Monday, October 31, 2011

Day 7, Luke 15: Parables of Jesus

TITLE: Day 7, Luke 15: Parables of Jesus
THEME: Seeking the Lost

Three parables are seen in this chapter. In the first parable, Jesus tells of how the loss of 1 sheep out of 100, leads the great search for that one missing sheep. In the second parable, Jesus moves the ratio from 10:1, where a woman who has 10 coins but loses one, goes on an intense search for that 1 coin. In the third parable, the ratio reduces to 2:1. In the parable of the prodigal son, the man begins with 2, but longs to see his lost son come back to him.

In an amazing mathematical image, whether it is a 100:1 sheep, or 10:1 coin, or 2:1 persons, Jesus cares. Jesus will search high and low for anyone missing from the fray, regardless of numbers. The world tends to measure success in terms of numbers. The world sees numbers as a measure of competence. Not God. If God cares even for the least of us, we ought to care for the least as well.

What I Learned: The person of God cares for people. A lot.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Day 6, Matthew 6: The Sermon on the Mount

TITLE: Day 6, Matthew 6: The Sermon on the Mount
THEME: Pray Lots - Worry Not

This chapter contains one of the most common prayers in the Church: The Lord's Prayer. In many churches, the prayer is used wholesale in worship services. It is interesting how after the teaching of the Lord's prayer, three major applications are described.

Firstly, the discipline of fasting. Prayer and fasting often appears together, especially when one is praying for a very important situation. I have heard people praying and fasting when they are looking for a new leader, during a major operation, a crisis situation, or a major disaster. Even Jesus tells the disciples that certain kinds of healing and casting out of demons require fasting. This discipline is not often practiced now. Maybe the urgency is not there. Maybe people justifies the importance of keeping their stomachs full so that they can do more good works. Maybe. Yet, the discipline of fasting helps one to do one thing: Focus.

Secondly, the discipline of serving God, not Mammon. The word Mammon refers to that thing that one yields allegiance to. The choice is clear. The disciple must choose between God and Mammon. There is not both. God is God. Mammon is Mammon. We all need to decide upfront who we want to serve.

Thirdly, the discipline of NOT worrying. Prayer in faith will lead to a DECREASE in worry. Those who do not pray tends to worry more. Perhaps, the best antidote against worry is to do what Jesus has prescribed:

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" (Matt 6:26)

What I Learn: The person of God will let the three things flow out of his prayerfulness: Discipline of fasting; the discipline of serving God; the discipline of NOT worrying.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Day 5, Matthew 5: The Sermon on the Mount

TITLE: Day 5, Matthew 5: The Sermon on the Mount
THEME: Counter Culture

In this amazing chapter, we read about the beatitudes. We read about the call for Christians to be the salt and light of the world. Following that, the chapter moves toward several counter-cultural, counter-beliefs.

With regards to the Law, Jesus in demonstrating his grace, shows that the Pharisees and adherents of the law, are nowhere to be compared with Jesus's keeping of the Law. For the fulfilment of the Law is not in terms of following the rules and regulations of each word of the law, but in following the Person of Jesus.

With regards to murder, it is not the physical hurt inflicted, but both external AND internal hurts that need to be addressed.

With regards to adultery, it is not simply to external act of unfaithfulness, but includes the internal temptations of sinning against one's spouse that is crucial.

With regards to divorce, it is not the act per se, but how the act causes others to stumble.

With regards to the keeping of oaths, do not let the keeping of oaths be the rod. Let truth be the guiding light with or without oaths.

With regards to retaliation, do a double-double. Over give. Over deliver. Thoroughly love.

With regards to enemies, do not killing. Love them.

All of these counter cultural actions show us that the God that we follow is not from this world. Jesus is from heaven.

What I learn: The person of God fears not the world, but lets the fear of the Lord guide him to counter the world when necessary.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Day 4, Mark 9: A day in the life of Jesus

Title: Day 4, Mark 9: A Day in the Life of Jesus
Theme: A Servant of God has a servant heart

This chapter highlights three wrong ways to be a servant. The first is missing the forest for the trees. When Peter, James, and John see how Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus, their immediate reaction is to put up three shelters. Obviously, they recognize the dignitaries when they see them. One may not see anything wrong with such an action. Yet, this verse gives us a clue that all is not well in the minds of the disciple. Their action is one that is of fear. Mark records:

"(He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)" (Mark 9:6)

When one does not know what to say, say nothing! Yet, Peter in his usual clumsy self, does the silly thing. As Peter and Jesus continue on the conversation, note how Jesus points Peter back to the Scriptures:

Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” (Mark 9:12-13)
If Peter had known the Word, he will have conversed with Jesus out of knowledge of the Scriptures, instead of being led by fear.

The second is the healing of the boy, in which Jesus reminds the disciples that it is faith in God that is the key to healing. When asked why the disciples fail to drive out the demon, Jesus says:

"This kind can come out only by prayer." (Mark 9:29)

If the special cases can only come out by prayer, non-special cases are obviously possible in prayer. That means in prayer, all things are possible. Shall any one of us pray any less? One with a servant heart will have a heart of prayer.

The third is the notion of who is the greatest. It is not serving the highest or the greatest person in the community, but willing to serve even the least. The servant of God serves God by serving even the least.

What I Learn: The servant of God knows God's Word, prays often, and willingly serves the least of the least.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Day 3, Mark 1: The beginning of Jesus' ministry

Title: Day 3, Mark 1: The beginning of Jesus' ministry
Theme: Spirit-Led Life Means to Listen First to Obey

Runners on a 100 metre dash will wait for the sound of the starting gun. The start of some Church services will begin at the sound of the church bell. The start of a computer begins with the pressing of the POWER button. Life is not simply about starting. It is about starting well. Jesus starts his ministry by getting ready to receive the starting signal. He humbly goes out to John, and asks to be baptized. The result is spectacular, not in the world's eyes, but in the sight of God.

"At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove." (Mark 1:9-10)

What is particularly intriguing is this one act of Jesus straightaway results in an applause from heaven. Note how the gospel writer describes:

And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

In this world, we have the tendency of wanting to seek human approval. Subordinates want their boss to see their work. Children longs to have their parents approve of their school grades. Even leaders and pastors of churches seek approval for their work in church or religious organizations. In serving the people of God, one is often tempted to seek the approval of men and women, MORE than God. It comes in a very insidious manner. This is a dangerous trap for any Christian leader. When we seek approval from people, we are bounded to their conditions, their expectations, and their written or unwritten requirements. It may be for a good cause. It may even be for an altruistic purpose. Yet, without the leading of the Spirit, and the final approval of God, it will fall flat with a dull thud. God's work done in God's way will never lack supply. As much as we want to begin our journey well, our first task is not to do things fast. Our first task is to listen in order to obey.

What I Learn: The person of God who is led by the Spirit, seeks God's approval first.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Day 2, Luke 2: The story of Jesus' birth

Title: Day 2, Luke 2: The story of Jesus' birth
Theme: Do not be afraid

For the third time in the gospel of Luke, there is a specific command: "Do not be afraid." Mary a baby inside her. Nervous about her being pregnant outside of marriage, of being ridiculed by her family and friends, and not knowing what lies ahead, the angel appears not just to Mary, but to Joseph as well.

"And an angel said to them, Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)

It seems almost naturally, that God knows our human weaknesses. He knows that we are prone to fear. He knows that fear prevents one from moving forward, not because of danger or uncertainty ahead, but fear itself. In fact, the biggest problem infecting society is that instead of living a life of faith, we are frequently being driven by fear. The fear of being slapped with a heavy fine keeps us mindful of the speed limit when driving. The fear of our cars being towed away makes us mindful of where and how long we park our cars. The fear of our boss's disapproval makes us come to work punctually, and to do our jobs diligently. The laws of the land are usually for people who break the law and to prevent others from even trying to mess with the law. Fear reigns. In a fallen world, fear runs havoc to disrupt our hopes, our joys, and our true creative ability to seek God.

Perhaps, rather than going on a witch hunt to drive our fear in our lives, let us place faith in front. The opposite of fear is faith. In faith, we stop fear on its tracks. In faith, we shine the brightness of Christ to dispel the darkness of fear. In faith, we walk. the story of Jesus' birth begins not in fear, but in faith.

What I learn: The person of God will not be afraid.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Day 1, Luke 1: Preparing for Jesus' arrival

DAY 1 - Preparing for Jesus' Arrival
Date: 25 Oct 2011

Two questions. Two responses. Different results.

I am very intrigued as I read about the way Luke begins the gospel. Unlike John which begins with a reflection to Genesis 1, or Matthew which starts with a detailed genealogy of the Jewishness of Jesus, and Mark which starts abruptly with a quote from Isaiah, Luke begins with an eyewitness account of two angels appearing to two persons, prior to the birth of John and Jesus. The first appearance is to Zacharias, where the angel of the Lord says:

"Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John." (Luke 1:13)

Zacharias then asks: "How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." (Lk 1:18)

As a result of that question, the angel strikes dumb the lips of Zacharias because he 'did not believe.'

In contrast, when the angel appears to Mary, and says:

"Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus." (Luke 1: 30-31)

When Mary responds with: "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" she is spared.

Why are there seemingly similar questions posed back to the angel, but different results? Why is Zacharais struck dumb, and not Mary?

On closer look, it is about faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Zacharias in his reply to the angel, wants signs and proofs that the angel will do what is promised. Zacharias is more concerned with 'what is the proof?' Mary on the other hand, is simply concerned about the 'how.' One is looking for evidence, while the other is looking for illumination. Zacharias questions in such a way that it smirks of  skeptical doubts. Mary asks humbly as one that is honestly curious and accepts the word in faith.

How about us? When we read the word of God, do we question the word skeptically? Or do we accept the Word in faith, and let this be demonstrated in obedience?

Thought: The person of God is a person of faith.


Monday, October 24, 2011

14-Day Journey: Life of Jesus and His Teachings

For the next 14 days, I will be reflecting on my reading of Jesus's life and his teachings. This is a disciplined approach where each day, I will take a chapter from the gospels, and write a short reflection on what Jesus is saying to me. Taken from a very helpful 14-day plan from Zondervan website, the journey is as follows:

Two Weeks on the Life and Teachings of Jesus
Day 1, Luke 1: Preparing for Jesus' arrival
Day 2, Luke 2: The story of Jesus' birth
Day 3, Mark 1: The beginning of Jesus' ministry
Day 4, Mark 9: A day in the life of Jesus
Day 5, Matthew 5: The Sermon on the Mount
Day 6, Matthew 6: The Sermon on the Mount
Day 7, Luke 15: Parables of Jesus
Day 8, John 3: A conversation with Jesus
Day 9, John 14: Jesus' final instructions
Day 10, John 17: Jesus' prayer for his disciples
Day 11, Matthew 26: Betrayal and arrest
Day 12, Matthew 27: Jesus' execution on a cross
Day 13, John 20: Resurrection
Day 14, Luke 24: Jesus' appearance after resurrection

I encourage you to join me in this short journey to knowing Jesus and his teachings.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why Churches F-A-I-L

Photo of an abandoned church building in Europe
It is common knowledge that the Church in the West is going through a decline. Church attendance have fallen. The number of active members have also declined. In a recent study of the spiritual health of churches, the REVEAL survey of more than 1000 churches shows that even for churches that show numerical growth, there is a worrying lack of spiritual growth. Willow Creek Community Church is one example, where they measure erroneously "Church Activity = Spiritual Growth." Greg Hawkins, who analyzes the data, confesses:
"Once we got over ourselves and let the data do the talking, we learned three shocking facts about our congregation: (1) Increased participation in church activities by themselves barely moved our people to love God and others more; (2) We had a lot of dissatisfied people; (3) We had a lot of people so dissatisfied that they were ready to leave." (Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Move, Zondervan, 2011, 17)
One of the key movements toward spiritual growth comes from a sense of ownership. In other words, ownership essentially means:

"I don't go to church. I am the church." (229)

I believe the lack of ownership and the detachment from ourselves being church is the key reason why churches fail. Let me further expand on this by using the FAIL acronym to talk about the lack of ownership. The first three, Fear, Apathy, and Indifference is inspired from Brad House's new book on Community. The last one is my own contribution.

A) Fear

The opposite of faith is fear. It is precisely the presence of fear that results in the absence of faith. If one has faith, one will not be afraid to venture to the unknown. If one is fearful, one prefers to stick to the known paths, do the predictable, and takes no risks. When doing church becomes one that demonstrates no faith, it is certainly one that has succumbed to fear.

  • What if the people do not come? (Fear of non-attendance)
  • What if the people do not like the worship? (Fear of not becoming good enough people pleasers)
  • If I do not go to church, what will people say? (Fear of not meeting expectations)
The signs of a fear-driven mentality are everywhere. Children fear the parents will be angry if they do not follow them to church. Youths fear parental disapproval if they do not conform to their parents' wishes. Leaders fear about their members' spiritual health when they do not see them coming to church. When church becomes a matter of attending Sunday services or participating in church programs, it makes church-going a chore, rather than a pleasure. When there is no sense of ownership, people tend to become people pleasers or simply toeing the line of tolerance. Without conviction, they let fear take the steering wheel from faith. Indeed, fear is like a long shadow casts by something very small. Fear amplifies the improbable, shrinks the able, and makes the possible impossible. 

B) Apathy

Brad House calls apathy as the 'passive sin of omission,' a 'silent killer of passion,' and an 'antithesis to the gospel'. 
"Apathy is indifference to sin and its destruction in our lives and in the lives of others. It is an unholy contentment with the status quo. You might say apathy is the intentional closing of our eyes to the carnage on the battlefield." (Brad House, Community, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011, p201)  
Recently, the world is shocked by the apathetic behaviour of several pedestrians who deliberately choose to ignore a little child bleeding by the roadside after the child was hit by a truck. For nearly 10 minutes, people pass by nonchalantly past the little toddler bathed, in a sea of red. It takes a garbage collector to finally call for help. [see video but be warned. It is very graphic and shocking.]

This kind of apathetic behaviour can be traced back to a 'rental-car mentality,' where people do not normally treat rental cars like their own. This is the same for churches. When there is a lack of ownership, there is a heavy dose of apathy.

C) Indifference

Indifference is quite related to apathy. Unlike apathy which is an indifference to sin, indifference is basically nonchalance about everything else. Indifference is a result of a lack of ownership, a lack of any sense of identity with the church, and no sense of belonging to the church. In fact, if apathy is bad, indifference can even be worse. If apathy is about a total disregard to what is wrong, indifference is a total disregard about apathy itself. That makes indifference a far more dangerous attitude. 

House traces the roots of indifference to serving Mammon. He writes:

"When we are more consumed with our stuff and our comfort than the advancement of the kingdom, we have chosen to keep our eyes closed." (House, Community, 203)
This is sad. If apathy is nonchalant about something, I suppose Indifference is nonchalant about everything, including apathy itself.

D) Laziness

Also known as sloth, this has been highlighted as one of the seven deadly sins. It can be practiced through using fear as an excuse not to do good works. It can be masqueraded as apathy. It can be channeled through indifference. Proverbs frequently warns us about sloth.

"Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor." (Proverbs 12:24)
"Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless man go hungry." (Proverbs 19:15) 
"A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man." (Proverbs 24:33-34)

The book of Hebrews show us that sloth is the antithesis of faith.
"We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised." (Heb 6:12)

Without a sense of ownership, people attend church so as to have their needs met, instead of becoming the church that God calls them to be. Without a sense of ownership, people substitute paranoia and fear instead of exercising a kind of faith that is pleasing to God. Without a sense of ownership, apathy and indifference rules. Without the responsibility of ownership, members sleep and slumber, and allow poverty to come upon them like a thief in the night.

The first step to any church recovery or revival is to identify the FAIL factors. Weed them out. Replace them with a deep sense of ownership. Leaders can continue to cast the vision of God for the whole church, to empower the rest to participate, instead of being mere spectators. Have lots of opportunities for members to give ideas and suggestions. Let me close with Brad House's words on ownership.

"Ownership inspires passion and leads to action. Yet, for the Christian ownership does not come from believing in a good idea but from faith in the good news. Our ability to own comes from the fact that we are owned by Christ. We inherit ownership from our Father. Thus, we don't need to manufacture ownership as much as we need to awaken the Church to the reality that this is our mission. We are agents of the king. It is already ours; we need only to exercise that ownership." (Brad House, Community, 71)

Yes. We need to be reminded. Again. Let us rise to take ownership of the church, for the glory of God.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The True Cost of an iPad

This video should make all of us in the first world sit up and take notice. If you know the true production cost of an iPad, will you still buy it? Watch this video and decide for yourself.

Apple wants us to 'think different.' Perhaps, we really should think differently about the real cost of 'low price' here in the West.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Glimpse of a Messed-Up World

A picture speaks a million words. Need I say more?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What Occupying Actually Accomplishes?

Today is October 15th, 2011. It is a day where the organizers and activists of "Occupy Wall Street" moves from New York City to the rest of the world. Called a 'Global Day of Action,' it is a call for all concerned individuals to physically occupy strategic financial districts in every major city to fight the top 1% of greedy and corrupt business people who are siphoning away most of the money. According to their website, the organization describes themselves as follows:

"Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants."
Noble intention. Impressive media attention. Inadequate comprehension. Problematic implementation.

These four sentiments sum up my thoughts about the Occupy Wall Street movement. As many cities watch nervously, with heavy police and media presence, individuals from the '99%' of the population are urged to gather at the heart of the financial districts. Vancouver is no exception. As one of the forerunners of free speech and democratic expression, Canadians in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Victoria, Halifax, Vancouver, etc, will be gathering to make known their frustrations with the world financial system. They claim that the reason why the world is in such a financial mess is due to the 'greed and corruption' of Wall Street, and those whose wealth are a result of the financial system of Wall Street. The solution is to 'occupy wall street' or its equivalent so as to make a statement that enough is enough. The 'top 1%' must stop their greed and corruption, for the sake of the 99% of the world population.

Bruce Wydick, in his article, "Prophets Against Profits? What Occupy Wall Street Misses - The problem doesn't lie with the 1%. It's with us."essentially argues that the movement misses the true mark. He takes the position that the problem is far more complex than the Occupy-Wall-Street movement suggests. More crucially, the main problem is the human condition. Wydick goes on to say that the movement is better 'at identifying something that is wrong than identifying a way forward that is right.' Good observation. He blames the 'lax' financial structures, and 'both' sides of the political powers. He blames the general culture of 'entitlement' that has led to the nation's current debt condition. He then makes a summary judgment that 'we are all to blame,' and we all need to 'repent.' He even says that Christians are not allowed to participate in events like these. Unfortunately, for his brilliant analysys, Bryce too commits the same fault at diagnosing something right, but prescribing a solution that lacks specifics. He writes:

"We must turn away from this spirit of entitlement toward an ethic of frugality, honesty, and transparency in our individual lives and in the design of our institutions. This is our country's best hope for creating a foundation for optimism about our collective economic future."
A) Noble Intention

The world is in great economic uncertainty. America is currently grappling with its domestic problems, thanks to the subprime lending crisis and financial bailouts of large corporations with public money. It is indeed correct for the general man in the street to be angry, and to ask what happened to all the money. It has not translated into more jobs. Neither has it led to an improvement in market conditions. Instead, layoffs are rising. Businesses are not hiring as much. With mounting bills, people are struggling to make ends meet, while the rich and the powerful continue to live lavishly. The system is broken. The top 1% is perceived to be nonchalant about the rest of the 99%. By exercising their right to democratic expression, the organizers are indeed credited with starting a movement to make their voices heard. After all, is there any other avenue for them to do so? Will CEOs grant interviews to non-profits or those who claim to speak for the poor? Will the rich take notice of the lower echelons of society?

B) Impressive Media Attention

One of the main objectives of the Occupy Wall Street movement is to gain maximum publicity for their 'plight.' News media all over the world are giving lots of attention to the public protests. Of course, sensational events like pockets of violence and other 'news-worthy' incidents are given relatively greater prominence. In some countries like Singapore, the presence of media and plainclothes policeman, is enough to quell any gathering of people. Together with police warnings about illegal public gatherings and the general sense of fear in a country known for its draconian laws, the movement dies even before it starts. That said, the occupy financial districts have been mostly peaceful in many other cities in the developed world. Lots of noise, that even key political leaders have taken notice. Of course, for political correctness, most of the politicians and public figures have voiced some level of 'support' for the 99%.

C) Inadequate Comprehension

I agree with Bryce that the financial system in the world is far more complex than perceived. One thing leads to another. Credit is both a boon and a bane. For something that has grown unwieldy over the decades, it is impossible to find a silver bullet that can resolve all the issues. If it is so easy, Obama and all the top economists of the world will have already resolved it. For that, I feel that the OWS movement tends to harp on a simple idea that is not actually the solution to the problem. Worse, it presents a kind of picture that uses a wrong tool to solve the wrong problem. Inadequate comprehension may even lead to erroneous expectations among the general public. If one is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. This is unfortunately true of OWS.

D) Problematic Implementation

Mass movements exhibit two key characteristics: loud voices and sensational speeches. In speaking to large crowds, loudness is a virtue. Loudhailers and booming speakers fill the airwaves. In order to win public sympathy, quiet reasoning succumbs to loud shouting. The voice of rationale is subdued by the rhetoric of emotional outbursts. Not only that, anger and physical violence hang delicately on a short fuse. This is why police frequently have to assure shop owners in the downtown districts of protection. Whenever there is a mass gathering, the mob mentality is never far away. It is like pouring gasoline peacefully on the streets, and warning the police not to ignite any spark. When loudness of speech becomes the main primary staple of the movement, the voice of reason takes a secondary position.

In summary, I am sympathetic to the concerns of the OWS movement. I am also angry at the helplessness of the public against the current financial system. That said, the system is the best that we have at the moment. There is no quick fix. There is not enough time for anyone to re-invent something within a short span of time. It needs concerted effort from all to be honest in their dealings, to live sacrificially, to be concerned for one another, their neighbours etc. There is no magic bullet. In order to communicate the need to be more urgent about the problems in the economy, we need to unturn every stone, starting with our own. Acknowledge that by ourselves, we are helpless. We need one another to work toward common goals. We need to be faithful in our work, and at the same time, be actively involved in our respective communities. There are pockets of poor and vulnerable in every corner of society. We do not need to look far. Just open our eyes to see our neighbourhood. Volunteer yourselves in the community. Give. For Christians, pray hard and also work sacrificially. Do not wait for OWS or any of its variants become the be-all and catch-all in our civic awareness. There is something more than the 1% accused of greed and corruption. Ask ourselves honestly. What if we are the so-called 1%?

Christ did not come to die only for 1% or the 99%. He died for 100% of the world. It takes 100% of us, 100% of our efforts to reach 100% of the world. The task is monumental. Nearly impossible. Yet, unless we start somewhere, we will be farther and farther away from that ideal state of completion. Occupying Wall Street etc, if it is only a temporary drumming up of emotional and street appeal will not go far, if hearts are not moved.  Rhetoric and boisterous speeches can only achieve a little. Eventually, we will all need to work with the respective powers and authorities to try to make things work. One more thing. The power of the people need not be spent just on rallies and movements like OWS. There is the ballot box for choosing the next political leader. There is the power of not buying the service or product of the corporations accused of greed and corporations. If any of us are so convicted about the financial systems and its players, we can choose not to support them. When we vote with our wallets, or the ballot box, that is perhaps the surest way to send a strong message.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How To Focus in an Age of Distraction?

This is a wonderful picture of the challenges and the possible ways to fight distractions.


Perhaps, the picture itself is highly distracting? You try.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: "Relational Leadership"

TITLE: Relational Leadership (Revised Edition): A Biblical Model for Influence and Service
AUTHOR: Walter C. Wright
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster Publishing, 2009.

This book is a comprehensive coverage of leadership. Grounded in biblical truth. Soaked in wisdom and experience. Practical in its applications. This is one of the best books on servant leadership. The main message in the book is that leadership is relational. Wright says about leadership which he learns from the book of Jude:
  • "It is grounded in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ and it finds expression in our relationships with one another." (xv)
  • “Leadership is a relationship between a leader and a follower - ideally, a relationship of shared vision, shared responsibility, and shared leadership.” (1)
  • "Leadership is for lovers of people, peacemakers, and keepers of commitment." (20)
  • “Who you are matters. What you believe and how that shapes your character does in fact make a difference to the people you lead. The relationships you build within your organizational setting deeply affect the way the organization’s mission is carried out and the daily experience of those with whom you work. People do care who you are. It makes a difference.” (2)
After making a case for the theology of servant leadership, Wright goes into how relational leadership influences vision, values, relationships, and accountability. In each of these 4 categories, Wright proposes very practical models. For vision setting, he lists out ten steps to vision setting and planning.

Visioning and planning - 10 steps (110)

  1. Who are we?
  2. What is important to us?
  3. Where in the world are we?
  4. Where do we want to be?
  5. What can we do?
  6. How should we do it?
  7. When will we do it?
  8. Who will do it?
  9. How are we doing?
  10. Is God pleased?
A relational leader also influences with values. Values that reflect character, conflict management with care, humility in addressing criticisms, and being able to understand the culture and to inculcate values in it.

A relational leader is one who influences with power to serve the people, purpose to move the organization closer to goals, and relationships to sustain a caring and intentional community. 

A relational leader influences the area of accountability as well. Wright gives precious gems on board management, leadership purposes, and strongly advocates accountability and vulnerability for servant leaders. Not to be forgotten is for the leader to remember accountability to God alone.

My Comments

At first look, this book may appear to be too heavy on pointers, models, and steps to becoming a better leader. The leadership models seem to be borrowed from leadership seminars and management courses. However, there is a difference. There is a strong biblical foundation, especially in Jude, Colossians, and Philemon. It is only when I do a second reading that I start to appreciate the easy to follow pointers. Wright seems to let experience guide his way, covering many of the nuances and challenges of real leadership in the world. For that, I think this book has gone through the baptism of experience and tested in the school of hard knocks. There are simply too many things to appreciate at any one time. This is why this book is both a reference as well as a leadership guide.

Read this book regularly to be reminded. Peruse this book as and when you need some guidance as a leader. Above all, may the lessons in the book drive us to seek out the Real Spiritual Leader: God.


Friday, October 07, 2011

Book Review: "Jaded"

TITLE: Jaded: Hope for Believers Who Have Given Up on Church But Not on God
AUTHOR: Angela J. Kiesling
PUBLISHER: Baker Books, 2004.

Tired? Burnt out? Feeling like wanting to quit Church? Meaningless Church going? These are questions that this book tries to address. In this honest to heart book, Kiesling writes about a state of 'divine discontent,' a 'weariness with institutional church,' desire for more spiritual connection rather than mundane church going, recovery from failed expectations from church, as well as a need for some spiritual renewal.

The main concern in the book is to recognize the presence of a 'divine discontent' in people, the many faces of 'spiritual fatigue,' and an openness to consider both revitalizing the old church, as well as to join new forms of church, like the open, the house, and the organic church. There is hope for BOTH kinds.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

What's Life After Jobs?

(Credit: Jonathan Mak from Hong Kong)
The talk of the town since yesterday has been the death of Steve Jobs, the iconic co-founder of Apple Computer. He was 56. Almost immediately, the names of Jobs and Apple easily top the list of searches, twitter, news media reports, and conversations worldwide. Such is the impact of Steve Jobs. Such is the influence of what he has done through Apple Computer. The symbols of his influence are everywhere. Apple products are seen at coffee shops where people are kept busy on their Macbook laptops. At the bus-stops, people listen to their iPods or iPhones. At airports and public squares, one can see people swiping their glass screens on their iPads. On the Internet, people change their profile pictures on their Facebook to reflect anything Apple. Websites like Google honour Jobs with a link to the Apple site. Of course, the company Jobs founded turn their home page into an official obituary.
For many Apple enthusiasts, they will feel like they have lost a lot more than simply a technological genius. They have lost a leader, a visionary, and a hero. Someone who enables one to 'think different.'

Personally, I am fascinated with the wide outpouring of emotions all over the world. Why is the world so captivated by one man? Even after Jobs retire a few months ago, the Internet was buzzing with commentaries and conversations about what life will be like without Steve Jobs. That day has come. Yesterday. Today marks a new day of a post-Steve Jobs era.

Andy Crouch's reflections on culture and how Jobs has influenced the world bring home some poignant points to ponder. Crouch cautions the public about the 'health of the culture.' He reminds us that technology is not the domain of any one person, but a community. He reminds us that Apple succeeds within a backdrop of multiple failures in the engines of the world.

Personally, I believe Apple the company, and Steve Jobs the person, and all those great inventions form a kind of escapism for many people. With all respect to Jobs and what he has done, the fault is not Jobs, but the nature of the world. I sense three fundamental needs in people. People need hope. People need fun. People need a sense of purpose. People cry, talk about, and are shocked simply because they seem to have lost a sense of all three. Instantly.

A) End of Three Hopes

Firstly, in Apple/Steven Jobs, people get a sense of hope when things coming out from the Cupertino outfit seems to do something better and better each time. It seems to be able to predict and meet the rising demands and expectations of people. Not only that, it often exceeds even the wildest expectations. Just think of the iPod and the iPad. They become bestsellers in their own categories dominating the market for portable MP3s, the Walkmans and many entry level laptops. People look to Apple/Jobs to give them a better hope with each product announcement. This is why the latest iPhone 4S launch (without Jobs) becomes a whimper due to the hyped up expectations of Apple offerings.

Secondly, people need fun. At the heart of every person, people are fun-loving. Even the most stoic facade do not replace the desire in people to be a child again. With great creativity, attractive designs, and ease of use that any child can operate, Apple products are insanely delightful to use, or to play with. If boring and laborious work can be injected with play and fun, it makes going through the work week a much better process. This is especially when the world is increasingly becoming paranoid over security matters, terrorism, and financial trouble. Apple/Jobs makes play relatively fun and safe.

Thirdly, people need a sense of purpose. As Apple/Jobs continue to come up with out-of-this-world innovations and creative products, people lap up whatever the computer company comes up with. Isn't it a cultic sense of escaping from the real world with the 'latest-and-greatest' gadgetry from the whiz boys? Apple/Jobs may have been a symbol of hope for many. Unfortunately, as Crouch rightly observes, Jobs's gospel is an empty one. He ends his reflection in a somber mood.

"Steve Jobs’s gospel is, in the end, a set of beautifully polished empty promises. But I look on my secular neighbors, millions of them, like sheep without a shepherd, who no longer believe in anything they cannot see, and I cannot help feeling compassion for them, and something like fear. When, not if, Steve Jobs departs the stage, will there be anyone left who can convince them to hope?" (Andy Crouch, A World Without Jobs)
B) Re-Entering the True Hope

Crouch's article was written a few months ago when Jobs stepped down due to poor health. He talks about his concern with the 'health of a culture.' Now with Jobs's death, does that imply a 'death' of a culture? No. Far from it. So what's life after Jobs?  I believe it is firstly a removal of the false cloak that we have unwittingly put in front of our faces. It is time to remove that cloak. Unveil our true selves. Secondly, admit that we need true hope. We need healthy perspectives. We need purpose. All of these, no human institution, no technological innovations, and no impressive idea can ever fill. For the emptiness of the human heart cannot be filled with things of this world. It can only be filled by someone that is not from this world. Finally, embrace the Hope of the world. Those of you who know Christ understands where I am coming from.

Perhaps, one of the best emotions that we can ever have is not to criticize or to become overly sad. We can give thanks for the many good years Apple/Jobs has given the world. With this, I agree with Andy Crouch's tribute in his latest article that demonstrates lots of grace. Just 2 words suffice: "Thank you." This is not only the most Christian thing to do, it is also most human.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

World's Strictest Parents - Singapore

I have heard this reality show running for a few years already. This particular episode is from the Australian edition show #5 on Singapore, and holds a few lessons for us to learn. Two Australian teenagers learns to see another perspective of life after their stint in Singapore life. While the clips do show a change in the teenagers' life, it is important to remember that things that happen in front of the camera, may not always reflect the reality without the camera. The episode was telecast on 19 Aug 2009 in Australia.

1) Part 1 of World's Strictest Parents (Singapore episode)

2) Part 2 of World's Strictest Parents (Singapore episode)


Monday, October 03, 2011

Ten Books to Recommend for Discipleship

Discipleship is a much talked about topic in Churches that are concerned about spiritual growth. My Church is in the midst of engaging in how to inculcate a discipleship culture within the Church. It is tough. One of the ways is through reading. If you are involved in any forms of discipleship activities, I like to help. For a start, here are some of the books that you may want to consider for your Church. I have listed them in degrees of difficulty, 1 being most readable and 10 as most challenging.

1) Basic Christianity (IVP Classics)
(John Stott)

2) Disciple: Getting Your Identity from Jesus (RE: Lit) (Bill Clem)

Based upon the need to become the image of God that we are called to be, Clem passionately argues for disciples to imitate Christ, and to see discipleship from the standpoint of Jesus. This is one of the best books on discipleship to be published this year.

3) Discipleship (Hodder Christian Books)

This is a classic work on discipleship that every Christian ought to have on his bookshelves. It calls one to imitate Christ, to deny oneself, to take up one's cross, and to follow Christ.

4) A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
(Eugene Peterson)

Going through the Song of Ascents, this is an insightful work that weaves in biblical truths in the midst of an American culture of consumerism, materialism, and hedonism. He is concerned about modern Christians who fail to pray the Psalms. the author shares two convictions as he writes this book. Firstly, practical discipleship is possible. Secondly, it is important to weave in Christian living with consistent Bible and prayerfulness.

5) Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ
(Greg Ogden)

This book is a guide for both individual study as well as group discussion. Comprising four basic parts, Part one deals with the personal spiritual disciplines that we are familiar with. Part Two deals with the important message that the disciple of Christ needs to hear, so that one knows the foundations in which to begin a path of deeper discipleship, and to build one's life on the Rock: Christ. Part Three details the practical ways and Part Four suggests some ways in which our discipleship can be transformed into external demonstration of Christlikeness.

6) Becoming a Healthy Disciple: Ten Traits of a Vital Christian
(Stephen Macchia)

This easy to follow guide speaks not just to new Christians but for all believers. As a followup to his very successful series on Becoming a Healthy Church, Macchia expands the characteristics to the art of disciplemaking. Macchia defines the healthy disciple as one who "is prayerful in all aspects of personal life and ministry and reliant upon God's power and the authority of his Word." (18)

7) Spiritual Discipleship: Principles of Following Christ for Every Believer
(J Oswald Sanders)

This classic by a man made famous by his work on Spiritual Leadership. In simple language, Sanders calls the disciple to put biblical principles into everyday life, not through the 'mechanics' of discipleship, but the incorporation of 'principles' into everyday living.

8) Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
(Donald S. Whitney)

Whitney ties in discipleship with the purpose of holiness. Whether in Bible study, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, fasting, solitude, silence, journaling, he integrates all of these spiritual disciplines with the one goal of being holy like God, for God is holy.

9) The Cost of Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Bonhoeffer does not mince his words in this breathtaking call to one to take up the cross, and follow Jesus. His famous words still lives after his passing: "When Christ calls a man, He bidst us come and die." This book is not for the faint-hearted, but from the deepest urge of a martyr, who practiced what he preached.

10) Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor
(David Augsburger)

I like this book for its sheer scholarship and depth in terms of weaving discipleship with God's greatest commandment to love God, neighbour and self. Discipleship is about the PRACTICE of this through Christ, in community, with obedience, in humility, with utter perseverance in peace-making, continued service, faithful witness, and subversive discipleship. This book may be heavy for some readers, but if one has the patience and time to go through it, it is certainly rewarding.



Latest Posts