The lesson of obedience

14 07 2009

If we are serious about what Jesus says: “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”, we need to contemplate what it means to deny himself.

In the webster dictionary, the word deny means: (1) declare untrue, (2) restrain oneself from gratification of desires. Its Chinese translation, “she ji“, is perfect, meaning giving up yourself and making God’s will your will and God’s heart your heart. But still, what does it indicate to “restrain oneself” or to “give up oneself”?

God knows how hard it is for us to understand or to implement this. So He has given us His son, a perfect example to follow.  Hebrews 4: 7-10 writes:

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and once made perfect, he became the source of etneral salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Did you catch the key words—submission, obedience? What is result?— source of eternal salvation for all and high priest. And yet, what is the process that Jesus has experienced?—“prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears”. What a wonderful example of denying yourself!

The process of denying yourself is an one of  placing full trust in God and obeying him. Full trust in God means that you are more than happy to make this decision of denying yourself in that you’ve got faith that God will fulfill His promise for you — providing a way of righteousness and a better country to live, a heavenly one.  Obedience, on the other hand, suggests that you  can still submit yourself and follow Him when your will is different from God’s will or purpose. This is hard work; it’s even harder when you are in an uneasy situation of suffering and struggling. When such things happen to me, I can only bow down and pray: “God, help me. I am a man of little faith. God, help!”

Now comes the question: how to be a man who obeys God?

Let me use my own example here (btw, it’s a bad example). In my research group, I am often dubbed as “the guy who likes arguing”. This is somewhat true; sometimes  myself even don’t understand why I cannot behave like other students just to follow my adviser’s ideas and do what he wants me to do. The independent and critical thinker in me almost always prompts me to propose a different opinion whenever I am in a meeting with my adviser. (In a sense I have realized that I’ve overused my capability of independent and critical thinking due to personal pride.) That sometimes puts me in a difficult situation when I start to argue for my own ideas and he starts to get mad. You can guess what happens afterwards.

I therefore started to question myself: if I belong to God who wants me to fully trust him and obey him, why I cannot even obey my immediate boss?  How should I learn from Jesus in every little thing in my life?

This reminds me of Luke 16:10: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”  So the point is to start practice obedience by obeying your earthly boss, parents, teachers every day. This is not to say that we will lose our independent thinking and principles (of course, when they request us to do things against the teachings of the Bible, we should definitely say NO), but we are endeavoring to humble ourselves and practice obedience when we disagree with the ones superior to us in knowledge or authority. Little by little, we are de facto learning how to obey God who is superior to all of us, completely righteous, and unbiased. In this very process, our faith grows and we are willing to trust Him more and more.

Clearly, obedience calls for life-long learning. Although we will be not able to fully submit ourselves to God like what Jesus the Son of God did, we can, by God’s grace, make process day after day until the day we see Him.


What God has promised

9 07 2009

These days a Chinese friend of mine who just got out of hospital stay with me in my apartment. He suffered from schizophrenia for a while, and he dared not go home after leaving hospital due to some imaginary bad memories in his mind about his apartment. I am happy to have him stay in my place, where I hope I can be of help during his process of recovery.

All I can tell by looking at him is that he has been lonely for a long time, eager for friendship and meaning of life. He is not a Christian as yet, but he showed up in my fellowship and church many times (that’s how I got to know him), and I know he has been searching for something really precious to his life. He still has concerns about Christianity, but he told me “it’s only when we become sick or desperately need help that we realize that we are feeble and weak human beings; the love from Christians warms my heart”.  

His condition reminds me of the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18. My friend is a lost sheep; in a sense we all are or have been. But the words of Jesus our shepherd are so comforting: “If he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way, you Father in heaven is not wiling that any of these little ones should be lost.” Somehow I have got a strong faith that God will find him back. I don’t know when and where, but in God’s due course. 

In addition, while I am joyful about the betterment of his mental condition, I have strongly felt that there is probably nothing more important for us than a healthy body and mind and a happy family.  Yet sadly, we don’t usually realize that until one day we lose them. Moreover, bad things occur all the time. Some sufferings fall upon us because of human’s sins (just simply looking at what happened in West Xinjiang Autonomous Region, China and in Iran and in North Korea). Some misfortunes, nevertheless, happen for no reasons (or reasons we don’t know); think about Job’s conditions. One frequently asked question from non-Christians for Christians is: “Why are there pains and sufferings on innocent people?”  I have no idea; even Solomon, a man of wisdom, says “while I was still searching, but no finding”. But remember what Ecclesiastes 9: 14 says? “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future.” Maybe by allowing us to stay in rough conditions, God offers us an opportunity to learn to be humble, faithful, and fully dependent on Him; maybe He has got you a special plan, to realize which calls for some tough training. You would say, “hey man, it’s easier said than done, right?” That’s true; that’s the lesson we need to learn during our whole lifetime.

There is one song I really like, which I think is also suitable for the ending of this essay, What God has promised.

God has not promised

Skies always blue,

Flower-strewn pathways

All our lives thro’;

God has not promised

Sun without rain,

Joy without sorrow,

Peace without pain.


God has not promised

We shall not know

Toil and temptation,

Trouble and woe;

He has not told us

We shall not bear

Many a burden,

Many a care.

But God has promised

Strength for the day,

Rest for the laborer,

Light for the way,

Grace for the trials,

Help from above,

Unfailing sympathy,

Undying love.

May peace and joy from God our Father be with you all.


A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash

3 07 2009

A vivid story about a high school teacher on the front line as Science and Faith clash.

“Science explores nature by testing and gathering data,” he said. “It can’t tell you what’s right and wrong. It doesn’t address ethics. But it is not anti-religion. Science and religion just ask different questions.”

The Pastor As Scholar: A Personal Journey

3 07 2009

A very intriguing and inspiring read.

The Pastor As Scholar: A Personal Journey by Pastor John Piper at Bethelehem Baptist Church in Mpls.  

I was really touched by how God has been training, equipping, and leading him all the way along until today. Can you believe, pastoring a church of more than 900, John used to be “paralyzed with anxiety about speaking and choked up to completely that it was physically impossible to read or speak before any size group”.  Yet with a desire for God, John continously worked on his skills in critical thinking, reading, reasoning, and speaking. And God fully makes use of those!   This is reminiscent of 1 Timothy 4: 14: “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through  a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you”.

Most of all, I echo him on his understanding about schlarship:

What scholarly would mean for me  is that the greatest object of knowledge is God and that he has revealed himself authoritatively in a Book.  And that I should work with all my might and all my heart and all my soul and all my mind to know him through that Book and to make him known.


Summer reading list

1 07 2009

I’m in the middle of my summer now. It’s great to be in summer, when MN starts to have some nice weather (as opposed to its long and severe winter) and I am free from taking any classes. I can spend lots of time reading and thinking about my own research. Here I would like to share with you my summer reading list. I am also hoping to post some of my book reviews from now until September.

Benjamin Franklin, by Edmund S. Morgan. Yale University Press.

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, Macmillian Press.

Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism  and the Christian Faith, by Eric. O. Jacobsen et al., Brazos Press.

Traffic: Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us), by Tom Vanderbilt, Vintage.

Death and Life of Great American Cities, by  Jane Jacobs.

Economics, by Paul Samuelson, MIT Press.

Six Degrees: the science of a connected age, by D. J. Watts. W.W.Norton & Company.

If you have more books to recommend, feel free to drop me a line. Have a enjoyable and fruitful summer! 🙂

Gorilla v.s. God

25 06 2009

This is a hilarious story. Yesterday in a casual chat my colleague BM shared with me that she could consider marrying one believing in any religion and philosophy. Yet another colleague of mine, J, a Christian brother, commented that “I don’t believe we come from Gorillas!”  Seeing BM almost freak out after hearing this argument, another guy (by the name of SJ) patted her on the back, saying “then, Bernie, you should marry someone who is descended from Gorillas.”  🙂

Besides showcasing the sense of humor that my colleagues have got (they are indeed so funny, aren’t they), I started to contemplate one question that Bernie proposed: how do you, as Christians and scientists, to live with the evolutionary theory which prevails in the science arena? 

This is not an easy question. I remember a funny talk show featuring Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, on the topic of Christian faith and evolution. When Francis claimed that he is a believer and that he also supports many principles in evolution and the human genome, the interviewer joked with him playfully, “So, are you the only Christian who will end up in the hell?” 

But Collins does take both science and God seriously. In his book The Language of God, Collins argues that there is a possibility of “a richly satisfying harmony between the scientific and spiritual world views”.  I had the opportunity to see him in an InterVarsity conference in Chicago last December. When confronted with hard questions, he was never wishy-washy, but faced them directly and firmly. No doubt he is a scientist, and also I can clearly see that God is living in him. 

As a believer, I, too, sometimes struggle about the seemingly existing conflicts between the Darwinian theory and God’s creation in explaining the source of human beings, the existence of dinosaurs , and diversity of species. Even in the Bible, all is not clearly revealed. Yes, it starts by stating that God created the world in seven days, and then the story of Adam and Eve and the fall of man follows. Could something happen before and after that?  Possibly, but we don’t know, since we cannot go back to the history. That’s probably God’s mystery, something that is yet to be found. In addition, I was also once bewildered by the difference between Adam Smith’s theory that people’s selfish behavior in a free market is good for the benefit of all and the Bible’s teaching of “loving our neighbor as ourselves”.  (Well, maybe the collapse of the US stock market this year has shown that Adam’s theory is likely to be flawed in many aspects.)

Despite the challenges, I’ve known clearly how God is working in my life, as well as in many other people’s lives, and I never want to bend the teachings of the Bible just to cater to the satisfaction of the secular world.  I agree with Collins that science is a powerful tool to understand the natural world; yet as Collins also indicated, “God’s domain is in the spiritual world… it must be examined with the heart, mind, and the soul — and the mind must find a way to embrace both realms.”

Psalms 112 says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of the wisdom”.  The real and big wisdom we can ever find is in our creator, God the Lord.

Joe Wright’s prayer for Kansas City

22 06 2009

It was old. But the “politically incorrect” prayer by Pastor Joe Wright before the Kansas House of Representatives in 1996 is still thought-provoking.

Heavenly Father, we come before You today to ask Your forgiveness and seek Your direction and guidance. Lord, we know Your word says, “Woe to those who call evil good,” but that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted to our values.

We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it moral pluralism.

We have worshipped other gods and called it multi-culturalism.

We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.

We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.

We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation.

We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.

We have killed our unborn and called it choice.

We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.

We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building esteem.

We have abused power and called it political savvy.

We have coveted our neighbors’ possessions and called it ambition.

We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.

We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our fore-fathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us oh God and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.

Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas, and who have been ordained by You, to govern this great state. Grant them Your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of Your will. I ask it in the name of Your Son, the Living Savior, Jesus Christ.