Saturday, November 26, 2011

Missing the People Forest

Title: Missing the People Forest
Date: 26 Nov 2011
Written by: Conrade Yap

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (Matt 9:10-11)

Missing the Forest for the Trees?
Matthew, the tax collector is in cloud 9. Feeling on top of the world, for once, he is accepted as a real person instead of being looked down. He has just struck a spiritual lottery: Dinner with Jesus! Not only that, it is the Rabbi, the Lord that everyone is talking about who has initiated the whole thing. It is an invitation too hard to refuse. It brings out a joy, and a generosity in him.

Wow! Dinner with Jesus. I’ve to invite all my tax friends to celebrate together!

A) Jesus’ Grace Promotes Open Generosity

So he gathers his friends. True joy is being able to share one’s happiness with people he knows and loves. He invites his tax collector friends to join in. He invites other ‘sinners’ to come. He displays a spirit of open generosity amid a climate of judgmental religiosity.

The guest of honor is Jesus. Let the party begin. Better than meeting top powerful kings and princes. Better than shaking hands with movie stars and pop singers. Better than crashing a party where everyone toes the same line or adopts a patronizing stance. After all, nice words are not necessarily true. Truthful words are not necessarily nice. The best thing is to be one’s true self, and to be accepted. Jesus’ big heart of grace makes it all possible.

B) The Pharisee’s Un-Grace Caps the Fizz of Joy

However, there is a problem. Like throwing a spanner into the works, the keepers of the law turn party poopers. Not wanting to disrupt the gathering, the watching Pharisees take the sly approach. They ask the disciples in an accusatory manner.
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

I wonder why the Pharisees didn’t disrupt the whole gathering like a religious policeman bashing through the door. Maybe they are afraid of rankling the ire of the tax collectors. Maybe they just want to be nice and to avoid an embarrassing confrontation with Jesus. Understandably, they have a bad track record for losing arguments with Jesus.

It is a known fact that tax collectors are despised in society then. After all, they make a living by charging an additional interest on top of everything else. Like collecting a few percent more on top of each person’s regular tax liability. Maybe for every $1, they charge $1.20. For every $99, they collect a few more dollars for themselves. It is not illegal. Just distasteful. After all, tax collectors are making the Roman Empire rich by taxing their fellow Jews. The normal thing is to shun such ‘traitors.’ Don’t eat with them. Don’t patronize them. Don’t play golf with them.

Why then is Jesus eating and drinking with these scums of society? This infuriates the Pharisees. Perhaps they are caught in the middle, like between a rock of the Law and a hard place of Jesus’ popularity. That is why they whisper. They speak softly, not to Jesus, but to his disciples. They want to play it safe. Their hardened hearts have blinded them to put principles before people, law before grace, and convictions before conversions. E. Stanley Jones speaks of such ‘negative’ people as follows.

They came all the way from Jerusalem to meet Him, and their life attitudes were so negative and faultfinding that all they saw was unwashed hands. They couldn’t see the greatest movement of redemption that had ever touched our planet – a movement that was cleansing the minds and souls and bodies of men. All they saw was a ritualistic infringement. Their eyes were open wide to the little and marginal and blind to the big.” (E. Stanley Jones)

C) Beware of Small Minds

Jones reminds us about the dangers of having a small mind. When we become fixated on the ‘I,’ we tend to miss the forest for the trees. When we are consumed with obeying laws, we tend to miss the spirit of the law. John Ortberg reminds us about missing the bigger picture.

I do not see how it would be possible to find a meaningful life in a meaningless universe. The only purpose that is worthy of life is something bigger than life itself.” (John Ortberg, Know Doubt, Zondervan, 2008, 33)

Beware of small minds that suffocate. Embrace a big heart and open mind to free ourselves from hypocrisy. Free ourselves from burdensome expectations that sees principles before people. Learn from Jesus, the man who comes to earth to save, but to punish. See Jesus’ considered and open response to the Pharisees secretive words.

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

Yes. Let those of us who are sick, not call others ‘sick.’ Let us instead call upon Jesus, the Doctor and the Healer. Often, when we try to prescribe Jesus for others, it is us who need Jesus more. Big hearted faith comes only after we meet Jesus. Like Matthew the tax collector.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Faith is Risk Taking

Eli Stanley Jones (1884-1973)
The great 20th Century Methodist missionary to India, E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973) is one of my favourite persons I love to quote from. When serving in India, he was one of the key Christian influences on Mahatma Gandhi. He worked with the lowest of the lowest, in particular the Dalits. He wrote with a conviction to wake up the sleepy church. He spoke with passion to rebuke the naysayers. He even influenced major figures like Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who went on to famously start the non-violent human rights movement.

Rebuking the Risk-Averse Believers

The article below is a particularly moving one, and speaks to the modern church that is fearful of taking risks. It rebukes the 'negative' spirit among many Christians, and exhorts all to adopt a 'positive' way to live. I learned that taking risks is not an option. It is a must if anyone of us wants to be a disciple. Maybe, 'must' is a strong word. Perhaps, at least, if any of us are NOT willing to take risks, let us then NOT deter, distract, or discourage others with our own risk-averse or negativity. Let us learn to focus on Christ, and take Him at His Word, His promise to be with us, especially when we take risks for gospel sake. Some of the precious gems I learned are:

  • We are our biggest prisoners.
  • The biggest mistake is the 'fear of making mistakes.'
  • Don't build our spiritual lives around negatives.
  • Don't be focused so much on the small things, that we miss out the big picture.
  • That we can often behave like the Pharisees, who sees 'criticisms' when Jesus sees 'conversions,' and who 'pick flaws' over 'followers.'

Below is a reproduction of Eli Stanley Jones's article printed on a newspaper in Texas. I have highlighted my favourite parts in bold blue. Take my word. The article is worth your time.

(Published: "The Evening Journal," 23 June 1954)
By: E. Stanley Jones

A dentist who was successful as a dentist – he filled cavities with positive remedies – was a failure as a moral being, for he said to himself: “I am a man who thinks all around a subject, but I never make up my mind and act.” Everything for him was 'sickfilled over by the pale cast of thought.' The thought never took legs and began to walk; It remained a thought. Many are so afraid of making a mistake that they don’t make anything else. They have so much tact that they have no contact.

'Any life truly lived is a risky business, and if one puts up too many fences against the risks, one ends in shutting out life itself. Many are prisoners of their own fears of making mistakes. There are many who are afraid to speak to others about Christ, for they are afraid of making mistakes. But the biggest mistake is not to do it. If a man doesn’t make mistakes, he doesn’t make anything else. The biggest mistake is the fear of making mistakes. It leaves on negative, and that is a mistake.

There are some who build their whole lives around negatives. Note: “Now the Pharisees gathered to meet him, with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem. They noticed that some of his disciples ate their food with common (that is unwashed) hands (Mark 7:1-2, Moffatt). They came all the way from Jerusalem to meet Him, and their life attitudes were so negative and faultfinding that all they saw was unwashed hands. They couldn’t see the greatest movement of redemption that had ever touched our planet – a movement that was cleansing the minds and souls and bodies of men. All they saw was a ritualistic infringement. Their eyes were open wide to the little and marginal and blind to the big. So history forgets them, the negative – forgets them except as a background for this impact of the positive Christ. They left a criticism; he left a conversion. They picked flaws, He picked followers.

There is only one way to live – the positive way. There is only one way to die – the negative way.

O Christ, I thank Thee for Thy awakening, stimulating impact upon my spirit. Thou dost produce life at every touch. Amen.

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I am not afraid to make mistakes, for I’m out to make something bigger than the “I's.”


Wow. When we are too focused on the I, me, myself, how pathetically small and limited our world is. When our eyes are focused on Christ, our world expands beyond ourselves. Faith is taking risks by living beyond ourselves, for Christ. We are not called to build a kingdom of 'I.' We are called to build and to be a part of the kingdom of God.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

World Wide WORLD

Nowadays, when one sees WWW, one thinks about the Internet, about online activity, about computers, about technology. It is the start of a web URL. It is the symbol of modern communications. It is virtual reality stealing away our desire for the real world by substituting the actual with the digital. A good friend of mine writes a regular technology column under that publishes reflections on technology and the real world. Her latest posting is a good reminder for those of us who spend a lot of time (or too much!) online at the expense of offline. Thanks Rosie for the tip. :)

While this is an ad for a carmaker, the message reminds us how important it is to take time to get up from our chairs, get out of our rooms, and to get into the real world. I like the way the video begins:

"People don't make a list of websites they want to see before they die." True. Very true.

Another great quote is that the Internet will still be ok without us. Next time, whenever you see "www," think not only of the world-wide-web, think of the "World Wide WORLD."


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Three Parodies on Worship, Church service, and Prosperity Gospel

Parodies are used to mock or provide a cynical look at things that seem to be more hype than reality. Even in Churches, sometimes we need to learn to laugh at ourselves but at the same time, be aware that we may easily fall into such temptations too. If we are not careful. Check out the following three parodies. The first is the sad state of wrongful worship that some churches and Christians are somewhat guilty of. The second reminds us about the temptation of focusing on man's needs to the extreme. The third is a familiar prosperity gospel clip. Laugh but do not laugh too hard. We may be caught doing it sometime.

1) On Wrong Worship (link).

[I want to acknowledge 'Against Nothingness' blog where I first got to know about this.]

2) On Making Worship Service Extra 'Relevant' (link)

3) Prosperity Gospel (link)


Friday, November 18, 2011

"What Would Jesus Tweet?"

This past week, someone mentioned Charles Sheldon's classic work, "In His Steps." It brings back memories of the What-Would-Jesus-Do (WWJD) movement. That book was published way back before the end of the 19th Century. Man! I wasn't even born yet!

As I ponder about it, I ask myself about what is the modern equivalent of WWJD? Immediately, I think about what will best symbolize social media. Snail mail is dead. Email is ancient. Cell messaging limits only 1-to-1. Probably, Twitter is most visible. I suppose the modern equivalent of WWJD in communications is: "What would Jesus tweet?"

This idea is nothing new. Twitter is the face of quick, short, cheap, and classy communication of choice. Within a limit of 140 characters, here are 16 possible things that Jesus would tweet. There can be more.
  1. "You shall have no other gods before Me."
  2. "I am coming soon. Are you prepared for me?"
  3. "I've missed you."
  4. "Be perfect, for I am perfect."
  5. "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
  6. "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men."
  7. "Whatever you have done for the least, you have done unto Me."
  8. "Whoever receives this child receives Me."
  9. "If you say You loved Me, why aren't you obeying what I say?"
  10. "I waited and waited and waited. But you never call."
  11. "Love God with all your heart, mind, and will."
  12. "Why didn't you let Me take care of your worries?"
  13. "My peace I give unto you. Yet you refuse. Why?"
  14. "Trust Me."
  15. "My child, I love you."
  16. "Follow Me."
Perhaps, you can be more creative than my list above. While you're at it, let me share this brilliant Youtube clip made by an extremely creative person about the Passover. It is basically a re-telling of the Exodus story. It uses the best of social media like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Skype, Wikipedia, and of course, Twitter. I'm sure some of you can come up with even more creative ideas. 

Have a great weekend.

p/s: If you want to follow me on Twitter, you can tweet me at

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Only One Thing is Needful

I shared this prayer with some people last week. Based on the feedback I have received, it has touched a raw nerve. It makes me suspect that there are more people out there who feel the same way. Taken from my review copy of Jesus Calling Devotional Bible (see my review here), the prayer is from a person named Wanda.

"All of life seems foggy lately. I think I can pinpoint the source of this fog: I feel disconnected from You, Jesus. There's no telling just how many days have gone by without a thought of You. I can't remember the last time I read my Bible or told someone about You either. But I'm here now, on my knees, needing You to lift the fog. I wish I could blame my current state on those around me. But I chose to shut You out. I chose to give up the habit of praying daily. I chose to hang out with people who don't know You, people who don't encourage my relationship with You. How do I find my way back? How can I erase the distance between us? Somewhere in my past I remember that You promised to never stop pursuing a relationship with me. Well, I'm taking You up on it. Please, Jesus, restore me to You and make us close again." (From: Jesus Calling Devotional Bible, Thomas-Nelson, 2011, p1582)
God Is the Prime Mover

What I like about this prayer is the deep confession of one's foggy faith, and an earnest hope to be renewed and restored. Most importantly, it is a recognition that it is God who is the Prime Mover. Whenever Christians feel down, one way is to attempt to dig out past treasures from our diaries of spiritual success stories. For some of us it may be our needed booster to bring us back. For others, it may be another attempt to kick-start our faith without guarantee that it will be sustained over the long haul. For anyone who wants to draw on our past histories or our present reserves, my advice is: "Don't." Whenever there is any 'Martha-like' activism that threatens to usurp the place of a 'Mary-like' needful spirituality, remember the Lord's words:

Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-39)
Only One Thing Is Needed

Perhaps, the confession of one's foggy faith is due to worry and being upset about many things. If one cares to ponder about it, often it is not the object of worry that is the problem. It is the worrying disposition that is the source of anxiety. This prayer puts a stake on the ground of faith, amid winds of  distraction, disappointment, and discouragement. It sets our hearts to acknowledge that by ourselves we are weak and helpless. With God's help, we can be strengthened, be helped that we too may help others. Alone, there is only so much faith we can garner.  With God, faith comes free-flowing, and it is the shape and volume of our ability to receive that is the limit. Depending on ourselves, we see more problems and doubts. Depending on God, we see more than solutions. We see an opportunity to exercise our faith. If anyone believes that becoming a Christian means more money or better health, or greater wealth, he/she is badly mistaken. That is a worldly and deadly quickfix tablet disguised as 'gospel.'

No. Only one thing is needful whenever we feel our life is foggy. Keep our eyes on Jesus. Let us focus on seeking out God to meet our legitimate needs. Let God focus our one thing. Let God help us address the source of our discouragement. Let God be our answer.

It Begins With Prayer

For Christians, we know that life is not a bed or roses. Believing in Jesus does not mean it any easier. Contrary to what some preachers assert, life can be harder. Ask the prophets like Jeremiah or Hosea. Ask the martyrs like Jim Elliot or John Wycliff. Ask anyone in the Third Word who have suffered for their faith.  Let me end with a prayer by the great Methodist missionary, E. Stanley Jones. It is a prayer that combines the best of one's earnest desire and one's honest acknowledgement of a need for God to help.

"O Christ, do not give me tasks equal to my powers,
but give me powers equal to my tasks,
for I want to be stretched by things too great for me.
I want to grow through the greatness of my tasks,
but I shall need your help for the growing." (E. Stanley Jones)

My readers, whatever the stage of your spiritual life or condition, the moment you stop, look up to God, and to ask Him for help, you are pointing in the direction of the kingdom of God. You will be empowered by the Spirit of God. You will be accompanied by Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Seeing our clouds of doubt lifted by the breeze of faith, we are ready to go and grow.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Secret Behind the classic song "Amazing Grace"

A dear brother in Christ sent me this video clip which really blows me away. Inside this clip, the black gospel singer, Wintley Phipps masterfully shows us the origins of the song and how it is connected to Negro spirituals.

Firstly, virtually all black spirituals can be composed and played by merely using the black keys on the piano. Take any negro spiritual and try it. Songs like: "I want Jesus to walk with me," "There is a balm in Gilead," "We Shall Overcome," and others.

Secondly, the words are written by John Newton, a white male, who prior to his conversion is a notorious slave owner.

Thirdly, upon his conversion to Christ, he pens his words to the song Amazing Grace. While the hymn is often credited to John Newton, the music is unknown.

It seems like this former slave trader's testimony goes much farther than writing the lyrics. The entire song uses a melody that is purely from using the black keys. Can it be an unknown black composer? Or is it John Newton who specifically asks someone to compose the music based strictly on Negro spirituals to indicate his whole-hearted acceptance of all persons? Maybe, he is the one who composed it. No one knew. Think about it. The lyrics (from the White man) connect with the music (from the black spiritual tradition) to become one united song. Isn't this an amazing song that comes across as a hymn for Christian unity? Great video here.

AMAZING GRACE by WINTLEY PHIPPS from texoki on GodTube.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Yet Another New Bible Translation: "The Voice"

There is an upcoming Bible translation coming to town soon. It is called THE VOICE.

Within the past decade, there has been a slew of English Bible translations. They are often promoted by a Christian book publisher or a group of translators with an agreed set of common theological persuasion. In 2001, the English Standard Version (ESV, Crossway) updates the Revised Standard Version. Eugene Peterson published his very popular paraphrase of the Bible called THE MESSAGE (NavPress) back in 2002. The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB, Lifeway) was published in 2004. The short-lived Today's New International Version (TNiV, Zondervan) was launched in 2005. A popular paraphrase, the New Living Translation (NLT, Tyndale) was updated in 2007. This year, Zondervan published an update to the ever popular NIV, called the NIV 2011.

The MSG and NLT are paraphrase translations in modern English, the ESV and HCSB are a little more literally translated. The NIV maintains a position somewhere along the middle. Of course there is also an audio versions of the Bible. One notable version is Max McLean's reading of the Bible which is available free online here. If you want a downloadable version, you will need to fork out about US$25. In my honest opinion, I think it is a worthy investment. Max McLean's reading of the Bible has made the Bible come fresh and vivid.

Brief Look at THE VOICE

This brings me to the main point of this blog discussion. Supported by Thomas-Nelson, the new translation tries to offer something extra: A Communicator's flavor, Presenting the Bible as story. I believe the Voice springs from a need to inculcate deeper and more insightful Bible reading. This new translation that comes with a new premise. According to the translators,

"The Voice is a dynamic equivalent translation that reads like a story with all of the truth and wisdom of God's Word. Through compelling narratives, poetry, and teaching it invites readers to enter into the whole story of God with their heart, soul, and mind. This bold new translation engages readers like no other Bible." (website)

You can download a sample pdf version (Book of John) here to get a feel of the translation. It consists of Bible scholars, pastors, as well as artists, musicians, and storytellers familiar with the art and science of communications. With the scholars, the integrity of the textual translations are assured. With the artists, the communications are sustained. Together, the new translation offers a vividly rich reading experience. This ancient-texts-modern-rendition idea takes a while before getting used to. For instance, check out John 1:1.

"Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking. The Voice was and is God." (John 1:1, The Voice)

It has changed the 'logos' into the voice. It has also added in conversational characters explicitly. For example, John 1:19-27 has clearly identified the characters in such a way that it can be easily used as a school or church play presentation. There is no red-lining to describe Jesus' words. Even Nicodemus's inner thoughts are inserted in for clarity. See John 7:51-52 below.

Nicodemus: Does our law condemn someone without first giving him a fair hearing and learning something about him?
Pharisees (ignoring Nicodemus’s legal point):
Are you from Galilee too? Look it up for yourself; no real prophet is supposed to come from Galilee.
My feelings are mixed (*) with regards to this latest translation for 3 reasons. First, I commend the translators' good intentions to encourage better Bible reading. Through its accessible language and style, understanding the story is easy. Second, I cannot but feel that the premise of increasing Bible readership through readability is somewhat flawed. If a person does not want to read the Bible, no matter how attractive the Bible is, he is not going to be persuaded to read. After all, there are paraphrases like the MSG, the NLT, the Amplified Bible and other paraphrases already. If those are not going to interest the prospective reader, I am not sure if the VOICE will help at all. Third, I am always wary of inserted things into the Scriptures. It makes one wonder if it is in the original texts or not. That said, the best way to approach this Bible is again to use it as a supplement rather than the main course. Use it for presentation at church plays. Use it as a way to encourage Bible listening. However, when it comes to serious study or reading, I recommend other versions.

One more thing. Having done a little Bible translation myself during Bible school, I cannot help but feel that the ones who benefit most from any new translations are the translators themselves. They go through the original texts again and to get fresh insights. A part of me seems to say: "Don't deprive the layperson of the privilege to dig through versions which are harder to read and to comprehend." Sometimes, the way many of us learn is not due to easier to use Bible tools, but a greater determination to go through the harder to understand sources. Again, that is my simply my humble opinion.

(*) Note that my opinions are based on my reading of the translated Book of John.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Persecution in Silence

Living in the West, it is so easy to talk about human rights. As champions of democracy and free speech, people are up in arms every time *ANYTHING* is said about discrimination or unfair treatment. Whether it is racial profiling, sex orientation, or treatment of the various age groups, the general public will speak out against any unjust treatment. While the general reactions are predictable, it can only happen when people know about it. If discrimination of undemocratic actions are not reported or under-reported, there will be silence. How can anyone do anything about things that they do not know? For example, the OccupyVancouver movement is part of a movement that has generated a lot of media publicity. When this happens, public eyes scrutinize the words and actions of the authorities, the police, and anyone who speaks about it. When I see the dedications of the protesters and the reactions from the public, on one hand, it is good for these people to stand up for their convictions. On the other hand, when compared to other more gross violations of human rights, it gives us a different perspective of life altogether. It is like complaining about not getting the right kind of mineral water when others have NO water at all.

Christian killed for his faith.
(Photo Credit:
When I read this news today about Somali women suffering in silence, I am really sad. These women have been persecuted by their own communities simply because they choose a different faith. For some of them, because they convert to Christianity, their husbands divorce them. Others suffer physical abuse and violence. Some lose all of their possessions including their children who were snatched away from them. The violence is also against men who become Christians. One story tells about a man whose fingers were chopped off when it was discovered he changed his faith. 

Our Deafening Silence and Selective Protests

I look at the fierce protesters outside the Vancouver Art Gallery vigorously protesting against the 'top 1%' who are profiting at the expense of the other 99%. I ask: "What do you have to say about these Somalian Christians who have lost everything simply because they embrace a different faith? Is that none of your concern?"

I look at the barrage of accusations against religious institutions, where people condemn sexual abuses, ecclesiastical authority, and the negativity toward institutions. I ask: "What about the crimes against believers or people who have a right to believe? Are you going to be silent and only speak up for atheists or secularists?"

I look at the readiness in the media to highlight the political scandals, the ethical problems in the West, where editors, commentators, and writers condemn with the full force of the pen the shortcomings of their own leaders. I ask: "Why are you so relatively quiet when it comes to persecutions of the weak and vulnerable in the other parts of the world?"

I think the accusations of hypocrisy ought to be pointed back at all of us. We are all guilty of being hypocrites at various ways. We are all guilty of overestimating our rights and underplaying our responsibilities. Reflecting on life in the West, I think we must be humble to acknowledge that the peace and lifestyle we have cannot be taken for granted. We need to learn to speak up not just for our own rights in our lands. We need to speak up for all. Christians, do not just speak up for Christians, speak up for all. Secularists, do not just speak up for your cause, speak up for all. Atheists, the same applies apply to all. Our common denominator is being human. Let us speak up for all humans. 

Those who condemn Christians for whatever version of faith they have must also be ready to fight for Christians who are persecuted. Those who criticize the Church as being a place of hypocrites need to look at themselves whether they too are hypocrites in their own lives. Those who speak up for the injustices in the West need to make sure that their fight is not limited to the West, but to other parts of the world. If we scream and shout for our rights to assemble in a public space, why are we silent when Christians in Somalia are deprived of their basic right to believe in a religion?

One of these ways is to publicize the atrocities and the injustice happening not just in our own lands, but in any part of the world. This blog post is one small way to do that. My challenge to anyone in the West, vigorous protesting about injustice in the West, maybe it is time to look at the bigger picture that the world is bigger than the West. There are bigger more pressing issues of poverty, persecution, and disgusting levels of inhumane acts. In other words, when you protest loudly for a small infringement, make sure you protest LOUDER for a large crime. Make your volume of protests fit the 'crime.' When one starts to see that the poverty in other lands is so much more pathetic, one starts to realize that the inconveniences we have in our affluent world are really nothing. 


Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance Day 2011

Today is 11 Nov 2011. At around 11.11am, countries observing remembrance day will be observing a minute's silence to remember the veterans of wars in the past as well as the present. I wrote on Facebook today:

It's Remembrance Day.
- Remembering the horrors and sorrows of war;
- Remembering the sacrifices of ordinary men and women
- Remembering that the peace we have is paid by the sacrifices of many
- Remembering we cannot take our world for granted;
- Remembering that peace is not gained by doing nothing. Peace is gained through regular dialogue (not monologues); being grateful for what we have (not bitter for what we don't have); and remembering the past meaningfully.

There is also no better way than to simply be quiet. Pray. Resolve within ourselves to be an agent of peace. Like a salmon swimming upstream, peacemaking is essential for peace. By not doing anything, we let the waters of nonchalance wash us downstream. We all can play our part. We can all make the future a more peaceful one for our children, our children's children, generations after generations. Remembrance is a first step.

Yapdates honour the Veterans of war, not just any one country, but all countries. After all, Christ died for all. Remember.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Why We Burn Out?

Burned out? Exhausted? Needing a break more and more often? Perhaps, these are signs that you really needed a Sabbatical, or a getaway. More so, it is a gentle prompting that true ministry begins with true receiving.

I am currently reading through a wonderful book on Spiritual Formation called "Deep-Rooted in Christ", by a Korean-American pastor called Joshua Choonmin Kang. Translated from Korean, it is a first book published in English by this prolific practitioner of Christian Spirituality. His chapter 'Let Yourself Be Filled' prompts today's meditation on what it means to be giving and receiving.

As Christians, we all like to talk up, even hype up the notion of giving as more important than receiving. Many well-meaning believers quote Acts 17:11 liberally.

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:35)
The book of Acts is narrated by Luke, the disciple of Christ. The person exhorting the audience is none other than Paul the Apostle, evangelist and martyr for Jesus. Giving is good. Giving is necessary. Giving is better than receiving. However, the question is where are we giving from? From whom are we being empowered to give? On what basis are we practicing true giving?

Easier said than done. After all, giving is never a natural inclination of human beings. Babies insist on grabbing milk bottles and crying out for attention all the time. Teenagers insist on their own versions of growing independence. Young people insists on their rights, sometimes overshadowing responsibilities. Even the elderly insist on their right to be treated fairly in a world that so easily cast them aside when they are no longer earning as much or contributing effectively as before. The stark fact of life is this: We can only give when we are filled. There is no giving without any receiving in the first place. Hear what Kang has to say:

"True ministry begins not with giving but with receiving. We need to be filled up before we have anything to give to others. John told us that 'God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him' (Colossians 1:19 NIV). We should be pleased to be channels for God's truth and grace. Many servants of God, acting out of good will, move too quickly into ministry. They focus on giving before they're been refilled and reenergized. They become exhausted before they know it." (Joshua Choonmin Kang, Deep-rooted in ChristDowners Grove, IL: IVP, 2007, p25)
Isn't this the reason why many of us in ministry burn out so easily? When we fail to receive well, we fail to give well. One of my professors at Regent-College constantly warns us:

"The quality of your output must be equaled or exceeded by the quality of your input."

True. Like charging up our batteries. When we give time for our electrical or electronics to be charged to its full capacity, we will be able to discharge our responsibilities more effectively. Just think of a laptop computer that is rated 8 hours of battery life when it is fully charged. If we are only charged up 50%, obviously we shut down when we approach the 4th hour mark.

One more thing. The discipline of receiving and waiting on God`s time also trains our patience with people. If we rush into ministry, we can also do the unhelpful thing of rushing people in order to fit our ministry. It ought to be the other way round. We wait upon the Lord for His filling. We receive His fullest grace and peace. We step confidently into the world, aware that we ourselves are nothing. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, filled with the joy of Jesus` promises, we are then able to point others to Christ for true filling of needs. If we rush into ministry, we are in danger of pointing others to ourselves and our own versions of what ministry is all about.

May our ministry be one that reflects an overflowing river of grace and peace from God, and not one that squeezes ourselves dry that makes us brittle and bitter over time. True giving must first come from true receiving. Not the other way round.

Why do we burn out so easily? It is because we rush into ministry before being filled. We fail to recognize that true giving comes from true receiving. Instead, we need to acknowledge that it is God`s filling and constant refilling of us that brings glory to Him, not to us.
Thought:  "There`s a lesson here for those who want to give away what they haven`t yet received. Let`s not be impatient or overeager. Let`s wait for our reservoirs to fill with grace." (Kang, p25)


Monday, November 07, 2011

Day 14, Luke 24: Jesus' appearance after resurrection

TITLE: Day 14, Luke 24: Jesus' appearance after resurrection
THEME: Burning Hearts

Jesus is risen. He says it. He fulfills it. He demonstrates His truth in life, in death, and in resurrection from the dead. The road to Emmaus is striking for three reasons.

Firstly, the two men are unnamed. Apparently, they seem to know all the events that have happened that day, talking about the past, and history. Yet, when Jesus walks up with them, they hardly recognized Jesus. Are they too fixated on the past that they fail to recognize the presence of Christ? Are they too caught up with history that they forget that history is constantly in the making? Are the two unnamed persons reflective of modern believers nowadays, who talk about Jesus but fail to live out the Truth of Jesus' resurrection?

Secondly, they are able to relate all the teachings of Jesus, from the prophetic teachings and deeds, right up to the arrest and the promise of Jesus' resurrection on the third day. Yet, where is their faith? Why are they so knowledgeable in their heads, but still fail to sense the presence of Jesus in their midst?

Thirdly, why are they so slow to respond?

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
What about us? Do our hearts burn with the truths of God's Word when we read it? Perhaps, it is not realistic to expect the Word of God to pop out at us every time we open the Word. After all, we are are creatures affected by the Fall. What about keeping the Word in our hearts so much that the Holy Spirit can burn the Word when the time is ripe? This is another strong case for Scripture memorization.

What I Learn: The man of God will meditate and keep God's Word in his heart.

I hope you have enjoyed the short 14-days journey through Jesus' life and his teachings. There is more.


Sunday, November 06, 2011

Day 13, John 20: Resurrection

TITLE: Day 13, John 20: Resurrection
THEME: The revelation of Jesus

This chapter is one of the most touching passages of Scripture. Instead of harbouring hatred or memories of what has happened to him, Jesus chooses to appear before his disciples. He appears everywhere not simply to boast about his rising from the dead, but to show compassion to the people he loves. It is interesting to read Jesus' first words to Mary, the disciples, and Thomas.

When Jesus appears before Mary, he calls out her name.

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). (John 20:26)

When Jesus appears to the disciples, and to Thomas, he calls out: "Peace be with you!" (v19, v21, v26).

Why is there a difference in the way Jesus relates to Mary and the disciples? For Mary, he calls her out by name. For the disciples, Jesus addresses the condition of their hearts first. Jesus knows that the disciples are probably shell-shocked over what had happened. After denying Christ, and running away, obviously, their hearts are heavy and troubled. Getting forgiveness will probably be the last thing on their minds. Jesus sees through the condition of their hearts. He knows what is most needful for them. Peace.

Looking at the at the very sensitive way Jesus reveals himself is a powerful reminder of how much Jesus understands our human condition.

What I Learned: If we want to grow in intimacy with God, do not just do things for God. Desire to be present with God.


Saturday, November 05, 2011

Day 12, Matthew 27: Jesus' execution on a cross

TITLE: Day 12, Matthew 27: Jesus' execution on a cross
THEME: Scandalous Exchange

In theory, we know that every kind of punishment ought to fit the nature of the crime. If the punishment is overly heavy-handed, it is not justice but bullying. If the punishment is not strong enough, it fails to act as a deterrent for future crimes of similar nature. Thus, in any law system, it is critical that the punishment fits the size of the crime.

Yet, in practice, things are often not fair. Innocent people are imprisoned. Crimes committed go unsolved. Victims are ignored. The guilty goes free. The state of injustice seems to be more prevalent than scenes of justice. Sometimes, I feel that for every piece of media information about justice being done, lies many more that is not only reported, but a lack of justice. If we think about it, if the media is controlled by the rich and powerful, and if the media can only be sustained by the resources of the rich and powerful, is it not natural to expect that the media, no matter how well-intentioned, will highlight matters that benefit the rich and powerful more? Is there anyone or any organization who will speak for those who cannot speak? Who fights for the hungry? Who speaks up for the marginalized?

Nobody speaks up for Jesus then. Pontius Pilate cynically absolves himself from responsibility. The chief priests and the elders prefer to convict an innocent man, and to release a criminal instead. The crowd lets their emotions get worked up by the accusers, and they ask for Jesus' death. Even the soldiers mock Jesus.

The only person who truly understands Jesus is God the Father. Yet, at that moment, Jesus felt alone. Utterly alone. Love can sometimes be very lonely.

What I Learned: Love is like a marathon. It may speed up during good times. It may slow down in bad times. Love is always moving. Moving toward loving regardless of circumstances.


Friday, November 04, 2011

Day 11, Matthew 26: Betrayal and arrest

TITLE: Day 11, Matthew 26: Betrayal and arrest
THEME: Nothing is Ever Wasted

It is one of the most amazing contrast of how people treat Jesus. At Bethany, one of the most beautiful things happened to Jesus. Mary Magdalene takes her most precious perfume in an alabaster jar, and pours it on Jesus. There is not a care in the world for Mary as she does that beautiful act. Even the disciples deem such an act wasteful when they say:

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” (Matt 26:8-9)

Sometimes, I feel that some of the people who justify non-action tends to be those who not only do not do good works, but counter good works. If anyone seeks to criticize, do it constructively not with words but with action.

Hot on the heels of the disciples' attitude is the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. Instead of Mary Magdalene's generous act of giving expensive perfume, Judas does exactly the opposite. He takes on a businessman approach to exact maximum benefit for betraying Jesus.

  • The price paid to Judas for betraying Jesus: Thirty silver coins.
  • The price of the perfume in the Alabaster Jar: Priceless.

As I read the rest of the chapter, I cannot help but feel sad that Mary Magdalene's beautiful act of sacrificial giving is the only encouraging thing amid the many unfortunate events. Judas makes a business out of turning Jesus in. He pretends Jesus does not know about his schemes. The disciples sleep it off, while Jesus pray in agony. Peter denies Christ, thrice.

The very people who fails to appreciate Mary Magdalene's beautiful giving, are the very people who hurt Jesus the most.

What I Learned: When we serve the Lord with anything or everything we have, nothing is ever wasted.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

Day 10, John 17: Jesus' prayer for his disciples

TITLE: Day 10, John 17: Jesus' prayer for his disciples
THEME: Blessed in order to Bless

Three prayers are significant here. Firstly, Jesus begins by praying for himself. He seeks God, and asks for help so that Jesus can glorify God. He is demonstrating that reliance on God. Jesus knows that if he tries to use his own strength, he is not being 100% human. We know that Jesus is divine, yet, when He is on earth, His primary focus is to be fully man, to point people to God, and to save the world.

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you." (John 17:1)

Secondly, Jesus prays for his disciples. He prays that God will protect and preserve all of them, for the sake of God's kingdom, and that the Scripture be fulfilled. He ends the prayer as follows:

"For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified." (John 17:19)
Thirdly, Jesus prays for ALL believers. The pattern is remarkably similar. Jesus asks for God's glory so that God's glory can be made manifest to all.
Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:25-26)
In all three prayers, the pattern is clear. Jesus asks to be blessed not to accumulate blessings for self, but to share and distribute the blessings to all, for the glory of God. When we serve, we learn to serve God out of a desire to make God's glory known. When we ask for blessings, our motive is to bless others. When we asks for God's gifts, we want to use the gifts to point people to God. in the ministry of God, there is no room for self-fulfilment or selfish accumulation of gifts. Everything is given by God, and is to be used for God's purpose.

What I Learned: The person of God asks God for anything in order to bless his neighbours, for the glory of God.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Day 9, John 14: Jesus' final instructions

TITLE: Day 9, John 14: Jesus' final instructions
THEME: Spiritual Recharge

Jesus is seen in this chapter as a discipler, one who points others to God, and one who reveals the Holy Spirit. In ministry work, it is only a matter of time before workers tire, get discouraged, and become dried and drained out. It is not a question of whether the person will experience burn-out. It is simply a statement of WHEN.

Like a marathon, the hardest part of the journey is in the middle. In the middle, one starts to harbour thoughts of regret about beginning the race in the first place. One can also question the benefit of finishing the race too. In the work of God, it is important to start well. It is equally important to finish strong. What about the middle?

The Christian worker needs to take time to rest when necessary. In rest, one need to seek the Comforter rather than the earthly comforts. In seeking the Comforter, we need that laserlike focus on the person of Christ. It is Christ who comes to our level to redeem us back to God. It is Christ who fully understands what we are going through. It is Christ who will power us through and through, to lead us to begin well, and to finish strong. We can persevere on because we have the Holy Spirit.

"But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:26-27)

Have no fear. The Holy Spirit is near.

What I Learned: The Person of God will know when and how to recharge his spiritual batteries.


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Day 8, John 3: A conversation with Jesus

TITLE: Day 8, John 3: A conversation with Jesus
THEME: Love Redeems

One of the marks of modern society is the desire to control everything. We want to control our lifestyles. We want to control the way we use our time. We do not like others to tell us what to do, especially the government or institutions. Jesus, in his conversation with Nicodemus tackles exactly that. Wanting to understand the science and knowledge of how God's Spirit works, the very learned lawyer in Nicodemus is stunned. He fails to understand what Jesus means by being born again. In other words, when Nicodemus puts on a worldly mindset, he simply cannot understand the work of the Spirit. 

Jesus has presented himself before Nicodemus when he says:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,f that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:16-17)

When we cannot understand the work of the Spirit, see through the Person of Jesus. See through the eyes of God's love. 

What I Learned: A person of God seeks Jesus daily.


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