Monday, July 09, 2007

Living our Faith in Asia's Social Context


Sherman Kuek OSL delivered an excellent paper on living a Christian faith in Asia. Here is the complete text of his lecture.

I. Suffering - the Most Distinct Social Attribute of Asia

Asia is probably the most difficult area of the world to make generalisations about. It is fraught with a series of diverse realities which the Christian church has to constantly grapple with.

1) Asia experiences economic diversity. The polarity of this economic diversity is incredibly broad, ranging from the poverty of Bangladesh (one of the poorest nations in the world) to the wealth of Japan (one of the economically most affluent nations in the world). The majority of the economies are linked to those of the developed world, particularly the West, in a relationship of dependence.

2) Asia experiences political diversity, for within it we find socialist regimes, monarchies and liberal parliamentary democracies. One important trait of Asian politics (which frequently remains little understood by Western political entities) is that the masses of Asia are generally excluded from the decision-making process of society.

3) Asia experiences cultural and religious diversity. Religion is indelibly entrenched within the life and history of Asia. Asia constitutes the homeland of the great religions of the world - Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Other religions such as Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism and various less prominent religions also find their birth in Asia.

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The Task of Christian Service

Facing the Task of Christian Service
Let’s Do It Together
Text: Nehemiah 2:1-20

Message statement (Big idea)
Christian service involves prayer and action. Action involves a calling and commitment, careful planning, exact execution, community involvement and personal integrity. Prayer implies reliance on God.

Nehemiah 2:1-20
NE 2:1 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; 2 so the king asked me, "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart."
I was very much afraid, 3 but I said to the king, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?"

NE 2:4 The king said to me, "What is it you want?"
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king, "If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it."

NE 2:6 Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, "How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?" It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.

NE 2:7 I also said to him, "If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? 8 And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king's forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?" And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests. 9 So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king's letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.

NE 2:10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.

NE 2:11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.

NE 2:13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King's Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.

NE 2:17 Then I said to them, "You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace." 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, "Let us start rebuilding." So they began this good work.

NE 2:19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. "What is this you are doing?" they asked. "Are you rebelling against the king?"

NE 2:20 I answered them by saying, "The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it."


Originally Ezra-Nehemiah was one book. Origen separated the two books in the 3rd century C.E. as did Jerome in the 4th century C.E. Hebrew Bibles did not separate the two until 15th century C.E. Date of the book - 400-300 B.C.E. Probably written or at least edited by the Chronicler. Ezra means “help, succour, assistance” while Nehemiah means “Yahweh comforts.” These names are significant because Ezra’s ministry enable the Jews to return to the land and reconsecrate themselves while Nehemiah functioned as God’s comfort though building Jerusalem’s protective walls.


The First Return of the Exiles--Cyrus, Sheshbazzar & Zerubbabel: When the Lord stirred the heart of Cyrus the king of Persia, he inaugurated the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy by decreeing that the inhabitants of Judah return to Jerusalem and build a house for their God, and by providing for their return through Persian support as well as a return of their temple items, whereupon, the people returned under Zerubbabel, contributed to the rebuilding of the temple and settled in the land 1:1--2:70.

After the work of rebuilding the temple was begun with mixed emotions, it was suspended through the oppression of the Samaritans, but under the inspiration of the prophets Haggai & Zachariah, and a renewed decree through Darius, the Temple project was renewed, completed in the sixth year of Darius, dedicated, and the first Passover was celebrated 3:1--6:22


After Ezra arrived in the Jerusalem with a group of exiles under the permission and provision of king Artaxerxes, they worshiped the Lord and Ezra taught the people the law of God by applying it to their sin of foreign marriages, whereupon the people responded with repentance and the process of divorcing their foreign wives (Ezra 7:1--10:44)


When Nehemiah learned about the distress of the Jews in Jerusalem he prayed to the Lord, sought permission from King Artaxerxes to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and managed to spur on the people in Jerusalem to accomplish the task in spite of opposition from the people surrounding the city and the problems within the city because he was a man who trusted God and was wise in leadership (Nehemiah 1:1--7:4)

Who was Nehemiah the man?
Most if not all the time, we approach the book of Nehemiah to study leadership principles. We must realise that before the leader comes the man. Here are some of the characteristics of Nehemiah that makes him such a great leader. This also means that those who aspire to leadership should first have these characteristics.

A Man of Prayer (Neh 1)
A Man of Commitment (Neh 2:1-9)
A Man of Action (Neh 4:1-6; 2:10-20)
A Man of Determination (Neh 4: 7-23)
A Man of Justice (Neh 5)
A Man of Courage (Neh 6:1-7:3)
A Man Who Plans Ahead (Neh 7)
A Man of God’s Word (Neh 8)
A Man of Trust (Neh 13:1-14)

Do Ezra and Nehemiah teach leadership styles? Then whom shall we follow?
Intermarriage lead Ezra to pull out his own hair (Ezra 9:13)
Intermarriage lead Nehemiah to pull out others’ hair (Neh.13:25)

In chapter one, Nehemiah learnt about the state of Jerusalem and wept. He then turned to God in prayer, giving us a picture of a man of prayer and the vision and purpose in Christian service. Today we shall look at chapter two in 4 areas:
A man of commitment
Readiness for Christian service
Facing the task of Christian service
Let us start building

1. A Man of Commitment (Neh 2:1-9)

Nehemiah’s commitment
It is obvious that Nehemiah has thought out carefully what he plans to do. It is also obvious that Nehemiah has decided before hand what he will say to the king when the king asked him. This means taking a risk because if one irritates a king at that time, he or she loses their head or worse. After his crying and prayer in Chapter 1, Nehemiah is willing to take the risk. Nehemiah

Knows the heart of God (v.3)
Willing to sacrifice for his belief (v.2b)
Commit to a course of action (v.1)

What is total commitment? It is a willingness to die for what you believe. Compare the commitment of a chicken and a ham. A chicken lays eggs and its commitment lies in giving up its eggs. Ham comes from a pig and the commitment of a pig comes from giving up its life. True commitment to be to be willing to give up our lives.

True commitment is to a person, to God, not to an organisation, an ideology or a plan.

2. Readiness for Christian Service (Neh 2:1-10)
Christian service is prayer and a plan of action. Action involves careful planning. Labora et ora.
It is very obvious that Nehemiah has thought out carefully what he needed to carry out his plan to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. His lists of requests do not suddenly come out of the blue.
Readiness of Christian service means we must be prepared. There is no excuse to be caught napping.

Nehemiah’s Do List
Make King notice you without pissing him off (you lose your head that way) (v.1-3)
Get permission to go to Judah to rebuild it (v.5)
Time frame of project (v.6)
Letter to governors of Trans-Euphrates (v.7)
Letter to Asaph for timber to rebuild gate, city wall, and residence (v.8)
Protection on journey (v.9)

Nehemiah’s do list illustrates serious planning.

3. Facing the Task of Christian Service (Neh 2:11-20)

The task of Christian service means working to a plan, God’s plan. However this plans come from our doing the planning while knowing the mind of God. There are some lessons we can learn from Nehemiah’s project management.

Nehemiah’s Project Management
He surveyed the walls i.e. he investigated the situation personally(v.12-16)
He identify the problems and identified himself with the people (v.17)
He shared his mission and calling (v.18)
He enlisted the help of the local community only after he knew the size of the problem (v.18b)
He faced down the opposition (v.19-20)

How do we go about doing ministry? Do you plan our ministry carefully or are we slipshod in our planning? Do we let things to hang loose or do we involve in careful detailed planning?
One example is that banks and venture capitalists expect detailed viable business plans. I wonder how many Christian ministries were launched without detailed planning. Our usual excuse is that we leave it to the Lord. I wonder why the lord has given us brains then.

4. Let Us Start Building (Neh 2:18)

I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, "Let us start rebuilding." So they began this good work.

He assured the people that God was in the project.
Get your hand dirty!

Lessons for Us
Christian service involves prayer and action.

Action involves
a calling and commitment,
careful planning,
exact execution,
community involvement and
personal integrity.

Prayer implies reliance on God.

soli deo gloria