Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Review: "Journaling as a Spiritual Practice"

TITLE: Journaling as a Spiritual Practice: Encountering God Through Attentive Writing
AUTHOR: Helen Cepero
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2008.

Write with a purpose toward knowing God and self. This is the key theme in this book. The author is a director for Spiritual Formation, and shares brilliant insights on how journaling can become a spiritual practice. She writes:
All spiritual disciplines and practices, including journaling, are about learning to be aware and awake, open to God, ourselves and the world around us. Journaling is meant to give clarity to your day and rest to your night, reminding you even when you are not writing in your journal that God is there with you, in and through it all.” (12)
The purpose:

“Our true goal is a deeper relationship with the God who longs to meet us at the heart of all that we were and are and hope to be. Attention to our own reality - our dreams and our wounds, our desires and our hopes, our friends and our enemies, our past, our present and our future - is not for its own sake, but to tune our hearts to hear God’s transforming Word for us.” (12)
Unlike general writing, spiritual journaling begins with God. When one writes, one writes by honing attentiveness on the presence of God, expressed through our writing.
Like all spiritual practices, it begins with the trust that God is active at the heart of our lives and the life of the world. It begins with our openness to trusting in the transforming power of Christ’s Spirit to lead us closer to our true selves and to God. As we regularly and intentionally pray in this way, we discover that ‘God is already present in the hidden depths of the present moment; it is just because we were skimming along across the surface of what is happening that we were unable to know and rest in that presence.’” (20)
About the Book
The author begins with an introduction of what journaling as a spiritual practice looks like, giving tips as to the timing, the place, the kinds of journal materials, and suggestions for overcoming the writer’s block.

In chapter 2, she urges us to just start writing.
Doubt, fear, faith struggles and feelings of insignificance can all cripple our journaling practice if they stay locked within us. But if we allow all of this to flow out of us and onto the page, we just might find our way through to a life lived with God, as well as a new sense of self-knowledge. If we wait until we can get our faith lives ‘right’ or make sure our motivations are unmixed or keep our minds and hearts clear, we will never begin a true spiritual practice at all. The journal is a starting place for dealing with all the faith struggles that are still going on, the doubts that linger and the fears that lurk. Saying them ‘aloud’ on the page helps us find the courage to continue, courage that is rooted not in our personal effort but in God’s eternal love for each of us.” (30)

In chapter 3, Cepero starts by noticing how God pays attention to us, and that we need to learn to exercise that attentiveness to God and to ourselves too. She points out 2 possible threats to our journaling experience. The first is the ‘censor’ that threatens to slice off part of our story. The second is the inner critic that undermines our writing.

Chapter 4 moves from noticing to honouring one’s story. One of the problems Christians face is the lack of self-esteem, that one is not significant. The author guides one to appreciate one’s name, as well as how God ‘named’ us. It is less of how we are searching for God, but a matter of how we are found by God.

Chapter 5 provides some writing guidelines to engage God via focus, free writing, mapping one’s life and context, recognize changes, and accepting invitations from God to approach Him.

Chapter 6 is a practical help regarding how our physical body conditions affect our writing.

Chapter 7 is a retrospective journey to our past where one learns to illuminate one’s past with thanksgiving, with naming our moments, with learning to let go or to hold on, and to discern God’s voice.

Prayer of Examen is a gentle summary: “Praying for light, looking back in thankfulness, praying into the heart of the day, and letting go and holding on.” (81)

Chapter 8 shows that journaling can also look forward. One can write up a to do list, and to reflect on the meaning and purpose of it. In learning to wait and hope, one plants the seeds of faith by believing that God will speak forward in due time. Just like the disciples who did not understand the word on their way to Emmaus. Until they met Jesus who explains the Scripture to them.

In chapter 9, readers learn to examine the present too. It can be used like a compass to know where is one now. Based on Jer 6:16, the author guides readers to look at South, East, West and North. South is ‘the direction of sunny exposure - the direction of creativity, imagination, spontaneity and play.’ (94)

East is ‘the direction of the dawn, the rising sun. It is the perspective of new beginnings.’ (95)
Ask yourself: What light is just beginning to appear on my horizon? What am I being asked to take hold in a new way? Where am I being called to embrace something? What areas in my life need change or transformation? As you look to the east, remember that beginnings are usually small and can seem almost insignificant.” (95)

West is the ‘direction of the setting sun’ on a perspective that indicates endings and letting go. (96)

North helps keep the other perspectives aligned, as a navigational north star. This is the guiding light, representing the ‘stabilizing forces’ showing us where we are and where we ought to go.

She ends with the center that is at the middle of the compass, saying it is the human person in the center, us that moves with God. Through dialoging, embracing the Cross, seeing God in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary, one journeys the faith.

She ends with 6 fork-roads that require each journaler to maker a decision.
  1. Is journaling a distraction away from God or attentiveness toward God?
  2. “Is this a critic, or is this a mentor?”
  3. “Is this being rooted, or is this being stuck?”
  4. “Is this foolish or is this faith’s sake?”
  5. Is this a stumbling block or opportunity for growth?
  6. “Detour or home?”
My Comments

A book like this is rare. We have many books in the market that teach techniques, writing styles, overcoming writer's blocks and tools to aid writing. Yet, very rarely do we find books that uses journaling/writing as a spiritual practice. Cepero helps us by showing us how the simple act of writing and journaling can become a holy exercise of focusing our attention toward God. I like the gradual movement from life to paper, from paper to history, from history to future, and then back to the present. I appreciate the way Cepero uses the compass, asking us to begin with the South, East, the West and letting the North be the guiding light that brings everything together. Integrative spirituality is such an important part of spiritual discipline. I am glad Cepero has done this well. Very well.

There is a minor suggestion for improvement. Cepero will do well to expand her work to include the latest technological tools, like the Internet, blogging, social networking, on how one can use technology to facilitate journaling. Perhaps, the author can write a book: "Blogging as a Spiritual Practice?"

Indeed, journaling allows us to remember old histories with new insights, to learn to sense when to let go. It enables us to renew our future paths with fresh hope. It helps us appreciate our present with deep gratitude. If you are a writer, this book is strongly recommended. If you are a Christian writer, this book is a must read.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Who is Intolerant Now?

Last weekend, the largest Anglican Church in Canada moved from their decade old location at Nanton Avenue in Vancouver, BC. After taking care of a beautiful cathedral, investing hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours to maintain the place, and polishing the furniture prior to the handover, on Sunday September 25th, they left nearly everything behind. From a place they used to own, they rented another church for Sunday use. From an office within the Church, they rented an office that is off-site from the rented property. From having a permanent location, they now have to worship in a temporary place, completely under the gracious hospitality of their hosts.  This is St John's Vancouver Anglican Church @Oakridge, formerly known as St John's Shaughnessy Anglican Church @Nanton.

It is sad to see this believed Church of God having to move its massive numbers to another location. It is impossible for me to even imagine that any new congregation that gathers in their old place will be filled like before. More likely, the new Church occupying the old Shaughnessy premises will resemble a nice Church shell on the outside, but few people on the inside. Honestly, I do feel upset over the turn of events where majority does not rule. Even though SJV is a larger Church, the law has to stand. This is especially when the laws in Canada are increasingly more supportive homosexuality rights, in an environment that sees a rise in aggressiveness from the gay proponents. There is no level playing field. Regardless of what the law says, in practice, there is shifting playing field that favours the homosexual rights.

Straight vs Gay: Uneven Playing Field

Just think about it. Let me use 'straight' vs 'gay' terminology as an example. A 'straight' is someone who generally supports traditional marriage of one-man-one-woman, and does not support homosexuality teachings. A 'gay' is someone who supports same sex marriages and same sex rights as any marital couple. Suppose a 'gay' is to openly disagree with a 'straight,' the argument will be deemed an exercise of 'freedom of speech.' Suppose a 'straight' is to disagree openly with a 'gay,' the argument will be deemed 'homophobic.'

Why is it 'freedom of speech' when gays disagree, and 'homophobic' when straights disagree? Is that then a level playing field?  I am beginning to wonder who is more intolerant? I am also beginning to see that there are more similarities than differences in terms of human nature. Different in expressions. Similar in human nature. Different in arguments. Similar in sinfulness.

Just take one example. Recently, it was reported that one Cisco employee was fired from his job because of his personal beliefs that run counter to homosexual beliefs. According to the article, Frank Turek was fired when a gay manager did research about Turek online, and upon seeing that Turek is a passionate believer of traditional marriage and family values, complained to Human Resources. In

I was fired as a vendor by Cisco for my conservative beliefs about sex and marriage even though my beliefs were never expressed on the job,” said Turek, a periodic columnist for the conservative paper Townhall. (quoted from article here)
Heterophobia on the Rise?

If that is true, I think we have seen a change of tide. Homophobic behaviour is no longer the issue. Hetero-phobic is rearing its ugly head. Any demonstration for traditional values will be met by a DOUBLY more aggressive opposite force. Any disagreement by straights will likely be countered by a trigger happy press. It is no longer a level playing field. Activists for homosexual rights are up in arms to bring homosexual laws to include other cities. Take the Burnaby School Board for example. They have recently approved an anti-homophobia law in schools. While it tries to prevent a recurrence of a sad case when a gay boy was killed by some gay-haters back in 2001, it is opening a can of worms for the future.

What if such a law fuels a hate for people who disagree with homosexual laws? What if it suppresses free speech by straights? How do the authorities distinguish between free speech expression and hate? The policy only muddles it even more. Those who cry 'intolerant' are themselves practitioners of the very intolerance they are seeking to prevent. Another scenario is this. What about a straight person being killed by a group of gay men? Will the same Burnaby School Board approve an "anti-anti-homophobia" law? Using the same argument from BSB about preventing the next person from being killed or bullied, may I remind them that they are to stand up for ALL persons, not just highlighting the rights of one group, namely the homosexuals. They represent ALL parties. Unfortunately, their behaviour makes me suspect they are not.

Tolerance Must Operate Both Ways

Through the years, the conservative camp has stood up actively against homosexuality, arguing for a return to traditional values. Along the way, mistakes have been committed. Hurtful words have been used. Misunderstandings arise when some passionate individuals make statements that are misguided. For that, I believe such people owe the homosexual community an apology. James Emery White in his very thoughtful 6-part series on homosexuality begins with exactly this stance. He admits there is 'irrational fear.' He affirms all people regardless of sexual orientation, that God loves them. He speaks to the homosexual public that because they matter to God, they also matter to the Church. In other words, there is more love that needs to be communicated by all parties rather than hateful speeches. It begins with God. It continues with acknowledging one another. It proceeds with listening well.

Whenever there is a fight, involved parties get hurt. Certain kinds of fights tend to inflict deeper wounds. The proverbs teach us:
"The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit." (Proverbs 15:4)
I think the homosexual camp are dangerously on the borderline of practicing 'deceitful tongue' when they parade their rights over everybody's equal rights. Some has already spilled over, like the Cisco example.

May there be more conversation and understanding among all parties. This requires tolerance from all. It will be tragic if people focus more on asserting their rights, rather than living out responsibly in their respective communities. Those who believe that homosexuals have rights, ought to equally believe that those who disagree also have their rights. Any progress in any community building will come only when people starts to work on their responsibilities instead of picketing for rights and more rights.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tale of 2 Churches

(Affiliated to ANiC)
(affiliated to liberal ACC)
This coming Sunday will be the first Sunday service for one of the largest and well known Churches in Vancouver. The former congregation and parish of St John's Shaughnessy Anglican Church will vacate their old premises at Nanton Road, and rename themselves as "St Johns Vancouver." They will be having their first official service on the 25th September 2011 at 5350 Baillie Street a couple of blocks farther down South. They will be renting the existing building owned by Oakridge Adventist Church. Here is what I know.

  • St John's Vancouver Church is an Anglican Church affiliated with wider global Anglican community. They have officially aligned themselves with the Anglican Network in Canada, an evangelical arm. They have terminated their links from the more liberal Anglican Church of Canada (ACC). After a bitter legal battle, the courts have awarded the Shaughnessy building and its properties to the liberal Canadian Anglican diocese. The name 'Shaughnessy' cannot be used by the congregation that has left the ACC.
  • The Oakridge Church location is a temporary one, deemed a transition step while the Church continues to search for a more permanent location.
  • Both SJV and ACC are still negotiating over certain properties in the old Shaughnessy building.
  • ACC will have a new clergy and new parish beginning 25 Sep 2011.
  • Oakridge Adventist Church has their services all day on Saturdays. Thus SJV is able to use the same building for all Sundays. Thus there is no scheduling conflict for both churches.
This is a historic case. Even though the law courts have ruled against SJV in their judgments, it seems that SJV has taken the whole situation in grace. Weeks before their move, the leaders at SJV invited volunteers and Church members to clean up the whole Church prior to handover. The main intention is to be Christlike, regardless of the underlying emotions over the bitter lawsuits. Members arrived in droves. They offered their time and resources to clean up the Church that they have worshiped in, some for decades. They wanted to leave the Church in clean, spanking condition for the incoming parish. At the same time, members write personal messages of love and kindness, wishing whoever that comes into that place God's blessings. It was all done tastefully. That's class. SJV showed us that even though parties disagree on major points, they can still demonstrate graciousness.

This Sunday will be an emotional one. Members and friends will flock to the Baillie street locations. I am not sure how many people will be at the old Shaughnessy location. Safe to say, the old St John's Shaughnessy is no more. It remains to be seen how the new parish is going to run the Church. Just from the looks of the websites, I think SJV without a permanent home is more ready and more prepared. At SJV's site, there are loads of information giving everybody clear instructions on what the Church stands for, the history of the legal cases, the details of ministries, the directions to the Church, explanations from the clergymen, and so on. It still has a page that allows Church members to post well wishes to the new congregation at the Nanton location!

The same cannot be said for the incoming church. If you swing over to their website, there is only one splash page. It simply shows a colourful building, the minister's name for that day, and the times of services. It makes me wonder if this is a glimpse of what is to come. SJV is a Church without a building, but with huge numbers of members and friends. Shaughnessy Church has a beautiful building but we don't know how many people will turn up. SJV may have lost the legal battle. They have lost their beloved building and property. Yet, the people remained. It is a classic reminder that the Church is made of people, not stones. It reminds me of the song:

We are gathered as the body of our Lord

And we worship Him in one accord

For He does not dwell in buildings made of stone

He dwells within the hearts of men alone…

In a moving message to the SJV people, Rev David Short writes:

"As a congregation, we too are facing a time of change. After a 10 year process of participation with others around the world, seeking to repair the torn fabric of the Anglican communion, our appeal has been dismissed. As we believe it is more important to submit to the authority of God in his word than the institutional authority of a wayward Church, it means we will have to move from our current buildings. Nothing has changed in our commitments, what has changed is our structural alignment and now our physical location. 
This brings grief and relief. Grief at the Canadian church which is walking away from the Anglican Communion; grief at losing these wonderful buildings, with all our memories and hopes for them. And relief at moving from the posture of contending for the faith, to one of proclaiming, rejoicing and growing in that faith. We move forward in unity with many in Vancouver and around the world who confess Jesus Christ as Lord."
Well said. May the Lord lead and guide the people of SJV, to go forth in faithfulness, to grow forth in faith, and to be the light of the world wherever they may be. May all of us count all things but loss, compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.

The late John Stott once said, "Greatness in the kingdom of God is measured in terms of obedience."  May we all learn to obey, regardless of the cost.

Pray for SJV.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Strike More and We'll be All Out

Photo Credit:
One of the curious observations when living in Canada is frequent number of job actions ordered by the various workers' unions across different industries. This week, unless an agreement is made between Air Canada and their workers, employees will form the picket line. Currently, both parties are locked in frantic talks. Strikes are not limited to airlines. Earlier this week, workers of the train company Rocky Mountaineer also went on strike. There was a postal workers strike few months ago, and there is also an ongoing teachers strike. Any observer of the various strike actions is bound to conclude that Canada is a strike-loving society. The terms of dispute almost always revolve around money. Both unions as well as the management are claiming higher ground on the basis of the good of customers, or society at large. Yet the fact is, any strike action inconveniences the general public. What makes it most irritating is that the public seems to be helpless in all of these. Air travelers with Air Canada are penalized through no fault of their own. The same can be said for residents reliant on postal services, or the transportation needs.

I think Canada is a country of plenty. It is much blessed in so many ways. It boasts a quality of life that many other countries around the world can only dream about. The recent financial crisis worldwide has left Canada with a reputation of being the country in the West with the strongest banking system. Yet, we cannot take it for granted. When good times are rolling, we can all assert our rights to be fairly treated. When times are bad, we all learn to play our part in society, to tighten our belts across the board. While I am sympathetic to the calls of the union, for fighting for their employees, I am also aware that management views the bigger picture much better, by virtue of the position and influence they have. That is the way organizations are run. Management tries to balance all the competing demands as fairly and as broadly as possible. Workers try to make their voices heard as loud as possible. If there is no agreement, the alternative is to compromise, both ways.

In Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, we learn about the foundation of wealth in terms of the value of money. Like it or not, the true worth of any nation's currency lies in the political stability, the strength of the government, and the future of the economy. If one continues to whack at the foundation of any country, especially the government, when the government loses credibility, so does the value of money. After all, all currencies are guaranteed by the national bank which represents the government's financial arm. If government credibility deteriorates, and the currency depreciates, what good will it be for additional amounts of cash?

For any job action, there is a management reaction. This causes customer frustrations and may trigger government intervention. One thing easily leads to another. The fragile economy is stalled. Foreign investors shun coming to Canada. In the event, workers lose jobs. Government loses tax dollars. The people loses social benefits. Everybody loses. Will this situation ever occur? Yes. If everybody starts to go on strike, then it will be tough. My view is that during challenging times, it is more important to exercise our responsibility, than to assert our rights.

Perhaps, the way forward is to learn the 3 golden rules of relationships between management and their workers. It is 'communicate, communicate, and communicate.' Never issue ultimatums. It will only make it more difficult for a proper resolution. For that reason, any job action or strike is due to the fault of BOTH parties. Unfortunately, the rising number of strikes that are occurring in the country only means that despite the rise in communications options technologically, people are still more disconnected than ever.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: "Doing Virtuous Business"

TITLE: Doing Virtuous Business: The Remarkable Success of Spiritual Enterprise

AUTHOR: Theodore Roosevelt Malloch
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2008.

Spiritual capital is not only profitable in the long run, it is vital for the survival of any organization. In this book, the author makes a strong case for a kind of business culture that is more than mere profit-making or stockholder-pleasing. At the core of the book's argument is that the goal of business is to bring about both material prosperity as well as a flourishing of the human quality of life. Strongly in favour of capitalism over socialism, what is needed is not to discard capitalistic ideas too quickly, but to cement it with a strong layer of social and spiritual capital. In fact, spiritual capital or enterprise is the way to bring out the best of capitalism.

About the Book
This book is filled with lots of stories from the business world, coupled with multiple descriptions of virtues, philosophy of life, and the meaning of spiritual capital. Spiritual capital is "the bold idea that the creation of wealth by virtuous means is the most important thing we can do for ourselves and others, for our society, and for the world at large." (5)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What Happened to "For Better or For Worse?"

Pat Robertson recently gave an interview that makes me think he is getting more and more off the mark. In a program taped for viewers of the 700 Club show, he says:

"That is a terribly hard thing," Robertson said. "I hate Alzheimer's. It is one of the most awful things because here is a loved one—this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years. And suddenly that person is gone. They're gone. They are gone. So, what he says basically is correct. But I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something he should divorce her and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her."
In doing so, he is making a mockery of the marriage vow. He has added "Alzheimer's" as another reason for divorce. This is totally unacceptable from a Christian standpoint. How can a teacher of the Bible advocate such things? Alzheimer's is already a terrible disease. Robertson's teaching on it is even more terrible. Didn't married couples say to each other, "For better or for worse, in sickness and in health? . . . till death do us part?"

In contrast, there is another couple that I have to mention. It is the former President of Columbia International University, Robertson McQuilkin, who quit his high profile job to take care of his wife full-time, after learning that his beloved soulmate has Alzheimer's. You can read about it in my review here.

McQuilkin himself has personally understood how terrible Alzheimer's is. Instead of putting his work and responsibilities before his wife, he set those aside, and put his wife as his sole priority. He made a choice to follow through on his vow.  You can check out his powerful resignation speech here.

This is a tale of two 'Robertsons.' The former (Pat Robertson) advocates a divorce. The latter (Robertson McQuilkin) faithfully follows through for-better-or-for-worse. Which is the better testimony for Christ? It's a no brainer.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Keep Praying

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 16 Sep 2011

Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess 5:17)

Have you ever prayed but felt that God is slow in answering your prayers? Have you ever prayed for a loved one to come to Jesus, but to no avail? Have you ever fasted and interceded for someone in your family to get right with God, but nothing seems to be happening?

You are not alone. This is one of the biggest mysteries surrounding prayer. Does prayer work? Is prayer hallucination? For all the questions and all the uncertainties, all it takes is one clear answer, and like smoke evaporating into the sky, the doubts will clear up. In the meantime, we need to learn to pray. We need to cultivate holy waiting. We need to practice spiritual mindfulness that God will work according to His good time. One of the most intriguing verses in the Bible is the one on prayer, where Peter writes about the Lord’s patient work.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9)

I like to draw attention to three things in this passage. Firstly, it is not our time but God's time. The Scripture tells us that time is determined by the Lord. We can plan our ways, but it is the Lord who directs. We can structure our time schedules, but it is the Lord who decides. We can try to move things along, but it is the Lord who dictates. We can move bodies, but it is the Lord who moves hearts. The Lord moves by His Spirit. We need to move in step with the Spirit, primarily in prayer.

Secondly, what is slow to man is not slow to God. If we acknowledge that time is in God's hands, our definition of 'slowness' takes on a whole new meaning. Think about how our impatience has brought more trouble. Think about how foolish it is to overtake the car in front of us, only to be stopped at the next traffic junction a block away. Think about the frustrations inside us, when our version of fast, is not fast enough for our bosses. It is not slow or fast but timely that matters. A friend of mine said this to me many years ago that has stayed with me.

"God is seldom early, never late, but always on time."

Thirdly, God wants the maximum number of people to come to repentance. He does not pick and choose. He pleads and waits for people to choose him. Now, I am not talking about any doctrine of predestination which teaches about God pre-determining who will be saved or not saved. That doctrine can be dealt with at another time, and another place. What it means here is that God loved the world so much, that He gives ample opportunities, fairly, and openly to all to choose Him.

Let me close with a story.

Lee Strobel shares about one of his amazing experiences of the movement of God. One beautiful day, he was performing a baptism for one of his faithful members of the church. In the midst of baptizing a 60-year old woman, he saw a man seated next to her, about a number of years older. The man looked tough and hard.

Looking at the old woman, Strobel asked the formal question whether she wanted to be baptized. She said yes, joyfully. Brimming with joy, she said yes to receiving Jesus as her Lord and Saviour. She said yes to receiving Jesus with her whole heart. She said yes to following Jesus the rest of her life. All of a sudden, something moved Strobel to turn his eyes on the old man.

“Have you given your life to Jesus?”

Stunned with the sudden attention on him, the old man softened his stance. He paused a moment before bursting out, “No, I haven’t, but I want to right now.

Strobel later reflected on the experience, and found out that the old man is the brother of the a female church member. This member had been praying for nine years. Strobel thought to himself:

Nine years. … Here is a woman who is glad she didn’t stop praying in year eight.” (Lee Strobel, The Unexpected Adventure, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009, p149)

We all want results. We like control. Yet, spiritual work cannot be controlled by our own worldly plans or fleshly desires. Spiritual work needs to be done in God’s way according to God’s perfect timing. When we pray, we are participating in the spiritual work of God. When we pray, God tills the soil in the hearts of men. When we pray, God waters the seed of faith. When we pray, God fertilizes the growth of heart’s openness. When we pray, God enables trust to increase, and doubts to surrender to faith.

Never give up on others, for God never gives up on us. Keep praying.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Light Up the World

This amazing story is about how the simplest solution can solve one of the most pressing problems. In the Philippines, millions of people struggle with the lack of light inside the house. Even on a bright and sunny day, the inside of the houses tend to be dark. This is because many people do not have the latest electricity infrastructure, or money to buy batteries for modern lamps and electrical devices. Enters the 'solar water lamp' where a simple plastic bottle, water, bleach, and some creativity brings light into a world of darkness. Watch the video clip here and be impressed. Apparently, I understand that this idea has an MIT connection.

There is currently a project to light a million homes in the Philippines by 2012. For more, you read read here.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Excellent Movie: "Courageous" (Coming 30 Sep 2011)

On Monday, by invitation of Outreach Canada, my wife and I attended the pre-screening of the upcoming movie called, "Courageous." It was a private screening of the movie, intended for pastors and ministry leaders in various parts of Canada. The film is scheduled to be released on 30 Sep 2011 in North America. Thus, as a pre-release, I am limited by what I can share on this blog. The following is a snippet from the press release. [Watch trailer here.]

"Courageous, the fourth release from of Sherwood Pictures, the moviemaking ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, tells the story of four police officers who unite to be as courageous in their homes as they are on the streets. As they grapple with the issue of absentfatherhood and fatherlessness, they decide to turn their hearts toward God and to steer their families to a renewed commitment to Christ in the home." (Movie Press Release, 26-Aug-2011)
The basic conviction of the people behind the movie is the firm belief that fathers are critical to the functioning of a family. Any family.
"Today, fatherlessness in Canada is widespread and its effects are far reaching. Studies show that fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy and criminality. Even in homes where the father is present, he may be struggling with career, life’s purpose or marital issues. Dads are often busy and disconnected. The movie Courageous invites men to make a profound change for the sake of their families, collectively altering the future of our nation as men put into practice what fatherhood should be." (Press release, 26-Aug-2011)
My Thoughts

The movie is first rate, considering the fact that most of the people behind the show are essentially volunteers who could have made more money in Hollywood. Instead, they pour their own money, resources, and time to bring across a message. A message of hope. A message to wake up the world. Though this is a Christian-based film, there are so many practical and relevant messages for ALL families, not just Christian. In fact, I will suggest to everybody, that if the movie brings about a good turn in society at large, where families become more united, more responsible in society, and more active in promoting love and goodwill, why not?

Alex Kendrick and Ken Bevel play shining roles in terms of acting prowess and the professional manner they go about with their performances. I enjoy seeing how they bring to life the difficult emotions they experience. The central theme is fatherhood. Throughout the film, references are made to research that says more than 70% of the crimes committed in America are by those who come from broken families, and fatherless homes. By fatherless, it does not mean physical absence. It also means any kind of absence. Scene after scene, I find it hard to hold back my tears in the many touching scenes. Scenes of grief. Scenes of missed opportunities. Scenes of forgiveness. Scenes of resolution to make the best of whatever that's left. Scenes of standing up for the truth regardless of consequences. Scenes of integrity. Scenes of courage. The movie does such a good job that to me it brings to life essential elements of what commitment is. Commitment to the family, to work colleagues, to integrity, and for Christians, to God.

Scene from the movie: Courageous
I look at the current crop of movies in the market. The current hit, 'Contagion' feeds on fear and spreads fear. The rest works on the usual formula of violence, sex, superheroes, fantasy, while entertaining, do not drive home family values that one can take away. None of them is like 'courageous.'

As I was driving back home after the movie, I asked my wife if we should promote the movie in the Church. She gave me a resounding: YES! That alone is sufficient affirmation for me. Do yourself and your family a favour. Buy tickets for all. Better still, after watching it, let your heart lead you to be a better person, and for fathers, a doubly better father.

My opinion is that if you have money only for two tickets this year, let Courageous be one. The other is to buy a ticket to invite another father you know to watch it. If you are outside US/Canada, just keep a lookout for this movie. Make sure you bring along a box of Kleenex. For you, and also for the ones sitting around you.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


Monday, September 12, 2011

When Generosity Hurts

Giving is good. Giving is noble. Giving is taught in the Bible as being a better act than receiving. I am a proponent for giving, and I regularly encourage people to give as much as they can. When a certain country suffers a natural calamity like an earthquake or a nasty typhoon, it is common to see the media issuing calls for help, and for people to provide financial or food aid. The aims and results of generosity are in general very helpful. In fact, giving is often the chief way to show that we care for one another. We stand in solidarity with one another to live a better life.

Yet, there are situations when generosity hurts more than helps. It is when our giving and our generosity is based on erroneous thinking. A missionary couple in Haiti recently issued a plea to the American Church not to send peanut butter to Haiti. In a sermon, one American pastor for all his good intention, pledged his church to donate 28000 jars of peanut butter to Haiti. The logic is that the typical diet of Haitians shows a lack of protein, and peanut butter is a rich source of protein. Unfortunately, this good intention creates more problems. Generosity of this kind hurts more than helps.

Firstly, it hurts the peanut industry in Haiti. Peanuts are big sources of income for Haitian farmers. More than 66% of Haiti's employment is in the agricultural sector. Imagine what will happen if 28000 jars of peanut butter comes from the USA free for Haitians? What will happen to local peanut sales?

Secondly, it hurts the jobs. If the farmers cannot sell his produce to cover his costs, he cannot pay his workers. If workers are not paid, they have no income to pay for his bills. When unemployment rises, the dependence on foreign aid continues. This then causes a dependence on more donations.

Thirdly, it cuts away any incentive to develop the local resilience. What may be cheap to produce in the rich West may not be so for local economy. Any economy that has gone through a disastrous calamity will be extremely fragile. Giving may help in the short term. However, for the sake of Haiti, long-term considerations are key.

Proverbs teach us that:

"The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him." (Prov 18:17)

In giving, what we feel is right at the beginning, may be based on erroneous data or information. It is crucial that whenever a foreign party wants to help, ask before giving. Ask for help before attempting to help. Ask for advice. Ask for counsel from wise sources. Sources like missionaries who have been living in the country of concern. Ask for advice from people familiar with the economy, the political scene. Best of all, help through the people who the organization is familiar with.

p/s This reflection is inspired by Corrigan Clay's blog here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11 - 10 Years Later

Today is surreal. I preached today on suffering and pain. Yet, words cannot replace the pictures of courage, of hope, and of unforgettable moments shared together by many. Today, I stand in solidarity with my American friends, and the many nationalities around the world who are also victims, to say that I remember. Here are some very touching videos. Take a moment to watch them, be touched, and be determined to live a life that respects other lives, regardless of race, language, religion, culture,and all manner of differences. These are some of my favourite ones.

1) We Remember (very touching)

2) NFL Remembers (with rendition of the Stars and Stripes)

3) A very well made ABC documentary on the children of 9/11 (link)

To all victims and heroes of 9/11, may God enable all to heal, and to comfort. May we all never forget such horrors, and that they should never be repeated. Ever.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Latest Regent World Edition (Fall 2011)

This is the latest issue of Regent World with a focus on almost everybody's favourite topic: technology. I have a small contribution there.


Friday, September 09, 2011

A Touching Memorial Service - Lokomotiv Yaroslav

On Wednesday, the hockey world was devastated by one of the world's most horrific air crashes which virtually wiped out a top hocky league in Eastern Europe, the KHL. The plane was carrying 45 members of the team, Lokomotiv Yaroslav. Only two survived but are in critical condition. Thursday was supposed to be the opening match against their opponent, Dinamo Minsk. Instead of a hockey game, spectators turned up in droves. The entire team from Minsk turned up in full hockey gear. Every player who perished from their opposing team was represented by a large placade placed on the ice, complete with photo, names, and the colour of the team. As the choir sang, the people stood up in respectful silence and tears. Each Minsk player stood in front of the picture of a player who died, and paid respect. Afterward, each team slowly skated with a puck to put the puck into their own net in honour and remembrance of their dead comrades from the other team. The entire ceremony is touching. Watch it here.

If you want to watch the full 30 minutes ceremony, click here. It is never easy to hear about tragic news, especially this year. The hockey world has been rocked with several deaths recently. For all the passion and competitiveness in sports, it is important to remember that we are all humans in the first place. We hurt. We cry. We mourn and we will weep together. May God grant peace and comfort upon the families and loved ones.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Waking Up to the 4-14 Window Generation

This video is a wake up call for all of us. Reach this generation before we lose them to worldly influence.

This video is worth a look. Carve out 6 minutes of your schedule to just pray through it.


Friday, September 02, 2011

Upcoming Movie: "Courageous"

PRODUCED: Sherwood Pictures

From the makers of Fireproof movie, this latest offering is about a group of law enforcement officers who are vigilant at work, but face immense challenges at home. Their commitment to serve and to protect the public is not equally reflected at home. When tragedy strikes home, they discover what it means about fatherhood, brotherhood and faith.

There is a double meaning in the word 'courageous.' Firstly, it is of a courage outside, depicted by four police officers braving the dangers to protect and to uphold the law. It is the second meaning that the movie manifests its brilliance. Inner boldness to take up the responsibility of fatherhood, and to help cultivate boys to become real men of honour and courage. Unabashedly Christian, this movie aims to bring a refreshing injection of perspective on practical faith.

I have heard of this movie for a couple of months already. This is Sherwood's fourth picture, and there is a marked improvement of quality each time. I am looking forward to this movie. If you are a pastor, or a leader in your church or organization, maybe you can get a ticket for the pre-screening that is planned all over Canada. You can try here.

See the trailer here.


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