Friday, December 28, 2007

New Year Reflections- end 2007

I was thinking about what is the best way to reflect on 2007 as the year comes to a close. Nothing beats forgiveness, and this story (available widely on the Internet) embodies this in an excellent way. Should we end the year with unresolved relationships or should we make a proactive effort to heal the wounds?

For me, it is a year to reconcile how I should be a better father, a more loving husband and a deeper pilgrimage in the Lord. Forgiveness is a multi-dimensional practice. Asking for forgiveness as well as forgiving those who have hurt us. Like the Spiderman 3 movie where our superhero battles helplessly with Sandman. After repeated futile attempts to subdue Sandman, in the final confrontation, three words made Sandman go away forever. "I forgive you." More powerful than any military weapons. More effective than any brilliant strategies. More potent than any Spiderman tactics. Here lies the good news. These three words are not copyrighted by Spiderman or anyone else. It is free for anyone to use. The only condition is, you must mean it.

The Devil and the Duck

There was a little boy visiting his grandparents on their farm. He was given a slingshot to play without in the woods. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit the target. Getting a little discouraged, he headed back for dinner.

As he was walking back he saw Grandma's pet duck. Just out of impulse, he let the slingshot fly, hit the duck square in the head, and killed it. He was shocked and grieved. In a panic, he hid the dead duck in the wood pile, only to see his sister watching! Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing.

After lunch the next day Grandma said, "Sally, let's wash the dishes." But Sally said, "Grandma, Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen." Then she whispered to him, "Remember the duck?" So Johnny did the dishes.

Later that day, Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing and Grand! ma said, "I'm sorry but I need Sally to help make supper." Sally just smiled and said," Well that's all right because Johnny told me he wanted to help." She whispered again, "Remember the duck?"

So Sally went fishing and Johnny stayed to help.

After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally's he finally couldn't stand it any longer. He came to Grandma and confessed that he had killed the duck. Grandma knelt down, gave him a hug, and said, "Sweetheart, I know. You see, I was standing at the window and I saw the whole thing. But because I love you, I forgave you. I was just wondering how long you would let Sally make a slave of you."

Thought for the day and every day thereafter: Whatever is in your past, whatever you have done -- and the devil keeps throwing it up in your face (lying, debt, fear, hatred , anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, etc.) whatever it is, you need to know that God was standing at the window and He saw the whole thing, He has seen your whole life. He wants you to know that He loves you and that you are forgiven. He's just wondering how long you will let the devil make a slave of you.

The great thing about God is that when you ask for forgiveness, He not only forgives you, but He forgets -
It is by God's Grace and Mercy that we are saved.

Go ahead and make the difference in someone's life today.
Share this with a friend and always remember ...
God is at the window!............

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Another Temptation

Saw this new book (published date Nov 2007) at the Regent Bookstore today. I am sorely tempted but I have to restrain myself. Not sure how long I can resist this...........

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The High Cost of Low Pricing

- "Lowest Price Guaranteed."
- "Buy Low"
- "Cheapest in Town"

Banners like these attract large segments of society, even the rich. Who does not want to pay less for more stuff. Who does not window shop for the best bargains available? Indeed, we are often quick to latch onto any good offers. Unfortunately, many first world consumers do not look beyond the price tag. They simply do not question much on why the price for the product can be so low in the first place. How can a product be so cheap? So dirt-cheap? With inflation rising every year, how is it then possible that prices are able to come down? Can it be simply explained through a supply-demand equation?

Vincent Gallagher brings to our attention that there is more than meets the eye. Calling the true cost of low price as due to the violence from globalization, he points out that:

"Low prices that benefit first-world consumers often put the poor at even greater risk. As transnational corporations continually try to increase profits by reducing costs, laborers in Latin America, Asia, Africa, or here in the US, work long hours but are still poor, hungry and subject to abuse." (Vincent Gallagher, True Cost of Low Prices)

In the film "Manufactured Landscapes", the cost of low price is brought home in a big way when the various scenes were flashed. Lowly paid workers do their jobs in conditions that are extremely dangerous. No visors were used when welding. No safety belts when painting at high altitudes. No footwear when working in grimy toxic environments. The list goes on. I ask, what if the first world manufacturers were to insist that their third world business partners adopt safety practices acceptable to first world standards? To the big public-listed producers, will they be prepared to endure the wrath of shareholders, when the costs of production goes up? For the middle-man, the distributors of products, are they prepared to help share the additional cost of safety requirements, or would they rather pass the costs down to consumers? For the consumer, are they prepared to pay more than 3 times what they are paying now? Even if Producer A decides to sanction safety rules, will other producers B and C take advantage of Producer A's ethically right moves? It is much too tempting for another competitor to fill the gap. If A decides to charge consumers higher due to ethically correct moves, will B's decision to continue ethically wrong practices be rewarded when customers flock to buy B's products in the name of lower costs? Through consumer behaviour, producers are financially rewarded for ethical poverty! After all, many consumers buy on price alone. Globalization in this sense puts the powerful in control, at the expense of the poor and weak.

Consumers have become hypnotized by lower prices, that they will go all out to buy anything based on price alone. "Low pricing" is like drugs. It is addictive. That is why when we see a supposedly cheap product, we must have eyes that see beyond the price tag. If a product cost $50 and is sold for $5, then $45 must have been absorbed somewhere else. Who do we expect to absorb? The rich or the poor? Gallagher witnessed first hand the following cases:

  • workers lose fingers and hands when protective shields are taken off machines to increase productivity.
  • Buildings can be constructed more quickly if fall protection is not implemented.
  • Food processing equipment can be cleaned more quickly if it is not shut down and the power locked out. If kept running without protective guards, it can be easily sprayed and cleaned, even though cleaners risk having their hands chopped off
  • Hundreds of deaths due to asbestos inhalation leading to ling disease because companies save on safety masks
(Vincent A Gallagher, The True Cost of Low Prices, Orbis Books, 2006, p2-3)

Gallagher tells a compelling story shared by Hasidic rabbi Levi Yitshal from Ukraine. It is so powerful that I will quote verbatim.
The rabbit visited the owner of a tavern. Two peasants were at a table. They were drinking with reckless abandon with arms around each other saying how much they loved each other. Ivan said to Peter: "Peter, tell me what hurts me?" Weary-eyed Peter looked at Ivan: "How do I know what hurts you?" Ivan's answer was swift: "If you don't know what hurts me, how can you say you love me?"
[Donald H Dunson, No Room at the Table: Earth's Most Vulnerable Children (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2003, 25]

Indeed, we need to love God and neighbour through merciful and thoughtful spending or not spending. Whenever we buy a low price product, ask who is actually paying the actual costs. Are we buying cheap at the expense of the poor? Have we noticed that low price for the consumer does not mean low price for all?

Like cages full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; they have become rich and powerful and have grown fat and sleek.
Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not plead the case of the fatherless to win it, they do not defend the rights of the poor.

Should I not punish them for this?" declares the LORD.
"Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?
(Jeremiah 5:17-19)

Example: The Walmart Story documentary. An indicting film about one of the world's largest corporations that build its success on one factor - low prices. Why? Because consumers asked for it.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Taking 'Multi-tasking' to task

When IBM introduced the first Personal Computer (PC) back in 1981, it was a single-tasking machine. It came with a single sided floppy disk drive, a single expansion board, a single hard-disk drive and of course a single Central Processing Unit. More than 25 years later, the personal computer has become a multi-tasking system, having motherboard with multiple functions. Having more than one hard-drive, dual core CPU, multiple slots for different expansion cards of different types. Some even have dual video monitors in order to 'enhance productivity'.

In 25 years, we have migrated from a simple single tasked machine to a mammoth multi-tasking capable computer both hardware and software. In the hardware zone, more devices can plug and play. In the software arena, more applications can be opened within the same operating system. With the age of virtualization, we can have more than one operating system running simultaneously in one machine! Here is the logic. If machines can be made to be multi-tasking, and if humans made these devices, then obviously, human beings can be made to multi-tasked, right?

Beware of the 'Multi-Tasking' Worldview

Not really. While it is true that people nowadays can do a lot of things within the same amount of time, it does not necessarily mean greater efficacy or productivity. Does three average jobs make up for one piece of excellent work? Which statement best describes our modern living?

(A) "Jack of All Trades, Master of One"
(B) "Jack of All Trades, Master of None"?

I suspect most people find themselves more in the B-group. Here is my hypothesis. The common desire to live a 'balanced life' stem from that desire to master a lot of things at any one time, multi-tasking not only our work/jobs but our whole life. This creeps into our social domain where people try to balance their relationships in terms of scheduling time with friends and family. The danger is that if we are not careful, while we may be seen to do a lot of things, we may actually be accomplishing very minimal. Like the story of the Emperor's New Clothes, it will take an innocent little child to tell it as it is. Doing a lot of things does not equal to accomplishing a lot of things. Activities can always be ranked or prioritized. When we lose that ability to set such criteria, we know that we have diminished our capacity to discern what is really important for ourselves. When that happens, our family, our social relationships will become entangled in a web of busyness. We get trapped in a small area of sticky silk, not knowing that our rhythms and vigorous movements of external activities are actively attracting the hungry spider, ready to eat away our humanity!

Heather Menzies, an adjunct professor at Carleton University wrote a book called “No Time” which addresses the challenges of modern life on the individual, on institutions and on society. “Nobody seems to have time anymore,” she bemoans. In a fast-track lifestyle where everyone tries to accomplish many things at one go, individuals get stressed, overworked with chronic fatigue and ultimately feeling trashed. Institutions become more artificial, and even health care organizations become an institution where the ‘talk’ is louder than the ‘walk.’ Bring together stressed individuals and institutions deserting authenticity, we have a potent formula for an attention-deficit society. Civilization gets redefined as a place where every man cares only for himself. “If I care for you, who cares for me?” becomes a common justification for nonchalance. Our churches are not easily spared. The enthronement of multi-tasking capability to a symbol of admiration is fast replacing the faithful single minded focus to do one thing well at any given time.

David Harvey in his book, The Condition of Postmodernity
“Time-space compression always exacts its toll on our capacity to grapple with the realities unfolding around us.”
When we cut down time for others and space for ourselves, obviously something will need to go: our humanness. David Altheide, in An Ecology of Communication, argues that:

“An increasing array of life is processed rather than lived, recorded rather than remembered and tracked rather than understood.”
This observation aptly captures the kind of life we encounter daily. We can do so many things but never really get to rest in the house we have, to smell the flowers we grow, to give to the poor a portion of the money we earn, or to hug the children we love. We become the human do-ing instead of human be-ing. In the light of individual stress and having no time for people, isn’t it natural that we feel uncared for, and feeling de-humanized?

We are not meant to live multi-tasking lives without them exacting a personal price or a social cost from ourselves. Nothing is ever free. Everything has a price tag to it. Even salvation is not free. It has been paid for at an outrageous high price by Someone. If we blindly succumb to the everyday pressures without pausing to think, to reflect and to contemplate the Spirit of God speaking to us, we will toil through life, having eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, and hearts that will not understand.

What Then Shall we Do?

How can we get out of it all? Is there a solution to our predicament? I think there is no substitute for taking time and making space. Right from the book of Genesis, God has already placed the antidote for all of humanity. This is called the Sabbath rest: the seventh day that the Lord made holy. If Christians are to practice their Sabbath rest regularly, obeying Sabbatical principles diligently, there will be healthier individuals, more wholesome Church and ultimately a more powerful witness for Christ. Take time to relax with loved ones and to care for one another on the Sabbath day. Make the space not only in our calendars for loved ones. Carve our enough room in our hearts to let God speak to us in the serenity of the early morning hours.

Practice the Sabbath regularly and recover the original plan of God’s creation. I am willing to bet that if people in society observe diligently the Sabbatical rest principle, there will not only be lesser psychologically related issues, stress of any sort will be healthily manageable. Multi-tasking should be rightly placed in its own proper contexts. It should not define what we should do. Instead of multi-tasking everything unless otherwise, the more humane choice is wherever possible, do NOT multi-task. How does a child feel when the parent says he is listening to him, while at the same time, he fiddles frantically with an SMS on his mobile phone, his eyes aimed in front of two computer screens, and with his iPod's headphones plugged into his ears, as he munches away his chicken rice?

As Abraham Heschel wonderfully puts it.
“The Sabbath is last in creation, but first in intention.”
This creates a paradigm shift which should clue us in, toward a better understanding of the meaning of existence.

Key to Effective Youth Ministry

Encourage young people to speak respectfully, to think carefully, to listen diligently, and to realize that after all that is said and done, what they have shared or not shared matters.

Half-Way Faith?

Matt. 14:22 ¶ Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away.
Matt. 14:23 After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.
Matt. 14:24 But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary.
Matt. 14:25 And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.
Matt. 14:26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.
Matt. 14:27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Matt. 14:28 ¶ Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”
Matt. 14:29 And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
Matt. 14:30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Matt. 14:31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and *said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Matt. 14:32 When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.
Matt. 14:33 And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”

Whenever I read this passage, I often jump to the part where Peter starts to sink, drawing conclusion that because he kept his eyes off Jesus, he went down the waters. I re-read the passage again today and realised that Peter is not one who does not have faith. He is not a negative example of what Christians should not do. Rather, he is simply a reflection of ourselves who often live our faith half-way. But there is more....

I will start with some observations of the text, how this incident of Peter reflects who we are in our Christian walk. First, the word "Immediately" appears three times and each time it has got to do with Jesus's actions. The adverb eutheos, was used to describe Jesus's deeds. The first comes in the form of a command to the disciples to get inside the boat. Upon doing that, he went on to shoo the crowds home. The second time 'immediately' was used is in v27, where Jesus comes with words of comfort at his appearance. He knew that the disciples were afraid, and his immediate reaction was to comfort them. Comfort them he did, not just in the speed of delivery but also in the same commanding tone, similar to the 'immediate' and 'making them enter the boat' manner. The third time the word immediately was used is in v31. In this third instance, Jesus stretched out his hand quickly to hold on to Peter before he sank any further. Such immediacy is encouraging. Three adverbs. Three aorist verbs. Three times the Lord took immediate steps to the welfare of his disciples. The first time, the Lord forces them to go away from the crowds, an indication of a need to rest. The second time, the Lord comforts them with his very presence, by appearing with them, without the crowds with him. The third time, the Lord saves Peter from drowning. It is like Jesus saying to us,
- I will make you to lie down besides still waters and to rest.
- I will comfort you when you are afraid
- I will save you when you are in despair and in trouble.

In all of these instances, Jesus took the initiative. Isn't that comforting that it is the Lord who initiates rest for his disciples, comfort when they are in trouble, and saving them when they are in deep waters. This is a vivid allusion to the prophetic words,
Is. 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.

It is easy to laugh at Peter and say that he asked for it. After all, he was the one who insisted on walking on water like Jesus. The Master graciously acceded to his request but it was Peter himself in his moment of showmanship who fumbled for lack of faith. O how much the Lord long to give you the chance to live out our faith to the full? How greatly he yearned to have us walk to him in faith in spite of the risk of waters flowing all over us? He makes us rest so that we can see moments and opportunities to express our faith. He gave us comfort in the exercise of such faith. He even stayed by our side to hold us up when we falter in our Christian walk.

For the busy Christian servant, Jesus speaks to us, that there is a time to serve, and also a time to get away from the crowd or ministry. Look at how Jesus himself went off to shoo the crowds away, despite the many needs. Jesus took time to make sure that his servants are able to rest far away from the demanding needs of ministry. We need people to pull servants of the Lord away from ministry regularly so that they can pray and re-calibrate their spiritual bearings.

For the aspirant who wants to be like Jesus, to do what Jesus does, God allows such people to do so according to their measure of faith. Jesus said 'come' (v29) to the waters. He did not say no, for he knew that such practice of faith will encourage his people. Servants of the Lord need to be encouraged as they live out the faith.

For the dejected, who felt that they are sinking into the waters of despair, Jesus holds out his hand and any reprimand is done gently. It is amazing that in the light of all the strong aorist verbs used by Jesus in the passage, the verb "Jesus said" when Peter was in doubt was a gentler verb. This is very gratifying to know that when Jesus corrects his enthusiastic disciples, he does it in a way befitting of a caring and loving father.

Christian ministry is tough and often energy sapping. That is why we need to be made to go away and rest, frequently. The Christian walk is exciting and we are also frequently shown that it is possible to do what Jesus did, walk the way he walked. Simply the opportunity to do so, ought to excite any believer. Finally, Christian work can be discouraging, and many servants have sank into the waters of despair. Jesus is immediately holding out his hand to encourage us, all the time.

In the light of this devotion, is this passage merely a teaching not to practice 'half-way faith?' I think it may carry some references to it, but to see it will be to miss the point. We have a human tendency to work and overwork ourselves to the point of burn-out and exhaustion. That is why we need to be forced to rest. We have a tendency to want to live out an active faith. That is why Jesus presents us with ways to do so. There is no lack of opportunities. We have a propensity to be easily swayed by bad news and negative circumstances that we become discouraged in ministry. In all of these, Peter's reactions reflect the humanness we all possess. The main point I feel is the presence of a loving God who takes care of us before we fall, who comfort us and hold us up even when we falter.

And he does so in a special way, in the best possible timing: "Immediately", or ASAP God's style.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Followup to "The Golden Compass" Part 2

This is a followup to my earlier response. There is an interesting article on Christianity Today entitled: "The Chronicles of Atheism." It is one of the best articles written to engage thoughtfully the underlying themes of the book/movie. One of the most important point is in the confusing nature of the daemons in a child. This quote should illustrate what I mean.
One of the trilogy's main narrative devices is the "daemon." In The Golden Compass's universe, every human being is accompanied by an animal that reflects that person's soul. The daemons of young children constantly change shape, from one animal to another, because the children have not yet settled into their adult personalities.
Listen to the ensuing conversation in the clip below and put yourself in the position of the child. Two adults with different opinions. Two authority figures. Imagine them fighting their adult battles in the mind of a little child. Should the child believe a poise, cool attractive lady? Or an old bearded man? Who will the child trust? Will the child use this to generalize the need to be suspicious of all kinds of authority? Watch the clip here.

Personally, I liken stuff like this to planting the seeds of distrust of institutions, and undercut respect for the elderly. Movies like this are going to be more common. I think the atheistic background and intent of the writer of the book is easy to spot. However, what's more sinister are the subtle methods used to erode traditional values. If you are bringing your child to watch the movie, be sure to discuss it with them.

As far as Philip Pullman and those who try to market this kind of movie to kids, I have to say this: "Go pick someone your own size and leave young innocent kids alone." Perhaps we should get the authorities to change the movie from NR (Not Rated) to R (Restricted).

Welcome to the new Millennium and how the enemy has redrawn the battle lines.

Some links to other articles:
1) Breakpoint Ministries
2) Christianity Today Blog
3) CT Article
4) First Things


Snow in Vancouver (Day 2)

Snow is heavy today. We avoided traveling too far out, except to a
nearby Church. Sometimes, it is not how careful we drive, but how
careless others drive. Accidents do happen in the most unexpected
situations. There was a Toyota Prius that crashed along University Blvd
today. The front was totally snashed up against a tree. It had a
California license plate. Poor lady. We spent the day eating hot-food
followed by more ski-dooing. The kids loved it. Good clean fun.
Short Video clip of the falling snow

Two hearts. Nice
Outside University Chapel

Regent College in Winter

Let it snow . Let it snow. Let it snow....

Nice to have a cuppa on a cold snowy day

This is mini-'Whistler' free at University Village

View from Staples

Snowman. Sorry, no carrot.

See my kids doing their ski-dooing.
Aaron trying out his super duper ski-boarding.

See how Clarissa fare


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Early Snow in Vancouver

December 1st opens with nice flurries that greet us early in the morning. Pretty sight. By noon, the snow has accumulated about 3-5 inches. Still pretty and I was told that it was dry snow, which is excellent for skiing. Well, that activity is not cheap. So we do the poor man's activity: Simply enjoy the sight and all, and make an occasional snowball, big and small.

West 10th @ Sasamat

West 10th @ Sasamat Pt 2

Scraping Snow off the car

Kids playing with the snow

At St Andrews Residence

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