Monday, January 26, 2009

When Winning Becomes a Form of Losing

Recently, a basketball game between two small Christian private girls' schools gained national attention in the US. The winning school, Covenant School of Dallas is seeking to nullify its 100-0 win over Dallas Academy. Covenant has gone beyond this step to sack their basketball team coach and issue an apology to Dallas Academy for the unsportsmanlike behaviour displayed during the infamous game. The school published an official apology on its website, and the statement below is notable.
This clearly does not reflect a Christ-like and honorable approach to competition. We humbly apologize for our actions and seek the forgiveness of Dallas Academy, TAPPS and our community. The school and its representatives in no way support or condone the running up of a score against any team in any sport for any reason.
During the game, the girls from Covenant apparently went beyond the purpose of winning and let the game become one of humiliation and embarassment to their opponents instead. On top of that, Dallas Academy is no ordinary school. They specifically open their doors to students with learning disabilities. Hence, given the circumstances, any basketball game with them ought to be tempered with generous mercy and grace, rather than furious competitive behaviour that not only shame the opponent but embarasses the school they represent. It is like trying to continue boxing even when the opponent is down. Take soccer for example. Frequently, when one of the opposing team members are lying flat out on the field, players of either team will kick the ball out of play so that the injured player can be cared for.

Sometimes I feel that society in general, from schools to competitive sports have tend to over-emphasize performance and competition to the detriment of learning and compassion. The ethics of winning needs to be taught and inculcated into young minds. As one trains to be a competent sportsman, it is equally important to practice compassion and mercy. After-all, winning is not everything, but everything needs winning grace. Human dignity must be upheld whether one is on the winning or losing team. In the example of Covenant, I applaud the school leadership for taking the initiative to seek forgiveness and use this as an example that should not be repeated. As for Dallas Academy, by losing this embarassing game, they were rewarded with an invitation to watch the Dallas Mavericks from his suite! Amazing.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." (Matt 5:7)


Our Source of Hope

This song "In Christ Alone" by Brian Littrell, was a hit back in 2005, is worshipful and ranks among my top favourites.


[Credit: Words (Brian Littrell); Chords (]

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Hopeful New Year 2009

Below are 2 very meaningful messages from the Star newspaper in Malaysia, for the Year of the Ox. My favourite is the first one, which has the ox (牛) sitting on a wave to represent the character (生), which means life.

(Credit: The Star, Malaysia, 26 Jan 2009, p15)

The second one is also one that encourages all to learn from the strength of an ox, to climb the mountain of challenges we may encounter this year. Rightfully said, it is usually through hardships that the best character in us can be formed.
(Credit: The Star, Malaysia, 26 Jan 2009, p5)


Happy Chinese New Year 2009 (Ox year)

I like this evergreen rendition of the Chinese New Year favourite. Hope you like it too.

Happy Chinese New Year 2009.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Where is God?" amid economic troubles

Hardly a day goes by without someone in the media talking about hard times to come. When I was in Charlotte last week, the locals were still lamenting on the loss of their home-grown bank, Wachovia, which has since been taken over by Wells Fargo. Discount stalls like Walmart and Dollar stores are doing relatively well. When I walk through the malls, I can get a sense of gloom and lacklustre sales, even among the big retailers. Back in Canada, even the federal government is not spared of the depression. This week, they unveiled a C$64 billion deficit over the next 2 years. In British Columbia, one of the headlines is the troubled Olympic Village, that also needs an emergency financial loan from the provincial government. Singapore has for the first time in history, dipped into its reserves, slaughtering one of its sacred cows. A good friend of mine shared with me a shocking picture of how much the world's largest banks' market capitalization have shrunk. Ironically, one of Britain's largest tax-payers, RBS, whose many contributions to society were virtually wiped out overnight, with one bank rescue effort by the government.

I think far too many societies around the world has adopted 'bailout-thinking.' An ingenius beer-seller has concocted a 'Bailout-Bitter' beer that is catching headlines. CBC reported it as well as the company, Howe Sound Brewery's Press release.I am not a beer drinker. However, this new beer just launched catches my attention because of its sheer ingenuity and the way it is used to capture the mood of the times. I believe that more needs to be done rather than simply identifying with the times. Unfortunately, leadership is lacking, apart from handouts, which will eventually run-out.

There is not much credible direction from leaders as to what is best to do. The typical man in the street will simply let the present crisis run its course and pray for recovery to come sooner rather than later. My concern, is for leaders, can we simply wait? Here, I argue that leadership is even more critical in times like these. The first question that many Christians will ask is: "Where is God?" Interestingly, this question is asked most often during times of turmoil and hardships. What about those periods when we are having financial windfalls, prosperity and economic wellness? Some pious Christians will label 'Praise God' or 'Hallelujah' across every positive news, but staple their lips when negative events occur. Where is God? It reminds me of the situation where the word GODISNOWHERE has two possible readings. Pessimistically, it reads: "God Is Nowhere." In contrast, it can also be read as "God Is Now Here." Where the letter 'w' is spaced in, makes all the difference. In this aspect, where is our 'w' in our spiritual life? For some of us, it is 'wailing' in self-pity or depression. This is the pessimistic option. For others who react against it, it is an opportunity to 'win' as crisis is also an opportunity to make good. Both solutions are not optimal. The former pessimism does not help to lift the gloom. It may lead to severe depression and suicide. The latter sometimes may be acts of foolishness made in the name of risk-taking. Gordon MacDonald made an interesting case for leadership. In his article, "Beyond Pessimism or Optimism," published in Leadership Journal, he argues that hope is the reason to go beyond these 2 narrow options. He writes:
"It's a spiritual battle some times. I have to continuously remind myself that my eye must first be upon God's purposes, not on the progress of stimulus packages."
Written sensitively, MacDonald shares his similarity in struggles like:
"Occasionally I assess my own financial situation. I muse on questions like: Will I be able to continue to generate income into the foreseeable future? How should I spend, save, and give away what I do earn? Will I be able to help our grandchildren pay their college expenses? What happens if there are unexpected medical costs down the road?"
He adopts a 2-prong approach, namely to be awakened from the materialistic mindset toward a more heavenly mindset based on hopefulness.

I agree. Hope is something that is more needed than cash injections. Hope is long-term in perspective while bailouts are short-term. We cannot be victimized by the problems of today, to the point of giving up permanent values for temporary survival. It is true that in some situations, one may wonder how they are going to survive another day. I will concede that in life-and-death situations, emergency transfusion may be necessary. However, I will also argue that worrying about the present, and mortgaging our future hopes in exchange for a temporal respite for continued material indulgence is not a fair transaction at all. Being hooked on material lifestyle is like drug addiction. Everything is seen as a means to buy the fix for a moment of ecstasy. The problem is, such things do not last.

NT Wright's latest book, "Surprised by Hope" argues for a new view of heaven in terms of hope in the future resurrection in the coming of the kingdom of God. In his typical scholarly brilliance, he contends that the way to live well in the present is directly related to how we see the future. Our perspectives of "Life after death" directly impacts our current life before death. The Apostle Paul yearns to be with God, but chose to be with the church despite its ill. That is because he has learned to live heavenly on earth. Jesus has also taught us, that we need to pray that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Wright's "life before life before death' brilliantly ties together heavenly hope with earthly living. This way, we will not be living defeated lives while wearing a gospel that shouts victory in Christ at all angles. Indeed, we all need to be pleasantly surprised by hope. Jesus has promised us the Holy Spirit, to help us do greater things. The greater thing is NOT any miraculous recovery of the economy. It is not even the sudden ushering of Armageddon on earth, like what we see in the movies of mighty dramatic battles. Instead, the greater thing happens within the deepest crevices of our broken hearts. It has to do with a hopeful disposition, looking forward to living heaven on earth. Elizabeth Barrett Browning describes such a mood aptly.
"Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes -
The rest sit round it and pluck blueberries."
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
Which are we going to be? The one who recognizes the presence of God, and immediately remove his filthy shoes so as to revere a holy God? Or are we going to be people looking out for berries, ignoring the presence of God, constantly repeating the mantra: "Where is God?" If one keeps asking this question, even in the presence of the Almighty, one would have become like stubborn Israel, who were people who have eyes but do not see, or ears that do not hear.

May the Lord grant us eyes and ears that WILL see the glory of God in the midst of all these worldly confusion.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Jolt Quote XXI

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act”

George Orwell(English Novelist and Essayist, 1903-1950)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Values Shift"

'Value' is an increasingly talked about term when dealing with corporate mission and vision. I have visited several companies over the past few months and one thing stands out clear. Values remain a core statement of faith in the corporate world. Instead of the old paradigm of job security, loyalty, lifelong careers and predictable promotion by seniority, the new world looks more temporary, more short-term, greater willingness to jump-ship, and uncertainty in promotions. The movie, "In Good Company," released in 2004 highlights such a new environment. It presents an experienced sales executive overtaken by a young inexperienced salesman who is half his age. Even after years of hard work and loyalty, it shows us how easy it is for the old world paradigms to be simply swept aside with just one Merger/Acquisition exercise. It is a swift change with a single executive decision from the top. In the film, a highly experienced Dan Foreman (played by Dennis Quaid) has to contend with an inexperienced young boss, Carter Duryea (played by Topher Grace). It is one thing to be insulted with the young managing the old. It is yet another to have one's experience conveniently set aside in the world of corporate politics. The film also thinly criticized the use of corporate cliches like 'synergy,' 'bottom line,' 'corporate policy' and 'psyched.' Truth is, these words mean nothing to people who were being fired in the name of corporate restructuring.

According to John Izzo and Pam Withers, the new work environment is no longer one that depends on worker's self-motivation. It needs an injection of new work values that people can identify with. This is because the former world is being surrounded by the four waves of change.

The old world is obliged to change due to 4 forces, namely changes in Family, the Economy, Society and Technology. For the Family, rising affluence, changes in family size and parenting habits, coupled with new family structures have given rise to a new generation that is more averse to overwork and its consequences. In the Economy, one cannot afford to rest passively waiting for things to happen. Workers know that obsolescence is not a matter of why but when. Hence, the kind of work they do must be one that is able to help them to chalk up 'points' to remain employable. In Society, consumerism and spiritual hunger has affected one's perception of success. In a survey of graduating MBAs from Duke University, the measurements of success have shifted from the visible to the less visible, from the extrinsic to something more intrinsic. (see diagram below).
Finally, Technology is something that has dramatically affected the workplace, namely in terms of empowering people who were previously located at the bottom rungs of the information ladder. The book, "Values Shift" is essentially about how companies can adapt their corporate values to keep in step with workers' new expectations in the new world of work.
Values shifting is essentially about 6 major movements corporate workers will come to expect.
    The 6 Shifts
  1. From Hierarchical Structures --> Partnership
  2. From overwork --> Balanced work and life;
  3. From business-driven --> Nobility-driven
  4. From making the numbers --> making meaning in work; (Personal Growth and Development as long-term security)
  5. From Self focus --> Expectation of community living within the work environment
  6. From directives approach --> Trust sharing.
"The six expectations outlined here form a template for companies that want the best employees to flock their way. Companies that align themselves with the new worker values will achieve great things. Knowing how people work is critical. Knowing their dreams and highest hopes is paramount." (John Izzo & Pam Withers, Values Shift, Prentice-Hall Canada, 2001, p13)
My Comments
I have 3 points to make, in terms of what is most helpful, what is least, and what can be done to improve the content of the book. Firstly, the positive.Izzo and Withers are clearly looking at values shifting from the angle of the employer or the organization, how it can improve staff-retention, especially valued ones. I liked the way they talk about values in terms of a 'philosophy' rather than a 'strategy' (198). Strategy is captivating and is an impressive word. Unfortunately, it is often used more as a cliche which does not mean anything. It means different things to different people. Business schools studying Michael Porter's techniques will describe strategy as building competitive advantage. For the layperson, it is another word for 'advanced planning.' However, a philosophy underlines the very thinking and belief of the worker and organization. Izzo and Withers does this job well.

A negative point is in terms of 'worker retention' in tough economic times like the present financial struggles happening worldwide. Many organizations are cutting back stuff, letting go valued employees rather than designing any worker retention strategies. Moreover, the organization can do so much, but if the worker no longer sees any fit between what he does and what the company expects, the best long term option is still to leave.

Thirdly, the book will fare better if it can incorporate a chapter or two specifically from the worker's perspective and what he/she can do for the organization. Like many management books, the quips, blurbs and quotes used in the book are mostly from people in high positions within the hierarchical structure. If the book can have an element of inclusiveness of the ordinary worker, in the tradition of Studs Terkel manner of including interviews with the typical man-on-the-street, it will have a wider circle of readers beyond managers and CEOs. In this sense, the book itself will do good to heed its own advice to adopt partnership with businesses and all personnel, not just businesses and management.

In summary, "In Good Company" is a good movie to watch. For the book, it is an effective entry-level trigger in getting companies to adapt their business practices toward understanding their employees better. Beyond that, the book lacks the ability to inform the organization on situations where 'worker retention' becomes deadly to the survival of the organization in a financially ravaged economy. Moreover, Izzo and Withers do not hide the fact that their proposed 'values shift' will also shift eventually. The trouble is, it has come sooner than their later.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Prosperity Gospel" not so prosperous after all

Prosperity gospel preachers are not immune from the present financial troubles invading the global economy. High profile ministries were highlighted in the February issue of ChristianityToday magazine. It is troubling to note that while the ministries are in trouble financially and legally, they still command a large following. My rule of thumb is that once any preacher has attained a superstar or cult status, the danger is that the flock can get distracted from God. They may use the name of God using sanitized words like 'power,' 'grace,' 'victory' and even invoking the name of Jesus to obtain their prosperity. Even more disconcerting is the temptation for followers to use God's name in whatever ways to 'protect' their star. While some may genuinely believe the prosperity message, there are impostors as well. There is a need to discern the difference.

A parody of the prosperity movement, also called "Name-It-Claim-It" or Word-of-Faith movement can be viewed below. How true is it? You have to decide it yourself.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

When Hope Is Lost

This is sad news. A German billionaire took his own life because of the financial crisis affecting his investment. The question is: Could it have been avoided? My take is that Mr Merckle decided on this last resort as he lost all other hope. All that he has ever believed and trusted have crumbled. I feel really sad for his family too, who have to deal with the setback and all the emotional turmoil that comes with it. For those of us mere observers of this event, it is unfair to make further comments without knowing the full facts of the matter. I shall touch on the topic of "When Hope is Lost."

Victor Frankl's classic: "Man's Search for Meaning" is essentially about the meaning of life. When man is unable to find meaning in life anymore, he will also lose the capacity to live. It is essentially a two-step process. Firstly, one has to learn the lessons past. Secondly, one needs to look forward in hope that there is a brighter future. Chances are, those who fail to get past the 1st step will also be unlikely to complete the second step. Commenting on his resolve to survive while in the Nazi prison camp,
"We, too, clung to shreds of hope and believed to the last moment that it would not be so bad." (Victor Frankl, Man's Search For Meaning, Beacon Press, 1959, p28)
Those who know how close the connection is between the state of mind of a man - his courage and hope, or lack of them - and the state of immunity of his body will understand that the sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect. (p96-7)
I think Frankl is exactly right. When we have lost all hope in our hearts, we too will lose any desire to live.

For the Christian, what is not as frequently taught in churches is this truth of hope in the future coming of the kingdom. Much has been said about doing better Christianity in our workplace, our culture engagement and our spiritual needs. How about helping one another reach out to God, to fellow people and ourselves by anchoring ourselves upon the Rock of hope? We can make lots of money in this short life, but we cannot bring it along with us when we die. We can achieve lots of titles and educational achivements but the most they will go is on the obituary page at the end, or the tombstone carving. We can make lots of friends but eventually they too will die off, in case we do not die before them. What remains is that sense of curiosity of why are we on this earth in the first place?

Some will claim that the purpose of living in this life is to do as much as possible. They strive to build a mountain of achievements, and hopefully create an endowment that benefits lots of other people. However, is that really the meaning for living?

Others will venture to survive this life, looking hopefully to a future where they will endure this present moment of suffering and embrace a future of bright joy. However, this is overly focused on the future without adequately addressing the present. For Christians who hold such a view, it will be like praying "Thy kingdom come only in heaven and not on earth."

Some others will simply take the narcissistic view, or the hedonistic view where pleasure-seeking dominates all activities. If-it-feels-good-do-it.

A sizeable majority will remain clueless about the meaning of life. They will simply carry on the daily life, not exactly sure what life is all about until a crisis emerge. I will argue that this is one of the most dangerous positions to be in. This is because, if we are not prepared, we subject ourselves to all manner of influences (both good and bad and evil), to the point that we lose the compass when we most needed direction. We lose our drive when we most needed life-goals. We lose our faith when we most needed hope. We open ourselves to all kinds of threats and fears of the unknown. When that happens, when all hope is lost, we crumble and fall.

However, Jesus reminds us constantly not to build our house on shifting sands of uncertainty, but on the solid rock of Christ our hope.
24"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." (Matthew 7:24-27)
Our hope in Christ is in the revealed Word of God in Jesus. Our hope in God is in the revealing kingdom of heaven that is coming down to earth. Our hope in the future is in God's promise that he will come again. Our hope is best reflected in this vision of God through the book of hope, the Revelation in the Bible.
1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

5He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." (Rev 21:1-5)

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. (Ps 28:7)


Sunday, January 04, 2009

"Without Fear or Favour" - a good article

I find this article by Dr Lee Wei Ling, the daughter of Singapore's famous leader, Lee Kuan Yew very thoughtfully written and deserves respect. I like in particular her view on leadership, which is one that is not based on fear but moral credibility. Yet, I will classify her religiousity as a mixture of moral values mixed with existentialism. While her views reflect a strong righteous upbringing, it lacks the eschatological hope that Christianity offers to all who recognizes God as Creator and Saviour of the world. While it is important to live well in the present, we cannot discount the importance of having a future hope, like Christians who pray the Lord's prayer: "Thy kingdom come."

Nevertheless, I still regard her article as one that is worth reading, even for Christians.
Doing what's right without fear or favour

I was born and bred in Singapore. This is my home, to which I am tied by family and friends. Yet many Singaporeans find me eccentric, though most are too polite to verbalise it. I only realised how eccentric I am when one friend pointed out to me why I could not use my own yardstick to judge others.

I dislike intensely the elitist attitude of some in our upper socio-economic class. I have been accused of reverse snobbery because I tend to avoid the wealthy who flaunt their wealth ostentatiously or do not help the less fortunate members of our society.

I treat all people I meet as equals, be it a truck driver friend or a patient and friend who belongs to the richest family in Singapore. I appraise people not by their usefulness to me but by their character. I favour those with integrity, compassion and courage. I feel too many among us place inordinate emphasis on academic performance, job status, appearance and presentation. I am a doctor and director of the smallest public sector hospital in Singapore, the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI). I have 300 staff, of whom 100 are doctors. I emphasise to my doctors that they must do their best for every patient regardless of paying status.

I also appraise my doctors on how well they care for our patients, not by how much money they bring in for NNI. My doctors know I have friends who are likely to come in as subsidised patients. I warn them that if I find them not treating any subsidised patient well, their appraisal - and hence bonus and annual salary increments - would be negatively affected. My doctors know I will do as I say. I remind them that the purpose of our existence and the measure of our success is how well we care for all our patients - and that this is the morally correct way to behave and should be the reason why we are doctors. In NNI, almost all patients are given the best possible treatment regardless of their paying status. My preference for egalitarianism extends to how I interact with my staff.

I am a director because the organisation needs a reporting structure. But my staff are encouraged to speak out when they disagree with me. This tends to be a rarity in several institutions in Singapore. The fear that one's career path may be negatively affected is what prevents many people from speaking out.

This reflects poorly on leadership. In many organisations, superiors do not like to be contradicted by those who work under them. Intellectual arrogance is a deplorable attitude.

'Listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story,' the Desiderata tells us. It is advice we should all heed - especially leaders, especially doctors.

I speak out when I see something wrong that no one appears to be trying to correct. Not infrequently, I try to right the wrong. In doing so, I have stepped on the sensitive toes of quite a few members of the establishment. As a result, I have been labelled 'anti-establishment'. Less kind comments include: 'She dares to do so because she has a godfather'.

I am indifferent to these untrue criticisms; I report to my conscience; and I would not be able to face myself if I knew that there was a wrong that I could have righted but failed to do so.

I have no protective godfather. My father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, would not interfere with any disciplinary measures that might be meted out to me.

And I am not anti-establishment. I am proud of what Singapore has achieved. But I am not a mouthpiece of the government. I am capable of independent thought and I can view problems or issues from a perspective that others may have overlooked.

A few months ago, I gave a talk on medical ethics to students of our Graduate Medical School. They sent me a thank-you card with a message written by each student. One wrote: 'You are a maverick, yet you are certainly not anti-establishment. You obey the moral law.' Another wrote: 'Thank you for sharing your perspective with us and being the voice that not many dare to take.' It would be better for Singapore's medical fraternity if the young can feel this way about all of us in positions of authority.

After the Sars epidemic in 2003, the Government began to transform Singapore into a vibrant city with arts and cultural festivals, and soon, integrated resorts and night F1. But can we claim to be a civilised first world country if we do not treat all members of our society with equal care and dignity?

There are other first world countries where the disparity between the different socio- economic classes is much more extreme and social snobbery is even worse than in Singapore. But that is no excuse for Singaporeans not to try harder to treat each other with dignity and care.

After all, both the Bible and Confucius tell us not to treat others in a way that we ourselves would not want to be treated. That is a moral precept that many societies accept in theory, but do not carry out in practice. I wish Singapore could be an exception in this as it has been in many other areas where we have surprised others with our success.
Written: by Lee Wei Ling
Credit: Straits Times, 30 July 2008

The writer is director of the National Neuroscience Institute.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Seattle New Year Fireworks 2009

Our family spent the New Year over in Seattle. Much less snow compared to Vancouver. We had a great time simply 'chilling' it out. The fireworks display capped off the holidays with a spectacular performance from the world-famous Seattle Space Needle. At least, lots of people can see the fireworks from a distance.
All's calm before the fireworks...

Looks like pink-string lightning @ Seattle Space Needle

Fireworks Display blossoming the dark rainy sky...

Beautiful sparks in the night

Video 1 of the Fireworks

Video 2 of the Seattle Fireworks

Video 3 (spurious sparks out of the Space Needle)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Have a Fruitful Year 2009

Happy New Year to all readers! May the Lord's blessings be upon all in every way, even in times when the odds seem stacked against us. It has been said: "The past is history, the future is mystery, that is why the time we have now is a gift: the present." Rather than to look back to the year with guilt or to look forward to the future with a sense of anxiety about the uncertainties around, stay focused on the present course. Appreciate loved ones around us. Forgive the ones we need to forgive.

My family and I spent New Year's Eve at the famous Pike's Place Market. We came across a store selling ear-rings, and after wishing him the ubiquitous 'Happy New Year' greeting, he wittingly replied with 'No, why should we wish to be happy for just one day? I want to be happy ALL year!" I think he got it. Why should we treat any one day more special than the rest? Each day lived thankfully to the Lord ought to be a special time for the Lord. There is no exception. More importantly, ask ourselves, for the past three years, how has our spiritual growth been? Christians ought to consider this as they mark this New Year. They should ask: "How fruitful has my life been?"

Spiritual Growth
It is to this question we start to reflect on our past few years, and check the level of progress we have achieved. We can easily point out promotions or increased sales performances. We can also point to the achievement of certain material goals or educational qualifications. How about the kind of fruitfulness in terms of spiritual growth?
Luke 13:6 ¶ And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any.
Luke 13:7 “And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?
Luke 13:8 “And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer;
Luke 13:9 and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’”
In this parable, the facts are grim. For three years, the owner of the vineyard has been checking on the crop, to look for signs of growth. Each year he looked, he could not find any. After three years, he decided that enough is enough. The vine needs to be cut down as there seem to be no point feeding the unfruitful plant anymore. Finally, when the owner decides to cut it down to avoid throwing good resources after bad or zero produce, the caretaker pleaded for one more year. He cried out and beg for one more chance to make amends. He promises to dig around and add fertilizer to improve the chance of fruit bearing. How about us?

If for the past three years, we have lived our spiritual journey oblivious to any traces of fruitlessness, what are we going to do about it? If we know that the owner is going to destroy the plant that have stayed with us for so long, are we going to sit back and do nothing about it? No! Surely not. We should make every effort to dig around for impediments that prevents the vine from bearing fruit. Maybe there is sin in our lives that we have failed to address. Maybe there is a brother or sister to forgive. Maybe there is a task that we have procrastinated. First remove all manner of obstructing our spiritual growth.

Second, fertilize our vine. Look for a spiritual mentor or a peer to be accountable to. Read our Bibles regularly and obey what we read. Pray unceasingly. Cherish one another in brotherly or sisterly love.

Maybe, for those of us who felt fruitless for the past 3 years, this year may be a dramatic turnaround in our spiritual pilgrimage. For those of us unsure about our direction in life, maybe this year is a time that we see light at the end of the tunnel. For those of us getting drained of our energies due to excessive busyness, maybe this year is a time to review our needs and check off those really essential stuff to be done. Measure our own resources and seek help if needed. Above all, be faithful to God in terms of our daily remembering of him in our prayer and worship through the Word.

May 2009 be a year of fruitful living. Don't just wish Christians a 'Happy New Year' like what the world does, wish one another: "Have a Fruitful Year in the Lord."


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