Saturday, December 31, 2011

Remembering 2011; Anticipating 2012

Each end of the year brings about retrospective moments. What was I doing on Dec 31st, 2010? What were my New Year resolutions, if any? What are the things I regretted doing or not doing? The thoughts are many. The answers are few. In the final blog post for 2011, let me attempt to do 3 things. Firstly, I will recall what are the memorable moments of 2011, and secondly, some teaching moments for me. Thirdly, I hope to point out some reasons for hope in the coming new year.

A) REMEMBERING 2011 + B) Teaching Moments

1 - Moving: This year, my family moved to the city of Coquitlam. Since coming to Canada, we have been renting. We have also been forced to move from one location to another due to various factors. For the past 7 years, each move we made was Eastward. We simply could not afford the high rentals. At the same time, why sink in rental money that bring no returns when we can pay installments instead and eventually own our house? Money has been very tight for us, as we continue to live on a year by year basis. Like many of my friends, one sudden shift in our job situations, and we will probably start to pack our bags once again.

Teaching Moment: Perhaps, this reminds me that life is really temporal. We are all on a journey whether we know it or not. Our constant moves remind me that we are on a journey. I remember Mark Nepo's words about journeying. “To journey without being changed is to be a nomad.
To change without journeying is to be a chameleon.
To journey and be transformed is to be a pilgrim.”

2 - Ministry: Working with my senior pastor, I have been given more opportunities to preach, while holding down my regular responsibility as a part-time student. This year, I have also completed my first study series with a very good group of brothers in the Men's Fellowship in Church. Teaching programs have been held on average about once a month. The Church has by and large been very gracious to let me serve. It has been joyful. The moments of ministry can be very stretching. On the one hand, I celebrated the births of new babies with members of my congregation. On the other, I mourn the passing of dear brothers and sisters who have passed on. Some got married. Some others are struggling with their marriages. A few people had a renewal due to some major revelation of health problems. If there is one word to describe ministry this year, it is the word, 'enjoyable.' It has given me new impetus to write, to learn, and to preach the Word.

Teaching Moment: Serving is a privilege. Just because we have the training or the gifting does not mean we barge into any place demanding to serve. That would be tragic as it is pride in action. I learned again what it meant to serve from the edges. It is nice to be serving with a senior pastor who is kind and understanding. In fact, the Church I serve is really gracious about it, very concerned that they do not over-stretch me. I learned to serve joyfully. This reminds me of Richard Bondi's very good book, that encourages us to begin our service not from the center (ie, being a senior pastor, or a central lynchpin of a ministry) first, but from the edge (take the lower position first). The advantages are many, the primary being the opportunity to shift focus away from self to others, and more importantly, to God.

3 - Blogging: From one blog, I started another two new ones, namely, "Panorama of a Book Saint" (booksaint) and "Bookworm Pastor" (bookpastor). This is because of the sheer volume of new books to review as well as to avoid clogging up my blog frequency on Yapdates. This is one reason why Yapdates have not had that many postings this year compared to the last. On "Panorama," the focus is on new books that I have been generously given by various publishers and agents for review. On BookPastor, I make a weekly recommendation of a book a week to encourage my readers to read or buy for their own personal or spiritual nourishment. Of course, my daily meditations on "Theology@Work" continued on in 2011.

Teaching Moment: Blogging remains one of the most important tools in modern ministry that is increasingly technological and electronic. Churches do well to establish an online ministry as much as possible. This is going to be the main way in which people communicate. As I write, it is an opportunity for me to share of my reading and my learning. This is where my gifting is.

4 - SabbathWalk: The year 2011 marked 3 years of weekly ministry of an article a week. Each week, I attempt to draw in biblical reflections and write my thoughts about contemporary issues and culture. There are times I feel so dry and exhausted that nothing seems to flow. Other times, I have so many things to write about that I came up with more than 2 posts! Thankfully, I managed my regularity and have produced more than 150 articles to date. This week was the last for 2011, entitled "Overcome Evil with Good." My blog articles have been subscribed to and read by people all over the world, in North America, Asia, Europe, South America, and the Middle East. Every subscriber brings me an encouragement, even though I have not met many of them.

Teaching Moment: These weekly reflections is my personal training to learn to prepare a message once a week. It is also my way of practicing a readiness of heart to prepare to give anyone the hope in Christ I have, at anytime. This way, my teaching remains fresh. My learning remains sharp.

5 - Reviews: My reviews have gained in ranking on Amazon. As of today, my Top Review ranking has moved up to #9899, up from a few hundred thousandth position. This has been my best rank to date. Books are pouring in from different publishers like Baker, Barbour, Brazos, Discovery House, Moody, NavPress, Thomas-Nelson, Tyndale, Waterbrook, Westminster John Knox, Zondervan, and others. My reading has certainly improved. There are times in which I felt the writer mainly repeating what others have said. I suppose having read most of the literature within the genre, there is bound to be a sense of familiarity with it.  It comes with the territory.

Teaching Moment: I love to read. I want to learn. The more I read, the more I realize I do not know so much. I am thankful for the opportunity to read and to review. My hope is that my reviews will enable to bridge author to readers, ideas to hearts, and encourage authors to continue writing and readers to continue reading. Even as the publishing industry goes through mounting challenges, every support counts. I believe that good writing requires good reading. The publishing industry fills an important role in society in terms of educating and forming people of influence.

6 - Living in Vancouver

Every year, people ask me when I will be returning home. Honestly, I don't know. Since 2004, I have lived on a year by year basis. All I want is to learn to be faithful to what God has called me to. Learning to engage the culture of our age is one way in which we practice faithful witness. Vancouver has had their fair share of ups and downs. There is the highlight of the Stanley Cup run of 2010/11 where the home team (Vancouver Canucks) easily became the best team of the league and went all the way to the wire for the coveted cup of ice hockey, the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, they lost to Boston Bruins at the very last game. This high became an immediate low. The team lost the cup. The players their composure, and the city, their pride as rioters ransacked and looted several parts of downtown Vancouver. Then there is the Occupy Vancouver protest movement which has gotten many people to think about the rich-poor divide. There is the multiple strikes movements from bus drivers to school teachers; from postal workers to construction unions.

Teaching Moment: We cannot take our peace for granted. Rather have peaceful protests to let citizens voice their opinions, than to shut them up and store up anger. I learned about the practice of a free democracy in which power and control do not reside in any one place or person. Having said that, I learn the importance of praying for leaders. They have a tough job. A protest may be a time to vent our anger and dissatisfaction. However, that does not mean we have a free license to disobey or break laws. Canada after all, is much more blessed than many other countries in the world. Do not take our freedom for granted.

C) Hope for 2012

I do not foresee anything drastically different from what I am doing. As the year is about the begin, there is no point in writing too much or too detailed. What I will offer are snippets of hope. The rest will be filled in as the year progresses.

This year, I hope that I will be able to defend my thesis successfully and graduate. That will give my family a reason to cheer. By April 2012, hopefully you can call me 'Dr.'

In my ministry, it will be more challenging as I preach more in Church, about twice a month. My senior pastor has left and it makes ministry a little more demanding than before. May the joy of the Lord be my strength. May the Lord guide the leadership to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

In my reading, I hope to do more reviews that are insightful and helpful for my readers. It remains a core part of my ministry.

In my writing, I want to continue to engage culture as well as to promote Bible learning not only in Church but in the blogsphere.

In social networking, I want to begin a discussion within the church about a social media strategy. If we can do it well, we can use an increasingly important piece of technology to form relationships and communications frameworks. Who knows, social media may very well be an excellent opportunity to bridge the generation gap.

In hockey, I look forward to the Vancouver Canucks going for another Stanley Cup Run. Only this time, I hope they will be more mature, and will go all the way to win.

Finally, my family. I want to pray for them more. I ask God to show them the way to determine their calling in life. I pray too that I will be a responsible father to guide them and to teach them in the way they should go. The year 2012 also marks my 20th Anniversary. It will be special time. Hopefully, God will spring a pleasant surprise for my wife and I.

Have a wonderful New Year 2012 ahead!


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Top 10 Books for 2011

I have reviewed more than a hundred books this year. Thanks to the many publishers and agents who have supplied me books to read and to give my personal opinions on. Here is my list of books that I have found particularly meaningful. This is not to say that the rest are not good. It simply mean that I remember these 10 a little bit more than the rest. Note that most (if not all) of these books have been published in 2011.

(1) "Nearing Home" (Billy Graham, Thomas-Nelson, Biography)
This is Billy Graham's very thoughtful reflection of his life and what it continues to mean for him as he looks forward to seeing God in his final years. This is a book that is beneficial for everyone to read, simply because we will all near home one day. [My review]

(2) "Gospel-Powered Humility" (William P. Farley, P&R Publishing, Christian Living)
This is perhaps one of the best books on humility to be released this year. The stories are vivid. The examples are solid. It focuses on two things. Firstly, humility comes with a recognition that there are always people much better than us. Secondly, pride is the anti-thesis of humility. [My review]

(3) "Unconditional?" (Brian Zahnd, Charisma House, Christian Living)
I can only say 'wow' when I read this. With its main focus on forgiveness, in particular, unconditional forgiveness, it brings together heart-wrenching stories of evil, brokenness, and utterly unjust treatments, and heals all of them with a simple act and call for forgiveness. An emotionally difficult read, but one that is so essential for Christian development. [My review]

(4) "Jesus Calling Devotional Bible" (Sarah Young, Thomas-Nelson, Bible)
This is one of the most pleasant study Bibles I have ever received. Based on the New King James Bible translation, it is complemented by open and honest prayers of ordinary believers, with a corresponding spiritual guidance by Sarah Young. [My review]

(5) "Move" (Greg L. Hawkins with Cally Parkinson, Zondervan, Church)
Based on a survey of over 1000 churches, this book summarizes the best practices and points the modern church to strategies and changes needed to do church in the next decade. [My review]

(6) "Road to Missional" (Michael Frost, Baker, Church/Outreach)
It is so easy to replace traditional evangelism and mission with simply a name change to 'missional.' Frost points out that this is an erroneous understanding of what true missional churches are all about. It is about incarnational Christianity. For anyone keen on missional work, this book is a must read. [My review]

(7) "Dictionary of Christian Spirituality" (Glen G. Scorgie, Simon Chan, Gordon T. Smith, James D. Smith III., Zondervan, Reference)
This book is a treasure chest of information and spiritual direction with regards to Christian spirituality. Written by scholars, for the layperson, it can be read without fear of difficult theological concepts. The authors and contributors have tried to streamline the many strands of Christian teachings and thoughts on spirituality, and have produced a wonderful dictionary of spirituality. As always, as far as reference books are concerned, buy the printed edition. [My review]

(8) "Discipleship That Transforms" (John H. Aukerman, ed. Warner Press, Christian Education)
This is a surprise find. It contains a comprehensive curriculum for Church or Christian Education. Written from a Wesleyan perspective, it has a lot of common material that will also work for non-Wesleyan groups. [My review]

(9) "What They Didn't Teach You At Seminary" (James Emery White, Baker, Ministry)
This little book is small and compact, but delivers big. It brings together years of wisdom in ministry, and brings nuggets of workable ideas to people in ministry. All seminarians, graduate students, and ministry workers will do well to read this book. [My review]

What They Didn't Teach You in Seminary: 25 Lessons for Successful Ministry in Your Church

(10) "Disciple" (Bill Clem, Crossway, Discipleship)
As I have said previously, if your church is planning to do discipleship and want a more recent publication on discipleship, this book is a must read. [My review]


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Here is the famous Holdman Christmas lighting show. Though the show was presented a few years ago, it continues to impress. This house uses 45000 lights, and coordinated to sync with the music of Amazing Grace.

Amazing Grace Techno - Computer Controlled Christmas Lights from Richard Holdman on Vimeo.

Yapdates wishes all readers a very Blessed Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Guest Posting: "Righteousness Comes from Suffering"

From time to time, I allow guest postings from my blog readers to be published on Yapdates. The writer is a 'Special Education Teacher' for 15 years and has contributed an article on suffering and righteousness. The views are entirely attributed to the author and does not necessarily represent mine or Yapdates blog. It is provided 'as-is' (with slight formatting) to provide a diversity of views on suffering and the Christian. My comments will appear on this blog post at a later date.

Thanks Denise for your contribution.


Righteousness Comes from Suffering
Author: Denise Keene

Throughout the Bible, there is a theme of finding righteousness through suffering. There are two verses, in particular, that offer guidance on how Christians should approach weakness and suffering in life.   These two verses can also offer encouragement for those who are affected by physical or mental disabilities. Christ tells us to revere those who suffer, and to strive to live our lives with the same humility and faith that they often do.

Christ teaches that we should embrace physical pain and remain humble about our life on Earth, because it is temporary. As Christians, we should remain mindful that our souls are what really make us who we are, not our bodies. For this reason, those with physical or mental disabilities (and their family and friends) should find comfort in knowing that their bodily disorder is not what makes them who they are…their soul does.

In the following verse from 2 Corinthians, Paul tells a story about his conceitedness and how Christ showed him humility by placing a thorn in his side. Paul pleaded for Christ to remove his torment. This is what followed:

2 Corinthians 12:9-10: But he (Christ) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

In the next shared verse, Peter writes in a letter to a several different churches telling them that they must stop taking part in earthly desire and embrace suffering in order to follow Christ:

1 Peter 4:1-2: Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with this attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

These two verses are essentially a reminder that we all have to suffer in order to find righteousness. However, in this suffering, Christ will provide us strength and eternal life.

Denise Keene has been a Special Education teacher for 15 years and likes to write articles about various related topics. She also owns the site Masters In Special Education.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Lead Me Lord"

This is a great song that prepares our heart to worship.

Lead me Lord,
Lead me by the hand and help me face the rising sun
Comfort me through all the pain that life may bring
There's no other hope that I can lean upon
Lead me Lord, lead me all my life...

Walk by me,
Walk by me across the lonely roads that I may face
Take my arms and let your hand show me the way
Show the way to live inside Your heart
All my days, all my life...

You are my light you're the lamp upon my feet
All the Time, my Lord I need you there 
You are my light I cannot live alone 
Let me stay, by your guiding love
All through my life,
Lead me Lord...

Lead me Lord,
Even though at times I'd rather go along my way
Help me take the right direction
Take your road,
Lead me lord and never leave my side
All my days, all my life...

You are my light 
You're the lamp upon my feet 
All the Time, my Lord I need you there 
You are my light I cannot live alone 
Let me stay, by your guiding love 
All through my life...

You are my light 
You're the lamp upon my feet 
All the Time, my Lord I need you there 
You are my light I just cannot live alone 
Let me stay, by your guiding love

All through my life,
All through my days so lead me Lord

Lead ___ me ____ Lord.



Friday, December 16, 2011

A Lost Generation? Says Who?

We live in a world that comprises of people of different generations. Some among the old suspect the new by lamenting back to the "Good old days." Some among the young complain about their parents and some of the older generation are so old-fashioned and inflexible to changes. The fact is this. Every generation has their own sets of challenges, and it is not wise to try to act as if we know what is best for a generation that is not ours. [This is an expanded re-posting of my earlier blog post here.]

This video is an example of how we can unwittingly try to impose our own views on others. The problem is less of values per se, but more of a lack of trust on our part. Paul the Apostle reminds us:

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:1-4)

Remember to trust one another more. For the lack of trust is the root of all suspicions and misunderstandings.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

The End of Publishing?

This is a creative take on the future of publishing. It is quite similar to one of the award winning videos I have previously seen about changing our perspectives. Instead of the end of publishing, I feel that the video goes much farther. That we need to learn to trust one another more. The trouble with all the talk about the possible 'end of publishing,' the truth is that the hype over e-books and e-readers is not going to make traditional publishing go away. What it does mean is that the publishing industry has to adapt to a new way of reading. Publishing is not dead but still very much alive, albeit in different forms.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Teresa Hsu

India has Mother Teresa. Singapore has Teresa Hsu. Both are Roman Catholics. They have contributed so much and given the world lots of wisdom. Teresa Hsu died last week as the oldest woman in Singapore then. She was 113 years old. This video (5 & a half minutes) gives us a glimpse of her generosity to give, her willingness to help, and the constant lookout for people less fortunate than herself. She is a model, an example for the rest of us. As you watch the video, look out for the words of wisdom coming from Teresa Hsu. She may be old, but you can see how strong she is inside.

"More than 100 years old, Teresa still spends the time reading, learning, meeting people, gathering, and distributing food and money to help the needy." 

Amazing! Also very humbling.

[Thanks to Net T. for sharing this.]


Monday, December 12, 2011

The Light in me

This is my current favourite. Brandon Heath's 'The Light in me.'

Enjoy worshiping God.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Between Calling and Employing

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 10 Dec 2011

"Adonay Yahweh is coming with power to rule with authority. His reward is with him, and the people he has won arrive ahead of him. Like a Shepherd he takes care of his flock. He gathers the lambs in his arms. He carries them in his arms. He gently helps the sheep and their lambs." (Isa 40:11, GW)

One pastor says this: "I know what to do. I know who to visit. I know what to preach and to teach. But I just don't WANT to do it anymore."

Discouragement. No amount of training can ever prepare anyone for this dose of reality. Years of experience cannot eradicate this. Neither can rest and relaxation prevent this state of emotional despair from ever occurring. This pastor says it very well. He knows exactly what needs to be done and what can be done. When it comes to personal motivation, there is no clear answer. My pastor friends tell me that the average number of years a pastor shepherds any congregation is about 3-5 years. After 3-5 years, they will venture into a newer parish and start the countdown all over again. Perhaps it is due to the lack of energy to continue with their existing parishes. Perhaps, they feel no longer as effective as before. Perhaps, they sense a change in God's calling for their lives. Maybe, all of these are related to this one word: Discouragement.

Pastors are not super-spiritual people. They are human and very vulnerable. I remember one particular time when I had an issue that I could not resolve with a pastor. Aware of the impasse, the senior pastor gently says this to me: "You need to trust me."

Of course, as a young church member, I let the stubborn side of me dominate: "Trust? Trust has first got to be earned."

The Fine Line Between Calling and Employing

One of the biggest differences between working for non-profit and for-profit organizations is simply between 'calling' and 'employing.' All organizations need both. However, the sense of calling is more necessary in non-profits where there is minimal monetary benefit. Those in profit-based corporations often remain with the job happily as an employee because of the money they are making. I have spoken to many people in various places, and one of the most common reasons why they stay in their 'crappy' jobs is because they need the money.

Not the paid minister. Very often, the pastor has given up his cushy job in the corporate world, so as to answer the call to serve God in a full-time capacity. The pay is minimal. The hours are maximal. There is no such thing as a union based 40-hour only workweek for the pastor. There is no way the pastor can forget about work in the office after 5pm. Sometimes, his work actually starts after dinner time. There are meetings to attend, and visitations to make. Small groups meet in the evenings, and weekends are perhaps the busiest times for the paid minister.

For paid ministers in Church, the line between 'calling' and 'employing' becomes very thin the longer the pastor serves in the same Church. One pastor begins his ministry, high on 'calling' and low on 'employing.' He ends his ministry low on 'calling,' and high on 'employing.' Steve Harper of Asbury Seminary makes this observation.
"I am surprised how many pastors lack confidence. They approach their lives and their work more as employees than as beloved sons and daughters. The most extended and deep period of spiritual dryness I have ever experienced occurred when I lost this sense in my own life and settled for a kind of 'mechanical' faithfulness." (Steve Harper, 'A Pastor's Approach to Spiritual Formation,' in The Pastor's Guide to Personal Spiritual Formation, Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 2005, 8)

This lack of confidence as described by Harper has a lot to do with trust, or the lack of it. When the trust factor is missing between pastor and the congregation, the road to spiritual dryness has begun. When one is walking along in this condition, his sense of calling becomes less and less. The expectations to discharge his work responsibilities as an 'employee' becomes more and more.  Let me share what are the finer differences between 'calling' and 'employing' so that we can get a better sense of what I am saying.

Firstly, calling is from above, which motivates the minister from the inside. Being merely employed is from the expectations of people, which attempts to move the minister from the outside. Moses is called by God to go to Pharaoh and plead the case on behalf of the Israelites. Time after time, Pharaoh hardens his heart and refuses to let the people go. Each sign from God seems to be matched by Pharaoh's magicians. It can be downright discouraging. Moses finds his strength from the LORD, who shows him each step of the way. It is the LORD who empowers and instructs Moses in the way he should go. On the other hand, a mere employee is motivated more out of a sense of duty, even guilt. One member in a church I know says this to a church worker: "You are paid to do your job, so do it!"

Honestly, when I hear that, my heart goes out to this worker. I can see whatever remaining motivation and joy drain out from her face.

Secondly, calling is a journey of learning to trust. Employing is a posture of earning trust. The Patriarch Abraham has long been called the man who trusted God so much that he is willing to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, in obedience to God. This act of faith is demonstrated through trust. Abraham trusts God to lead the way. He trusts that obeying God's will is much better. This calling as an act of learning to trust has a lot to do with grace. In grace, one learns to initiate giving more than mere receiving. In grace, one gives out more benefit of the doubt. In grace, one learns about growing a big heart.  In contrast, 'employing' has to do with earning the right to be trusted. This employer-employee relationship is basically an Employer driven relationship that basically says:
  • "I pay you to do your job, so you'd better do it."
  •  "You are an employee of the Church, so you are responsible to fulfill all the obligations of the contract."
  • "Your primary responsibility is to the Church."
Personally, I do not have a problem with pastors doing their jobs. Neither is it unfair to expect the pastor to fulfill all of his stated obligations according to his job description. My point is, when the relationship between the pastor and the congregation becomes an 'employee' rather than a 'calling,' the whole situation becomes very mechanical, very impersonal, and even very discouraging. Instead, calling is one of graciousness.

  • "I trust you to do your best. The pay you are getting is our way to encourage you to do your work better."
  • "Although you work for us officially, we will work with you to do Church. After all, the Church belongs to God and the people of God."
  • "Your primary responsibility is not to the Church but to God. We trust that God will help you do the best for the people of God."
Finally, calling has a lot to do with the giftings of the pastor. 'Employing' has more to do with the needs of the church. In other words, 'calling' begins with asking God what is God's gift and how these gifts can be used for the better of the Church. The Apostle Paul has the gift as a lawyer. He argues his case very well and we see him writing epistles to churches against false teachings, against disunity, and against all manner of dysfunctional behavior in the churches. With these gifting, he does not need people to tell him what to do. He takes initiative to do it. 

On the other hand, 'employing' begins with the needs of the church. If the Church has a lack of worship leaders, they hire a worship leader. If they lack a Sunday School Superintendent, they hire one. If they lack a Bible teacher, they hire one. It begins with a need. The employing process comes next. 


It is not easy to make a distinction between calling and employing. We have to try. For the sake of the Church and for the ministers, we need to. We need to remember that calling is from above, and not be distracted by all kinds of expectations by people.While it is important to minister to people's expectations, it is more important to listen to God's calling. After all, it is God who has the big picture. Calling is one that promotes grace and trust. Employing is one that prefers to reserve any trust until proven otherwise. Finally, calling has more to do with giftings from God and less to do with expectations of people.

Let us endeavor to help one another discover our calling for one another.Let us not let money or the pay element distract us from the kingdom of God. Let us learn to give one another the benefit of any doubt. For the sake of Christ. May this be the prayer of everyone, not just the Minister. Remember, all of us are first and foremost sons and daughters of God. Do not let money or pay make us forget that. When calling becomes the primary motivation instead of 'employing,' pastors will 'want' to serve better instead of 'have' to serve all.

Let me close with this Wesley Covenant Prayer.

Lord, I am no longer my own, but Yours.
Put me to what You will. Rank me with whom You will.
Let me be employed by You or laid aside for You,
exalted for You or brought low by You.
Let me have all things. Let me have nothing.
I freely & heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are mine and I am Yours. So be it.
(John Wesley)



Friday, December 09, 2011

Praying with Intentionality

"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." (Mark 1:35)

This is one of my favourite passages in the gospel. It describes Jesus' prayer life amid the pressing demands on his time throughout his ministry. More importantly, it tells of a man who is intentional about meeting God. This one verse crystallizes the spiritual life of Jesus in three words: "Praying with intentionality." In this article, I want to look at the intentionality of Jesus in four ways.

A) Intentionality in Timing

It begins with the description of the timing of the day. Being early in the morning, it is a time in which activity is at the lowest. People are still sleeping. Businesses are not open yet. Even the roads will be quiet and empty. For Jesus, it is the time in which his yearning for God is highest. He is wide awake. Others are closed for business. For Jesus, it has only just begun. The quiet and empty road facilitates his walking to the solitary place. Not wanting anybody to interrupt his divine appointment, while it is still dark, Jesus leaves the house, all excited about prayer. Jesus prays with intentionality. He makes time for it. He acts upon it. He goes to a place of least distractions so that He can give maximum attention to God. This is intentional praying.

If we want to pray well, we need to plan well to pray well. Some people pray better in the mornings. Others pray best at night. Still, others because of their jam-packed calendars and daily work, can only squeeze in pockets of prayer time throughout the day. The important thing is to be intentional by knowing our best times. If we are intentional about praying, we will not commit the error of 'no-time-to-pray' or 'too-busy-to-pray.' If we plan well, we can definitely find a good time to pray. Mother Teresa and her ministry workers wake up at 4.30am each morning just to pray. The only way to wake up with intentionality to pray is to understand what prayer is all about in the first place. Andrew Murray knows a lot about prayer. He writes:

"Some people pray just to pray and some people pray to know God." (Andrew Murray)

This is the main difference. If we see prayer as a stale regimen to stick to, it will soon become dry and brittle. If we see prayer as a way of knowing God more, it will be fresh and life-giving.

KEY: If we want to pray well, we need to be intentional in our timing. Intentional prayer is learning to keep our appointment with God to know God better.

B) Intentionality in Scheduling

The gospel writer is also very intentional about this. Mark is a gospel that is action-driven. The first 34 verses in chapter 1 shows a lot of Jesus' works.
  • Jesus gets baptized (Mark 1:9);
  • Jesus is anointed(Mark 1:10);
  • Jesus is sent to the desert (Mark 1:11);
  • Jesus is tempted by the Devil (Mark 1:13);
  • Jesus goes to Galilee to proclaim the Good News (Mark 1:15);
  • Jesus calls his first two disciples, Simon and Andrew (Mark 1:16-17);
  • Jesus calls James and John (Mark 1:19-20);
  • Jesus teaches at the synagogue at Capernaum (Mark 1:21);
  • Jesus expels the evil spirit (Mark 1:25-26);
  • Jesus heals Simon's mother-in-law (Mark 1:31);
  • Jesus heals and drives out evil spirits from sunset through the evening (Mark 1:32-34)
I marvel at the way Mark packs so many activities in 34 verses. Then comes the verse of Jesus's intentionality in prayer in 1:35. This contrasts sharply with the kinds of new-age spirituality that we hear in our modern world, that talks about stillness and solitude, sitting on a Lotus position. There is intentionality in Jesus' timing and actions. It strikes me as well as to which is the greater work. I believe the greater work is not the healing, the driving out of demons, or the calling of the disciples. The greater work is the one that motivates the doing of these acts. The greater work is knowing God in prayer. After all, if a work is great, is it not true that the One behind the doing of the great work is greater still?

KEY: Intentionality in prayer is knowing God is the Source Who enables us in all of our works. 

C) Intentionality is Listening

In order to listen well, we need to be able to find a time and place that offers the least amount of distractions. In our modern world of cell-phones, computer tablets, always on Internet connections, it is getting more difficult to get away from the world. Instead the world comes to us through text messages on our phones. It interrupts our everyday work with a "You've Got Mail" sounds, or a buzz of frantic activities on social networks. If you happen to take the local subway transit, or the bus, or even wait in the line at Starbucks, you can see a common phenomena: Gadget fiddling. People everywhere are constantly looking down on their iPhones, or cell phone devices. People are always doing something on their phones. When it rings, they answer. When it does not ring, they surf the net, type a message, tweet a thought, or simply snap a photo of the surroundings. Life is always so busy.

Mark's description of Jesus is almost similar, albeit of a different time and era. Yet, the intentionality of Jesus to find the place and time of least distraction is telling. E. Dee Freedom says that: "A life of prayer happens only when we intend to pray."

That is so true. If one does not intend to pray in the first place, there is no way one can grow a prayer life. Jesus knows that to be most attentive to God, He needs to be at His most attentive self. Early morning before it is dark. Before the demands of the world try to steal Him away. Before He busy himself with the daily matters. He reserves His best, His utmost for God to know God. Intentional praying is attentive praying. Corrie Ten Boom says of this which is remarkably helpful. She asks:
"Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?"
KEY: Intentional praying is listening well, paying attention to knowing that God is the One steering our wheel. Through prayer.

D) Intentional Praying Looks for the Heart of God

One last thing.  We can be intentional about praying when we set a particular timing, when we schedule a place, and when we adjust our listening ability. This final point shows us the fruit of our prayer labor: Knowing the heart of God.

Intentional praying is looking for the heart of God. Look at how Mark places Jesus' praying lifestyle smack in the middle of a multitude of activities. Mark wants to highlight where the true power and strength that Jesus draws from. It is wonderful to be able to do good works. It is fantastic to see results. Yet, without God, one can do nothing. Jesus knows full well His own limitations. That is why He needs to be intentional about praying in the midst of a demanding schedule. Look at how His disciples complain about Him not being around.
Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:36-37)
The response of Jesus is classic. Instead of trying to justify His prayer excursion to the secluded place, He answers:
Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38)
This is the result of intentional praying. Some of us pray a lot but end up not knowing what to do next. Not Jesus. He prays intentionally and finishes His praying with a clear understanding of what God's will is for Him.

When one prays with intention, one gets God's attention. When one gets God's attention, one will be clear about God's instructions. Talk about God's will. Perhaps, the trouble with us struggling with knowing what God's will is for our lives, is not that God has hidden His will from us. The trouble may actually be due to our lack of listening, our weak praying, and most of all, our lack of intentional praying. Not Jesus. When asked about where He has gone to, Jesus is not concerned about giving an excuse. He is not worried about the people's anxieties. He know full well that apart from God, He can do nothing. He is not interested in fame that comes when everyone is looking for Him. He is only interested in glorifying God, to look for everyone who needs God. That is intentional praying.

"Is the Son of God praying in me or am I dictating to Him? Is He ministering in me as He did in the days of His flesh? Is the Son of God in me going through His passion for His own purposes? The more one knows of the inner life of God's ripest saints, the more one sees what God's purpose is - "filling up that which is behind of the affliction of Christ." There is always something to be done in the sense of "filling up." (Oswald Chambers)


Monday, December 05, 2011

Noticing Life Outside and Inside

This is a wonderful video. Last week I have been reflecting on beauty and the art of noticing. I even wrote an article to express the need to observe more of life. Most of my thoughts were centered on noticing life outside. This video makes me notice life INSIDE my heart and its appropriate response: Give Thanks.

"Just by your presence Let your gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you. Then it will really be a good day."

Take your time to watch the video here. Do not rush it. Enjoy it.

Let us not to take life for granted. Let us not to treat any day too mundane or too ordinary. Let us develop eyes to gaze at dimples of perfection, not stare at faces looking for pimples of imperfection. Let us grow ears to listen to people for who they really are, and not hearing in order to find loopholes in their arguments. Let us taste the beauty of relationships, instead of leaving it alone, only to pick them up when we find a use for it.

Appreciate life. Cherish people. More importantly, respond by cultivating an attitude of gratefulness. With a heart of thanksgiving, we can make this world a better place, a more beautiful place. The ABCs of stewardship is essentially to increase our level ATTENTIVENESS, the appreciation of BEAUTY, and the cultivation of CREATIVITY.


Saturday, December 03, 2011

Happiness is Feeling at Home

Two years ago, I met a couple of Coca-Cola Consolidated executives, the largest marketers of Coca Cola company products. They are the brains behind many marketing programs. What struck me in my visit was one small group of people seeking to live out their faith in the marketplace. This video reminded me of that visit.

From my interactions with Filipinos, they are one of the most relational, and family-minded communities in the world. Thus, for them to leave home, to earn money abroad in order to send money home to their loved ones, is a great sacrifice. This video clip demonstrates that it is possible to make money on one hand, and to share it generously in giving back to the community.

Have a Coke today!


Friday, December 02, 2011

Behind Every Digital Facade is a Person

DATE: 2 Dec 2011
Written by: Conrade Yap

"So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor 5:16-17)

The world is changing. Everyone knows that. The world is changing fast. Most people know that. The world is changing us too. How many of us know that? Most importantly, in a world where people are increasingly becoming virtual, we can easily forget that behind every digital presence is a person that Christ died for. Before I get into that, let me address how the digital new has come to dominate the conventional old.

A) Changing Technological Landscape

The new has come. The old has passed away. Those who pooh-pooh away mainframes and open systems by trumpeting the rise of the PCs, are now grappling with the rise of a new tablet and smartphones era. Those who swear by Microsoft 10 years ago, are biting their tongues as they see Google sweep the search engine crown. Companies that rely heavily on traditional modes of marketing are doing catch-up to the rise of the new social network environment that is fast changing the way people do business. What is new yesterday is commodity tomorrow. What is breakthrough today will be ancient within the next few days. Social media is changing the world. More particularly, it is changing our lifestyles, and even us personally. In a changing technological landscape, we need to be on our guard, that when we try to get into the world of digital breakthroughs, we do not lose ourselves. We do not let the new technologies define who we are. It is God who defines us, not us.

Implication: It used to be man trying to make technology behave like man. Now the tide seems to be reversing. Loving God means letting God define who we are. Not technology.

A) Changing Language

We speak in a language that is also changing rapidly. A three-word 'I love you' has been replaced by a three-letter 'lol' (lots of love, in short).  A 140-word email has been outgunned by a 140-character Twitter message. What is paid subscription yesterday, is free today. Take a look at the people who are catching up on news. The elderly, the older adults read printed newspapers. Younger ones read news feeds on their smartphones, tablets, or portable computers. The old takes time to read, to enjoy, and perhaps to reflect their thoughts on what they read to their buddies sitting opposite them. The young zips through their reading by scanning, by rushing, and by quick forwarding to all their friends digitally to their buddies sitting halfway across the world. As our world becomes more digital, more Internet-driven, people becomes more virtual in their interactions, and perhaps more driven to discover the next big thing. A decade ago, there is this popular phrase: "We live in a world where it is no longer the big that eats up the small but the fast that outruns the slow." Even the venerable face of the Internet, the EMAIL, is now being threatened into extinction by Facebook and Twitter.

Implication: Loving our neighbour means learning to speak the language of our neighbours.

B) Changing Influence Mediums

With the rising popularity of the social media networks, even this phrase has changed. It is no longer the fast that outruns the slow, but the ones with the largest following, the most connected, and the most read that are marginalizing the strong, the fast, and the powerful. It is no longer a world of relationships, but a world of NETWORKS of relationships. Welcome to a viral world. It is a world where traditional boundaries of command, control, and conquer disappear. It is a world where what is private today becomes public tomorrow. It is a world in which both truths and untruths are disseminated at such an alarming scale and rate, that both are tolerated in a crucible of free speech and liberal expression.

The catchphrase used by Vegas marketers, 'What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,' has been replaced. What happens anywhere is now distributed speedily and staying indelibly in cyberspace.  Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are more popular (based on their follower numbers) in the social network than the most powerful President on planet earth.

Implication: Do not be distracted by the lack of followers on your Twitter or too few friends on your Facebook account. A few good friends who know you are more invaluable than thousands of faceless individuals.

C) Changing Method of Engagement

I believe that the Christian community needs to be aware of the changing climate. The new name cards are becoming less of 'telephone/fax/address/email' but more of 'Facebook-Twitter-cellphone' social media instead. While the methods and networks are changing, people are not. Though people's communications pattern may alter, their personality and basic needs are not. After all, it is one thing to grow your cow population in Farmville. It is yet another to bite into a real, beefy, juicy hamburger complete with lettuce on a sesame seed bun, tomatoes, and mayonnaise. It is one thing to silence computer speakers. It is yet another to try to keep our lit on our current emotional state. Regardless of how fast the world is changing, humanly speaking, our needs are the same. We need friends. We need hope. We need love. No amount of digital connectivity can claim to be the do-all, be-all, and become-all. Hug a computer and you will see what I mean. The warmth that you can may be due to the radiation from the computers, but that contributes nothing to emotional intimacy. The key to being intimate is in Christ.

Paul writes to the Corinthian Church, all pumped up about his new identity in Christ. It is a transformational experience too good to keep to himself. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul tells of his hope in the heavenly kingdom. He speaks of being clothed and readied for a heavenly dwelling It is God who guarantees what is to come. This is the essence of hope, a hope in God. It is this hope that causes him to be willing to let go of the old selves, and to take on the new person, in Christ. The new has come. The old has passed away. This kind of newness can never be outlived by the digital titans of the world. Chances are, technologies will be outgunned by one another in a never ending race of being better so as to survive a little while longer. In a digital world, the stark fact is this. Stop development and your work will die. Maintain development and your work will not die so quickly. Continue innovation and perhaps your work will live a wee bit longer. The point is, the things of this world will die. They will pass away.

Implication: We live in a world where technology is rapidly outlasting itself. We are in the digital world but not OF the digital world. God will always outlast anything, even technology.

D) Behind the Digital Facade....

Not the things of God. Not Christ. Souls are of bigger concern to God. That is why Jesus came. That is why God continues to keep His Promise, His Covenant. In a digital world, this has not changed.  Behind every Twitter account is a person. Behind every Facebook address is an individual. Behind every presence on the Internet is a person that Jesus has died for. Forget about those electronic robots and spam spiders. Do not be distracted by those Internet marketing gimmicks and messages. Even behind these innovations, there is a human person just like the rest of us. Behind the digital facade, the needs have not really changed. Knowing that behind every digital facade is a person reminds us that loving our neighbour extends also to the digital platform. Technology may change fast. People do not change as fast. Technology may become obsolete. Not people. Technology may be new, but there is something that is newer every morning. It is the steadfast love of the Lord. It is the love that is newer and better than any social media network or technological brilliance. Looking with eyes of love is better than loving the eyes of technology.

May we all remember that behind every digital facade, there is a person. We may always be called to invent new technologies. We are always called to love people, both in the real world, and in the digital world. Let me close with John Ortberg's words, from his book, "Everybody's normal till you get to know them" simply because everybody is weird, one way or another. More importantly, everyone has a common need as follows:

"The yearning to attach and connect, to love and be loved, is the fiercest longing of the soul. Our need for community with people and the God who mad us is to the human spirit what food and air and water are to the human body. The need will not go away even in the face of all the weirdness." (18)

Do not just read the person's digital profile, or Facebook page. Know the person personally. Do not just twitter to the thousands of faceless individuals. Talk with people to know them more.

Turn off your computer once in a while. Have coffee with a friend. Buy lunch. Chat without your computers or phone. Be available offline as you disconnect online on a periodic basis. That way, we remind ourselves on a regular basis, that behind every digital facade is a person who needs Christ. Like us.


Thursday, December 01, 2011

Old Old Story in a New New World

"It's a People-Driven Economy, Stupid!"

(Credit: Social Media Titans)
This quote by Erik Qualman sums up the new environment. The new future is social media networks. According to Qualman, winners will be companies that are able to deliver valued products, develop team players, responsible to societal concerns, practice democratic styles of management, provide generous referrals, engage recruiters, and connects with consumers with the help of consumers. On the other hand, losers will be those companies that still rely on traditional marketing to sell their goods and services, employ undisciplined people that refuses to listen to popular choices, that procrastinates in developing a social network influence, that fails to hire the middlemen, that neglects the use of search engines, that essentially refuses to adapt to the new changes happening in social environments.

A) The New World

It is no longer just the economy that is driving the world, like what James Carvilled coined in 1992. The new normal is described by Eric Qualman:
"It's a People-Driven Economy, Stupid!" (Erik Qualman, Socialnomics, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2009, xvii)
What is socialnomics? For Qualman, it is a 'massive socioeconomic shift.' The new 'king' of influence is not traditional marketing but digital word of mouth. For example, with the pervasiveness of cell-phones, people text each other more frequently, and in greater details. Using the new cell language is not just quick, short and sweet, it brings a certain level of intimacy. It is a rise of a new messaging and twittering language.

  • LOL - lots of love / laughing out loud
  • ROFL - roll on the floor laughing
  • K - ok
  • ^5 - High Five
  • 143 - I Love You
  • 182 - I hate you
  • ? - I don't understand
  • ?4U - Question for you
  • <3 - broken heart
  • idc - I don't care
The list goes on. There have also been linguistic studies at a graduate level on such new mode of communications. The point is, technology and the use of it has shaped the way people communicates with one another. In response, technology companies have even incorporated in their cell devices, dictionaries that can interpret some of these short forms as valid words! Companies need to become more personable, and the best way is to let friends 'like' them on Facebook, 'tweet' them on Twitter, and to gain sufficient mindshare so that people will naturally 'google' them. However, digital word of mouth marketing is only the beginning. It is the consistent connection with people and their friends that will make the difference. Qualman's key thesis is this.

"We no longer search for the news - it finds us." (9)
B) The New Ways

The corollary is to then build mechanisms to ensure that our news finds its way to potential target audiences. Through the new media: Social media. Examples are:
  • For newspapers, it is no longer viable to maintain news feeds through traditional print and subscriptions. The multitude of unpaid bloggers easily trump the few paid reporters.
  • For news, traditional news collecting, editing, printing, and distributing has been short-circuited by people who self-publish news on the fly.
  • For dissemination of news, it is no longer just linking to other websites apart from your own. Sharing, forwarding, and re-posting information has become far more influential than information on one page.
All of these proves that social media is about people connecting with other people based on people's interests. After all, referrals from friends are more credible. The big few is losing out to the small many. Traditional news medium travels fast. Social news networks makes news travel faster. CNN is losing out to Twitter, big time. The recent tsunami in Japan, riots in the UK, and many major news events are prime examples of how people are turning to Twitter for the latest updates. 

C) The New Implications
  1. Social Media is the new normal. This essentially means that if you are not connected, you are essentially out of touch with society. If you do not have a Twitter account, get one. If you are not on Facebook, make sure you are on it. If you continue to maintain traditional media, you will realize that your emails are increasingly used less by your friends and more by spam robots sending all kinds of electronic junk into your mailbox. For instance, the large French IT company ATOS has started a plan to be 'email free' in three years! One of the reasons is that they get more and more junk, and less and less legitimate emails.
  2. It is More Difficult to Contain Untruths. Social media is essentially word of mouth communicated digitally.
    In the old days, news are regularly checked and double-checked so that there is no plagiarism, no untruths, and that it falls within ethical boundaries of publishing and news organizations. With the rise of social media, what is private today becomes public property tomorrow. One example is the famous Apple logo with a silhouette of Steve Jobs which has gone viral. Initially credited to a Hong Kong student designer, there has been lawsuits and counter-suits about the rights to the design. Who is right? It is difficult to tell.
  3. New Ethics Needed. In a social media environment, the feeling of 'everybody-thinks-they-are-right' is raised a few notches. For every argument, there is a counter-argument. For every thought, there is a different point of view. As each person asserts his/her rights, it is no longer a straightforward exercise to determine truth. What is 'true' to one is not true to another. Like beauty is to the eyes of the beholder, truth is true to the eyes of the beholder. This calls for a renewed need for ethical considerations. We need to teach good social network behaviour. We need to cultivate a group of positive influence that uses the new media well, to increase its positives and to decrease the negatives. At all times, truth needs to be upheld. 
May I suggest then, that Christians be actively engaged in this new social medium environment. Let me offer three suggestions.

D) The Old, Old Story

Firstly, learn the language and etiquette. This is your passport to the new social media world. Learn from the young. Learn to text. Learn the language on smartphones. Know the limits of electronic communications. 

Secondly, know your own limits. If you are not sure, ask. If you are not able to, seek help. It is tempting to spend hours on the computer, tablets, or your cell phones just communicating mundane stuff that do nothing more than to create buzz. When that happens, it is like a hamster running on a spinning wheel. Lots of action but no movement.

Thirdly, grow a biblical mind first. Do not let social media influence your view of the Bible. Let the Bible help you to interpret, to size up, discern, and to speak truth into the world of social media. 
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." (Col 3:16)
Christian, let the Word of God speak into our hearts. Let the Word of God guide us in all wisdom. Let the Word of God empower us to speak up boldly, and speak out truthfully in the age of the social media network. May each 'follow' on our Twitter network reminds us, that we first follow Christ.


Latest Posts