Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Church Open Service + Picnic (28 June 2009)

We had an open-door service at the Fraser River Park on Sunday. The theme was unity in the body from 1 Corinthians 12. Splendid efforts by the organizers. Praise God!

Getting ready for the service. It's already 10.15am!

Some came with chairs, others with ground mats.

Members and Friends enjoying the sunny weather.

A picture of 'Bosa,' proudly drawn by our pastor.

Pastor Josh telling the story of the five fingers and the coin.

Our cool young adults scrambling for answers to 'tough' questions.

Trying to put the words to display the right verse.

Frantically trying to remember what they've learned in Sunday School long time ago...

It has been a beautiful day.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

More Cashing in....

Here is another of those scams that exploits the recent deaths of starlets, Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. From exploiting the deaths of these two persons to jack up sales, to manipulating the internet public through 'spam campaigns, phishing attacks, and malicious code.' Another report talks about the presence of malware in MJ sites. Even 'friends' of MJ like Deepak Chopra was suspected on exploitation. What will they think of next? These things reveal the down side of humanity.

In times like these, it is good for the ordinary person to pause from any hysteria and refrain from any overdose of hype going around. At all times, beware of the wolves among communities.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Cashing In

The powerful lion has been long respected as the king of the jungle. Many animals scamper away at the sound of its roar. Birds take flight at the first sighting of its presence. There will come a time when this predator of predators will succumb to age, to lay down to take its final breath. At death, scavenging vultures will sweep on to feed on the carcass.

Michael Jackson (MJ) is not a lion, but as far as the pop music scene is concerned, he is a superstar icon that all other stars respect. Like other animals respecting the powerful lion, music stars from the Entertainment industry respected this mighty legend. As the world mourns the death of Michael Jackson, others cash in on his death. Sales of Jackson's albums and memorabilia at spiking at many Internet sites. Even in this gloomy economy, shops hawk products unashamedly using MJ's name. Some news reports show MJ as a victimized rich man constantly milked by people around him. Others paint his obsession over image. Some however stand to make lots of money off this personality. MJ passed away yesterday at the age of 50. From the looks of it, opportunistic 'vultures' are cashing in, devouring everything. Is this the price for fame and fortune? Or is it more shame and misfortune?

My advice: Take the time to mourn, yes; But for those who try to cash in, ease up. MJ may be a superstar, but let us not hype him up so much as to forget that he too, like us is human.
"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12)


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lousy Book

Book Title: Letter to a Christian Nation
Author: Sam Harris
Publisher: Vintage, 2008, (144pp)

At the library yesterday, I read Sam Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation” yesterday at one sitting. At first glance, I thought that it is another of those books that attack the religious Right, or the conservative evangelical arm of Christianity in the US. As I turn the pages, I sense that the writer has a larger agenda and I was right. He basically uses the ‘Religious Right’ as an entry point to debunk the need for any religion at all, save for his: Atheism. Hence, you can easily see his own circle of atheists (like Richard Dawkins) trying to support his book with rave reviews.

He admits that Mother Teresa has done lots of good for the world, yet he unfairly neutralizes all of her work saying that ‘her moral intentions deranged by religious faith’ (35). He freely agrees with another atheist, Christopher Hutchens that Mother Teresa is ‘not a friend of the poor’ but a friend of 'poverty.’ Making such a distinction between ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ may appear like a scholastic attribute but it sure reflects a poor reading of the life and work of the Catholic saint. How can anyone while arguing for his own set of anti-religious beliefs be so quick to write off a lady who has brought so much love and compassion to the people in India and many parts of the world? It beats me.

He does not offer a very convincing alternative either. In fact, he applies a double standard between science and religion. He readily believes science and its wonders, even putting science and religion on the same plane where they are clearly in different dimensions.
He says that ‘the success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogmas always comes at the expense of science.” (63)
Harris stresses the word ‘always.’ Sweeping statement indeed. This not only shows a lack of understanding of religion in general but a foolish attempt to try to put science and religion under the same factual paradigm. Have Harris ever thought of ‘art’ and ‘music?’ Do those give facts?

Overall, I find that a book like this appeals mainly to atheists and people who already have an axe to grind with religion in general. His letter to the Christian nation appears to be more a marketing gimmick for atheism, rather than a factual appeal against religion. His arguments sound so ridiculous that they do seem like rubber bullets made from poor quality research. You can do the same to this book, what Sam Harris has done to Mother Teresa's image. Take the book and shove it aside. Don't waste your money even on buying a used copy.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Pleasant Surprise.

(on 24 June 2009)
I've recently started putting some of my book reviews on Amazon. It is quite a pleasant surprise today (24 June 2009) when I checked, one of them, a study guide on 'Faith and Pop Culture' has become "The Most Helpful Critical Review." Check any updates here. You can read my full review here.


Pondering about New Technologies...

What's the glitter in Twitter?
What's the outlook for Facebook?
What's the sting in Bing?

New Technologies.........sigh...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I love this. Bing continues to impress......

(Credit: Microsoft Bing, 23rd June 2009)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Staying Up When Down

Staying UP when all the chips are down

What do you do when the wheels roll off the cart? We stop. What do you do when the doctors tell you some grim news from your medical report? We pause. Where do you place your feelings when things turn tragic? The first thing that most people will do is stop what they are doing. The shopper will stop pushing the cart to look for the wheel. The concerned patient will stop to take in the news while the doctor waits with sensitivity. What about the one who experiences tragedy like never before? How do we stay up when all the chips are down? It is very hard. Tragedy makes it only harder.

As bodies continue to be recovered by authorities combing the Atlantic Sea, the recent Air France tragedy (June 2009) reminds us how fragile life can be. As usual, there are those who ‘thank God’ that they missed their flight due to some last minute changes. In that same light, what about those who happened to be on the flight at the last moment? I echo what M Scott Peck writes in the beginning of his classic work, The Road Less Traveled, “Life is Difficult.” Life is truly difficult.

In the bestselling novel, The Shack, written by William P Young, the beloved little daughter of the main character Mack was brutally murdered and the body found in an abandoned shack in the wilderness of Oregon. When Missy, his daughter mysteriously disappeared during a camping trip, Mack saw his emotions making a painful journey from hope to hopelessness; from worry to despair; from faith to utter bitterness. Fighting all these conflicting emotions rendered him numb. His path back to normal living is filled with pain and haunted with questions nobody can answer. After all, life can never be normal anymore. After filling his own buckets with pain and anger, he felt a deep and profound sense of emptiness. If you are like me, you will most likely ask the famous interrogative pronoun: WHY?
- Why must it be Missy?
- Why must it happen to my friend, my sibling, or my loved one?
- Why me?

Such questions provoke many negative thoughts but bring few positive answers. In times like these, often the best approach to take is to lament. The Psalms remind us of King David who was besieged by enemies all around him:
They have tracked me down, they now surround me, with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.” (Ps 17:11)
Dealing with our Doubts
It is difficult to grapple with setbacks. It is more difficult to deal with it ALONE. This was exactly how Mack felt when he received news of Missy’s murder. For him, everyone including God has deserted him. No one understands. From sorrow come doubts. From doubts come despair. From despair comes absolute emptiness surrounded by doubts. He doubts his ability as a father. He doubts his willingness to live. He doubts his faith. He doubts God. During such times, questions like: “How can a good God ever allow evil suffering to take place?” pops up at every corner, every turn and every angle of one’s journey through that painful reality called life. More often than not, it remains unanswered. Bible thumping advocates only scratches the surface with responses that are at best, feeble. Suffering is that one formidable force that exposes every theologian’s weakness and challenges every philosopher’s pet viewpoints. In suffering, believers doubt God, non-believers doubt life. Some escape into the realm of virtual reality. Others creep back into their shell of insecurity. The deeper one’s degree of affection, the more profound one’s depth of affliction. CS Lewis in the Problem of Pain, describes such pain eloquently as:
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 91)
In the silence of pain, one hears the booming voice of suffering. So how can we stay up when all seems down? In pain and suffering, it is very hard but not impossible. There is a way forward but first let me deal with three alternatives which I deem inadequate.

Dealing With Our Actions
Some motivational speakers will bravely tell their supporters something like: “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.” They grit their teeth. They tighten their fists. Their body posture comes in congruence with the challenge: “Bring it on, O evil!”

Followers of Friedrich Nietzsche can easily conclude that ‘God is dead.’ The idea of pain and suffering deals a deathblow to any universal notion of a God who is good and loving. Life is thus subjective and reality is only meaningful when interpreted according to one’s own perspective. Such a fatalistic philosophy issues a blanket challenge to any theologian who tries to defend a Benevolent God.

Many Christians will attempt to try and explain for God during tough times. Let me suggest that you don't do it. In fact, during times of suffering and pain, any philosophy and theology should be placed on the backburner. Put the books of explanation aside and sit beside the person in pain or suffering. Chances are, your right answers in the head will only rub the wrong ends of the heart in pain. Put them all away. CS Lewis puts it well:
"Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect you don't understand." (CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain, HarperSanFrancisco, 1961, p25)
Do not try to explain religion in the midst of suffering. Experience the reality of suffering without the need to explain religion. Let me suggest that the key to staying up when we are down lies not within ourselves but only in the comfort of God. If our first step toward pain and suffering is either dealing from our thoughts or from our actions, let me say that neither of them will be helpful. It must begin from the heart.

Dealing with our Heart
For the suffering Christian, grappling with any loss or setback is hard. Trying to defend God during such circumstances seems bizarre. We should not use God to interpret our suffering. Instead, we ought to let our suffering draw us closer to God, the Great Comforter. Let me suggest that the we deal with our heart by dwelling in the Source of All Comfort.

The 20th Century hymnwriter, Frank Graeff, went through great suffering himself, and the stanzas reveal a personal flip-flop of emotions, swinging from despair at one end, to struggling to hang on to hope in Jesus. Each stanza expresses his pain and grief, followed by a refrain of hope and trust in God.
1) Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press, and the cares distress
And the way grows weary and long?


Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

2) Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades into deep night shades,
Does He care enough to be near?

Refrain: Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

3) Does Jesus care when I’ve tried and failed
To resist some temptation strong;
When for my deep grief there is no relief,
Though my tears flow all the night long?

Refrain: Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

4) Does Jesus care when I’ve said “goodbye”
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks,
Is it aught to Him? Does He see?

Refrain: Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.
This is precisely what Christians CAN do. They can express all manner of grief and pain through stanzas 1 to 4. However, at the end of each stanza lament, do a determined refrain to get back to the anchor of hope, the Author and Finisher of our faith: Jesus Christ. That Jesus cares.

How then do we stay up when everything around us are down? The simple answer is: alone we can never stay up. Plugging ourselves into a community can last us a short distance. However, any journey of suffering and pain is often a marathon that can neither be completed by sheer personal will or community strength. True survival must be based on Christ. Any personal will needs to be anchored on the Word of God. Any community support spokes will require centering on the hub in Christ. Then and only then, can the wheel of faith be turned to spur one on. In times like these, I assert that the WHO we know becomes more significant than the WHYS that we do not understand. In other words, God is not comprehended simply by interpreting our pain and suffering. We can only make sense of our suffering when we let God interpret the circumstances surrounding our sufferings. Toward the end of the novel, The Shack, Mack heard this revelation from God:
“Mackenzie, religion is about having the right answers, and some of its answers are right. But I am about the process that takes you to the living answer, and once you get to him, he will change you from the inside.” (200)
'Changed from the inside' is exactly what happened for Mack. In fact, Mack’s road to recovery did not come from having all his questions answered. His healing begins at a relationship level. Firstly, his relationship of faith and trust in God was restored. This leads him to the second step, that in his heart to learn to forgive the murderer. Subsequently, his restoration leads him toward reassuring loved ones that whatever that has happened is not their fault. Indeed, many things in life that is tainted with pain and suffering needs to be addressed that way. Sometimes it is plainly nobody’s fault. Replace each “We could or should have….” With “It’s ok. It is not your fault.

In summary, we cannot stay up by ourselves. We can only remain in Christ, and only in Christ we can find the comfort. Learn not to blame anyone, oneself included. Whatever has happened has happened. Instead learn to cling on to Christ. Experience the deep comfort when we hide in the shadow of God’s mighty Wing.


Friday, June 19, 2009

A Meditation for Father's Day

Fathers and the Image of God - a meditation of Father’s Day
When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image, and he named him Seth.” (Gen 5:3)
MAIN IDEA: Our often imperfect view of our fathers can only be made perfect: in Christ. In Christ, our relationship with our earthly fathers can be made whole

The term ‘Like father like son,” is a popular phrase used to describe the similarities and familiar behavioral patterns of a father and son relationship. Some use it literally in their names, like John Doe Sr (for the father) and John Doe, Jr (for the son). Royalties sometimes use numerical notations such as the British monarchy; Queen Elizabeth I and II, King Henry 1-V and so on. Many families traditionally depend on sons to continue to keep their family names. Names have a strong connection to likeness and in the image of the father. Adam, the first man was created in the image (צֶלֶם, tzelem) of God. The next occurrence of (צֶלֶם, tzelem) interestingly did not appear for the second generation of Cain-Abel. It came in Gen 5:3 where Seth was the one chosen to continue on the line of blessings and inheritance, which began with Adam. Seth was supposed to continue from where Abel left. As we might recall, Abel was murdered by Cain, his brother. (צֶלֶם, tzelem) has a certain connotation of being ‘cut out of’ some being. In this case, it is an image that comes out of the figure of God the Father. There is another word for ‘image’ called (פֶּ֖סֶל, pesel) which is something hewed out of a material object. (פֶּ֖סֶל, pesel) is typically used in graven molded images (Lev 26:1, Deut 4:16, Judges 17:3). It seems like the (צֶלֶם, tzelem) is from some personal being, while (פֶּ֖סֶל, pesel) represents out of some object thing. Three observations can be made.

1) Beyond the Physical
We live in a world where looks and superficial things come across as ‘first impression counts.’ At interviews, we hear image consultants telling us to dress well so that we gain a favorable impression from our prospective employers. For organizations that hire on the basis of looks, they will frequently miss out potentially excellent employees. When Adam and Seth are made in the image of God, their likeness is far beyond the physical. They are also endowed with the creative ability to bring goodness and blessings to the neighbourhood and the world they live in. Thus, being in the same likeness and the same image also comes with the responsibility of a same calling: The calling to be fruitful and multiply. When we use the term, ‘made in the image of God,’ we are referring to our abilities to live not just the physical but in all other domains possible for man, mentally, spiritually and others. Idols and molten images cannot do that! Even modern technology despite its advances has failed to adequately replicate the basic human senses. Some humanists claim that the positive progress through the years indicate that the day will come, when one can achieve perfection. Unfortunately, history has shown that their path to progress has been littered with much imperfection. Every act of invention has their fair share of abuses. The movie Terminator paints for us a dark future in which the computer of the future starts to take over the world when it deems man as too unsuitable to lead.

2) Within the Limits
Adam was created (ברא, bara) in the image of God. Seth was conceived (ילד, yalad), through Adam and Eve in the image of man. Only God can create. While a son can achieve more than his earthly father, man cannot do more than the one who created him. The Tower of Babel debacle is an example of the folly of man, who refused to respect the limits of one’s ability. The evil folks of that day fail to recognize that while man is made in the image of God, they are NOT God. They can possess attributes of God, but they cannot take the place of God. Isn’t it mere folly to overestimate one’s ability? It is like trying to force a small bicycle to run like a SUV (sports-utility vehicle)! What then is the meaning of being made in the image of God?

3) Imago Dei (Latin=: Image of God)
Through the centuries, this term has been hotly debated by Roman Catholics and Protestants. This is made more complicated by the question of how much does sin impact this image. The following table is a short snippet of the various beliefs.

It would seem that despite the different views, all agree that sin has caused some kind of imperfection in the Imago Dei. Hence, it is important to recognize that our journey to God cannot be on the basis of our own strengths. It has to be through a perfect Mediator which is in Christ.
“For those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29)
Christ is our Saviour, our Mediator and our link back to the true Imago Dei.

Concluding Thoughts
In summary, fathers not just in physical name, but in more ways than that. Fathers are limited in their abilities to be fatherly. They can only be the best father when they are connected to the Father in heaven. As one becomes connected to the Father in heaven, one becomes more like (צֶלֶם, tzelem) of God, rather than the (פֶּ֖סֶל, pesel) of idols.

Our fathers play an integral part of the whole creation process which started with Adam. Through the ages, fathers have been the channels through which the human race and families are continued. The question is: “How are we reflecting our true Imago Dei?” Knowing that our earthly fathers are not perfect, how do we go about becoming good fathers to our children? We cannot deny our fathers, no matter how they have treated us. Enshrined within the Ten Commandments is the call to obey our fathers and our mothers. Hence, to have a special day to honour our fathers is certainly within the will of God. As we do that, strangely, there is also another benefit. We recover our sense of identity that is related to our linkage and lineage. We recover a history of relationships that render meaning to the question: “Who am I?” We recover another opportunity to restore any bad or broken relationships with our fathers by remembering them in our hearts. We revive a healing hand. Take a trip back along memory lane to give thanks for our fathers. Our identity of who we are is intricately connected with ‘whose’ we are. We can claim a sense of belonging no other persons can have. It is something that defines what ‘family’ means. This June 21st 2009 is Father's Day. So go on:
  • In our hearts, learn to be grateful for our fathers;
  • In our heads, give thanks;
  • With our hands, pick up the phone, to call saying any or more of the following;
    - "I am sorry."
    - "I forgive you."
    - "I miss you."
    - "I remember you."
    - "I thank you."
    - "I love you."
  • If our fathers are gone from this world, remember a prayer. Give thanks.
Let me end with a very reflective collection of thoughts about what a father means for a person growing through the ages.

'Daddy' over the years
4 years: My Daddy can do anything!
7 years: My Dad knows a lot…a whole lot.
8 years: My father does not know quite everything.
12 years: Oh well, naturally Father does not know that either.
14 years: Oh, Father? He is hopelessly old-fashioned.
21 years: Oh, that man-he is out of date!
25 years: He knows a little bit about it, but not much.
30 years: I must find out what Dad thinks about it.
35 years: Before we decide, we will get Dad's idea first.
50 years: What would Dad have thought about that?
60 years: My Dad knew literally everything!
65 years: I wish I could talk it over with Dad once more.

(Source: Anonymous)


Incidentally, the name ‘Seth’ is also related to the word ‘compensation.’ Seth is actually a compensation for the loss of Abel. That does not mean his value is any less that he should whine about. Instead, his calling is highly important for he bridges the broken gap and enables the continuation of the family line that will enjoy the coming of the Saviour Lord Jesus.

Book- "Extreme Church Makeover"

Book-Extreme Church Makeover
Author: Neil Anderson & Charles Mylander
Published: Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2005

This is a book about revitalizing Church. The key theme of this book is that every church that is entangled in conflict and disunity can be redeemed through an 'extreme' makeover. Riding on the success of the previous book: "Steps to Freedom in Christ," the same formula that enables individuals to be liberated is applied to a larger body, namely the church. In other words, the key to any makeover is firstly to 'resolve personal and spiritual conflicts' (7). The challenge is to uncover past hurts and make brave leadership decisions to address them head on. One of the key observations is that 85% of churches surveyed are 'spiritually dead and bearing no fruit at all' (11).

Typical of Neil Anderson's stance, the book relies heavily on recognizing the spiritual forces that lurk underneath any church body conflict. That is the reason for the large emphasis on prayer throughout the book. Anderson and Mylander are spot on in terms of identifying root causes. What are the elements of makeover?

- Protection from the evil one;
- Be rooted in Christ;
- Clear understanding of what is destructive and what is constructive;
- Clear Understanding of roles of pastor, board, members and leadership;
- Leadership as a function of 'leader, follower and situation';
- Ministry Model that incorporates Cause-Community-Corporation enclosed together via "Communion in Christ.'
- Healing bad memories and tough with past sins;
- Leadership

The part I like is the Cause-Community-Corporation model, which was credited to Jim Dethmer's "Moving in the Right Circles" published in the Fall 1992 edition of Leadership Journal.
Communion - described as the ethos of every member and leader of the church to center their lives on Christ;
Cause - Sharing the good news with people local and abroad;
Community - celebrating relationships;
Corporation - wisely administering the resources God has given.
The last segment on leadership is perhaps one of the most crucial. Members of the church must be free to discover their true identity and freedom in Christ. Leadership must provide space and let individuals be free and honest with themselves and the church, without fear or favor. Clearly written, one of the most helpful parts of the book is the leadership strategy portion. The five strategies of Planning, Praying, Preaching, Involving Other Leaders and Active Discussing among members sum up the way to approach a Church makeover. Leaders must be empowered to lead. Followers need to trust and support the leaders as much as possible. Ultimately, any efforts to revitalize the church is not easy step-wise formulas but tough meticulous steps toward self-discovery, corporate trust and constant prayerfulness against the spiritual powers of the world, and the lusts of the flesh.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Book Review - "Faith and Pop Culture" study guide

Title: Christianity Today’s “Faith and Pop Culture” Study Series
Author: Christianity Today contributors
Published: Thomas Nelson, 2008; 127pp

This study guide is meant to facilitate Christian discussion of the topic of “Faith and Pop Culture” within a small group setting. In an age where more people are spending time at the movies, watching TV, engaging in sports and various entertainment options, it is quite a challenge to distinguish the good ones from the bad. Discernment is learning to sift out the bad weeds from the good wheat. Eight issues were highlighted with articles from a large variety of contributors. In a nutshell, the controversial topics were quickly introduced without having to plow through lots of material. It helps the reader to exercise Christian-thinking. It leads readers back to examine the issues from a biblical perspective.

I like to thank the publishers for coming up with this creative idea to engage the modern culture from a Christian perspective. The framework of the book is broadly a simple three-step process. The first step begins with an article about the topic. The editors supply a helpful article to help prepare the platform for discussion. Using a previously published article on the flagship publication: “Christianity Today,” the article is meant to prepare the table for any group to ‘jump-in’ and discuss the topic particularly from a Christian perspective. The second step helps to raise issues for readers to grapple, to agree or disagree with. The final part of the framework attempts to offer a redemptive eye to see the whole matter. Throughout the book, questions were placed to let the readers engage with lively discussions. Some of the questions are provocative, while others are the usual attempts to link biblical references with the observations. From an engagement angle as well as a discussion format, the purpose of the book has been met.

I like the questions that have been framed. It is open and contains helpful Bible references to guide the reader. However, there is a risk of taking verses out of context, so the Bible study session ought to be led by a more mature believer. One of the biggest values this book gives is toward seeing faith and pop culture from a Christian perspective. It tries to avoid dualistic (for example: the material world is bad; spiritual is good) thinking, and offers a way to redeem culture. It recognizes that despite the flaws and weaknesses of each art medium, there is still a way for Christians to enjoy art, albeit with a critical eye. Critical not in a negative sense, but from a redemptive angle.

Depth. As an introduction to the issues each topic raises, it is pretty good. However, it ought to point interested readers toward resources and ways to learn more about the topic at hand. Probably, from a marketing perspective, the editors have missed out an opportunity toward a win-win scenario. On the one hand, the publishers could have used the opportunity at the end of each topic to parade their wide range of resources to readers. On the other hand, readers will also recognize that the discussion could be a beginning of a fruitful journey of discovery, what a deeper understanding of ‘Faith and Pop Culture’ could mean. It also lack a small bibliography, and better treatment of alternative points of view.

Though the Bible references are good, there is a risk of eisegesis, (ie; reading meaning INTO the text) as opposed to exegesis (reading the meaning OUT OF the text)

I feel that for a study series, having one article that espouses one point of view is grossly insufficient. Even though the articles chosen reflect a brief discussion of various points of view, the fact remains that all the writers have a particular angle of what faith and pop culture means to their faith. Personally, I feel that it is more beneficial to have at least 2 articles per section, one on the left and the other to the right, and allow readers to draw their own conclusions and to have a better informed discussions. Perhaps, the editor has done this intentionally, so as to make a lively discussion even more ‘livelier,' without having to bog down group members with excessive reading. After-all, brevity has its advantages for a small group discussion. It can cut down costs as well. A short list of bibliography will help. Finally, despite the shortfalls, in general, the study guide does a good job to clear the ground for faith discussion and should appeal for both Christians and also for non-Christians seeking to understand more about the Christian perspective.

This should be an interesting study for those of us keen to engage culture with a biblical perspective. It is good as an introduction. Period.

Thomas Nelson Reviewer,

Monday, June 15, 2009

Paradox of Living

How do we live in a world of contradictions? Do we fight it until one side wins, or do we avoid it? Do we only choose what is private and ignore the public concerns? Is paradox a curse of the Fall, or is it simply another way truth can be communicated? In this short article, I will argue for the latter, that paradoxes are not meant for us to eliminate one side so that the other can triumph. Rather, paradoxes are ways in which we can be taught to appreciate the diversity of life God has intended us to learn.

Our life on earth can be easily described as a paradox incarnated in daily living. If an alien out of this world were to observe us humans from the outside, it would have been amazed at how frequent people say one thing but act out another. Between the two extremes of blatant hypocrisy and nonchalant procrastination lies the swinging pendulum of paradox. It is quite easy to see the popular paradoxes in life. I remember getting an email about the paradox of money.
$ - Money can buy a house, but not a home.
$ - Money can buy a bed, but not sleep.
$ - Money can buy a clock, but not time.
$ - Money can buy a book, but not knowledge.
$ - Money can buy food, but not an appetite.
$ - Money can buy position, but not respect.
$ - Money can buy blood, but not life.
$ - Money can buy insurance, but not safety.
$ - You see, money is not everything!
(Credit: Anonymous sources)
The Christian faith has its fair share of paradoxes:
  • Jesus died that we may live;
  • "He is no fool to give what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose." (Jim Elliot, martyr in Ecuador)
  • "All the rivers flow into the sea, Yet the sea is never full." (Eccl 1:7a)
  • "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matt 10:39)
  • "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet lose or forfeit his very self? " (Luke 9:25)
  • Jesus tells us to be like little children (Lk 18:16-17), yet Peter exhorts us to seek solid food like adults! (1 Peter 2)
  • The ten commandments tell us that we must honor our parents, yet Jesus warns us that whoever does not 'hate his own father and mother' (Lk 14:26) is not worthy of becoming a disciple of Christ.

Yes I know some of the Scripture verses have to be read in their own contexts. What I am pointing out is the way paradoxes are used to communicate an important truth. Paradoxes sharpen the mind to notice things beyond the obvious. It illuminates things which one can see from another angle. It points out that one's viewpoint alone is not enough, but must be nourished afresh by another viewpoint. Like the gospels. Four gospels present four different portraits of Jesus, so that readers and disciples will get a bigger and clearer picture of Jesus. Paradoxes confound the mind and to the foolish unbeliever, they can confuse or cause them to stumble. For the humble and willing person, paradoxes are tremendous opportunities to glimpse the divine and marvel at the beauty of mystery.

Three Responses to the Contradictions/Paradoxes of Life
In "A Belly of a Paradox," Parker Palmer writes about 3 ways we can respond to the contradictions of life.
  1. AVOIDANCE: First, one can respond the to contradictions by simply running away from it all. Without wanting to get entangled by the various arguments, one behaves like an ostrich choosing to bury its head into the soil, thinking that all dangers and threats will simply go away.
  2. PRIVATE RELIGION: The second way to respond will be to take only whatever that is appropriate for our own private enjoyment. By removing oneself from the great drama of the world's battle-stage, we ignore some and choose to accept only those that is suitable for private consumption. We ignore public concerns while choosing to accept only the bare necessary. For example, one can simply forget about theological arguments and simply choose to build one's Christian life on a basic: "I believe in Jesus. That is all I need." So everywhere such a person goes, he/she avoids every form of Christian knowledge forum saying that all he/she needs is to believe in Jesus and will have none of any arguments or perspectives. Such an attitude is like saying that there is only one type of coffee in the world for him, ignoring the world of lattes, cappucinos, mochas and the huge selection of gourmet coffee that makes coffee such a delightful beverage that have helped shaped thousands of communities round the world. Such an attitude of ONE-KIND-ONLY perspective is pathetic.
  3. LIVING CONTRADICTIONS: Palmer goes on to suggest a third way of handling contradictions. This is called 'living contradictions' in which:
    Here we refuse to flee from tension but allow that tension to occupy the center of our lives. And why would anyone walk this difficult path? Because by doing so we may receive one of the great gifts of the spiritual life — the transformation of contradiction into paradox. The poles of either/or, the choices we thought we had to make, may become signs of a larger truth than we had even dreamed. And in that truth, our lives may become larger than we had ever imagined possible!(Parker Palmer, In the Belly of a Paradox, Pendle Hill Pamphlet, 2005, p9)
    You'd probably have guessed it. I am an advocate of this third view that Palmer proposes. I believe that life in many ways is a paradox. Such contradictions are not for us to fight it out, like popping numerous anti-biotics into our bodies that while trying to rid the bad bacteria, we kill good ones as well. Instead, the parable to note will be the parable of the weeds. Remember Jesus teaching us to let both the weeds and the wheat grow together? We should not attempt to let our enthusiasm to get rid of the weeds turn into an exercise of extermination of both bad weeds and good wheats. The logic is simple. We are all in sin. Since we are in sin, what makes us think that our actions are not tainted in our effort to fight for truth and do the right thing?
Don't get me wrong. I am all for standing up for truth. What I am saying is that we need to put humility and openness to learn first before any dogmatic declaration of war. We need to recognize that we wear the armor of God for battle on one hand, yet we need to wear an apron of servanthood at the same time. We are warriors for Christ, and also lovers of humanity. Both have to be held together. Our theological muscles must be strong enough to hold BOTH together. That is how we must approach the paradoxes of life. A healthy life is not one that is proud of living a life of certainty. Rather, a fruitful like is one that is grounded in the certainty of God's promises, and lived thankfully within the uncertainty of final answers.


My Visit to RBC Ministries (1-3 June 2009)

Last week as part of my doctoral residency, I visited Grand Rapids and one of the highlights was the visit to RBC Ministries, the publishers of the popular devotional, "Our Daily Bread." This devotional was initially started as a transcript of the original radio broadcasts. It soon took on a life of its own and more than 8 million copies are circulated around the world currently. RBC's delivery volume is so huge that they even have their own postal code in Michigan!

Here are the list of books published by Discovery House division of RBC Ministries.

Here I am standing outside their office.

The founder, Dr Martin R De Haan humbly started this faith-based ministry. It has grown to be one of the most well-run Christian organizations in the world. On the bottom left is the original microphone used by Dr De Haan and the classic radio.

Displayed is the actual Bible used by the founder and the handwritten transcripts.

This is a wonderful pictorial statement of RBC legacy. Also seen is a photo of Mart De Haan, the grandson of the founder, who is currently the president of RBC Ministries. I shook his hand and am amazed at his humbleness and approachability.

RBC even have their own video recording studio.

Finally, I thought this is a very encouraging poem which should help all of us to be inspired during this economic downturn.

There is a little secret which I want to share with you. RBC ministers online as well, and one of their greatest gems is Christian Education online called Christian Courses. Most of the programs are free, unless of course you want to be certified or take courses for credit.


New Search Engine from Microsoft

Like many, I have been a frequent user of Google search. However, this latest search engine from Microsoft does have one upper hand: It's wallpaper is beautiful.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Which Study Bible?

Here is an article (written by James-Michael Smith of the Methodist Examiner), which is a pretty good summary of what is currently available in the market. It contains many brief statements about which Bibles to recommend and which to avoid. If you are looking for a Study Bible, use this as a primer to get an overview of what is available out there. Let me offer my own top ten tips below when choosing a study Bible.

1) LITERAL: As a 'study' Bible, prefer one that is more literal (ie word-for-word); I prefer NASB. But if you are more comfortable with NIV, that is ok.

2) TRANSLATORS: Make sure that the range of Bible translators are from diversity of backgrounds; (ie not just from one denominations but from several)

3) BACKGROUND: Facts or information that illuminates the passage is preferred compared to interpretations or opinions done on our behalf. In other words, where possible, get one where need not be unduly influenced by the opinions of the publishers or the writers. (The Archaelogical Bible, NIV is a great one);

4) WORD-SIZE: Make sure the words are large enough for your eyes. Once you're over 40, you will struggle with small print.

5) AVOID: Single author versions. Study Bibles are not devotional Bibles. Though I can recommend Eugene Peterson's THE MESSAGE for devotional purposes, I will hesitate to push that for a study Bible.

6) SPACE FOR WRITING: Personally, I like Bibles which provide generous space to pencil in one's thoughts or illuminations. I like the NASB study Bible made by Fortress Press, though they are without much commentaries. I find the footnotes and the verse cross-references good enough.

7) INVESTMENT: I believe that it is wise to invest more in something you use more often. No point getting a cheap Bible with weak bindings. Pay a little more for one that keeps the pages together well and long.

8) BINDING: The Bible when opened, ought to be able to stay open without serious rupturing of the bindings. It should also not flip close by itself when we take our hands away.

9) PARALLEL: Don't forget that parallel Bibles do make good study guides. Comparing versions side by side can illuminate the passage in special ways.

10) REALISM: Finally, do not be discouraged if you cannot find a one-size-fits-all version. They don't exist, so don't fret. Choose one that suits your needs and enjoy it. Of course, if you have the time (and money!), investing in a few study Bibles. For all you know, they may be the best investments you can ever make.

Have fun choosing a study Bible.


Monday, June 01, 2009

Free Audio book (June 2009)

ChristianAudio provides a free audiobook each month. For this month, it is from one of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson. Title: "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places."

Do check it out. Thanks to a fellow Regent Alum for pointing this out.


Leave That Lady Alone

Leave Susan Boyle alone. That is my call to the press, the paparazzi and all those pesky busy-bodies. It seems like every major media group has picked up on this surprised result (Susan Boyle did not win Britain's Got Talent), and continues to shine a spotlight on her being 'weak' and not able to withstand pressure when she was hospitalized. The press all over the world is reporting this new like crazy.
  • The New York Times;
  • The Los Angeles Times;
  • The Telegraph;
  • Asia1 (Singapore)....
  • and many more...
Google news recorded more than 1700 news articles on her hospitalization alone. That's a lot of publicity. Enough is enough. Leave Susan Boyle alone. We should all play our part. If we say we love Susan's amazing story, let's do the best for her right now. In your special ways, ask the press to back off.

Who Lost?
In a nutshell, I believe Susan Boyle did not lose. The over-enthusiastic hyped-up minds lost.
Gamblers who bet on her winning lost. The world intent on a fairty-tale-ending, lost. Susan just wanted to do her best, and in that sense she won. She is already a winner since that sensational first wow entry into stardom. Yes, fame has its costs. Popularity exacts a huge demand on anyone who garner millions of hits on Youtube. Yet, let us not forget that Susan, like all of us is still human. Anyone of us, put under the constant spotlight and subject to continuous media onslaught will eventually break down. When a person throws his or her tantrums in front of the camera, it does not mean that person is bad tempered or not able to control himself or herself. Let us not forget the contexts which caused it all. The bamboo may be of a strong material. Put excessive pressure on it and it too will break. Point is, anything or anyone can break. Just apply the pressure. I join with Piers Mogan, one of the judges of Britain's Got Talent in saying: "Leave Susan Boyle Alone!"


Latest Posts