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"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." ~ 1 Peter 3:15-16

The Ancient Adversary of Marriages

"And the LORD God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.'” - Genesis 2:16-17

In Genesis 3, the serpent asked Eve if God really said that "You must not eat from any tree in the garden"? Eve replied that they may eat from the trees in the garden, except the one in the middle which they must not touch as well. If we compare Eve's reply to the command given by God to Adam in Genesis 2, we will notice that there are some differences between what God said in Genesis 2:16-17 and what Eve said in Genesis 3:2-3.

God to Adam: "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die."
Eve to Serpent: "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must touch it, or you will die.'"

A careful reading reveals that there are additional information in Eve's reply, as compared to what God commanded Adam in Genesis 2. The additional information in Genesis 3:2-3 are (1), the fruit of the prohibited tree and other trees are mentioned, (2) the prohibited tree is in the middle of the garden, and (3) it is also prohibited to touch it. Hence, a reasonable question would be whether Eve has correctly represented God’s command regarding that tree.

The issue became even more complicated when we realised that God’s command to Adam regarding that tree, took place before God took Eve out of Adam’s ribs (Genesis 2:21-22). While it is possible that God may have repeated and expanded the command to Eve between Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 (unrecorded), it is more probable that Eve heard the command from Adam. This is because God did not indicate that He has commanded Eve regarding that tree (when he could) in Genesis 3:17 when God rebuked Adam for listening to his wife and disregard the command given to him. Further, if Eve was also given the command directly, it makes little sense why Eve was considered as deceived and not also guilty of disobedience like Adam. And if we will to take a strict reading of Genesis 2:16-17, it would appear that the additional information came from Adam/Eve rather than God.

The additional information tells us about the importance of fruits. While Adam and Eve fell because of eating the wrong fruit, we are called to bear the right fruit that is of the Spirit. And while we cannot be dogmatic about the physical location of the prohibited tree in the garden, it certainly was in the dead center of Eve’s mind, despite God’s abundant provisions. The additional precaution not to touch the prohibited tree also appeared to single out the harshness or pettiness of God’s command, coupled with the fact that Eve did not emphasize that they were absoultely free to eat of any other trees. Otherwise, the rule of no contact could be a self-imposed discipline that did not turn out well. It is also interesting to note that Eve addressed God as simply God (Elohim) following the serpent’s leading question, as opposed to addressing God as LORD God (Yahweh Elohim) as used in the narratives of Genesis 2 and 3.

More importantly, if the serpent aimed to plant doubts in Eve who received information of God's command from Adam, the serpent was effectively asking Eve to doubt whether Adam had withheld something good from her intentionally (ie Adam hide the truth from her etc) or unintentionally (ie Adam misunderstood what God said etc). And we can see how doubts along these lines of thinking (ie doubting our spouses' intentions, being critical of our spouses' abilities etc) is still active in today’s marriages, which often leads to disagreements and misunderstandings, and ultimately separations. In other words, the serpent reveled in causing distrust and mistrust within the first God given marriage and subsequent marriages.

Whether this theory is indeed true, the outcome is the same as Adam had started to blame Eve (Gen 3:12). The devil is all out to destroy marriages since the beginning. Therefore, we will need to guard our marriages against the enemies who will tempt us and sow discords in all ways possible (eg parenting issues, financial difficulties, in-laws problems, extra-marital relationships etc), so as to destroy sacred marriages and the future generation. However, we can only guard our marriages by first growing closer to God who will change us and give us wisdom to cultivate and protect our marriages. The threat is real and imminent. So be prepared to guard.

Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” - Galatians 5:22

One of the characteristics applied to fruit of the Spirit is “patience”. The Oxford Dictionaries defines “patience” as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious. I acknowledge that I am not a patience man by nature. Even in the flesh, there are different levels of patience a man can possess and I am not among the few who are endowed with an abundance of this gift. Exacerbated by my sinful nature, which knocks at the door and tries every opportunities to force its way through, my impatience or rather lack of patience actually turns me into a recovering patient capable of relapsing. But the fruit of the Spirit is patience.

The Greek word for “patience” in Galatians 5:22 is “ makrothumia”. It is also used in James 5:10, where the Scripture refers us to the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of patience (makrothumia) in the face of suffering. Hence, the use of “long-suffering” by the older translations in lieu of “patience” may not look as weird as it may first appear. While patience often appears in the context of suffering or tolerating something negative in the Scripture, what would patience look like in the absence of these negativities? James 5:7 seems to provide a positive portrayal of patience. In that verse, patience is painted as a farmer waiting for rains and the land to yield its crops in due time and finally the harvest. The emphasis is on waiting.

Patience is being able to wait, even though we do not know if the rain will come or if the land will yield its crops ultimately. Patience is also about resting. It is about not getting worked up or worried under any circumstances, when facing any nuisances, crying children, irritating weirdo or any mess we may find ourselves stuck in between. A lack of patience will likely lead to worry but more often than not, anger. This is because the cause of a lack of patience is due to pride or self-righteousness as Ecclesiastes 7:8-9 put it, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” So the self-righteous is a fool who lacks patience and gets angry easily. On the other hand, wisdom yields patience as written in Proverbs 19:11.

According to 1 Timothy 1:16, Jesus possesses the perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. It would have been unachievable, if we were left to our own devices to replicate that perfect patience. But today, the same Spirit of Patience who is with Jesus, also dwells in His believers. As long as we have the same Spirit as Jesus, the Spirit will train us into Holiness, Godliness and Christlikeness. We only need to pay attention to what the Spirit is speaking to us, and repent whenever He convicts us of our sins and weaknesses. And be thankful that God is first and foremost long-suffering towards the stubborn and stiff-necked, like ourselves. The fruit of the Spirit is patience.

Review: The Message of the Cross (by Jaerock Lee)

“The Message of the Cross is a powerful and touching message that has awakened countless souls around the world from their spiritual slumber and given them the taste of a true life in Christ! Creation or evolution? How was man created from the dust? Why did God place the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden? Why did He allow Adam and Eve to sin? Why is Jesus our only Savior? Why did the "God of love" have to prepare hell? In The Message of the Cross you will find spiritually satisfying answers to fundamentally important questions for all Christians who had never been given thorough and accurate explanations.” – Amazon

Introduction

The Message of the Cross” is authored by Jaerock Lee, founding and senior pastor of the Manmin Central Church in South Korea. MCC is one of the largest churches in South Korea, and claims to have 120,000 members throughout the world in 9,000 member churches. The book has been published in many languages including English and Chinese. It is an easy read because of its verbatim style, which should take less than half a day to complete.

Based on the outline of the book, it attempts to refute evolution and introduce God, the origin of sin and Jesus who is the way to salvation. It aims to be a concise introduction or foundation to the christian faith for its readers. There are many good analogies and illustrations used in the book that are culturally relevant to the modern world, as you would hear in an engaging sermon.

However, Jaerock Lee is not without controversy in his homeland, South Korea. The last section of the book did briefly mention about his series of trials from accusation of heresy. Since doctrinal fault lines could be one of the most serious forms of fault lines given that beliefs systems are often deeply held, I can empathize with the experience that one has to go through for being labelled as a heretic. Regardless of the controversy, we should approach each book and the ideas in it, on their own merits objectively.

Random Thoughts

When reading the book, it provoked me to think deeper about the broad issues that came to mind as I read. And I have attempted to discuss a few key random thoughts arising from my reading below. However, the quality of the English translation is a concern, as I would have to re-read some parts of the book. Hence, I am not dogmatic over whether the choice of words represents the author’s understanding. If it is a matter of the quality of translation, the publisher should review it.

(1) Interpretation of the Word

On page 234, the book suggests that we should not interpret God’s Word literally, but spiritually by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I agree wholeheartedly that we should approach the Scripture under the illumination of the Holy Spirit. This does not necessarily mean that we have to pray every time before we read the Scripture. More importantly, we should trust the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth and reveal more of the Lord to us, not just in the Scripture but also in everyday living and things happening around us.

However, I think there is a common misunderstanding between a literal interpretation and a literal application. For example, when Jesus taught to gouge out the right eye and cut off the right hand in Matthew 5:29-30, He literally meant the right eye and not the left eye, right leg nor kidney. To be sure, He did not intend for us to apply it literally since a blind man could potentially still sin. Therefore, while we should interpret the Scripture under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we should also interpret the Scripture literally besides spiritualizing the significance of some passages. An example of spiritualizing the Scripture would be typology, a Christological interpretative framework with an emphasis on the Lord and therefore minimize the risks of eisegesis.

Interestingly, on page 182, the book attempts to reconcile the apparent discrepancy between the Synoptic Gospels over the account of the two criminals crucified on the left and right sides of Jesus. In Matthew 27:44 and Mark 15:32, both criminals heaped insults on Jesus, but in Luke 23:40-43, one of the criminals rebuked the other and asked Jesus to remember him. The book suggests that it is more likely that the environment was rowdy and only people standing close enough to Jesus could hear the conversation. Since the criminal rebuked the other criminal, probably with a bad facial expression, those standing far away might have easily thought that the repenting criminal was rebuking Jesus in the middle. Hence, the apparent discrepancy.

Granted that this is indeed an interesting theory, it nevertheless has an inherent weakness to the approach of interpreting the Scripture. To be exact, the theory calls the accuracy and reliability of the Scripture into question, because if the biblical authors had wrongly documented an incident because of their perception, we would have absolutely no clue as to whether there are other such errors, especially for passages without parallel accounts. This boils down to our view of the Scripture and its inspiration. An alternative theory is that both criminals did heap insults on Jesus, but one changed his mind eventually.

(2) Trinity

On page 34, the book says that at some point, God divided into the Trinity. If the translation did justice and is faithful to the original meaning, this is certainly not a biblical understanding of Trinity because at no point did God divided Himself into Trinity but has always existed eternally as the Trinity. If this is indeed a harmless speculation, it should be qualified as such and should not be projected as the underlying reality. I say this because the understanding of Church is extended from the understanding of Trinity, but we shall reserve it for other times.

(3) Garden of Eden

On page 73-76, the book suggests that Adam had produced many children in the Garden of Eden before the Fall, in order to account for the many fossils that dated several hundred thousand years ago. This is in part because the book assumes that the history of human race is 6,000 years but only starting from the Fall. The book also says that men then could communicate with all living creatures including, beasts, birds, flowers and trees.

Reading that men could communicate with living creatures brought me smile at the start of this new year, as C. S. Lewis’s "Chronicle of Narnia" came to mind. However, I noted that the book goes a step further to include the flowers and trees, which brought J. R. R. Tolkien’s "The Lord of the Rings" to mind as well. Obviously, this is mere speculation as the Scripture is silent on whether other creatures had spoken in intelligible language.

While I appreciate the book’s intention to refute evolution and uphold the existence of God, and His Creation, I think the author may not have understood that the dating methods of fossils is itself questionable and may not be as old as what the evolutionists would like them to be. Therefore, there is no need to impose a gap between the Garden of Eden and the Fall, in order to accommodate the fossil claims by evolutionists. And if indeed there is a gap between the Garden of Eden and the Fall to account for the dates of the fossils, the logical conclusion would be that death existed before the Fall. However, this is clearly not biblical because death entered into the world not before but because of the Fall. Interested readers on the topic of creationism could further explore Creation Ministries International and Answers in Genesis.

With reference to Revelation 5, the book also suggests on page 104 that “the scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals” indicates a contract that had been made between God and the devil when Adam disobeyed God and became a sinner. While I can appreciate the spiritual warfare type of interpretation that is prevalent in charismatic churches, I am not entirely sold that the portrayal of God striking a deal with Satan in the form of a contract sits well with the Scripture. After all, a strong government does not negotiate with terrorists.

(4) Name of Jesus

On page 127-128, the book says that there is a great difference of power between “Jesus” and “Jesus Christ”. It is explained that ”Jesus” is the name before the cross and the devil is not afraid of this name as much as “Jesus Christ” which would imply the redeeming blood, resurrection from death and eternal life. It is before this name (ie “Jesus Christ”) that Satan trembles in fear.

I am pretty sure there will be difference in orthopraxy on the ground (eg exorcism) if we perceived the above to be true. However, “Jesus” or “Yeshua” which means salvation is the name, while “Christ” which means the Messiah is not the surname but used as a honorific title. So technically speaking, “Jesus Christ” is not the first and last name. In fact, in Philippians 2:10, every knee should bow at the name of “Jesus”. It is about understanding who Jesus is, the one from Nazareth and was crucified, died, resurrected and ascended, and is the one who is able to deliver us, that is more important. It is not important whether you refer to Him as “Jesus”, “Jesus Christ”, “Yeshua” and in what mother tongue. It is about understanding who He is and our faith in the Son of God that is more critical.

For more information on the name of Jesus, which was a common name during the New Testament time, you may like to explore “Call His Name Yeshua” by First Fruits of Zion

(5) Financial Blessings and Healings

Let me state categorically that I believe that God can choose to bless us financially or heal us physically on this side of earth. But I also believe that the same God can choose to withhold financial blessings and physical healings, so that greater glory can be accomplished through the path of suffering, cross bearing and dying to self. There can be abundant life and victory as we overcome in the midst of “suffering”. And even for those who are blessed financially or healed physically, they would still have to face physical death anyway and are unable to bring any earthly wealth along with them.

The book says, on page 141-142, that poverty is a curse manifested after the Fall. I agree that today’s poverty is a result of sins after the Fall, made worse by greed of people and the economic structures the people in poverty are in. The book goes on to say that because Jesus lived in poverty to redeem us from poverty, we can lead an abundant life. Depends on how one defines poverty, many of us would not fall under today’s definition of poverty, and are not in poverty by any standard. The matter at heart is whether we are contended with what we already have. There is nothing wrong to want to improve your living condition through financial gains to be reassuring, but the crux is not to chase after riches of the world but Christ instead. It is also a reasonable question whether Joseph’s family could be considered in poverty since carpentry appears to be a trade in demand at that time.

And on page 145-147, the book says that the Bible tells you that diseases come upon you because of your sins. Hence, if we discard our sins and do what is right is the sight of God, no disease will come upon us, because God protects us from them. As mentioned earlier, God is able to heal us physically or protect us from diseases, but He can also choose to allow it, according to His wisdom. In John 9:1-3, Jesus explained that it is not because of the sins of the man or his parents that he was born blind, but so that the works of God might be displayed in him. Hence, it is not necessary that diseases come upon us because of sins, though our sins can court diseases. The insistence that diseases is only because of sins, is one of the charismatic excesses. It can be subjected to abuses when healing does not take place after one is being prayed for.

If you are among those who believe or want to believe in supernatural miracles but are lost in the charismatic waves and practices, “Post Charismatic” by Rob McAlpine will probably interest you.

(6) Salvation and Works

Perhaps the biggest gripe I have regarding the book pertains to the relationship between faith and works. On page 214-215, the book says that if we read the Bible carefully, we will find that some people who claim to believe in God are not saved (referring to the parable of ten virgins). So even if people may claim to have faith, not everyone may be saved as indicated clearly in the Bible. Hence, we would then know the kind of life we have to live in order to be saved (my emphasis). It is phrases like this that makes me wonder whether the quality of translation is questionable.

The biblical and protestant understanding of salvation by faith does not throw out good works or fruit of Spirit, but insists that such works or fruits are the necessary result and evidence of faith. In short, you don’t do good works or bear fruits in order to be saved. Rather, you do good works and bear fruits because you are saved. To say that we have to live a certain kind of live in order to be saved, is mixing faith and works together as Catholicism does. While I can appreciate the exhortations to produce fruits and works, it is extremely important to distinguish between between faith and works and their relationship, because of its downstream impact in christian living. For example, can we say for certain whether our good deeds are motivated by love or self-interest?

Such mixing of faith and works can be further seen on page 228, where the book says that salvation can be lost. To illustrate, the Holy Spirit fades in the hearts of those who commit sins deliberately, and these people will lose their faith and do evil under the influence of the devil. Eventually, the Holy Spirit will completely disappear, and they cannot be saved because they cannot repent and their names will be erased from the Book of Life. Alternatively, if we view such persons through the lens of faith alone, one would have to question whether such persons were genuine believers to begin with.

A good place to start with, regarding the genuine and false conversion, would be Ray Comfort’s “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” and “True and False Conversion”.

Concluding Remarks

As mentioned earlier, “The Message of the Cross” by Jaerock Lee provided me a chance to reflect on the various topics regarding the christian faith, and it’s a good personal reflection for starting this new year. Since the book will probably be translated into many more languages in time to come, I hope the publisher will give more focus on the translation works.

This late review is based on the free copy graciously given by Joseph Park from the Manmin Central Church some years back, and I am ashamed to honour that commitment only now.

A copy of this blog post can be downloaded here.

He Rolled The Stone Away

When Jacob came to the land of the eastern peoples in Genesis 29:1-3, he saw a well with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. There was also a stone over the mouth of the well, and the stone was large. When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well.

It is interesting to note that there were three flocks of sheep, especially if you recall what Jesus said in John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” So who are the three flocks of sheep? In my view, one of the flocks is referring to the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) prior to the crucification of Jesus. These are people who were commended for their faith (Hebrews 11:39-40), but did not received what had been promised back then. If they are living today, we could probably addressed them as followers of the Way. The other two flocks would be the messianic Jews and messianic Gentiles, post-crucification. Together, they are actually one flock with one Shepherd, but separated by time and ethnicity.

Another interesting description to note is the watering of sheep from the well. This parallels John 4:5-13, where Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink, offered her and offers us the spring of water welling up to eternal life. And if you haven’t noticed, it is by Jacob’s well that John 4 unfolds.

John 4:5-13
So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jacob, a type of Messiah, when he saw Rachel and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep (Genesis 29:9-10). This is a striking foreshadow to the rolling away of stone to the tomb of Jesus. The only difference: Jacob rolled the stone away and had to put it back, but the stone to the tomb of Jesus was rolled away forever. Jesus doesn’t need to put it back into place, and the living water will continue welling up for eternity, for all who will believe (three flocks).

Matthew 28:1-2 - After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Mark 16:2-4 - Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

Luke 24:1-3 - On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

John 20:1 - Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.

So even as you are busy making preparations for your parties and celebrations this Christmas season, have you received the spring of water welling up to eternal life? We all need water to survive and at some point in time, our thirst will be greater felt for different things at different stages of our lives. But while we may be thirsty for various things in life such as career, acceptance, romance etc, and indeed they may satisfy us for some time being, none of these things that we chase after will be able to satisfy us forever. Only the Lord Jesus Christ can truly satisfy you and offer you water that you will never thirst. He rolled the stone away forever, so that you could partake the living water. As you come to Jacob’s well today, do you desire this living water?

The Stone

In Genesis 28:10-22, Jacob saw in his dream, the majestic stairway to heaven, angels of God ascending and descending, and even the Lord Himself, during his travel to Haran. While reading “The Concealed Light” by Dr. Tsvi Sadan, a book about the names of the Messiah in Jewish sources, it brought to my attention regarding the stone mentioned in this passage.

It was mentioned in Genesis 28:11 that Jacob took of the stones [plural] of Bethel as pillows and lay down to sleep. And in Genesis 28:18, Jacob took the stone [singular] and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. It is interesting to note that before the dream, the reference to stones is plural. And after the dream, the reference to the stone is singular. If you check the various translations, you would notice that the literal and older translations tend to follow this trend, while the newer translations tend to harmonize Genesis 28:11.

One way of harmonizing, is to suggest that Jacob merely took one out of the many stones prior to his dream. But we would not know for certain whether this is indeed true. What we do know is that Genesis 28:11 referenced itself to stones [plural] even if Jacob took one out of many, while Genesis 28:18 referenced itself to stone [singular]. After reading a Jewish commentry in “The Concealed Light” regarding the stones and stone, the apparent inconsistency may not be so inconsistent after all, but telling a story instead. In my view, it is telling a story about Christ and His Church.

According to 1 Peter 2:5, believers are living stones being built into a spiritual house. Bethel in the context of Genesis 28 is about the presence of the Lord (Genesis 28:16), and more specifically the house of God (Genesis 28:17, 22). Do you think that the plurality of stones in Genesis 28:11 is a scribal error, or is it a subtle hint at believers (many living stones) being the Church (spiritual house of God)? And if indeed the Church is the spiritual house of God, the Church also has the keys (Matthew 16:19) to the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:17) as seen in Jacob’s dream.

In this light, the stone in Genesis 28:18 emphasizes that there is only one Church, which is the Body of Christ. There is only one Church or Body, regardless of the numbers of living stones (believers). The Stone is also Christ Himself, being the chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20), the living Stone (1 Peter 2:4) and stumbling Rock (1 Peter 2:8). And as allude to in Genesis 28:18, He is also the pillar of the Church, or the Head of the Church (Colossians 1:18). Not forgetting the anointing oil (Genesis 28:18), the oil symbolises the empowering Spirit who consecrates and sets the Church apart for Christ (Genesis 28:22).

While Jacob, a type of the Messiah, had stones to laid down his head, Jesus explicitly expressed that the Son of Man has no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20, Luke 9:58). It is an inviting statement for you to be part of the spiritual house of God, a place for the Lord’s Headship to rest upon. As the Lord speaks into your life and opens your eyes to see the stairway to heaven, will the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, be your God today and forevermore?

Biblical Evolution: From Fish to Sheep

Breaking News – Richard Dawkins was right when he said that your very distant grandfather was a fish.

According to the Scripture, human beings are fish in the sea (Hab 1:14). They are a clueless, ignorant and messy school of fish. And the Wicked Foe pulls all of them up with hooks and catches them with net (Hab 1:15). The New Testament concurs that human beings are fish because Jesus sent out the disciples to fish for people (Mark 1:17, Matt 4:19). There was even a description of the Kingdom of Heaven to be like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish (Matt 13:47). The fish are of many kinds in terms of size, shape, colors and flavours, like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea (Ezek 47:10). So it was right to say that our forefather were fish.

And here lies the greatest secret of the Scripture, the fish had evolved biblically to become sheep! You have to appreciate the scientific fact that it is hard to find an example of evolution from kind to kind. Based on the pro-evolution Scripture, Jesus is the great Shepherd (Heb 13:20) and believers are sheep who listen to His voice (John 10:27). Once we were fish lost in the massive sea, but now we are transformed into fluffy sheep and have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Pet 2:25). This is truly divine evolution, from fish to sheep. The greatest show on earth. Bah.. baa.. meh…

Review: Amal (Movie)

“Sometimes the poorest of men are the richest.”

AMAL is an excellent movie filmed in New Delhi, provoking thoughts on wealth, greed and contentment. The lead character was an auto-rickshaw driver whose name was Amal Kumar. Amal was a satisfied and honest fellow who went by the metre rates, despite his poor family background. At one point in the movie, Amal sold his rickshaw to a local gangster, in order to pay for the operations of a beggar girl who was knocked down by car. The girl died on the operating table, despite Amal’s care and concerns.

The movie began to flow when a disguised rich man boarded Amal’s auto-rickshaw one day. The rich man took noticed of Amal’s good character during the ride and was surprised that Amal would reject the insignificant fare change as tips. The rich man was impressed with Amal and subsequently willed his estate to Amal, on the condition that Amal be found within one month. Otherwise, the estate would be distributed to the rich man’s two sons who were good-for-nothing. As the story developed, one of the sons murdered the rich man’s business partner when the business partner decided to withdraw from their earlier agreement not to locate and identify Amal as the preferred successor to the rich man’s estate. The movie progressed between the struggle of the rich man’s two sons, business partner and lawyer, and the love story of Amal and Pooja who did not spared her dowry to help Amal fixed an abandoned auto-rickshaw so he could continue his trade.

Towards the end of the movie, the lawyer managed to find Amal and passed him the rich man’s letter to read. However, the lawyer was distracted by a phone call regarding the death of the business partner, and did not notice Amal’s leaving. Amal’s mind was pre-occupied with his date with Pooja, which was about to start soon. When returning to his auto-rickshaw, Amal gave that letter to a homeless girl on the street when she asked for some paper to draw on. The homeless girl noticed the writing on the paper and thought it might be an important document. And then it was revealed that Amal could not read and would not have known what he had missed. The movie ended with Amal and Pooja both smiling in the auto-rickshaw, and the rich man wondering what the man who did not want the meagre tip would do with three billions.

The biggest strength of this movie, lies in the superb performance of the cast and especially Amal. Given the script, the lead character tend to appear as idealistic and unreal, and it will be difficult to portray the lead character as convincing as possible. But Amal was simply natural and reflective of the image demanded by the script. Amal’s acting make it believable, that such a person could exist! And this actually allows the viewer to ponder more deeply on the issue of wealth and a person’s contentment. Twists of events at key points of the movie, also made the movie unpredictable and more enjoyable. The movie is suited for family viewing as there is no sexual scene or extreme violence in the movie (even the murder scene was filmed indirectly and without blood).

As I watched Amal’s misfortune, most of which he willingly burdened upon himself, I confess that I took pleasure dreaming on what I would do if I inherited the three billions. But I am also reminded of the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12). Is it possible for a person like Amal, to have such great humility to the extent that insults from client were not taken to heart, and still provide excellent customer service from the heart? Is it possible for a person to accept a reduction in agreed fair fare and then to reject a small tip? Is it possible for a person to care for a stranger to such an extent that huge debts were shouldered and mortgaged with the trade tool depended on for a living, in order to cover for the stranger’s expenses? Is it possible that such a person exists altogether? It is beyond a reasonable person, but perhaps, maybe, a Christ follower should be like this down the Indian road? I am reminded of the book, “The Christ of the Indian Road” by E. Stanley Jones.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Overall, AMAL is among my top must-recommend favourites.

Love, Lambs and Sheep

In John 21:15-17, Jesus reinstated Peter three times. Many of us are familiar of the reinstatement, and could recall that Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times just earlier (John 18:13-27). The best of all, Jesus foresaw Peter’s denial (John 13:38). However, most English translations would not do justice to the subtle meanings between the conversation of Jesus and Peter in the original language. If we look at the Greek, we would realise that the English word “love” was translated from two different Greek words. I have rendered the two key pairs of Greek words as below.

Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapas) me more than these?”
Peter: “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (philō) you.”
Jesus: “Feed (boske) my lambs (arnia).”

Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapas) me?”
Peter: “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (philō) you.”
Jesus: “Tend (poimaine) my sheep (probatia).”

Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love (phileis) me?”
Peter: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love (philō) you.”
Jesus: “Feed (boske) my sheep (probatia).”

Jesus used a strong word (agapas) when He asked if Simon Peter loves Him the first two times. The agape love is an unconditional love, the kind of love that Christ modelled for us. It is a love that is self-sacrificial with a willingness to lay down one’s life if necessary. This divine love is different from storge (natural liking), eros (sexual), and philia (friendship), as illustrated in the book “The Four Loves” by C. S. Lewis. It is no wonder that Jesus chose such a strong word precisely because Peter thought he could and would lay down his life for Jesus earlier (John 13:37). John 21:15-17 is essentially a continuation of that conversation they had before the cruxification and resurrection.

This is in contrast to Peter’s response who consistently used a word (philō) that is of a lower intensity. Having not been able to live up to what he had spoken, Peter gained an awareness of self and understand his weaknesses better. Perhaps, we should learn from Peter’s humility and not overrate ourselves, consciously or sub-consciously. Peter learnt it the hard way, but we could learn from him instead. And Jesus, as loving and comforting as always, chose to cease using such a strong word (agapas) but a word (phileis) that Peter could more readily identified with. Peter would have realised it immediately, besides the point that he was asked three times in parallel to his denial of Jesus. Peter was certainly affirmed when Jesus spoke about the kind of death (John 21:18-19) he would face, hinting that Peter would possess agape love.

And each time Jesus asked Peter if he loves Him, He gave a commission to Peter. The commissions were in relation to Peter’s declaration of his love for Jesus. In John 14:15, Jesus said "If you love me, keep my commands.” And in John 14:23, Jesus also mentioned that "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” So Jesus was essentially asking Peter to walk the talk, and guided Peter on the things to be done if he truly loves Him. Because anyone who does not love Jesus will not do these things (John 14:24). But this does not mean that anyone who does these things truly loves Jesus. For it is possible to go through the motion of outward actions, without an inward experience of love that motivates and powers our actions. The first love (Rev 2:4) is the key to everything else.

Interestingly, Jesus used the word (boske) to illustrate feeding the lambs (arnia) in the first instance. This is in contrast to the third instance when He used the word (boske) to illustrate feeding the sheep (probatia). A reasonable question then would be to ask about the difference between a lamb and a sheep. Another question to ask, is the difference between feeding (boske) and tending (poimaine) mentioned in the second instance. And why is tending associated with the sheep rather than the lambs. The obvious difference between the lambs and sheep would be the age. Lambs are younger sheep or sheep are grown up lambs. In spiritual terms, lambs are young believers and sheep are matured believers. In physical terms, lambs refer to the children, sheep refers to the adults.

Of interest, the word (boske) was used only a few times in the New Testament. And when they were used, they were all referring to the feeding of swine or pigs in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt 8:30-33, Mark 5:11-14, Luke 8:32-34). The Gospel of John is the only book that associated it to lambs and sheep. Since it is the nature of swine or pigs to gobble down anything that you throw at them, even pearls, I would like to suggest that perhaps John was hinting that it is the same with the believers in the sense that the true lambs and sheep are hungry for spiritual food. The commission to Peter was to feed them, not with earthly food, but with the spiritual word of God and especially the Word of God - Christ Himself.

As for the word (poimaine), it was used on occasions pertaining to Jesus being the Shepherd or actual shepherding of sheep. In two particular instances, it was referring to the shepherding of God’s flock. The two instances are in Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2. The latter is more informative than the former since it is an epistle of Peter, of which Peter felt it was necessary to also mention the right characters of the shepherds to God’s flock. The commission to Peter then, was to watch over the sheep and not to lord it over them. The shepherds are not to take everything upon themselves, but to supervise, watch over and guide the sheep in the right direction where necessary.

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” ~ Acts 20:28

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them - not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.” ~ 1 Peter 5:2

Putting together, Jesus charged Peter to feed the children and young believers with spiritual food. They need the spiritual food to grow up and mature in Christ (Eph 4:11-16). Through the feeding, they will also be equipped for good works. And they will require advices, guidance, feedback and support in their various area of ministries. But more importantly, even as they are now mature, they still need to be sustained with spiritual food. They still need to see the vision of Christ in order to be encouraged and empowered by the Spirit in their walk with God. They still need to be reminded of their love and passion for Jesus. Just like when they were children and young believers.

At the end of the day, the questions that Jesus posed to Peter are relevant to everyone. Jesus was not asking Peter only, and only Peter, to love Him and to feed/tend the lambs/sheep. It was an offer of privileges to everyone who love Him. What would your response be, if Jesus asks you today, “Do you love (agapas) me?”

Horse Riding


I do not know about your credentials in equestrianism, but I was a virgin during my maiden ride last May in Hunter Valley (New South Wales), Australia. I remember the instructor was a lady and she had assigned a gentle, light brown mare to my wife who also had no prior riding experience. I could vividly recall that my wife had ease mounting the mare with the support of the guide and a plastic drum. But not for me. The instructor had allocated a black sturdy-looking stallion named Ben Ben (or sounds alike) to me, and I had some challenges when mounting Ben Ben. That was the harbinger of my death ride.

I have driven a sedan, a bigger locomotive than a sedan and a tank running on tracks. I also have driving experience in both local and overseas. Though I confess that I am not good at unicycle and bicycle, I have sufficient confidence to harness and control creatures that move on four wheels. So I thought, what’s so hard about riding four legged mammals. I was terribly wrong. After mounting the horses, the instructor guided us along the designated path for a leisure ride. The instructor led the way, and my wife followed in the middle, with me at the back.

During the ride, Ben Ben appeared hungry and was being distracted many times by the grasses at the sides of the trail. Ben Ben left the group on many occasions to graze at the sides, leaving me far behind the main forces. It was sure tough and took a lot of strength to pull back the reins and manoeuvred Ben Ben back on the trail. It was a tricky thing to do because Ben Ben needed to speed up to close the gap, but he had a tendency to overtake and take the lead instead. I was pulling back on the reins most of the time to restrain his speed and I could sense that Ben Ben was extremely unhappy with me. After all, an hungry horse is already an angry horse.

When we left the plains and entered a more forested area, something unseen scared the horses, and Ben Ben suddenly speeded up and almost did a full rearing, at about 70 degree standing on his hind legs. I almost lost my balance and risked landing on the ground on my back. It was quite an experience but definitely not a pleasant one. I thought I could have really die out there. For the rest of the trail, Ben Ben also seemed eager to jump over small water flowing and ledges. I just had to continue holding on tightly to the reins and be prepare to pull back hard, I mean really hard.

On the way back to the ranch, just some horse steps away in the open area, Ben Ben did not fail to exhaust me. As there was a large amount of space, Ben Ben attempted multiple times to speed up and ovetake. For the last time, I had to hold on the reins very tightly and consistently to keep him under control because once I loosed the reins a little only, he would start to go wild. I hanged on until I was safe within the enclosed area. And my legs were having sea sick and were shaking faintly but uncontrollably when dismounting, which the instructor took noticed and gave me a smile.

Through this memorable experience, I now better understand why horses and chariots were a key factor in ancient warfares. There is great horsepower within each horse waiting to be harnessed. Yet the Scripture says that we should not place our confidence in horses and chariots (Psa 20:7). Psa 33:17 says that a horse is a false hope for victory and it does not deliver anyone by its great strength. Ben Ben sure did almost kill me instead of delivering me, but I could not deny the strength of the horse. And yet, the horse is false hope of victory.

This must surely means that the true hope for victory would be so much more powerful and stronger than horses. It is not man (Psa 147:10) but the Lord who alone can deliver us. Isn't true that most of the times, we were like Ben Ben, unwilling to follow the Master's leading at times, distracted from the narrow path other times, and relying on our own horsepower and instinct to do whatever we want when the reins are let down. We are afterall not too much different from Ben Ben in the eyes of God.

It is no wonder then that powerful horses are mentioned in Revelation 19:11 when John saw heaven opened. "And behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war." At the end, we will celebrate He who sits on the white horse, but I am sure that horse will not be Ben Ben.

Shema Yisrael


Deuteronomy 6:4 – "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.”


The Shema is an important prayer recited in the Jewish synagogues, and often the portion of Scripture that are first taught to the Jewish children. Jews would also recite the Shema in the morning and evening on a daily basis. All these practices reflect the significance that the Jews place upon the Shema. The Shema starts with “Shema Yisrael” which literally means “Hear O Israel”, requiring Israel to pay attention and listen up to what comes next. The Hebrew phrase for Deut 6:4 is “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad." Since a lot of blood has been spilled over the doctrinal meaning of “echad”, I would instead focus more on “Shema Yisrael” here.

Most believers would be familiar with the transfiguration of Jesus as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt 17:1–9, Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28–36). Briefly, Jesus was transfigured on some high mountain emitting radiance and white light in the full sight of Peter, James and John. Moses and Elijah also appeared and seemed to be talking with Jesus about His departure. When Peter suggested to build tabernacles for the three of them, a bright cloud overshadowed all of them and the Father spoke out of the cloud, testifying about His Son Jesus. The specific words of the Father were:

“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” (Mark 9:7)
“This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matt 17:5)

Based on the above verses, we could tell that (1) the Father views Jesus as His Son, (2) the Son is His beloved, (3), the Son is His Chosen One, (4), the Son is pleasing in His sight, and (5) the rest of us are commanded by the Father to hear and listen to the Son Jesus. Peter in 2 Peter 1:17-18 also collaborated that this incident was no hallucination and what the three scribes had documented in the Synoptic Gospels is correct. But what has the transfiguration incident got to do with the Shema?

If you recall the backdrop for Deuteronomy 6, the Israelites were just given the Ten Commandments from God through Moses, who went up the Holy Mountain to receive the commandments. Moses acted as an agent to relay the commandments to Israel as a nation. Similarly, when Jesus went up to a high mountain and became transfigured, one wouldn’t need much creative imagination to see the parallel between the experience of Moses and that of Jesus. Also remember the manna in the wilderness, and the two loaves and five fishes? And there was the heavenly command for all to pay attention and listen to Jesus.

I often wonder if there was a divine play of words here, such that God was asking the nation Israel to listen to Jesus who is the true Israel. Was it a coincident that Jesus gathered 12 disciples when the nation Israel had 12 tribes? In Isaiah, Israel was portrayed as God’s servant, a light unto nations, and salvation until the end of the earth (Isa 42:6, Isa 49:6, Isa 60:3). Messianic believers would readily confess that Jesus fits all the descriptions and had done what the nation Israel did not manage to accomplish. He is the Suffering Servant, Light of the world, and Salvation to Jews and Gentiles. Now, who is Israel?

Deuteronomy 6:5 – “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”

The Shema continues to instruct us that we should love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. It doesn’t take long to recall that Christ said exactly the same thing about the greatest commandment and the greater commandment in the New Testament (listed below).

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matt 22:37-40)
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength… You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Mark 12:29-31)
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:25-28)

Before we get away thinking that Christ had invented and expanded the scope and definition of loving God to cover the neighbours, God had already commanded in Leviticus 19:18 that “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." There was no new element introduced by Christ. Loving God and people was in fact a good summary of the entire Law and Prophet, endorsed by Christ. This goes to show that while the Old Testament is about the Old Covenant, the Old Covenant is not entirely void of love and grace, something which stood out even more under the New Covenant in the New Testament.

Deuteronomy 6:6 – “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart."

And the Shema continues to paint the future picture of the indwelling Spirit, something that the prophet Jeremiah and Joel saw post-Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9). A brief survey of the Scripture is more than sufficient to show the fulfilment of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

"I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jer 31:33)
"And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” (Joel 2:28)
“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Cor 3:3)

At the end of this reading, you would have to agree that even within the three short introductory verses of the Shema, there is an abundance of treasures buried within to be discovered. The rewards is Eternal Life (John 17:3). Apparently, Deut 6:4 was not the first instance where Israel was asked to pay attention and listen up. It just happened that this portion of the Scripture forms the Shema. But definitely, it is not the last for all of us.

Shema Yisrael, Shema Yeshua.