Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Review: "Made For Happiness" (Jean Vanier)

I reviewed this book today and posted on Amazon.com.

Title: Made For Happiness
Author: Jean Vanier (translated by Kathryn Spink)
Published: Toronto, ON: Anansi Press, 2001.

Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher writes that the fundamental human quest is for happiness. In other words, man is made for happiness. He possesses an innate desires to do good, to enjoy life as well as to pursue happiness. This quest takes in the form of friendship, pleasure, and a search for truth, justice and freedom. It is based on Jean Vanier's doctoral thesis entitled: "Happiness as Principle and End of Aristotelian Ethics." In it, the author shares his insights about Aristotelian understanding of the fundamental makeup and purpose of man: Toward Happiness.

Vanier points out how messed up our contemporary world is, to find meaning in life through materialism, money and power. He argues convincingly that these things do not necessarily bring happiness. Instead, they only add more stress and pressure to an already frantic soul in an increasingly anxious world. More disturbingly, man has confused what true happiness is. Enters Aristotle. Enters hope. Enters the masterful guiding hands of the founder of L'Arche. Vanier helps us link together the many different expressions of being human. Marrying the psychological, the ethical, the morality and spirituality of being human, Vanier illuminates the Aristotelian observation that man is made to be happy through `logos,' `virtue' and `activity.' `Logos' as the reason, the initial impetus of how and why man does certain things; `virtue' being the desire to want to do good in this world, and `activity' as an outward expression of this happiness quest. This is all part of being human.

What makes this book particularly helpful is that it does not lock the reader into the metaphysical realm of philosophy or intellect as the author works through Aristotelian ethics. Using examples, anecdotes and frequent quotations from primary sources, the author applies ancient philosophy with contemporary applications. Thus, Vanier has helped to connect intellectual with the affectual, the head with the heart. This is the single most valuable reason to read this book. I especially appreciate the tribute Vanier renders to this great philosopher, especially after critiquing certain parts of Aristotelian Ethics.

"Aristotle is a wise man. He seeks to reinforce all the positive energies that might help the men of his time to become more human, more just, more open to others, and by virtue of this very fact, to be happier, or to rediscover the fact that they were made for happiness." (198)
Rating: 4 Stars out of 5


Monday, March 29, 2010

Letting Go

Letting Go
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 29 Mar 2010

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Last Sunday was a special one. Three members of the congregation came out to share about their testimony in Christ. One shared about how God guides through her friendships and relationships with peers. Another shared about how God guides through career decisions. Another shared about learning to trust God during difficult family trials. In all of these instances, the pastor pointed out a common theme: “Letting Go.”

Letting go is certainly an important element of trust. Without trust, there can be no faith. Without trust in God, whatever alternatives there are will lead us to a dead-end. In a sense, believers do not really have a choice. It is either choosing to trust God, or to curse God and blame God for all things. In an emotional condition, sometimes, those who are down and out will even deny their faith and walk away.

I thought about what disappointments mean in life. It is challenging. In fact, it is so challenging that at times, I find myself doubting God. I question the existence of God. If He exists, I question if He really loves me. If He really loves me, I ask why does He seem so far away?

This reminds me of the story of a pair of trapeze performers. One is a senior catcher, while the other is a junior jumper. The senior catcher waits for the junior to jump. The objective is to let the jumper swing from one end to the other end of the platform. For young trapeze performers, they rely on a safety net below to catch them in case they fall.

The catcher casually swings on his knees while waiting for the jumper. For a few times, the young jumper freezes up and tightens her arms to aggressively grasp the hands of the catcher. Each time she does that, she falls. Finally, the senior trapeze performer said to the rookie to relax and just ‘let go.’ She needs to trust that she will be safe even when she lets go. Realizing that her own fears are preventing her from improving, the young trapeze performer agrees to the suggestion. In her final try, she let herself go. She keeps her mind free. She is able to relax. As she loosens up, she extends her arms to be easily caught by her more experienced colleague. The performance was first class.

Isn’t this a wonderful metaphor for trust? Isn’t this the truth Jesus is trying to tell us, that in this world there will be many troubles? If we try to overcome the world on our puny little abilities, we will be frustrated. We will easily fall down. If we try to take control of all things, even the things that are not within our jurisdiction, we will be disappointed. We start to blame God unfairly. We start to hurt ourselves unwittingly. We start to hurt God unknowingly.

How about simply trusting God? How about letting go of our self-pride and unhealthy control? We need to first, take heart (do the jump), carry on our normal activities (swing on), and when the difficult times of life comes, where we cannot control the outcome, just let go and let God.

Remember, Jesus has overcome the world. If Jesus is for us, who can be against us?

Thought: If you find it hard to let go, why not attempt a period of unceasing prayer?


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Banish Unilateral Behavior

Unilateralism Is Bad for Relationships

Relationships are important. They breathe meaning into our lives. There are good relationships and not so good ones. While we try to have good relationships, chances are, it is not possible to have all of them to be good at the same time. This is because every one of us are different. We behave differently at different phases of life. It is thus important to be able to cultivate an attitude of humility and to give others the benefit of the doubt whenever necessary.

What is unilateralism? What is unilateral behavior? Basically, it is a single party making a decision that is closed ended toward self. It is a decision made without adequate or any  consultation with relevant parties. It is an action that precludes and excludes  the inputs of others. It is often used by people in positions of power, to impose their decisions on those of a lesser rung of the hierarchy.

10 One-Liners to kickstart Group Discussion

In our multimedia world of technology gizmos and mass distractions around us, it can be a big challenge to get people to listen and pay attention. One innovative approach is to use creative catchy phrases. Erwin Lutzer is a senior pastor at Moody Church in Chicago. Some of his titles for sermons are indeed catchy and makes us re-think about what the world has been telling us about God. For speakers and preachers, one of the ways to get attention is through the use of catchy phrases. May the following from his book, "Ten Lies About God," provide some food for thought, or for spurring a stimulating group discussion.

THE TEN LIES ABOUT GOD (according to Erwin Lutzer)
Lie 1: God is whatever we want him to be.
Lie 2: Many paths lead into God's presence.
Lie 3: God is more tolerant than He used to be.
Lie 4: God has personally never suffered.
Lie 5: God is obligated to save followers of other religions.
Lie 6: God takes no responsibility for natural disasters.
Lie 7: God does not know our decisions before we make them.
Lie 8: The Fall ruined God's plan.
Lie 9: We must choose between God's pleasures and our own.
Lie 10: God helps those who help themselves.

My Comments
The key to understanding and engaging these are to see them not as absolute statements, but what it is pointing us to. Here are my personal thoughts on what the 10 lies are pointing us toward:
  1. God is not simply a tool for us to direct, but a Person to follow;
  2. Many paths do not lead to God; Some paths are downright wrong and steep in error.
  3. God is patient yes, but there is a limit;
  4. Our God is a suffering God too;
  5. Is God obligated to save other religions? No. God wants to, not have to, save mankind from their sins, regardless of their religious beliefs. This however does not mean that God overrides their personal choices.
  6. When natural disasters happen, God also struggles with us;
  7. God knows our every step of decision making. How he chooses to reveal this knowledge to us is his prerogative, not ours;
  8. The Fall may have stumbled many. However, God's plan is much bigger than the Fall. The Fall may be Part 1 or 2 but God holds the conclusion;
  9. Is God's pleasure any different from us? Why must we see all things in absolute terms all the time? Why can't God's pleasure be the same as ours? Like sharing good things with one another? Isn't that a pleasurable exercise for all?
  10. Amen. This is a call to recognize that it is not good for man to be alone. We are not made to be independent from one another. This reminds me that we all live under grace. Grace extended to us is also to be extended to one another. Blessed is the man who is gracious and has gracious friends all around him.

Great topics for discussion.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Against Self-Righteousness

This article is written to remind fellow theological students (like me) and Christians in leadership to beware of self-righteous behavior. I offer it to my fellow Regent alumni for consideration.


Title: Against Self-Righteousness
Written by: Conrade Yap
"Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 1:2)
A) Self-Righteous Christians
Sometimes, it is embarrassing to see that the self-righteous Christian tends to be those who are more affluent, more educated, more experienced, and more connected to the powers of this world. The root of self-righteousness is pride. For Christians, some of the unkindest things have been said to fellow believers. In the name of God, they claim to have the word of God and talks in a way that makes them more righteous than others. This is called self-righteousness. Some of the worst culprits of self-righteous behavior happen to be those who have been educated a little more than others. It could be a theology degree. It could be a special course attended. It could be a seminar with distinguished speakers. It could also be a direct association with a famed professor or speaker. Whatever it is, the claim to be right, tends to be based on works and self-worth to justify one's words. When these things happen, it is hard to be humble. It is hard to be gentle on dissenting views. It is hard to show grace.

Paul the Apostle is a top solicitor in Jewish circles at that time. He had influence. He had charisma. He also had a good following among Gentiles. He had the courage to face up to Peter when Peter is wrong (Gal 2:11). He too had the courage to admit when what he writes is not from the Lord (1 Cor 7:12). It is one thing to express a personal view. It is yet another, to use the name of Christ to state a particular opinion.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Earth Hour - 27 Mar 2010 @ 8.30PM-9.30PM

We have heard about learning to unplug our computers once a week. We have also heard about fasting for a good cause. What about unplugging our dependence on electricity for 1 hour? The purpose of Earth Day is to promote public awareness about global warming. For 60 minutes, lights will be turned off to symbolically remind people that energy is precious, and the threat of global warming.

This is what the organizers of Earth Hour 60 is asking us to do. Participants from all over the world can participate in this event based on their time zone on 27th Mar 2010. For 1 hour, from 8.30-9.30 PM, we are encouraged to turn off our lights. Maybe light a candle or to use torches. There is also a blog that describes happenings around the world. If the video does not appear below, click the direct link here.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"The Blind Side" A Movie with Christian Themes

Movie: The Blind Side

My family and I watched "The Blind Side" movie last night. After waiting out a couple of days for an available copy from the video store, we camped out in front of the TV to watch this wholesome family movie about a Christian family, showing loving hospitality to a homeless, down and out young man, Michael Oher. Based on a true story, this movie delicately highlights the social class divide, and what it takes for one boy to cross over to the other side.

Sandra Bullock is the main draw. Her sharp instinct to 'do the right thing,' is well acted out. Purposeful in what she does, she leads by example to let her faith and actions do all the talking. Her performance in this film is superb, making her a deserving Oscar winner in the best actress category.

Some Background
The 'blindside' is used here in football terms. In the American National Football League, the highest paid player is the quarterback, followed by the left tackle. It is in every team's interest to protect their most important asset, the quarterback. Hence it is no surprise that the second highest paid player is the left tackle. In American football, team players will want to protect their key player, the quarterback from being blindsided, or tackled by the opponents. Thus, there are key 'blockers' like security men trying to clear the way as well as to protect their quarterback. This responsibility falls squarely on the left tackle. Michael Oher, the other main character in the movie looks like a failure in life, at least from the eyes of many. Through several fortunate turn of events, Oher was given a new leash of life, a chance to discover and to use his gift. He was specially recruited into a prestigious Christian school to beef up the school's football team. Even though his academic grades were poor, the final decision to admit him was basically because it was the 'right thing to do.'

Central Themes
a) The Right Thing to do
The film highlights the poor and the rich divide. The Touhys, a devout Christian family belongs to the latter. From the way Oher was recruited, from the way the Touhys discuss their hospitality acts, and the way Mrs Leigh Anne Touhy (Sandra Bullock) behaves, this theme is consistent throughout. There is no point claiming to be a Christian in name only. It is more important to show one's faith through action instead.  The producers apparently try to teach Christians what is actually the 'right thing to do.' It is like the non-Christian producers in Hollywood, trying to teach to Christians about the 'right' way to practice Christianity.

b) Hypocrisy
There is a few scenes when Leigh Anne tells off her friends for their cynical and condescending behavior. One scene ends with Leigh Anne telling her friend, 'Shame on you,' when the friend tries to suggest that Leigh Anne's family be at risk because of Oher staying with them under the same roof. The friends may have shared the same faith background as Leigh Anne. The way they practice what they preach are poles apart.

c) Protective Instincts
Everyone needs protection. This is not limited to the left tackle role to protect the blind side of the quarterback. Michael Oher nobly protected his younger adopted brother from being hurt by the car's air bag using his arm. In the process, Oher got hurt. Another example of being protected is how Leigh Anne tries to assure Oher that it 'could have happened to anybody.' I find this very comforting and encouraging. If the family puts property above family, Oher will be in for a sharp rebuke for failing to take care of the brand new car. However, Leigh Anne behaves extremely calm and composed, showing us that people are more important than things. She protects the self-esteem and reassures the fragile emotions of Oher. Michael Oher, one with a 98% highly protective instinct, himself needs protection. Oher also protects Leigh Anne when they were in a dangerous neighborhood.

d) Courage and Love
This theme is strongly portrayed by Leigh Anne. She has love for her family, and for her strong Christian beliefs. Such love shines in all situations, showing us that she is not merely a fair-weathered Christian. She is ready to do whatever it takes, to do the right thing. This needs courage. Courage to stand up to the football coach, the neighborhood bullies, her high-heeled high society friends, as well as her strength to ensure Michael Oher receives the best education money can buy. It is touching, to see how Leigh Anne tries her best to bring Oher's academic grades to an acceptable level, so that Oher can attend college. She is generous, and does not think about getting any reimbursement for her investment in Oher.

e) Christianity
The Touhy family give thanks before meals. The private school is a Christian school. The motto is based on Christian principles. All throughout the movie, the 'ideal' Christianity, and the kind of Christians Hollywood expects is demonstrated in the movie through the Touhy family. I see this message clearly directed at the Republican supporters of American Politics, as well as the highly vocal evangelical conservative right. Better to practice what you preach instead of simply preaching without practicing.

Final Comments
As a movie that highlights how a young down and out life, can be restored to greatness, this film is inspirational. It teaches the importance of core family values. It suggests that the century old Christian faith is still very applicable in our modern lives. It tells Christians in particular that they can bring hope to a hopeless world, simply by practicing what they preach, instead of preaching down on people, and be hypocrites.

I believe that this movie has an important lesson for all Christians. If we want to practice our faith, we need to do the right thing. If we want to do the right thing, we need to practice what we preach. The way to practice what we preach, is not some sensational investment or supernatural acts of miracles. It is a simple act of mercy, that perseveres, that cares, that loves one another, as Christ loves us. through the character of Leigh Anne, we learn that true love is one that gives, and gives, and gives, without expecting anything in return. Even more impressive, noble giving is when we give to those who cannot afford to give anything back to us. For a non-Christian production to teach Christians to behave the right way, is not a shameful thing. It can be humbling. Christians should not feel offended, but should instead be grateful for this movie.

I strongly recommend this movie.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Story: "The Ant and the Contact Lens"

I came across this story as I was researching for a talk this week. It is first shared by author, Elisabeth Elliot, in her book, "Keep a Quiet Heart." Whether it is true or not, I will simply take it at it is. It is a heart warming story. Snopes has verified it as true.

Brenda was almost halfway to the top of the tremendous granite cliff. She was standing on a ledge where she was taking a breather during this, her first rock climb. As she rested there, the safety rope snapped against her eye and knocked out her contact lens. "Great", she thought. "Here I am on a rock ledge, hundreds of feet from the bottom and hundreds of feet to the top of this cliff, and now my sight is blurry." 

She looked and looked, hoping that somehow it had landed on the ledge. But it just wasn't there.

She felt the panic rising in her, so she began praying. She prayed for calm, and she prayed that she may find her contact lens. When she got to the top, a friend examined her eye and her clothing for the lens, but it was not to be found. Although she was calm now that she was at the top, she was saddened because she could not clearly see across the range of mountains. She thought of the bible verse "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth." 

She thought, "Lord, You can see all these mountains. You know every stone and leaf, and You know exactly where my contact lens is. Please help me.

Later, when they had hiked down the trail to the bottom of the cliff they met another party of climbers just starting up the face of the cliff. One of them shouted out, "Hey, you guys! Anybody lose a contact lens?

Well, that would be startling enough, but you know why the climber saw it? An ant was moving slowly across a twig on the face of the rock, carrying it! 

The story doesn't end there. Brenda's father is a cartoonist. When she told him the incredible story of the ant, the prayer, and the contact lens, he drew a cartoon of an ant lugging that contact lens with the caption,

"Lord, I don't know why You want me to carry this thing. I can't eat it, and it's awfully heavy. But if this is what You want me to do, I'll carry it for You.

I think it would do all of us some good to say, "God, I don't know why you want me to carry this load. I can see no good in it and it's awfully heavy. But, if you want me to carry it, I will."
God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

 [photo credit: edevotions.org]

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Bible is Not a DIY Instrument

Due to rising labour costs, the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) industry thrives. It is much cheaper to fix your own light bulb than to get an electrician to do so. Walk into any department store, and DIY stuff are easily available. Even setting up a computer network is easily done, with clear step by step instructions for the novice. Sometimes, we allow this DIY or self-help culture to influence our reading of the Bible as well. We think that the Bible is full of good advice. Thus some goes into Proverbs to read up about ethics and proper ways to behave. Some others may think that it is a self-help therapeutic book, thus opening up the Psalms for self-consolation. Some may feel that it is a book of moral stories, to help one to maintain a sense of moral behaviour for all circumstances.

All of these problematic uses of the Bible are highlighted by Dr David Wells, Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In "The Bible is Not Self-Help", he criticizes the 'self-help' approach and proposes a need for a 'right frame of mind' BEFORE any approach. This is a useful reminder for all, including seasoned readers of the Bible. The Bible is not a book of good advice, nice therapy or a self-help manual. It is good news.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Free Audio Broadcast - "Respecting Sex & Reducing Abortion"

Here is something that might interest those of us in positions of leadership. Done in the form of a forum, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) will be conducting a live audio feed as follows:

  • Date: Mar 12th, 2010 (Friday), 9am ET.
  • Forum Title: "Respecting Sex and Reducing Abortions - What can Christian leaders really do?"
  • Go to this website.
 The keynote speaker is Dr Dennis Hollinger, of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

With Open Hands

Written by Conrade Yap (10 Mar 2010)

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
(Matt 6:24, NIV)

Last month, I was among many eager folks waiting to catch a glimpse of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic torch relay. The neighborhood park was brimming with fun and entertainment, with schoolchildren, teachers, parents and many people partying away. Some of the sponsors were there distributing free products. I queued up at a Coca-Cola booth to receive a special edition cola bottle. The nice lady gave me a choice, “Coke Classic or Coke Zero?” I decided to test her out. I asked if I can have both and she said yes. How nice.

I wonder what Jesus will say if he gave us two choices: God or Money? Will we say both?

Alas, Jesus is uncompromising, as far as our allegiance is concerned. We are asked to choose between God OR Money. ‘Both’ is not an option. This is because the human heart can only have one occupier. We have to choose either God or other gods. For many of us, life is meaningless without God. Yet, we cannot survive living in this world without money. Fortunately God understands. Serving God does not necessarily mean we forsake our earthly responsibilities. Serving God means we do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Serving God means we learn to hold our possessions lightly. Serving God means we control possessions lest they control us.The manner we hang on to our possessions and riches is a good indication of where our loyalties lie. Let me suggest the posture of ‘open hands.’

Let us hold our worldly riches with open hands, instead of clenched fists that refuse to let go of the cold hard cash. Let us hold our possessions lightly, believing that whatever God gives, God has a right to take them away anytime, anywhere and anyhow. We obey Paul’s exhortation to us that it is better to give than to receive. Choose wisely. Do not grab our cash too tightly. Hold on to our possessions lightly. Then we can learn to say like Job,

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." (Job 1:21)

Thought: We must decide who to choose: God or Money? Not making a choice is already a choice.


Book: "There's More To Life Than Making a Living"

Title: There's More to Life Than Making a Living
Author: Jack C McDowell
Published: NY: FaithWords, 2009.

Life is more than simply making a living. Many people will agree with it. Some people simply talk about it. Few however, go beyond just doing something about it. Jack McDowell lets his life speaks for itself through 6 principles honed from his experiences. They are:

  1. First find your calling;
  2. Second, always be learning from your experiences;
  3. Acquire Habits that build character;
  4. Discover the joy of generosity;
  5. Build relationships for life;
  6. Do not retire.
For McDowell, he begins at a tender young age of 13, with a prayer to God:
"Help me, dear Father in heaven, to find a significant purpose for my life." (xii)
Reflecting back, he was able to say:
"I believe many people find a purpose for their lives without finding significance. They master certain skills, apply them effectively, and perhaps reap a harvest of success. But in moments of quiet honesty, they have a nagging feeling of emptiness. Something is missing." (xvii)
McDowell first discovered his gift of fund-raising when he single handedly raised money for a small town, small club facility. From one opportunity to another, he was given bigger and bigger roles to raise funds for various causes. One of the biggest beneficiaries is the Salvation Army, where McDowell raises millions of dollars for the charity.

The First Three Foundational Principles
All of them have to do with self-identity, character formation and life long habits. One's calling is connected in 2 ways. Firstly, to discover one's unique gifts. Secondly, to use the gifts for the benefit of others. The second principle deals with the hard knocks of life. It is not all smooth sailing for McDowell. Yet, he possesses a special ability to learn from his mistakes and the bad news that comes upon him. With hard work and humility, he even has to re-set the 165 posts that were mistakenly placed. He learns stewardship as one of the byproducts of success. He learns even from unlikely sources, even from his boyhood 'antagonists.' He is able to learn from his mistakes because of his focus on building character rather than expecting comfort.

The Last Three Essentials
These final principles deal more with relationships and sustaining the process of partnering with others and sharing. True relationships are build when people partner and give to one another's needs. A generous heart is important. So is an ability to share successes. Never stop making friends and building each other up. Never retire.

My Comments
This is a book that tries to achieve multiple goals. It is a book about calling, about the importance of learning to discover one's own identity in God. It is a book about leadership, how leaders need to maintain a life of character and integrity. It is a book about looking out for others, and to care and share one's possessions with people around us. It is a book that urges readers not to retire from such work. A calling is never terminated when one leaves his or her job. It is always present. One finds his calling when talents and passions match opportunities to serve others. One's entire life is thus geared to fulfill this purpose. Jack McDowell has found his calling to help people through fund-raising, through sharing of his life experiences and through teaching and mentoring.

For the busy person, this book is a welcome read with its concise message and easy to understand applications. Filled with stories from McDowell's life, the book contains many practical tips on leadership. It encourages young readers to start living a life of significance now. Don't wait.

A simple and elegant book, with short chapters but long in applications. Great read from a humble man of faith.

This book is available at your favourite bookstores.

A FaithWords publisher Reviewer.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Shrinking Anglican Church

The ominous signs are increasing. The Anglican Church in Canada are in deep trouble. The latest diocese press release (26 Jan 2010) reports that out of the 52 parishes under the BC diocese jurisdiction, 19 will be closed, 13 will be relocated and 13 buildings put up for sale. The Christian Post picks up on this gives a dramatic headline: "Anglicans in Canada Agree to Close Churches." Others predict that Anglicanism will disappear in one generation's time. Some leaders within the diocese have anticipated this problem since 2009. However the report reflects a pessimistic tone, even though it presses for change within the existing Church. It urges the leadership to avoid delay, and to change before it is too late. In "Avoiding a legacy of Too-Little-Too-Late," the writers argue for 'bold radical change.'

It saddens me to see a denomination struggling for survival. It saddens me more to see when the main objective is to try to sustain the existing structure, rather than growing through outreach and evangelism. I tend to agree that in situations like these, a 'transformational' change is preferred to a 'transactional' (incremental) change. The brief report is in a nutshell brief.

I do not want to add salt to wounds. Thus, I humbly suggest that all who are concerned and care for the Anglican Church in Canada, pray for the leaders. Pray in such a way that sustaining structures is not the primary goal of the Church. The primary goal of the Church is to be faithful to God, to proclaim God's truth fully and purposefully. Sometimes, such proclamation can also lead to unhappiness and persecution. If the Church is in the world but not of the world, do not expect easy treatment from others. If on the other hand, a Church becomes too identified with the world around them, people will not see a difference in the Church. If that is the case, perhaps, closing down such churches will be a good thing.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." (Martin Luther King Jr, Strength to Live)


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Book: "Counterfeit Gods" (Tim Keller)

Title: Counterfeit Gods
Author: Timothy Keller
Published: NY: Dutton, 2009, (211pp).

Tim Keller has done it again. If the 'Reason for God' is geared toward skeptics and questioners of the Christian faith, 'Counterfeit Gods' is aimed at the uninitiated with regard to the pervasiveness of idols in our society. From non-church to church, the symbols of idolatry are everywhere. The primary cause is not the external idols per se. This is because the human heart is essentially a 'idol factory.' Things do not become an idol by themselves. They turn into idols when man pledge allegiance to them. Keller proposes a 2-prong approach to tackle the problem of counterfeit gods. Firstly, one needs to identify what they are. Each person needs to recognize the idols in their hearts. Secondly, weeding the idols away is not the end. There need to be an intentional focus back to the Hope of the world, God in Christ.

Keller is meticulous in his search for idols in our age. From the traditional Money, Sex and Power forms of idolatry, Keller probes even deeper into the hidden ones, even Christian Ministry types can become idols in their own right. This is a book is a clarion call for clarity of our own human hearts.

My Comments
I find this book very refreshing. It comes down hard on things that we often take for granted. He helpfully reminds us that it is not the 'bad' stuff that we can conveniently call idols. He reminds us that it is usually the 'good' stuff that we become unconsciously devoted to, that they become idols without us being aware of. This is an important and necessary message in a world indoctrinated with survival and success matters. When we become addicted to the 'good' things we think we are doing, we become a tool for manufacturing idols not just for ourselves but in stumbling others as well.

I like the way that Keller uses examples not only from real life, but also biblical ones from both the Old and the New Testament. He is scholarly, yet down to earth. He is hard on idols but gentle on people.

I enjoy the way Keller defines idolatry.

"A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought. It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving face and social standing. It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry. When your meaning in life is to fix someone else's life, we may call it 'codependency' but it is really idolatry. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, 'if I have that, then I'll feel significant and secure.' There are many ways to describe that  kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship." (xviii)
"An idolatrous attachment can lead you to break any promise, rationalize any indiscretion, or betray any other allegiance, in order to hold on to it. It may drive you to violate all good and proper boundaries. To practice idolatry is to be a slave." (24)

In true Christian reconciliation and hope, Keller not only shows us to way to discern the idols, he points the way forward to where we can get our hope. Here is his proposal:

"The way forward, out of despair, is to discern the idols of our hearts and our culture. But that will not be enough. The only way to free ourselves from the destructive influence of counterfeit gods is to turn back to the true one. The living God, who revealed himself both at Mount Sinai and on the Cross, is the only Lord who, if you find him, can truly fulfill you, and, if you fail him, can truly forgive you." (xxiv)

Such an important message needs to be emphasized over and over again. Thanks Keller for the timely message. I strongly recommend this book. Click here to buy online.

My rating: 4 stars out of 5.


Friday, March 05, 2010

Book - "Beyond Tolerance" (Gustav Niebuhr)

Title: Beyond Tolerance
Author: Gustav Niebuhr
Published: NY: Viking Penguin Group, 2008.

This is a book that simply has to be written. This is a book on human reconciliation regardless of religious affiliations. The author proposes that true peace and religious harmony must go beyond mere tolerance. In doing so, he puts himself in a position that builds, rather than burn bridges between the various faiths. Niebuhr, a third generation of the famous Reinhold Niebuhr engages various religious persuasions to find a common ground to work together. Niebuhr calls his attempts as a ‘countertrend,’ to seek to find out what different religions are up to, and why. He relates stories from people of different faiths: Rev Dr Martin Luther King (Protestant), Pope John Paul and Dorothy Day (RCC), Malcolm X (Muslim), Albert Mohler (Southern Baptist Conservative), Thich Nhat Hanh (Zen Buddhism) and others. The main gist of the book can be summed up as follows:
"Are you willing to respect others, even work with them, because you believe that is what God wants? That’s a radically different trajectory to follow than the path upon which Bin Laden and his  young followers." (xxx)

Essentially, Niebuhr is asking for religious people of all persuasions to 'nuance' their understanding of religious harmony and tolerance. This means that one needs to be humble enough to acknowledge that no human person can claim total right and absolute possession of Truth. Key to the need to establish 'Beyond Tolerance' is understanding. In fact, the reason why wars have been fiercely fought in the name of religion is because of the failure to understand one another. He quotes the Dalai Lama rather convincingly,

"Religions must dialogue, but even more, they must come together to serve others." (65)
He anticipates a typical reaction from the conservative evangelicals. Thus he includes a quote from Thomas Merton:
"I will be a better Catholic, not if I can refute every shade of Protestantism, but if I can affirm the truth in it and still go further. So, too, with the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, etc. This does not mean syncretism, indifferentism, the vapid and careless  friendliness that accepts everything by thinking of nothing." (Thomas Merton, p180)
Right on. Unfortunately, the rhetoric is good, but the specifics are few.

My Comments
When I first picked up this book, my concern was about how one can love one another, especially those of a different faith persuasion, without being castigated by members of my faith affiliations. I am familiar with various evangelical circles. I have friends from many different denominations and non-denominational backgrounds. Sometimes, extending a friendly handshake with a non-Christian in the name of religious harmony can spook emotions of some fundamentalists. I find some of the ideas a little too optimistic. For instance, wars may have been fought in the name of religion. The trouble is not the different religions per se. The problem is universal sin, which Niebuhr ought to have pointed his guns directly at. For we battle not against flesh and blood but against powers, principalities and the forces of darkness in this world. 

Niebuhr quotes extensively from non-Christians, especially the Buddhist, Muslims, Roman Catholics and Jews. He left out secularists. He included the conservative sector of evangelicalism but should have portrayed them on a more balanced manner, rather than focusing on a few dramatic negative ones. 

Yet, I find that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I agree with G. Niebuhr with regards to the need to go 'beyond tolerance,' beyond friendly meals and handshakes. I agree with him as well with regards to the need to work on common grounds beginning from the common platform of humanity. Unfortunately, while this initiative is noble, he should have presented a more balanced perspective, from the other side. For example, when he was criticizing the behavior of the Southern Baptists, why not invite one of them to contribute a fuller view of why they choose not to associate themselves with the inter-religious initiatives. By doing that, perhaps, this "Beyond Tolerance" initiative can be more inclusive. As it stands right now, this movement, this proposal, this initiative if not supported by more entities, will not be as effective. Simply put, without including the sizable conservative segment of the evangelical front, or other religions, "Beyond Tolerance" will eventually retreat back to a mere tolerance state.

I like this book, its ideas and the compelling proposition. It is a book that needs to be written. However, it needs a wider audience before establishing a common platform to work together. I strongly suggest a follow-up book that is way beyond "Beyond Tolerance." Maybe a collection of stories that demonstrate how different religious groups have worked together, past, present and future?

Stars: 4 stars of 5.


Book Review - "The Soy Sauce Towkay" (Full Review)

Title: The Soy Sauce Towkay (The Story of Yeo Thian In)
Authors: Alfred Yeo, FT Liu, and Tee-Jong Lee.
Published: Singapore: Glory Minds, 2010, (172pp)

This is a wonderful narrative of the life of Thian-In Yeo (1898-1985), the founder of the household name "Yeo Hiap Seng" in Singapore. Just like Thian-In who was unabashed about his Christian convictions when running his business, the author-narrators of this book are not shy to consistently highlight how Christian beliefs shape "Yeo Hiap Seng" as a company. Having said this, you do not have to be a Christian in order to benefit from this book.

What is the Book About?
This book traces the life and testimony of Thian-In Yeo, who spearheaded the soy sauce business from Zhangzhou China to Singapore. Covering both China, Singapore and many countries it narrates the ups and downs of Thian In's personal and business ventures with a keen awareness of how Thian-In's faith in Christ shapes both. Launched at the 25th anniversary of Thian-In's death, this book received the support of many YHS family and associates.

Who Can Benefit?
Written by a project team comprising Alfred Yeo (Thian In's youngest son), FT Liu, and Tee-Jong Lee, the book benefits at least three audiences: the Yeo family, the Christian as well as the general public. As a faithful record of Yeo Thian In's achievements, the book generously credits the Yeo family for their willingness to be interviewed. The way the story is put together highlights again the need to remember fundamental business principles that the founders envisioned. It will also benefit the Yeo clan for many generations to come. The older surviving members can remember the humble beginnings, while the younger members of the family can learn not to take their success for granted. Christians at large, particularly entrepreneurs who are Christians can learn from Thian In's example of what it means to live as a Christian in the business world. Finally, the general public can get a glimpse of the man behind the home-grown famous food and beverage company.

The Book
Part One of the book touches on the early beginnings of the soy sauce maker. It describes the ravages and the tragedies of the war in the 40s, the painful separation of the family from China to Singapore, and the struggles of starting up a new company in a new land. It contains a great description of the YHS logo (lighthouse) and the name (Hiap), both allude to the company as a channel to shine for Christ, as well as a continued reminder that they are sustained in God's strength.

Part Two is a fascinating description of the growth of the company, the products, the distribution and the socio-political environment in Singapore. For those of us who do not know much about soy sauce, food distribution and marketing innovation, this part is a welcome educational primer.

Part Three is a moving narrative of Yeo Thian In's family, their ups and downs, and concludes with the passing of the patriarch. The photographs from pages 67-90 give the reader a very tender look at the breadth of Thian In's influence in his family, his work and his faith.

Part Four attempts to summarize some of the events and contexts that shape Yeo Thian In. It touches on "Christianity and Chinese Culture," "The Influence of John Sung, the Christian evangelist," and four papers from Christian entrepreneurs that tackle the challenging question of "What Makes a Business Christian?" All the four contributors did a great job by concluding their papers with a reference back to Yeo Thian In's faith.

My Comments
From a overall standpoint, the first three parts of the book are more cohesive. The last part can be placed in an Appendix section without affecting reader flow. I enjoy the biographical flow of Yeo Thian In the man, and the fascinating insights into the beginnings and the growth pains of Yeo Hiap Seng the company. The material is dense, but the authors can be commended for their ability to distill and pack them in a convenient short-chapter format that makes easy reading and referencing. I managed to finish the book in one sitting. As a biography, this book brings inspiration. As a record, this book urges continued perspiration and perseverance. As a Christian testimony, this book provokes aspirations for budding entrepreneurs who are Christians. This book is a fitting tribute to the man of faith, a Singapore-based entrepreneur with business foresight and Christian insights. It is firstly a story of Yeo Thian In, the businessman who founded Yeo Hiap Seng, the company. Secondly, it is about Thian In as a man of faith, who runs his business with Christian ethics as a guide in growing and managing his company. Thirdly, it is a book that hopes to guide modern entrepreneurs to learn from the contexts that enable Yeo Thian In (the man) and Yeo Hiap Seng the company, (YHS) to become what they are today.

Read this book. Buy three; one to keep, two to give away. The Bible speaks of encouraging Christians to be the salt and light of this world. Yeo Thian In's life is an example of his rendition of 'salty' faith: A soy-sauced faith.

My rating: Four Stars out of Five.

Available at Glory Minds website now. You can also purchase it from Times the Bookstore.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Jolt Quote XXV - On Marriage

I like this quote, which talks about the nature of marriage. It reminds me of the sacredness of the biblical description of marriage, where two persons become one flesh.

"The heart of the issue is that marriage is a relationship. A living breathing relationship that is as real as the two individuals that form the bond. It is, if you will, a separate entity - a third person - that is created when two individuals give themselves in a bonding manner. It is not just that two individuals participate together in an exchange for each other's good, it is that they create a whole new being when they marry. What is exciting about this concept of 'us-ness' is that it is not quite one spouse, and not quite the other. 'Us' is what they are together. 'Us' is created by two individuals in a committed relationship; it takes on a personality with characteristics of its own. It is not just two individuals who share, it is two individuals who give up part of themselves to create a oneness - an 'us.'"
(Terry Hargrave, in remarks made at a national Smart Marriages conference, July 2000)


Monday, March 01, 2010

Reflections of Olympics in Vancouver 2010

These 2 weeks have been exhausting, exhilarating and for the most part, extraordinary. The Games began on a tragic note plus a number of embarrassing moments. Among them, the tragic death of Georgian Luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, has cast a dark shadow over the Games, even before the official opening ceremony. Even the Opening ceremony has an embarrassing moment when one of the four hydraulics failed to lift up all the cauldrons for the Olympic light-up. There were hiccups here and there, from overwhelmed transport facilities to anti-Olympic protesters. Yet, the small and gradual small victories culminate in the sweetest victory of it all: Canada defeating the USA 3-2 in a dramatic finale of the ice-hockey gold medal game. Canadians across the country reserve the greatest celebration until the moment when Sidney Crosby scores the golden goal. It is an epic moment. Nothing is sweeter than an ice-hockey championship.

After a 24 hour breather, minus the emotions, I want to write down some of my reflections. Here goes.

Pre-Olympic Moments
As a host nation, it is usually expected that the host country wins some gold medals in any Olympic event. Unfortunately, Montreal and Calgary failed to deliver any gold winning athlete. Enough is enough, many say. In Vancouver, Canada will not be third time unlucky. Canada decides to come back with a vengeance. After hosting 2 previous Olympics without any golds won on home ground, the organizers spearheaded a controversial "Own The Podium" campaign and invested millions of dollars to ensure that Canada, in its third Olympic hosting attempt, will at last rake in gold on home soil. It is not just about winning gold. It is about the rise of national pride.

During the Olympics
A national confidence displayed beautifully each of the 17 nights through united singing of "O Canada!" It is moving to see people celebrating wildly, without any reservations. Regardless of ethnic differences, language difficulties or cultural uniqueness, every person on the streets share a common red and white on their bodies and their garments. It looks like the time has come for Canada to assert itself more confidently.

Frankly, Canadians were a little slow in embracing the Games. Some Vancouverites were rather skeptical, thanks to the influence of the anti-Olympic movement, who paraded their anti-government and anti-homeless social agenda. The turning point I believe was the violence and vandalism brought about by some hooligans from outside BC. The typical person in the street shifts from sympathy to disgust. Such behavior is grossly UN-Canadian. After that, not only did the protesters tone down their publicity, more of the public comes out to support the games, through party, not partisan agendas.

After the Games

1) The Media
CTV and the various members of the Olympic media consortium have done a great job. They did not tell people what to do, unlike some propaganda stations. They simply reported on the events and invite viewers in to come and join them. I like the way that the presenters interview the various athletes, their families and the typical happy face on the street. The Olympics will never have become such a big focus in the living room and at social gatherings without the TV and news stations. Indeed, for 2 full weeks, many of us were glued to the TV set.

The media has been mightily and effectively used to hype up drama and excitement to move the nation. The commercials are creatively done to mesh the product and services with the culture of the people. For example, the Coke commercial that rides on the passion of a hockey mad nation. Yet, for all its benefits, I am still somewhat concerned about how powerful the media has become in the lives of people.

My Take: When people becomes overly trusting of any media, what happens if the media comes under bad influence?  Even as we watch TV, we ought to remain vigilant and watchful over negative influences. This is especially so when hype is generated to the point that emotions overwhelm the rational mind. For this matter, I think the Coke advertisement that claims to 'show them whose game it is,' can become a liability instead. What if Canada lost yesterday's game to the US?

2) The Nature of Competitive Sports
Winning is something that many aims for. However, behind every winner belies years of hard work and many failures. Many of the gold medal athletes did not have it easy. Just research any of them, you will see that the agonies outweighs the joys. I keep reminding my kids that every single competitor who tried their best deserves our best applause.This ought to be the emphasis. Sadly, most of the media attention continues to be upon the gold medal athletes. In the world of fame and name, the Olympics despite all its honorable intent, attention still shines on the winners, and seldom on the rest.

My Take: Without the rest, there will be no best. Thus, every medalist must always remember that there is no room to boast of one's achievements. Without the support of country, family, friends and the opportunities to train, there will not even be a chance to participate. Participation in itself is already an honor. Whether one wins or loses, it is important to compete well, and fair. That said, I believe that even as we rejoice with the winners, may we also remember that everyone else, even the spectator ought to be motivated to do their best in whatever they do. This is the essence of true competition.

3) The People and the Party
For nearly every night, downtown Vancouver was alive and well. People are in a party mood all the time. They literally paint themselves and the whole town red. My wife said to me that 'people are so happy.' The Winter Olympic Games is a special once in four years event. Having it in our city makes it even more special. Department stores and various business welcome the world. The free attractions put up by the Olympic organizers are by themselves a good enough reason to hop on a bus to go downtown.

My Take: The way that people party themselves away is a nice scene to see. It is not often that we get to see people expressing freely and openly themselves. Canadians after all, are rather reserved compared to our neighbors South of the border. Is this a case of releasing some pent-up feelings about Canadian pride and patriotism? Or is it simply an opportunity to enjoy the moment while it lasts? Something tells me that it is both.

4) The Ability to Laugh at Ourselves
The Opening Ceremony was embarrassing, at least for Catriona Le May Doan. The cauldron malfunction meant that she was not able to light up the fourth flame during the ceremony. I think the organizers did well to tie up this 'loose end' at the closing ceremony with a hearty mine. I think this is a nice part about being Canadian, the ability to laugh at ourselves and in our laughing, provide a way of redemption.

[Photo Credit: ABCNews]

"The closing ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games has begun with the organizers poking fun at themselves. The lights dimmed and a mime appeared from a hole in the stage with two extension cords. He connected the cords, sparks flew, and suddenly the fourth arm of the cauldron rose from the floor. Then Canadian speed skater Catriona Le May Doan appeared and did what she couldn't do during the opening ceremony when the arm failed to rise from the floor at B.C. Place -- she lit the fourth arm. The entire cauldron came to life and the crowd erupted in cheers." (WindsorStar liveblog)

My Take: I must credit the organizers for this brilliant move in highlighting the imperfectness of human organizing (through the failed 4th hydraulic), and to make amends (through spirited humor). There is something about human nature. On the one hand, we like to see things done to perfection. Yet, on the other hand, we like to see things that mirror our imperfectness which keeps us humble. The Olympics gives us room to enjoy both the perfecting attempts, as well as the imperfect moments. Frankly, I find the ability to laugh at self more disarming, and more inviting.

5) Believe!
This theme is a winner. We may plan to achieve a certain goal. We may even train hard to win golds. However, without a deep seated belief, it is difficult. This is perhaps the most significant effect of the Games. It shows us that with believe, we can make the impossible possible, the unreachable reachable, and to bring the unimaginable home. The Ice Hocky gold medal game is but one example. We can think of all the possible emotions that could have happened if Sidney Crosby failed to score, or if Team USA shoots a goal past Luongo in overtime. All those remain possible scenarios then. However, the fact is that they did not happen. Team Canada won. Canadians believed. Team Canada delivered. Everybody won.

My Take: There are so many Olympic moments to appreciate and learn from. From the courage of Joannie Rochette, to Alexandre Bilodeau's famous 1st gold for Canada, to the beauty and grace of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. All of them are but a few golden moments to remember and to cherish. However, let us not forget that life must go on. Winners or not, all of us can continue to be winners as we believe. As Christians, we have even better reasons to believe. If the Olympic flame is a glimpse of hope in this world. let us maintain our eyes on the Hope of the World, of the Son of God will is the Light of the World.


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