Friday, December 31, 2010

Another 'Auld Lang Syne'?

Reflections on a ‘Happy’ New Year
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 31 Dec 2010

This has been an annual ritual each year. The same songs are played at the end of every 52 weeks. It is the same kind of sentiment at the end of 365 days. This once a year greeting of happiness and cheer does two things:

1) Wishing everyone a ‘Happy New Year;’
2) Saying Goodbye to a somewhat somber, sad or old, old year.

As I see party revelers sing away their blues, it does appear the HNY greeting is the annual ritual of exorcising all lingering smell of unhappiness. Perhaps this is why people all over join in merrily to celebrate the Auld Lang Syne. What is puzzling is that people sing this traditional Scottish poem without really knowing what it means. Written by Robert Burns in the late 18th Century, it has been used at many funerals, farewell events as well as after the countdown to the start of every New Year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Top 10 Books for 2010

As I review the year 2010, here is a list of Top Ten Books. While several are published this year, the list is compiled from the books I have managed to READ this year. These books are only based on those I have managed to blog about on YAPDATES. There are many more that I have read but didn't have the time to write a review. I list them in descending order, meaning my top selection is at the bottom of the list. I know that there are a lot more great offerings out there, and this list is certainly a glimpse of the books that have impacted me this year.

  1. "Counterfeit Gods" by Tim Keller, Dutton: 2009; (my review)
  2. This book makes the list because it speaks so much into the need to be careful of our heart, that tends to become a factory that manufacture idols.
  1. "Tea with Hezbollah" by Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis, DoubleDay: 2010; (my review) This book is a great eye-opener for Westerners to understand the mind of the Middle-East culture. It is also a call for Christians to understand love also from an Islamic perspective.
  1. "Virtual Integrity" by Daniel J Lohrmann, Brazos Press: 2008; (my review)
  2. This is the best book with regards to e-Integrity. As a technology person, it is my concern that technology is increasingly being used to lie and to deceive people. This book gives us tips to be safe on the Internet as well as to preserve one's sense of honesty and authenticity.
  1. "Plan B" by Pete Wilson, Thomas-Nelson, 2009; (my review)
  2. I love this book for its very disarming way of giving people hope even though our life's Plan A's seems to be failing. It gives us a renewed hope to give ourselves a second chance at life, and that perhaps God's will for us is the faithful living out of Plan Bs.
  1. "When the Heart Waits" by Sue Monk Kidd, Harper: 1990; (my review)
  2. This beautiful book solidifies my belief that we need to learn to cultivate a waiting heart not only for God, but a patient disposition. In a world that is increasingly impatient, this book gives an antidote we all need desperately
  1. "Outlive Your Life" by Max Lucado, Thomas-Nelson: 2010; (my review)
  2. Clearly the best book by Lucado so far, about outliving what we think we are capable of. The best is yet to be.
  1. "Beyond Opinion" Ravi Zacharias, Thomas-Nelson: 2007; (my review)
  2. I love this book. It does not simply argue but walk with the reader gently through philosophy, hard questions and gentle guidance in the area of Christian apologetics.
  1. "The Hole in the Gospel" by Richard Stearns, Thomas-Nelson: 2009; (my review)
  2. Wow! This is a fantastic book to get ourselves out of our comfort zone.
  1. "The Grace of God" by Andy Stanley, Thomas-Nelson: 2010 (my review)
  2. I love this book for its simple and effective coverage of grace from a biblical perspective.
  1. "Bonhoeffer - Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" by Eric Metaxas, Thomas-Nelson: 2010; (my review)  
  2. My #1 choice because of the sheer inspiration of one life that dares to combat one of the greatest evils of the century. It is this blog's book of the year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Positive Aging

Book: Seven Strategies for Positive Aging (Norton Professional Books (Paperback))
Author: Robert D Hill
Published: NY: WW Norton & Company, 2008 (163pp)

As the year draws to a close, like many, I feel a year older. Hopefully I am a year wiser too. One of the most talked about challenges among many leaders is an aging population. While political leaders worry about the impact of health costs among elderly, not many are acutely aware of the emotional challenges that can demoralize the aging. This is where Robert Hill's contribution gives society a much needed jab of encouragement for both young and old. For the young, one can learn to prepare for the impending old age. For the elderly, one can learn to live meaningfully with adequate reflection and positive attitude. Hill powerfully brings across seven strategies to enable 'positive aging.' Hill describes positive aging as taking:

"control of our own late life experience by discovering meaning in growing old that transcends the deteriorative processes of aging." (ix)

Briefly, the seven strategies of positive aging are:

  1. "You Can Find Meaning in Old Age"
    Meaning can still be found despite one's ailing and frail health. Using the SOC paradigm (selecting positives; Optimize strengths; Compensate weaknesses), one can cultivate flexibility and make affirmative decisions in life.
  2. "You're Never Too Old to Learn"
    Remaining intellectually engaged is a critical part of staying positive about life. When one stops learning, one essentially stops living well.
  3. "You Can Use the Past to Cultivate Wisdom"
    Sometimes old people mourn the loss of their physical achievements and their deteriorating degree of effectiveness, efficiency and effort. Hill suggests a process of re-orientating one's perspective toward positive relationships, learning from the past, be optimistic about the future.
  4. "You Can Strengthen Life-Span Relationships"
    Loss and Loneliness hits the aged very hard. At an old age, one senses an increasing loss of peers which leads to loneliness. Hill suggests one learns to accept death as a part of life to be embraced rather than rejected. To top it off, learn to survive and thrive in terms of making affirmative choices.
  5. "By Giving and Receiving Help, You Promote Growth"
    Learn to graciously help others as well as be helped. This calls for a life that seeks to equip oneself toward caregiving and helping others. This attitude of desiring to help others in return promotes growth even in the twilight years.
  6. "You Can Forgive Yourself and Others"
    Here, Hill draws from Christian principles about forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32) to learn to be kind and forgiving toward one another. Sometimes, people tend to see forgiveness as something done TO others, forgetting that there is also a need to forgive our own selves.
  7. "You can Possess a Grateful Attitude"
    This is the second strategy that draws directly from biblical teachings. Being grateful for life is one of the most positive traits in effective living.
My Comments
Each strategy addresses a specific challenge to overcome. Hill masterfully identifies the 4Ds of negative aging: Dysfunction, Disability, Dependency and Death. While medical science can only slow down and not prevent these from occurring, one can still learn to cope positively. Hill presents each strategy with real life examples to illustrate the point. Without going through extensive scientific research, Hill makes this book a very readable guide for all to learn from and apply. Each strategy comes with easy to follow pointers, as well as an encouragement to the reader to remain positive about life. Though it is not a Christian book, it contains lots of biblical wisdom. Seven Strategies is a positive read that should energized aged people to live meaningfully. These could very well be the golden years of one's life, where the best is yet to be.

All of these skills should be used to complement one another. The best way to practice this book is for the aged to practice these principles as a community.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Recommended Movie: "Voyage of the Dawn Treader"

On Christmas Day, my family went to the movies. Instead of the latest dark Harry Potter instalment, we opted for a chirpier and wholesome family movie, based on CS Lewis' chronicles of Narnia. I gave it a thumbs up for entertainment, and sheer family values.

About the Movie
There are amazing special effects throughout the movie. The producers have done it so well, that I suspect that they could have used the skills from the making of other movies as well, including the Harry Potter Series. For example, the waters that flow out of the portrait of a ship in an ocean is spectacular. CS Lewis would have been amazed at how the modern filmmakers are able to crystallize his story into crisp real life images. The story revolves mainly around the two younger Pevensie, Edmund and Lucy, with a new addition: their cousin Eustace.

After one of their usual tiffs and quarrels with Eustace, even as Edmund and Lucy were reminiscing about their adventures in Narnia, all three of them were suddenly swept into Narnia land into the portrait. In the fantasy land of Narnia, viewers familiar with the earlier two moves will be glad to see Caspian, and especially the talking animals. I like in particular the talking mouse: Reepicheep.

The entire journey is all about defeating the evil darkness on Dark Island, by locating the seven swords.

Christian Themes
There are several moments that brought biblical themes powerfully across. Here is a few I remember:

1) Beware of Temptations
The team was warned about not falling into temptations. Despite this early warning, Lucy gave in to the temptation of covetousness, wanting to be as beautiful as her sister Susan, at the expense of losing her identity. Edmund gave in to the temptation of fear, which resulted in the realization of a giant hideous sea serpent. Eustace gave in to the temptation of greed and lusting after the gold, which turned him into a flying dragon with ugly scales.

Theme: Beware of the temptations lurking around us.
"but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful." (Mark 4:19)

"but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." (James 1:14)

2) Courage and Encouragement
Eustace started off on a bad foot with constant quibbling with the valiant mouse, Reepicheep. The small little talking rodent became his biggest irritant in super quick time. Yet, in his most tender moment of despair, Eustace found in Reepicheep a huge source of encouragement. One touching scene was when Eustace (as a dragon), could not sleep. Reepicheep chose to stay up with Eustace, and in the process turn young Eustace from selfishness to selflessness; from fearfulness to fearlessness; and from a rascal to a hero. The power of encouragement began during one's most tender moment that requires understanding not reprimand, forgiveness and not punishment.

Thought: How many times have we missed out the opportunity to encourage a person, discarded and disregarded by people around them?

3) We cannot do it ourselves
When Eustace was given a dragon skin, he hated it to the core. Despite the power of fire and flight, despite the huge dragon outside, there is a crying regretful boy inside. Try as he might, he could not get rid of the ugly scales. Only when Aslan appeared, and at Aslan's command, the scales are torn out of Eustace. Even Eustace admitted:

"I cannot do it on my own."

Theme: We need God to cleanse us from our sins. We cannot do it on our own.

4) Theme of Seven
As the voyagers seek out the seven swords from the lords, it reminds us of the recurrent use of 'seven' in the book of Revelation, that once all the seven has appeared, judgment will come. Victory has never been in doubt. It is only the fear and the discouragement within us that tries to defeat the people of God.

5) Friendship
I find the character of Eustace very reflective of man in general. It takes encouragement and boldness (through the friendship of Reepicheep). It takes the courage and dedication of Caspian, Edmund and Lucy to win over their irritating cousin. Yet, those are not enough. It takes Aslan the Lion to transform Eustace through the influence of friendship. This is where the last scenes are most touching. As they say their final goodbyes, they realized that the journey through life is made so much more meaningful with true friends.

6) Magical Qualities come with a Cost
Beware of what we ask for. The book of incantation shows us how we are often tempted to get things not really meant for us. The invisible people tried to become visible, even though their invisibility were meant to protect them in the first place. All kinds of special spells were found in the book, but it tells us again that everything comes with a price.

"When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." (James 4:3)

7) We need to Choose
Aslan gives all the choice to make. Should they return to their lands, or to go to the faraway place. Aslan lets the characters choose. This is how the calling of God plays out in our lives. We do not simply follow God's will as if it is one kind of a God's plan, cast in concrete. We live out our calling dynamically, letting God encourage and to help us be the best people we can be. God is more pleased with our obedience to live out our calling. We should not be stuck in a rut about our stubborn ideas of a perfect blueprint in our lives. Returning back to one's world does not mean one chooses to do a personal will. It means to return with a renewed purpose, and a calling to be the people we are called to be. This is what Gods plans is all about.

Final Comments
This is one of the most wholesome family entertainment this year. No vulgarity. No R-rated scenes. Even the fighting itself is not as bloody as the more popular ones out there in the market. Most of all, the values depicted within not only stems from a very biblical mindset, it reveals to us the need of all men that they cannot do it themselves, with regards to sin. They need to choose. They need to live out their own calling. They need friends.

This is an excellent movie to bring your family and to watch with friends.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Marriage - Three Tips

How do we talk to our spouses in loving and respectful ways? Here are three tips from Hopeway which I find extremely helpful. [Credit: Hopeway]

  1. Learn to express your feelings through three loving attitudes: warmth, empathy, and sincerity. These are common words, but what do they mean? Warmth is the friendly acceptance of a person. Empathy is the ability to understand and identify with a person's feelings. Sincerity is showing a genuine concern for a person without changing your attitude toward him when circumstances change.
  2. Learn to share your feelings when angry or irritated without using "you" statements and instead replacing them with "I feel" statements.
  3. Learn to wait until your anger or feelings of irritability have subsided before you begin to discuss a sensitive issue.
Though it is written from a female perspective, husbands can also practice them quite applicably.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Book - "I Will Not Be Broken" (Jerry White)

Title: I Will Not Be Broken
Author: Jerry White
Published: St Martin's Press

I Will Not Be Broken: Five Steps to Overcoming a Life CrisisIn a straightforward declaration of defiance against discouragement and disaster, Jerry White affirms life boldly. Blasted by a landmine back on April 12th, 1984 at the age of 20, White has to endure much pain and suffering as he tries to rebuild his life. Co-founder of Survivor Corps, an organization that helps victims of war and terror, White tells not only his own story but helps readers by sharing his journey of recovery via a 5-step process of overcoming crises anyone faces. These steps are:

  1. Face the facts;
    - avoid the vicious cycle of denial, but accept the reality.
  2. Choose Life
    - choose to say yes to life and living;
  3. Reach Out
    -don't victimize self through self-pity, but reach out to help others, especially those who have greater needs than us;
  4. Get Moving
    - Do not hide behind our closed doors and break away from the world. 
  5. Give Back.
    - Be a help to others outside our own problems.
White writes on the need to be resilient:
"Whether we like it or not, personal determination is required to build resilience - to become fit for whatever the future may hold. We have to tap inner resources and develop some emotional muscle. It's both a discipline and our responsibility. No one can do it for us." (3)
White draws heavily from his own personal struggles over his own crisis, especially his self-esteem when he lost his leg. The single biggest barrier to recovery is 'self-victimization.' It numbs one emotionally and hurts one's attitude toward life and living. 

My Comments
Jerry White tests his 5 steps on himself, making this book a very personal and authentic book of his. While the steps are not rocket-science, it needs energy like a rocket to overcome the stubborn gravitational grip of self-pity. Filled with examples and stories of other individuals who have overcome, White makes this book very readable and inspiring. He says that it is possible to eventually survive, inspire and thrive.

Though I like White's five steps, I feel that not everyone has the resilience and determination like White. Not many of us are able to found organizations like Survivor Corps. It would have been nice to hear a female perspective of how one survives. Thus, for anyone seeking to recover from a personal crisis, this book should be a spark, rather than fuel the recovery process. There is a strong bent toward self-sustainability and community. It is still a philosophy based on self-help.

For Christians, I will recommend that one supplements this with books from Nancy Guthrie and Gerald Sittser. One of them have been reviewed previously on this blog here. True healing cannot depend on self but on God. While the author does not express a specific faith of his, he does acknowledges benefiting from the biblical characters of Job, Joseph and Jesus (204). Apart from this, this book can be deeply encouraging and inspiring. If one can gets beyond self-pity, and self-focused, when one learns to say "I will not be broken," the journey to recovery would have begun. 


Friday, December 17, 2010

Thoughtful and Richly Persuasive - Review "Beyond Opinion"

Title: Beyond Opinion
Author: Ravi Zacharias, and others.
Published: Nashville: Thomas-Nelson, 2007.
Reviewed by: Conrade Yap
Date: 17 Dec 2010

Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We DefendIt is not easy to combine the rich talents of so many different writers. Neither is it that straightforward to unite them amid a very diverse set of challenges and cultural differences. This book is one of a kind, for it manages to do both well. It is comprehensively thought out in structure, gently persuasive in style and richly fitting for our society. It is wide enough to reach a majority of cultures, yet deep enough to challenge even the most specialized fields.

Normally, a book on apologetics tends to be seen primarily as a philosophical treatise or simply a multi-page paper weight to defend the Christian faith. “Beyond Opinion” is different. There is something very practical for everyone. It has a ready answer for some of the most perplexing questions of this age. While readers may not necessarily agree with the answers, be prepared to be challenged in terms of the approach taken. The book’s main point is that true apologetics is not simply about opinion in the head, but conviction in the heart. It is not simply about defending the faith in words, but living out the faith in life. It is not about winning arguments but winning over people as friends. In other words, true apologetics is 'beyond opinion.'

A) The Structure
Zacharius uses his excellent communications skills well. In this book, he demonstrates an effective use of threes. He begins with three distinctive purposes for apologetics, according to the principles of the organization he founded in RZIM. He weaves in his formidable arsenal of expertise available in RZIM worldwide, via three logical approaches:

1. ‘Giving an answer’;
2. ‘Internalizing the question and answer’;
3. ‘Living it out.’

In the first two parts of the book, he allows the rich variety of talent and giftings in RZIM to share about the critical matters of our age. Matters such as the salient aspects of postmodernism, atheism, islam, Eastern religious thought and science. Issues like the gratuitous kinds of evil and suffering, and many of life’s perplexing questions and cross-cultural problems. He ends with three powerful challenges for the reader to take away.

B) The Style
This is where the book demonstrates its brilliance. Over all major continents, from Europe, America and Asia, the author combines the best of the West, with the pluralistic cultures in the rest of the world. Each writer comes with their own expertise and persuasiveness. Some like Amy Orr-Ewing adopts a more philosophical approach. Alister McGrath brilliantly nourishes the argument with rich historical backgrounds. LT Jeyachandran offers a fascinating overview of the range of Eastern thought. Stuart McAllister draws a lot from his experience of being imprisoned, to reveal a type of faith that emanates human gentleness amid persecution. His experience of learning precious insights on prayer, reflection and struggle comes after traumatic ordeals during his time inside the 'furnace of doubt' (p258).

With many other very well written essays, the book can double up as an anthology of world thought and culture, and a Christian challenge to  accompany them. Deeply biblical and widely practical, the different styles within the book should appeal to a majority of readers from all walks of life.

C) The Substance
Some of my favourite quotes are:

  • "This rejection of certainty with regard to history is part of a larger movement characterized by disillusionment with any kind of certainty." (Amy Orr-Ewing, p7)
  • "Belief of some kind is inescapable; faith is necessary. As such, authority is a governing reality in all of our lives." (Joe Boot, 177)
  • "There is a sense in which the rational is the basis, but then issues of meaning, investigation, language, emotion - all of these come to play at some point." (Ravi Zacharias, p333)

I believe this book is an essential read for all thoughtful Christians. It can help us be less complacent about our Christian world, and to gain more understanding of the pluralistic cultures around us. For those who finds the 360 paged book daunting, begin with a relevant chapter in Part ONE. Choose another chapter in PART TWO. Finally, read all PART THREE and Zacharius’s introduction and conclusion. You will have gotten off to a pretty good start on your journey toward becoming a better apologist for Christ.

Christians are NOT opinionated bigots. Instead, they are servants with Christ's opinion, called to live out the gospel humbly, being wise as serpents and gentle as doves. This book is a practical aid to do that. For some of us in Christian educational circles, "Beyond Opinion" is an essential read.

Rating: 5 stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Digital Story of Christmas"

This is a hilarious modern digital re-enactment of the nativity scene. All the big names are displayed. It is but one interpretation of the Christmas story. I see how the social media and technology become so much a part of communications. Apparently, this video has gone viral. Am I surprised? No. Social media promotes itself best by using the best of itself.

Merry Christmas.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Book of the Year 2010 (Eric Metaxas's "Bonhoeffer")

TITLE: BONHOEFFER - Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
AUTHOR: Eric Metaxas
PUBLISHED: Thomas-Nelson, 2010, (591pp)

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, SpyWhile others are fighting for their survival, he is fighting for the gospel. While others takes flight toward safer pastures and positions, he brings light and hope to the weak and the persecuted. This is the kind of life that Dietrich Bonhoeffer epitomizes.

"Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

A) What the Book is About
This is the second best-selling biography by Eric Metaxas, whose earlier work on William Wilberforce (Amazing Grace) has garnered many favourable reviews. Based on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Metaxas traces his family origins and childhood beginnings, to show readers how much this man is shaped by his growing up years, and his family discipline. His family links gives him the political and ecclesiastical connections needed at crucial moments of his struggle. His household discipline develops in him a keen and sharp mind for academic brilliance. Most importantly, it is the faith inculcated from young, that makes him this century's Christian hero.

With 31 chapters and more than 500 pages of pulsating narrative, Metaxas reveals the tender moments of Bonhoeffer's inner thoughts, without diminishing his explosive moments of anger and frustration at the tactics and deceptions of the Third Reich. Using actual dates and places, the reader is ushered into a chronological adventure of this young man's short but outstanding life.

In 40 short years, Bonhoeffer serves faithfully as a pastor, a seminarian, a crusader for the purity of the faith, a prophetic voice against the evils of Hitler's regime. He masquerades as a spy for the Confessing Church and utilizes his unique connections both inside and outside of Germany to defend the innocent and to expose the treacherous. He died on April 8th, 1939, a martyr fully burnt out for God.

B) My Comments
This is definitely my book of the year (2010). In fact, this book is a unique combination of history, theology, biography, and story all rolled into one. Eric Metaxas has given the literary world a Christmas present, one that is wrapped with the precious testimonies of faith. After reading this book, my respect for Bonhoeffer has been raised many levels. My hope and faith has been encouraged. Applause to Metaxas.

For those who curse Germany then for producing a villain in Hitler, they ought to praise God for the war heroes like Hilderbrandt (a German Jew), Niemueller, and many others who fought for the Confessing Church.

Metaxas writes in a manner that honours this fiery preacher and earnest teacher. Most of all, he shows us that spiritual warfare is still very real. Spiritual downfall begins with apathy, that leads to helplessness. From helplessness, it soon turns into liberal interpretations and twisted theologies which ultimately fueled Hitler's evil causes. Bonhoeffer sees through the evils of Hitler. He speaks up against the twisted theologies trumpeted by the "German Christians" and the established but lame German Church then. What he fails to do inside Germany, he continues overseas. For Bonhoeffer, discipleship is costly grace, that must be accompanied by seeing with eyes of faith, and moving with acts of courage.
"To see that it was against God's will to persecute the Jews, one must choose to open one's eyes. And then one would face another uncomfortable choice: whether to act as God required." (p278-279)
From reading the book, I feel energized that it is our calling to obey Christ, even if it means to die. Like Bonhoeffer's words:

"When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die." (Cost of Discipleship)

This biography sheds light on Bonhoeffer's best works, like "Life Together," "Cost of Discipleship," "Ethics," "Letters and Papers from Prison," and many others. Metaxas has written a valuable book for students interested in Bonhoeffer's life, faith and theology. More importantly, this is a precious testimony of one who practices true discipleship.

I hope that the next edition of the book will have a handy chronological timeline to help readers recall and refer easily to the highs and lows of Bonhoeffer. This book deserves to be read in its entirety. It builds one's faith and hope for the gospel, that spiritual warfare is not fought using guns and bullets, but through sheer faith and willingness to die. Hitler dies tragically by taking his own life. Bonhoeffer dies heroically by surrendering his final breath. If you are intending to buy a good book to keep and be encouraged, buy this. If you are thinking of a Christmas gift for anyone who loves books, this is it. It is worth it.

Here's a video preview of the book.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, IncAvailable now at your favourite bookseller. "

Friday, December 10, 2010

Living in an Unfair World

TITLE: How To Live In an Unfair World
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 10 Dec 2010

Children has an amazing capacity to compare. Each Christmas festive season, gifts exchanges are common. Kids are told to buy and gift-wrap something below $10. Since Christmas is a time of giving and receiving, what better way to do that by surprising one another with surprise presents. Typically, it goes like this. At random, gifts will be distributed to all the children present. Each child begins with extreme optimism with a zeal to tear open the wrapper quickly and completely. This is where the similarity ends. Once the gifts are unwrapped, there will be a mixture of delight and disappointment. Some dislike their gifts. Others smile at their windfall. Some complain. Some whined about having something they already have. A fair start leads to different experiences of not so fair ends. Life can be so 'unfair' to a kid.

1) An Unfair World
This is an unfair world. The sooner we learn it, the better prepared we are for adulthood. Look around us. Why do some people who slog so long and hard in the freezing weather outside, make less money than the guy sitting in a comfy chair in the office? Two persons who do the same job gets paid at different rates? I suppose one of our struggles about fairness and unfairness in this world lies in a pervasive philosophy of normal life:
  • "It's every man for himself. What you put in will determine what you get out of it."
  • "If you don't work hard, you won't get what you want."
  • "You have to earn your keeps."
  • "Life is so unfair."
2) Life of Struggle?
Life is a struggle. Angus Reid calls the 80s as an era of 'spend and share' where people live in a curious society mixed with greed and generosity. A keen observer of Canadian society, he reads a movement away from the spend-and-share toward a Millenial era that is 'swim-or-sink.' In other words, people struggle even more in the post-Millenium generation. Those who has to work hard, has to work harder. Those with bills will have MORE bills to pay. Those who has only 1 job may even need more than 1 job to make ends meet.

The problem. By letting our daily struggles become an end in itself, we fail to understand ourselves. We lose our sense of determining what we really want. In other words, we are lost in a cycle of busyness and struggle.

Let's not kid ourselves. This world is unfair. If we assume that the world is going to be fair to us, we'll be disappointed. We will be unfairly treated. We will be misunderstood. We will be rejected. It is not a matter of whether these will or will not happen to us. It is a question of WHEN.

If such is the case, why not simply learn to live what we can manage. A tortoise cannot presume to run like a cheetah. An elephant cannot try to swim faster than a dolphin. We need to know who we are. We need to know what we are made to be. John Ortberg offers this tip, that we are not simply believers saved by grace. We need to learn to LIVE by grace.

In an unfair world, gracious living will go much further than grumbling. Life need not be a struggle. Life can be of purpose.

3) The Story of Granny Brand
John Ortberg in his new book, "The Me I Want to Be," relates the story of an amazing missionary to India, Evelyn Brand, the mother of Dr Paul Brand. In 1909, as a young woman, she felt the call to go to India. Together with her husband, they toiled faithfully in a local tribe for 7 years without even a single convert. Things subsequently turn around for the better. For the next 13 years, they had good reception from the locals and more began to follow Christ. When Evelyn turned 50, her husband died. Against all advice from home, she insisted to staying on in India to continue her ministry. At 70 years of age, Evelyn was told that funding from the home office will be stopped. The mission office asked her to return. She persisted on her own. With her limited resources, she bought a pony to take her long distance from place to place, to tell people about Jesus. At 75, she fell down and broke her hip. She remained fixated on the cause of Christ.

At 93 years old, she can no longer ride on horseback. It was because people in the village loved her so much, they carried her where she wanted to go. Lying on a stretcher, she continues the ministry of sharing the gospel to the poorest people in the land. She died at the age of 95. Ortberg gives this tribute:

"If Granny Brand had a logo, it would not point toward success, smarts, pleasure, or power. It would be the stretcher on which she was carried up and down the mountains to pour out the end of her life in sacrificial love." (John Ortberg, The Me I Want To Be, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010, p254)

Wow. What a life of purpose. Granny Brand would have retired from active service when the funds stopped. Yet, her purpose is not retired. She struggles a lot of years without positive results. Yet, her purpose is not easily thwarted.  She struggles as a widow for many years, but her faith and determination remains steadfast. The physical knocks and falls she receives can easily discourage her ministry. Yet, she remains focused on the work set out for her. This is because she has found her purpose in Christ.

4) Purposing Christ in a Land of Struggle
If Granny Brand were to presume life as a passage of struggle just to make ends meet, she would have given up her ministry at an earlier stage. She would have have complained about no results in 7 years. She would have surrendered after her husband died. She would have given up when the funds were stopped. She would have quit when she broke her hip. She would have thrown in the towel when her health fails. In other words, she could have given up totally and screams out: "This world is so unfair to me."

No. Granny Brand will have none of these complaining and grumbling.

Is your life a life of struggling just to make ends meet? Are you discouraged because this world is unfair to you? Do you lose your zest for life simply because things do not work out for you?

Take heart. If the world is unfair, remember Granny Brand. Remember the faithful saints of old. Remember that Jesus has received the cruelest and most unfair treatment the world has ever meted. Replace you life of struggle with a life of purpose. This is the antidote that a struggling world desperately needs.


Monday, December 06, 2010

Melodies to make a Father Proud...

My kids participated in a piano recital on Dec 4th, 2010, last week at the Vancouver Masonic Center in downtown Vancouver. It makes me proud. There were a few 'oops,' perhaps due to loose nerves, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

1) Duet: "We Wish You a Jazzy Christmas" (Rollin)

Nice chirpy Christmas piece. Some oops in the middle, but overall a great combination.

2) Aaron: "Sonatina in C Major" (Schubert)

Smooth rendition. Bravo! Click here or view below.

3) Amelia: "Winter Scene" (Gillock)
This is a nice piece. Great effort, especially the use of pauses. Click here or the video below.


Saturday, December 04, 2010

Handel's Messiah (Christmas) - *amended*

It begins with one. It ends with all. Music renders all speechless, save those who are singing. Believer or skeptic, Christian or non-Christian, male and female, adults and kids, regardless of all differences, will pause to acknowledge the majesty and beauty of what the music is pointing one toward. Handel's Messiah captures all. One cannot help but declares that the LORD is King of kings, and Lord of lords.At the end, it does not matter whether one believes or not. God when He appears in all His Glory, will render all creation speechless. Every knee and every tongue will then confess that Jesus is Lord. The only response: Sing.

Here are two notable videos I have come across where flash choirs surprised everyone. The first is in downtown Vancouver at Pacific Center Food Court, which has appeared in the local news

 Here are three videos. The first is in Welland, Ontario, which has gone viral on the Internet. The second is in Philadelphia, and the THIRD one is the one at Pacific Centre, Vancouver.


The second is at Macy's in Philadelphia, on October 30th 2010. I think this version is a little more majestic.

2) MACY'S IN PHILADELPHIA, (Oct 30th, 2010)

Here is the actual footage of the Vancouver performance. While it is not as well filmed compared to the first one, it is still quite notable.

Interestingly, has released a free audio book for this month of December. It is about the story of Handel's Messiah. Coincidence? I think not.


Friday, December 03, 2010

Out of the mouth of Babes

A good story is hard to resist. A good story well delivered is even more appealing. This little girl captivates my attention with her innocent and very effective re-telling of the story of Jonah. May it encourage you as it has encouraged me. I understand that she tells the whole story by heart. Amazing! You can click here or the embedded video below.

The story of Jonah from Corinth Baptist Church on Vimeo.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

"Sorry About the Wait"

TITLE: "Sorry About the Wait" - spiritual thoughts on kairos moments and chronos times
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 2 Dec 2010

Sitting at Starbucks one day, I cannot help but hear the way the common conversation goes. Typically at the popular coffee haunt, there will be at least two to three servers behind the counter. One will be taking orders. Another will be busy making some handcrafted drinks. The third will be scurrying back and forth to ensure that coffee or pastry stocks are replenished. For larger shops, there will be more workers, especially during rush morning peak hours. Everything runs like clockwork. Yet, despite the world class efficient turnaround, when demand exceeds supply, there will be a line of people waiting to give orders and to receive their drinks. One gentleman was waiting for his latte.

"Sorry about the wait." says the nice lady behind the Cappuccino machine.

"No problem." comes the reply from the gentleman.

What wait? I ask myself. Is 5-10 minutes too long to wait? Is 'waiting' such a bad thing in our society? I suppose when people are targeting their own schedules and agendas, their time is most precious, and anything that sucks away some of that time is a target for irritation.

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