Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fighting Fire with Fire?

All heat but no light. Or, as the apostle Paul put it, “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” (Romans 10:2, ESV) That, I think, is a fitting description of Pastor Terry Jones’ infamous threat to publicly burn about 200 copies of Qur’an to commemorate the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and to protest the plan to build a mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero. It was a relief that Pastor Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida backed down from doing so. He could have foolishly risked not only his own life and that of his church members but also the lives of Christians all over the world. In Afghanistan for example, other than burning a U.S. flag, protesters chanted,“Death to the Christians!”

Thus, in an interview with Christianity Today magazine, Warren Larson, director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies at Columbia International University, expressed fears that the threat has damaged our witness to Muslims.
“I think most Bible-believing, mission-minded, evangelical Christians are fixated on political problems. They are obsessed with Islam but often for the wrong reasons.Christians feel threatened and are focusing on their rights and liberties, but not seeing their responsibility for witness with the hopes that Muslims come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.The Muslims (even the extremists) are not our enemies. Burning religious books won’t lead them to put their faith on the Lord Jesus as Savior. It would just reduce our witness to ashes. Such an act stems from hate, not love.

The problem with hate is that we end up becoming like those we hate. Yes, what the terrorists have done in 9/11 was despicable. But burning their sacred book would just bring us down to the level of those fanatics. Gerald McDermott, Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College, reminds us, “Paul said our real battle is not against ‘flesh and blood, but against the cosmic powers of this present darkness’ …This means our witness as Christians to members of other religions should involve patient conversation, not hostile argument. Plenty of listening and befriending before any attempt to persuade… It means loving witness to others who sincerely believe they have the truth.(Ibid)

Brethren, let us speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Dr. Luis Pantoja, Jr., 63

Last Monday (September 6), I was leading a Bible study for the employees of The Generics Pharmacy. At the start of the study, I got text messages from two of our deacons, forwarding an urgent prayer request about Dr. Luis Pantoja, senior pastor of Greenhills Christian Fellowship (GCF). He fell unconscious in a pastoral conference abroad and efforts were being made to revive him. I led our Bible study group to pray for him. I was about to finish my talk when my mobile vibrated. I don’t usually answer it whenever I was teaching. But I just felt I had to take the call. It was my wife tearfully telling me the sad news that Pastor Luis went home to be with the Lord already. A hush fell upon the group.

The call came at a time when I was emphasizing to them about the importance of finishing well. It was not a coincidence. It was a “God-incidence.” After praying for the Pantoja family, I read to the group 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (ESV) What a fitting description of a godly servant of the Lord who labored much in proclaiming the Word in all its simplicity, practicality and authority.

My encounters with Pastor Luis were few but they were all God-moments. Though I am not part of GCF (surely he knew thousands of people from his church alone), whenever we would meet he would call me by my first name. I even remember emailing him but not really expecting a reply from him. To my surprise, he responded to it. We even chatted one time on Facebook. I told him that, since he was about to retire at that time, his shoes will be a big pair to fill in. He typed back in the typical Pantoja wit, “I don’t believe in filling someone else’s shoes, especially my shoes. The person might not be able to stand the smell of the fungus.” He even posted that statement on his Facebook status update. He really believed in fulfilling one’s personal calling, not in living in another’s shadows. Short talks they were but every time I would approach him with a question in a conference, he would readily answer them. And every time I talked to him, I would feel my heart burning once again with the passion to “preach the word; [to] be ready in season and out of season; [to] reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

Pastor Luis, I thank the Lord for you.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Virtual Relationships?

Image source: The Telegraph
Konami Digital Entertainment did not even imagine that it has struck gold with “Love Plus,” a dating simulation game that allows young men to“chase virtual girls in the alternative universe of their digital dreams.” (Source: Inquirer Global Nation) But, it is actually a gold rush.

With the latest augmented reality technology plus voice recognition software,
“Love Plus” gamers would actually forget they are “dating” a make-believe or virtual person. According to Konami, it appeared so real to the gamers that, in fact, “the [virtual] girl can get moody when neglected by a player who is not sufficiently committed, and that she demands attention when she feels unwell.” (Ibid) 

Video of Japanese man marrying his virtual girlfriend.

Since its release, it has become Japan’s hottest dating game. “The hit videogame made headlines when a 27-year-old Japanese man known only as ‘Sal 9000’ staged a tuxedo wedding late last year, which was watched by thousands online, with his favorite cartoon girl, Nene Anegasaki.” (Ibid) It even revived tourism in the resort town of Atami, about 100 kilometers from Tokyo, Japan. Recently, Konami did a two-month “Love Plus” campaign where over 2,000 participants poured in at Atami from as far as South Korea and Taiwan.

The virtual girls in Love Plus. Image source: 2P
Konami thinks the secret to its phenomenal success is that “[it] asks players to build long-term relationships… [It makes] players feel like they are really sharing their life with a girlfriend… The goal is to see how good you can be to her and to build a relationship.” (Ibid) 

I just wonder. If they are that committed to that virtual relationship, why can’t they just invest their time and effort in an actual one? Why don’t they share their lives with real people? Personally, I think that when a virtual relationship goes sour, there seems to be an option to reboot the game. But in a real relationship it is not that easy to start all over again. Also, a computer program can be predictable. But an actual person may not be so. A simulated person can be very accepting unlike a flesh-and-blood one.

When God said,
“It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:15, ESV), He did not give Adam a computer. He gave him a companion. Even church fellowships can be risky and make us feel so vulnerable. We can even get hurt. But I believe it is worth it. God designed us to interact with each other and not with an executable file. We are called to belong and not just believe.

My take? Go for real relationships.