Saturday, August 20, 2005

A Student's Prayer

For those who have insomnia, before a test or exam, here is a nice prayer to remember.

===========================
A Student's Prayer

Now I lay me down to rest,
I pray I pass tomorrow's test.
If I should die before I wake,
That's one less test I'll have to take

Anon.
==========================
kianseng

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

On Walmart, Starbucks and Methodism That Transforms?

There was an interesting blog (Wesleyblog.com) entitled "Methodism That Transforms" on the United Methodist Church and its position in the communities of today. It started out comparing Walmart (4000 stores) and Starbucks (5000 stores) with that of the UMC (35000 congregations), and then goes on to relate the differences in terms of influence and recognition in the communities it served. Clearly, the writer was bemoaning the situation where places like Walmart and Starbucks are becoming more influential then the Methodist Church, calling out for a 'Methodism that Transforms'. Following that, another blogger did a comparison of the Christian and commercial enterprises, and also bemoaned the differences in influences.

Comparing US Congregations vs US Commercial Enterprises
Christian Congregations
ELCA - 10,000 congregations
PCUSA - 11,000 congregations
UMC - 35,000 congregations
Total: 56,000 worshiping congregations

Commercial Enterprises
Target - 1100 stores
K-Mart - 1100 stores
Wal-Mart - 4000 stores
Total: 6200 retail stores

Comparing Singapore Methodist Congregations vs NTUC Fairprice
For me, such comparison should wake up the complacency of the Church at least, though technically we are not comparing apples to apples. For sheer fun, I did a similar comparison on the web on the situation in Singapore, comparing NTUC stores with the Methodist congregations and came up with the following:

19 CAC + 7 ETAC + 22 TRAC = 48 congregations (approximately)
NTUC Fairprice = more than 100 stores island wide with about 450,000 members

It would appear that the argument for Singapore statistically will not be similar compared to that of the United Methodist Church. However, if we were to take the census of 13% Christians out of a population of 3.5 million, that will be about 455000 professing Christians in the whole island of Singapore, which is about the same number as the total number of NTUC members (of which many I suppose are professing Christians as well). Now comes the hard question. Who has a bigger influence? Is it the Christian Church or the NTUC Fairprice?

The writer for WesleyBlog seemed burdened with the institutional UMC. Everyone knows Walmart and Starbucks, and many will readily pay them a visit for their cheap goods or that cup of latte. Who would think of the UMC Church when they feel a need to attend Church? For that matter, many in Singapore recognizes NTUC as the place to buy their groceries. How many think of the Methodist Church when they feel they needed something beyond consumerism? Maybe that is the wrong question to ask in the first place. Afterall, they are different, somewhat.

THAT DAY WILL COME
I am wary of making such comparisons as it will simply position the Church in terms of consumeristic tendencies. The Church is not something to meet our consumption requirements. The Church should be the place to help us worship God, and to push one another towards living a holy life, and in doing so to provide a living testimony for God. Having said that, it is good to take a pause in our Church lives, to take stock of ourselves and re-evaluate our witness in the community we live in. In peace time and secular prosperity, people will be nonchalant about spiritual things. We need to be prepared at all times for calamity, for sudden events that can devastate lives like the tsunami, acts of terrorism, SARS, mass epidemics etc. The Church must continue to be united and meet together to encourage one another unto love and good deeds. Build up this relationship within ourselves, among our neighbours, expecting that THAT DAY WILL COME, when the Church will be the only place where people will seek shelter and comfort in the storms of life. THAT DAY WILL COME, where Starbucks, Walmart, NTUC Fairprice will simply fade away into irrelevance. The fact that we do not know WHEN that day will come, should in itself motivate us to live holy lives and meaningful relationships with people.

We are mortal beings. Which dying person will regret not spending more time in Starbucks or NTUC Fairprice or Walmart? Safe to say that most, if not all dying persons will regret not spending more time with people, especially their loved ones and their friends. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, remember the parable of the virgins? (Matthew 25:1-13).

Always be ready.

kianseng

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Japanese Aggression & End of WWII Remembered

On Japan’s Surrender and WWII Memories

Aug. 15, 1945 was the day when the Japanese Emperor Hirohito signed Japan’s surrender and officially marked the end of Japanese aggression in countries like Korea, China, Philippines, Australia, the United States, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. While it evoked bitter memories and emotions in some, others simply shrugged it off as another event to forget. While it is important to remember the past, we should not be enslaved to hatred on a forever basis. It is not good for the soul.

The Sufferers - victims
As a generation who hardly experienced what World War II was like, I can only share in the gut-wrenching horror through oral stories, books, media portrayal of Japanese cruelty and the historical documents of the ugliness of war, and how war has de-humanized people. My grandparents used to describe how the Japanese soldiers brutalized the common-folks and treated them as if they were animals. Stories of them casting babies into the air and stabbing them with their knives, shooting men in the head in a sea of blood at Changi Beach, torture, raping women, forcing everyone to learn Japanese, building informant networks to encourage people to tell on one another. Those stories can easily make one’s blood boil. I have not even mentioned the atrocities that occurred during the Japanese ‘Rape of Nanking’ and the tortures in Korea, which dehumanized millions of people in East Asia! If Pearl Harbour was considered a terrible act of unprovoked war, the East Asian Japanese occupation is clearly the 'Holocaust' of the Far East.

The Aggressors
Having said that, the terrible atomic blasts in the two Japanese cities have killed and destroyed the futures of many ordinary Japanese who lived in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How the nuclear radiation and the slow painful death affected the survivors of the bombing. Thousands of Japanese also lost their lives. As much as I despised the way the Japanese has treated my forefathers, the Japanese themselves also suffered immensely in the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. War is something that nobody wins and everybody loses eventually.

Living Peaceably
What we can all do in the present and the future is to remember truthfully our historical past and make all efforts to ensure it does not ever happen again. The country of Japan must be truthful to their own citizens and state correctly history as it is, not a censored or diluted form that painted Japan the Aggressor as the victim! Likewise, the countries which suffered under Japanese occupation should gradually learn to see Japan with eyes of forgiveness as a whole new generation of Japanese has not been a part of the atrocities of war. They should not carry the blame and shame of their ancestors forever. What can we do to promote peace?

Building Up A 'Peace-Pool'
A Peace-Pool is like a Bank Account which stores credits in terms of goodwill, good deeds, friendship and harmony. As long as this pool is continually filled, despite sudden debits due to misunderstanding, the Peace-Pool will be large enough to sustain any debits and remain healthy. This is an active process and everyone is a depositor. How else can we fill this peace-pool?

This can be done by cross-cultural sharing and understanding. There should be no room for ethnic isolation nor segregation based on differences in language or racial discrimination. Anything that seek to create unhealthy discriminations will only sow seeds of discord and feed war-mongering thoughts. Wars do not simply happen. They take many years of little irritations, growing into compilations of sporadic brutalities and eventually becoming a pile of explosives so large that it only takes a spark to blow it up. We must always build up a ‘peace-pool’ of memorable events of peace and goodwill to counter any negative moves towards dehumanizing acts of cruelty and unfairness. How do we build up this peace pool? I do not have an exhaustive list, but I think the following should get us started somehow:
1. Go visit friends and neighbours REGARDLESS of ethnicity or other visible differences
2. Remember that underneath our skin, the colour is similar – blood red
3. Make an effort to learn simple greetings in as many languages as possible
4. Watch movies, films or cultural shows in another language
5. Enjoy food together through ‘pot-luck parties’, BBQs and different tastes of the world
6. Establish as many common factors as possible, like speaking a common language, working together on projects, learning to speak and understand the other party’s point of views etc.
7. Educate one another about one's own history and culture.

It is possible to live at peace with everyone. The most difficult first step is ‘your willingness’. That is God’s will for us.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

Which is your preferred peace symbol?

Live Branch
Peace Candle
Painted Faces
Paper Dove
Hands with Dove in Center
Blue Palm
Children Holding Hands
Fu-He-Ping








kianseng

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Tough Questions to Tackle

Tough Questions about God's OmniScience

(1) If God is All-knowing, Why did God put the tree of good & evil in the Garden of Eden when He jolly well know that Adam & Eve is going to eat the forbidden fruit in the first place? Isn't it then an open invitation for Adam & Eve to sin? Is God trying to play a trick on humankind?

(2) Why did God allow Evil and Suffering to exist in this world? Granted that this is the price of freedom to choose. However, wouldn't there be a chance that this type of freedom is in a sense a 'bondage' to choose correctly?

(3) If God already knew that man will sin, and He put in place the redemption plan, still, isn't it an unnecessary act of suffering for everyone, including God?

(4) If God is so Perfect, what is wrong to create us all perfect? Maybe the argument that He does not want to create robots, but what about, we being given the choice to choose to be robots?

So anyone care to try to tackle these questions?

kianseng

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

On Video Games: Reducing Violence OR Increasing Immediate / Delayed Violence?

The latest Economist magazine issue had a cover entitled: "Breeding Evil? The real impact of video games". It openly declared that it is in defence of the idea of video games. Take the following description for example, using quantitative analysis from sources, not explicitly mentioned.

"Most of the research on whether video games encourage violence is unsatisfactory, focusing primarily on short-term effects. In the best study so far, frequent playing of a violent game sustained over a month had no effect on participants' level of aggression. And, during the period in which gaming has become widespread in America, violent crime has fallen by half. If games really did make people violent, this tendency might be expected to show up in the figures, given that half of Americans play computer and video games. Perhaps, as some observers have suggested, gaming actually makes people less violent, by acting as a safety valve." (Economist, August 6th 2005)

Such data itself was interpreted by the Economist on a positive manner, insisting eventually that the divide between the Yes and the No group for Video gaming is essentially a divide between the under 40s and the over 40s. Afterall, most of the people playing video games are under 40. Those who opposed video games are mostly over 40. Moreover, using the example of Rock n Roll, the Economist simply pointed that over time, people will come to accept Rock n Roll as a part of life to be lived with, and even be embraced. Afterall, they insisted that video games actually reduced the number of violent crimes. Clearly, there are always two sides to the coin. Data can always be interpreted either way.

COUNTER ARGUMENTS
Firstly, assuming the data provided by the Economist is accurate, that violent crimes has actually gone down with the use of video gaming, it is too simplistic to place a direct link between them. How about poverty, dysfunctional family background, drugs & bad influence, cultural idiosynchrocies etc?

Secondly, even if it is true that video gaming keeps violent crimes at bay, what happens when these people are NOT playing video games? If there is indeed a link between playing video games and reduction in violence, wouldn't it then be the responsibility of government and law enforcement agencies to start investing in video games companies to ensure a perpetual supply of video games (violent) to keep these people off the streets?

Thirdly, somewhat related to the second point above, what happens when the people are deprived of their video games diet? Will it then lead to withdrawal symptoms, resulting in possible physical violence patterned after what they have learnt from the violent games? I have heard of cases when children become violent when deprived of their video games diet.

Fourthly, the article defended video gaming on the basis of the reduction of number of violent crimes. It is far too early to declare that one has fully apprehended the positive or negative effects of video gaming. Games are constantly being changed. One thing is for sure. Consumers are buying more gory, bloody and violent games. Must we wait for an actual violent crime to occur before we realise that these video games do more harm than good? Simply put, one crime is one too many.

Fifthly, measuring human behaviour merely over one month grossly underestimate the ill-effects of violent video games. More time is needed to be more conclusive, as human behaviour is often measured in terms of a few months or even years!

THE OUTSIDE IS AN EXPRESSION OF THE INSIDE
As a Christian, we are not concerned just on the exterior but on the whole person. What good is it to preserve a good outside, when we allow the inner side to rot? Afterall, isn't it true that what happens on the inside, eventually gets manifested on the outside over time? It seems that with the report, the Economist merely attempted to address the symptoms and not the inner soul. Perhaps that is not within their purview. Perhaps this soul-talk is reserved more for the religious groups, Churches, social help organizations etc. Perhaps the Economist is merely trying to provide another point of view to the general objections of such violent games. However, by publishing this report as is, it is an unnecessary form of 'support' for the propagation of violent games. Games are generally ok, but when it come to violent, sensual, nonsensical images, we have to draw the line.

Christian, be careful what you feed yourself with! (*Remember to read the previous article on Two Wolves as an illustration)

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:8 NIV

Two Wolves

Two Wolves

An old Indian Grandfather said to his grandson who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice........

"Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times."

He continued......

"It is as if there are two wolves inside me; One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offence when no offence was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. He saves all his energy for the right fight.

But the other wolf, ahhh!

He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.

Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit."

The boy looked intently into his Grandfather's eyes and asked...

"Which one wins, Grandfather?"

The Grandfather smiled and quietly said......

"The one I feed."

Author Unknown

Thursday, August 04, 2005

On the sinfulness of self and The Cross of Christ

Once in a while, it is refreshing to read about other testimonies of Christians in the faith. An example is John Stott's "Why I Am A Christian". In the chapter 4 entitled 'The Paradox of Our Humanness', he wrote that "The essence of evil is self-centeredness". He then goes on to mention the thoughts, words and deeds of which we become guilty when we fail to put God first, neighbours second and ourselves last. He did an interesting exercise by looking up words in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary that has the word 'self-' as a prefix and ended up with words like self-assertion, self-indulgence, self-applause, self-advertisement, self-gratification, self-glorification, self-pity and self-will. He counted more than 50 such words that are used perjoratively. Stott wrote that the essence of evil is self-centeredness. The paradox is that how can a God so holy and pure, care to love man who is sinful, selfish and utterly disgusting? Let me put it hypothetically, that with such a paradox, what has anybody (Christians and non-Christians in general) has got to lose to embrace this God?

It sounds scary at first look, just to think that anything to do with the self is an invitation to doing evil. Logically, when we look more to the self, we look less at others (including God). At Regent chapel, one of the images that humbled me, is always the humble cross. Why did the Christian Church not adopt the dove as a symbol for Christianity? Why not a picture of a glorious victorious kingdom? Why not a big star, or fire, or the baby crib, or a man on a donkey, or the towel to wash feet, or the alabastar vase? Instead, the cross was chosen, seemingly something that has shame attached to it? Thus we see people wearing crosses on their neck, their ears, on Church steeples, Church posters, and on the tombs. The cross is THE representation of the Christian faith!

Stott mentioned that many people thought that the cross represents death and shame arrived, while the resurrection represented the victory. Rather, it is the cross that represented the victory and the resurrection a re-affirmation of that victory! It is insightful indeed and theologically, the death of Christ turned things around for mankind in so significant ways. Indeed, the cross of Christ must not be taken in vain. So the hymn I learnt at Regent goes like this:

I BIND UNTO MYSELF (aka St Patrick's Breastplate
I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Yes. When I bind unto myself the Holy Trinity, goal I approach that when I look into myself, may I see Christ more and more. If I cannot be 'sinless' in this life, may I then learn to 'sin-less'. God guide me to His path of holiness. Praise be to God.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Do Miracles Happen?

Miracles

Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see. (CS Lewis)

Today, I walked past a car and happen to notice two words “Miracles Happen”. Normally I would not give it any second thought. However, my frame of mind is more contemplative of the word miracles these past few days. Can miracles really happen? When was the last time I have personally experienced a miracle for myself? These are thoughts I pondered and even ask:
‘After having being a Christian for so many years, can I recall any specific incidence of miracles in my life that in some ways point to God’s grace upon my life?’

If I were to define miracles as those resembling ‘brimstones and thunder’, or magnificent instances of BIG, SHOWY cases like Elijah or Moses, I struggled to find one deserving mention. However, when I wait upon the Lord, that soft prompting began to open my senses to see the tiny miracles happening in my own life. CS Lewis’s very insightful quote on miracles is a case in point. Life in itself is a miracle. It is a miracle that I am pursuing theological studies, after expressing my desire to God many years ago (albeit in jest at that time). Miracles continue to show itself in my friends who God has brought alongside us, besides the distance, gives us the "so far, yet so close" feeling. [In contrast, back in Singapore, sometimes I felt the "so near yet so far" feeling]
It is a miracle that I found my wife, though imperfect in many ways, yet I find myself loving her more each day. My family, my circle of friends and my supportive Church group and members back in Singapore. It is a miracle that even though I see myself as insignificant, others still see me of some worth. It is a miracle that when I gave up things for God, I received much more in return. For example, despite giving away most of my well-loved books accumulated over 10 years, I have at my liberty, access to hundreds and thousands of books in the Vancouver and Regent libraries, without having the pressing pressure of buying. Believe it or not, my UBC library card alone allows me to borrow an unlimited number of books from the UBC libraries! [That means able to access the collection which includes four million books and journals, 4.9 million microforms, more than 1.5 million maps, videos and other multimedia materials and over 33, 500 subscriptions.]

Christ has revealed Himself to me early in my life. The more I think of the way He has gently guided me to faith, the more I want to love and serve Him. The greatest miracle of all, which I am experiencing day by day is the receiving of love from God through many aspects, more so when I realized I do not deserve it in the first place, save in Christ alone. Miracles happen? Yes, all the time, for love is the biggest miracle of them all!

kianseng

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