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May 2006

May 28, 2006

Perhaps no other character in history other than Jesus has been written about as much as Abraham Lincoln. There are literally hundreds of books that trace his life, from its humble beginnings in the backwoods of Kentucky to its conclusion at the hands of an assassin. Abraham Lincoln: The Man and His Faith does not attempt to provide an exhaustive biography of his life. Rather, it traces the growth of Lincoln as a Christian. It traces the roots of his faith in the teachings of his mother and shows how his faith was tested and sharpened through his life. It shows how the wisdom which made him famous was godly wisdom, learned through a lifetime of humility and submission to God.

May 27, 2006

manwithamission.jpgWilliam Tyndale is one of my heroes and his portrait hangs over my desk. He is a man who lived his life in service to God and left a legacy which we simply cannot underestimate. Tyndale was, of course, the first man to make and print a translation of the Scriptures from the Greek into English. His translation formed much of the basis for the eventual King James translation and in that way is still in use today and is still precious to many believers. He gave his life for his work which eventually totalled all of the New Testament and the first two sections of the Old. He gave his life for the privilege of translating Scripture. And what I most admire about Tyndale—what I would most want to emulate—is his passion for the Scriptures. He trusted in the promises of Scripture, that it is living and active, and had great faith in what would happen when the Scriptures were released to to English people.

Man With A Mission is an interview with Tyndale scholar and biographer Dr. David Daniell who wrote William Tyndale: A Biography. This book is, by all accounts, the authoritative account of Tyndale’s life. Daniell knows as much about his subject and this DVD is complementary to that book. He provides an overview of Tyndale’s life and provides many fascinating and little-known details about the man. He takes us from the years of Tyndale’s formal education to his martyrdom, focusing primarily, of course, on his work of translation which was so often done in secrecy and while hiding from the Catholic authorities.

This is a very interesting presentation and one that is well worth viewing. It clocks in at 42 minutes and, unfortunately, the disc does not include any bonus features.

May 26, 2006

Spiritual discernment is a subject that has been much on my mind in recent weeks. I have been thinking a great deal about how I can become more discerning and how I can serve others in helping them understand the value of discernment as well as the practice of discernment. To that end I have been attempting to formulate a “discernment filter.” I have been attempting to formulate a small set of rules through which I can pass a teaching or doctrine in order to discern whether or not it is consistent with Scripture.

Today I am going to make my first public attempt at passing a teaching through this filter. The teaching I would like to examine is “self-forgiveness.”

Self-Forgiveness

A few days ago I purchased the newest album by Downhere, a band I quite like and have followed for some time now. It is a good album and I’ve enjoyed listening to it. There is one song, though, that got me thinking. The song is entitled “Forgive Yourself.” I’ll give you the lyrics so you can read them for yourself:

You keep laying down $100 bills
On the counter of your untamed guilt
And you’ll keep paying out from your empty purse
Until you feel you’ve satisfied your curse
No one here is throwing stones
But you have got to drop your own

Forgive yourself, forgive yourself
Anyone who bears a scar wants to forget it
Forgive yourself, forgive yourself
Nothing ever frees you more than just believing
That you’ve been forgiven, come out of the prison

Can you tell me how you spend every day
Looking in the mirror of your shame
And staring like a judge, you are ruling for yourself
You tied a stone around your neck
You’re drowning in a past regret

Don’t believe it’s okay to be like this
Don’t believe you deserve to live like this
‘Cause every part of you wants to know
Just one reason why you should let go

Forgive yourself, forgive yourself
Nothing ever frees you more than just believing
Come out of the prison
You’ve been delivered

The idea of self-forgiveness, which is clearly presented in this song, is one that I have come across in the past. But as I thought about this, I realized that I could think of no biblical proof to support it. And so I decided that this teaching could become a test for this discernment filter.

This filter has three steps, modelled after 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 which exhorts all Christians to “test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” And so in this filter we first test, then abstain, and finally hold fast.

Test

We will first test this doctrine, studying the issue and holding it up against the truths of Scripture. We may seek the wisdom of other believers who, having been guided by Scripture and plain reason, have reached conclusions of their own. If possible, we will also seek the consensus of historic Christianity.

As we peer into Scripture, it becomes quickly apparent that “forgive yourself” is not biblical language. I have not found any place in Scripture where we are told to forgive ourselves, either in those word or even in concept. We are told to seek forgiveness from God and from our fellow man. We are told to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us and release any bitterness we feel towards them. But I do not see that we are ever told to forgive ourselves.

Forgiveness is a constant, recurring theme in Scripture, so I will present only a few of the many verses dealing with it along with a brief comment for each:

  • “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!” Psalm 32:1-2. The man is blessed whose sins have been forgiven by God.
  • “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.” Mark 11:25. We are to forgive each other so that God will continue to forgive us.
  • “Bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” Colossians 3:13. We are to forgive each other as a way of modelling the forgiveness God extends to us.
  • “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9. When we confess our sins to God, He is faithful to forgive and cleanse us.
  • “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” 1 John 2:1. When we sin, Jesus Christ stands as our advocate before the Judge.

In searching other resources, I was not able to find much material on this subject written by Bible-based, discerning authors. In fact, much of the material advocating forgiveness of oneself is written from the perspective of a New Age, pop-Christianity. It is the “Dr. Phil” brand of Christian psychology that tends to advocate the view that we need to forgive ourselves. One discerning leader who has written on this subject, though only briefly, is John MacArthur. He writes the following:

I realize there are some who teach that a kind of self-forgiveness is necessary. I find this nowhere in Scripture. I’ve met many people who claim to be unable to forgive themselves, but on careful examination this usually turns out to be a kind of sinful pride exacerbated by modern self-esteem philosophy. The person who complains about not being self-forgiving is often simply looking for flattering or consoling words from others as a way of salving the hurt that guilt has caused to their pride.

He also quotes Jay Adams who, in his book From Forgiven to Forgiving, wrote:

The problem is not self-forgiveness. Their expressed agony stems from the very fact that, in the worst way, they want to forgive themselves. They want to put it all behind them, they want to bury it once and for all…

The problem is that people who talk this way recognize something more needs to be done. Forgiveness is just the beginning; it clears away the guilt. They also recognize that they are still the same persons who did the wrong—that though they are forgiven, they have not changed. Without being able to articulate it, and using instead the jargon they have heard all around them, they are crying out for the change that will assure them they will never do anything like it again. When, as a counselor, I help them to deal with the problems in their lives that led to the wrong, in such a way that they lead a more biblical lifestyle, I then ask, “Are you still having trouble forgiving yourself?” Invariably, they say no.

Discernment, as the word is used in Scripture, implies that we are to “separate things from one another at their points of difference in order to distinguish them” (Jay Adams). The point of difference in our study seems to be in our understanding of who it is that we sin against. We must realize that, first and foremost, no matter who has been harmed by our sin and how many people have been affected by it, our sin is primarily sin against God. Many of those who advocate the view that we must forgive ourselves would have a low or non-existent understanding of the holiness of God. Thus, in their view, my sin is primarily against myself. They hold forth a selfish, self-centered view of sin which says “Against myself, myself only have I sinned.” It seems to me, then, that self-forgiveness has roots buried more deeply in self-esteem and sinful, human-centered psychology than in Scripture.

While Scripture does not forbid self-forgiveness, it also does not require it. I would suggest, then, that we do not need to forgive ourself and nor should we make this our practice. If we struggle with guilt or shame, forgiving ourselves may be a temporary salve but it cannot bring the peace and healing we seek. We can only have true peace, lasting peace, by accepting God’s forgiveness and allowing Him to remove the guilt of our transgression. This must be an act of God rather than an act of self.

Abstain

In this step we will determine what it is that we must avoid, now that we have determined that we are not required to forgive ourselves. We will substitute what is false for what is true.

It seems to me that the lesson here is that we must always remember and believe that we sin primarily against God. What we need to avoid is a man-centered approach to sin where we first ask “how have I harmed myself with this sin.” Rather, we must turn to God and ask Him to forgive us, for our sin has been primarily against the Lord. We substitute self-forgiveness for true repentence before God and acceptance of His forgiveness.

Hold Fast

In this final step we implement the truths we have learned and seek to apply them to our lives. We will hold fast to the truths God has revealed and ask that He will help in the application of these truths.

As I have suggested, it seems to me that I do not need to forgive myself for my sin. Rather, I need to ask God’s forgiveness and, having confessed and repented of my sin, I need to hold fast to God’s promises that He has forgiven me. My primary responsibility is not to myself but to God. When I sin against another person or against myself, I primarily sin against God. Thus it is His forgiveness that I require. I can live without the forgiveness of men. I can live without self-forgiveness. But I cannot live without God’s forgiveness. My responsibility and my privilege is to receive God’s forgiveness, trusting that, if I confess, He is faithful and righteous to forgive me my sins and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness.”

The application of these truths may be a deeply personal matter. I may need to change the way I ask God for forgiveness. I may need to extend greater effort in seeking the forgiveness of others. I may need to repent before God of taking His holiness so lightly that I could believe that my sin has been primarily against myself.

Conclusion

So there it is: my first attempt at passing something through this “discernment filter.” I would be interested in your feedback (more on the process than this particular teaching).

May 26, 2006

Friday May 26, 2006

Modesty: Toby has been writing about a touchy subject. “Well, summer is on it’s way, or perhaps it is here for some parts of the country. And along with the warmer weather comes an issue that has been of concern to me for some time. The issue is… MODESTY.”

Mailbag: Yesterday I received the following email: “Let’s beat the [removed] out of our kids—for Jesus! Yeah, that works. The highest divorce rate is in the Bible Belt. The highest incidence of child abuse and infanticide? Among fundamentalists of all stripes. You and Osama Bin Laden have more in common that you and Jesus. Who did Jesus beat? What country’s did Jesus attack. Shame on you! I hope there is a hell—it’s just for you wicked misguided monsters.”

Weird: Some crazy guy decided to impersonate a police officer. For kicks he pulls over a guy and attempts to charge him with speeding. Turns out he actually pulled over a real cop. Oops.

Conference: The New Attitude Conference begins this weekend. A team of livebloggers will be bringing updates. Check it out.

May 25, 2006

As I began writing this little post, my RSS reader pinged and up came the headline: “A Dog Story With A Happy Ending.” This comes courtesy of Rebecca, it seems. The timing is somewhat ironic, since the dog story I’m writing today has quite an unhappy ending.

Almost eight years ago, shortly after we got married, Aileen and I decided to get a dog. I was working late nights and we were living in Brantford. If you lived in this area and heard the word “Brantford,” you’d nod your head knowingly. A woman who is home alone at night in Brantford needs a dog in the house. We visited the Humane Society and came home with an energetic little Black Lab/German Shepherd cross we decided to name Tiazzi. It was a strange name for a strange dog. I can’t count the number of times over the past few years that Aileen has wondered why she didn’t choose the sedate little puppy, Tiazzi’s sister, that looked like a German Shepherd. But instead she took the tiny one that looked like a Lab.

Tiazzi was a smart dog, though never really looked it because she had oversize ears, one of which stood straight and tall while the other constantly flopped forward. She always looked a little cock-eyed. She always had far more energy than we could deal with, though as she aged she finally lost some of the edge. She had an enduring hatred of cats, mailmen, firetrucks and doorbells. She never bit or harmed anyone, but she had a loud bark that would strike fear in any heart (just ask my pastor if you don’t believe me!). We never worried about break-ins when she was around.

We did all the things first-time dog owners do. We took her to obedience lessons and played with her constantly. Aileen spent hours training her to do silly but amusing tricks. I took some time to play with her, but she really was Aileen’s puppy. I tolerated the dog, but never loved her. She was a difficult dog, and a stubborn one. She was probably too smart for her own good. She knew how to heel but chose not to obey us as we tried to convince her to actually do it when we walked her. She would pull and strain against the leash and no amount of convincing or cajoling or even pain would make her stop. Pinch collars, choke chains and other special devices proved useless. She would also jump up on visitors when they arrived. And again, there was nothing we could do to get her to stop this obnoxious behavior. As time went on, and as she got older, she got more hardened in her areas of poor behavior, caring less about our attempts to curb her.

puppy.jpgAfter a while a funny thing happened. Aileen gave birth to our first child and suddenly Tiazzi did not seem quite so important. We spent less time with her, both out of desire and necessity. Nevertheless, she adjusted quite well to the arrival of my son. She didn’t ever really like him or play with him, but she tolerated him and never tried to bite him, even when he helped himself to her kibble. My son was followed three years later by a daughter and when she was born the dog went on a short hunger strike. Tiazzi was, however, a dog and no dog (especially a Lab) can maintain a hunger strike for long. Eventually she gave in and began to tolerate a second child. That was three years ago.

A few months ago we moved to a new home and then, three weeks ago, Michaela was born. This time Tiazzi, now eight years old, seemed unable to adjust to the change. Her behavior changed. She began to bark at sights and sounds that seemed to exist only in her mind. She developed severe separation anxiety which led her to be destructive. When we put her in her kennel she would yelp and struggle until she shifted the kennel far enough along the floor that she could find something, anything, to destroy. Having torn a shirt or even her own bed to shreds, she would settle down and sleep. She soon confused the basement and her dog run, deciding that she no longer enjoyed being outside and would rather use the basement as her bathroom. She began to make a mess of the kid’s playroom.

Yesterday, nearing the end of our rope, we tried a new strategy, giving her the run of the whole laundry room (in the basement) while we went to my son’s ballgame. We came home to find she had chewed away a piece of the doorframe and had clawed under the gate to shred some of the basement carpet. This was the final straw. It was clear evidence of what we already knew—she was sick and was not going to get better.

There were not many options. The Humane Society would not take her. “If her anxiety is that bad now, it’s only going to get worse in the high-stress environment of the kennel. No one will ever adopt her here.” They suggested we put her on medication and take her to some form of pet counselling. The only other option, they said, was to contact our vet, who happens to be a great dog-lover, and have her euthanized. We do not have money for counselling (and probably not for medication either!), so we contacted the vet who said that, from the sound of things, her situation was sufficiently severe that even medication would not help. If we could not deal with her systematically destroying our house, we should consider putting her down. He has seen this before. After much consideration and many tears (from Aileen, at least), we decided that there was no option but to have her put down.

We felt better doing this based on the vet’s counsel, but it was still an awful option. This morning we had the children bid the dog farewell. They know only that Tiazzi has gone to the vet and that she won’t be back. I’m not sure how much more we should tell them. Perhaps ignorance is bliss. Perhaps this is a good moment to teach them a reality about life and death and sin and evil. We’ll worry about that later. Aileen gave Tiazzi a last hug and a last scratch behind the ears. I loaded the dog into the van and we drove to the vet’s office.

I arrived at the vet and, leaving the dog in the car, went inside. I filled out the paperwork, signed something I didn’t bother to read and gave them the ridiculous sum of $281.41 for their services. Having done that, I walked out to the car, fetched the dog, handed the leash to the receptionist and then turned my back and walked away. I didn’t exactly forget to say goodbye to the dog. I guess it’s more that I just couldn’t. I never loved the dog and really only barely tolerated her much of the time, but she was part of our lives for a long time and it was surprisingly hard to know she was going to die.

And then I dealt with this the way I deal with most difficult things. I turned on some really loud music and began to write.

It’s strange, really, that already I am writing in the past tense, even though the dog is probably still alive, at least for a few more minutes. I am reasonably comfortable with the decision we made, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I struggle in the dark hours of the night when I tend to lie awake and think. Aileen is less sure of what we did, but she also loved the dog more. In the end I console myself with the knowledge that Tiazzi was only an animal. She was a living being and was, in some way, precious in God’s eyes. She was certainly precious to Aileen. But she was a dog and had no soul. She will die sometime today and that will be all. Her heart will stop beating and she will be no more. She will not go to heaven and will not chase rabbits through the happy hunting grounds. She will simply stop being. She will be no more than a memory.

God is good to give us animals to serve and protect and comfort and cheer us. Tiazzi did plenty of all of that. But her time came to an end and I’m glad that she could go in peace. As much as I hate to say it, I am going to miss her. Despite the hardship she brought us, I am thankful that we were able to know her and have her live with us. I will choose to remember her fondly.

Dumb dog.

May 25, 2006

Thursday May 25, 2006

Weird: Dignan has learned that Pat Robertson can leg press 2000 pounds. “On Robertson’s website, he is plugging his “Age-Defying” protein shake. And the best part is that his shake enables him to leg press 2,000 lbs!!!”

Humor: Joe Carter took on the blogosphere in a long, rambling, humorous post entitled “Royal Rumble in Godblogdom.” “Tim has read more books this year than are in the library at Bob Jones University.” I’m not sure if that is a compliment or an insult!

Humor Bonus: The folks at SermonSpice have done it again. Put down your Coke or coffee and take a look at Prosperity Praise.

May 24, 2006

Some time ago I became convicted, by the Spirit I trust, that I did not regard the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with sufficient significance or gravity. I felt that I did not sufficiently sanctify this celebration through lack of preparation and lack of focus when actually taking the bread and the wine. Over the past four days I have been making my way through Gospel Worship by Jeremiah Burroughs, a Puritan who lived and ministered in the early seventeenth century. In one chapter of this great book he addresses the question of “What is Required in Receiving the Sacrament?” While the book is filled, from cover to cover with godly wisdom, this one section spoke straight to my soul. Burroughs provides requirements for “the sanctifying of the name of God in this holy sacrament.” I’d like to share these with you today in the hope that they challenge you as they’ve challenged me.

Knowledge is Required - A person must know what the Lord’s Supper signifies and must be able to provide an account of what it is (and is not). We must also have knowledge of other aspects of the Christian faith, “for we can never come to understand the nature of this sacrament without knowing God and knowing ourselves, knowing in what estate we were by nature, knowing our fall, knowing the way of redemption, knowing what Jesus Christ was and what He has done in making an atonement, the necessity of Jesus Christ and what the way of the covenant is that God has appointed to bring men’s souls to eternal life by.” This must not be mere habitual knowledge, but knowledge that is stirred up by meditation.

A Suitable Disposition - Because the Lord’s Supper remembers the Lord’s broken body and shed blood, “a suitable disposition is brokenness of heart, a sense of our sin, of that dreadful breach that sin has made between God and the soul.” Our sin should be upon our hearts, but only in such a way that we understand it through the application of the blood of Christ. We must behold Christ broken and behold the ugliness of our sin in the red of the glass of the blood of Jesus Christ. “There is more in this sacrament to break the heart for sin” than any other sight we could behold, even a memorial or picture of Christ hanging on the cross. “You do not find that God set that [seeing a representation of Christ on the cross] apart as an ordinance, an institution appointed to the end that they should come to look upon that for the breaking of their hearts.” So when you see the bread broken and see the redness of the wine, allow your heart to be broken with your sin.

Purging and Cleansing the Heart of Sin - At Passover the Jews were to cast out all leaven from within their homes. They first made diligent search for leaven, even lighting candles to search for leaven in every corner. They then cast it out of their homes. Finally, they cursed themselves if they should willingly keep any leaven in the house. That signifies the soul-searching we should undertake before we approach the Lord’s table. We should “make a diligent search to see whether there is not some leaven, some evil in your heart; and whatever sin you shall come to find in your heart, there must be a casting out of it.”

Burroughs provides this moving metaphor for how we are to regard our sin as we approach the Lord’s Supper. “If you saw the knife that cut the throat of your dearest child, would not your heart rise against that knife? Suppose you came to a table and there is a knife laid at your plate, and it was told to you that this is the knife that cut the throat of your child. Fathers, if you could still use that knife like any other knife, would not someone say, ‘There was but little love to your child?’ So when there is a temptation come to any sin, this is the knife that cut the throat of Christ, that pierced his sides, that was the cause of all his suffering, that made Christ to be a curse. Now will you not look upon that as a cursed thing that made Christ to be a curse? Oh, with what detestation would a man or woman fling away such a knife! And with the like detestation it is required that you should renounce sin, for that was the cause of the death of Christ.”

The Hungering and Thirsting of the Soul after Jesus Christ - God expects that all who come to this feast should come with a hungering and longing for Jesus Christ. “Oh, that I might have more of Christ, that I might meet with Christ, that I might have some further manifestation of Jesus Christ, that I might have my soul further united to the Lord Christ, and so have further influence of Christ to my soul.” The reason we do not hunger after Christ like this is that we too often come with stomachs filled with the trash of the world. “So it is with men of the world. They fill their hearts with the trash of this world, with sensual delights; and hence it is that when they come to such a great ordinance to enjoy communion with Jesus Christ, they feel no want at all of Christ. They only come and take a little piece of bread and draught of wine, but for any strong, pausing desires to meet with Jesus Christ there in the ordinance, to come so as they know not how to live with Christ, even as a man who is hungry cannot live without his meat and drink, and so for the soul to have such a disposition after Christ is a rare thing.”

An Exercise of Faith - “Faith is both the hand and the mouth for taking this spiritual meat and spiritual drink.” Faith allows us to see in the bread and wine Jesus’ flesh and blood. “You know by this whether you have come with faith to the sacrament or not, whether you have seen the most glorious sight that ever your eyes beheld, alas, with our natural eyes.” And then, “as you reach out your hand to take the bread and wine, so there must be an actual reaching out of the soul by faith, putting forth an act of faith to receive Jesus Christ into the soul, to apply the Lord Jesus Christ to your soul with all His merits and good things that He has purchased.” And finally the mouth: “You have a bodily mouth to take in bread and wine, but know that without faith your soul cannot take in Christ. Faith is, as it were, the mouth. That is, by the act of faith the soul opens itself for Jesus Christ, and not only opens itself, but takes in Christ to the soul and makes Christ and the soul as one.”

Spiritual Joy - Despite the broken-heartedness of this feast, joy must be exercised. We rejoice with trembling. “This is a great mystery of godliness, that there should be at the same time the sight of Christ crucified and a spiritual cheerfulness in the assurance of the love of God in Jesus Christ.”

Thankfulness - We are to give thanks to God for every mercy. “When you come here and understand what you are doing, here you cannot but see matter for the enlargement of your heart, and wish that you had ten thousand times more strength to express the praises of the Lord. Here is a thing that must be the subject of the ‘Hallelujahs’ and ‘Doxologies’ that angels and saints must forever sound out in the highest heavens.” For in this act the Lord signifies that He has given us something far better than if He were to give us ten thousand worlds.

A Willingness to Renew Your Covenant - There must be a renewing of the covenant with God. “I come to receive this bread and this wine, and this is to be as the seal of the covenant on God’s part. Now this will be implied in the nature of the thing that, if I take the seals of the covenant, I must be willing to set my seal on it too, to renew the covenant that God calls me to.” We come to renew our faith and repentance.

A Renewing of Love - We come to renew our love not only to God but also to our brethren. “For it is a feast of the Lord, and it is an act of communion; communion not only with Christ, but with His churches, with His saints… The Lord requires that His children should not fall out who come to His table, but that there should be love and peace. There’s a mighty bond when you come to the sacrament, and therefore, first all heart-burnings and heart-grudges must be laid aside.”

Burroughs concludes with a warning:

“If we do not sanctify God’s name, it will turn quite to the contrary. It is the proper end of the sacrament to seal up our salvation, but if we do not sanctify God’s name it will seal up our condemnation. If it has not been your endeavour to sanctify the name of God, as many times as you have received the sacrament, so many seals have you upon you for the sealing up of your condemnation. Many men’s or women’s condemnations are sealed with three or four hundred seals, as it may be.” For God’s name will be sanctified in us, either through grace and mercy or through justice.

May 24, 2006

Wednesday May 24, 2006

Technology: Apple and Nike have joined forces to make a shoe that will tell a runner how far and how fast he has run.

Theology: Steve Camp has posted part two of Lars Larson’s excellent article dealing with spiritual discernment.

Du Jour: Dan Phillips takes a look at an article in the Washington Post dealing with Bart Ehrman and realizes that his faith has been shattered. “To the media, there is only one kind of noble, admirable Christian fundamentalist: an ex-Christian-fundamentalist.”

Photography: Michael Wolf has an amazing collection of pictures from Hong Kong’s oldest public housing estate. It has 100 rooms, each 100 square feet.