Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reflections from Spiritual Formation on the Run (1)

Pastor Paul Long from New Zealand is one of the many friends I have made on the Internet. Though we have not met each other face to face, we have build up a good friendship online. Paul blogs at Paul Long's Ramblings.

Paul is reading through my book, Spiritual Formation on the Run and using it for his lectio divina . I am glad he is sharing his reflections online.

He has given me permission to repost his Omission and Commission reflections post here.

This week's pastor's notes is a reflection taken from a book, "Spiritual Formation on the Run" written by a medical doctor friend, Dr. Alex Tang. My further reflections are below after his reflection.

Omission and Commission

The story of a young mother who inadvertently killed her child by giving him imitation formula milk (which she thought was original and the better food) instead of her own breast milk reminds me of Jeremiah 2:13:

"My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water."

Israel had committed two sins. The first was one of omission: she had forsaken her God. Her second sin was one of commission: she had replaced her true God with false idols. Man's heart, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Using imagery that those residing in Judah would understand, Jeremiah compared the nation's actions to someone abandoning a spring of living (running) water for broken cisterns. The most reliable and refreshing sources of water in Israel were her natural springs. This water supply was dependable, and its clear, cool consistency was satisfying. In contrast, the most unreliable source of water was cisterns. Cisterns were large pits dug into rocks and covered with plaster. These pits were used to gather rainwater. This water was brackish, and if the rains were less than normal, the water supply could run out. Worse yet, if a cistern cracked it would not hold any water. To turn from a dependable, pure stream of running water to a broken, brackish cistern was idiotic. Yet that was what Judah did when she turned from God to idols.

Our cisterns or idols:
• The Success Syndrome
• The Fame and Honour Syndrome
• The Youthfulness and Health Syndrome
• The Pleasing Family and People Syndrome

What are we going to do about them?


Some of you know that I have been using Alex's book as a devotional supplement using it to learn to practice the "Lectio Divina" discipline. This has been another tough chapter. But tough can be good as it does force us to confront real and sometimes deeply buried issues in our lives.

Living here in NZ after living most of my life in Malaysia, I really appreciate the clean clear water that I suspect most NZers would take for granted. In Malaysia, water is one of our natural resources but so much abuse and pollution has resulted in our clean and clear rivers and water sources becoming contaminated.

It is so bad that in my mother's house (in a major urban residential area), we have two water filter systems to filter the treated and "clean" pipe water. And not just the usual water filters as they do not help much.... as after a few hours, the white water filter would turn brown and later black and when you remove the filter, it would be not just muddy but even have an oily residue. So my mother's first water filter is as huge four foot tall system that was originally built to filter commercial swimming pools! And the 2nd is one of the reverse osmosis water filter systems.

For many middle class urban families, dependence on such water filtration systems are now part of a way of life. For others who cannot afford these better systems, daily or weekly (depending on the severity of the pollution) cleaning out of cheaper water system filters is also a regular life activity ... and buying clean drinking water that has been filtered for drinking and cooking has also become a normal accepted part of daily life.

As I reflect on this, I cannot help but compare this with how more and more people understand and practice spirituality. It is no longer enough to have a Bible in order to do one's devotions. We need all kinds of aids and we can't live seem to imagine life without them. Reading guides, specially written devotionals etc. It would seem we are overly dependent on externals ... I am not saying we should dispense with these aids but are we just too dependent on them that we think we cannot hear God's voice without them? And what is even scarier is that often the devotional material / aid takes the place of the Bible itself. I love aids like RBC's "Our Daily Bread", or here in NZ RGB's "Word for Today" but it is not meant to be read by itself. If we read the story and verse for the day and skip actually reading and reflecting on the Bible passage I think we have omitted the Bible made the devotional aid an idol.

I need to state that I am not against such spiritual aids but these aids are meant to point us to the real thing (JESUS CHRIST!) not distract us from Him.

Another example that scares me. For more and more people, if the music is not right, they can't "worship" God. This is pretty scary, don't you think? Is our Sunday encounter with God so dependent on the musicians skill or worship leaders choice of songs for the day? I know proper preparation and practice is needed but we need to be very careful not to be overdependent on the musicians to "set the mood".... I am glad that while we love our musicians and worship leaders, we have not put pressure on them to "perform" and have unrealistic expectations of them.

It is great to "feel" God's presence but we need to know that whether we feel God or not, God is still here!

Another example. I know I strained a relationship with a friend for this but I was just unable to understand how he promotes the "Inductive Bible study" method via spoon feeding (teaching via workshops and selling step by step manuals). So for example, instead of teaching how it is done and getting the student to do the research (e.g. do a word study or a study on the historical background), it is all done for them. In the end participants are "told" (in subtle marketing terminology) that they need to buy the manuals (as all the work is done for them!) in order to truly understand and do a true unbiased inductive study of each Bible book?!? It is not necessary to buy the tools (in which the authors refer to!)??! So many contradictions as instead of freeing the person to focus on studying the Bible, the manuals becomes the Bible as it is THE KEY to unlocking the Bible)

We must keep in mind that we are seeking to be a "Christ centered Bible believing church". Our focus needs to be Christ and Christ via the Bible's teachings.

Dr. Alex highlights some common idols

• The Success Syndrome
• The Fame and Honour Syndrome
• The Youthfulness and Health Syndrome
• The Pleasing Family and People Syndrome

Important areas to reflect on but for this week's devotion, my personal concern in my life and in our generation are things like

* The latest spiritual fad syndrome
* The great worship music syndrome
* The cool preacher syndrome
* Marketed spirituality

May God grant us much grace and wisdom not to substitute Him for poor substitute idols.

Please comment on this post here

Related post by Paul on Spiritual Formation on the Run


  1. Dr. Alex
    I do hope that we will finally get to meet in November!!
    Would be great to meet you face to face and share at least a cuppa coffee together.

  2. Kiwi coffee with a cool pastor. Looking forward to it.