04. The Human Limit

Sorry I do not have a Bible verse at the moment to start off with; hopefully I’ll find one soon. This post is sort of in response to what was discussed at Bible study group last week; well, actually it’s a trigger for this post. The question/issue raised last week was about how hard we should be trying in order to devote our lives for God, in a tangible way. And by tangible we are sort of referring to say duties at church/youth group, to the extremes of full-time ministry. How much effort should we really devote to these things? Will we, can we, really give up everything else in our lives to pursue God’s purpose.

 

The reason why we see some sort of dilemma is that we are unable to do both things at the same time: that is, we cannot spend all our effort for university and also spend all our effort on church. The normal solution is to find a balance of the two things and so it may end up being 50/50 for both things, or maybe more tilted one way. But the question at hand is: should we try to give more of ourselves to God and just leave everything else behind? After all, this was what God told the disciples to do in the New Testament.

 

Well suppose we could drop everything and serve God with 100% of our energy at all times. But to push things to the extreme as an example: what about eating and drinking? Can we not part time to eat and drink? It’s got nothing to do with serving God (generally) but if we don’t then we’re physically die right? We need food and water to survive. And this is an example of our limits as humans. There are things we must do (or rather we can’t do – that is, serving Christ 24/7) because we are humans and we are limited by the way God has made us.

 

So now we can specify what limits we as humans are imposed with. And again let’s start with some extremes. As humans, we cannot fly, we cannot breathe underwater, we cannot survive without food and water, as stated before. Furthermore we can’t like raise the dead or summon massive fireballs to destroy our enemies with. But to narrow the gap, we can’t really devote 100% of our time to Christ and 100% for university because that’s 200% and there’s only 100% of us to give away.

 

But before we adopt a pessimistic view and say: “Because I’m human and because I have these limits that God has imposed on me, maybe I should trying to devote a fair amount of myself to God”, we should also turn our attention to the meaning of the word “best”. Often times we say that we want to achieve to our best or that we’re happy with a failed result as long as we did our best. And so another question to ask is: Even though we fail to give 100% of ourselves to God, are we still giving Him our “best”?

 

Consider the time you study for exams. Did you study toy our best to get the result you wanted? Could you confidently say: “Yep, I studied to my best. That is my best result, I could not have gotten higher.”? If your answer is yes, think about it again. Couldn’t you have studied harder? Or studied more? Couldn’t you have given up that leisure time of watching TV, or playing games or MSN to study? Surely there is a way to have made your final mark better. And surely there is always a way to improve what you’ve done if you’re given the time to think about ways to improve what you’ve done. Surely what we do isn’t perfect and surely there are always ways we can improve on what we’ve done.

 

And therefore we never really do perform at our “best” because there is always a way to improve. So if we can always improve; is there a limit to how much we can improve to? How shy of “perfection” can we achieve? Can we actually achieve perfection? Rather than look at “perfection” as the goal, consider this example: Isn’t it funny that year after year we see Olympic World Records get broken one after the other. Take swimming for example, is it always possible to beat the World Record? I mean surely it’s humanely impossible for man to swim 50m in say 1 second, or even 10 seconds; so if we keep pushing this number up, what is the limit of the World Record?

 

So in summary for this section, surely there is a maximum, a limit that we as humans can reach; and yet ironically we can always improve; we can never reach our best even though it’s there. Also I would like to say that there are other factors that prevent us from reaching our “best”. If we’re sick, physically, or when we feel tired, or annoyed and disturbed because of something, these can all influence how well we perform, yes? Then maybe what prevents us from reaching our best, our limit, is the things that are holding us back in this world. Again there are numerous things that negatively affect us, even if only the slightest.

 

Keeping all of this in mind, how much should we be trying to do for Christ, knowing that we cannot serve Him perfectly? And can we give up alot or most of the other things in our life for this purpose? In light of the things that weigh us down in life, we find that there are some things we would put as higher priority than, well, constant Christian ministry in our lives. In the world we live, we need money, just as our human bodies need food and water; unfortunately this is how the world we live in runs. It should never occur that we can just drop all instances of money in our lives because as hard as it is to admit, we all do need money; and this is just an example. Of course in turn, this requires a job, which stems from an education; and so there we can see the importance of some of these worldly passions; we need them to sustain our mortal lives.

 

What can we do then? We’re going to fall short of our service to God because of these material things that weigh us down; and we can’t just let go of them no matter what because wouldn’t that be simply letting go of our lives? And this is why we feel that our “best” option is to do a combination of both; to devote part of ourselves to God at any one time and other times to devote to our worldly needs. Somehow it just seems that no matter how hard we try we can never manage to fully satisfy God with our actions for Him; and once again it comes down to the fact that we are limited as humans to serve Christ. God Himself knows that, so do we, which is why we are reminded at times that it is through Christ that we manage to complete His will. This may be all in part for us to learn to rely on Christ that He’ll give us the ability to serve Him to our best despite being weighed down by the things around us.

 

Will continue later. What will be the outcome for this topic I wonder?

Advertisements

03. The Heart of Evangelism

During my time in Hong Kong, my exposure to Christianity there was severely low. It was only during the last Sunday of the week before I was to leave that I found some Christian activity being conducted. It was open evangelism in a Yum Cha restaurant. The back of the restaurant was sort of bordered off, enclosing a few tables and a stage with people preaching through a microphone. Everyone in the restaurant could hear but I guess the main audience was those enclosed by the barrier.

 

Anyway there was something strange going on in there that had me remembering a similar scenario back here. The woman was very loudly preaching gospel through words such as these: “God has a gift for all of all. A gift of eternal life. He wants you to receive that gift; it’s free. And once you do you’re going to feel a change in your life. Once you start following Christ everything is going to feel so nice; your life will be different and much more joyful.” And towards the end: “Let us praise God for His wonderful gift. He is so great because His gift of eternal life makes us feel so great…”

 

Sound familiar? Well perhaps not the words but mood-wise it does remind me of something. There is a chance I am stepping into a hostile zone by mentioning this but the woman’s “preaching” sounded much like the mood that gets produced at places like Hillsong. Suffice to say, my mum was very displeased with the woman’s preaching because it was done in a loud voice. To her it sounded like mindless yelling and it sounded the same to me. I couldn’t call that evangelism. And no matter how many people were “lured” by that woman, I could never call that a successful evangelism.

 

Personally, I have never viewed proper evangelism to take a form like that: a person shouting into a microphone about the great feeling you get from receiving God’s grace. But unfortunately there is a lot of it going on in the world; so perhaps that’s why it’s not seen as “wrong” because it is slowly becoming a “cultural norm”. And of course by that I am talking about the Hillsong “church”. Sadly, as mean as it sounds, they do seem to always try to pass off mindless jabbering as evangelism and preaching.

 

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9

 

I don’t believe that one who preaches in the way Hillsong does can actually make proper Christians out of his or her audience. I do not want to overstep the mark here but here is an extreme of what Hillsong evangelism MAY sound like:

 

“God is so great; He fills our hearts with joy everyday. And just following Him everyday gives me such relief from all of life’s problems. The feeling of having God with me all the time is so good that words can’t even describe the feeling…”

 

Read that out aloud over say 20-30 seconds and tell me: in that 20-30 seconds what did you learn about God other than the fact that “you get a good feeling from following Him”? Absolutely nothing. Frankly, using this extreme I could describe sex in the same way and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between God and sex.

 

Evangelism needs to be conducted carefully because it acts as a starting point for new believers. If you use a bad starting point to teach them then they’ll keep that bad starting point as they mature as Christians. And as humans it is sometimes hard to “unlearn” something. Like can you possibly forget how to ride a bike? You can’t. And if evangelism is conducted in a poor manner, the new believer is going to have a really hard time growing properly as a Christian.

 

What the examples above illustrate is that emotional evangelism has no fruit. I can tell you all about the emotion and feeling you get from following God; and surely you would take that in and through your heart “feel” how good it would be to follow Christ. But at the end of the day, all you have is a feeling; there is nothing you can reproduce through words that demonstrates what you know about God. This type of evangelism merely presents you with an emotion but you never actually learn anything about God. Yet in proper evangelism there is still emotion involved of course. But the difference is that: knowledge about God produces the warm feelings which emotionally influence you to follow Him but not vice versa. Emotions do not create any sort of comprehensible knowledge about God (ie in words of some sort). You cannot voice a feeling in words.

 

I do strongly believe this is the type of stuff they do at Hillsong and this is why the church isn’t highly regarded amongst other Christian churches. Even at KYLC / next gen, of all the 38 songs we sang over the week, not one of them was a Hillsong song. If you get people following Christ through something as fragile as a feeling, their faith can easily shatter because once that feeling suddenly disappears during suffering, the new believer doesn’t have anything tangible to fall back in to reaffirm their faith in Christ. And from undisclosed sources, I’ve heard that their music jamming concerts do roughly the same thing. The music gives you that really good feeling which emotionally gets you worked up and then it becomes easier for you to accept God. True, but those people accept God through their thoughtless emotions, rather than thoughtful logic.

 

For example, if I say to you that abseiling is an exhilarating activity because you feel so light and free as you sort of float down through the air, there’s your positive feeling. But in ordinary emotionless words I could say: jump down from the rocks carefully because you risk hurting yourself . But of course some people would prefer the first statement to attract them to abseiling. So assuming you just take the first statement and you start abseiling down a cliff-face. What happens when that good feeling gets a hold of you, and you start abseiling down very fast, too fast that you end up smacking yourself against the cliff-face and hurting yourself. Hang on, the first statement that I heard was talking about this good feeling I was meant to get; how come there is suddenly pain? Hmm…this discourages me from going abseiling now.

 

So the first statement presents the positive feeling you get. But the second is giving you information about how to abseil. A feeling isn’t very tangible and if you don’t explain Christianity with something tangible, faith can be destroyed very easily. The verse above says that our hearts can be deceitful which is true. Because if something feels good we are drawn into doing it because after all we are human. But feelings can deceive and when you realize that it’s wrong it leaves a scar on your heart, because that’s just how fragile the heart is. But of course in life we always try to use our heads to figure out whether something is “good” or “bad” rather than have our feelings lead the way; that is common sense. And for evangelism, the mind should always lead over the heart, never the other way round.

 

Well apart from faith being shattered, is there anything else that can result from emotional evangelism? Again I hate to overstep my mark but I have been in contact with Hillsong attendees who were also co-leaders of our high school Christian group. Although they never preached much, it only took them just one of their “talks” for me to realize how artificial their faith is. When they preached they sounded somewhere along the lines of the examples above; surely not to the extreme but there was a fair emotional side to it. And I do recall one of them was struggling in their faith because things weren’t going the way they wanted. Again we go back to the feelings offered during evangelism. When things don’t “feel” the way they originally did, something goes wrong because you’re uninformed of the negative feelings. And that’s how fragile their faith and knowledge was; that was a product of Hillsong.

 

Of course I’m not bagging out those people but the church in the way they were preaching. Evangelism needs to be done without providing emotion as a stimulus. Why should you be telling people how they should feel towards God? Instead, shouldn’t you be giving them the information so that they can use it to build their own emotional response to God? Everyone should always learn to think with their mind rather than their heart and in the same way we should be targeting out preaching and evangelising at their minds, not their hearts.

02. The Greater Logic

I’m not sure if anyone still remembers the “Logic of Reasoning” post from my old blog but this was one thing I forgot to expand on, and only now have I actually bothered to type this up. Anyway, last time I was talking about how logic plays a fundamental part in understanding God and how the world works; and that when we try to understand the infinite diversity of God’s creation, even the abstract ones, they all require logical thinking in order to reach the best possible conclusion. Of course just because one opinion about say life and death is more logically “sound” doesn’t make it absolutely true in God’s eyes; it’s the most reasonable conclusion we as humans can make, and sadly we won’t always get things right.

 

But surely logic does govern how the universe works and surely it is also through logic that we can come to understand God and maybe why things are the way they are in our lives. I don’t want to go in depth about this but I suppose I can take just one simple example which I found fascinating when I first encountered it. Let’s take good old Genesis 1, perhaps the most controversial chapter in the Bible from a scientific perspective. Without considering the passage too scientifically here is a list of the days of creation:

 

Day 1: Light and Dark
Day 2: Sky and Sea
Day 3: Land and Trees
Day 4: Sun, Moon and Stars
Day 5: Birds and Fish
Day 6: Animals and Fruit/Plants and Man

 

Omitting the 7th day for now, take a look at the first three days and compare with the last three. Do you see some sort of link? Theology courses will teach this as “Form & Fill”. In the first three days God created the form of the world, and in the last three days He fills those things with life. Early on most people would’ve just thought that the six days were in particular order and surely you could muddle up the six days of creation and the world would still be right, yeah? But no. Where would you put the fish if there was no sea? And where would you place the sun and the moon if there was no sky?

 

God’s intelligent design demonstrates a logical approach in creating the world; He created the form first and then filled it. That makes sense yes? And we as humans are able to understand God’s logical approach to creation. But then again, we don’t come nearly as close to understanding God’s logic. Sure we might have been able to work out the way He created the world. But there are many other things which we cannot logically comprehend, things where we go: “What? !Why did God do that? I don’t see the logic behind it.”

 

And I’m thinking that perhaps the most illogical thing God has done (from our perspective) is sending Jesus Christ to die for us. So the world is messed up, sinful, rebellious and there is so much conflict. It would seem that the world described in the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) represent a world which couldn’t possibly pick itself up and “turn good”. So how would it be done? Well I’m no good in fixing the world in one action but surely it would a difficult and arduous process (which we obviously haven’t discovered today).

 

But God, on the other hand, He sends His only Son to earth as a sacrifice for everyone’s sin. How is that a logical step? For example, if I see a fire, the best way to put it out is to pour water over it. There are several other ways to extinguish a fire (such as removing all oxygen from the vicinity, if possible) but as you can see there is a logical step in using water to put out the fire. But for us, we can’t even comprehend how God sending His Son as a sacrifice can remove the world’s sin. I don’t think anyone would have thought of something like that because it doesn’t seem like a logical thing to do.

 

And yet God has indeed solved the world’s problem of sin, in one act, and in one we couldn’t possibly predict. If it worked (and it has) then there must be some logical step which would point to Christ as the solution for sin. But we can’t understand that logical step, and perhaps we may never will. This just goes to show just how much intelligent God is with his logical reasoning. God sending Jesus is by far the hardest thing to understand about God’s nature; which draws on the idea that God is in fact very unpredictable (because logic serves to help in predictions). For example, if I pour water on fire, logic tells me the fire will go out. But if the entire world is suffering from tremendous sin, human logic will not tell us that God is going to send His Son to the world to die for our sins.

 

Having worked that God’s logic is much greater than ours, how much more should we trust in Him to influence our lives. Sure, sometimes God will do things in our lives that don’t make sense to us; and perhaps for eternity we may never understand why God did it. But if even for a few incidents we can say: “Oh, so that’s why God did this to me…” then we can realize that God does have the greater logic. For example, he might make us suffer for like a short period and then you finally see the benefits of suffering say after a year. But it is only after a period time in which we see the logical reasoning behind the bad things of the past; just as an example. So therefore we should always be keeping our faith in Him and never assuming the bad side of things that happen to us; because to God, there is a logical reason behind it, even if we can’t see it.

二人の絆 “Futari no Kizuna” (The Bond Between Us)

These last two months have brought about changes in most of  our lives. We find ourselves out of school; out of our daily routine for 13 years and now we are idle. Some of us go on to do part time work (others maybe full time) but during these weeks on being unoccupied with anything, we take note that our relationships grow weaker because we are no longer connected through school and maybe other such places of routine.

 

Nevertheless I’ve felt rather distant from people I once thought I was close to and it makes me wonder what we can actually do with so much free time on our hands. Perhaps most of the time we have depended on having conversations with other people as a way to maintain that relationship; and this is perhaps the best way to keep in contact because it was all we could do. But nowadays we can do so much more. Why converse with letters and numbers when you can talk to them face to face; or instead of playing a game over the Internet, actually go out and do physical activities?

 

We find ourselves more able to spend time with one another and we ought to; our probable only point of contact was through school, and now with that  gone we don’t even have an opportunity to meet in person unless we make ourselves a chance. We know we can do so much more now and we can feel it. However, when all we can muster is mere words to communicate such a feeling of closeness and freedom, we already make a heavy mistake.

 

One of the things I thought was essential in a relationship was consistency. You talk to your friend several times a day at school, you do the same the next day at school; and you keep repeating that process for weeks, even months and years to come. That’s being a good consistent friend. But now without school and whatever, we need to rebuild a new level of consistency, a routine of keeping up with friends on a regular basis. And here is the hard part. As Vanessa pointed out in her comment to my previous post, sometimes we are unaware of what we are capable of doing. We have this new freedom and yet we haven’t tried to exercise it to the limit. We either hold back and give little time to our friends, or we try to give too much and we end up faltering under pressure.

 

But at the minimum communication is always a good start, no matter what form, and then it’s simply building it up from there to a comfortable level for both or more people. What I found upsetting was people promising me things which they later retraced; and this would be appear to be the case of “empty words”. It is always a fear that you might end up trying to give too much away and upsetting yourself and others when you fail to meet your own expectations. But the other side of things is giving too little, making it seem as if you don’t care about the other person; what would seem to be a negatively contrasted act against what you used to do at school.

 

And this would lead on to the topic of words. Actions do speak louder than words. Sometimes we may find contradictions against this saying but for times like this, actions are louder because now we have the freedom to perform them. Surely none of us are still pathetic to point of still being stuck at home yeah? There has to be at least one time where you can actually go out and do something physical with friends, there are no excuses. And it’s only after seeing what our new patterns of routines with friends are, that we begin to reassess the intimacy of our relationships. Am I are a closer friend with this person now? Or have I seemed to grown more distant from them? These are questions we begin to ask ourselves since our environment has changed.

 

Of course we can’t expect to see out friends as often as would be at school; but I suppose this is probably best left to everyone’s own opinion as to what is “frequent contact” for them. But mind you, do not rule out words. Sure, words can be mere words which have nothing on actions. In fact most of the time our relationships are determined by the actions that have taken place, rather than words that are exchanged. A mistake we sometimes make is communicating our feelings through words. Feelings cannot be transformed into words because they are unlike. But sometimes we get the message because we know how the other is feeling. In a sense we sort of “see their heart”. But of course we can’t do that all the time, we are human after all and it is not our ability to see how people feel, even through words; that’s God’s ability. This is what I mean by words, merely conversing our feelings. You cannot judge the intimacy of a relationship just through words; the more time you spend with each other, the stronger your friendship is; that is the underlining basis. One example is that, we are not children of God because God felt that he should or that He loves us. We are children of God because He sent His Son Jesus to die for us, an action.

 

Having said that it is apparent that actions is what builds a relationship but the “feeling” or the  “words” are needed to give direction. If you feel particularly close to someone, using words conduct conversation can sometimes seem shallow; it seems better to act according to how you feel. At least this way you don’t send mixed feelings and confusion to the other person. But again, talking in itself is an action isn’t it? And so therefore words can also be an action but only if used in the right way. A fruitful conversation is a good one because you actually have direction in it and it achieves something, such as you learn something about someone; maybe their views on a particular topic, something like that. Words can be an effective tool, but if it’s merely mindless conversation about gibberish and all, you haven’t really gotten anywhere and from that, a relationship does not strengthen.

 

And another thing. As I mentioned earlier sometimes we aren’t aware of what we are cap[able of and likewise we may not know what our friends are capable of. One can always guess, or make an educated guess but perhaps one mistake that I can personally relate is expecting too much from other people. I guess you really do need to get to know someone well before you can take a shot at guessing what they are capable of. It’s a complicated issue but ultimately everyone needs to give in a little to be satisfied and as long as everyone is happy at the end of the day, that’s all you need.

 

So all in all, remember to let your actions be the things that maintain relationships, not your mindless words. Remember to give and give consistently; it’s up to you and your friends to work out what is suitable. And remember never to promise things you can’t keep, no-one likes having their hopes destroyed. I suppose personally there are a few things I’d need to pick up on for the people around me but it’ll take time to realize what I need to do.

 

Hope everyone has a safe holiday still. Keep holding onto your friends, no matter how tightly.