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Category: Gospel Transformation

The Eye of True Wisdom

The Eye of True Wisdom

In a sermon on Proverbs 14:8, the Particular Baptist pastor, Andrew Fuller (1754-1815), looked long and hard at the virtue of godly wisdom.  He extracted many helpful principles from this verse, and one of the most insightful comments he made was how to use the Word of God in getting wisdom.  He says that the Word functions in two main ways in teaching us wisdom.  It shows us what the destructive end will be of folly, from which wisdom deters us.  Moreover, he makes an amazing observation about wisdom—the eye of wisdom should not chiefly look to the negative consequence of folly in order to avoid it; rather, the eye of wisdom should zealously fix its sight Christ who is worthy of its gaze.  Such Christ-enamored wisdom is cultivated through meditation and prayer.

We shall read the oracles of God: the doctrines for belief, and the precepts for practice; and shall thus learn to cleanse our way by taking heed thereto, according to God’s word. It will moreover induce us to guard against the dangers of the way. We shall not be ignorant of Satan’s devices, nor of the numerous temptations to which our age, times, circumstances, and propensities expose us. It will influence us to keep our eye upon the end of the way. A foolish man will go that way in which he finds most company, or can go most at his ease; but wisdom will ask, “What shall I do in the end thereof?” To understand the end of the wrong way will deter; but to keep our eye upon that of the right will attract. Christ himself kept sight of the joy that was set before him. Finally, as holy wisdom possesses the soul with a sense of propriety at all times, and upon all occasions, it is therefore our highest interest to obtain this wisdom, and to cultivate it by reading, meditation, prayer, and every appointed means.[1]

[1]Andrew Gunton Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, Volume 1: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc., ed. Joseph Belcher (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 465-66.

Chiang Mai: What Could Have Been

Chiang Mai: What Could Have Been

How would Chiang Mai City of Thailand be described if it were the city that could-have-been, the city that-is and the city that-will-be?

In Dr. Roger Greenway’s book, Cities: Missions’ New Frontier, and in his audio-taped lecture for the course on Urban Mission and Ministry, he fascinatingly described three city scenarios. The three contrasting scenarios include the cities that-could-have-been without the Fall of Man, the city that-will-be in Revelation 21 and the cities-that-are with all their fallen characteristics, quirks and beauty and all their expressions of God’s common graces despite all of the ill-effects and deathly damages caused by Adam’s sin. The beautiful cities and their holy inhabitants of the could-have-been past and the New Jerusalem of the future are indeed magnificent descriptions of the things that God wants done through His people for this sinful world and all of its dwellers.

Seeing a vision of Chiangmai city that could have been and what it will be can fire up a Christian’s heart. It will, as well, ignite the passion and the compassion of many believers and Christian workers for Chiangmai and the whole of Thailand and all of their populace of today. Chiangmai (which means New City in English) and, of course, all of the cities and provinces of Thailand and all of their native and foreign residents and guests can be viewed more differently and with great hope and compassion.

What would Chiangmai be like if the Fall of Man did not happen at all? How will Chiangmai be described if it is ‘incorporated’ in the New Jerusalem of the Lord God’s new heaven and new earth?

With God’s common graces still filling this fallen planet, Chiangmai, like all of the other modern cities, is still a livable and habitable place. Mountain ranges surround the ‘New City’ with Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain, stands tall and proud like the city’s populace. It is nested quite comfortably within the tropics with 70% of the province covered by mountains and vegetation. (See here).

Imagine Chiangmai that-could-have-been without the ill effects of the Fall. How wonderful would it be to see that its 1.5 million people could have been worshippers of the only true God and the Lord Christ. The more or less than 300 Buddhist temples in Chiangmai with all of their intricate architecture and creative designs would have been splendid temples of the Lord Jesus filled with God’s “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own possession who proclaim the excellencies of the Almighty” (1 Peter 2:9).  The 1.5 million souls would have lived and moved and had their beings – loving the Triune God and one another; seeking each other’s interests and well-being and serving one another with pure intentions and joyful motivations. The Chiangmai that could have been without the damning effects of the Fall and the Chiangmai that will be with the new earth should be a city without the impoverished, the exploited and the exploiters. Chiangmai would have been filled with holy men, highly respected women and honorable noble children. There wouldn’t have been 70,000 to 2.8 million sex workers nationwide – most of whom are young girls from the North and the Northeast recruited to prostitution and sex slavery. In the Chiangmai that could have been and will be, there would be no HIV/AIDS victims and victimizers. There would have been no inefficient social services of the local government. There would have been no corruption in the police force which help facilitate the rapid growth of sex tourism in the city. In God’s holy city of Chiangmai, there would have been no “visiting of prostitutes which is seen as a male bonding experience, and many Thai men think it natural to entertain business clients and friends by taking them to brothels.” There would have been no heart-rending data such as “A study at Chiang Mai University found that, in Thai society, boys begin to buy women when they are around 13 years old; 50 percent of 16-year-old boys and 90 percent of university students go to brothels” (see here). These sex-crazed fornicators, adulterers and idolaters would have been non-existent in a Chiangmai that could have been without the Fall. Nothing unclean would have been in the city nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)

In the Chiangmai that could-have-been, the genius and creative powers of its residents would have been all displayed in great splendor to the honor and praise of God and to the joy and Shalom of every man, woman and child. “Craftsmanship, technology, arts and all potentials of human genius without the devastating effects of sin would be awesome creations of the image bearers of God – interacting, complementing, producing everything good in the city” (Greenway, Audio-Lecture #2).

Chiangmai could have been God’s dwelling place – a magnificent God-honoring cultural center and a  temple city – with all of its 1.5 million inhabitants acting, reacting and interacting for the praise of God’s glory (Ephesians 1:3-14).  Only pure love and no lust at all; only holy joy and no sorrow at all; only true peace and no conflict and sin at all and only life and perfect health and no death and pain and mourning at all should have ruled and filled the people and their city. (Revelation 21:3-4) Oh, that Chiangmai and all of its inhabitants are of the new heaven and the new earth! Oh, that they may know Him, love Him and serve Him – the only true God and the Lord Jesus Christ whom He has sent! Oh, that God will dwell with them and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God! (Revelation 21:3) Blessed, indeed, are the people who dwell in the holy city of God and live with the Triune

Christian Spirituality from a Southeast Asian Perspective (p.2)

Christian Spirituality from a Southeast Asian Perspective (p.2)

In this second post, I wish to discuss the need for developing and implementing Biblical Counseling ministry (and the use of psychology responsibly) in the Asian contexts.  I believe Western Christians have a valuable tool that Asian Christians are lacking.  First, I will explain the need for trained Christian counselors in both fields of Bible and Psychology.  Then I will share a few ideas on how we can use counseling in the church.

When I was teaching ESL at Suan Dok Temple here in Chiang Mai for Buddhist student-monks coming from Southeast Asian nations to study in the International English Program, I learned about the meditation retreats and camps which the temple conduct for Thais as well as for foreigners.  I am curious as to how Buddhist meditation works for the sake of understanding it although I would not interested in learning it by actually practicing it.  One reason is because I have met two Thais both who have said to me that they are Christians.  They suggested to me that I should try meditation.  I believe that in the case of these two individuals, they are not connected to a local body of Christ.  They appear to me as nominal Christians who have not joined a church.  I am sure that their understanding about meditation would be different if they had been connected to a church and if they had been fed the Word.  In contrast, a few of the Christians who were Buddhist monks that I interviewed several years ago would totally oppose a believer practicing Buddhist meditation.

What is it about the Christian belief that Westerners — most who were brought up in a Christian community — find it unattractive?  Why do they turn to Buddhism and flirt with meditation / contemplation?  I am referring to the Western foreigners who are cultural Christians, i.e. “Buddhists-want-to-be.”  Is Christianity not real and practical enough for them?  Why is it about the psychology in Buddhism that Westerners find attractive?  Why do they feel and think that Christianity has failed them?  Whatever the reason may be, contemplation or Buddhist meditation is not the Way for the Asian Christians particularly those who were at one time devout Buddhists.

However, in my opinion there is a great weakness among Asian churches, especially here in Thailand and Burma based on my observation and experience.  We are not “advanced” like the Western churches in psychology to utilize the science for advancing the Kingdom.  As Christian mystics in the past re-defined “mysticism” from the original meaning of the term and have redirected it and applied it Biblically, so Asian churches can benefit greatly by using psychology within the boundary of the Scriptures to add another tool in practical theology.

When I was studying for my bachelor’s in Christian ministry in the States, I wanted to add Christian counseling as another major in my study.  However, the time given for the student visa limited me from pursuing it.  Also, at that time I thought that it would not be worth investing my time in the study and perhaps it would not be culturally practical in Burma or Thailand since I was planning to return to Asia for ministry.  Time has changed.  Two months ago I met a Burmese Christian lady who is interested in pursuing a study in Christian counseling.  It is my belief that this generation of Christians in Burma is now beginning to see the benefit of Christian counseling.  As one American Baptist pastor from Seattle goes to the Myanmar Institute of Theology in Yangon periodically to teach a seminar, the students there are beginning to have a greater appreciation for the use and the need for Biblical Counseling.

The Chiang Mai University students who are majoring in psychology are embracing and utilizing the discipline of Western secular mental health practice.  As America has been faithful sending missionaries, it is also a leading nation exporting pseudo gospels.  Psycho-Culture values are being dumped here in Asia and we live in a global village of shared ideas and values.  Although mental care service in Asia is perhaps not as appreciated or highly recognized as in the West, this may change 30-50 years from now.  If Christians in Asia do not provide Christian professional mental clinical health care, then Asian Christians in need of such service (even ordered by a doctor) may have only the secular professional health care providers to turn to.

In Seattle there are few cases of Karen refugees who are seeing a non-Christian psychiatrist and these Karens are on medication.  The church leaders there are not acquainted with counseling.  What I am stating here is that if the church is unable to provide the quality of support, then certainly some Christians will reach to the world expecting to get help either if it is by their own will or at another person’s suggestion.  In addition, as the bond of the nucleus family weakens due to busy lifestyles, entertainment, and personal commitments (as Burma and Thailand are developing), the Christians might turn to some form of “therapy” to feel good spiritually.  Moreover, Asians are less transparent to talk on sensitive topics.  The real feelings are suppressed inside.  This is unlike the West where verbal communication is highly encouraged.  Incorporating Christian counseling would groom the present generation and the generations to follow to feel free to speak more openly about their struggle in a non-threatening environment.  They should then get the spiritual support they need rather than be judged and feel ashamed.

The practical application is to begin by strengthen the family values in the church setting whether it is here in Asia or in developed countries.  This could include more pastoral preaching sermon series on the topic of what a Christian family should look like.  Also, home cells or care groups should be more student-centered so people can share what is on their hearts.  Furthermore, there should be enrichment workshops hosted by churches.  It is my desire that I can study professional Christian counseling in the future to serve Asian churches.

 

 

 

Christian Spirituality from a Southeast Asian Perspective (p.1)

Christian Spirituality from a Southeast Asian Perspective (p.1)

In this first post, I wish to ponder on how the attitude of individualism has infiltrated the mind and the culture of the Karen-Thai Christians; hence, how this way of thinking can make pastoral ministry to the Karen-Thai Christians challenging in Chiang Mai, Thailand.   Although I am focusing only on the Karen-Thai Christians, since this is my ministry setting, I believe what I am describing here is noticeable particularly among the Karen whose parents migrated to a developed country two decades ago or more.  This individualistic mindset is also increasing among the Karen-Burmese refugees who have been resettled to the developed countries like the States or Australia within the past 10 years.

One contribution to the infiltration of individualism has to do with how the people interpret and understand the Bible.  There are a few passages in the Bible where some believe the passages are speaking more about the material blessing for the individual.  One popular text is Matt. 7:7: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” The other is John 15:7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  This type of supplication reflects a transactional relationship.  The spiritual maturity of the petitioner is still at the infancy stage.

A person weak in faith believes that when God gives the favor, his faith will increase rather than the focus being having complete faith in God regardless of whether He grants the favor or not.

Perhaps their understanding of the Old Testament is polluted by popular Buddhist worldview.  Some infant Christians associate “blessing” with materialism.  “Blessings” in the Buddhist culture means wealth, prosperity, good health, and a healthy family.  Thus, when some Christians look at how God blessed Abraham with prosperity and with a son at an old age, they equate this with Christian blessing.  Indeed God may bless a person with possessions but this is not always true.  Rather than blessing a Christian with material blessing, God may refine a believer with the gift of suffering, and the goal is glorification.  God blessed with the patriarchs differently from how He is blessing Christians today to fulfill His eschatological agenda.

A second contribution to the infiltration of individualism relates to the Karen people relocating (or been resettled) to fast-pace and competitive urban communities, which are different from the villages of their origin where the values and activities center on the community rather than on the individuals.  Church attendance becomes less of a priority among the Karens when they come to live and work in a city, particularly those who run private businesses or work for private business owners.  Unless the family members are very committed and the family members try to encourage one another to free up their Sundays to be involved with their church family, the individual who is living alone in the city find the offer in this world appealing, subsequently not making church attendance as one’s top priority.

In some cases, their regular church attendance and involvement drops when they have a car, a home, and a job.  This is becoming more common among the Karen refugees from Burma who are now in developed countries.  When they did not have their own personal vehicle, the church provided transportation for them.  This is entirely different from the

Christian Burmese migrant workers in Bangkok who travel for many miles using the public transportation to get to the church on Sundays.  (By “Burmese” I mean the people from Burma regardless of their ethnicity.) Among the Karen refugees who are now in the developed countries, they see what people have, so they work hard to obtain the material possessions to the point of buying for their small children the latest and expensive gadgets.  In addition, church attendance drops as well among financially struggling families who work on Sundays, especially in cases where one spouse is a Christian and the other is a Buddhist.

Burma is a Buddhist country yet the government recognizes Christmas as a public holiday.  On the contrary, Christmas is not observed as a holiday in Thailand.  Also, public schools and universities are opened occasionally on some Sundays for examinations or school activities.  Hence, this is a small social factor that may be limiting Christians in Thailand from fully exercising their faith.  In contrast, the Burmese migrant workers in Thailand own their bosses.  With a unified voice these Burmese migrant workers who are Christians inform their employers that they would work only on the condition that they can have Sundays off so they can go to church.  (By “Burmese” I mean the people from Burma regardless of their ethnicity.)

What are two practical applications to help the people walk closer to the Lord in my ministry context?  We must provide solid and clear biblical preaching as the most important ingredient.  We emphasize listening to God’s Word on Sundays in addition to the weekly Bible study and ESL Sunday school for the children. Two years ago we started in Genesis and now we are in Romans.  Every Friday evening we have Bible study from the book we are studying and on Sundays a sermon is preached from the selected text of the book.  There are sections in the Pauline epistles as well as in other New Testament Scriptures where we can emphasize corporate growth.  Also the church members who are not committed to their church family and have not been coming on Sundays need to know that they are spiritually rich in Christ.  They have simply forgotten about their great inheritance.  I believe that if they understand salvation better and remember their inheritance, their commitment level will rise.  If we are going to change people’s hearts, it must be done primarily with God’s Word to bring lasting change.

Second is getting the Word to the church members who come only once in a while.  This means mailing the audio sermons on a CD to their house since they do not have access to the internet.  Although they may not be able to come to the church for whatever may be the reason, they can still hear the Word, be rich in it, and we let God speak to them.  This is a way for the church family to say we miss them and we have not forgotten about them.  They are still very much part of the family even though they are absent.  It is a way to reach out to them.

The church family is supported by Christians in America.  The families here receive monetary gifts for medical care and scholarships for the children are provided annually.  Most of the members are poor and they are struggling from day to day to put food on the table.  We are blessed to help our brothers and sisters who are in need, but we are careful that we do not bribe them to win them to the Lord.  As stated in one of the lectures, “In the end we have nothing of greater value left to give them but God’s Word.”  We have done church activities for all ages to encourage a family-friendly environment, but the best turnouts are on days we celebrate Christmas, Easter, and the annual foundation meeting where we distribute gifts.

As there are so many more churches in Chiang Mai now compare to 25 years ago from what I remember, it can be tempting for Christians to jump from one church to another to have their felt needs / material needs met rather than committing and contributing to one local body.  The local government welcomes missionaries because it sees Christian workers help alleviate poverty.  However, the success of mission in Thailand will depend greatly on quality Biblical preaching rather than Christians doing humanitarian or social work.

Biblical Study of Discipleship (p. 3)

Biblical Study of Discipleship (p. 3)

Jesus’ model of discipleship may be summarized as involving prayerful preaching and teaching of the kingdom of God to which people respond in faith. This is followed by a significant investment of time with those followers in order to give pointed instruction, correction, and modeling. The goal of this discipleship is a changing of one’s life to become increasingly kingdom-oriented and reflective of the life and priorities of Jesus. Disciples who grow and mature will themselves begin to make disciples as Jesus did. This appears to be the model set forth in the Gospels and Acts.

Although it is important to understand and emulate Jesus’ approach to discipleship, it is of greater importance to acknowledge the supernatural power required for effective disciple making. By definition, a disciple has been born again through the Holy Spirit (John 1:12-13; 3:3). Furthermore, enablement for ministry ultimately comes from God. Thus, the success of the Twelve to engage in the Great Commission was directly proportional to the spiritual power they received. Indeed, Jesus had assured them that they would receive power to become his witnesses (Acts 1:8). So, it was only after the Holy Spirit had fallen on them that the catalyst for the Christian movement had taken place (Acts 2). Apart from the activity of the Holy Spirit, disciple making cannot be accomplished. The early church is evidence that Jesus is continuing his work through his disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The essential role of the Holy Spirit in disciple making is evident throughout the book of Acts. On one hand, the Holy Spirit is active as an agent who speaks, guides, and commands believers (Acts 5:32; 8:29; 13:2, etc.). On the other hand, the Spirit participates with and empowers believers by falling upon them, filling them, and being received by them (Acts 2:4, 2:38; 4:8, etc.). As a result of the Spirit’s activity, lives are transformed and God is glorified.

As a result of the above discussion, it may be said that the Holy Spirit picked up where Jesus left off. The process of disciple making modeled by Jesus was carried out by the disciples of the 1st century Church under the power of the Holy Spirit. This process included prayerful preaching, teaching, and calling upon people to respond to the Gospel. The early Church spent a significant amount of time meeting for teaching, prayer, fellowship, worship, and sharing meals. Their lives became radically kingdom-oriented, which was demonstrated in practical ways such as generosity, humility, and racial reconciliation.

 Conclusion

This study has shown that biblical discipleship as seen in the Gospels and Acts is a supernatural and dynamic process wherein God and man participate toward a goal of life transformation. True disciples are those who have responded by faith to the message of the Gospel and have become born again by the Spirit of God. The authenticity of spiritual life is indicated by the progressive development of a kingdom-oriented life commanded and modeled by Jesus. Such a life exchanges the values and ambitions of the world for the values and ambitions of Christ; namely, humility, generosity, sacrifice, thankfulness, and love.

The critical means of discipleship, as indicated by Jesus and his early followers, are prayerful preaching and teaching of the word of God accompanied with admonitions to follow Christ wholeheartedly. Disciplers are alert to those who eagerly respond to God’s word and thus initiate continued relationships for training, maturity, and encouragement. Those who respond require large amounts of time in order to foster these meaningful relationships. Christian doctrine is best taught “on the ground” where faith and real life intersect and where corrections and encouragements can be offered.

The above model is relatively simple but costly. It requires diligent preaching and teaching in addition to large investments of time. May the Lord encourage his people to return to these “old paths” and may He empower them through His Spirit to continue in this monumental task.