Monday, December 31, 2012

Bible Reading Plans for 2013

As we come to the end of the year, to say goodbye to 2012, it is good to remind ourselves what is temporal and what is permanent. Life on this earth is temporal. Things of the past year are past and gone. People come and go. It is a good reminder that we have one thing in our hands that will be of eternal value.

"The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever." (Isa 40:8)

With that, I like to offer the following Bible reading plans for your consideration and use. I have searched the Net, enjoyed reading, analyzing, and pondering the plans. Here are some of the best plans I can recommend to you. I am aware that many of us have busy schedules. In fact, reading the Bible for many of us tends to be inconsistent and erratic. The challenge I have for you for the next year is this. Do not let your schedules dictate your Bible reading. Let your Bible reading dictate your schedule.

  1. HANDY: Keep the schedule list and a Bible handy, so that it is always available to you.
  2. ENDURANCE: Pray often. Bible reading through the year requires both endurance and constant encouragement. Do not give up. Keep going.
  3. ACCOUNTABILITY: Get an accountability partner to read together.
  4. READABLE: Choose a readable translation. I strongly recommend a paraphrase like the New Living Translation or the MESSAGE.
  5. TIME: Allocate a specific time each day to read.

Here is the list.

1) Read Through the New Testament (+ Isaiah) in 1 year (download)

I will be leading my Church through this version. The main advantage of the version is that it gives average person in the Church an easier introduction to any form of intensive Bible reading schedule. Beginning with the New Testament also offers a gentler introduction. There are also pockets of "catchup" time so that readers can take a breather to catchup or to reflect on what they have read. Hopefully, by the end of the year, readers will be more ready to tackle the heavier segments of the Bible, namely the Old Testament. I have made this version a 1-page format for readers to download, print, and the keep it with them. Reading begins January 6th, 2013. Of course, readers are free to read ahead as of January 1st, 2012. I will be using this version.

2) Chronological 1 Year Bible Reading Plan (download)

This plan is a little more challenging. The main advantage is the chronological flow according to the estimated time the book's events have occurred. The key complication lies in the move in and out of different books. Those of us who are more used to the traditional order of books in the Bible will take some time to get used to it. Those of us who are keen to follow the historical flow will appreciate this plan. Credit to

3) Two Year Reading Plan (download)

This plan is aggressive. Thanks to Dr Stephen Witmer of The Gospel Coalition, this plan covers the entire Bible in 2 years. I like this plan. It covers the entire Bible, and helps readers to read both Psalms and Proverbs at least 4 times over 2 years.

4) Bible Reading in 3 years (download)

This plan may take a bit longer but is at a more convenient pace. Recommended for those of us who want to alternate between the Old and New Testaments. Credit to Zondervan.

5) Discipleship Journal's 2 Year Reading Plan (download)

This is a nicely done reading plan that allows anyone to begin the reading at any time. Credit to Discipleship Journal.



Thursday, December 27, 2012

Dissecting "But I Am No Bonhoeffer!"

This article is an abridged version of the original published here.

Discipleship is not an easy feat. It is tough. It demands sacrifice and commitment. It requires courage. Our Lord Jesus has given us this mandate a long time ago.
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:32)
This verse has often been quoted at discipleship conferences, teaching moments, and pulpit sessions. Hard hitting, direct and frank, it is targeted not only at Peter, who had just confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, but for all of us. Confession begets motivation. Motivation demands action. It is relatively easy for us to confess Jesus as Lord. It is more difficult to be motivated to practice what we believe. It is even more difficult to live as if we are going to die. Why?

We are creatures of excuse. We prefer the easy way out. That is because sin in us is such a serious condition. It numbs us toward inaction. It discourages us from becoming radical. It eats us from inside so that we are of no outside use. It deceives us by saying:
  • "Don't worry, you have time."
  • "Relax. Let others do the job. You have better things to do for yourself."
  • "Why bother about the Great Commission? You've been saved right? If God is so mighty and powerful, surely He can save other people without involving small little you, right?"
Wrong. The call of discipleship is a calling to pay the cost of discipleship. Willingly. Gradually. Totally.

There are three major impediments to any positive response to discipleship. We fear threats to our island of comfort. We prefer to fatten ourselves with self-importance and self-needs. We tend to forget that we are at war.

Come next year, I will be leading a small group through Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic work on discipleship, "The Cost of Discipleship." It is a no-holds-barred book that does not mince words. Bonhoeffer tells the cost of following Jesus as bluntly as he can, with his own life. Written amid a worsening WWII situation concerning Germany's threat to the neighbouring nations and beyond, it is also a book to rally the people of God right thing. In a call to pursue truth and faithfulness in God, Bonhoeffer ventures out valiantly at a great personal risk at a huge cost. He paid the cost the way that he himself has called others to. Just like Jesus.

Those of us who can easily say, "But I am no Bonhoeffer" can also easily chime in that "But I am no Paul" or "But I am no Jesus" or "But I am no this saint or that saint."

In B.I.A.N.B, we cower ourselves under the blanket of non-action. In our unwillingness to pay the price of discipleship, we retreat back to our comfort zones of self-reliance and self-comfort. We forget the big picture of the gospel in favour of the small world of self-delusion and self-importance.

In B.I.A.N.B, we fatten our own calves of self-indulgence. We tell others to leave us alone. We avoid the risks of coming out of our comfort zones.

"I am no Bonhoeffer! So don't you Bonhoeffer me!"

An angry man is a man on the verge of sinning. It is easy to hit back at others who attempt to draw us out of our shell. It is plainly and simply uncomfortable, and we do not like it. So we blurt out a flare to try to distract others from holding on to us. We try to shake away the good intentions of others by claiming something that appears true on the outside but hides the truth of our inside.

"But I am no Bonhoeffer!"

Easily said, and those of us who say it, believe it. Have you ever seen a fat soldier? The truth is this. Soldiers who are obese will lack the agility to shift positions or to take quick action to fight the enemy. If we use the words "I am no Bonhoeffer" as an excuse to avoid the cost of discipleship, we are kidding ourselves and. In feeding ourselves with our self-needs, we fail to meet the wide spiritual hunger around us. In failing to pursue the call of discipleship, we end up just wearing the label of discipleship on the outside, and empty on the inside. When we fail to live our our calling, we become a nobody, a powerless and defenseless weakling, born a soldier, dying as spiritual wimps.

In B.I.A.N.B, we forget we are at war.

A popular maxim is this "Make peace, not war." This is the ideal state. After all, we are called to be peacemakers, especially when it comes to sharing love and goodwill. That said, that is something that we do toward fellow people. That is not something that the spiritual forces of darkness are going to let us do.

Did the devil leave Jesus alone in the wilderness? No. The devil tempts Jesus. Not once, not twice, but three times.

Did Paul had an easy time in the gospel? No. All evidence points to Paul having a tough time trying to reach the Gentiles. He even had a quarrel with fellow workers like Mark and Barnabas on how this is to be done.

In case you are not aware, we are at war. Spiritual warfare is real. Why are we called soldiers? Why are we to put on the armour of God in Ephesians 6? Why are we to fight the good fight in Paul's epistle to Timothy? It is simply this: We are at war. People who refuse to acknowledge that there is a war will never take up arms. The trick the devil does is to make us think that we are not in a war.

The words, "But I am no Bonhoeffer" is one example where we can easily shirk the responsibility of spiritual warfare, to hide our real motives behind some factual statement.

Those of us who are familiar with this modern day prophet will remember that Bonhoeffer died a martyr for the faith, a patriot of his country, and a prophet for God's call to commitment in discipleship. In a nutshell, the classic challenge that Bonhoeffer has issued to all is this:

"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther's who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time - death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. Jesus's summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But if we do not want to die, and therefore Jesus Christ and his call are necessarily our death as well as our life. The call to discipleship, the baptism in the name of Jesus Christ means both death and life." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, New York, MacMillan, 1959, p79)

Pursuing this path of discipleship is not an easy feat. Already, I have heard individuals contributing their 'but' and their 'why.' I confess that I too am not keen on the book initially, simply because of the fear that the book may be deemed too challenging and may even turn away prospective attendees. That said, must truth be censored? Can we ever dilute the call to discipleship? Shall we even dare to diminish the uncomfortable call in favour of the comfortable topical studies about making us feeling nice inside but passive outside? Four words typify a response to any hard call to discipleship.

"I am no Bonhoeffer!"

Agree. There is only one Bonhoeffer.

Disagree. That does not absolve us from the call to follow Christ.

If we are aiming to imitate Bonhoeffer, we will have gotten it all wrong. We cannot miss the forest of following Christ for the tree of Bonhoeffer's life. It is not WWII now, but it sure is spiritual warfare that is ongoing and threatens our very growth as disciples of Jesus.

Perhaps, when we overcome these threats, we will not be saying "But I am no Bonhoeffer." Instead we will be saying, "Lord, help me to be the best disciple for You, and if it is your will, to live like Bonhoeffer lived, and to die like Bonhoeffer died."


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Midweek Meditation: "Number Our Days, not People"

This is a prayer that reminds us that numbers do not know us. Only God knows us intimately.

"Father, we live in a world that often identifies us by numbers.
Our social security numbers, area codes, zip codes, credit card codes, cell phone numbers, and other personal identification numbers all take precedence over our names.
But that is not how You know me.
It is not how You identify me.
You have known me by name. You care about every detail in my life.
Before the foundation of the earth, You knew all about me.
To You, I am not a faceless number or a mere cog in the wheel.
I am not just another person in the sea of humanity. I am known and loved."(Kurt Bjorklund, Prayers for Today, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2011, p31)

Be known by God, not by your number.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve Service 2012

We had a great time of singing, reading, praying, and celebrating last night at our Christmas Eve Service. It was a candlelight service with a different. While the candles at the Advent Wreath are real, the rest of us use artificial candlelights with a mini lightbulb formed in the shape of a candle flame. Nice. Here are some of the highlights.

Combined Choir singing (Silent Night)

Combined Choir singing (Undeserved Love)

Great singing!

Here are more photos of yesterday's service.

Blessed Christmas 2012!

Monday, December 24, 2012

BookPastor >> "The Purpose of Christmas" (Rick Warren)

Christmas is around the corner. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on December 9th, 2009.

For all my readers and your families, "Have a Blessed Christmas!"


TITLE: The Purpose of Christmas
AUTHOR:  Rick Warren
PUBLISHED:  NY: Howard Books, 2008.

This book's (The Purpose of Christmas) main selling point is not the message but the author. In other words, if not for the author's popularity, I doubt if this book will receive a wider following. Written for a general audience, Warren writes in a way that the man in the street can understand. There is not much theological jargon and even Bible translations are carefully chosen, with preference given to modern English use. I sense that Warren tries hard to be clear on the one hand, and also faithful to the biblical text on the other hand.

About the Book
It can be read in one sitting. The purpose of Christmas is about celebration, about salvation and for reconciliation. Warren is aware of the joyous year end party mood, and begins a chapter of 'celebration' partly to dispel any accusations that Christianity is a kill-joy religion. He reverses the public perception by distinguishing between religion and grace, with religion as man's attempt to reach God, while grace is God's attempt to reach man. The second chapter points out the meaning of Christmas in terms of Christ's offer of salvation for all.  His simple 3 points is remarkably effective.
- "Jesus saves you from something;"
- "Jesus saves you for something;"
- "Jesus saves you by something." (44)

He then goes to list out 5 freedoms that arise out of this salvation. Pages 84-85 shows a beautiful picture of a multiracial portrait with the word PEACE. Somehow, I feel that this is Warren's main passion in the entire book. The way for world peace is again 3-fold. Firstly, one needs to have peace WITH God. Then one can be clothed with the peace OF God in order to share peace with all others. I love this progression as it is not only biblical, it is very practical as well.

Warren ends the book with a brief reference to his PEACE plan.
- Promote reconciliation
- Equip servant leaders
- Assist the poor
- Care for the sick
- Educate the next generation.

What I Like
1) Its simplicity and the many memorable acronymns.

FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real;

GRACE = God's Riches At Christ's Expense;

2) The 5 freedoms.
- Freedom from past guilt.
- Freedom from bitterness and resentment
- Freedom from expectations of others
- Freedom from addictive habits
- Freedom from fear of death.

3) Two Major reasons for conflicts
a) our natural self-centeredness;
b) expecting others to meet our expectations, especially those that only God can meet.

4) Multi-audience.
One does not need to be Christian to appreciate the book. Having said that, while the book can be a gentle introduction to the gospel. Christians too can benefit from the reminders through the simple messages.

My Comments
This little book is small in size but big in coverage.  Warren distills the message of Christmas into a delightful little book and makes the "Purpose of Christmas" into a gift that can be passed around from person to person. This book makes some references to his bestselling "Purpose Driven Life" but is no where close to its impact. Meant more as a simple Christmas message than a life-based treatise, we should adjust our expectations accordingly. There is not much to be critical about, since this book is for a general audience. Warren should be applauded for giving us a book for all to experience God's gift of celebration, of salvation and of reconciliation. The world needs it.

You can read a shorter review on Amazon here.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

"A Cup of Coffee on the Wall" Story

I received this lovely story in my Inbox today and thought I can share it with you my readers, as we prepare for Christmas Eve and Christmas. The Spirit of Christmas is not simply about giving. It is about living in a way that reflects loving our neighbour as ourselves. In our society, it means serving one another.

I sat with my friend in a well-known coffee shop in a neighboring town of Venice, the city of lights and water. As we enjoyed our coffee, a man entered and sat on an empty table beside us.

He called the waiter and placed his order saying, Two cups of coffee, one of them there on the wall. We heard this order with rather interest and observed that he was served with one cup of coffee but he paid for two. As soon as he left, the waiter pasted a piece of paper on the wall saying, "A Cup of Coffee."

"A Cup of Coffee"
While we were still there, two other men entered and ordered three cups of coffee, two on the table and one on the wall. They had two cups of coffee but paid for three and left. This time also, the waiter did the same; he pasted a piece of paper on the wall saying, "A Cup of Coffee."

It seemed that this gesture was a norm at this place. However, it was something unique and perplexing for us. Since we had nothing to do with the matter, we finished our coffee, paid the bill and left.

After a few days, we again had a chance to go to this coffee shop. While we were enjoying our coffee, a man entered. The way this man was dressed did not match the standard nor the atmosphere of this coffee shop.

Poverty was evident from the looks on his face. As he seated himself, he looked at the wall and said, one cup of coffee from the wall. The waiter served coffee to this man with the customary respect and dignity.

The man had his coffee and left without paying. We were amazed to watch all this when the waiter took off a piece of paper from the wall and threw it in the dust bin. Now it was no surprise for us the matter was very clear. The great respect for the needy shown by the inhabitants of this town welled up our eyes with tears.

Coffee is not a need of our society neither a necessity of life for us. The point to note is that when we take pleasure in any blessing, maybe we also need to think about those people who appreciate that specific blessing as much as we do but they cannot afford to have it.

Note the character of this waiter, who is playing a consistent and generous role to get the communication going between the affording and the needy with a smile on his face.
Ponder upon this man in need. He enters the coffee shop without having to lower his self-esteem he has no need to ask for a free cup of coffee without asking or knowing about the one who is giving this cup of coffee to him he only looked at the wall, placed an order for himself, enjoyed his coffee and left.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Midweek Meditation: "Prayer of Petition"

As Christmas approaches, we see lots of images of Santa Claus and the crazy shopping rush everywhere. Here is a prayer to remind us that when we pray, we remind ourselves that prayer is more than asking for things. It is also asking for God to help us know what to ask for.

"Dear Father, I don't want to treat you like Santa Claus, but I do need to ask things of you. Give me, please, food to eat today.
I'm not asking for tomorrow, but I am asking for today.....
And in my ignorance if I have asked for things that would really be destructive,
please, do not give them to me - do not lead me into temptation.
Do protect me from the evil one. . Amen."

(Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1992, p190)


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"It's Christmas Time"

This Christmas song is one of the better new ones released. It is a nice blend of modern beat with traditional lyrics. Performed by the group, City on a Hill, it combines some familiar carols too. Called "It's Christmas Time."


Monday, December 17, 2012

BookPastor >> "In the Name of Jesus" (Henri J.M. Nouwen)

TITLE: In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership
AUTHOR: Henri J.M. Nouwen
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing, 1991, (82 pages).

This is a classic work on Christian leadership from one of the world's most popular spiritual writers. With honest sharing of his own personal struggles and battles against pride, Nouwen reflects on the three temptations of Christ, drawing lessons from his own experience to give us a beautiful work on Christian leadership and insights into what it means to be human. Nouwen begins with a reflection of his call to serve in the L'Arche community for the mentally handicapped people. With his experience and qualification, the author could have worked in many prestigious places. Yet, he chooses to respond to a call to serve in a place where few people will want to work in. It is a call to self-denial. It is a call to stop his slide toward "praying poorly." It is a call to go forward in faith, to do something that he normally will not do. This little book is on Christ-following, with Nouwen seeing Jesus' personal struggle with the three temptations, very much our own struggles.

The first temptation touches on the danger of becoming too fixated on bread and food for our physical needs. Nouwen makes a parallel to being relevant. His vision of Christian leadership is to be "completely irrelevant" and to only offer one's "vulnerable self" as the first requirement for leadership. Instead of being relevant by turning stones into bread,  one needs to learn a deep dependence on God. Instead of being busy for God, the Christian leader needs to be strong in God's strength, and weak in human strength. This overcoming of the temptation enables one to move from relevance to prayer.

Overcoming the second temptation aims to move the Christian leader from being infatuated with worldly popularity to humble ministry.Too much individualism and self-seeking attitudes are in people serving in the name of God. Christian service is about laying down one's life for the flock in the name of God.

The last movement is from leading people to being led by God. Instead of being tempted by power, one needs to surrender to God's leading.

My Thoughts

This book is a fresh reminder of what Christian ministry is all about, that it is all about God, and we are all servants to that purpose. It warns us of how easy it is to yield to temptations, and to fall into worldly disrepute and prideful behaviour. Too many people in leadership have been shaped more by the world rather than by obedience to the teachings of Scripture. Too many people follow worldly wisdom rather than the ways of Jesus, which is humble service. The book is written and easily understood by most readers. The language is not difficult but the challenge is a tough one to follow. Every Christian leader should read this book.

Highly recommended.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Celebration Luncheon @ LPC

[UPDATE: Dec 17th, 2013. I've updated the videos to run from YouTube instead as Skydrive tends to be clunky and slow for certain devices.]

Today is an eventful day at Church. For the first time since my five years here, there is a children's choir and an adult choir, each belting out 3 songs. Here are some of my recordings.

Glimpse of the more than 120 people in Church

The adult choir starts the ball rolling. This first song is a beautiful rendition of the classic hymn, In the Bleak MidWinter.

The second song is the familiar O Holy Night, with Kelly singing the Mandarin solo before the rest of the choir chime in.

The third song is the song, "Undeserved Love" in Mandarin and English. Simmie begins with a solo in Mandarin, with Jimmy singing the first English solo.

Following the adult choir, we have the children's choir. Note the difference between the two choirs. The adults depend heavily on their printed song sheets. All the kids sang by heart.

The first children's song is "The Perfect Ten." My apologies for an incomplete recording for this.

The second song is "Christmas Isn't Christmas," which is the only action song of the three.

The third song is the very popular "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Merry Christmas to you too, Tyndale!

I don't usually like e-greeting cards. I find them impersonal. I find them distant. I find them too computerized for any human comfort. Today, that changed. An e-greeting card from Tyndale House Publishers has given me fresh hope for human connections in an electronic age.

Something clicked in this Christmas photo greeting. Firstly, it has real faces. I recognize at least one of them. It is one thing to get mere words on a card. A simple "Merry Christmas" does not make it any difference from a "How are you today?" greeting on the streets or at a coffee house. Real faces have a way of cutting through the superficiality of human communications, and make it pleasurable.

Secondly, the photo is signed. Every single one of those in the photo has signed it. Signatures have a way of making it deeply personal. After all, we sign our cheques, or when we autograph our books. We sign our names on important documents. Signing it is a legitimate way of saying, "I mean it."

Thirdly, just seeing the natural smiles makes my day very much complete. I do not need the toughness of Clint Eastwood to "Go ahead and make my day." Neither do I need fanciful and animated gifs or jpgs to spice up the greeting. The photo warms my heart more than any hot chocolate drink. It lifts my day up better than any caffeine-laced beverage.

Tyndale PR Team 2012

Well done, Tyndale. I appreciate you. I will set in motion a personal greeting soon. In the meantime, thank you, Tyndale, and Merry Christmas to you too.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Grief Unspeakable

This morning I was sickened. No words can describe the tragedy of more than 27 lives lost to a senseless shooting. No explanation can be given on why 20 young children ages between 5 to 10 are killed in cold blood. No logic can mean anything with regards to why a gunman can even do such heinous crimes. It is an attack on innocence. It is an attack on the hope of humanity. It is an attack on a way of life that we have held so dearly.

This photo describes it all, the pain and the anguish.
The horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut has stopped most of us on our shopping tracks. It has reminded us again how fragile little lives are. It has broken the hearts of many parents. You do not have to be an American in order to feel for the sanctity of these young lives. You do not have in Connecticut to feel the horrors of it all. If you are simply a human being just living out your daily routine, you will be touched by grief, shocked into silence, and taken into a realm of grief unspeakable. No words can come close to matching the deep anguish in the parents, families, and friends of the deceased. Here is my prayer for the families.

Dear God, we want to still ourselves today, to put the interests of others above ourselves. We remember those who are in pain, and we are painfully aware of their grief. We remember those who are anxious about their loved ones, that people around them will be patient with their needs in every way. We remember those who have lost loved ones, both close and far, that You will fill in the vacuum, that no one on earth can fill. We remember those who are confused, that You will bring some sense of clarity in good time. We seek faith as we take stock of a world that has gone wrong in so many ways. We seek hope as we ask that You help us to re-focus on what is important, and the people we love. We seek love and ask that You help us to love our neighbour as ourselves. For the tragedy in Newtown Connecticut, we grieve with those who are grieving. We mourn with those who are mourning. We cry with those who are crying. We weep with the weeping. There are no words that can describe what the victims and their families are going through. We dare not attempt to know. We just want to pray that tragedies like these will not happen again. Ever. Have mercy O Lord. Amen. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Retelling the Gospel Story: "Falling Plates"

I find this a very well-made film, creative and powerful in visualizing the gospel message. A message of created goodness gone bad. A case of how sin tarnishes the human being. An image of Christ paving the way for salvation for all. For all mankind. Broken plates are impossible to be restored fully. What is impossible with man is possible with God.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Midweek Meditation: "Footprints in the Sand"

These days, I have been thinking of the Footprints poem, which remains one of the most popular writings on walking with God even when we are not aware. There is even a Youtube video here.


One night I had a dream--
I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord 
and across the sky flashed scenes from my life. 
For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints, 
one belonged to me and the other to the Lord. 
When the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that many times along the path of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest
and saddest times in my life.
This really bothered me and I questioned the Lord about it. 
"Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,
you would walk with me all the way,
but I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life
there is only one set of footprints. 

"I don't understand why in times when I needed you most,
you should leave me." 

The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child, 
I love you and I would never, 
never leave you during your times of trial and suffering. 
"When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."

Origin: Unknown (Sources disputed)


Monday, December 10, 2012

BookPastor >> "Embracing Obscurity"

We do not not need visibility, recognition, or awards in order to justify our worth. Being an unknown to the world may not be a bad thing. More importantly, it refocuses our attention to realizing that God knows us. 

This book review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on October 1st, 2012. 


TITLE: Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God's Everything
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN:B&H Publishing, 2012, (180 pages).

This book very title is worthy fodder for us to ponder upon. Have we become too fixated on recognition and visibility? Have we really learned what it means to be humble? For disciples of Christ, have we actually understood the significance our smallness, and the bigness of God? In a world of fame and fortune, dying unnoticed, or living in obscurity may be scary, even despised. Perhaps, what is essential for us to realize is that life is not about a popularity contest. Neither is it about storing up possessions and accolades for self. It is about denying ourselves the natural addictions to worldliness. This is what the author of this book aims to do. Through embracing obscurity.

Leading by example, the author chooses to remain anonymous in the writing of this book. Being obscure is the antidote to self-seeking desires. It is a cold-turkey treatment for people intoxicated with narcissism, individualism, selfishness, and a heightened sense of personal pride. The way the book is laid out forms the framework of recovery from any warped sense of self-importance.

The author begins by giving readers a chance to realistically remind themselves that we have a choice to be obscured by God or by choice. The rest of the book is based on the assumption that the reader has chosen the latter. In other words, if we do not plan on learning humility, be prepared for a humbling experience, even humiliating. Nine points are listed. First, "Embracing obscurity" has full of biblical support. Second, it is centered on living like the humble Jesus, whose very life is the anti-thesis of worldly pride. Third, our true significance is not in what we can accumulate for ourselves, but based on what God has declared for us. Four, true success is not about attaining physical pleasure, increasing material possessions, or reaching our achievement targets, or running after the things of this world. It is about embracing the things of God, like desiring God's will, working for heavenly rewards, serving one another, contentment, wisdom, and many more. Five, key to living a life of personal obscurity is to learn to serve others. If the tower is a symbol of worldliness of achievement, the towel is a symbol of servanthood. Six, the author deals with the necessity and the willingness to suffer. In suffering, we learn the "Joseph principle," and to use suffering as an opportunity to grow in humility and obscurity. Seven, becoming nothing may be strange and mysterious as far as the world is concerned. For the humble servant of God, it is a mystery that motivates one toward depending on God more for all our needs. Eight, the author gives us some tips with regards to embracing the spotlight through a right understanding of our three purposes in life: Glorify God; Advance God's Kingdom; Serving Others. Last but not least, we are urged to embrace hope, that as we live with Christ, as we suffer and die with Christ, we too will be resurrected like Christ.

My Thoughts

This book is a wake-up call for those of us who are high-achieving people. Many of us try to live for Christ through activism and accumulation of things and awards. Asking God to bless our working, we can confuse our achievements with pride and then pay lip service to praising God for everything. The truth is, we are really recipients of grace rather than winners of the race of life. The moment we claim credit for ourselves, we are already barking up the wrong tree. The book is also an inspiring call for those of us who feel down and out, suppressed or ignored by everyone else. Take heart. We are encouraged to press on, for even when the whole world ignores us, the Maker of the whole world is watching out for us. That is a comforting truth.

When I was first approached to do an early review of this book, my key question was "Why?" After all, I have so many other books to review, all waiting in the pipeline. Upon reading the synopsis and the message of learning to embrace the little or the nothing we are, so that we can glorify God above, my question shifts from "Why?" to "Why not?" It is the message of anonymity, of obscurity, and of invisibility, that makes this book a very unique one. It reminds me of another classic work on prayer, called, "The Kneeling Christian" written by An Unknown Christian and published by Zondervan many years ago. That book has since become public domain. Every chapter comes with a discussion guide. Every chapter is filled with biblical support. I do pray that this book will not be pushed to the obscure corners of bookstores or booksellers. It is a worthy message to spread. Start spreading this message by buying this book.

Well done, anonymous author, whoever you are. It's a pity I may not really know who you are.

Ratin: 4.5 stars of 5.


This advanced reader copy of the book is provided to me free by B and H Publishing without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied. (Book is available from October 2012)

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Beautiful Alaska!

What a way to begin the Sunday with a video clip of the beauty of nature. Beautiful Alaska!


Saturday, December 08, 2012

Love Your Neighbour As Yourself

Today, some of my Facebook friends shared this video on their walls. Apparently, it is heading toward the "going viral" direction. It is a good reminder that if we want to change the world, it begins by changing people, one little act at a time.


Friday, December 07, 2012

A Prank Too Far

I woke up this morning to a shocking piece of news. The hospital receptionist who were tricked into transferring a phone call to the nurse in charge of the Duchess of Cambridge's medical care have committed suicide. What began in some stupid fun and childish prank ended in tragedy. It was simply a prank too far.

Kate's hospital nurse pranked by Australian DJs
The news is everywhere. I went on Twitter to do a search on the word "prank" and all the tweets happen to be on this unfortunate suicide. Many are disgusted. So am I. When I think about it, with the media focus and hunger getting more uncontrollable each day, horrible things are going to happen. We have seen how the paparazzi was blamed for the death of Lady Diana. We have seen how the photographs of William and Kate's private vacation were illegally taken. We have seen how every piece of news on the British royalty commanded premium public viewing.

For all the invasion of privacy and the unethical practices done by certain media members, this latest suicide is a result of a prank too far. Sadly, this case reminds us that it is only a matter of time before it takes a tragedy to instill some semblance of discipline and proper behaviour among media people.

1) Unequal Public Footing

Some people may be saying that it is all in "good fun" when two Australian DJs impersonated the Queen of England in their call to the private British hospital. For all their shock at being put through, and their excuse of a poor imitation of royal voices, the fact is that the hospital staff are not trained at public exposure as much as radio DJs. Radio DJs interact with people all over all the time. Not private hospital staff. At the onset, any prank, or any attempt to have "good fun" represents an unequal footing in the first place. For anyone who says that the suicide victim, Jacintha Saldanha has taken her mistake too seriously, I will refute by saying that the radio DJs have not taken the deliberate invasion of privacy serious enough. Even if the DJs are to say that they welcome pranks by others on them, it does not mean that people like Saldanha has given people a blank cheque to prank them any time.

Key Point: What is fun for one may not be fun for the other.

2) Social Media Play and Replay

In the old days, news come at longer and more infrequent intervals. Sometimes, people will need to wait till the next day before the latest edition can be read. Moreover, one cannot rewind the news and replay them as freely as we can right now. The social media and the modern Internet has changed all that. News comes through at up to the second speed. It can be put onto Youtube, to be replayed over and over again at any time. It can be quickly distributed worldwide. Anything private can be placed in public spheres within a matter of seconds. Once it is out there, it stays there.

I was appalled to see how the royal pranks continue to be played and replayed on national television. Put on Youtube, it gets viewed by the millions. Imagine the agony Jacintha Saldanha had to tolerate each time her voice was replayed by anyone, anywhere, and anytime?

Key Point: What Goes Out to the Internet Stays There. Be careful what you put there. 

3) Is It the Hospital's Fault?

While we may not know the full details, some may accuse the hospital for its lax of security. I think it is unfair to blame them. With the gloomy reminder of Lady Diana herself being a victim of invasion of privacy, surely the authorities and the royal family security team would have put in place steps and processes to protect the royal family more. While their due diligence may not be perfect, why try to exploit loopholes and then point to the hospital and the security staff as their fault?

Yes, the hospital's processes may need to be improved. The ease of a telephone call being put through may need to be addressed. Yet, if there is no initial trigger, none of it will have happened right? Give people the benefit of the doubt. Do not presume and make innocent hospital staff members look bad. Many are basically trying to make ends meet.

Key Point: Even if one can break through security checks, it does not absolve one from the crime.

4) Privacy Matters

This is a case of a prank too far. It is unavoidable. Stupid. Childish. Inappropriate. Whatever you call it, the golden rule applies. Jesus has said,

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12)

You do not need to be a Bible believer in order to see the relevance of Jesus' teachings. Remember that pranks can hurt. No matter how the interpretation of fun is, this suicide is a grim reminder that a prank too far leads to fatal consequences. Here is what I strongly suggest.

  • Stop replaying the "royal prank"
  • Australian DJs Mel Grieg and Michael Christian are to apologize, quit their DJ jobs, and to stop mentioning anything pertaining to the prank
  • The rest of us take note that privacy matters are serious matters
  • Have fun but not at the expense of other people
  • Pray for the family of the bereaved
  • Respect the privacy of the royal family.

May the press, the media, and all on social media do the most sensible thing. Respect the privacy of others as much as you want others to respect your privacy, and those of your loved ones.

With prayer for the family of Jacintha Saldanha.


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Midweek Meditation: On Humility

This week, I will like to meditate on humility. The guest article below is entitled "The Awakening of Brother Thomas" credited to Brother Thomas at


Humility, in word and concept, is a paradox. It means the quality or condition of being humble, which means meek, modest, deferential or lowly. In contrast, the attribute of humility is highly praised. Humble people are advanced people. 
Some folks even confuse humility with humiliation, being put-down, disgraced, degraded or shamed. There is absolutely no disgrace or shame in being humble. No, not a whit.
The root of humble is [Middle English from Old French from Latin humilis low, lowly from humus ground; See dhghem- in Indo-European Roots.] Some other relatives are Greek khamai, on the ground; Latin humus, human, kind, humane; Old Russian zem ¹, land, earth; and ZAMINDAR , from Persian zam Âșn, earth, land. It sure gets around a lot for such an humble word. 
In contrast to its earth orientation are some pretty lofty notions: 
A very well respected source told us, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law." "Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye: and above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness"……… 
And, the late Mother Teresa knew that, "If you are humble, nothing can touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know who you are. 
I have resolved this apparent down-up paradox by coming to understand that low-high is not the real dimension of humility. The essence of humility is in the false-true dimension.
Instead of "earth" I think of being "down-to-earth". This means being without pretense — being my true, authentic, genuine self. 
Instead of cowering or groveling, I picture the humble person as standing erect and naked. The humble one is not naked in a sexual sense, but in the context of being ones real self, withholding nothing from themselves, from God, and from fellow humans who need to see the total truth. The humble person has not the least taint of phoniness, but stands straight in the naked truth, in honesty. 
So, I think of the humble one as candid, as real, as honest, as true to their natural being. If there are blemishes they show, but without any effort to hide them. If there are honors and beauties, they show also, but with no pride, no ostentatious display. 
Or, it might be put another way — Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.

*** end of guest post *** 


Monday, December 03, 2012

BookPastor >> "Measure of Our Success" (Shawn Lovejoy)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on October 4th, 2012. Highly recommended for pastors and leaders of churches, para-churches, and any Christian organization.


TITLE: Measure of Our Success, The: An Impassioned Plea to Pastors
AUTHOR: Shawn Lovejoy
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012, (192 pages).

How do we measure success in ministry? This question is answered in three ways. Firstly, Lovejoy gets up close and personal with the "standard measurements" of ministry success. Things like high activism and drivenness among ministry workers; the strong need for affirmation; the numbers game; the program focus; the three unhealthy Cs of comparing, of copying, and of condemning ministry work. Over time, if not understood properly, one will not only fail to keep up with maintaining the standard measurements, one will even fall badly. Secondly, the author works on redefining true success in terms of:

  1. Spiritual, emotional, relational, intellectual, and physical vitality
  2. People are our ministry; Loving them is our tapestry.
  3. Teamwork with people of character, care, clarity, conviction, and culture
  4. Willingness to pay the price to obey God rather than human preferences
  5. Dealing constructively with all kinds of criticisms
  6. Preventative measures to avoid casting the quitting card.

Thirdly, the author focuses on what really matters, and what needs to be the true measure of success in ministry. Instead of numerical growth, focus on conversion growth. Do not stuff oneself with spiritual meat without the corresponding fruit. Leaders need to spend time meaningfully with leaders or leaders to be, instead of aimless superficial mingling with crowds. Christology is first, not ecclesiology. In other words, we cannot kid ourselves by thinking that the Church is the vehicle of salvation for the world. It is Christ alone. Knowing when to step down is not a mark of failure. It is a mark of wisdom and spiritual success.

My Thoughts

This is a necessary book for those of us interested in learning how to measure success in ministry. Personally, I do not like the word 'success.' It has too many connotations with worldly metrics. That said, the use of this word connects very well with all people. Moreover, I think it is basically used in a "for lack of a better word" sentiment. I appreciate the real world application aspect that comes at the end of every chapter. Prominent leaders like Larry Osborne, Mark Batterson, Steven Furtick, Tony Morgan, Chris Seay, Pete Wilson, and many more, provide helpful insights into the chapters offered by Shawn Lovejoy. It is like a book led by one central author, supported by contributors toward the same goal: moving away from false measurements toward true measurements of ministry success. Let me close with this wonderful words of Lovejoy.

"We must not seek to please people. We must please God.
We must not seek to fill auditoriums. We must fill heaven.
We must not seek fame. We must make Jesus famous.
We must not seek our agenda. We must proclaim his agenda.
We must not quit if we are called. We will quit if we are not.
The measure of our success is clear. It is laid out for us in Scripture. If we muddy the waters with our own desires and expectations, we will ultimately fail in the very thing we have given our lives to: our ministries." (180)
Can we do both? That is, both worldly success as well as spiritual success? I like to think we can, but the principle behind Matthew 6:24 seems to indicate only one way. Everyone likes to be a part of a growing church. The key question is not the numbers or the experience of being part of a vibrant body, but whether the Church is glorifying God. Beware of churches that shoot up quickly, but when the elements and the trials of life appear, members leave and that church wilts away.

This book may very well save you from falling into the treacherous potholes of ministry.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

A Great Christmas Carol

The Jingle-Bells may be fun to sing. The Fa-la-la's may be be easy to hum. Yet, when it comes to great Christmas carols, very few modern carols can match the majesty and the theological richness of this hymn, "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus." Written in 1745 by Charles Wesley, it has been one of the most powerful hymns of praise and declaration of the one who is "Born a Child and yet a King." Charles is an amazing hymn writer. Writing about 7500 hymns in his lifetime, that translates to an average of 1 hymn every other day. I have selected a beautiful instrumental rendition of this hymn. You can follow the words below.

Youtube Instrumental


Saturday, December 01, 2012

Simple Gift of Compassion

By now, many of us would have seen the simple story of a NYPD cop buying and putting on a pair of boots on a homeless man. Officer Lawrence DePrimo has been hailed a "hero," a "good cop" and "one of New York's finest." All because of a single act of compassion, of selfless giving, and a reminder that there are many less fortunate than he is. This caught the eye of an Arizona tourist, Jennifer Foster who snapped a picture and posted it online. The rest is history.

You can watch the interview here or below.


Since the picture was posted at the NYPD Facebook page here, it has been viewed millions of times. In social media terms, the photo has gone viral. Here are some of my thoughts.

#1 - Compassion begins with Self-Awareness

Knowing that the weather is cold, one experiences the reality of what it means to be shivering. In life, we all know that our human body is susceptible to the fluctuations in temperatures. Whether it is too hot or too cold, or when our bodies are subjected to sudden changes in temperature, we fall ill easily. Officer DePrimo recognizes how cold the weather was, and personally knows how it feels not to have socks or boots. He is aware of the conditions he is in.

#2 - Compassion Needs Action

Seeing and knowing that it is cold is not enough. What then are we doing about it? In truth, Officer DePrimo could have just walked past and do his own duties. Yet, he did something that is out of his own initiative. He talked to the homeless man lying on the street. He asked questions. He reconnected to his own reactions to cold. He remembered that there is a shoe store nearby. He went to the store asking for Winter boots. He returned to check the shoe size with the homeless man. He paid $75 for the boots. He took the boots, knelt down, and put on the boots on the homeless man. One action leads to another.

#3 - Compassion Thrives Unnoticed

For all the nice things that have been said about the NYPD good cop doing a good deed, I feel that there is a danger of people blowing things out of proportion. For that matter, cops around many cities will be hard-pressed to follow the act. Moreover, how are we to distinguish copycat acts? How do we distinguish a genuine compassionate act, instead of one that is being acted out for the purpose of fame? True compassion must always be something done quietly, unnoticed, and covered with an utter reluctance to be famous or for anyone to know about it.

Jesus has said that we need to learn to give in such a way, that we let not our good deeds be publicized too widely. Let our left know not what our right hand is doing. True compassion is done in the name of God, not in the name of self. True compassion is practiced for the good of men, not for the reputation of self. True compassion must be willing and honest.

#4 - Do a Good Deed Yes, but Give from the Heart, not for the Camera

Finally, let me encourage all of us to give from the heart during this Christmas season. It is not the quantity of things we give out. Neither is it whether it was appreciated or not. As long as we give from the heart, let God take care of the rest. Whether our acts go viral or not, we will continue to show kindness.

Let compassion lead to action. Let action lead to the betterment for all.


Friday, November 30, 2012

"Count Your Blessings" (Ali Matthews)

Worry and weariness go hand in hand. Indeed, worry has a way of draining our energies by doing nothing. Like a rocking chair, worry makes us move back and forth, but the truth is, we go nowhere worrying on a rocking chair. As we enter into the last month of the year, many people will be wondering what happened to the year. It was not too long ago that people were wishing one another "Merry Christmas" and a "Happy New Year!" "Happy Holidays" are also commonly used nowadays. I have been hearing of friends who are also going through hard times. Some due to illness, others due to financial struggles. Still, there are others who worry about things at work, relationships at home, and directions in life. Continuing the reflective mood through the Advent season, here is another song by Ali Matthews, that urges us not to let worry get the better of us. The original has been performed by Bing Crosby's "Count Your Blessings (Instead Your Sheep)

For those of us who worry a lot, may this bring some moments of relief. Maybe, it can help you rest better.

Words for "Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)"

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings


Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Love Came Down At Christmas" (Ali Matthews)

Each year, around late November, some radio stations will be playing Christmas carols and songs non-stop. I like the mood it creates. With the daylight getting shorter, and the dark getting longer, plus the shivering cold temperatures, having something warm to think and to feel about helps immensely. One of my favourite radio stations is Praise 106.5 FM that serves the Lynden, Bellingham, and Vancouver BC area. In the age of the Internet, anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection can listen in. This morning, this song captured my attention. It is one of the newer Christmas songs to be released. Indeed, Christmas is more than simply giving and receiving of gifts. It is about love that came down at Christmas. Written by Georgina Rossetti, it is sung by award winning Canadian song writer, Ali Matthews. Great song.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Midweek Meditation: "There Is Always a Cost"

This prayer by William Barclay is particularly convicting.  It reminds us that in this life, there is no free lunch. Even for salvation, it is free to us, but it costs Jesus his life.

"Help us, O God, to remember that all great things have their price.

Help us to remember that,
  • There is no achievement without work;
  • There is no learning without study;
  • There is no skill of body or of mind without discipline.
Help us to remember that, 
  • There is no purity without vigilance;
  • There is no friendship without loyalty;
  • There is no love without the death of self.
Help us to remember that,
  • There is no joy without service;
  • There is no discipleship without devotion;
  • There is no crown without a cross.
So help us to be willing to pay the price that we may enter into our reward."


Monday, November 26, 2012

BookPastor >> "The Reason for God" (Tim Keller)

In our age of skepticism, secularism, and anti-religious sentiment, Christians often need to be equipped to handle tough honest questions about the Christian faith. Without being too academic, Keller paraphrases lots of wisdom from the writings of CS Lewis. This book review was first published on February 16th, 2009 here.


TITLE: The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Dutton, 2009, (336 pages).

Tim Keller is pastor of the fast growing Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. One reason for his rising fame and popularity is his ability to speak to the concerns of a culture that is not only becoming more secular but skeptical of tradition and religion. CS Lewis gave a radio talk in the 1940s entitled: "Case for Christianity." Lee Strobel had his "Case for Faith" sometime in the 1980s. Tim Keller's contribution is a 293-paged "Reason for God," published by Dutton, member of the Penguin group, 2008. The book's website is here.

Briefly, the first part of the book deals with 7 major doubts skeptics have regarding the truth of Christianity. Calling the seven statements as the Leap of Doubt, he turns the skeptical view on its head by forcing them to apply their own statements using their own measurements.
  1. There can't be just one true religion
  2. How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
  3. Christianity is a Straitjacket
  4. The Church is Responsible for so much Injustice
  5. How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?
  6. Science Has Disproved Christianity
  7. You Can't Take the Bible Literally
The Two Camps & Three Barriers
Keller describes his early Christian experience in terms of struggling with two seemingly opposing viewpoints and three barriers to faith. On the one camp, people who fight for social justice are themselves 'moral relativists' (xii). The other camp comprises people who were morally upright and yet socially nonchalant. Compounding this problem are three barriers: Intellectual, Personal and Social barriers. A religion that is believable for him must overcome all these barriers, to be intellectually reasonable, personally accountable and socially responsible. He argues that faith needs to be lived with some level of doubt as well, just like a human body needing antibodies. Otherwise, the faith is not solid but plastic. They do not last. In his recommendation, he suggests that both believers and non-believers at the worst scenario, ought to take the stance of 'disagreement' rather than 'denouncement' (xviii). The main point of Keller's book is to challenge the skeptic to dare to measure their own criticisms with their own standards, and at the same time, to extend their understanding of future hope, learning 'reasonably' toward the viewpoints of Christianity. It is an invitation for the skeptic to taste and see that the Lord is good.

The author then goes on to address the seven skeptical statements before promoting the seven positive statements of the gospel of Christ which are:
  1. The Clues of God
  2. The Knowledge of God
  3. The Problem of Sin
  4. Religion and the Gospel
  5. The (True) Story of the Cross
  6. The Reality of the Resurrection
  7. The Dance of God
The Seven Leaps of Doubt
1) "There Can't Just Be One True Religion" is a major statement of faith. It already assumes that there is no one true way. Skeptics generally force themselves to take either or a mixture of 3 alternatives toward religion; 'outlaw' it, condemm or to privatize it. All three have shown themselves to be equally inadequate.

2) "How Can a Good God Allow Suffering?" was first suggested by David Hume, a British philosopher. Keller asserts that evil and suffering does not satisfactorily prove against the existence of God. It might even be arguments for God! In other words, suffering and pain makes us long for something better. Moreover, evil, suffering and pain is not just for the God-aware, it is for EVERYONE, no exceptions! Whether one is an atheist, a theist or an agnostic, all face suffering in one way of another. If theism is non-reasonable, atheism is far worse in terms of understanding the problem of evil and suffering. God himself did not spare his own son to undergo suffering. In Christ, there is ultimate redemption from suffering. Can we say the same for atheism?

3) "Christianity is a Straitjacket" reflects very much the modern times of relativity and the desire for people to determine their own truths, according to their own standards and within their own fancies. The culture resists the authoritative manner which religion tries to shove down their doctrines down people's unwilling throats. Keller points out that one's belief against absolute truth is in itself an absolute statement. In other words, one can argue that anyone criticizing Christianity for straitjacketing people can also be equally criticized for 'straitjacketing' others into their relative way of believing. The author then argues that communities cannot be completely inclusive. How can falsehood and truth exists side by side? Christianity is not culturally rigid. After all, Christianity was first encountered by Jews, moved to Greek Hellenists environment in the Mediterranean, received by the Barbarians in Northern Europe, then Western Europe and subsequently finding their way to Latin America, Africa and large parts of Asia. Regarding the issue of straitjacket, the counter argument is that 'freedom' itself does have its limits. A freedom seen in terms of self-indulgence and insensitive to the community one lives in is never true freedom. It is licentiousness leading initially from an amoral point of view toward a self-justifiable immoral way of life.

4) "The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice" is a common accusation. Yes, there has been flaws in history of the church, violence through crusades, and fanatical bigots. Even the Christian West was once beset with slavery. However, with each name mentioned that one used to attack the church, remember that there are true martyrs who died for the faith, and did lots of good to advance the human dignity in the world. So when one argues against the injustices, do not forget that fair judgment requires the skeptic to consider the good that has been done.

5) "How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?" One reason why increasingly people believe this is due to the tendency of people to arrive at their own religious conclusions based on their root secular beliefs. In fact, one can argue that secularism is a religion in itself. CS Lewis brilliantly identified magic and science being twins that came from the same set of parents. There were 'born of the same impulse' (70). While in the past, people believe that there is a Divine Superior outside and we are all seeking the Higher divinity, (Magic), modernity reverses it and sees everything gravitating toward themselves (Science).
"Instead of trying to shape our desires to fit reality, we now seek to control and shape reality to fit our desires. The ancients looked at an anxious person and prescribed spiritual character change. Modernity talks instead about stress-management techniques." (71)
CS Lewis said that there are two kinds of people. The first kind says "Thy Will be done" to God. In the second kind, God says to them: "Thy will be done." Other religions do not claim their divinity as a God of love. Only Christ claims that.

6) "Science Has Disproved Christianity" is a sweeping statement propagated by people such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel C Dennett. Keller argues that not only modern scientists have to grapple with the issue of miracles. Ancients do too. The power of the gospel is that when people see the miracles, it does not remain within the realm of intellectual beliefs. It leads them to worship, to do great things for God and to become people yearning to bring God's goodness to the world. Ian Barbour lays out 4 ways in which to deal with science and religion: "conflict, dialogue, integration and independence" (88). One end is very public while the other is completely private. The conflict part is losing credibility. Many scientists can reasonably believe in Christ.

7) "You Can't Take the Bible Literally" means that one rather pick and choose Scripture. If that is the case, one can become like the Stepford wives where one lives like a robot, choosing and keeping only those things that one finds reasonable in the Bible. The problem with why people struggle with the Bible is their failure to take into account how deeply they have become entrenched in their own sense of history, that they ignored the contexts of the biblical passage. In other words, trying to force modern history and interpret the Bible from there is a problem right from the start. It is like trying to question a 1st century man walking many miles to work, saying why he did not drive!

Seven Reasons for Faith
(1) Clues of God
Several clues are evident.
  • The very existence of the world
  • Finetuning of the universe
  • Regularity of nature
  • Beauty and meaning in the world
  • Our cognitive faculties work!
2) The Knowledge of God
One already knows God is there, for if life is one big intellectual problem, where is the meaning? The reason why people are searching for meaning in life is because all their struggles are in essence a search for God. Why do we tell one another to be truthful? Why do we want to do good? Where are the origins of human rights? Without a knowledge of God, will all these make sense? In fact it could even be more 'dishonest' to deny God.

3) The Problem of Sin
Sin is essentially an inadequate attempt to fill our emptiness and void, thinking that we can fill it without God. According to Kierkegaard, everyone must find some way to 'justify their existence.' There are personal, social and cosmic consequences of sin.
"Sin is not simply doing bad things, it is putting good things in the place of God." (71)
Everyone needs to live for something. A life without God does not cut it.

4) Religion and the Gospel
Beginning with the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Keller argues that either way, one becomes bad and mad. The very desire to do good deeds in order to 'redeem' the evil ways of Mr Hyde ultimately destroys both. Dr Jekyll uses religion as a form of good deeds. Sin and evil have two faces. One face is to do evil to destroy. The other is to pile up good and become self-arrogant and prideful leading to self-destruction. Pharasaism is dangerous as it can create social strife. We need the grace of God, to be accepted. Religion pushes fear to get us to conform. Grace in God invites us through love. Grace can also be a threat. Using the example of Les Miserables, Jean Valjean when he eventually spared his persistent pursuer, police officer Javert, the latter could not comprehend why a 'bad' guy like Valjean can ever do such good to him, by releasing his arch-enemy? The gospel offers us this radical grace. Yet this alone is not the whole story. We need to see the cross.

5) The (True) Story of the Cross
The cross represents real forgiveness through the suffering of Christ. Secondly, it represents that real love is a personal exchange.
The fact that Jesus had to die for me humbled me out of my pride. The fact that Jesus was glad to die for me assured me out of my fear. (200)
The Bible is for us.

6) The Reality of the Resurrection
Many people struggle with this. This is why the four gospels and the New Testament repeatedly echo the evidence.
  • The Empty Tomb and the women as witnesses seem incredulous. After all, women witnesses are not very respected in the society then. Yet, physical eyewitnesses were recorded. Are they all wrong? Despite such incredible evidence, yet the early Christians were prepared to suffer for the sake of standing up for these proofs, even in spite of persecutions and humiliation. If the evidence is false, these people are truly insane. If the evidence is true, they cannot help it but to proclaim and bear witness. In fact, believing that the evidence is false is more absurd than believing that the evidence is true. It is more reasonable that they are correct rather than to attribute them to hallucinations. Christians at that time do not have the luxury of comfortable pews in nice church buildings. They proclaim Christ at a personal cost. Why will any reasonable person put himself or herself through social, religious, political or economic inconveniences? Unless they are proclaiming what they saw. Remember that doubts about the resurrection is not restricted in the modern times we live in. The ancients also struggle with this.

7) The Dance of God
God is Trinity. We are invited into the divine dance, not because God needs it, but because God desires to share it with us in love. We need to return to the dance. In a nutshell, the gospel comprises of 4 great acts: CREATION, FALL, REDEMPTION And RESTORATION.

Great book. I like to end the way the book ended. A story.
During a dark time in her life, a woman in my congregation complained that she had prayed over and over, 'God, help me to find you,' but had gotten nowhere. A Christian friend suggested to her that she might change her prayer to, 'God, come and find me. After all, you are the Good Shepherd who goes looking for the lost sheep.' She concluded when she was recounting this to me, 'The only reason I can tell you this story is - he did.'"


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is one of my favourite hymns of thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Midweek Meditation: A Prayer of a Reluctant Leader

This prayer by Joe Seremane, a South African politician, has been called the prayer of a reluctant leader. The words are deeply convicting.
"You asked for my hands that you might use them for your purpose,
I gave them for a moment, then withdrew them for the work was hard.

You asked for my mouth to speak out against injustice.
I gave you a whisper that I might not be accused.

You asked for my life that you might work through me.
I gave a small part that I might not get too involved.

Lord, forgive my calculated efforts to serve you
only when it is convenient for me to do so,
only in those places where it is safe to do so,
and only in those who make it easy to do so.

Lord, forgive me, renew me, heal me, nurture me,
empower me, send me out as an instrument of your peace
that I might take seriously the meaning of servant-leadership.
Amen. "


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tips for Black Friday Shopping Week

Black Friday Shopping Scene
(Photo Credit: csmonitor,com)
With the US Thanksgiving day just around the corner, two words or their related cousins, dominate the minds of many people: "Shopping deals," "Black Friday," "Great bargains," and so on. With the Canadian dollar slightly stronger than the US greenback, many Canadians have been flooding major states down South. For us on the West Coast, Washington state is a favourite shopping haunt. From Bellingham to Burlington, from Tulalip to Seattle, Canadians are able to find the best outlets and malls, and buy lots of stuff. In general, there are a lot of things cheaper not just in terms of the exchange rate, things are cheaper simply because of the difference in economic markers, and of course the dreaded government taxes. British Columbia imposes a 12% HST on consumer goods (apart from certain groceries). Washington taxes are less. Another thing that makes a huge difference is gas prices. Canadians filling up gas down South will usually save about 25-35% per fill up. The savings in dollars have resulted in unhappiness.

Increasingly, there has been unhappiness among some of our friends in the US who subsequently complain about Canadians lack of manners, holding up gas lines, and crowding them out of their own shopping joints. I can understand. Just like people who live near schools have to contend with inconsiderate drivers parking their cars outside their houses, our neighbours down in Bellingham have to put up with additional traffic, the lack of parking spaces, and longer wait times for gas. When people are in a rush to get things done, neighbourliness gets put to the test.

Some Canadians have complained that they have become the target of nasty notes telling them not to shop in Bellingham. Despite the jump in businesses for US retail shops because of the Canadian shopper, some people in Bellingham are jumping up and down in disapproval, telling Canadians to return to their own country to shop. I can understand their frustration. At the same time, I can also understand the mentality of the Canadian shopper. After all, two things stand out. The strength of the Canadian currency and the lower prices of basic goods and services in the US.

The main reason why things are much more expensive in Canada is because of taxes. That said, it is also true that as long as Canadians spend more money outside of Canada, they are not helping Canada in the long run. The purpose of taxes is basically to help the Canadian economy and its wide range of national policies, from social welfare to public services, from education to infrastructure, from government assistance to employment services.

Let me try to provide five tips for Canadian shoppers who simply feel they HAD to go down South to do their shopping.

#1 - Be Considerate Through Self-Limits

When filling up gas, if you see a line behind you, just gas up your car and go. Forget about gerry bins and whatever containers in your car. Each time you fill up a bin apart from your car, as far as the drivers behind you are concerned, it is like having another car cutting into your lane when you are queueing up to pump gas. Be considerate when you are at the gas pump. With the holiday season coming, there will be more cars, more people, and less patience and goodwill from people. Don't hoard stuff simply because it is cheap. Saving a couple of bucks and sacrificing a load of goodwill from our neighbours is definitely not worth it. It may be cheap in the short run, but over the long run, it can be really expensive. Limit our buying, and when we see long queues, be considerate. Maybe, this is a time to help others by patronising the less popular stores during this time.

#2 - Remember that We are Guests

As guests, it is also important to remember common courtesy, and not to insist we have the right to this or that. We may have a stronger currency, but that does not mean that we have a right to "demand" that we be served in certain ways. At all times, remember that we are guests, and like guests, learn to ask rather than assume things. Very often, humble asking can unlock the goodness and the willingness of locals to embrace our presence with open hearts. Sometimes, I talk to the cashier at the tills, chatting them up, asking about their daily lives. They open up so willingly and we connect well. I can say for sure that people in Bellingham are very much people like you and I. They are very friendly and when we observe our place as guests, they are often more than happy to welcome us and to give us very special treatment. I have known Americans to be very friendly and welcoming. All it takes is for us to remember that we are guests, and they are hosts who have the rights to their local amenities too, if not, more than we do.

#3 - Be Neighbourly

This means we learn to observe basic courtesy everywhere we go. Do not rush and barge into parking spaces when you see a waiting car that was there before us. Do not drive so dangerously to beat the traffic. Do not keep your car engine idling away at the back or frontyard of some private houses. Respect the privacy of the neighbourhood and be respectful of the people you see, regardless of how they may treat you. This also means that we refrain from any tit-for-tat behaviour. Being a good neighbour means learning to put on our best selves even when we encounter unreasonable people. It does not mean we get bullied or whatever. It means we maintain a decent neighbourliness when in a foreign land.

#4 - Look Beyond Dollars and Cents

Good deals are not necessarily limited to dollars and cents. For example, is it worth it to drive an additional hundred miles to save a few dollars of the same item? Is it worth it to queue up for half an hour to fill up at a Costco gas station, burning up gas and using up precious time, for the sake of a few cents per litre? What about good customer service over cheap prices? Maybe, the holiday season is a time not just to make the big box companies rich. The small mom-and-pop stores need holiday goodwill too. Often, we can get more personalized attention from the owners, instead of mere employees who treat their work as merely their job. Looking beyond monetary savings also mean we learn to shop wisely. Maybe, some of the best deals are not based on what discounts are offered, but a clear knowledge of what we really need or don't need.

In a culture of consumerism, we are increasingly led to believe that more is good, and cheaper is better.  That is not the case. What is the point of buying a third TV simply because it is cheaper? What about giving that money away for a needy cause? What about time? It takes more time to drive across the border to buy the very same things we can buy in our local stores.

#5 - Shop Local

Where possible, shop local. This not only keeps our local industry thriving, but also a sense of building neighbourhood in our communities. Canada is already known to be a land of plenty. When we shop local, we are also exercising our responsibility as residents to support our local economy. Money that has been taxed goes to help the country in general. Every dollar spent elsewhere is a dollar lost to the local economy. Not only that, during peak holiday times, it is important to remember that when we shop in another country, we may become a hindrance in some way to other shoppers trying to buy stuff in their own neighbourhood. How will you like to buy a jug of milk and wait three or four times as long to pay for them, when people from outside your town are hogging your local grocery store? Worse, what if we want to buy bread and there is no more bread that morning! On the one hand, we can blame the retailers for poor planing of their inventory. On the other hand, when it comes to basic food items, can we just shop local?

Remember. A good deal with dollars and cents is secondary. A better deal is to be neighbourly both in foreign territory as well as local communities.


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