Reflection on Acts and Ephesians

I wrote a reflection paper on The Book of Acts and The Epistle to the Ephesians for a course I am taking.


Pictures in my head

My initial impression on church renewal was a picture which included growing church attendance, people lining up at the altar accepting Christ, numerous baptisms, powerful preaching, and many more other positive images.

The Picture of Revival in the Early Church as Shown in Acts and Ephesians

The book of Acts paints a picture of renewal of the people from a traditional, law-bound, performance-based and ethnocentric1 religion to a group of believers who were grace-bound, transforming into an ethnorelative2 mindset and filled with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus commands the apostles not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the main actor of the church. Paul identifies the Holy Spirit as the seal, or guarantee of God’s promise that the believers are “included in Christ”. (Eph 1: 12 – 14)

However, the disciples do not understand the significance of His command. They are still looking for a Jewish earthly kingdom revival. (Act 1: 6) As I reflected my image of revival of the church today, am I looking for solely numerical increase in congregations? Does Jesus have something totally different for this era? What are the forms and functions of renewal today?

The apostles personally witnessed the death and the resurrection of Jesus. They still focused on the restoration of the former glory of the Kingdom of Israel. However, Jesus had a vastly different picture of the Kingdom of God in His mind.

What does renewal of the church look like today?

I have heard people preach on church renewal. The focus is usually on how to restore the bygone imagined faded glory of the “Christian Nation”. In the book, Abandoned Faith, (2017) by Alex McFarland and Jason Jimenez asked the question: “Why this generation is considered ‘less Christian’ that past American generation?”3 In the author’s mind, renewal is building a future in order to re-establish the resplendence of the past. I do not think that theirs is the model for renewal. Jesus has a vastly antithetical view on the revival of His Kingdom.

What came next was quite different from what the disciples had in mind

First, the future is not for us to know. Renewal is determined by the sovereign Father. (Act 1: 7) I have to humbly admit I do not have a clear picture of how and when renewal will take place.

Second, the renewal of the old religion, law-based Judaism, into the new Christ-based relationship will be powered by the Holy Spirit, not by military might. (Act 1: 8a) I cannot reconcile how or why some mega churches, especially in the US, align themselves with political parties to gain influence today.

Third, I am called to be a witness of Christ starting within my culture and extending it to other cultures. (Act 1: 8b) Unlike the ethnocentric view of McFarland and Jimenez which emphasizes reconstructing the “past American generations”, Jesus points us toward an extending omni-cultural ethos.

Community of the Believers

In Acts 2, the new believers formed a community to learn, to fellowship, to live and to pray. The Holy Spirit enabled them to perform signs and wonders. They shared their possessions. I can envision Christians gathering together to learn, fellowship and pray. However, I do not know how Christians in today’s Western society can live together in a commune or perform miracles in public without being considered weird, eccentric or cultish.

A Threat to the Establishment

When Paul arrived in Ephesus and made many disciples, the silversmiths lost income because the new believers would not buy idols made by them anymore. They started a riot to try to force Paul and his followers out of town by using false accusations and hatred. (Acts 19: 24 – 27) Paul did not retaliate with anger, but let rational argument take its course. When Paul later wrote the letter to the Ephesians, he urged the believers to maintain the attitude of righteousness, holiness and truthfulness. (Eph 4: 23 – 27) They should bear resemblance to their new identities in Christ. (Eph 4: 20 – 21)

Church renewal threatens the establishment. Renewal brings changes to the existing comfortable or perceived stable system. These changes challenge those who benefit from the existing power structure inside and outside the church. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians encourages them to keep their faith and unity in Christ by love, peace and the power through the Holy Spirit. (Eph 3: 14 – 21)

Diversity, Unexpected Convert and Multiculturalism

As the congregation became grew, there were culture crushes between the Jews with Greek heritage and Jews with Hebrew heritage. Both groups were Jewish followers of Christ. However, the language and cultural differences caused tension. (Act 6) I would like to believe such racial or cultural prejudice would not occur today. The reality I observe suggests otherwise. Diverse cultural encounters will emerge when there is true renewal in a congregation.

Once a leader of the anti-Christian Pharisee, Paul was to became a convert. (Act 9) Paul later became the missionary called by God to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. (Eph 3: 8) The Holy Spirit has the power to reach those I consider the unreachable. I need to expect the unexpected events when renewal occurs.

Peter received a vision from God to reach out to the Roman centurion Cornelius. (Acts 10) Congregations and their leaders may expect some unanticipated callings from the Holy Spirit. I need to prepare to answer the call.

Paul emphasized there were no more distinction between ethnicity or bloodlines; Jews and Gentiles could all reconcile with God through the cross. (Eph 2: 14 – 22) Ethnicity is no longer a factor in God’s grace. I believe that when the Holy Spirit directs a revival, numerous ethnic groups will receive the saving grace of Christ. It does not mean all ethnic groups will live harmoniously together. They all have to learn how to accept each other’s cultural differences.

My “Accidental” Encounter

I was in Hong Kong two years ago. I planned to attend the Christmas Eve service in the oldest English-speaking Anglican Church in Kowloon area. I arrived at the wrong time. I found myself arriving late for the service of its outreach ministry to the Mandarin-speaking Mainland Chinese. The church was so packed that I was escorted to sit in the clergy section. The service was conducted with nine different dialects. The minister used this example to illustrate “For God so love the world…” meaning that God so love all the ethnicities in the world. I witnessed an established denomination was willing to reach out to a different cultural and linguistic group through the gospel. The result was phenomenal.


  1. Bennett, M. (2013). Basic concepts of intercultural communication: Paradigms, principles, & practices.Boston: Intercultural Press. (pp. 88 – 94)
  2. Ibid. (pp. 94 – 99)
  3. McFarland, A. and Jimenez, J. (2017) Abandoned Faith: Why Millennials are Walking Away and How You Can Lead Them Home. A Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (p. 61)

The Goose that Got Loose

chinese-gooseFor some people, they believe everything in life is preordained or predetermined. They consider that fate predestines all aspects of their lives.

I do not know whether the following event told by my mother can be considered to determine my existence on this earth or is the result of a simple mishap, luck, fate, chance, or ultimately the divine intervention of the Almighty God.

During the Japanese invasion of China during the Second World War, my mother’s family lived in a village near Canton city. The living conditions were different from today. We have to imagine how the homes in China were built and how they arranged the rooms in the early 1940’s. Most of the houses were built from bricks, clay or stone. There was no running water. Residents had to fetch water daily from a well, usually shared with their neighbours, The washroom was located separately outside the living quarters due to hygienic reasons.

The kitchen was considered an “unclean” area. There was no refrigerator in those days so people had to go to the market daily to buy fresh vegetables, meat, and other perishable items. As for poultry or fish, they needed to buy them fresh from the farmers or fishermen. They would bring the poultry or fish live to the kitchen to kill and clean them. Cooking usually relied on burning wood or coal. The kitchen was smoky, hot, messy, bloody, smelly, dark and damp. It was usually built apart from the main living room or dining room because the occupants did not want the smoke or smell in the living area.

It was not unusual for the family to keep live poultry or fish in their homes for days if they had space for a chicken pen or a water tank for fish.

In 1931, the Japanese Imperial Army invaded Manchuria in northern China establishing a puppet state that they named Manchukuo[1]. On July 7, 1937, they crossed the Marco Polo Bridge and started their invasion of the Chinese interior[2]. They then captured Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, and other parts of China. The Japanese Imperial Navy also started a campaign of bombings to seize Canton (Guangzhou) in 1939-1938[3].

My mother and her siblings cannot tell me the exact date of the following incident but all of them can testify that it did happen. She was only a pre-teen at the time. My grandmother and my mother were in the market shopping for candles, incense, and other items for an ancestral worship ceremony. It was common practice for the Chinese families to light candles and incense daily for their deceased ancestors as an expression of filial piety. My grandfather was at home to prepare dinner and the ritual.

Offering live poultry is part of the ritual of ancestral worship. My grandfather was trying to slaughter the goose as an offering. The family would then have a good meal after the goose and other food items were offered to the gods.

My grandfather picked up the fat, long-necked goose which had been kept alive in a little water pond near the house. He went to the kitchen with the goose and prepared to butcher it. All his children were there to learn how he prepared the sacrifice except for my mother who was in the market with my grandmother. A pot of boiling hot water had been prepared for cleaning the goose. With his left hand, my grandfather grabbed the long neck of the goose while holding a sharp butcher knife in his right hand. All was ready for cutting the goose’s throat and hanging it upside down to drain the blood. The goose was in obvious discomfort being grabbed by his neck and decided to put up a good fight before it became the sacrificial bird. It cackled, kicked and flapped like its life depended on it, which it actually did! My grandfather lost his grip on the flailing bird’s neck and the goose wrenched free from his hand. Finally, the goose found itself being ceremoniously dropped on the kitchen floor and it started to run for its dear life. Five screaming children and a madman with a butcher knife looming over him would cause any goose to flee!

The goose flapped its wings and bolted across the courtyard into the living room. The whole family fled the kitchen to chase the goose. While my grandfather, still carrying the butcher knife, and all the children were trying to corner the goose running wild in the living room, they heard a not so familiar sound from the sky.

It was the droning of Japanese fighter planes. Soon after, the humming of propellers could be heard as the planes flew over the roof of their home. Next came the rat-a-tat-tat of airborne machine guns firing endless rounds of bullets. People screamed, ran, and took shelter wherever they could. The high-pitched whistle of bombs pierced the air as the Japanese Imperial Navy conducted a bombing raid on the village. A bomb was dropped onto my grandparents’ kitchen exploding on impact. The whole kitchen as well as their neighbour’s house were destroyed.

My uncle had stopped chasing the goose when he heard the noise of the planes. While he was looking out the window, the shrapnel from the explosion hit his back but he suffered only a minor scratch. The whole family survived the bombing raid simply because the goose drew them away from the kitchen.

Meanwhile, my grandmother and my mother were still in the market. The Japanese aircraft also dropped bombs there too. Debris and dust were everywhere. My mother was screaming and tried to find her mother. After a while, which seemed to her like forever, they located each other. Running home as quickly as they could they were anxious to discover what had happened.

To their surprise, the house was still standing. All the family survived with only a few minor injuries. The Japanese took control of Canton and southern China. My grandfather and his family became refugees and escaped to Macau.

No one knows what happened to the goose. From that day until my grandparents passed away, they never killed or ate goose again in honour of the goose that got loose.




Not the Parable (Part 8) -The End of One House

Soon after the defeat of Ebruis, Roman, the leader, was blamed for the failure. Many of the men who were killed during the conflict with the Raphan were peasants and poor factory workers. A great famine occurred because the production fell drastically across the land. A gang of rioters bursted into Roman’s home, beat him and his wife to death and plundered his family possessions. From then on, the descendants were exiled from Ebruis, never to return.

The leader of the rioters was Vlad. He took control of the vast estate of the Ebruis. Vlad was young, ambiguous, and idealistic. He had no problem using violence to accomplish his goals. Vlad was highly impressed by one eccentric character, Witko, who had been a guest in the Rice territory until he died there. Vlad organized peasants to unite and refuse to give their produce to the elders of the Roman family. In his subversive idea at the time, those who work would receive the fruit of their labour. Resources and land should not be inherited by those who happened to be born into a certain blood line.

Vlad learned from the writings of Witko and preached to the peasants and labourers of Ebruis. The teaching later turned into Witkoism. His audience were mostly poor, illiterate, and hungry. They would accept anyone as long as they were promised food.

Witko was an aberrant character. He was born in a diasporic and deeply religious tribe Abra living in the land of the Pru. His father was a lawyer who turned into an agnostic person early in life. In the eyes of his tribesmen, their behaviour was heathenistic. The family was dispised because of his father’s belief. Also, the Pru discriminated against the Abras because of their look, culture, language, etc. Witko’s family denounced their Abra heritage and moved to live in the Rice family compound because the Rice clan needed people who were educated in the legal system.

Witko grew up witnessing the richer Rice children abusing their own poorer brothers or cousins. They grew their wealth mainly because they could find newer ways to oppress others by force, child labour, and the control of the food supply. He wrote about the future demise of such oppressive regimes. Most of the Rice household regarded Witko as an eccentric outsider but they were afraid his prophecy would come true. Witko was a good communicator and writer and he had many followers in the academic field. He died before he could witness Vlad taking over Ebruis.

After Vlad took over the possessions, he tried to distribute them to the people. The unrest gradually subsided but the people still struggled for their livelihood. Vlad died shortly after he decreed all land should be a common possession controlled by the governing body, himself.

The Dragon family was also in trouble. The general community was disgusted about the failure of Mercy and the loss of land and all the debt she incurred during the fighting. They heard about the labourers and peasants’ victory over the Roman family. One man rose up and inspired a revolt against the Dragon family. His name was Wen.

To be continue…

© Ngok Yeung Lai. All rights reserved.

Not the Parable (Part 7) – Fighting at the Neighbour’s Turf

The Raphans had long since thirst for the northern land of the Dragon. The land of the Raphans was a mountainous region. They worked hard on their farms to supply food for the people. They felt that they needed more land to support their growing population since they witnessed the expansion of the Rice clan. They had always been envious of all the land which Dragon owned. When the elders started modernizing their farming and industry, all young Raphan children were shown in their schools the imported oranges, apples and others good tasting fruits that grew in Dragon’s fields.

The teacher would hold up an apple and say, “Does the apple look good?”

The children said in unison, “Yes, it looks good!”

Teacher, “Does it taste good?”

Children said in unison again, “Yes, it tastes great!”

The teacher would then display a map and using a pointer show the children the land of the Dragon saying, “These apples were grown there. When you grow up, go and get it!”

This chanting would happen every day in the morning assembly of all the schools across the Raphan tribe.

When Roman received no resistance after sending his servants to occupy the northern land of the Dragon, he became audacious and decided he could take over the land of Erem. The military minded elders of the Raphan tribe wanted to use this opportunity to test their newly minted fighting force.

The chief told the elders to send their warriors to halt the advance of the Ebruis into Erem. Ebruis never imagined the Raphans had grown into such a powerful fighting force. Many of the Ebruis were killed in Erem when they wanted to gain control. They retreated from Erem back into the northern part of Dragon. The Raphans warriors chased them into the Dragon territory and slaughtered more of the Ebruis fighters.

A newly formed union of families from afar, called Multus, came and formulated a truce between the Raphans and the Ebruis. The Ebruis agreed to retreat to their own territory to prevent more slaughtering of their men. The Raphans took over the control of the northern part of the Dragon’s land, Erem, as well as two small islands across the Dragon’s pond, Pesca and Ryu, which were within the Dragon’s territory.

The whole incident was a disgrace and embarrassment to the Dragon. Two alien tribes came to their land, started a fight within the boundary of their soil, and a third newly formed entity acted as mediator to annex their land to a foreign tribe. Dragon was too weak to defend their own turf. Despite of losing their family inheritance to invading families Wāc, Mercy, and their controlling family members were too busy stashing away their remaining fortune due to their own lust for wealth.

The other families in the area called Dragon, “The Sick Man”.

To be continue…

© Ngok Yeung Lai. All rights reserved.

Not the Parable (Part 6) – The Encroaching of the Neighbours

The façade of the prestige and strength of the Dragon family was peeled off very quickly after the dispute with the Rice clan. All other neighbours could see the household affairs were rotting to the core.

Many of the Dragon men were addicted to papaver. Also most, if not all, the elite members of the family who were in charge of harvesting, mining, and distributing daily needs to all other people were unscrupulous, selfish and rapacious people. Instead of sharing the family harvest and resources equitably, they selfishly stashed away most of the community property as their own. They then sold their stolen stashes for a huge profit. They needed to hide their ill-gotten gain from the head of the family, Mercy and Wāc. They deposited their illicit assets into the Brass Lyon Bank which promised to give them secured and good return on their money with the full protection of secrecy and confidentiality. The Brass Lyon Bank used the money to further fund the expansion of the trade operation of the KN Enterprise in the papaver and transportation business.

The northern neighbour of the Dragon, Ebrius, noticed how the Rice clan was gaining in wealth and stature. The Ebruis tribe saw the opportunity to grab as much property as possible in the north to expand their enclave.

The leader of Ebruis, Roman, inherited the largest piece of estate in the neighbourhood. He was born into privilege and proud of his heritage. He was a lazy and obtuse individual who wanted to show off his wealth to others. He ordered his servants to march into the northern portion of the Dragon’s estate which included the ancestral burial ground of Wāc and Mercy. The servants received no resistance when they marched into the homes, fields and mines of the Dragons. The family members had no choice but to give up the ownership of their land. They were just too weak and hungry to fight. Then the servants tried to take over the homes of the Erem, a distant cousin of the Dragons in the north. They encountered a neighbour of Erem in the East, Raphan, who claimed to be their protector.

Raphan and Erem were both distant cousins of the Dragon family. They acknowledged each other’s existence but seldom had disputes over their properties. Dragon had most of the land in the centre of the region. Erem’s land was smaller, located in the north east corner. Rahan’s tribe lived across the pond in the east. All three families were self-sufficient and did not need much contact with each other.

When the Rice clan and their other relatives started their ascent to prominence, the Raphan tribe changed its attitude. They were afraid that the Rice clan and others would come with their warriors and occupy their homes by force. Mei, the chief of the Raphan, ordered his most intelligent elders to the Rice territory and surrounding clans to learn their manufacturing and ship building technology in order to advance their fighting capability.

The Raphan tribe was quick to learn, swift to adapt, and extremely hard working and loyal to their chief. They were fierce warriors who would fight to the death rather than surrender. In a short time, the Raphans built a modern arsenal, chariots, gun boats and most of all, legions of powerful fighting men.

To be continue…

© Ngok Yeung Lai. All rights reserved.

In memory of a dear friend

A year ago, I was asked to speak at the celebration of life in memory of my dear friend, colleague and brother in Christ, Ian Demspey. With tears in my eyes, I said these words.

I knew Ian when we were attending the Technical University of Nova Scotia many years ago. He was an active student from day one. He volunteered as the student representative of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers). Ian always carried his signature smile and enthusiasm wherever he went.

We graduated the same year. He went to work for MT&T and I pursued my other interests. It was fifteen years before we met again when Ian joined our teaching faculty at NSCC. I was so glad to see that Ian and I were in the same department! As all his students can testify, he was one terrific teacher. He put his creative mind into everything he taught. He could make electrical principles relevant to everyday life by bringing in LEDS and telephone wires. Ohm’s law came to life as Ian entered the classroom wearing ribbons of resistors and acted like he was Gandolf in the Lord of the Rings, waving a calculator as his staff and said, “Thou…shalt…not…pass!”. (Only electrical people can understand this joke.) He had a boxing match with students that you can find on Facebook. When writing on the whiteboard, Ian would continue to write on the painted wall once he ran out of room… He received the Distinguished Teaching Service Award by the Rotary Club of Halifax in 2009. His students called him the “academic entertainer”. Ian’s classes were just plain fun! If I could only have 10% of his wit…

Ian also cared about his students. After the news broke about Ian’s passing, many students expressed their sadness and said Ian was the best teacher they ever had. This is evidenced by the number of Ian’s former students who are here today celebrating his life.

Ian was also a firm believer in his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Many years ago, he organized a small prayer group at a church adjacent to the IT campus to pray for the faculty, staff and students with whom we rub shoulders everyday. His love and concern for the spiritual well being of those he met daily was very evident in his prayers.

Ian and I car-pooled together when we moved to our new workplace at the Waterfront campus. That was a difficult year for me in my teaching career. While I was driving, Ian would pray out loud for me in the back seat all the way from Dartmouth to Halifax.

Most of you know Ian was fun to work with. He was friendly, humorous, and had a quick wit. We can all remember he would dress up as Santa and give out candy canes on campus during Christmas time. You can never forget his “Ho, Ho Ho”.

Ian also had a serious side. He was sincere about what he believed, especially with his Lord Jesus.

I remember Ian was very upset about an incident. We had an all staff meeting with one of the directors of the College. During the meeting, that director swore frequently and used the name of Jesus in vain. After the meeting, Ian went down to the office of the director and expressed his displeasure. He told the director that he was a Christian and that he did not appreciate how the director used the name of his Lord and Saviour in vain. At that time, I was not quite sure that Ian had passed his probation period but Linda assured me that he had. That was our Ian. He had no fear of confronting what he considered wrong or inappropriate. He was not just a person of faith; he lived out his faith in such a way that it had an impact on everyone. His life influenced hundreds if not thousands of people directly and indirectly.

Ian, you lived a full and abundant life! Now, you can keep on running, biking, and jogging… on the streets of gold in Heaven! Also, it is time to take a rest. For me, I would say to my dear friend, Ian, good night for now, sleep tight. One day, we will all wake up and say to one another “good morning”.

Not the Parable (Part 5) – The (Mis)Fortune of Fragrance

Soon after Mercy gained total control, following her murder of Ipo, she spent most of her time overseeing the family business. She needed someone she could trust to watch over the daily activities of Wāc. She ordered her maidservant, Suth, to be Wāc’s concubine. A year later, Suth was pregnant. Fragrance was born slightly premature. A concubine’s children belonged to the official wife of the husband, so Mercy became the mother of Fragrance. She could not foresee how a premature girl would achieve much in her life. Her egocentric personality was vividly shown as she did not care about the lives of Fragrance and Suth. When her plan to stop the papaver trade failed, Mercy signed Fragrance, who was only a few days old, over to the Rice clan as part of the debt payment to them.

Suth was not a direct descendent of the Dragon family. Her great-grandparents were sold to them as slaves more than a century prior. Some descendants were freed by escaping to another land and others were redeemed by their merciful owners. However, Suth was redeemed by the Rice cousins to care for her infant. She was glad to leave the Dragon household to raise her little baby girl.

After Mercy paid the compensation, the Rice family promised her they would let Fragrance go home when she grew up. Mercy did not care at the time whether the girl ever came back. She just wanted to put the incident behind her so she could continue on with her life.

Suth and Fragrance moved into the Rice household and joined those who shared the same fate as trophies of the Rice conquest. They had to learn how to serve their masters. Servants like them were known as colonias. They would never be members of the family. They were not allowed to have ownership of anything. All they possessed were leased to them by the grace of their masters. They were regarded as less then complete human beings. They were beaten, yelled at, and abused by most of the Rice household. Colonias were only allowed to stay at their own tiny quarters with simple beds, a shared cooking area, and washrooms. They were not permitted to use any facilities at their master’s mansion. A sign posted at the entry gate of the botanic garden read, “Colonias and dogs not allowed”.

Fragrance was trained from a young age in the household customs of the Rice clan. She learned science, mathematics, language, and other subjects taught by the teachers sent by the Rice masters. The Rice family gave good education and welfare to the colonias but not because of their benevolence. Rather, they needed well educated colonias to manage the rapid expansion of their business.

Fragrance was intelligent, perceptive, and hard working. She always finished first in her class. Suth always encouraged Fragrance to succeed because she knew her child had an exceptional ability. She just hoped that someday Fragrance would surpass the children of the Rice clan.

Even though both of them were treated as less than human beings, they were glad that they still had the bare minimum to eat and a small shack for rest. They heard that the estate of the Dragon was under siege from their unruly neighbours.

To be continue…

© Ngok Yeung Lai. All rights reserved.