I met a talking snake

Talking_Snake_I met a talking snake as I trekked the Bukit Timah Hill.

With shaking head and cold eyes, the snake hissed:  Aren’t you surprised?

No, why should I be? I am a pastor and the Bible has stories of a talking snake and a talking donkey.  It has a rod that turned into a snake, and a virgin that gave birth to a child. Why would I be surprised?

Snake:  But a talking snake is totally contrary to normal human experience. It is just totally unscientific and irrational. Doesn’t that bother you?

Pastor: Frankly it does unsettle me at times that there is a talking snake in the Bible. I mean, I’ve seen snakes in Penang, and in the Singapore zoo, and on TV but never a talking snake. However, this dissonance has never derailed my faith in Christ.

Snake: You should explore that dissonance and it should cause you to weigh the facts and throw the Bible with all its superstitions, scientific inaccuracies, and myths out of your life. Snakes don’t talk and trees don’t impart knowledge.

Pastor: Animals have been shown to be able to communicate among themselves. Some humans demonstrate an uncanny ability to communicate with animals, albeit at an elemental level.  Why then can’t you conceive that in a pre-Fall world, there could have been an amazing harmony and an incredibly higher level of communications among God’s creatures than is seen now. Though inconceivable now because of the Fall, couldn’t it have been different then?

Snake: Ridiculous! Utter nonsense. Sheer speculation.

Pastor: Well, it’s just a thought.  Perhaps you should be more open to seemingly impossible possibilities. After all, creation keeps us on tiptoe with strange and magical surprises in nature and in the invisible realm. That snake probably never talked again after tempting Eve. I have seen cases of evil spirits temporarily talking through its victims in a different voice and personality. You must be mocking me now!

Snake: Are you one of those Pentecostal snake-handlers or tongue-speaking charismatics who believe in all things supernatural?

Pastor: No I am not. However, I am a Pentecostal with a deep respect for snakes ….. and snake-handlers, and I do speak in tongues, certainly more than you. Yes the world of the supernatural and spiritual phenomena does not scare me. I view all these things that I do not fully understand with my finite mind, with a sense of hush and awe (and some wariness), as Moses did with the burning bush and Joseph with his dreams of angels.

Snake: You believe in all the miracles of the Bible.

Pastor: Of course, I do. Not just because I am a Pentecostal and brought up as one soaked in a tradition of belief in the supernatural gifts and in miracles, but also because the Bible speaks of these miracles and angels in a matter of fact way.  Call me naive if you will but I have heard so many modern day miracle stories myself and despite my natural tendency to doubt, I have become a believer.

Snake: Have you considered that the whole story of Adam and Eve, the talking snake and the tree that delivers knowledge is all a myth meant to teach religious truths about God? It’s just a literary device to teach readers that God is the creator, and he made humans to be like him and to be the top of the chain, and something wrong happened to cause the world to be as messed us as it is today.

Pastor: Well do you believe in the truths that the literary device seek to proclaim? Do you believe in God’s goodness and affirm that creation was good but evil came into the world and messed it all up? Do you believe that Jesus came to die and rise again to clear up the mess? If you do, you are closer to heaven than you may dare to think!  Have you heard of the 4 spiritual laws?

Snake: Don’t patronize me with your fixed formula of converting me. It won’t work. You should take a closer look at your faith – it has no substance, no factual base, insufficient evidence.

Pastor: Pardon me.  I don’t mean to be patronizing. My faith is based on the person of Jesus Christ. He lived in the Roman-occupied first century Israel. He was a carpenter-construction worker and a man whose birth, life, ministry was marked by the amazing, truth, miracles, love and remarkable perfection. He died and rose again from the dead and ascended to heaven. All these things were seen and witnessed by men close to him. My faith is based on the testimony of these witnesses. In addition, I have experienced his forgiveness and peace myself. I have a wonderful inner assurance that all this is real and true and somehow all the scientific and rational dissonance that bothers and troubles many others does not affect me at all. It just does not ruffle my faith at all. By the way, have you heard of Jesus?

The snake, weary from trying to convince me of the unreliability of the Bible, slithered away, hissing in frustration at this poor blinded Pentecostal pastor. The talking snake had to admit though, that it envied the fact that I seemed so persuaded and assured in my faith, and looked so happy for one so steeped in irrational beliefs and superstition.

The talking snake was almost persuaded to be a Christian.

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Faith and reason: what is the relationship?

Recent posts have given rise to polemics from people of different persuasions. Sometimes the comments became personal and sometimes they were patronizing. The debate should get a decent airing. Faith and reason has been a battleground for centuries. It has manifested itself again in the comments on recent posts. There have been many attempts to resolve the tension between faith and reason. Different positions have been taken. The Reformers have theirs and so have the Roman Catholics. The discussion of this issue draws from theology and philosophy for insights and perspectives. Further readings in this issue may spur more discussion and enlighten readers about this issue. Wikipedia has a simplified introduction to the kind of possible positions at hand and has this to say:

Beliefs held “by faith” may be seen existing in a number of relationships to rationality:

Faith as underlying rationality: In this view, all human knowledge and reason is seen as dependent on faith: faith in our senses, faith in our reason, faith in our memories, and faith in the accounts of events we receive from others. Accordingly, faith is seen as essential to and inseparable from rationality. According to Rene Descartes, rationality is built first upon the realization of the absolute truth “I think therefore I am”, which requires no faith. All other rationalizations are built outward from this realization, and are subject to falsification at any time with the arrival of new evidence.
Faith as addressing issues beyond the scope of rationality: In this view, faith is seen as covering issues that science and rationality are inherently incapable of addressing, but that are nevertheless entirely real. Accordingly, faith is seen as complementing rationality, by providing answers to questions that would otherwise be unanswerable.
Faith as contradicting rationality: In this view, faith is seen as those views that one holds despite evidence and reason to the contrary. Accordingly, faith is seen as pernicious with respect to rationality, as it interferes with our ability to think, and inversely rationality is seen as the enemy of faith by interfering with our beliefs.
Faith and reason as essential together: This is the papal view that faith without reason leads to superstition, while reason without faith leads to nihilism and relativism.

Do read the full article on Faith and Rationality in Wikipedia. For something meatier and more philosophical go read this article from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy titled:  Faith and Reason.

What do you think is the relationship between faith and reason?

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Have a Mary Christmas

MaryWithout Christ there is no Christmas. This is cliched but nevertheless true. However, these few days it was Mary I was meditating on. Without Mary, Christmas is an orphan. We owe the birth of our Saviour to a young teen girl who trusted God and said “Yes, let it be done to me as you want.” We owe a debt of gratitude to Mary for her simple child-like faith. Wisdom does not reside with the old and experienced. It resides with simple faith. A girl fresh from puberty played a vital role and her womb was the landing ground of the Saviour of the whole world.  Most cultures look upon women as inferior, and they are not treated as equals and deserving of mutual respect. They are taken advantage of and patronized or ignored. Their talents, influence and gifts are not always fully appreciated nor valued. Worse they are also violated and oppressed and are objects of sarcasm, suspicion and cynicism. They are not taken seriously – unless they happen to be your mother. However, what man despises, God exalts. He did that 2000 years ago when He chose Mary – a teen girl to reveal the “arm of the Lord”, “a light to the peoples”. So do not forget Mary. Thank God for Mary and all the goodness she represents as a woman, as a believing Eve–faith, sacrifice, risk, tenderness, gratitude, gentleness, compassion, talent, strength, and resilience. It was David Yonggi Cho of Full Gospel Church, Yoido, who echoed William Booth of the Salvation Army, who declared, “My best men are women”. So today,  thank God for all women and show your sincere appreciation when you wish your mother, your wife, girlfriend and daughter and sister a Mary Christmas.

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Good news for thousands at New Creation Church(NCC)

Whenever I have no idea of what is good to eat at any hawker center, I follow the Singaporean rule of thumb: look for the queues. Where there is a queue, the food is probably good. It has to be good if people are willing to wait patiently for it. Though it is possible the cook is slow or the system of delivery is bad, the likelihood is that the food is tasty.

So when New Creation Church became the only church where you had to queue to get a seat, the surmise is that the “food” is good. Of course we can be skeptical or cynical and say: its bad organizing or its a image projection or whatever. However, at the crux of it, you’ll have to admit: the queuing thing which went on for close to a decade without waning says something. The “food” has lots of satisfied customers. People, including pastors, may say otherwise. However the thousands of satisfied customers rub their stomachs and say, Jia pa pa (Eat full full).

(image from Stanley Facebook)

Now it seems the thousands of New Creation attenders have good news: they don’t have to queue anymore. They can book their seats online using their ez-link card number. Now this is a wonderful creative solution, one that meets a real need (even though people are actually willing to queue and wait). The pic above is what a booking slip looks like. So this is the true gospel for NCC members: no more queuing. I am happy for them. However if they are late, their passes will expire and the empty seats will be released for others and this is fair and encourages punctuality and responsibility. Technology and moving to the new facility at Star Vista has made this possible. Their first service will be on the 23rd of December 2012.

Instead of queuing just click.

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Time for reflection: December

overflowing with gratitudeChristmas is the season for reflection. It is December. Its the year’s end. Often it is seen as a time to holiday and wind down. Nothing wrong with that. It is time also to look back on the year. God has been with you every day of the whole year. We forget his inconspicuous presence in everyday happenings of regular living. Reflection helps us to unearth those gems and deepen our love and gratitude for our Lord. So we look back and count as many blessings and write a super long list of how God has shown up and blessed us through events, experiences and people. Then as holy priests we offer to the Lord a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise.

Of course there were also those so-called negative experiences. Times when we were upset, angry, jealous, bitter, furious, and fell into temptations of various kinds. We felt humiliated, discouraged or remorseful. We wanted to give up. Run away. Hide in a hole forever. These feeling need to be processed in the context of the incidents in which they arose. Talk to the Lord about them one by one and sit and listen. Let the finished work sink in. There are gems of self- and God- discovery to be unearthed. Each year should enrich you with bags of  experiences processed via the cross of Christ.

So carve out some time and take time to reflect.  Take a break and shut down all electronic and digital devices for a day or a half-day. Eat, sleep, pray, journal and let God love you.

My warmest Christmas wishes to all friends and visitors of this blog. The Lord bless you with hope and peace!

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