritated when others espouse political opinions based on their religious views. When it comes to issues like politics, money, or sex, religion is often seen as an unwelcome guest, like the distant uncle you only invite to dinners because he’s related to you. Their presence is begrudgingly acknowledged and then he is cast aside to the table of ‘faith’ and other opinions, along with the rest of the children. After all, this is the 21st century for goodness sakes. Behind this behavior is a question that isn’t asked but thought – why do people even need religion in the room for such things? After all, most matters of science or politics or economics or morality are worked out by individuals without any reference to religion. The scientific method has given us great progress in many areas of development. So the role religion now plays is no longer metaphysical or even moral authority but a mystical storeroom to house things we don’t understand. As the 20th century philosopher Wittgenstein put it, “of what we cannot speak we must be silent.”

It seems like the pressure to separate religion from other spheres of life is most clearly seen in Western politics. Religious beliefs are told to be discarded like shoes, before one enters the halls of public debate. To believe homosexuality is a sin, or that it is ‘morally’ bad for the whole society, is a private matter to be held but should be prevented from influencing public policy. Many Christians are surprised by the antipathy towards religious views in public. They shouldn’t be. The separation of religion from politics and other spheres of life is simply the consequence of allowing people who don’t understand religion to determine what it is. And by people, I mean secular humanists.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27

To genuine believers of any religion, true religion is worship. And true worship is the dedication of one’s whole life to the object of worship, be it Allah or Jesus. If you’re religiously illiterate, or perhaps merely confused, then a quick way to avoid thinking too much about religion would be to parrot the line “it is about being a good person”. But that would be the religion of humanism and not anybody else’s. For Christians, worship is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. It means conforming every thought, feeling and action to God. Muslim worship is the expression of ultimate submission in its observances.

I can understand that it’s scary for the agnostic or humanist to imagine submission to any one but themselves, especially if they’ve done it all their lives. But that is precisely what faith demands. Faith transcends what one does on the weekend, because its very claim is transcendent. Secularism sees religion as mere opinion but the religious man or woman recognizes it as truth. To a secular world, and those whom don’t understand, true religion and freedom of any religion is the freedom to get together once a week and be a moral person (I have yet to hear a valid consensus of what it means to be a moral person). It would be funny if it wasn’t so true. But to ask a religious person to have their beliefs at home but leave it at the door of public opinion is not just the opposite of religious freedom but hypocritical. Really, it is to ask the person to be you and to share your secular beliefs. If Muslims want to implement Sharia law in Australia, then the fairest thing would be to allow them to hold that view and tackle the claims of Islam itself. Or restrict such a view from entering Australia. But to spout phrases like “it’s a religion of peace” or that it’s about “being a good person”, like all religions, is to express one’s ignorance and escort religion back to the nursery room of faith. Religion is more than that because God demands much more than that.

Is Preaching A Reason To Call It Quits? Reconciling Unity and Division


(Credit: Focus Magazine)

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Introduction
One of my earliest experiences of Christian churches I remember growing up between the ages of 15-19 in Ausfralia was something that pastors everywhere would call “Christian consumerism.” It was almost described as an epidemic of Christians either leaving churches to go elsewhere or leaving them entirely. There were multiple reasons for these, but the most common phrases were, “I just feel called to serving at …”, or “I’m not growing anymore”, “this church wasn’t very welcoming”, “I don’t like the preaching here”, “I just don’t feel like I’m being fed”, and lastly, “I don’t feel I belong here”. The culture of consumerism that we live here in the west, and as Chinese folk had led us to believing that the church was all about us, us being the consumer and the church being a product. Once a person felt like he had taken all he could, it was time to move on. That was how it was explained to me, and as many a pastor would say, “the church is not about you!”
As a young Christian and someone whom by God’s grace saw this reality occurring, I gritted my teeth and vowed not to leave for any of those reasons. Unlike all these other Christians, I did not want to contribute to this growing problem. I had seen the damage it did to churches and the mindsets that it encouraged. One of the biggest reasons cited for leaving was the substance of preaching at the local church. At the time I saw it as an entirely selfish reason to leave. Asian churches often minimize the role of preaching as a backlash against Christian consumerism and dvidison, but looking back now I have to ask the question: have we lost its importance altogether? Is it really the role of individual prayer and scripture that shapes the growth of a Christian? I want to argue that the role of preaching should not be understated because it is both an essential to what it means to be a church and a critical part of a Christians life and yes, even growth.

Continue reading “Is Preaching A Reason To Call It Quits? Reconciling Unity and Division”

Why You Should Buy That Boring Church History Book

Saint Nicholas pulls out all the stops.

The Neglected Uncle: Reasons to Learn from the Past

Would it be wrong to say that many modern Christians lack any familiarity with their own heritage? It’s a lot like that uncle you see at family reunions but never really talk to. Many times we forget those whom have lived and died in the past were as much a part of our church as our brothers and sisters are now. Like my own sister’s advice before I started courting/dating, a good sibling would try to protect and prevent us from doing what is right in our own eyes. How often we forget we are not the only ones God has saved and has given different gifts to!
Secondly, by reading and listening to those whom we have gone before, we can be motivated to continue running and enduring this life with full conviction of the promised reward we will have in the life to come (Hebrews). Their lives serve as a model and encouragement for us to finish what we are so close to obtaining.
Third, an added benefit is the wisdom we can derive from such men and women whom God has used to shape his church up till now, we can learn from their lives, and have them speak into ours. Before each decision, an abundance of counsel is provided. One only needs to look into the past. Eventually we can find that they have now become our teachers, disciplers and friends by merit of their own lives. Because each Christian is and was unique, different characters can speak to our own lives in different ways and same may in fact be very close friends.
Often, whenever a contemporary issue has popped up, one has only to look to the past to see that it was either as much of an issue then or one that has already been resolved. A modern example is T.D. Jakes’ modalism which was booted from the Council of Nicaea for undermining the trinity more than 1000 years ago! As the author of Ecclesiastes says, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Thoughts? Let me know what you think in the comments below.