Friday, March 30, 2007

Thinking aloud from the Lavatory

Went to THINK coffee shop today to do some studying. Have not been there for more than a year. They have good wireless internet connection. One of the interesting features they have is the loo of free expression. On the four walls of the lavatory are blackboards that anyone can write their thoughts and ideas. A tray of chalks are conveniently located for anyone to use. Usually, toilet graffiti scribbled with nonsense and useless messages with sexual overtones. Not this cafe. Interestingly, looking at the quality of the written sentences, I figure out that due to the high percentage of tertiary students, the kind of messages do have a more 'scholarly' or 'philosophical' whining. Two quotes were particularly interesting. It is about the value of friends and relationships which we ought to take note of.

  1. A person becomes 'normal' to us, after we have taken the time and effort to know him/her at a deeper level. [on the superficiality of relationships]

  2. There are no strangers, only friends you have not met yet. [on the need to connect and make friends]

Indeed, THINK cafe reflects its name and its ethos all the way to the lavatory. Incidentally, the cafe owner is a philosophy major! Highly recommended cafe.


Integrity in times of Change

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” ~ Alvin Toffler

This book created multiple rippples in many parts of the world in the 70s. In the 90s we have Naisbitt's "Megatrends" series, and recently we have Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat". After nearly 35 years since its initial publication, Future Shock is still quoted vividly by many. In Future Shock, Toffler outlines the problems of people who cannot cope or are overwhelmed with change. He then prescribes some ways in which people can adapt and also describes what happens to people who fail to adapt to the future. Lest we confine Toffler only as a futuristic writer, he is very aware of current needs as well. While keeping one foot on the accelerator of the FUTURE, Toffler clearly has his other foot on the clutch of the PRESENT.

"Change is the process in which the future invades our lives, and it is important to look at it closely, not merely from the grand perspectives of history, but also from the vantage point of the living, breathing individuals who experience it." (Toffler, 3)

"Adapt or die," so say many change strategists and biologists, and people who have studied the rise and fall of organisms and organisations. While it is true that today's fact can become tomorrow's fallacies, or in Toffler's words, today's "information" becoming tomorrow's "misinformation", we need to be careful not to swing to the other extreme to abandon the past altogether. Yes, there is that urgency to change and to adapt to surrounding movements. Yet, there is also a time to drop the anchor to establish certainty and stability. Young children for example should have the priviledge of growing up in a safe and secure environment. They need such protection, just like young seedlings that needed to be gently cultivated before being exposed to the scorching sun. Young eaglets likewise, needed to have firmer wings before they are allowed to fly. Things like integrity and righteousness will help us establish the anchors of life. The book of Proverbs is written in ancient times, but its instructions are life-long.

The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. (Proverbs 11:3)

Very often, life's values are learned in the home or in the classroom. Civic values has to be taught and inculcated in young minds, so that they can use these guiding principles throughout their adult life. I agree with Toffler that things in this world needs to be changed, like technological tools for example. Those who have been using dial-tone phones need to upgrade to touch-tone types. Those using typewriters need to unlearn the need to swing back the carriage, and to learn to use the word-processor instead. Those who have succeeded in one strategy, will need to adapt to the winds of change and to adopt another where necessary. All these are basically tools and tangible matters which can be easily changed. Using them properly and ethically however, depends on the UNCHANGING commitment to integrity and righteousness. Tools can be used to speed up dissemination of encouraging notes. Similarly, it can also be used for mass and fast circulation of 'poison-pen letters' that are malicious and damaging to one of the most precious but dwindling things in life: Relationships.

The Optimist will see change as preparing all of us for a bright new future. The Pessimist will despair at the overwhelming pace of change and will refuse to play any part in it to retain the good-old-days lifestyles. We need a mature outlook in life to do three things. Grow the firm roots of integrity and righteousness, as learnt in the past. Use and practice them as we embrace the present. Only then, as we adapt to the changing things in society, we are adapting from a firm foundation of good integrity, righteousness and spirituality. Other things may change, but these things must always remain. May there be more leaders of integrity who will be able to guide us.

One final note on Prov 11:3. It is interesting to note that it contains both a thesis and an anti-thesis. One stresses the positive aspect, while the other warns us in a negative manner. However, both helps us point to the same thing. Let INTEGRITY always be our guide in life.


Toffler, Alvin, Future Shock (NY: Random House,1970), p367.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pastor is a verb

"and I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who shall feed you with knowledge and understanding." (Jer 3:15, JPS)

I came across this verse and thought about the word 'pastor'. Of all the English translations, only the KJV uses the word 'pastor'. Most of the other popular ones uses the word 'shepherds' (NIV, NASB, MSG, NRSV)

Interestingly, the Hebrew text only mentions TWO nouns, and they are "heart" and "knowledge". You may ask: What about shepherds? Aren't they nouns? The 'shepherds' in the JPS version is actually a verb (active participle) which corresponds to the meaning TO BE SHEPHERDING! This is indeed very strange. However, when we recognize that this verb-participle is actually behaving like a noun, we will understand why the English translations puts it as a noun. There are some implications for us.

1) Become not a noun but a VERB
Becoming a pastor is actually more 'pastoral' than being called a pastor. It is very easy to call one a pastor. When it comes to recognizing a pastoral behaviour, it is a different thing altogether. The objective is not to become a static monument with a pastor-label, but to become a growing person who cares and continually cares. The only way to do so, is to not to think of the pastoral vocation as an end in itself.
- Verb behaviour reflects growth, like a fountain of living water. Noun behaviour resembles stagnant water.
- Verb attitudes is constantly seeking improvement. Noun behaviour seeks to protect one's limited turf.

2) After God's heart
It is because God is perfect, only God's heart can be absolute, and deservedly called a noun. It is like the sun which supplies heat to all the planets in the Solar System. All we are to be seeking after God's heart, like plants growing towards the sun. True growth must be growth towards God.

3) Then comes the Feeding of the sheep
Like a jug which can only fill cups when it has enough water, the pastor/shepherd can only feed others, after he/she has been fed, or better still, constantly feeding. What do they feed the flock with? We come now to the second noun of the entire verse, KNOWLEDGE. This knowledge will lead to greater understanding.

I think this is a beautiful verse. God takes the initiative to give people with pastor-shepherd desires to pursue after God, so that they can take care of the flock. It teaches us our current position in life has to be lived like a VERB, where our living is aimed towards GOD's HEART, and subsequently, we FEED the hungry around us, with knowledge and spiritual wisdom. What's the purpose in life? I dare say that everyone of us, need to grow this pastoral heart inside us. Not all of us will be labelled a pastor, but most certainly all of us are to cultivate this desire of panting after God's heart. With this, it brings whole new meaning to another of my favourite verse,
Delight yourself in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. (Ps 37:4)

Let me be the verb God wants me to be.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Efficiency.... and the "For what?"

The latest Apple Mac OS, the Leopard aims to introduce 'revolutionary' new features to boost the popularity of the Mac platform. Windows Vista tries to ride on the new 'latest and greatest' wave of upgrading for the sake of better features. Newer web browsers gain greater acceptance with new features that is better and greater. New antivirus aims to scan faster and deeper. New computer systems speeds up the calculating and the computing process. People buy in. At last count, Windows Vista has sold over 20 million copies, since its February launch, based on the 'latest and the greatest' upgrade craze. Upgrading in the name of efficiency is key to the sales of such products. It is easy for one to allow technological fads like these to direct our paradigm of life, that the reason why we get ahead is to become more efficient and attain a higher level of productivity.

- Why do we struggle so hard to squeeze a few seconds faster out of a hard drive?
- Why do we finetune our systems so much in order to make it boot faster?
- Why do we spend hours organizing our disk folders in order to ensure that in the future, we will be able to find what we want in a second?
- Can we truly justify the time savings and efficiency as a goal for all our struggles?

In this week's Regent newsletter, the etcetera, one Regent student wrote and questioned the efficiency paradigm. I agree with his astute observation that "Efficiency is for a purpose and not an end in itself." The writer ends with a question -FOR WHAT? which I feel is a strong reminder for us to check the reasons for our actions.

I reflect upon Colossians 1, and note several interesting things.

Col. 1:9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
Col. 1:10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

We live in a society mad on efficiency. Not only do we want things fast, increasingly more people want it now! I remember the famous saying in my previous office: "I want it yesterday." Interestingly, Colossians reminds us of the primacy of wisdom/understanding BEFORE the walk/work. In our rush for an efficient society, some of us tend to walk before we understand, hoping to shave off a few seconds of time, to achieve our goals. The problem I see is two-fold. Firstly, by rushing, we tend to move at speeds that is unnatural to our human physique. Even pilots flying at supersonic speeds realize that too much speed will mean a G-force that could constrict the blood circulation flow to the brain. Secondly, when we become highly efficient, we may leave our friends and loved ones far behind, and isolate ourselves in the process. Imagine one person upgrading to the latest Office 2007 formats and expecting all his friends to do the same. There will be incompatibilities with those who do not upgrade.

"To be filled with all spiritual wisdom and understanding" needs to be key in an efficient-mad society. The good old saying, "Slow and Steady wins the race" is still very much proverbial wisdom. If we move at a speed dictated by spiritual wisdom, we will know that an hour spent thinking through the wider consequences of a plan is far better than 10 minutes of rushing out a plan that is not well thought through. What good is that 50 minutes of savings if we have to spend several more hours to redo the plan?

Spiritual wisdom and understanding is never a selfish endeavour. It considers our actions in the context of a wider community. It is tempting to assume that single person decision making is faster than trying to get group consensus. What we fail to see in such case, is that the purpose of life is not simply in terms of achieving an objective. Rather, trying to reach the end goal supplies ample opportunities for individuals to interact as one community. The process becomes the meaning. It will be a shame if a group reach a set target, at the price of multiple damaged relationships. (Look what happened to people playing in the Survivor reality show.)

Working in groups teaches us that we are human beings who thrive best in living together and working things out together no matter how much we agree/disagree. Having some times of conflict with people is far better than long times of loneliness where there are no people to argue against us.

Colossians 1:10 is a great memory verse that is full of wise words. I shall mention the words "bearing fruit" which is in the middle voice. In contrast to society's deterministic drive, where we press a button and something happens, 'bearing fruit' gives up one's control in the sense that we cannot do the growing on our own. Just like planting a tree vs transplanting a young plant. the one that grows and bear fruit on the same ground will develop stronger roots.

Spiritual wisdom and understanding, together with the bearing of fruit, is a call for us to live a life that is worthy, and not simply DOING worthwhile tasks. The difference is this. When we live a life that is worthy of the Lord, the reward is not a reciprocal relationship of i-scrub-your-back and you-scrub-mine. It is also not the kind of materialistic gifts we distribute or receive. It is ultimately the reward of the knowledge and love of God which surpasses all understanding.

Love is patient, love is kind, and is definitely not measured in terms of efficiency nor efficacy. It is measured in love to the power of love.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Movie - Million Dollar Baby

Boxing films seem to be popular hits both in the box office as well as in the movie academy. We have the Rocky series I-V, where the original Rocky movie won 3 oscars. "Cinderella Man" (released in 2005) dramatizes a boxer who inspired millions during the Great Depression in the 1930s. "Raging Bull" starring Robert De Niro won an oscar for Best Actor. "Million Dollar Baby" released in 2004, won 4 oscars. There is a certain theme that flows across each of these boxing films. A hero. In Rocky, the hero Rocky Balboa, was a symbol of hope and victory and many people identify themselves with the character, who went through hardship and yet became a winner through sheer hard knocks of life. Cinderella Man is a memorable movie that is comforting to the heart, that there is hope even when the chips are down. This hero theme has recently been challenged. Two films serve as examples. In Raging Bull, the main character, Jake LaMotta was depicted as a hero on the outside but a 'raging bull' on his inside, as an affront to the hero-emphasis of most boxing films. It shows us that behind the external hero boxer image lies a very hideous character. The unheroic-heroic theme was given a balanced treatment in Million Dollar Baby

In Million Dollar Baby, the film begins and portrays a heroine in the making, and ends tragically in the death of the 'heroine' boxer, whose entire body was paralysed after a championship fight. It is essentially a million dollar heroine, who eventually becomes like a baby, who needs to depend on others for all her needs. Hero movies normally is more palatable to the heart if it ends on a good and happy ending, just like the "and they lived happily ever after" ending we hear when we were little children. I appreciate movies like Million Dollar Baby for it tells us that amidst our constant struggle for excellence, we need to spare a thought for the humanness in us. Some of us will die at a ripe old age. Some of us will die due to sudden illnesses, and yet some will succumb and become another statistic to the top sicknesses in many societies, like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. What about the impact of sudden death? What about a hero in making abruptly dies, and along with it the potential for greatness and riches? How then do we want to be remembered in life?

The Million Dollar Baby is a clever title. The heroine, Maggie Fitzgerald (played by Hilary Swank), had great potential and a talent that is spurred with persistence and utter perseverance. After delivering first round knockout blows at many fights, no one wanted to put their fighter in her class to face her in any competition. So Frank Dunn (her manager/trainer played by Clint Eastwood) moved her a class higher to Welterweight championships. Her opponent, a then current welterweight champion unsportingly delivered a fatal blow to her after the bell, and she suffered a major concussion when she fell and hit her stool. From then on, she became a patient at a rehabilitation center, where all her physical activities have to be done for her. Even her breathing has to be helped with machines. After losing reason to live, she tried several times to end her life by biting her tongue. Her immediate family seemed more interested in getting her to transfer her assets to them rather than caring for her. The only people to stand by her is her trainer, Frank Dunn and Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman). It is a stirring movie and makes me reflect upon the themes below.

(1) The Fight for Excellence
- All of us possess potential one way or another. Maggie was a rising star, and a heroine in the making. Her family was showered with monetary blessings from her winnings, and more importantly, Margaret is doing what she feels is her life: to be a successful boxer, with the best trainer she knows. Isn't there a hero in the making in all of us, as we struggle to reach our own expectations of what we want of ourselves? In our struggle for excellence, are we doing it because of WHO WE ARE or are we doing it merely because OTHERS ARE DOING IT?

(2) "Mo ChĂșisle" (meaning 'my pulse')
- By her wearing a green boxing robe, she had many in the Irish community supporting her wherever she goes. This simple connection with culture, even though unintended, shows us the power of linkage. Pride and heroics are never far apart. More so, if one is fighting not only for oneself, but when one's win is representative of the win for a community, the effect gets multiplied many fold.

(3) The Ending of the Story
- The story ended with Frank doing the most humane thing he knew, against all opposition. Frank removed Maggie from her life support system, which apparently seem to sustain her suffering rather than to give her hope and comfort. This ending is very sad, and sadder still, is when her own family members whom she loved, turned out to be selfish individuals who are more concerned with their money and narcissistic pursuits. For example, they visited her rehab center in California only after a week's fling at the theme parks and attractions. In the hospital, they are more interested in transferring her financial assets to them, rather than transfusing family love and warmth to her. Endings like this do not leave a nice feeling at the end of the movie. Isn't that true in life for some of us, where we cannot really predict when we will die? Oftentimes, people in hospice ministry knows how to prepare for death better than many of us.

(4) Always Protect Yourself
- Maggie's greatest regret is forgetting to keep her guard up, especially during her fight. It takes a moment of unguarded carelessness, to fall into an eternity of suffering. As I think about this, and about the modern society's drive towards individualistic pursuits and individualistic ideals, I shudder. There is a right and wrong way of pursuing excellence. Protecting ourselves cannot be simply brushed off as plain selfishness. There is a place to take care of our physical selves. If we care for ourselves in order to be able to be a responsible member of society, that is legitimate care. But if our pursuit of personal ideals comes at the price of another person's downfall, that is another thing altogether. We have heard of the saying: "It's all a zero sum game." Given a choice, I would rather not play such a game. However, sometimes we are not given a choice, then what do we do?

It is a struggle. What I do know from my interactions with various people, is that the higher we go in the corporate ladder, especially in the narcissistic pursuit of selfish ambitions, there will be more "zero-sum games" we will need to play.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Singapore Ministerial Salaries

Here we go again, with the Singapore government talking about the need to 'close the gap' in order to make sure that the public-private pay gap are not widened, in order to "ensure competitive salaries for a competent and honest government." PM Lee also spoke about the need to 'retain talent.' We have all heard the argument before. Common folks (including taxi drivers) have often complained about the high salaries the ministers are drawing. Some people have even said that the way to become a millionaire is to become a Minister of the Singapore government!

This time, as I read and reflect upon it, I think PM Lee does have a point, and I applaud his courage to bring it out. Let me explain by giving three possible reasons.

#1 - COURAGE: It is not easy for a high profile minister to talk about salaries. Who dares to talk about one's own pay in a conservative Asian culture, where salaries spoken in public can be taboo! Look what happened to TT Durai of the NKF case. Do ministers need that level of pay increase to sustain their daily lives? It is actually more symbolic than anything else, that the pay amount makes it more palatable for talented people to consider entering into the political arena. A good economy does depend on a good government, and more often than not, nobody will even want to campaign openly for it, thinking that the government can take care of itself. In a sense, the government should take care of its interest, for afterall, they are working for the interest of the country in the first place, isn't it?

#2 - OPPORTUNITY COST: The current ministers DO have better pay in the private sector. I think many corporations will be prepared to pay PM Lee to be their CEO, at even double his current salary. There are also other ministers who have to take a pay cut to serve in the ministry. It will be less than optimal if a minister have to take on a second job to restore any difference. How can a minister then allocate fully his time and resources to the service of the nation?

#3 - LACK OF PUBLIC/PRIVATE APPRECIATION: In many cultures, people tend to talk behind the backs of influential people. They are more liberal with negative comments rather than positive feedback. At times, I even think, that it takes one to do SEVEN GOOD deeds in order to trigger some level of public recognition, while on the other hand, it takes a simple ONE BAD EVENT to unleash a storm of protests and complaints. Call it a form of compensation.

I think back on those social organizations where social-workers receive one of the lowest pay in the whole economy, yet people continue to say that the work they do are 'priceless.' Isn't it common to hear positive comments about social workers helping an unemployed widow of many children find a job? Yet how many people will raise their hands to become social workers? Not many, as one of the reasons is that it does not pay adequately). Jobs that result in 'obscene profits' are on the other hand not as widely acknowledged to be beneficial to society. Think about horse-racing, gambling and some forms of investment trading, which require shrewd/cunning politicking and deceitful strategizing.

The way the economy works is basically like the following levels of profitability/contribution.

Level 1 - HIGH Pay and HIGH Sociological/Ethical Societal Contribution
Level 2 - LOW Pay and HIGH Sociological/Ethical Societal Contribution
Level 3 - HIGH Pay and LOW Sociological/Ethical Societal Contribution
Level 4 - LOW Pay and LOW Sociological/Ethical Societal Contribution

Ministerial pay traverse either at levels 1 and 3, as far as the commonfolk is concerned. PM Lee seems to think that the ministers are at Level 2. Assuming that the Singapore ministers are on the high end of societal contribution, even assuming that their pay is relatively low, they are undisputedly the highest paid group of social workers or civil servants. The rest of the people like actual door to door social workers, religious organizations and civic self-help groups are at the mid to bottom of the rung. I would suggest that no matter how we put it, a majority of social organizations and non-profits will be at Level 2. Even if we were to assume that theGovernment ministers will be at level 2, it is most certainly the HIGH END of level 2. Nevertheless, I will suggest the following.

Firstly, let them 'close the gap' in order to attract and retain good people in leadership. Secondly, let them 'close the gap' as long as they are able to fight for the poor and the marginalized in society (not just the pay differential among top servants in public/private sectors). Finally, let them 'close the gap' and to promote a behaviour that does not close the people's gab.


Link - "Top govt salaries far behind private sector's"

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

When "Agreeing to Disagree" is no agreement at all

In conflict resolution, one of the most common decisions to make is for all parties present to say to one another: "Let's agree to disagree." I have never really gotten over my discomfort over such a solution. In fact, I think it is downright unproductive. Through the years, I have thought about it and am even more convinced that it should always be a last resort. Below is a list of situations where the ATD attitude is not recommended.

1) Flashing the ATD Prematurely
Conflict resolution is hard work. If parties in conflict use this as a quick solution to resolve issues, there will be lots of issues that will never really get resolved.

2) When one party is clearly in the wrong
ATD can sometimes be used as an immunity card. We need wise persons to discern the right from the wrong. If a party who is clearly in the wrong is allowed to get away scot-free simply on the basis of an ATD, it is injustice.

3) Using ATD as an ego protection mechanism
This third reason is one that feeds off pride and arrogance. Sometimes, it is more a question of protecting one's turf, rather than revealing the truth that sets one free.

3) ATD breeds a bad habit of dichotomizing everything
Is it always the case where if one person thinks one way, the other have to think in the opposite way? Often this will lead to unhealthy dissensions and early disagreement. We ask, why do good people often end up in bitter fights and arguments? I think the lack of authentic relationships between feuding parties is a key reason why people tend to take sides and not agree. What if ATD is used to simply buy time to reload ammunition for a future showdown? I believe that creative conflict resolution needs to be implemented with lots of spiritual wisdom.

There are many situations in churches that apparently ends up in a ATD. If it is a result of any of the above, it is sad. In Luke 22, the disciples were actually arguing among themselves who is the greatest. How Jesus handled them is a powerful reminder that sometimes, we ought to put one another higher than ourselves.

"Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest."
Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Luke 22:24-26

Many situations of conflict are power struggles in disguise. Some call it fighting as a matter of principle. Jesus shows us a more excellent way, that the greatest shall be the youngest, and the one who rules must be the one who serves. Perhaps, the solution to avoid the ATD quagmire, is to let the feuding parties fight for the opponent's agenda? Whatever it is, prayer is quintessential.

What if the formula for legitimate conflict resolutions be in the following order?
Firstly, the church's overall need be the main focus.
Second, the need of the opposing party, with both parties volunteering as enthusiastic and honestly as possible to put the other's interest above their own.
Thirdly, their own.

The results I think will be much better than simply a ATD. It takes time, yes, but at least it lasts.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Of 'successful churches' and the IFD Disease

"The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades." (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles, p2)

How often have we become so enamoured by the ideal of a successful church, that we lose sight of the fact that we can never attain such ideals on our own, simply because we are imperfect people. It is what we come to know as what Wendell Johnson (from his book "People in Quandaries") calls the "IFD disease" that plagues many churches and good Christian people. It starts with an IDEALIZATION which makes demands in life that is impossible. (For example, all Christians should love one another in a certain manner). The lack of progress or success in achieving these ideals then leads to a deepening sense of FRUSTRATION, with one hand holding on to ideals, and the other hand slapped with disappointments. The inability to reconcile the two deteriorates the mood even more. Finally, with DEMORALIZATION/DESPAIR, one grows in sarcasm about Christian ideals.

Instead, I think we should reverse the formula. We affirm that we are already DEAD in sin, and made alive through FAITH in Jesus, and INSPIRED to live in a manner that is congruent with the leading of the Holy Spirit. In the first place, by being dead in sin, we disarm ourselves from the pressures of having to conform to targets set for 'spiritual supermen' or to perform to ridiculous expectations set by other people. Secondly, the humility that comes from a life of faith will free ourselves from making unhealthy demands by our own selves. Finally, a life that is inspired by the Holy Spirit will lead us towards a sense of living for the community by the community.

Beware the seduction of the "IFD disease". The sooner we learn that there are no such thing as 'successful churches' the better. Even more crucial, is that we must remember churches are more accurately called "community of sinners" more than anything else. Lest we crucify one another in our inward/outward expectations. Instead, look at each other with the eyes of forgiveness and the desire to forgive. The Lord's prayer is instructive. The petition to "Give us each day our daily bread" is followed immediately by "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Isn't that somewhat prophetic, that when we receive, we are also most vulnerable to acts that need forgiving?


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Jolt Quote III

True listening is a form of caring, motivated by love for neighbour and love for God.

"Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because Christians are talking when they should be listening. He who no longer listens to his brother [or sister] will soon no longer be listening to God either... One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

[taken from "Life Together" New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959, pp 97-98]

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Regular electronic breaks a day keeps the addiction away

For my faithful blog readers,

As we become more connected via the Internet, and for some of us, the internet can become an addiction in itself. Hence we need a reminder to take either a computer-break or an internet break. Here are some helps.

1) Time Out software (for Mac OS 10.3 and higher)

2) Break Time (Windows)

Save that time for more meaningful activities like eat a chocolate or have an ice-cream. Hug your wife.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Ministry: A Call to Hazardous Living?

"... all those serving God on the front lines of ministerial practice. They are some of faith's heroes. But too many end up casualties of their own expectations and those of others." (Emil J. Authelet Jr)

There are no easy answers to the challenges of entering the ministry. When one pays the price, one does not simply pay it in full in a one-time transaction. It is more like putting down an initial downpayment, followed by regular servicing of the mortgage. This payment is not simply the opportunity lost in one's previous career prospects. It includes the sacrifice of one's family, the spouse, the children and the rest of the extended family as well. Sometimes, the struggle is compounded by the need to make ends meet, with the pastor and his family taking on additional jobs to sustain their daily lives. The book "A Pastor's Family" by Daniel L Langford is an interesting read. After reading it, I asked:

"Did God intend for ministry to be like that?" Wrong question. Better to ask, "What is the kind of ministry that honours God?" That's a better question. Even better is this:

"How can I as a person of God honour God in all of my life?"

Indeed, a life lived for God is far better than a life lived based of one's own expectations. We serve because we desire God. We minister because we desire that God be present in the lives of people. We live because God enables us to live.

"The call to ministry is always within the context of God's calling to being, than to doing. Righteousness is more than being right; it is right relating. Ministry is always within the context of right relating. We may be forgiven some bad sermons but never bad relationships." (xii, The Pastor's Family)

Honestly, I do not like the fear that surrounds the entrance gate to "The Ministry." Neither do I like the overwhelming sense of defeatedness when I hear news of many contemporaries leaving the ministry, because there are far too much hurt and frustration. Much of it is faith in God's providence, and the rightful placement of expectations both inside and outside. The ministry patterned after Christ is one of sustained earnest prayer before, during and after any ministry moments. That is how a heartful ministry derives much of its essence. In fact, the call to ministry must be first a call to the prayer closet. Second, a call to the prayer ministry rooms. Thirdly a call to the prayer room of intercession. Finally, it is a prayer call that leads one to worship. The measure of one's readiness to God's call, is largely a measure of one's prayerfulness. Pastors need to be aware of this constantly.

Indeed, one pastor leaving the ministry is one pastor too many. Please pray for your pastors regularly.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

New Daylight Saving Time (DST) Changes for Older Computers

For those of us who have older computers, running on older Windows operating systems, the new change of Daylight Savings in North America, will require some modifications to the registry. However, for most lay people, we will face challenges on understanding it. Here is an excellent third-party solution which is quite good. Check it out here.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Canucks - Hottest team on the NHL

Last night, the Vancouver Canucks edged out the San Jose Sharks. Great overtime goal by Henrik Sedin. I thought the Canucks played one of their best games last night, making it 5 consecutive wins in a row. With their current form, the Canucks stand a strong chance for the playoffs and even the Stanley Cup.

Go Canucks Go!

I'd love to visit Anfield one day.

This scene at Anfield is incredible. Liverpool dumped Barcelona (on away goals) and is on their way to the Quarterfinals of the prestigious Champions League 2007 competition. Boy I wish was there.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Living by Faith and Faith Alone

How our Christian forefathers live by faith is intriguing. They talked of, prayed to and depended upon only God and God alone. Making none of their requests known, except through kneeling and constant praying, they struggled with the demons of envy, anxiety and concerns about how God's ministry can be met. Mother Teresa never canvass for funds, and forbade her followers from doing any of it as well, taking on a policy of becoming the 'poorest of the poor'. Several missionary organizations started with the basic premise that "God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply." The Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF formerly CIM) founder James Hudson Taylor is remembered for his faith in depending on God for all his providence in his ministry to China. Operation Mobilization started with prayer from a faithful woman, depending only on God.

George Mueller also prayed for entire providence., and he is often called the man of faith. It was said of Mueller that he never made his needs known to others, but waited for God to put the needs in the hearts of people.

Closer to this century, I was also impressed with the testimony of an unnamed contributing editor to ChristianityToday, who penned a recent article entitled "My Conversation with God." He concludes that an experience of God's faithfulness touches the heart deeper than intellectual knowledge. Faith is put to the test when we venture into the wilderness of loneliness, and yet to be met needs. We experience feelings of being forsaken and have to depend on a delayed fulfilment of a promise. "Living by Faith" and not by sight is something many Christians SAY they want to have. How they live is another matter altogether.

Having stayed in Vancouver for the past 2.5 years, we are experiencing what it means firsthand to live by faith. It is also an attempt to enter in some small ways into that spiritual pilgrimage experienced by Mother Teresa, George Mueller and James Hudson Taylor. Mustard Seed Faith. Some of the hazards of ministry is to learn to live without an assurance of a fixed salary. Imagine getting a monthly cheque that looks like the one below?

PAY TO: Servant of God
AMOUNT: $Zero to ???????????

That is faith living. We never know how much we will get. Some people say that such is the same with those who are self-employed and who struggle with their businesses without knowing where their income is going to come. I might say that there is however a difference. Faith ministry does not openly canvass for funds. In small businesses, there is some level of soliciting businesses openly and through the network. In faith ministry, what we do know is a minimum of $0. Faith is thus, IN SPITE OF not knowing how we are going to make ends meet each month, we still believe that God will provide. How? We do not know.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Sunday adventure

Our minivan was hit from behind yesterday. I was travelling north along Dunbar and noticed from a distance that traffic on the other side of the road has stopped for a pedestrian handling three dogs on leash. I decided to do the right thing and stopped on my side of the road to allow the pedestrian to cross. All of a sudden, I heard a screeching brake and saw a large Toyota pickup came from behind and hit me. Oh no! My bumper. Both of us moved our vehicles to the side and exchanged our particulars. The man who drove the pickup looked like a nice man, and he looked visibly shakened. I asked him whether he is alright. He admitted he was a little shakened and was thankful I asked. He lives on Saltspring Island, and is apparently not too used to city driving in Vancouver. It is a good thing both of us simply took down information and not pass any judgment on what happened. I managed to get an eyewitness of the accident, and to let ICBC decide on the financial compensation. My kids looked anxious and I assured them that accidents like these could have happened to anybody.

We then went off to lunch: A belated birthday lunch for my wife. She wanted the kids to have this rare treat to a "Eat All You Can" at a Shabusen restaurant (Shabusen Yakiniku House) along Granville and 14th. Parking was initially a problem and just as we were about to give up, lo and behold, we found one opposite a Pentacostal Tabernacle church.

The restaurant is said to be very popular, and thankfully we were ushered to a table pretty quickly. There were chicken, beef and pork meat that can be barbequed, tonnes of Sashimi, Sushi, and fried Udon, miso soup, rice, vegetable salad, and lots of other choices. The stomach's the limit. We entered the restaurant like skinny ravenous wolves, and came out feeling like bloated puffer fishes. We ate so much that no one asked for dinner that night. One price for two meals? That's a great deal.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Great Friday Night out

Last night, my wife and I went to a Regent professor's house at the Northshore area. We took slightly more than an hour to reach there due to the heavy traffic. We arrived at a serene quiet and holiday-like place, with a wonderful view of the mountains and the seas, the forests and the wonderful fresh clean air. The house was cosy and warm. We had simple salad, tuna casserole, apple pie, chocolate brownies and vanilla ice-cream (yum!). The hospitality was simple but superb. Both the professor and his wife were fantastic hosts, ensuring that they sat with different groups throughout the night. It is interesting to note how giving they were with their time and their energy, in a society where many people will simply take the weekend off to do their own thingie. The act of hospitality is an art of love we need to recover as a church. Through being served, I watched and learned that serving others can be a joyous thing altogether. Sometimes we get too caught up with the logistics of serving people that we tend to forget that guests are not too disturbed with loose ends. Often they are more than ready to help. I note many of my fellow students constantly asking both the professor and his wife whether they needed any extra help.

We then played a game called Mafia where the professor's son taught us and became the narrator of the whole game to guide us along. Some of us are mafias, some policemen, some doctors and the rest are townspeople. The objective of the mafias (5) is to dominate the whole town and kill off everybody else. The objective of the police (2) is to arrest and try to apprehend the mafias. The doctors (2) will try to protect people by granting them some form of immunity so that if they are singled out to be 'killed' they can claim immunity. The trouble is nobody really knows who is who. It was fun. I was one of the doctors and my wife? She was the last mafia to be caught! And I actually gave this mafia immunity at some point! How silly of me.

Last night was pure delight. A Regent Experience 101.


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