Friday, 31 August 2007

Malaysia's 50th Independence Day; My 9th Year in Ministry

Today, Malaysia celebrates her 50th Independence Day. No doubt, it is a historic day for the nation.

It is also a historic day for me. Today marks a very significant milestone in my journey of faith. On this day, 9 years ago, I packed my bags and left Malaysia, heading towards Boston, to begin my new adventurous journey as a student in a seminary. It also marks the beginning of a new chapter in my life as I embarked on the journey of entering full-time Christian vocation.

Today I celebrate my 9th year in full-time Christian vocation. 9 years - not a very long period of time, but long enough for me to learn many important lessons of faith through the ups and downs of Christian ministry.

I can only thank God for his provision, guidance, wisdom, strength, and empowerment over the 9 years.

I also would like to thank all my mentors, prayer partners, friends, and supporters who cheer me on, speak timely words of encouragement, and constantly remember me in your prayers. I could not have come this far without all of you. Thank you for being there for me, for listening to my frustrations and discouragement, for sharing my joy and tears and for digging into your pockets to support me in many practical ways.

Finally, to all the anonymous donors out there, thank you so much for your financial contribution. There are many occasions when I received unexpected gift vouchers and cheques in the mailbox, right at the time when I needed them most. Thank you so much for being channels of blessings from the Almighty. You have taught me precious lessons of what it means to "live by faith"!

Thank you, all of you, for your partnership in the ministry of the gospel. I can only pray that God will, in his own time and ways, shower you with all the blessings you have been to me in greater portion in your life!

So, here's to many more fruitful years of Christian ministry.....

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Sitiawan Roadshow: Mirror Reading and Mirror Image... - 4

Hmm...Can one do mirror reading by observing "mirror image"? Matthew and I do share "something" in common (apart from our dark t-shirts)....

Oh yes, he is in my pastoral group too.

Pay Your Workers Fair Wage

In light of the appeal of the Prime Minister to pay workers fair wages that commensurate with their productivity and value addition (as reported in The Star Online yesterday) and my earlier post on "Raise Your Own Salary" and the responses that the post has generated, perhaps it is also good to look at some statistics on the average salary a pastor earned in an NECF affiliated church.

According to the NECF Survey of Churches, Pastors and Christians that was carried out in 2001, a total of 226, 514 and 3,738 responses were received for the Survey of Churches, Survey of Pastors and Survey of Christians respectively. In this Survey, NECF makes the bold claim that "the maximum margin of error at the 95% confidence level is +/- 6 percentage points, +/- 5 percentage points and +/- 2 percentage points for the Survey of Churches, Pastors and Christians respectively." In other words, NECF confidently asserts that the results of this survey reflects a true picture of the real situation. If this is the case, we can safely assume that we could rely on the statistics of this Survey to make our judgement call.

Since this Survey was carried out in 2001, there does not seem to be any other comprehensive survey being carried out. But on the other hand, while the statistics of this survey may be slightly dated, it is doubted that there are any significant differences in the statistics between 2001 and the present day.

So, let's consider what the Basic Salary of a pastor of an NECF affiliated church looks like according to the Survey:
  • 19.4% earn less than RM1,000 per month
  • 45.8% earn between RM1,000-RM1,999 per month
  • 22.1% earn between RM2,000-RM2,999 per month
  • 8.4% earn between RM3,000-RM3,999 per month
  • 2.9% earn between RM4,000-RM4,999 per month
  • 1.4% earn more than RM5,000 per month

In other words, based on the above figure, approximately 87.3% of the pastors fall within the category of non-tax paying income earners according to the present tax structure.

In addition, the Survey also highlights the Other Income that a pastor might receive, include love gifts, allowances, utilities subsidies, insurances, book royalties, etc, as follow:

  • 37.8% receive other income of less than RM1,000 per year
  • 30.1% receive other income of RM1,000-RM2,999 per year
  • 12.8% receive other income of RM3,000-RM4,999 per year
  • 12.2% receive other income of RM5,000-RM9,999 per year
  • 6.1% receive other income of RM10,000-RM29,999 per year
  • 1.1% receive other income of more than RM30,000 per year

Now that we already have a picture of what a pastor earns, let us consider the following questions: Based on their earnings, what do the pastors think about their own salary? Is what they are earning adequate for them and to enable them to have some savings for their future and rainy days?

  • 20.7% indicate that it is adequate for the present and future (including children's education)
  • 53.0% indicate that it is adequate for the present only
  • 19.5% indicate that it is not inadequate but not a concern
  • 6.2% indicate that it is inadequate and negatively affecting family and ministry.

So what do the above statistics inform us? Does the salary that our pastor/full time worker receive according to the above figures represent fair wage based on the current level of inflation, cost and standard of living? Is it fair to say that 79.3% of the pastors feel that their present income level is inadequate or only adequate for the present? Is the church paying for their "workers" sufficiently? Would this level of income be an encouragement or hindrance for many others to enter into full-time Christian vocation? If not, what is the Church doing about it? Can the church afford to pay a little bit more? If so, what is stopping the church from paying a higher bracket of income? What is hindering the congregation to give a little bit more?

In addition, the Survey also notes that more than 17.3% of the pastors surveyed worked more than 60 hours a week. Coupled with inadequate salary, could this play a very significant role in which 61.0% of the pastors have in one time or another seriously thought of leaving their pastoral ministry? Could inadequate level of income be one of the factors of discouragement for the pastors?

I think I have more questions than answers. Any thoughts? Any comments?

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Sitiawan Roadshow: Sign Language? - 3

During our Sitiawan Roadshow (for some of the adventures posted earlier, see here and here), we traveled in a rather interesting vehicle. We thought it might be good if we learn some sign langauge in the event that we were stopped by the traffic police. Both Matthew and I found it rather amusing!

Apostle Paul Wrote Acts?

Sometimes, it can be rather humourous (and upset as well!) to read what the students write in their papers. One of my students and I just had a good laugh when I pointed out what he wrote in his paper:

"When Paul writes to his Gentiles converts in 1 Thess 1:9 and Acts 14:15, he reminds them...."

I asked, "Paul wrote Acts?"

He answered, "Oh my, why did I write that...I deserve a big slap from you...."

I should have done just that! Why did I let him go?

Monday, 27 August 2007

Psalm 23 - A Lecturer's Version

One of our students in the seminary posted a student's version of Psalm 23. I think it would be appropriate to respond with a lecturer's version too, so I come out with one:

Psalm 23: A Seminary Lecturer's Version

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be angry,
He keeps me from lying down when I should be marking the exams and papers that do not make sense,
He leads me besides my colleagues and we all shake our heads about the exams and papers,
He restores my faith in the students.
He guides me in using my red pen in correcting all the mistakes made by the students in the exams and papers.

Even though I walk through the valley of receiving bad evaluation from the students,
I will not have a nervous breakdown,
For you are with me.
My fellow colleagues and predecessors,
They comfort me for they too receive bad evaluation from the students.

You prepare me with a heart of humility to teach and learn from the students,
You anoint my head with wisdom to instruct the seminarians,
And my lectures won't runneth over time.

Surely patience and generosity shall follow me all the days of my life as a lecturer in marking the students' exams and papers,
And I shall dwell in STM until the days of my retirement (or, suggested by Dave and Blogpastor in the comments!)

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Raise Your Own Salary

I have been struggling with this issue for a while now. Some Christian organisations I know of practise the policy in which their staff workers are required to raise their own salaries from their own sources, be it from their personal contacts or church.

I confess that I find no rational argument for this practice. In fact, I think this practice is not even biblical because every employer must ensure that the workers are paid the wages due to them, and not the workers pay their own salaries (cf. Col 4:1; James 5:4)!

I believe the popularity of this practice of requiring workers to raise their own salaries comes from organisational leadership that tries at all costs to avoid raising funds themselves, even though fund-raising is universally acknowledged to be a primary responsibility of those in leadership positions or in the board of directors/trustees. I believe that it is the responsibility of the leadership of an organisation to take the lead in raising the funds needed to sustain that organisation, particularly the salaries of the workers, and not the other way around.

How many of us in "secular" employment would want to work for an employer that tells us to raise our own salaries? If the practice of raising one's salary is unheard of in "secular" employment, why is this practised in Christian organisation?

Is this another example of the sacred-secular divide in reality? Are we preaching one thing and practising another? Any thoughts on this?

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Day 25 From the 40-day Fast and Prayer Booklet

Today is Day 35 accodring to the NECF 40-Day Fast and Pray Booklet. Since it has something to do with theological education, perhaps it is good to reflect on what has been written by Rev Loh Soon Choy, a dear friend and senior academician at Malaysia Bible Seminari:

"What has been happening in Afghanistan, the Middle East and elsewhere since the infamous September 11 bombing of the Twin Towers in New York seems to have hardened further the perception that whether in Christendom or in Islam, “theologians” are dangerous or irrelevant.

"In actual fact, such events could be used to demonstrate the opposite claim: the very failure to critically reflect and theologise properly, leading to the possibility of not only ultra-fundamental Islamic groups like the Talibans or Al-Qaeda, but also the ultra-right wing, Biblethumping “evangelicals” who have been nicknamed “Christian Talibans”.

"At another level, without theological reflection, we can see that if there are some Muslims who are blindly pro-Arab and all things Arab, there are also some Christians who are blindly pro-Israel and all things Jewish. While there is more unity or tolerance among churches now, as among the major seminaries, there are continuing tensions between Church and Seminary. For the Seminary to follow the dictates of the Church uncritically is to forfeit its intellectual and prophetic witness to the sanctity and unity of all truth. Yet not to relate closely to the Church makes the Seminary an irrelevant ivory tower without a pastoral base.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Balik Kampung

Balik kampung..hohoho...balik kampung....

The Anak Kelate aka the budding NT scholar is going back to his kampung in Kota Bharu, the capital city of the state of Kelantan, this week.

Since there will be limited internet access, I will not be updating my blog until I return at the end of this week.

I am going to enjoy the autentic Nasi dagang, ayam percik, nasi kerabu, akok, etc.......(forget about calories....)

Photo: Central Market, Kota Bharu

OT and NT Colloquium - 1

The Rabbi has kickstarted the first OT and NT Colloquium. The issue raised is on the James-Paul debate. Readers of both Rabbi's and my blogs are invited to respond to this issue. Read Rabbi's post here.

Since I am on the road pretty much of this week, I will respond when I am back later this weekend.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Metrosexual is Out...Here Comes Retrosexual!

In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned that I used the word "metrosexual" to explain one of the fallacies of doing word study on compound words. I also highlighted that the students in the Exegetical Methods class were not aware of the meaning of "metrosexual" and that I gave a rather "cheeky" definition, much to the "horror" of my students.

Since then, I think I may have to add another word to my word study vocabulary to balance things a little bit. The latest Newsweek issue reports that the good-old rugged manly looks is making a comeback with more men seeking surgical solutions to create more hairy chests and breads, squarer chins, and more angular jaw lines. So say goodbye to "metrosexual" and hello again to "retrosexual"! So looks like I have to add another "sexual" word to my list.

One of our students, Gerrad, is quick to pick up this issue. I think he is right to say that some of those in my Exegetical Methods class who are "troubled" with the rise of metrosexuality (or my definition of metrosexual) can now breathe with relief and need not be too concerned about "men who are in touch with his feminine side," and about what's the latest in the men's cosmetic section in the stores!

Gerrad, wish you were in my class!

Sitiawan Roadshow: What to do if a Demon Possessed Man Comes to Town? - 2

Things can take on a new perspective when one spends sometime with the students in a very informal setting. This is no doubt true during our journey from Kuala Lumpur to Sitiawan. I have four very chatty students in my car, and there were no lack of revelations from them concerning life in the seminary.

Throughout the conversation in the almost 4-hour journey, I discovered some very creative ways students release their tension and reduce their stress level especially when the pressures of studies seem to be overwhelming.

One student did this some months ago by putting forth a case study in order to solicit response from other fellow students.

"Imagine that a demon possessed man walked into the seminary. In what ways do you think the lecturers in the seminary would respond? What do you think the lecturers would do or say in situation like this? Would they cast out the demons? Or???"

So the following were what the students think the lecturers would do and say:

Lecturer A: "It's better not to have anything to do with the demons. I better run away in the opposite direction...takut lah"

Lecturer B: "Wei, demon tai loh! Hurry up, come out of this person. Don't waste my time. You don't fool around ah..."

Lecturer C: "Look at me...I am more scarier than you, demon...better leave this person!"

Lecturer D: "I tell you ah, you demon, you better don't remain in that person; I tell you, you better come out; I tell you, you better listen to me; I tell you............................" this goes on until the demon got so tired of listening and decided to leave the person.

For what the students think the other lecturers would do or say...err....err...I think I better don't repeat it here. The readers will have to ask the students themselves.

But for the budding NT scholar, this was what the students thought he would say: "Let's take out the NA-27 and do an exegesis on the Greek text first."

Hmm...and I think I would like to add: "Let's see whether the evangelists record the incidents of Jesus casting out demons in aorist, present, or imperfect tense. Let's examine whether this is meant to be historical or gnomic...."

But on the other hand, I wonder what my colleagues would think the students would do...Let's see....let's start with....

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Sitiawan Roadshow - 1

I've just returned from our Sitiawan roadshow over the weekend. Together with four of my colleagues and eight students, we visited several Chinese Methodist Churches in Sitiawan to promote the ministry of the seminary. It was a tiring journey, but it was also an enjoyable one. I will post some of my reflections on the trip in the next couple of days.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

The Old and New Colloquium

After a few months of squabbling, calling each other "names" (such as "preface"; "after-thought"; "appendix") and getting a bit "physical," both the Rabbi and the budding NT scholar finally decided to patch up. After all, we both "complete" the Bible in the seminary, so it's best that we "work" together!

So the Rabbi has taken the initiative to come out with the suggestion of an occasional joint colloquium on issues related to the disciplines of biblical studies.

Read the rest of the Rabbi's proposal here.

So, do watch this space as we jointly discuss issues related to biblical studies (read Old and/or New Testament) in our respective blogs. Don't forget to check out the Rabbi's blog too.

Friday, 17 August 2007

No Sacred-Secular Divide...Really? Part 6 - Finale

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been reflecting on a series of posts on "No Sacred-Secular Divide...Really?" (for previous posts, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5). In the final post in this series, I would like to pick up my earlier comments on the survey of Viewpoints carried out by NECF during the National Pastors-Leaders Consultation on Nation Building that I participated in recently.

In this survey, delegates were asked to indicate whether they strongly disagree, partially disagree, partially agree, strongly agree, or being indifferent or having no opinion concerning a total of 28 Viewpoints touching on various issues confronting the church in Malaysia. These Viewpoints are designed to be open ended statements.

What intrigues me is that, out of the total 28 viewpoints, 10 of these are directly or indirectly related to the marketplace ministry which NECF identifies as one of the recent movements that deserves our attention. In other words, approximately 36% of the Viewpoints being surveyed is related to marketplace ministry itself. This figure represents an exceptionally high percentage focusing on merely one particular aspect of the Christian ministry. This strongly suggests that marketplace ministry is gaining "popularity" within the Church, or at least in the circles of people designing the questionnaire. It may also indicate NECF's wish in wanting to appraise, with some level of certainty, the stand of the pastors and leaders of its affiliated churches on this particular issue.

The viewpoints related to marketplace ministry are reproduced below (all emphasis original):

#4: When the world is transformed for Christ, it would be because we have more laypeople who have been transformed and are now transforming their workplaces and society.

#5: The church worship and programmes are primarily designed for SUNDAYS. It is time to make every day a worship service - whether in the marketplace or at home. Both the secular and the ministry are worship to the Lord.

#6: Today, churches measure success by the number of people within the four walls. The kingdom of God measures success through the transformation happening at home, at work, at play and in the society.

#8: It is the transformed life of the Christian disciples that changes society.

#10: Evangelism should first flow out of the Christians' lifestyle in the marketplace.

#11: It is time for the church to influence and penetrate every level of the society through its laypeople.

#12: God is transforming lives outside the church's structure, e.g. home-schooling, house-churches, marketplace ministries and Christian creative arts activities.

#13: Although professing to believe in Christian principles, many Christians today live in a way that is not much different from their non-Christian peers in the marketplace.

#19: Transformed Christians have begun to recognise that local church is not - and need not be - the centre of their spiritual adventure.

#20: Experience, maturity and character are more important than formal education. The congregation now takes the place of the seminaries in developing church leaders.

I am curious to know what would be the outcome of the survey, and I do hope NECF publishes the results of the survey soon.

While waiting eagerly for NECF to publish the results, my curiosity leads me to wonder what would be the possible response of the delegates to these viewpoints. Alternatively, I would also be curios to know if the readers of this blogs are asked to participate in this survey, what would the response be like? Which statements would you agree, disagree and why?

I must confess I am not sure what is the ultimate objective of this survey, apart from my conjecture above. But if I were to base my judgement call (which could be very wrong) on the way the statements are designed in order to solicit one's position, it naturally raises the red flag if a high percentage of the respondents partially agree or strongly agree with most the above Viewpoints.

If the Viewpoints are any indication of the direction of the marketplace ministry movement is going, it seems to me that the role and function of the Church has been largely removed from the equation. I may be very wrong here, but it seems to me that marketplace ministry and the Church appears to be two mutually exclusive expressions of the kingdom of God, if one were to agree to the Viewpoints. It seems to indicate that if there is any transformation of the society (just count how many times the word "transformation" and its cognates appear in the Viewpoints above), it is done primarily, if not, entirely through the laity or marketplace ministry at the price of excluding the church

I do believe in the priesthood of all believers. But my understanding of ecclesiology also informs me that any effective transformation of the society is not carried out merely through any individuals or "laypeople who has been transformed for Christ" but also the church, the body of Christ, and together in partnership with the "clergy" and "full time workers." And I do believe that God does call people into various vocations - be it the "sacred" and "secular" vocations. As such, any biblical transformation that we are talking about has to include the entire body of Christ, and not only a particular segment within the body of Christ. The local church is and should continue to be our centre of spiritual adventure (contra Viewpoint # 19).

The idea of Pastor Swap that I suggested in one of my earlier posts is to remind us that God calls us to different and diverse ministry, whether in the marketplace or in the church. The conversation between the church and the society, those involved in the "sacred" and "secular" employment must continue to engage each other in order for us to have meaningful and effective ministry for the sake of the kingdom. If the marketplace ministry movement believes that it is able to impact and transform the society to the exclusion of the church and the rest of the body of Christ, then I am concerned of the direction it is heading.

Perhaps it is time that both the "sacred" and "secular" recognise each other's calling and vocation, work together in conservation and dialogue, and partner with each other in impacting and transforming the society so that we could, collectively, be the salt and light of the world. Both "clergy" and "laity" need each other. Both the "congregations" and "seminaries" need to work closely together too (contra Viewpoint #20).

We cannot do it alone, and we should never dare to do it alone.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

To Sin Is To Know Forgiveness?

A student and friend in the seminary asked my take on this: "To sin is to know forgiveness."

I responded, "To forgive is to know forgiveness."

Does this make any sense?


Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Word Study & Metrosexual

A few weeks ago, I was explaining how to do word study in my Exegetical Methods class in the seminary. In the prosess, I also highlighted some of the fallacies of word study and the need to be aware of our assumptions especially when it comes to compound words.

As an illustration, I gave the example of a series of compound words such as homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, and transsexual that have one thing in common - all of them clearly describe the sexual orientation of a particular individual. However, not every compound word that ends with "sexual" carries the force of describing one's sexual orientation. To emphasise this point, I highlighted that the word "metrosexual" does not really describe a person's sexual orientation.

Then I received blank looks from those in the class. One student asked, "What is metrosexual? Is this a new word? Never heard of this before."

Opps...Wrong example to use...

But being cheeky as usual, I then gave a brief definition of a metrosexual as "an urban male that is in touch with his feminine side. He is one that is conscious of the latest male fashion, pays particular attention to his appearance, allocates a large portion of his budget for cosmetics, be a part of the gym and fitness culture, goes for spa, facial, and even hair removal, whether facial or elsewhere."

Opps...Not a very "appropriate" or "spiritual" definition to be given in a class in seminary!

One has to be there to witness the response I received, and the looks in the faces of some of the students. I would not want to imagine what went through their minds or what they think of me.

Someone in the class then commented something like this (which I freely paraphrase), "I do not know there is a male cosmetic section in the department store. You mean they sell male cosmetic nowadays?"

I think I can almost hear Steven Curtis Chapman, "I am speechless...."

Postscript: I wonder as ministers and future ministers of the gospel, how can we effectively reach out to our young people if we are simply not in touch with the contemporary culture? So, is it any wonder that in some urban churches, we are fast losing our youth and young adults simply because we are no longer relevant, or perhaps, we are not interested in what they are interested in, or we are not making any serious effort in moving with the times? Something for me to ponder...

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

I've Been Tagged

Alex describes me "as the Batman in Infinite Crisis. A battle weary Batman, having to constantly battles in a local seminary." true, especially when you have to deal with students like....opps, sorry, let's not go into details!!

I will now think of what other "creative"ways I could return the honour given me. It will be soon...soon...soon...

Thanks, Alex. It is a great honour to be tagged by you.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Homilectics Hotline

In my previous post, I highlighted my tight preaching schedule for the next couple of months accompanied by a rather interesting cartoon, reproduced in this post.

My colleague in church tries to assure me that the hotline number, 1-800-FORGIVE, will not not go bust.

Well, this might be true if he could help by designing a prerecorded message for the hotline, and it can go something like this...

Thank you for calling 1-800-FORGIVE in response to Kar Yong's sermon. Please listen to the following instructions:

If you don't like Kar Yong's sermon, please press 1;

If you think Kar Yong's sermon is too short, please press 2;

If you think Kar Yong's sermon is too long, please press 3;

If you think Kar Yong's sermon is too intellectual without any practical application, please press 4;

If you think Kar Yong's sermon is too boring, please press 5;

If you think Kar Yong's sermon lacks the anointing of the Holy Spirit, please press 6;

If you wish to speak to our customer care consultants, please press 0

This is what will happen:

If anyone presses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6, then this pre-recorded message will come on: "We thank you for participating in this survey. Once we have analysed the findings, we will inform Kar Yong about your response in helping him improve his sermons in the future. Thank you for calling 1-800-FORGIVE. Have a blessed day."

If anyone presses 0, they will hear this pre-recorded message: "Sorry, all our customer care consultants are busy at the moment. You call is very important to us, and please hold the line and your call will be attended to in the order that it is received. We are experiencing an unusual high volume of calls at the moment, and the estimated time for your call to be answered by our customer care consultant is 20 minutes. Please hold the line and we will attend to you as soon as the first customer care consultant is available."

Then my recorded sermon will come on for the caller to listen to while he/she holds the line.

If Ionstorm can put this in place, then I think the hotline will definitely not go bust...

Ionstorm, can you help?

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Homiletics and Reality

Beginning this Sunday, I will be having a series of preaching engagements for the next couple of months in various churches in different parts of the country. Despite my personality type (well, at least that's what the test says!), I am never really comfortable with preaching. For me, it has always been a great struggle preparing a sermon, not to even mention delivering it. So I would appreciate prayers for divine enablement.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

My Personality Type: ENTP??

A friend alerted me to the personality test. So I checked it out.

My personality type: ENTP.

Those who know me well, what do you think? Any truth?

Click to view my Personality Profile page

New Perspective on Paul

Beginning students on Pauline studies often find it difficult to grasp the understanding of the New Perspective on Paul. The proliferation of the literature on this subject is wide and diverse, and can easily confuse any beginners taking the first few initial steps trying to navigate through the dense forest of Pauline studies.

Simon Gathecole has recently written a very helpful article, What did Paul Really Mean, in the August 2007 issue of Christianity Today on the New Perspective on Paul in a non technical language. It is easy to read and gives a concise introduction and summary of the subject matter without the usual clutter of references found in academic writing.

While I may not fully agree with the analysis and the summary of Gathercole, this article is a good start for beginning students and also a timely refresher for mature students of Paul.

Read the complete article here. Check out also the links to other helpful resources on the New Perspective on Paul at the end of this article. Not to be missed is also the link to Further Reading on the New Perspective. This reading list provides the "basic" reading required for anyone interested in the subject matter.

Official Launch of OHMSI

The Oriental Hearts and Minds Institute, which is established on 31 July 2004, will be officially launched on the 15 September 2007 at the Petaling Jaya Gospel Hall, Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya from 10.00am to 12.00pm.

In conjunction with the OMSHI launch, there will be a Launch Dialogue entitled, "Was Jesus Political?"

Details of the dialogue are as follow:

  • Moderator: Bishop Dr Hwa Yung

  • Speakers: Dr Lim Kar Yong, Lecturer in New Testament Studies, STM; and Dr K. J. John, Executive Director, OHMSI.

  • Commentators: Rev Dr Hermen Shastri, General Secretary, CCM; Goh Keat Peng, Former General Secretary, CFM; Dr Beth Baikan; and representatives of NECF and an active Christian Organization (to be confirmed at a later date).
Do support OHMSI for this event (read: also come and support me lah). For further information, please contact Dr K. J. John. His contact details can be found here.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Gay Church Comes to Town

It's official - a new gay church will be established by a Malaysian gay pastor in Kuala Lumpur this weekend.

Read about it today's The Star Online here.

Hmmm....any reason why Christianity is widely featured in the press two days in a row (see my earlier post for yesterdays' news)?

Pastor Praying for A Better Physique for Female Members

The Star Online on August 9 reported that the pastor of an independent church in Kuala Lumpur is being "investigated by the police following allegations of intimidation, deception and wrong teachings by several of its former followers."

That's not all! According to the this news report, "Church bodies are also outraged over claims by the pastor that female members can be made more attractive and have better physique through his “miracle healings.” Hmmm....good news for female members who wants a quick and "free" complete makeover of their physique. There is even hope for a 70-year old grandmother, according to the news report.

In addition, "the church, which allegedly has RM62.9mil in its accounts, has been under scrutiny by the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF)."

What's is happening to the church in Malaysia?

Read the rest of the news report here.

Cartoon credit: Copyright Gospel Communications International, Inc -

Thursday, 9 August 2007

No Sacred-Secular Divide...Really? Let's Try Pastor Swap..Part 5

Someone told me some weeks ago that full-time workers and pastors are pretty free with nothing much to do. About the same time, someone also remarked that apart from my schedule that looks rather busy over the weekends with various preaching and teaching engagements, the rest of the week should be rather free for me. This person figured out that after all, I only have an average teaching load of 9 hours per week plus several post postgraduate supervision. As such, how busy can I get?

On the other hand, these people claim that those in the "secular" work are very stressed, busy, and do not have much free time like the full-time workers and pastors. After all, their weekends are spent in church and church related activities. They do not have an additional day off like the full-time workers who typically have the Mondays off.

In fact, one of the issues that surfaced in the recent Marketplace Ministry Roundtable discussion group in the NECF National Pastors-Leaders Consultation on Nation Building is the lack of understanding on the part of the clergy or pastors concerning the struggles of those in the marketplace. While to a certain extent, there may be some truth in this observation, a couple of delegates reminded the participants that this is not always the case. Many of the clergy/pastors have had many years of marketplace experience before entering "full time ministry." One even mentioned that while one of her pastors never had any marketplace experience, this pastor clearly understands the issues she faces in the marketplace and is prepared to walk alongside her.

One delegate in the rountable discussion then suggested perhaps clergy/pastors should take some time off to have some years of experience in the marketplace.

Hmmm...not a bad idea, I think, if there is anyone out there who is willing to employ pastors. Better still, perhaps we could do something like the ABC's reality show, Wife Swap. Let's call it Pastor Swap. I would be happy to return to the "secular" world, and perhaps someone would like to step into the shoes of a "full-time worker" and take over my place for a few weeks. Oh yes, don't forget, that would include swapping the salary as well!

Perhaps at the end of the "swap," we could have an honest exchange of views and a frank assessment of each other roles. It would be interesting to know what kind of experience and lessons we would have learned.

Any takers? sacred-secular divide?

p.s. - For earlier posts on this subject, see here, here, here and here.


Wednesday, 8 August 2007

No Sacred-Secular Divide...Really? Part 4

My understanding of vocation, calling and work was partly shaped while I was a seminarian in the US. As an international student, I was allowed to work up to a maximum of 20 hours/week. This was the advantage that I maximised it fully in order to support my studies. One of the many jobs I took as a seminarian was a cleaner, a job that was easily and usually available for international students from the Two-Thirds World. As a cleaner, I had to clear the rubbish, clean the toilets and vacuum the carpet in the common areas in one of the dorms.

Taking up the position of a cleaner was the direct opposite of my career prior to entering seminary. I had just resigned from my job with a large property developer where I was involved in the portfolios of business development, property administration and property management. One of my functions was to manage several properties under the group's umbrella. This was achieved through working together with a property management team,including a team of cleaners. Back in those "good old" days in the office, I did not even have to lift a finger to throw any rubbish and clean the toilet. A phone call away would do the job.

But the situation in the seminary was very different. All of a sudden, I found myself on the other side of the equation in terms of my "career." This was then I discovered the meaning of vocation, calling and work. I must confess that the first couple of weeks were rather difficult for me to work as a cleaner - it's not that I despised the work, but I could not help but to make comparison between myself and the cleaners back in my previous job that I left a few months earlier. But I discovered that even as a cleaner in seminary, there was dignity in my work. I was earning an honest wage. I was making ends meet. But beyond that, I was making the dorm a much more pleasurable and conducive place for my other fellow students to live and work in. I was contributing, in a small way, to the well-being of the fellow seminarians.

It was then I suddenly realised that cleaners were not invisible workers in an organisation. They had a big role to play. They made significant contribution to the lives of the office workers. If only I realised this fact while I was still practising as a property valuer. If I had realised this, I would have gone the extra mile in ensuring that the needs and welfare of the cleaners in my previous office were better taken care of.

If I could turn back the clock and go back to my previous career, I would have made more frequent visits to see cleaners in their common room and find out what could have been done to make their work more enjoyable and pleasurable. Perhaps I could have provided an extra microwave, kettle, and perhaps some hot beverage for them for their tea break. Perhaps a provision of a locker could also have added to their convenience. Perhaps I should have looked into the equipment used daily by them. Perhaps their common room could use with a coat of fresh paint to brighten up the place....the the list goes on.

To me, this was one small area I could have been a positive influence and agent of transformation in the marketplace - it is to care for and demonstrate the love of Christ to people in our workplace regardless of position and influence, status and power and other artificial boundaries that we may have drawn up intentionally and unintentionally.

More often than not, reaching to the poor and marginalised in the marketplace is void of glamour and does not have the ingredients of making it into "success" story. Neither will it earn us the reputation of being "successful" or throw us into position of limelight in the eyes of others (for my previous posts on this subject, see here, here, and here).

Having said that, any takers for the vacancy as a cleaner?

Cartoon credit: Tim Hicks

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

No Sacred-Secular Divide...Really? Part 3

In my previous post, I hinted that perhaps underpinning the common understanding of marketplace ministry today is a variation of the prosperity gospel. Of course, having said that, I must also qualify that there are genuine proponents of the marketplace ministry like R. Paul Stevens, Robert Banks and William Diehl, who are biblically and theologically sound (surprisingly and curiously, I did not hear their names being mentioned, at least in the rountable discussion that I mentioned in my earlier post. Perhaps I am wrong here).

One does not need to go too far to have a taste of how far one can push the boundaries in the name of marketplace ministry and being salt and light in the marketplace. The recent dance video release by Sun Ho, former pastor of City Harvest Church in Singapore, has caused quite a fair bit of stir, as honestly assessed by Blogpastor in his post. The dance video is available in YouTube and the link is available in Alex Tang's blog.

Far too frequently, we often cite examples of success (read monetary success) as positive influence of Christians in the marketplace and as an indication of God's approval, blessings and anointing. Even in the recent NECF National Pastors-Leaders Consultation on Nation Building, the success of biblical examples of Joseph and Daniel is given prominence as examples that believers in the marketplace should emulate.

There is no denying that Joseph and Daniel are excellent biblical examples of positive influence in the marketplace. But my uneasiness in these oft quoted examples is the fact that the success side of the story has been given far too much emphasis. There is hardly any mention of the failures (as seen in the eyes of many) in the lives of these characters. There is no mention of the long process of character building and moulding that took place in the experience of being rejected by family, in betrayal, in prison, in sufferings, in the severe testing of one's faith as characterised in the lives of Joseph and Daniel. How many Christians in the marketplace would want to pay the price Joseph paid before becoming "successful'? How many would want their faith to be tested in the lion's den?

To be personal encounter and exposure to the marketplace ministry that shapes my present understanding.

Monday, 6 August 2007

No Sacred-Secular Divide...Really? Part 2

In my previous post, I highlighted the rise in the interest of the "marketplace ministry" in both the church and Christian organisation.

In the recent NECF National Pastors-Leaders Consultation on Nation Building that I attended, I participated in the small group discussion on marketplace ministry. While there are many interesting and legitimate issues raised in the roundtable discussion, I am also very concerned to hear some of the comments that were being expressed. Maybe I am wrong here, and I stand corrected. I have a strong suspicion that underpinning the prevailing understanding of marketplace ministry is partially driven by one's understanding of success and perhaps to a certain extent, a hint of the prosperity gospel.

I could not help but to notice the frequent repetitions on the emphasis of success in business and that one needs to be in position of power and influence (read CEO, senior management or owner of business) to be used as God's agent for transformation. I could almost sense the frustration of a young professional in the roundtable when he raised the question on how as a member of junior management, he could live out his life as salt and light in his workplace. He raised the issue on how he could be an agent of transformation when he was only in junior management. He also asked who would be guiding him in his struggles and frustrations about issues confronting him in the marketplace.

Someone in the roundtable gave this young man this suggestion (and I paraphrase slightly): "Pray, brother, for God to give you a promotion to a higher position. I believe that if God has placed you there, it is for a purpose, so ask God for that promotion. Then you can be an agent for transformation."

An agent of transformation only when I am a position of power and influence? I agree that one could do more when one is in a position of power and influence. But does that mean I cannot be an agent of transformation when I am in a junior position?

I offered my comment in the roundtable discussion that much more serious theological reflection needs to be done in our understanding of marketplace ministry. I am not sure how well this is received and taken note of. Hopefully, there could be further discussion on some of these issues highlighted in the rountable.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

No Secular-Sacred Divide...Really? Part 1

In recent years, the buzzword in many Christian circles is "marketplace ministry." According to the proponents of the marketplace ministry, the so-called sacred-secular or clergy-laity divide is simply regarded as an artificial division that is not biblically based. This issue emerged repeatedly in the recent Tentmakers International Congress (for my comments on the Congress, see here, here, here and here) and the NECF National Pastors-Leaders Consultation in Nation Building that I attended recently.

While I agree that the sacred-secular and clergy-laity divide is indeed an artificial one, in reality, this divide is clearly emphasised in the church today by both the "clergy" and "laity." I once spoke to a church leader that is championing the marketplace ministry some years ago. I asked this person whether he sincerely believed that the so-called existing divide between the sacred-secular needed to be addressed in the church. He gave me an affirmative answer.

Being cheeky, I then asked, "If this is the case, are you prepared to do everything you could to remove the great divide between the clergy and laity?"

He responded, "Yes, I am."

"Then are you going to address the great divide in the salary of the clergy and laity?" I asked.

"No," he answered. "The full-time workers are called by God to serve him in this capacity while the laity is not. So we definitely cannot pay them the market rate. After all, God also calls this group of full-time workers to trust Him to provide for their daily needs." much for the so-called sacred-secular divide being an artificial one.

Credit: Cartoon from

Saturday, 4 August 2007

The Danger of Reading The Bible From A Mobile Phone

I am not a very tekkie person. So when it comes to technology and gadgets, I am years behind time. My students in the seminary have been reading the bible from their mobile phones....and I am still reading from my good old NA 27 and, sometimes, I would read it from Bibleworks installed in my notebook.

During one of the lectures in my Exegesis of 1 Corinthians class, I asked one of the students, let's call him S, to read a passage from 1 Corinthians. So S took out his mobile phone and read from it. But I noticed that the reading was not that particularly smooth. There were pauses and interruptions in his reading. And I also noticed that there were few students giggling away in the class. Hmmm...I wondered what was going on in the class.

Only later on did I find out that another student in the class was calling S on his mobile phone while he was reading the passage. And he kept on calling S several times. So, this explained the interruptions of the reading of the passage....and the giggles in the class.

So much for modern technology. The moral of the story is that there is still nothing like the good old NA 27 where you can be guaranteed there will not be any unnecessary interruptions such as the one described earlier. Well, reading from NA 27 might also save you from some embarrassment and, not to mention, from incurring the "wrath" of some of the lecturers as well....Think about it!! Bring your Bibles or NA 27 to class next time, lah!!!

The Temptation of A Bibliophile

I have been trying to resist this temptation - visiting Canaanland's Midnight Sale that began this evening. But an SMS from another fellow bibliophile and partner-in-crime, Pearlie, sparked off the strong urge within me that I find futile to resist. Pearlie asked my opinion whether it was worthwhile for her to purchase a couple of books she has picked (Hah... I wonder who is ever going to pay me commission for doing all this recommendation...). A few minutes later, she sent me another SMS, saying she had picked up 8 books.

That's it! I knew resistance was futile. So I headed to Canaanland immediately to check out for myself the goodies on sale. But I must admit, I practised a bit more "retraint" compared to Pearlie. I managed to pick up ONLY 2 books.

The first book, Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006) is one that I have trying to get hold of for sometime. Having personally met and interacted with Markus Bockmuehl, I have very high respect for him. At a time of deep disagreements about the nature and purpose of academic biblical studies, Bockmuehl advocates the recovery of a plural but common conversation on the subject of what the New Testament is about. This book begins with an assessment of current New Testament studies, identifying both persistent challenges and some promising proposals. Subsequent chapters explore two such proposals. First, ground for common conversation lies in taking seriously the readers and readings the text implies. Second, Bockmuehl explores the text’s early effective history by a study of apostolic memory in the early church. This is a very engaging and inspiring book, and I look forward to reading it with great detail later on, and I know I will definitely learn much from Bockmuehl.

The second book that I picked up is Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006) by missiologist Stanley Skreslet. In this book, Skreslet searches for new, more holistic images of mission from Scripture. Undertaking a novel exegetical study of mission in the New Testament, he highlights five actions that depict the witness of Jesus’ first followers: announcing good news, sharing Christ with friends, interpreting the gospel, shepherding, and building/planting. After carefully examining key biblical passages, Skreslet draws out the implications of these five images for the theology of mission and lets each image take shape visually through an array of Western and non-Western art, an area that I personally find intriguing. This is one of the reasons I purchased this book. Without doubt, Picturing Christian Witness will provoke readers to imagine what mission will look like when actively embodied by contemporary disciples of Jesus.

The temptation and quest of a bibliophile during the midnight sale, encouraged by partner-in-crime, left me poorer in my pocket and, hopefully, richer in my understanding of the current New Testament scholarship that may be beneficial to the students in the seminary.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Classroom Ideas for Teaching the Bible

In the seminary, we are now in the middle of the second semester, and I have been wondering for some weeks now how to make my class on the Introduction to the New Testament a little bit more interesting.

I have not been known to be a very particularly engaging and interesting instructor in this course. Quite a number of students have found the class "a bit boring" (to put it very mildly), and one has suggested that perhaps there should be a makeover of "menu" for the class. Well, can one expect the study of synoptic problem or the quest of the historical Jesus to be spiritually exciting and inspiring for first year seminarians, many of whom come from a confessional background? Further compounding to the problems faced in the class is the fact that it is scheduled in the evening from 7.30-10.30pm, after a tiring day full of lectures and activities for most of the students in the class. Energy level is at all day low in the late evening.

After putting in some thoughts, I decided that perhaps I should try out some of the ideas, with appropriate modification for Asian contexts, found in the volume edited by Mark Roncace and Patrick Gray, Teaching the Bible: Practical Strategies for Classroom Instruction, Resources for Biblical Study 49 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature 2005).

This book is a collection of ideas and activities written by dozens of innovative college and seminary professors outlining effective classroom strategies—with a focus on active learning—for both the new teacher and veteran professor alike. It includes everything from ways to incorporate film, literature, art, and music to classroom writing assignments and exercises for groups and individuals. The book assumes an academic approach to the Bible but represents a wide range of methodological, theological, and ideological perspectives.

Let me try out some of the ideas from this book and see whether it helps to make the class more exciting, interesting and inspiring with a change of "menu." If there is any positive outcome, I might post it later on. Wish me luck!

Thursday, 2 August 2007

JSNT Alert: Vol 30/1 September 2007

A new issue of Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Vol. 30, No. 1 (September 2007), has been made available. This issue is a special issue focusing on New Testament Interpretations in Africa.

In particular, I would like to highlight the interesting article by J. Ayodeji Adewuya on "Revisiting 1 Corinthians 11.27-34: Paul's Discussion of the Lord's Supper and African Meals." Adewuya first read this paper in the SBL International Meeting 2006, Edinburgh, and we had a good time interacting with his paper. I'm so glad that it is finally published.

The contents are as follow:

Jean-Claude Loba-Mkole and Nicholas H. Taylor
Journal for the Study of the New Testament 2007;30 3-5

The New Testament and Intercultural Exegesis in Africa
Jean-Claude Loba-Mkole
Journal for the Study of the New Testament 2007;30 7-28

Opening a Narrative Programme: Luke 4.16-30 and the Black Bagr Narrative
Richard K. Baawobr
Journal for the Study of the New Testament 2007;30 29-53

Head-Waiter and Bridegroom of the Wedding at Cana: Structure and Meaning of John 2.1-12
Jean-Bosco Matand Bulembat
Journal for the Study of the New Testament 2007;30 55-73

A Dialogical Exegesis of Romans 3.25a
John D.K. Ekem
Journal for the Study of the New Testament 2007;30 75-93

Revisiting 1 Corinthians 11.27-34: Paul's Discussion of the Lord's Supper and African Meals
J. Ayodeji Adewuya
Journal for the Study of the New Testament 2007;30 95-112

Hearing the Politics of Peace in Ephesians: A Proposal from an African Postcolonial Perspective
Gosnell L. Yorke
Journal for the Study of the New Testament 2007;30 113-127

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Review of Biblical Literature July 30, 2007

The following new reviews have been added to the Review of Biblical Literature on July 30, 2007.

There are many interesting reviews in this issue. Notably, I wish to highlight the compilation of essays from the 2005 Limerick conference (a conference that I missed, unfortunately) edited by Thomas L. Brodie, Dennis MacDonald, and Stanley E. Porter, The Intertextuality of the Epistles: Explorations of Theory and Practice. This volume is certainly worth engaging, but the price of the book could be rather prohibitive.

Octavian D. Baban
On the Road Encounters in Luke-Acts: Hellenistic Mimesis and Luke's Theology of the Way
Reviewed by Thomas L. Brodie

Stephen Barton, ed.
The Cambridge Companion to the Gospels
Reviewed by Paul Foster

Dianne Bergant
Israel's Story: Part One
Reviewed by Sven Petry

John A. Bertone
The Law of the Spirit: Experience of the Spirit and Displacement of the Law in Romans 8:1-16
Reviewed by Volker Rabens

Thomas L. Brodie, Dennis MacDonald, and Stanley E. Porter, eds.
The Intertextuality of the Epistles: Explorations of Theory and Practice
Reviewed by Korinna Zamfir

Trevor J. Burke and J. Keith Elliott, eds.
Paul and the Corinthians: Studies on a Community in Conflict. Essays in Honour of Margaret Thrall
Reviewed by Joubert Stephan

Jacques Cazeaux
Le partage de minuit: Essai sur la Genèse
Reviewed by Hugh S. Pyper

Dorothea Erbele-Küster and Detlef Dieckmann, eds.
"Du hast mich aus meiner Mutter Leib gezogen": Beiträge zur Geburt im Alten Testament
Reviewed by Silvia Schroer

Dennis Hamm
The Acts of the Apostles
Reviewed by Steve Walton

James L. Kugel, ed.
Prayers That Cite Scripture
Reviewed by Marvin A. Sweeney

James Limburg
Encountering Ecclesiastes: A Book for Our Time
Reviewed by David Brian Warner

Mark Munn
The Mother of the Gods, Athens, and the Tyranny of Asia: A Study of Sovereignty in Ancient Religion
Reviewed by Gerhard van den Heever

Mikeal Parsons
Luke: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist
Reviewed by Robert C. Tannehill

Susanne Rudnig-ZeltHoseastudien: Redaktionskritische Untersuchungen zur Genese des Hoseabuches
Reviewed by Eberhard Bons

Wolfgang Schrage
Vorsehung Gottes? Zur Rede von der providentia Dei in der Antike und im Neuen Testament
Reviewed by Michael Labahn

Mikael Sjöberg
Wrestling with Textual Violence: The Jephthah Narrative in Antiquity and Modernity
Reviewed by Rüdiger Bartelmus