Homemade Chocolate Banana Loaf and Isaiah

Homemade wholemeal chocolate banana loaf
Slices of stale homemade wholemeal chocolate walnut banana loaf cakes make the best toast base – for lashings of thick creamy fig yoghurt and a tart mixed berry and stonefruit coulis. A tummy-filling brunch.

I’ve been listening to David Suchet read the NIV of the whole book of Isaiah. Really like his deeply baritone YHWH voice. An astonishingly riveting few hours of people’s unbelievable deliberate rebellion against the only God, the warnings of terrible judgement on God’s people, yet also tender moments of encouragement (“You will remember no more the shame of your widowhood”) and promises of punishment on God’s enemies (“I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh”).

Didn’t realise so much of Isaiah was in Handel’s Messiah (had to rein in the urge to sing along), or that “I will never forget you, my people” (set to 1970s music by Carey Landry, who left the Catholic priesthood) came from Isaiah 49 and not Hosea!

In our Bible read-through in 2012, F and I came unstuck at Isaiah. Not much progress has been made since.

So much to learn.

As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)

Homemade wholemeal chocolate walnut banana loafstale homemade wholemeal chocolate walnut banana loaf

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Kippers for Breakfast and the New Exodus in the Gospel of Mark

At last evening’s “New Testament Overview“, Ro Mody gave us a brief tour of the four Gospels. It was far too brief, I thought, to be absolutely coherent. Always a tough job to summarise without being simplistic.

So the four Gospels give us a full portrait of Jesus, and in Gospel of Mark, Jesus is a man always on the move, he is a man “on the way” – the way that was prepared by John the Baptist, that leads him from Nazareth to his baptism in the wilderness to his journey to Jerusalem to die.

Good observation, but what does that tell us about Jesus the man though?

Kippers and peas + Exodus = breakfast
Kippers fried in a good knob of butter + some peas

This morning’s reading at brekkie was from the Book of Exodus (in line with our church’s progress through the RML Bible Overview series).

Exodus was certainly the major redemption event in the Old Testament. It was also a major step in God’s revelation of himself to Israel as a unique God who is:

  • covenant-keeping (“abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”);
  • utterly and absolutely sovereign and powerful, who can control everything in creation (including the heart of the Pharaoh);
  • scarily holy;
  • yet somehow also, merciful and gracious and compassionate.

In RML Bible Overview terms, the “God’s Relationship with Man” box gets a little tick. Things seem to be improving before the people of Israel are booted from Egypt, but you as you read through the rest of Exodus, you start to despair of such a stiff-necked people ever possibly having a relationship with the aforementioned God!

But back to the Gospel of Mark.

In Mark 6:31-52, there are clear allusions to Exodus (for working, see Sach and Hiorns’ “Dig Deeper into the Gospels” (not “Dig Even Deeper Still” as many cheekily suggested)). But Rikki Watts suggests that the link is far deeper: in Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, he says that even though there is a plethora of direct quotations from Isaiah, Mark is deliberately structuring his Gospel to point out that Jesus’ work is to bring about a (greater and more portentous) new exodus.

If this is true, then Jesus isn’t just going on his way, but the schema of deliverance, journey, and arrival at YHWH’s dwelling suggest strongly that he is, in fact, the God of the Exodus (and all that entails) redeeming his people, in a greater and even more powerful way, for relationship with him.

Placeholder till I can do enough work to confirm this!

Darkness in The Golden Land

A temporal disjuncture of sorts.

Sin Ming coin prata, mutton curry, teh si kosong ping. Karen Connelly's When I look up from the book I’m reading, while nibbling coin pratas (doused in spicy tender mutton curry) and sipping a teh si kosong ping, I am, for a brief moment, amazed to find myself Singapore coffeeshop under a HDB block in Sin Ming.

A week ago, this would have been a dark teahouse or streetside affair in Yangon, with a semolina cake and very thick sweet tea. The dusty air, swirled about in the afternoon heat by an old fan, would have been a delicate potpourri of cheerful cheroot, flaking thanka, juicy red betel nut chews, and exhaust fumes; of sandalwood, jasmine, rose.

It is strange to feel this way. Just a hint of that sour-bitter taste of leaving the people I loved in London to come to Singapore. But how could any part of this heart have been left in the Golden Land? True, it was easy to slip into local life there – the cheap, ubiquitous, delicious street food; the oases of teahouses; the pedestrian dance with slow-moving traffic; the clean derelict streets… But no real gospel partnerships were found.streetside tea shop, Yangon

CC was both keen and cynical – the Judson translation was in Old Burmese and far too difficult for anyone to comprehend (LC agreed: “it’s like the KJV, in Latin”) so good secondary material was necessary, he thought. But so few of those were in Burmese. Yet, the situation was dire: Sunday school teachers were known to teach stories not even found in the Bible because that’s what they themselves had been taught. Meanwhile, Singaporean churches were arriving in Myanmar and throwing their money around, starting cycles of dire dependency and dangerously linking Christianity to material prosperity. Right doctrine, thought CC, was the way to go. – reformed doctrine, Westminster Confession etc.

LC, on the other hand, enthusiastic and well-intentioned, had an endearing way of sharing his life and his struggles, and was keen on social justice – visiting orphanages, feeding the poor in villages, fighting for the rights of those he perceived to be downtrodden. This was admirable and certainly love for neighbour in this sense must be one of the effects of the gospel in one’s life. However, not to the exclusion of and not divorced from even more important things: love for God and his word. LC had a risky loose way of speaking about things: “you are blessed” he said when I made it to the airport in time despite Monday morning traffic (so would I be “cursed” if i suffered the natural consequences of my procrastination?), “God told me/him/her” he explained, admiringly, as the reason why people arrived/left Myanmar sometimes just on the basis of someone’s dream, etc. And when I pointed out that his church was using “salvation”, “healing”, and “wellness” interchangeably, he got annoyed and said that I should not bring intellectual Singaporean standards to Myanmar.

waiting for the sun to rise in Bagan, atop a templeBut if we do not speak according to God’s word, there will be no light of dawn.

Attention to God’s word is necessary because it is our only authoritative communication from God – by his Scripture, God speaks to us and tells us of himself and his plan for the world, of our dire situation, of his Son’s saving work and future universal reign. And by God’s word, God works – his transforming powerful word does not return empty but accomplishes his mission of uniting all things under Christ.

God’s word is sufficient as the means by which we can have knowledge about salvation and knowledge about how to live godly lives. One shouldn’t admire the occurrence of random doubtful dreams and prophecies, but rather praise God for the miraculous ability of Christians to now live lives pleasing to God, putting to death our sins.

And God’s word is clear. God has not left his word to modern intellectuals; he gave his word to people in many places and many times – they were kings and court officials, and also peasants and fishermen, and the uneducated and the orphans, and he expected that they would understand and obey. But we do have to do the hard work of understanding it, just as we would a textbook or a legal document. And the Bible is far more important!

goatherds in Bagan, MyanmarPerhaps this heartache is for hungry goats without a goatherd who will beat the trees of leaves and feed and nourish them. Yet, I take heart that God is the ultimate provider, and will be praying for these dear brothers and for Myanmar for quite some time to come it seems.

*************

Flight from Singapore to Yangon: Jetstar Asia (S$230)
Train from Yangon to Bagan, and Bagan to Yangon: purchase at the station – second class (6,000 kyat), sleeper (14,000 kyat)

Monday Encouragement

We spent the afternoon traipsing through Singapore’s CBD, gently sauna-ing in our office attire, looking for a venue for Easter lunchtime talks.

A late lunch was in order at the famous Hock Lam Beef Noodles (22 China Street, Far East Square), where we chatted about the church scene in Singapore, how small churches lack of economies of scale and contacts for “productive” and “efficient” ministry, and how bible teaching here somehow gets itself mired into a possibly distinctly Asian swamp.

Traditionally, teachers were held in high regard. And disciples were expected to be loyal to their teachers and identified themselves by whom they were taught. Although this is no longer the case in the modern Singapore school system, there are vestiges of that practice in the sports, martial arts, piano, violin, etc. worlds, and in evangelical Christian circles.

So it is a temptation for teachers to gather around themselves high-caliber individuals because that enhances their prestige and of course, then attracts other high-flyers. This success rate is then the basis for much foreign investment – churches in other (usually Western) countries see the statistics and rate of return, conclude that “good work” is being done and are eager to contribute talent and money to such ventures.

Hock Lam Beef Noodles, 22 China Street, Far East Square, SingaporeThe downsides of this would be:

1. that faithful Bible teaching is now an idol. In a success-driven society like Singapore, Christians merely replace climbing the corporate/career ladder with climbing the evangelical circle ladder. How sharp you are at Bible exegesis and preaching are your tools for upward mobility. Your ability to tease out nuances in a book or passage is what people respect and commend you for;

2. that good Bible training is something kept within certain circles (although some crumbs are thrown out, so as not to appear selfish) and even if outsiders are let in, they are those who would be exceedingly grateful and show loyalty to the teachers;

3. that people who are not “good value” are neglected. Time is limited, say the teachers, so they will only nurture those who have potential to teach others. The rest are dropped like hot potatoes if they don’t fit the bill. Ill people or those struggling with their faith in difficult circumstances are prayed for and discussed, but not deeply cared for or pastored. And naturally, their disciples model such priorities in their own groups;

4.that the method of attracting good caliber people is to be dismissive of the faithfulness or godliness of the teachers/leaders of other churches. This is endemic in Singapore’s sports and arts circles where there is much bitching and cat-fighting, all subtly and elegantly done. Such self-righteousness is of course quite dangerous for the souls of Christians;

5. that whole generations (usually in their 20s) suddenly leave their churches to flock to whichever the current in-vogue church is (because they are persuaded that it is right and godly to do so), discouraging the younger generation (usually in their teens or in tertiary education) and causing dismay to the older generation.

Thankful for elder brothers who buy lunch and remind me that God is sovereign in human history and absolutely just in judgement.

Reading Psalm 119 with a flat white, Food for Thought, National Museum of Singapore.

At dinner, after chatting through Psalm 119:29-56, the John Smyth scandal came up.  Having led on Titus Trust camps, we knew how intense they could be, what deep friendships could be formed, and so what wonderful opportunities for personal work (“a deep work in a few”) they presented. Yet living in this fallen world as still-sinful beings means also that these great opportunities for good are also great opportunities for evil.

In recent years, complaints of bullying and abuse were also made against the leader of a camp modelled on the Titus Trust ones. The trustees (who were all in other countries) dismissed the allegations without further investigation, suggesting that it was just a facet of that leader’s personality.

It seems, said my dinner companion, that where gospel work is being done and seems to be succeeding (ie. bringing in the numbers), others are reluctant to hold the goose that lays the golden egg accountable, afraid that any action will “bring the gospel into disrepute”.

But that fails both to (i) distinguish between the one who waters and the One who gives growth; and (ii) understand the implications of the gospel that one claims to value so much.

Cities and Kings – Myanmar and David

More than a week ago, I met LC at Al-Azhar to chat, over mugs of teh, about how the gospel was doing in Myanmar. He talked about the thousands of churches in Myanmar and hundreds of bible schools in Yangon alone, and the regretable paucity of good bible teaching. Many Christians were applying God’s historical promises to Israel to their particular political struggles for independence (for some) and democracy (for others).

Empress restaurant by Prive Group, #01-03 Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place, 179555This weekend, we were at Empress Restaurant (#01-03 Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place, Singapore 179555) for a weekend dim sum brunch with one of their docents. (The food was fairly decent, but as a Malay friend pointed out, the dishes were tweaked to accommodate a more Western palate (except the chicken feet – what can you do with that?!). I rather enjoyed the subtle twists of taste and texture.)

Upstairs in the Asian Civilisations Museum, the Cities and Kings exhibition intended to tell the story of Myanmar in 60 artifacts that had been carefully shipped over, most of them depicting some Hindu imagery and Buddha in various poses. They’d come from the ancient Pyu period (early first millennium A.D.), from the golden age of Myanmar – the Bagan period (11th – 13th century), from the city of Bago during the period of the Mon kings (14th – 15th century), from the Shan state that enjoyed some independence after the collapse of Bagan (16th – 18th century), and from the last royal city before it was “dismantled” by the British – Mandalay (19th century).

Stele. Cities & Kings - Myanmar, Asian Civilisations Museum, Empress Place, SingaporeStele. Sri Kresta. 4th – 6th century. As early forms of kingship were established, the Pyu elites appeared to have supported both Hinduism and Buddhism, hence the mixed imagery on this stele.

Cities & Kings - Myanmar, Asian Civilisations Museum, Empress Place, SingaporeBagan. 11th century. Prince Siddhattha cutting his hair – the renunciation of his royal role and the start of his path to Enlightenment.

Buddha seated in dharma chakra mudra (teaching gesture). Bagan 11th century. Cities & Kings - Myanmar, Asian Civilisations Museum, Empress Place, SingaporeBagan. 11th century. Buddha seated in dharma chakra mudra making a “teaching” gesture. This statue is rumoured to have wish-fulfilling qualities and so the museum had a little stand made in front of it should anyone want to leave flower offerings. There was a flickering screen nearby showing how they carefully packed the statue (as it was farewelled by Burmese worshippers), crated it, and shipped it to Singapore. Personally, it would give me far greater confidence if my wish-granter could move by his/her own accord at least.

Shan state. 18th century. Buddha and his disciples. Cities & Kings - Myanmar, Asian Civilisations Museum, Empress Place, SingaporeShan state. 18th century. Buddha and his disciples. Buddha’s hand is raised in a “fearlessness” gesture.

Buddha with earth-touching gesture. Shan state. 18th century. Cities & Kings - Myanmar, Asian Civilisations Museum, Empress Place, SingaporeShan state. 18th century. This seated Buddha makes an “earth-touching” gesture. Evidence of old lacquer is still obvious. Statues were lacquered so that gold-leaf from devotees would adhere to the surface of the statue – a form of merit-making (kutho).

Seated Buddha, Mandalay, 1901. Cities & Kings - Myanmar, Asian Civilisations Museum, Empress Place, SingaporeMandalay. 1901. Seated Buddha.

The various styles and materials used to depict Buddha bore testimony to the political and military upheavals that happened over the course of a thousand years. But of course, Buddhist scriptures aren’t concerned about the rise and fall of dynasty or even the thousands of cycles of birth and rebirth, according to Buddha’s teachings, that must have taken place in the meantime. Their focus is on the here-and-now, with an eye to one’s fate as a reincarnated being (cockroach or man?).

George Orwell’s evil corpulent U Po Kyin comes to mind then. He who, in the opening chapter of Burmese Days, was planning to trump all his evil scheming ways with merit-making – building stupas and pagodas with his ill-gotten wealth. But the Buddhist scheme, at least as commonly understood in Myanmar, has no way of dealing with the blatant injustice of this.

Later, while working on an overview of 2 Samuel, I thought how different the God of the Bible is. (Of course, Buddha never claimed to be a god.) He is a God who is supremely just and cares about justice, and he is a God totally in charge of history and is guiding it according to his definite plan, yet he is also a God who cares for his people.

David’s last words as king and as an oracle:

“The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me;
    his word is on my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken;
    the Rock of Israel has said to me:
When one rules justly over men,
    ruling in the fear of God,
he dawns on them like the morning light,
    like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning,
    like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.
“For does not my house stand so with God?
    For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
    ordered in all things and secure.
For will he not cause to prosper
    all my help and my desire?
But worthless men are all like thorns that are thrown away,
    for they cannot be taken with the hand;
but the man who touches them
    arms himself with iron and the shaft of a spear,
    and they are utterly consumed with fire.” (2 Samuel 23:2-7)

lo hei, yu sheng. Empress restaurant by Prive Group, #01-03 Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place, 179555David was never that just king. After the death of Saul, still in his own timing, God first made David first king over Judah, then king over all Israel. He was the one who gave David victory. Unlike other gods, God was adamant that David could not do anything for him (like, err, build him a house when…God himself created the whole world). Rather, he would be the one to give David great promises not just for himself but for his descendants, and later, the whole world:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me. Your throne shall be established for ever.’ (2 Samuel 7:8-16)

2 Samuel 8-10 was the height of his reign: he gets victory over God’s enemies, protects his people, shows good judgement and amazing generosity to Mephibosheth of the house of Saul. And this, you think to yourself, is a king I would gladly live under.

The Assembly Ground, CathayThen very quickly, David fails to fear God and commits adultery with Bathsheba and murders Uriah (2 Samuel 11), and God judges him justly (2 Samuel 12), and the things spiral downwards with one of his sons raping one of his daughters, his inability to judge justly, his son attempting to usurp his God-given position and succeeding because of popular support from the masses, the subsequent death of his son…(2 Samuel 13-18).

By the time we get to 2 Samuel 19, Joab has won the battle for David, but David is a sad shadow of his former self. Neither Judah nor Israel is particularly keen for him to be back as king, and the only people who are at all enthused to see him are Shimei (who cursed him previously and has now come to grovel – David quite unjustly pardons him) and loyal Mephibosheth (whom David unjustly treats quite shabbily). The lack of any mention of God here is deafening. I’d be quite reluctant to live under such a king myself.

So the Israelites then, would have looked forward to another king like David (but much better) who would be perfectly just and fear God absolutely. And they would be able to do so confidently in faith, because God had made a secure promise in 2 Samuel 7.

And as ST was reflecting, how much more can we rejoice in King Jesus! How blessed we are that we live after the partial fulfilment of that promise of a just and faithful king who will, after he comes again, rule forever. And on the flipside, how much culpable we would be if we did not bow the knee to such a king.

The Assembly Ground, Cathay

…………….

The Assembly Ground
2 Handy Road, The Cathay

coffee: Nylon Coffee‘s Four Chairs – excellent, like Bourbons dipped in milk
milk: not exactly velvety but yielded to the liquid easily
price: S$5.90
air-conditioning: ok
free wifi: yes
power sockets: didn’t see any

Other specialty coffee cafes near Orchard Road to sit and do work in

Gallery & Co. and the Uselessness of OT Sacrifices

After a quick lunch in Singapore’s CBD with tired lawyers and their heavy eyebags, full of chat that was tear-inducingly hilarious, I walked over the Singapore River to Gallery & Co. (facebook. City Hall Wing, National Gallery Singapore, 1 St. Andrew’s Road, Singapore 178957) to work on Hebrews 10:1-18.

Along one side of cafe/cafeteria are French doors that let in the afternoon light (and some heat). Aside from the occasional blast of hot air from the outside, a good place to work.

mugging Hebrews 10:1-18 with a Sarnie's flat white coffee at Gallery & Co, National Gallery of SingaporeHebrews 10:1-18 is an absolutely fascinating end to the section on the superiority of Jesus as better high priest, ministering in a better tabernacle, having brought about a better redemption, mediator of a new and better covenant.

The passage totally rams it home that it’s not just that Jesus and what he does is greatly superior, but that frankly, the Old Testament stuff just never worked.

A friend’s Jewish (not Talmudic) law professor recently argued strongly in lectures that the way forward in Jewish-Christian relations would be for Christians to acknowledge that the Jews were saved by the Law, while the Gentiles were saved by Jesus. But he fails to realise that the Law was never the solution in and of itself – it was always pointing to the real and final solution in Christ.

The sacrifices made daily and yearly weren’t just limited in atonement, they did nothing at all (how could they?). It is impossible that the mere blood of bulls and goats should be able to take away sin. And if they could not take away sin, then not only were the worshippers not cleansed from their sins, their consciences were still impure, and the regular sacrifices merely reminded them of their miserable position (Hebrews 10:1-4). So the Law actually begs the question: what is the reality to which sacrifices are merely a shadow (and not in a Platonic way)?

mugging Hebrews 10:1-18 with a Sarnie's flat white coffee at Gallery & Co, National Gallery of SingaporeThis is all I had to show for 2 hours of work. 😦

Further, sacrifices are just second best, and a far far second. What God really wants is obedience, not sacrifice. And no human, pre-Jesus had been perfectly obedient, hence the need for sacrifice. When Jesus appeared (in accordance with (in fulfilment of, as a type of David in) Psalm 40:6-8a),  he was perfectly obedient, and by his sacrifice, he did away with the need for any more sacrifice (Hebrews 10:5-14).

Even better, there is total forgiveness of sins, so no more sacrifice is needed! And in typical typological trajectory, Psalm 40:8b (“your law is within my heart”) has been fulfilled in us believers, as promised in Jeremiah 31:33, by the gift of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost (Hebrews 10:16). So, as never before, we are now able to obey. And we look forward to the Day when we will do so completely.

Absolutely awesome possum.

…………………….

Gallery & Co. cafe
beans: Sarnies
coffee: a pity this was overextracted – somewhat bitter and astringent
milk: foam a little too thick
price: $6 (but mine was on the house)
air-conditioning: yes but balmy
free wifi: yes
power sockets: scattered

Other specialty coffee cafes near Orchard Road to sit and do work in