Saturday, July 30, 2011

Evangelism is Baking Curiosity

Mention evangelism and many of us in churches will shudder in fear, saying either we cannot do it, or we are afraid people will reject us. One of the hallmarks of Christianity is outreach. Share the Word of God. Spread the good news. Let the whole world know that Jesus has died for your sins, and that there is hope in Christ. In the past, some use tracts. Others use mass evangelism by bringing in renowned evangelists, popular speakers, so as to draw people in. Some go door to door. Yet, others stand on public walkways carrying a placard that says:
"Repent now! The end is near. Believe in Jesus and you will be saved."
No. Such forms of evangelism are simply too narrow to be called evangelism. Broadly speaking, evangelism is more like baking curiosity. Let others see our good works, that they become curious.
"Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." (1 Peter 2:12)
As I reflect on my outreach efforts, I can recall all the different ways I do outreach. One of them involves training to be a counselor at the eve of mass evangelistic rallies. Ready for the harvest, we will learn what to say and how to lead people toward saying the sinners' prayer and then marking out a card for feedback to the organizers. It is all done in good intent. Many of the folks who come know that it is an evangelistic rally. Of course, there are some who felt a little misled because the people who invited them have not told them exactly what an evangelistic rally is. Another way is to share the gospel openly through friendship. Today, I will write about evangelism through 'making people curious.' I call this baking curiosity, one good work at a time. We do the blending. Let the Spirit of God do the baking. In due time, somebody else will do the harvesting. Evangelism cannot be forced. At most, it is an invitation freely given, and are to be freely received.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Seven Metaphors From Technology

TITLE: Seven Spiritual Metaphors from Technology
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 29 July 2011

I have been a user of technology as well as a technologist for many years. One of my favourite topics remains the faith and technology category. As I ponder about the current technology available, I find it fascinating to see spiritual lessons and metaphors we can learn. Here are 7 of them.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Hitchens vs Blair" Debate

Canada is increasingly one of the most secular states in the developed world. In fact, I feel it is leading the way in not only being 'secular' but also rather anti-institutional religion. One evidence lies in the way people perceive religion. On November 26th, 2010, world renowned atheist activist, Christopher Hitchens and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, lock horns in Toronto Canada to debate the question:

"Be it resolved religion is a force for good in the world."

Hitchens vs. Blair: Be It Resolved Religion Is a Force for Good in the World (The Munk Debates)
Moderated by Rudyard Griffiths, both speakers were allowed 7 minutes to make their opening arguments which is then followed by two rounds of rebuttals and counter arguments. Questions are then fielded both online as well as from the audience. Here are some of their points.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Remembering John Stott (1921-2011)

One of the most prominent leaders in the evangelical world has died. Together with CS Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, JI Packer, and others, I rank John Stott as among the foremost leaders of modern evangelical Christianity. He is 90. Known for his preaching and teaching effectiveness, Stott has been instrumental in the shape of evangelicalism today. Calling evangelicalism as a 'plain, ordinary Christian,' Stott has helped millions of ordinary people to come to a plain faith in Jesus. His books have influenced millions. His speeches have inspired countless number of people. What earth has lost, heaven has gained. CT has published a good obituary here.

I recall how his writings have been so effective in my own Christian life. "Issues Facing Christians Today" has been used not only in seminaries, but also in Bible studies, small groups, and Christian Education classes. Stott is also one who is firmly grounded in all things Bible, he is also sensitive to the culture at large. One of my most memorable quotes from Stott is this from the contemporary Christian. It is about learning to practice 'dual-listening.'

We stand between the Word and the world with consequent obligation to listen to both. We listen to the Word to discover even more of the riches of Christ. We listen to the world in order to discern which of Christ’s riches are needed most and how to present them in their best light.” (John Stott, The Contemporary Christian: Applying God's Word to Today's World, IVP, 1992, p110-111)

Basic Christianity (IVP Classics)Understanding the BibleHis teaching ministry has flourished with a global reach toward 'equipping a new generation of Bible teachers.' It will no doubt be spearheaded by people earnest for the gospel. He has contributed loads of material to disciple the young believer. Books like "Basic Christianity," "Understanding the Bible," and "Why I am a Christian" have been used for discipleship classes. One of his classic works remains "The Cross of Christ."
Why I Am a Christian
The Cross of Christ In it, he masterfully deals with the implications of Christ's death for God as well as for the world.

Stott is an immensely quotable person. Some of his best quotes are:
  • "Every Christian should be both conservative and radical; conservative in preserving the faith and radical in applying it." (CT Oct 1975)
  • "Faith is a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God." (Stott, Your Mind Matters, IVP, 2006, p52)
  • "If I come to Scripture with our minds made up, expecting to hear from it only an echo of our own thoughts and never the underclap of God's, then indeed he will not speak to us and we shall only be confirmed in our own prejudices. We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behaviour." (Stott, Culture and the Bible, IVP, 1981, p33)
John Stott's life is demonstrated in how he weaves his life into his books, his teaching and his life. For me, Stott has left a legacy of what it means to be a Bible student, a teacher, as well as a pastor through a threefold lens. 

"In developing my theme, I have had in mind the triangle of Scripture, tradition, and the modern world. My first anxiety has been to be true to the Word of God, allowing it to say what it has to say and not asking it to say what I might want it to say. There is no alternative to careful exegesis of the text. Secondly, I have endeavoured to share some of the fruits of my reading. In seeking to understand the cross, one cannot ignore the great works of the past. To be disrespectful of tradition and of historical theology is to be disrespectful of the Holy Spirit who has been actively enlightening the Church in every century. Then, thirdly, I have tried to understand Scripture, not only in its own light and in the light of tradition, but also in relation to the contemporary world. I have asked what the cross of Christ says to us at the end of the twentieth century." (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, IVP, 1986, p17)

Farewell Dr Stott. Thank you for a life well lived.


Monday, July 25, 2011

On Fear-Hate Propaganda

Last Friday, a terrible act of terrorism was unleashed on a group of young people at a Youth camp in Norway. Dressed as a police officer, Anders Behring Breivik killed at least 76 people in Oslo. Initial reports suggest 91. The death toll has now been reduced to 76. It makes me wonder about the sensationalism tendencies of the press. What saddens me about the tragedy is not the killings per se, but the reasons behind the senseless act as well as the sentiments behind the news reporting. In fact, one bad revelation led to another. The killer claims himself to be a 'Christian,' 'conservative,' and sees his act as a personal crusade against Norway's open immigration policy. Some news reports suggest that Breivik is against "multi-culturalism, Islam and the "cultural Marxists" of the establishment." The Western press is quick to be up in arms not only against the tragic act, but also against 'right-wing' fundamentalism.

A) Be Wary of the Press

It is a common strategy used by some media to use the conservatives, the fundamentalist groups as a convenient whipping boy, especially in times like this. Such an agenda does not help mend ties. It separates. It instills hatred. It breeds distrust. It increases misunderstanding many times over. It funnels people who are vocal about their Christian faith (especially the Right) into a box called: "Damned if you do, Damned if you don't." It is not only unfair, but such efforts undermine peace, and understanding among people. It sways opinions to see the conservatives as 'enemies,' or to present another 'reason' why one should no longer trust the church.

The trouble is, the press is not as fair as it claims itself to be. One clue is not what is presented, but also what is NOT presented. For example, take the headlines of the AtlanticWire: "Christian Extremist Suspect in Norway's Massacre." why not just a 'terrorist,' or a 'madman?' Suppose Breivik is an atheist. Will the headlines become: "Extreme atheist suspect in Norway's massacre?" Likely not. It seems easier to stir up emotions by attacking Christians, and easier to leave atheists alone. Christian publications are careful to put the word 'fundamentalist' in bracket in their edition. They tread carefully to avoid agreeing or disagreeing with popular labels. Whatever it is, we need to be wary of what we read in the press. One person killed is already one too many, regardless of what one believes. It is simply unethical to paint any one group of religious people with the same brush that Breivik uses.

In other words, we cannot divide society by highlighting 'Christian extremist,' or 'Muslim fundamentalists,' or whatever types of stereotype image. Call the bad act what it deserves and not prefix it with whatever labels that can potentially damage the credibility of the religion or institution. There are good as well as not so good Muslims, Christians, or religious persons. Likewise, there are good Americans as well as not so good Americans. There are also good music and bad music, good food and bad food. Do not let one 'act' unfairly tarnish the image of the general group.

B) Fear Propaganda

Over the past few years, I have received emails, Youtube videos, and  fear messages from friends and loved ones. Some are about the rise of religions such as Islam and the secularists agenda. Others are about racial divide and hate propaganda disguised as 'warnings,' etc. Mind you, even among Christians, there are bad accusations by all groups on one another. For example, there are attacks against Barack Obama's faith as a Christian as well as counter-attacks. There are also fear-mongering videos that highlight a changing world that comprises more Muslims, and that the Western world will be drastically altered by 2050. There are also all kinds of conspiracy theories surrounding 911, and whether the financial crisis in the US has been carefully orchestrated by a few select individuals/groups.

I feel that such propaganda fuels more fear. Fear leads to avoidance. Avoidance leads to dislike. Dislike leads to Hate. Together, fear and hate spreads the erroneous messages far and wide, leading to disunity and distrust among people.

Personally, I do not like to forward such emails. Many of them end up being hoaxes or spams, created by some misguided people, but very efficiently distributed by the technologies of today.

C) What Can We Do?

Pray. Pray for the world. Pray for ourselves. Pray that we can discern God's leading in our lives to love people, regardless of labels like race, language, religion, sexual orientation, organizational links and so on. If God cares so much for all the people of the world, that He is willing to send Jesus to die for them, should we not, as children of God do likewise? Love people rather than principles. Love people rather than fear them. Love people by helping them tackle common problems, like cost of living, poverty, stress in daily life, marital problems, communications with people and so on. Let us busy ourselves with how to make the world a better place, instead of sending messages of doubt and fear.

Doubts inject unhealthy suspicions into any kinds of relationships. Love frees ourselves to let people be who they are, without us judging them. The next time, you get a hate mail, or something that conjures up fear of any sort, don't bother to read them. Don't even forward them to others. Do the next best thing. Delete. Perhaps, the best way to deal with fear and hate propaganda is to make this world a better place, one delete at a time.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Articles Roundup

Since early this month, I have been contributing to OurDailyJourney's collection of articles for the Christian public. ODJ is a ministry arm of the Radio Bible Class, famous for their Our Daily Bread series. Here is a list of my articles published there. Enjoy!

1) Free to Live and to Love (22 July 2011)

2) Spiritual Reading (18 July 2011)

3) Live Forward (13 July 2011)

4) On the Move (6 July 2011)


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Free to Live and Love

I admit. I have been brought up in an environment that if one does not work, one shall not eat. The works-based philosophy of life has permeated so many cultures and societies such that it wears people down. Each vacation requires another vacation. Each coffee break makes us long for another one. Each leisure hour makes us yearn for more leisure hours. Working for one's wages has crept into our emotions as well. If one does not justify oneself adequately, one remains unjustified, in a world that appears to operate one default mode: "Undeserving unless proven otherwise."

If the waiters/waitresses fail to meet our minimal expectations, our minimal tip amount drops drastically. If the politicians fail to dish out what they have promised each end of the financial year, we threaten to vote them out of office. If we do not work hard enough to prepare for our school exams, we will fail to make the grade. Such a default lifestyle hems us into being miserly with our money, and stingy with our praises. Unless we produce results, our culture punishes accordingly. So conditional is such a lifestyle, that even for Christians, we have introduced this concept into our spiritual lives, making God into our own image. Desmond Tutu says it well.

"We too often feel that God's love for us is conditional like our love is for others. We have made God in our image rather than seeing ourselves in God's image. . . Ours is a culture of achievement, and we carry over these attitudes to our relationship with God. We work ourselves to a frazzle trying to impress everyone including God. . . We can believe that our relationship with God, our standing before God, has got nothing to do with our performance, our works." (Desmond Tutu, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Times, NY: Image Doubleday, 2004, p32)

We need to be free to live and free to love. Such freedom is liberating. It makes one work not out of obligation, but out of liberation. Whatever work we choose to do, let us do it out of gratitude that we have the opportunity to do it in the first place. Let us give thanks to God, for the ability to work it. Let us be thankful that we can play a role in societies wherever we are in. Take a leaf from Paul's words to the Ephesians.

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." (Col 3:23)

This we do, with a grateful heart freed to live, and to love. This is because the grace of God has freed us.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Great Deals on Amazon eBooks

Since getting a Kindle, I have been spending more time buying ebooks instead of printed books. Costwise, it is cheaper since I do not have to pay for delivery charges. Plus, the recent Canada Post strike has made postal delivery even more inconvenient. This Summer, there are several deals for ebooks on Amazon, with prices ranging from $0.99, $1.99, $2.99, to #3.99. It is worth looking at. I understand that this sale ends 27 July 2011. Here are some of my top recommendations. If you do not have a Kindle, you can still download a Kindle app and install it on your Mac, PC, Android etc.

NIV 2011

Amplified Bible
The Amplified Bible (Kindle Format

NIV Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture
Archaeological Bible (Kindle) - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?
Sacred Marriage (Kindle version)

Bonhoeffer's the Cost of Discipleship
Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship (Kindle version)
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth
How to read the Bible for all its worth (Kindle version)

And many more. Check it out here.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Gay Pride Trampling Others Rights

No matter how we look at it, it cuts both ways. Whether it is a public outcry over morality issues, or a matter of freedom of choice, people are going to dispute all kinds of decisions. Regardless.

Last week, I was having a friendly chat with a friend. Somehow, we stumbled upon the topic of how society has perceived the homosexual issues. Recent events have demonstrated that those supporting 'gay rights' have become bolder. Pride has turned to proudness; proudness to boldness; and boldness to aggressiveness. Let me highlight three examples about such boldness that has led to aggressive stances.

1) Gay Pride Parade

Gay activists are no longer content with funding their own activities. They now want the authorities to support them. Currently, most of the costs for policing, garbage collection, and associated costs for such parades are self-funded. According to 'pride organizers,' they feel that such gay parades are bringing in 'millions of dollars for local businesses. In the article, pride organizers even compared the Gay Parades to the popularity of the Festival of Lights fireworks, which draw thousands of people each summer. If such a civic status is granted, it will more likely be due to the aggressive gay lobbying, rather than the actual 'millions of dollars' for local businesses.

2) Anti-Homophobic Policy in Schools

The gay agenda is also more boldly proclaimed in schools near my neighbourhood. Recently, the Burnaby school board has passed a controversial 'Anti-Homophobic' policy. Quoting the example of one Shahraz Kassam, the Board, passes a rule that applies to thousands of children, leaving parents fuming away why such rules need to be initiated in the first place. Why must gay people be given additional protection over the rest of the people? Why is it necessary to single out the homosexuals, and give them special preference in the first place? The Burnaby School Board chairman has this to say:

"We want to be proactive and make sure we address things like gay slurs and bullying against someone who may be of a different sexual orientation,"

I believe anti-bullying rules have already covered bullying of all natures, include what Hayes say about 'gay slurs' and so on. The problem I have is two fold. First, this sets up an unhealthy precedent to pass all kinds of other rules. Soon, we'll have laws against "Anti-Immigrant," "Anti-religious," "anti-secular," "Anti-Short-People," "Anti-Bald-People" and all kinds of laws that look ridiculous and deserve a whole new curriculum to educate puzzled children what they means. Come on. Children are already struggling with learning Maths and Science, French, English, and many others. Why start imposing 'adult agendas' on children's education?

Secondly, while one may trumpet their own gay rights, what if their actions trample upon the rights of other groups? Are the complaints legitimate, given that Canada already is in the fore-front of 'human rights?' It concerns me because the society appears to offer gay groups a BIGGER ear than other groups. Otherwise, they will not have passed the anti-homophobic laws in the first place!

What happens if one day, a gay boy pours out 'anti-gay' slurs on others? Will the Board then introduce another law?

3) California Introduces Gay Education for Kids

This third development happens in California. It is reported that the learning of gay history is now compulsory for school children. Isn't this move trampling upon the rights of other people to have the traditional form of education for their kids? What makes it more preposterous is how they flash out dissenting parents' rights to pull their children out of the classrooms! Talking about forcing a gay agenda into the books, and then forcing dissenting views out of the classroom. You call that fair rights?

I feel that gay lobbying has now moved to a new phase. Instead of being the victim, it is becoming more aggressive. By highlighting its own rights over the rest, they are trampling on other people's freedom of lifestyle choices. While I believe that people in society ought to be given their freedom to choose what kind of lifestyle they want, all should be open to respect one another. Such respect should not be restricted to any one people group. The very existence of an 'Anti-homophobic' laws have already divided people from the start. Even without such laws, people have already been prosecuted for any anti-homophobic behaviour. Giving the gay group an additional voice is already an unfair advantage.

Case in point. If I exercise my right NOT to agree to a gay agenda being forced into my children's textbooks, is my only choice then to pull my children out of public schools? Sadly, that looks increasingly possible on the nearing horizon.


Friday, July 15, 2011

The New Normal

The word 'technology' used to be more broadly understood. Trains, trucks, and trams belong to the transportation technology. Then there is the household technologies like kitchen appliances, lawnmowers, lighting, tools used in a typical household.  The electricity we get comes from a complex chain of power engineering technologies. The water we get flows from a network of plumbing lines and water purification technologies. Yet, the word technology is increasingly perceived as being reserved for information technologies like the computer, the cell phones, and of course the ever popular social network.

I visited my kid's High School Open House not too long ago. The greeters, mostly students themselves, very quickly list down the different departments, offices, and exhibits available in the school. There is the 'science,' the 'arts,', the 'accounting,' and so on. Invariably, one of the highlights is the 'technology' department. Like many, I walk briskly to the 'technology' department located at a lower floor. As I walk, in, I tried to lower my expectations by taking any "Star-Trek / Tron Legacy" mindset a few notches lower. In my mind, I visualize simple monitors instead of sophisticated wall-like touch screens seen in Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise. Instead of high-tech wireless gadgets, maybe there is one or two WiFi enabled computers. Instead of state of the art glitzy LCD projectors, perhaps, a humble WhiteBoard can suffice. 

Imagine my surprise to see people doing metalwork and woodwork. Students carry metal plates, and some sawing wood. Where's the 'technology?'  This one scene pits the old normal in the school, with the new normal in the rest of the world.

Technology is a fast changing animal. It grows rapidly. I have heard my contemporaries in the computer industry telling me that the moment the latest computer flows out of the production floor, it is already obsolete. Like the school 'technology' room, that I think is the 'old normal.' Here is a list of technological devices I call old and new normal.

1. Desktop Computer Sleek Notebooks/Tablets
2. Cell Phones with number pads Cellphones with touch pads
3. Wired Wireless
4. Email Social Media
5. Partly ON devices Always ON devices
6. Binary Digital
7. Printed Books eBooks
8. Technology as All kinds of Engineering Technology as Computing Devices

The last point is the one I have been increasingly mindful about. Mention technology to any kid, and he will think digital, computers, iPhones, social media networking and so on. The new normal for technology is essentially 'information technology.' For any marketers to sell anything technological, they have to consider this new normal in terms of mindset. Otherwise, like my experience in the high school, it makes one feel that the school is outdated and out of touch with what is going on in the rest of the world.

Having said that, we cannot be too narrow minded about it. 'Technology' is more than computer technologies. Just this week, I was asked to give a short writeup on how technology affects relationships. A few days later, I was asked if I could replace the word 'technology' with the words 'social media.' Wow, that is the new normal. Social media is certainly taking a life of its own. Will the new normal in the use of the word 'technology' be 'social media?' We wait to see.

As stewards of this earth, we should not allow ourselves to be swayed by the tides of things newest and the greatest. All technologies are technologies. They have a significant role to play when they were launched. Each occupies an important milestone for the advancement of new ideas and innovations. While we look forward to new normals each time, let us also not de-emphasize the roles of the old normals. I suggest three ways in which to 'normalize' our infatuation with the new, and a disdain for the old.

  1. Old Roots: No new devices are developed from a vacuum. They are improved versions of things old. Remember that what we have now, comes from the learning of the past
  2. New Ideas as Uncovered Grounds: Again, new ideas are simply new ground not covered by the past. Technological advancement comes when old grounds are covered, to reveal newer grounds yet to be discovered. In other words, each new step is only possible after a previous old step.
  3. Give Thanks: Finally, let us appreciate the advancement and the technologies we have. Not everything new is great. Not everything old is outdated. Both are essential. 

One more thing. As long as we learn to preserve a good sense of old and new normals in technology, we will be less prone to damage the environment by throwing away the old working devices, and mindlessly buy new stuff we do not really need.

Maybe, our new normal ought not to be the latest and the greatest technologies. Our new normal for all time, need to be increasing wisdom. Period.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

John Wesley's Advice on Spiritual Reading

John Wesley (1703-1791)
I have been mindful of the spiritual classics since my Regent-College days. Many old gems remain largely unread, untouched, and undiscovered. In a world that tends to prefer the new, the latest, and the greatest, it is pure foolishness to become so infatuated with the advancements of the present and ignore the wisdom of the past.  One aspect is reading. As technology makes it easier for us to communicate in snippets, and to read only the juicy parts of our lives, and our friends' lives, it is a good reminder to return to the basics of reading. We can take a leaf from the wisdom of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

John Wesley’s Advice on Spiritual Reading
  1. Set aside time on a regular basis for spiritual reading. It does not need to be a long time. Consistency is the key.
  2. Prepare yourself for reading. Quiet your heart. Approach God in prayer. Ask that he would help you see the truth, and have the courage to follow through on its implications for your living.
  3. Read slowly, seriously and attentively. Take time to pause in your reading. Focus intently on the truth of a passage. Allow it to sink into your heart. Open your heart to the enlightenment of God’s grace.
  4. Intersperse your reading with short prayers to God. Make note of helpful sayings or sage pieces of advice. Memorize them or write them down. You may want to share them with a friend.
  5. Conclude your reading with a short prayer to God. Ask that seeds sown in your heart would bring forth a rich harvest of obedience and devotion.
[Adapted from Mark Harris’s Companions for the Spiritual Journey, Regent College Publishing, 1999, p124.]

My Comments
In spiritual reading, one needs REGULARITY (Point 1). It is of no benefit to do reading as a one-off exercise. Like exercise, it is more beneficial to do a short 10-min exercise daily, than to tough it out for more than one hour in the gym once a week. The human body behaves better in consistent practice, rather than a one-time intense activity.

The second point about PREPARATION is useful especially in an age where we are easily distracted. Silence the cellphone. Quieten our hearts. Go to a quiet place in order to read and to pray.

Thirdly, reading must be INTENTIONAL. Sometimes, readers tend to assume that to read means to read from beginning to end. Otherwise, they deem their reading expedition a failure which can discourage them from beginning it in the first place. No! Reading can be short or long. The main thing is intentional. Maybe, read with one chapter in mind. This is especially relevant for reading spiritual classics, like Augustine's Confessions or St Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises.

Fourth, reading and praying are rhythms necessary for spiritual reading. Like breathing, we cannot exhale all the time. We need to inhale sometimes, exhale at other times. The better we are at managing the rhythm, the better we are at controlling our overall stress level.

Finally, close with a concluding PRAYER. This is a wonderful acknowledgment that whatever we have read, may or may not have immediate application or significance. Ask the Spirit to guide us in all truth, and the practice of the truth. Ask God to help us discern, and to put into practice what we have learned in accordance to His Time.

The other point I am impressed about is the consistent emphasis on prayer. Spiritual reading and prayer works together. We read with our minds prayerfully, as well as to pray mindfully. This is why reading the Bible and prayer forms a unique and firm bond to the heart and mind.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Food for Thought

Here is a marvelous quote that reminds us not to hold too tightly to the things of this world.

"Everything we have is on loan. Our homes, businesses, rivers, closest relationships, bodies, and experiences, everything we have is ours in trust, and must be returned at the end of our use of it. As trustees we have the highest and strictest requirements of fiduciary duty: to use nothing for our sole benefit; to manage prudently; and to and to return that which has been in our care in as good or better condition than it was when given into our custody." (John McQuiston II, Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living, Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1996, p52)

Sometimes we hold too tightly to the things we have. Like demanding babies, we assert our rights to what we want. We insist on things, even those things not meant for us, simply by crying out 'unfair!'  In a world where people want to be equitable, their demand for fairness usually means that everyone have to get a fair piece of the pie, regardless of needs or requirements. The sad outcome of it all is that the rich gets richer, while the poor remains poor.

The strange thing is this, we all know that things do not follow us after we die. Yet we demand. We accumulate. We hoard. Only to let the dust settle on our unused stuff, or the rust to dull our shiny metals. Perhaps, the questions to ask is this:

  • How does our demand for things benefit our community and society?
  • What kind of needs do the thing fulfill for us? How significant is the thing's contribution to our true happiness?
Perhaps, instead of the accumulation of more stuff, what about the accumulation of something more precious like wisdom? Wisdom to know when to pick up, and when to lay down. Wisdom to know when to take and when to give away. Wisdom to see how the things we have can benefit others, besides our own selves. McQuiston gives us one sound advice: Treat the things we have as if they are on loan. That is the needed wisdom for this consumerist age. Even better, treat the things we have as if they are borrowed from God.



Saturday, July 09, 2011

More Than Meets the Eye

The famous modern adage says: "If it ain't broken, don't fix it." It is a phrase to urge people to leave 'working' matters or structures alone. It tells those who want to improve or to put additional features, to back off. In other words, if something is still working, why try to change the status quo?

I have learned through the years that the only thing that is constant is 'change.' There is no such thing as permanent, or unchanging. Careers change. Circumstances change.  People change. Anything or everything can change, albeit at different points of time. Two news pieces remind me again about the inadequacy of the above adage. If something is not 'broken,' can it mean its brokenness has not been discovered yet?

A) Two Examples
(Photo Credit:
The power utilities company in British Columbia, BCHydro, earlier this week had a major mishap. Two tall electrical towers collapsed, taking down power lines supplying power to major cities like Surrey, New Westminster, and as far as Abbotsford. Interestingly, just before the collapse, engineers have just given the thumbs up after their regular maintenance and inspections. Yet, at around 8.30pm on a Monday (July 4th, 2011), two towers collapse. Unfortunately, the collapse and the blackout is only the beginning. It triggers a host of problem discoveries. First, they learn that the foundations of the towers are not as secure as they thought. Second, the authorities realize that the Towers may not be covered by insurance. Third, the media reports on more 'concerns' about the Towers. For an infrastructure that has just been checked off for safety and usability, it takes one event to trigger a host of other events. There is more than meets the eye.

The second thing to hit the headlines this week is the hacking scandal endorsed by the management of the 168-year old, News of the World publication. What started it all are revelations about a phone hacking scandal. The discovery of a phone hacking attempt by the News of the World on a missing girl, was the straw that broke the camel's back. One thing leads to another. After hacking into Milly Dowler's voicemail account, reports say they manipulated the contents. Not only did the journalists break the privacy laws, even the management approves the attempt. Then we start to realize that that was not the first. The same tactic has been used on other news events, like violating the privacy of family victims over a London air bombing news. All of these in the interest of new news. One thing leads to another. Like a thief whose first theft was undiscovered, the News of the World uses the same method to pry into the private information of other people, believing that they will not be easily found out. Whatever fame and credibility brought about in the past, this one event causes the collapse of a media icon, owned by Rupert Murdoch.

B) Learning Points

I believe we all have an obligation to do things right from the start. We can learn from the Quality Control Circles experts that say: "Do it right, the first time. Everytime." Likewise, constant improvement should be done regardless of the risk of failure. Without risk, one may escape the likelihood of failure, but it may merely be storing up the potential for failure later. Everything has consequences. The difference is in terms of time and circumstances. What we ought to learn from the above two events is that in life, is that we live in a very fragile world. The second lesson is that there is no such thing as permanent, or life-long security. We see that huge financial institutions can collapse overnight, like ING Barings in the UK, or the recent financial catastrophe due to the housing subprime crisis in the US. It is not difficult to even dig out how political bigwigs fall just because one single incident started it all.

The third lesson is that we need to let wisdom speak louder than worldly might. There is no room for complacency. We live in a world where power and riches speak louder that the poor and the weak. Wisdom knows no bounds. Like the proverb below, the wise man is not necessarily one who is rich. More often than not, it comes through the mouths of the poor, the vulnerable, even babes.

So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded. (Eccl 9:16)

Perhaps, if there is a final lesson, it is this. We are not masters of our own destinies. Whatever we do, we cannot make guarantees in this life. Let that spur innovation and improvement. Let that motivate us to do better than the previous. Let that encourage us that the best is yet to be. Otherwise, we will be building a hill that resembles the camel's back. It sets us out for failure. All it takes is a spark or a straw, and our perceived house of stability will come tumbling down.

There is only one true security. That is God.


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Cheapening Life

One of the most terrible ills of modern society is uncontrolled infatuation with materialism. Not too long ago, The American Express company popularizes this catch-phrase: "Don't leave home without it." It is a clever marketing statement to inculcate in customers the powerful way the plastic is revolutionizing purchases of merchandise and services. Instead of stacks of paper money, one can simply swipe the card to make a purchase. It is easy on the consumer. It is easy on the merchant. It is profitable for the credit card company.

Materialism takes many forms. One of them is the way it has gripped society by its neck. A recent phenomena is the ubiquitous cellphone. In several surveys, one of the top cannot-leave-home-without-it items is the wireless cellphone. Phone manufacturers have upped the ante to provide not just the basic voice services but data such as text messaging and Internet surfing. Phones triple up as WiFi web browsers, PDAs, and digital cameras. People store almost everything personal on their tiny gadgets. However, being feature-rich is not enough. Phone makers have introduced the art of irresistible design. The Apple iPhone and the iPad is one of them.

It troubles me to see how the hunger for such devices have led to gullible actions. One boy sells his kidneys in order to buy an iPad. A girl offers her virginity for money to buy an iPhone. Sadly, both cases come from a country that is increasingly an economic superpower: China.

Such actions that exchange something human for a technological gadget is very inhumane. It cheapens life. Those who supply the organs or their precious virginity are plain silly. Those who take advantage of these offers are plain bullies. Can there really be a price tag to life?

Jesus came to die, that the world may live. God puts the value where it belongs. The world came to trade, that they may lust for more. Worldliness steals away the true value of creation. In a world where not all transactions are equitable, putting a price tag to humans is grossly inequitable.

The rise of China may be good for economic means. Unfortunately, not being able to address the true value of human beings may be the Achilles heel of the powerful Chinese economy. I will venture to say that it is not the Chinese or the Asian culture that is at fault. It is the lack of biblical theology in the societies at large that is the downfall. Without proper biblical theology, one can easily fall prey to all kinds of worldly philosophy. One of them is the downside of materialism: Cheapening Life.

Those who offers their bodies for technology gadgets, shame on you!
Those who exploits these children for their organs, shame on you!
Those who take advantage of gullible girls for sex, shame on you!
Those who put a price tag that cheapens life, SHAME on you!


Sunday, July 03, 2011

My Friend, Lai Yong TAN

I am encouraged to hear of another Regent alum who has made the headlines again. This is my friend, Dr Tan Lai Yong, a doctor from Singapore who has served in China for the past 14 years. CNN has a good writeup on his time there. The title of the CNN article is: "Dr Tan Lai Yong: Going beyond the call of duty to open eyes and heal the sick."

This is not the first time that Lai Yong has been featured in the news. There is a Channelnewsasia clip on him and his work in China. Well done, Lai Yong!


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