Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Attack on Rach 2 and Christian Weakness

Blackmailed into attending Fat Albert's attack on the Rach 2 at the Esplanade. He had the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra with him. A complete flop. If this had just been a dress rehearsal, it would have been alarming enough to make some conductors throw a tantrum or throw in the towel or something more dramatically breakable. But this was the real thing. And although much of the cost was subsidised by the profits of legalised gambling, people still had to put down good money for the tickets.

In the first movement alone, the strings completely lost each other, the piccolo lau hong-ed, the brass came in hesitantly (and so were obviously out-of-tune as well, a common problem that should have been fixed way earlier), there was a dischordant juncture when every instrument lost every other, and when the whole orchestra did get together, they all lost control and proceeded to completely drown out the piano so you wouldn't have guessed that this was a piano concerto.

Was told off for complaining about the squeaky violins "since not everyone first tucks a Strad under their chin" (it was a Strad of ill-repute), but I think it's an unhappy matter of technique rather than the China-made stuff. Unlike complaining companions, had no problem with Albert Tiu's silk robin-meets-Rasputin outfit (soloists should be allowed their affections as long as they don't interfere with performance) but his stamping on the pedal was at times louder than his own ivory work! A piano teacher would have smacked him over the head. His encore pieces were much better though.

Anyway, Fat Albert's credentials read something like this:
"Award-winning pianist Albert Tiu has won major international piano competitions, including the first prize in the UNISA International Piano Competition in South Africa and the Juilliard William Petschek Award, which resulted in his highly-acclaimed New York debut recital in Alice Tully Hall."

During the not-so-mangled Brahms, I imagined, as Isobel Lin suggested in the March 2005 issue of The Briefing, what the apostle Paul's blurb would say if he were speaking at a conference today:

a blurb of pseudo-humility could read some like this:
"Paul is a Hebrew and an Israelite and knows the Scriptures thoroughly. He is one of Abraham's descendants and an inheritor of the Promise. After his dramatic conversion, Paul was personally appointed as an apostle by Jesus Christ. He is a faithful servant of Christ and more than anyone else has worked harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged severely, been exposed to death again and again, been stoned, shipwrecked, been in danger, gone without sleep, food, water. He worries daily over the numerous churches he has fathered all over Asia and has received many surpassingly great visions and inexpressible revelations from God that he is not permitted to tell. What Paul is permitted to tell however, he has written down prolifically and is the author of 13 out of the 21 New Testament epistles. Paul is also arguably one of the most intelligent men of all time."

But in fact, Paul's description of himself in 2 Corinthians 11 – 13 (with some interjection from Luke in Acts 20) might read more like this:
"Paul is a fool. He is a poor speaker: once, while he was talking on and on, a member of his audience sunk into a deep sleep, fell out the window and died. Paul is also a wimp: when guards went to arrest him in Damscus, he ran away and escaped shamefully in a smelly fish basket. Paul is perpetually stressed out by ministry. He is weak and continues to be led into sin and burns inwardly. Satan's messenger torments him and God refuses to answer his prayers for deliverance. Paul's church-plants aren't too sure about his authenticity and faithfulness. Some think he's a complete failure."

Isobel's proposition is all too true: We can live with the idea of a crucified Master, but we're not so keen on having our own lived marked by suffering, shame and weakness. Yet weakness, although it hinders our ability to minister, teaches us to rely not on our own strength but on Christ's power.

Far too many people feel they have to hide their struggles and weaknesses from other members of the church. When leaders realise that their DGs are dying slow deaths or that morale is low in their ministries, are reactions:
  • self-centredly defensive: blaming members of their DGs or ministries for being ungodly and discouraging to others?
  • self-centredly concealing: pretending that nothing is wrong and when asked about the progress of their groups say, "Ok lor"?
  • self-centredly worrying about their scorecard: ashamed of admitting that yet another of their groups has "failed", afraid of what people would think of their leadership and pastoral skills?
  • God-centredly reliant: prayerfully dependant on God to work all things for the good of those who love him and trusting that in this apparent weakness, God is guarding them against conceit and teaching them to rely on Christ?
When a sister struggles with depression and doesn't always make it to bible study, doesn't have the energy to turn up for SUM duty, can't bear making an appearance at service, do we:
  • see her as weak and ungodly, unmatured and lacking in self-control? or
  • see God's power at work, sustaining her daily, yearly as she clings by what appears to be the thinnest of threads to God?
When a brother toils under the weight of a specific sin and keeps finding himself teetering at the edge of the same temptation over and over again, do we:
  • grumble at his weakness and his inability to learn from past experience, and suspect that he is not entirely serious about his own godliness? or
  • see God's power at work, keeping him from being tempted more than he can bear, sustaining him as he continues to struggle and not give in to the harassment of Satan?
This doesn't purport to be some legalistic either-or checklist. Rather, like the rest of the Bible, these passages present to us the right perspective on life: not a self-centred but God-centred. Those who do not know God view apparent weakness in this world as self-centredly about us being weak; in reality, apparent weakness in this world is about the almighty God working in us to sustain us and to keep us in Christ. Like the rest of the Christian life, it is a matter of focus. In our weakness, we are not to focus on ourselves and how weak we are. In the weakness of others, we are not to focus on how weak that person is. In all our weakness, we are to focus on God who keeps us Christian through it all.

So Paul gladly boasts in his weakness not because it is anything to be proud of per se. Paul joyfully boasts in his weakness because through it Christ's power is shown to be at work in him, dwelling in him, to the glory of God.

In our study of 1 Peter 1:3-9 this week, we are shown another dimension of the God-centred perspective of suffering and grief in all kinds of trials (don't think these are limited just to persecution for being Christian but anything be it physical, emotional, spiritual that attempts to take away our complete trust in God and stop us from being Christian):

  • suffering is temporary and only for this life: we have a hope for a life to come after death when there will be no more suffering and no more grief and no more trials and where we can enjoy living in a right relationship with God without a struggle;
  • there is a purpose in suffering: you do not suffer because God is playing with you;
  • coming through suffering proves that your faith is genuine; and
  • coming through suffering will result in praise, glory and honour to God (can't be to Man because this is never descriptive of humans) when Jesus comes again, when the whole world will see how God has, through your faith, trustworthily kept you shielded from falling away(v5).

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