Saturday, June 30, 2012

Individualism in the Church

We hate to admit it. We hate it to hear it. Yet, if we are truly honest, many churches are less community-like than most of us would like. Just take the Sunday service for example. Servants are few, consumers are many. More people grab stuff for themselves than to give away to others. Ask people to give and there will be few responses. Ask people to take things for free, and the responses will be overwhelming. From free food to free use of the Church facilities, people are coming to church with a sense of entitlement rather than a heart of service. For example, those serving in the Church make self-sacrificial service to come extra early to set things up for the rest of the congregation. Yet, there is a perennial number of people who choose come late, consistently. Despite the attempts to instill punctuality, they still turn up late. It is not a time or scheduling problem. It is a human problem. It is a problem with pride and sin. It is a problem that often gets accepted rather than addressed.

Today, I like to suggest that the problem goes much deeper. It is individualism. The lack of care and concern about how one's behaviour affects the rest of the community is a case in point. Let me give some bullet point examples.

  • "Why should I give when the Church is already so wealthy?"
  • "Why should I volunteer when there is already paid staff to do the work?"
  • "I come late, so why is that a problem to you?"
I wonder how these individuals will feel, if their actions impede the whole worship experience for early worshipers.  I know some worshipers are irritated when their singing experience gets rudely interrupted by a tap on the shoulder to move to another seat to make space for latecomers.

Whether it is outreach, serving in Church, or helping the community, the three most common excuses people have are:
  1. "I am busy."
  2. "I don't know how."
  3. "I fear."
All of us manifest evidence in varying degrees of the top three excuses. It is easy to justify saying that busyness and no-time throughout the week. The question I then ask is, "Am I not busy too?" For those that do not know how, I question them whether they want to remain in that condition forever. For those who fear, I wonder what kind of faith they are living. The opposite of fear is faith.

Individualism reigns supreme in many churches. A recovering alcoholic gives this indicting comment after receiving great help from the community at Alcoholics Anonymous. 

"After I had at last been part of a real community where we loved each other enough to be honest, to sacrifice our time and energy to aid others in their struggle with alcohol, the sweet superficiality of mu church was repulsive. When I tried to share with them some of the insights I gained from my own struggle, they looked at me like I was crazy, like my struggle was a purely personal problem." (Thomas Naylor, William Willimon, and Magdalena Naylor, The Search for Meaning, Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1994, p107)

In contrast, the early church literally shared everything and gave all they have to assist one another. The modern church has become devoid of such culture. Our modern culture has infected the church with individualism. Unwittingly, not only is the church learning to mind its own business, it has forgotten the Lord's business. Individualism must be recognized. It must be redeemed with a healthy understanding of self-need, and balanced with a constructive view of community living. Here are three biblical principles with regards to building community. It is in order of commitment.

First, learn about community by thinking right, and planning well. It begins with a mindset change about what community is all about.  It is not about thinking of ourselves all the time. It is thinking appropriately about ourselves. Irvin D Yalom writes, "Not to take possession of your life plan is to let your existence be an accident.Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:6 "The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."  

Like weeds, individualism takes root when we are sleeping, or waking. It grows without us knowing it. When it comes to helping people, a person who does not plan his/her own life will end up retreating back to a vacuum of unmet needs. How can one who is empty help to fill another? The maxim is true. If we fail to plan, we plan to fail. When we fail to plan for our own lives, the default is what the world tells us. "Take care of yourselves first. Mind your own business." This unfortunately increases individualism especially when we fail to plan for ourselves first.

Second, learn to look at the needs of others before self.  

"The ultimate test of whether or not a collection of individuals is a community is whether the members are seriously concerned about one another's well-being." (Naylor, Willimon, and Naylor, The Search for Meaning, 130).

The biblical principle for community living is: "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:4)

If we are constantly on the look to benefit others, will it not increase the level of service in Church, the punctuality as well as any outreach in the Church? Perhaps, the biggest indictment on any church failing to reach out is that it is too overwhelmed with its own inner problems.

Third, live a life of self-sacrifice, just like Christ. This is perhaps the toughest thing for anyone to do. Sacrifice is a bad word. People avoid it. This is why the hymn "I Surrender All" is a particularly difficult one to sing. Yet, with sacrifice comes life. See how Bonhoeffer's sacrifice has encouraged the struggling German Church. See how the sacrifices of missionaries have resulted in the growth of the Church in those parts of the world they were sent to. See how Jesus through his own death brought life.

Plan well ourselves. Put the interests of others before ourselves. Prepare to live sacrificially. May this three-prong approach equip us to battle the weeds of individualism.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Our Real Lack: Not Youths but Youthfulness

I have been reading this new book called "Love Without Walls" by Laurie Beshore, a founder-pastor of Mariners Church, famous for its outreach programs. While many people tend to look at how large the church is in terms of people attending, or how big the building is, I find the most powerful testimony of it being a witness for God in terms of their outreach programs. With at least 31 outreach initiatives, Mariners Church is bringing the gospel to their neighbourhood communities in many different creative ways. There are programs to reach out to the poorer members of society, connecting with young people, as well as many humanitarian projects. The thing that most define Mariners Church is the way they help people to help themselves.

Mariners Church goes against the conventional approach of helping by "handing out," or what Beshore calls a "giveaway" culture. The gist of the argument is this: By giving out goodies to the needy we identify, we are not helping them. We are essentially disempowering them to help themselves. The best answer is in two words. Ask them. Then involve them. Then work with them, through them. This approach has made Mariners Church outreach ministries very effective and long term. Unlike conventional approaches that approach outreach on a one-shot, one-project approach that dies down after the initial rah-rah excitement, empowering the needy to help themselves not only goes a longer distance, it gives dignity back to the needy community.

We have all talked about the lack of youths in churches. My church has a problem with trying to build a youth community. Not only are youths few in number, it is getting even fewer. With no new people joining, and the present youth population transitioning into their next phase of life, it is sad to see the demise of a once flourishing youth group. Perhaps, this need not be too discouraging. This may not signal the end of the world. The key is not in the numbers of youths, but the youthfulness we bring to all we do. This is regardless of language and age. Youthfulness is not age related, but is a positive mentality. It is not something we lack, but something to cultivate in us. I remember a senior lady in one church I used to attend. Her name is Margaret. She is a passionate volunteer, always ready to lend a ear to listen to the young, and to lend a hand to participate in new areas of ministry. Despite her age, she manifests a young heart that touches the lives of people from all ages and all walks of life. She is open to learn, and also builds close relationships with the people she tries to help. Her great capacity to serve people lies in one single goal: Putting the interests of others above her own.

The trouble with many Church ministries is that there are too many artificial barriers and too many man-made rules. Why must Church ministries be called Senior Fellowship, or Young People group? Why divide them based on age? If a Church is one people, why spend time separating them from the rest of the congregation? While it is nice to enable each niche to grow deep and to minister to one another, such labels can isolate one group from the rest of the church. It is a sad development. For me, having a niche group is good, but it should not be the only thing that one gets involved in. Otherwise, there is a real danger of compartmentalizing church life into respective ministries. Ideally, we should all be organic in the way we do ministry.

Kevin Harney is big on organic relationships. One example is missions. Many churches tend to focus missions through a committee. This begs the question: What about the rest of the congregation?  Are they exempt from mission work just because the Church has a mission board in charge? No! Missions is the heart of God. It ought to be the heart of the Church. Every ministry needs a mission. Every group needs to be missional.

In the same way, youthfulness, not youth is the hope for the future of the Church. Youths grow up and leave their youth groups. Youthfulness lasts and lasts, and does not necessarily leave any group. In fact, we can also call it passion, purposefulness, or simply, youthfulness.

Here are three ways to cultivate youthfulness in the Church.

1) New Blood

Every few years, have a change of leadership. This enables fresh ideas to be introduced on the one hand, and new leaders to be cultivated for the long haul. It is not the person but the process of leadership renewal that forms the vital and vibrant culture of any church. Leaders who have been on the leadership board for at least three years need to step down. Others need to step up.

2) New Wine

There is no such thing as "not gifted." Every one of us has at least one gift. Perhaps, the reason why anyone tends to be modest about their own gifts is because we have not paid enough attention to what the Spirit is speaking to us. If we know our gifts, what are we doing about it. If we do not know our gifts, how are we going about discovering our gifts. The story of Jesus turning water into wine should serve as an encouragement for us. In the presence of Jesus, at a very important wedding dinner, there seems no lack of wine when the need arises. All because of the presence of Jesus.

The Church of Jesus can take note. Will Jesus ever let the Church run out of new wine? I doubt.

3) New Life

We are made new in Christ. Our old has passed, and the new is come. Ever seen how vibrant and active young believers are? They come forward with plenty of new ideas. Unfortunately, many church culture prefer not to rock the boat, or to avoid fixing something until that something breaks. No. Innovation and new ideas come from new life. We need to learn to be open to new ideas, even if those ideas fail from time to time. Don Valencia is one person who breathes new life in everything he does. Known for his energy and never-say-die disposition, he has been credited for the science behind the popular "Starbucks Frappuccino" drink. If we can breathe new life into old systems, will that not be exciting?

Youthfulness through new blood brings about leadership renewal. Through new wine, we trust God to do the miracle. Through new life, we are re-invigorated, refreshed, and renewed.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Learning From a Child

One of the most memorable teachings of Jesus is about childlikeness.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:1-6)
Why children? Why didn't Jesus say, "Learn from the adults?" Perhaps, there is a certain innocence and purity in children. Little kids have a unique way to lowering our guard, to cause us to be more reflective on ourselves. The context of the passage above is about living humbly like a child. Accept a child. Do not stumble a child lest we receive a heavier punishment. Welcome a child for there are lots we can learn from children. If there is an innocence scale from 1 to 10, chances are, the children will be on the side of innocence, while adults on hypocrisy.

What about working parents who cheat in their offices or relationships, telling their kids not to steal? What about bosses telling their subordinates to obey the rules, but they themselves break the very rules they make? What about people telling lies when they are saying to others the importance of telling the truth? One word describes it all: Hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is everywhere. The former President of the University of Notre Dame, Theodore M Hesburgh makes this astute observation of human behaviour that, "All of us are experts at practicing virtue at a distance." Having heard too many accusations of churches being hypocrites, I feel that hypocrisy is tainted in the hearts of all people. In some cases, hypocrisy can be described as one having double standards, or an inconsistent way of living. The one who claims he is not a hypocrite has already pronounced judgment on himself.

This video is a vivid demonstration of adults who behave one way toward children, but alone, they do the very things they tell children NOT to do. (Thanks to KP for sharing this.) Note that we can easily substitute "SMOKING" with any other examples, like stealing, vengefulness, gossip, malice, etc.


Do to others what you want others to do to you. In the same way you teach others, do likewise.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Five Responses to Consider (CHC Arrests)

City Harvest Church, Singapore (Credit: Asiaone)
The big news in Singapore is the arrest of key leaders, including Kong Hee, the founder of City Harvest Church, a Singapore Megachurch established in 1989. They have been charged with financial mismanagement and fraud. Arguably the single largest church in Singapore, it boasts an attendance of more than 23000 people weekly. I have attended the church meetings before, and am amazed at the vibrancy of the people, but also the huge proportion of young people. If you are to do a search on Twitter or Google, it is common to see CHC supporters expressing wholehearted allegiance to the leadership and the Church. These are the die-hard supporters. Some may even behave as if the church has been persecuted.

On the other hand, many others in the public have thrown in heaps of sarcasm and cynicism on the Church. One popular blogger, XiaXue feels "disgusted" about the "amount of deluded people praying for Kong Hee." Anger and disgust appear to be the general sentiment of the day among those outside the Church.

My blogger friend, currently based in Singapore has kindly reproduced his professor, Dr Daniel Koh's prompt response for the Christian community to consider. In a nutshell, the writer urges restraint for both groups of people mentioned above. To the first group who are pro-supporters, he suggests refraining from blind faith. To the second group who are aggressively condemning the leaders, the CHC members, he recommends suspending judgment to let justice flows its natural course. He then points all to learn to pray for all parties affected or involved in the whole process.

Like Dr Koh, I am similarly concerned for many of the younger believers in City Harvest Church. There will be repercussions. There will be a general mood of despondency among many. There will also be additional salt added to the wounds by insensitive people who behave as if they themselves are on a higher moral ground to judge.

While it is important to remember that one is innocent until proven guilty, it is fair to say that something has gone horribly wrong in the financial aspect of the Church. Whether we fault the person or persons, the organization or its poor financial transparency, or the overall investigative process, I want to focus on the assumption that the worst case is true, that the 5 leaders arrested are guilty as charged. The difference is in terms of the extent to which the charges are true. Having done that, I will suggest some way forward for any genuinely concerned or interested member of the Christian community. I will base my meditation on how King David was found out in his adultery and murder, and how he coped with it. It is important to note that while the crimes committed are different, there are teaching moments about how to cope.

Remember, the following is based on an ASSUMPTION that the charges are true. I make no final judgment on the arrests, but merely want to pose responses based on this position.

1) Call a Spade a Spade

First, the prophet Nathan helped to open the eyes of King David to his sin (2 Samuel 12:1-12). Instead of fighting back, see how David responded.

"Then David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the LORD.'" (2 Samuel 12:13a)

David recognized his sin. Instead of hiding, he admitted it. Even the smallest sin is still a sin. The Bible says that all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Before a Holy God, the smallest speck of sin is still sin. For those of us who argue that small sins are nothing compared to big sins, they have totally missed the significance of purity and holiness. Call a spade a spade, and stop any devilish forces from tempting us toward self-deception.

2) Suspend Judgment

I agree with Dr Daniel Koh that until investigations are complete and the courts have determined the results, we ought to suspend judgment with regards to the case. This means both ways. The pro-supporters need to suspend judgment about how "right" or how "innocent" their leaders are. It is one thing to support leaders. It is yet another to apply blind faith. The vociferous accusers and sarcastic corners of the public will also need to suspend their judgment, lest they themselves are guilty of casting the first stone. Look at Nathan's reply.

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die." (2 Samuel 12:13b)
If there is any judgment to be made, it is definitely not us distant observers. The responsibility and the ultimate Judge is God.

3) Truth Must Be Told

Whenever we read news from the media, we cannot base our entire opinion on one single piece of news. For that matter, there are also multiple news outlets, social media, and foreign reporting as well. Which do we believe? Who is speaking the truth? Remember that every piece of news material is biased to some degree. Even if we can gather all the available news material, it is still second-hand news.
  • Have we seen the evidence first hand?
  • Have we heard the confessions of the five leaders charged?
  • Have we understood and analyzed the information gathered from the investigators?
  • Have we any privy knowledge of what is actually happening, the background etc?
Truth must be told. Yet, it is not easy to get at truth. This is why we will need to be open and let any opinion or mini-conclusion be always a qualified one. See the judgment of God meted out, and see how truth is matched by action.

"But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.” (2 Samuel 12:14)

God is honoured when truth is revealed. Granted that David's admission of guilt has brought along harsh punishment, the important thing is when truth is revealed, the path to righteousness is lighted up. However, before that can happen, punishment needs to take its course. The painful one is the death of David's firstborn son.

4) Learn From Mistakes

David's remorse is evident from the Psalms he writes, especially in Psalm 51:1-2. The admission of guilt and the plea for mercy is nothing less than amazing. It is not justifying one's deeds, but seeking God's mercy. Unreservedly and totally.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

While this is the response of David, the rest of us need to learn how to pray as well. The story of the Pharisee and the tax collector is an appropriate lesson for us to learn.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
(Luke 18:9-13)
Those of us looking in from outside, are we to behave like the Pharisee, or to seek mercy like the tax collector. This is perhaps the key response tip for all of us. The CHC arrests need to make us look to behave more like the tax collector, that we recognize our own sin and weaknesses. That we do not put ourselves higher than the people at CHC. At the same time, we need to warn ourselves against any acts of self-righteousness like the Pharisee. For instance, not being arrested like the five men, does not mean we can tell everyone,

"Thank God I am not like them!"

God forbid! We are sinners and all of us are capable of doing the wrongs that have been charged. No one is immune from wrongdoing. We need mercy. We need grace. In the same way, we need to show mercy and grace to others.

5) The Gospel Must Still Be Preached - Start CLEAN

Finally, I want to acknowledge that the reputation of CHC and even for the Church at large will be negatively affected, at least for a while. We cannot run away from it. We can only pray, seek forgiveness, learn, and do our best to be competent and ethical in what we do. No one is immune from sin but everyone is capable of honouring God with doing the right thing. Let me suggest five things.

First, Comfort One Another. See how David goes to comfort his distraught wife, Bathsheba. Even though they have committed adultery, they are still people who need love and comfort. As a Christian community, we can comfort one another by praying, and by seeking to do all the good we can, in spite of all the bad that we are hearing.

Second, be always Learning. What has happened to CHC does not mean it will not happen to any other churches.

Third, Encourage one another to improve our own systems of governance. If there are weaknesses, do our best to implement checks and balances. If there are any wrongdoing by anyone, stop. Repent. Correct.

Four, Accept one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Family members do not disown one another simply because one has committed a crime. A family is a family. We rejoice together, we grieve together, we serve together. Like Jesus said, the world will know we are His disciples through our love for one another.

Five, Need for God. May this be a time for which all Christians will turn to God in a more intensive way. We tell others that they need God, now is a time for us to demonstrate with our own lives that we ourselves need God.

Be comforting, be learning, be encouraging, be accepting, and be needful of God. Together, they form the acronym CLEAN. Through CLEAN, may the gospel be preached with our lives that are filled with grace toward one another.

Praying for mercy beginning with myself.

Conrade Yap (Dr)

Monday, June 25, 2012

BookPastor >> "Effective Men's Ministry"

TITLE: Effective Men's Ministry - The Indispensable Toolkit for Your Church
EDITOR: Phil Downer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001, (256 pages).

This book is a collection of articles covering 26 topics that are important for men's ministry. It begins with a passionate introduction by Patrick Morley that urges men to understand our purpose, to create, capture, and sustain momentum in achieving this purpose. Each of the 26 contributors is a member of the National Coalition of Men's Ministries (NCMM).  There are many familiar names in the book, like Jack Hayford, Dan Schaffer, Steve Farrar, Stacey R. Rinehart, and Gary G. Bateman. The editor Phil Downer does a wonderful job in organizing the articles into five parts. The whole structure reflects the natural way in which men understands and implements plans.
  1. Part One - Developing the Plan
  2. Part Two - Preparing the Ground
  3. Part Three - Laying the Foundation
  4. Part Four - Building the Framework
  5. Part Five - Creating the Structure

In Part One, we read of Dan Erickson and Dan Schaffer who writes about the need to understand men being in a contemporary culture of pressures. They then help us identify factors to make men's ministry "male-friendly" Steve Sonderman tells us exactly what men's ministry is and is not, and gives us seven essentials of men's ministry. Vince D'Acchioli shows us the way to define a vision through a four-stage process of significance, strategy, structure, and schedule. Gary G. Bateman advocates a need to be descriptive in our assessment before trying to prescribe any solution. He does that by giving us 5 steps of assessment and 20 questions to ask our men. Jack Hayford gives us a pastoral angle on exactly the kind of role pastors can do.

Part Two prepares the ground with Chip MacGregor telling us how to build a leadership team. A leader is one with a servant spirit, of character, godliness, passion, and giftedness. His part on recruiting, training, and eventually giving away the ministry to others is worth sharing widely. Steve Sonderman returns with organizational tips for men's ministry. He provides four exercises to help us build a prayer team, understand God's purpose, structuring our ministry, and evaluating it. He follows this article with a necessary article on implementation using six principles. Stacy R. Rinehart gives us his take on servant leadership and Chuck Stecker shows us the foundations of Christian Leadership. Dan Schaffer helps us distinguish the mark of leadership in terms of commitment, communication, conflict management, covenant, and collaboration.

Part Three lays the foundation farther with five contributors. Gordon England shows us how to write a good testimony to move men from self-reliance to God-dependence. Men are called to be the bridge between God and other men. Dale Schlafer writes about the central need for prayer. Rick Kingham gives us the way to learn to worship. Geoff Gorsuch encourages men to build vital relationships using the relational diamond, that at first base as acquaintances, we learn to accept one another. At second base as friends, we encourage one another. At third base as brothers, we exhort one another. Finally our home base is Christlikeness. Robert Sena brings us his take on how to overcome prejudices that prevent the building of an effective men's ministry.

Part Four enables us to build the framework on what has already been covered. Rod Cooper shows us how to create a transformational environment through the four traits of acceptance, openness, teamwork, and accountability. Phil Downer describes the process of becoming a spiritual parent from the inside out. Steve Farrar takes a compassionate approach in showing us how to work with men who have failed. Particularly interesting his his description of Moses's mid-life crisis that progresses from success to failure at age 40. Haman Cross and Thomas Fritz come together to write about unity in diversity across ethnic and racial groups. Phil Downer and Chip MacGregor show us how to move from success to significance.

Part Five is about creating a structure that can be sustained for the long haul. Chuck Brewster mentions the training necessary to prepare men to live a life of significance through discipleship, obedience, and true grit. Ed Cole talks about the role of becoming a godly husband. Steve Farrar puts in the need to be good fathers as well as good sons ourselves. Warren Hardig enriches the conversation with a short-term missions outlook. Larry Kreider describes what it takes to have successful men's retreats

The book is an encyclopedia that describes the nuts and bolts of men's ministries, put together in a readable way. It can be used as a reference. It can be used as a trigger point for ideas. It can also be used for leadership training.  Most importantly, this book is a book of ideas that ought to excite us to be creative and to be urgent on developing the men in our church. A Church with a strong men's ministry is definitely a force to be reckoned.

I highly recommend this book to all men, and all in leadership.


Friday, June 22, 2012

A Sabbath Moment

Last night, a group of brothers and sisters in Christ celebrated my graduation and for being conferred a doctorate. They invited me to share a little of my thesis. Instead of sharing details from my academic dissertation, I decided to share a story instead to give people a glimpse of what Sabbath leads us to.

The story begins with a Sabbath celebration dinner with the famous Rabbi, Baal Shem Tov. The disciples were all ready to begin the Sabbath dinner with candlelighting, eating, and singing. As one disciple was lighting the Sabbath candle, the Rabbi suddenly laughed out loud: "Ha! Ha! Ha!"

Puzzled, the disciple paused a moment, and thought if he had done something silly. He then continued the lighting and the rest continued with their eating. He gave a bowl of soup to the Rabbi. Upon his first spoonful, the Rabbi exclaimed, "Ho! Ho! Ho!"

Again, the disciples were puzzled as to what was happening with their esteemed Rabbi. Like the first instance, they then quietly ate the food before them. Soon it was time to sing some Sabbath songs. In the middle of the singing, the Rabbi let himself out uncontrollably with guffaws and laughter. Now, the disciples were really mystified with the Rabbi's three laughs. Finally, one of them asked:

"Rabbi. Can you tell us why are you laughing?"

After recollecting himself, the Rabbi said, "If you want to know, follow me."

He went out leading all the disciples with him. They then travelled to a village a distance away. Upon reaching their destination, the Rabbi asked the leaders of the village to gather in the common square. They dutifully obeyed, for the Rabbi is a revered leader. When all had gathered, the Rabbi suddenly said, "There is one family that is missing."

One of the village leaders then remembered the Bookbinder and wife. He then went to call them. When everyone had finally come together, the Rabbi said to the Bookbinder, "Can you please tell my disciples and the people in your village how you celebrate the Sabbath tonight?"

Slowly, the Bookbinder shared.

"When I was younger, I made enough money to offer something on each Sabbath. As I grow older over the years, I earn less and less, and my Sabbath offering becomes less and less. Tonight, my wife and I only managed to have bread crumbs and a bowl of water for our Sabbath meal.

I experienced a Sabbath moment then. When I see my wife lighting an imaginary candle with an imaginary match, I suddenly see the light. I see my lovely wife, the one who has stood by me all these years through thick and thin. When my wife pours me a bowl of water, I imagine it to be soup, and just the thought of my wife serving me faithfully with whatever we have fills my heart with joy. When we start to sing the Sabbath song, I see the beauty of love in my wife, and I dance, I hug, and I sing with my wife. Surely, the angels of heaven are laughing and rejoicing each time we celebrate the Sabbath with what we have. That is why every Sabbath, no matter how much or how little we have, a Sabbath moment is worth celebrating."

Sabbath moments are like these. Like the BookBinder who acknowledges the presence of his wife instead of lamenting the absence of good food and candles, we are urged to be thankful for what we have. We are encouraged to rejoice with what God has given now. We can celebrate what we have instead of complaining about what we do not have.

A Sabbath moment is about appreciating and enjoying our abundance rather than worrying about our lack. Far too often, we become too worried and pre-occupied with what we do not have, that we neglect what we have, especially the persons around us. Sabbath moments are not about looking at the things that we do not have. It is about giving thanks. It is about being grateful. It is about being gracious to one another, because God has shown us much grace.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ten Free Public Lectures @ Regent-College

Saying that Regent-College has changed my life can be an understatement. It has transformed my Christian outlook. I recall the vision of Regent, that is largely based on Ephesians 4 to equip God's people for all good works of service. That has been nuanced in many different ways. Since its founding back in 1968, Summer School has consistently attracted many world-class theologians, leaders, and experts in their respective fields of expertise. There are also many lectures that are offered free to the public. Here are ten of them from now to the end of July.

All lectures begin at eight, at the Regent Chapel.

  1. Monday June 25 Marilyn McEntyre: "Poetry, Protest, and Prayer"
  2. Wednesday June 27 Don Lewis: "Evangelicals and Jews Together: The Origins of Christian Zionism"
  3. Monday July 2 Dave Diewert: "The Economics of Enough"
  4. Wednesday July 4 Rachel H. Smith: "Divining the Spirit in Contemporary Art"
  5. Monday July 9 Ivan Satyavrata: "Slumdogs & Millionaires: The Gospel & Social Engagement in India Today"
  6. Wednesday July 11 Jim Houston: "The Role of the Psalms in Transforming Seniors into Elders"
  7. Monday July 16 Susan Phillips: "Shhh! The Art of Listening in an Inattentive Culture"
  8. Wednesday July 18 Ralph Wood: "G.K. Chesterton: Rum, Romanism, and the Sacramental Imagination"
  9. Monday July 23 Rod Wilson: "Depression, Anger, and Gender"
  10. Wednesday July 25 John Barclay: "Because You're Worth It: Grace and Human Value"
If these lectures are not enough, how about walking into this spanking new library?


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

5 Pictures to Move the Human Heart

I came across this today. In a "No News is Good News" world, it is gratifying to see some hope been restored to humanity simply through kind acts. I glanced through the 21 pictures here, and thought I can share the my top 5 on this page. I have enclosed the credits accordingly.

#1. God called Adam to take care of creation. This child leads the way. I loved this!


#2. Trust Unlimited. As one who loves reading, I must say this gesture by this small bookshop reminds me of the poor lady who donated 2 copper coins to the temple treasury in the New Testament.


#3 The Old Leads the Way. This is a classic case of putting the interests of others before self. These elderly by adopting a life of self-sacrifice, has led the way to teach the young the same.


#4 - This is an act of grace, recognizing the pain that the Church has unwittingly inflicted, and making an open apology. No questions asked. Isn't this is what grace is all about?



#5 I like this customer service. It reminds me of Jesus who does not ignore the little ones, but urges all to welcome the little children.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Modern Violence (A Thomas Merton insight)

Thomas Merton is one of my favourite writers on spirituality. Written more than 50 years ago, many of his works are still relevant and insightful for modern living. This particular passage is an apt reminder that violence need not be guns, bullets, and weapons of destruction. It masquerades itself through other more subtle forms. Over time, it may pose a bigger and more potent danger to people, including our own selves.

There is a condition for this age-old symptom: "Restlessness."


Monday, June 18, 2012

BookPastor >> "Twelve Dynamic Shifts for Transforming Your Church" (E. Stanley Ott)

TITLE: Twelve Dynamic Shifts for Transforming Your Church
AUTHOR: E. Stanley Ott
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2002, (118 pages).

What does a transformed Church look like? Are we aware of what it takes to move from a Church that is stuck in the rut, to a vibrant witnessing community for God? In twelve clear and convicting ways, pastor E. Stanley Ott shows us the way, 12 ways to be precise. The challenge is to shake up old routines in order to breathe in new life. These twelve shifts happen to be a consolidation of all the big ideas learned from seminars, conferences, training sessions, and lectures the author has benefited from. Written especially for leadership, Ott puts it in this handy volume that enables any interested leader to jump in, to learn, and quickly apply.

Ott begins by agreeing with the observation of Dallas Willard that the mainline church has been largely ineffective in discipling their congregations. More often assumed than assisted, members fail to live out a vibrant, deliberate spiritual life that exhibits faith, hope, and love in growing dimensions. Ott categorizes the Church in terms of the traditional, the transitional, and the transformational, and shows us their differences in at least six ways.

  1. LEADERSHIP: In Traditional churches, the pastor or leaders are the primary doers of ministry while the transformational church has a much larger base of servants.
  2. WORSHIP: Traditional churches adopt mostly one kind of music, liturgy, or church tradition while transformational types adopt a variety and blends them accordingly.
  3. FELLOWSHIP / MISSION: Traditional churches separate the two while transformational enables both fellowship and mission to co-exist and to intermingle in such a way that every fellowship is like an outreach, and vice versa.
  4. PARTICIPATION: Traditional churches have many members with low commitments, especially in serving, while transformational churches tend to have a broad base of serving people right across generations and church groups.
  5. MINISTRY: Traditional churches see ministry as formal duties while transformational ones tend to embrace ministry both inside and outside the church.
  6. GOVERNANCE: Traditional churches emphasize control, while transformational churches adopt empowerment. 
Church in transitions have a bit of both traditional and transformational. Here are the 12 dynamic shifts in four categories. The first three covers the "vision and expectation" for the church. Shifts 4-6 talk about ministry and people. Shifts 7-9 involves the congregational program. The final three talks about the practice of leadership.
  1. "Shift from your present hopes for your congregation's future to the high expectations that God has a vital future for your church."
  2. "Shift from merely running programs to implementing a vision for ministry."
  3. "Shift from a maintenance mentality to a sustaining and advancing vision."
  4. "Shift from an emphasis on friendliness to a ministry of friendliness and hospitality."
  5. "Shift from assuming discipleship to developing discipleship."
  6. "Shift from a primary emphasis on the communal life of the church to a balanced emphasis on the communal and missional life of the church."
  7. "Shift from an unchanging worship format to a ministry of worship and music responsive to the variety of needs present in the congregation and in the community you want to reach."
  8. "Shift from primarily audience-oriented programming (eg. worship services, classes) to a balance of audience-oriented ministry and face-to-face ministry (eg. small groups, one-on-one spiritual direction)."
  9. "Shift from adding new people to established groups to adding new groups."
  10. "Shift from a 'leader-deploying' ministry to a 'leader-developing' ministry, from committees to ministry teams."
  11. "Shift from a controlling leadership to a permission-giving 'sending' leadership."
  12. "Shift from a pastor-centered/officer-centered ministry to shared ministry among pastor, officers, and congregation."
Each shift comes with a brief explanation followed by questions for reflection and discussion. They are also supported by Scripture and occasionally, Ott throws in some illustrations and stories. On implementation, Ott uses real life examples in chapter 8 to prove that these shifts are practical and doable. As an added bonus, there is a bibliography of books and literature for the interested reader to read and learn more about each shift.

My Thoughts

The key benefit in reading this book is to use it to ask honest questions about our own church. I figure that most of us will identify more with the transitions of the "transitional" church model, with different parts of the church more traditional, and others more transformational. It is hard to see any church being of any one type.  Well-written and laid out, this book will be a good resource in any leadership that is seeking to transform the way that they do church. 


Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Gift for All Fathers - LPC Fathers' Day 2012

I made this clip to commemorate Father's Day at Lord's Peace Chapel (LPC) this morning. It was shared with the whole congregation at around 10.10am. I have edited it slightly to give certain slides more time.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Father's Day Video Clip

This well made video clip is for all fathers.


Happy Father's Day to all fathers.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Prayer of Betty Scott Stam

OMF Missionaries (John and Betty Scott)
/ Martyrs for Christ
I came across this prayer after listening to a talk by Elisabeth Elliot, the widow of the Christian martyr, Jim Elliot. According to Elliot, this prayer is a daily prayer offered to God by Betty Scott. I read it, and I am moved. I am also moved to ask, "Do I dare to pray this prayer?"

What strikes me in this prayer is that the OMF missionary couple, the Stams, were both horribly executed in China, for the sake of the gospel.

"Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes,
all my own desires and hopes,
and accept Thy will for my life.
I give up myself, my time, my all,
utterly to Thee to be Thine forever.
Fill me and seal me with Thy Holy Spirit.
Use me as Thou wilt, send my where Thou wilt,
work out Thy whole will in my life at any cost,
now and forever."
The moving story of John and Betty Scott can be read here. Some of us don't even dare to sing aloud "I Surrender All" in Church. May God raise up conviction among His people.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

What's Life About?

We wake up. We go to work. We come home. We sleep. The next day, the cycle continues. Is that what life is all about? No wonder kids are bored. Toys and games may distract us for a while, but even then, we will sooner or later reach the inevitable: Boring.

Is it something to do with the activity itself? I think of last year's run to the Stanley Cup Finals by the Vancouver Canucks hockey team. On the weeks leading up to the final game, the whole city was alive. People were wearing Canucks jerseys, cars were flying proudly the flags that symbolized a Canadian team in the coveted Final. The mood was great, with many businesses scheduling their work around the game time. Even schools were actively involved. Strangers high-five strangers on the streets. Hopes and anticipation ran high. Until the team lost.

This same feeling happened again this year. When the Vancouver Canucks team got knocked out in the first round of the tournament, all the excitement and fanfare disappeared. Just like the electrical cord that gets sucked back to the vacuum cleaner upon the pressing of the cable retract button. Things fall back to normal speed and the daily routine of life. Boring.

A story was told of an interview with an avid mountain climber. This person spent years in training. Climb as many mountains as possible. After conquering one, set your sights on another. Schedules, trainings, preparations are all geared toward the next conquest which is higher, more dangerous, and more thrill. When asked why, the man replied, "We are never satisfied. As soon as we climb one peak, we're always unhappy until we can climb another."

Man's Search For Meaning

Like the mountain climbers, we too by default have been programmed to search for meaning and significance. Some find it in their jobs that provide opportunities for promotion or money. Others work on their careers simply to make ends meet. As the needs grow, so do the demand for more money to fund those needs. Even for the mundane routine of going to work, at least, one has a sense of doing something. After all, doing something boring is far better than doing nothing.

Is this what life is all about? Doing something better than nothing?

Mountain climber express their search for meaning through conquering mountain peaks. One peak leads to another. One climb leads to another. There is no stopping the climbing, just as there is no stopping the searching. That is why people who retire suddenly tend to become lost and listless, distressed and depressed. This is simply because they do not really know what to do with their lives!

One word aptly describes the state of us: Restlessness.

If we are honest with ourselves, many of us express this rest by seeking work, by doing things, or by planning to do something. Doing nothing is unbearable, unimaginable, unthinkable. We live lives of quiet desperation, so says Henry David Thoreau, a famous American philosopher. Aren't we all people living restlessly all the time?

Children feel bored with their toys after a while. Adults feel bored with their relationships. Many feel bored with their jobs. They all live lives of quiet desperation. Some knowingly. The rest despondently.

My take of life is this. Restlessness is a mark of the sinful man. No longer content with God alone, man tries to find fulfilment through all kinds of other things. The Bible calls it idolatry. That is why the first commandments spells out,

"Thou shall have no other gods before Me."

Perhaps, we need to ask ourselves three questions in order to reshape our perspectives.

  1. Do you know what satisfies?
  2. Do you know what satisfies us fully and surely?
  3. What are we going to do about it?

Hint: The answer is not religion. Neither is it secularism.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

19 Types of Christians

A friend of mine sent this to me. I am not sure who to attribute to. If you know the source, please let me know. While I am not convinced that there are anyone of us who are solely one kind of Christians, the main benefit of this categorization is to highlight some of the tendencies we can fall into. Of course, the disciple of Christ will be the Hard-Rock Christians. I like the pictures that go with each description.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gracious Punctuality

Why early for this?
One of the modern peeves in any Church is the tendency of some members to come late. It is such a common occurrence that many leaders are at their wit's end on how to handle the situation. Sometimes, it can be a no-win situation. Do nothing and the whole worship service begins late, rushed through, and ends late. Do something firmly and the leadership gets accused of legalistic measures. Angry worshipers call for an end to such selfish behaviour. Nonchalant people asks, "What's the big deal? It's only a Church service. After all, aren't Christians expected to show grace and understanding to one another?"

Wait a minute. Is Church a lower priority than an important business meeting with a client? Is being punctual at churches less important than going to a concert? I check out the venue policy of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and here is the latecomer policy.

Q: What if I arrive late at the theatre?
A: Most venues have a latecomers policy that allows latecomers to be seated at an appropriate break in the music, chosen by the conductor, at the back of the theatre. Latecomers can then move to their originally purchased seats after intermission.
(Link: VSO)

Yes, the Church is expected to be gracious to one another. Members are expected to be gracious. With regards to punctuality, it is also important that being punctual is a gracious act in itself. It is gracious to the worship team working hard to get ready to lead the call to worship. It is gracious to the faithful workers behind the scenes, setting up the tables and chairs, the sound systems, the refreshments, and the ushers. It is also gracious to any guest speakers and visitors.

I understand. Some of us will always have some kind of difficulty in coming on time. That said, if it becomes a weekly occurrence, the problem is not the Church. The problem is most likely the latecomer. After all, church times do not change. It is always exactly 9am, or 10am or depending on what service times your church offers. People all know in advance. Yet, they arrive late.

How then do we handle the problem of punctuality in Churches? Maybe, one way is to be a server ourselves. I have always believed that every church member ought to be an usher at least once in their lifetime. That way, they will get to meet latecomers face to face, and to see the problem of punctuality. While it is no big deal to the latecomer, it can be distracting to the early comers.
  • Why should early comers be penalized?
  • Why should the rest of the congregation be made to wait just because others come late?
  • Why should the church tolerate chronic latecomers?
  • Why should people be early for concerts and late for Church?
  • Why the double standard when people are ok with latecomer policy in concerts but not in churches?
....and not punctual for this?
We need to speak the truth in love. Again, I say that there is a difference between being nice and being loving. Being nice is not necessarily loving. Being loving is not necessarily nice. Speaking the truth in love means to start punctually without apologizing, start prayerfully with prayerfulness, and to be gracious both ways. To those who implement punctuality policies, be patient but firm. To those who are usual latecomers, for whatever reason, think more about others than your own selves.


Monday, June 11, 2012

BookPastor >> "Toxic Charity" (Robert D. Lupton)

This review was first published at the Panorama of a Book Saint here.

TITLE: Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It)
AUTHOR: Robert D. Lupton
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: HarperOne, 2011, (200 pages).

Focus on outcomes, not activities. Not all giving is good. In fact, much giving is toxic. This is the basic message in this book. Lupton in one sweep exposes the scandals both intended and unintended. He explains the reasons behind the flawed thinking, that underlies conventional giving. He explicates the various alternatives to transform charity from toxic handout to healthy helping out.

1) Exposing the Scandal
The scandal of toxic charity is basically the dis-empowerment of the poor to help themselves. After all, if they can get things for free, then why bother to work or find work?  Large charitable giving has not shortened the handout lines. Instead it has pathetically increased the demand. Those in poor economies, despite the huge millions of aid given to them, have not improved their living or economic conditions. According to one African aid worker, the continent has gotten worse. With easy availability of free money, free food, and free stuff, begging lines become longer. Administrative officials in developing economies become more corrupt. The incentives to work dramatically drop.

2) Explaining the Problem

Lupton convincingly drives home the problem of good intentions based on poor knowledge that givers have of the recipients. Through their self-centered perspective of giving in order to feel good inside the heart, they unwittingly weaken those they serve, develop dishonest relationships among their intended communities, diminish work ethic among the people they are trying to help, and increases the dependency of the poor for foreign aid. Charity of giving needs to be accompanied by parity of what the people really need. The former may help in the short term. The latter will be essential for the long term. Likewise, mercy must be accompanied by justice. Otherwise, the cycle of dependency will continue to spiral hopelessly non-stop. This results in frustrations when givers do not see improvements in the plight of the people they are trying to help. At the same time, the recipients grows in their inferiority complexes, in which their potential is not reached. One of the powerful examples Lupton shares in the book includes the following unhealthy pattern of giving without proper accountabilities:

  • Give once and you elicit appreciation;
  • give twice and you create anticipation;
  • give three times and you create expectation;
  • give four times and it becomes entitlement;
  • give five times and you establish dependency.

3) Expressing the Oath

Luton provides the turning point by suggesting that charitable organizations and givers take the 'Oath of Compassionate Service.' The oath mirrors the Hippocratic Oath. (128)
  • "Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves."
  • "Limit one-way giving to emergency services."
  • ''Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements."
  • "Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served."
  • "Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said - unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service."
  • "Above all, do no harm."
4) Explicating the Recovery

This section is worth the price of the book. Lupton shares from his experience to give readers a few creative alternatives to conventional giving. He is quite supportive of the Opportunity International organization which seeks to equip and empower people to help themselves. He advocates the need to be patient, and that there is no quick fixes in the charity initiative. He promotes the ABCD method: 'Asset-Based Community Development' in which one prioritizes on achieving the 'potential' instead of focusing on 'problems.' Rather than trying to solve one small part of the needy's problems, Lupton argues rightly for a wholesome restoration of the recipients sense of self-worth. This needs patience. This requires due diligence. This demands responsible giving.

Closing Thoughts

'Toxic Charity' may not a book for bed-time reading but is an important book that needs to be read by all charities and churches who are keen to help the poor and the needy. The first half of the book is a no-holds barred reprimand on the flaws of our current charitable giving model. It contains such strong observations that even the most faithful giver can be tempted to stop giving altogether. Fortunately, the second part of the book redeems the idea of giving. If readers are able to go beyond the wallet-wrenching parts at the beginning, to reach the end, they will appreciate the pains and the meticulous ways in which Lupton redeems giving altogether. This is how the gospel works too. As much as it exposes and attacks the effects of sin and sin itself, it redeems the sinner.

I highly recommend this book for all givers, to let their giving be guided by knowledge and wisdom. Most importantly, giving is a way to empower, and not disempower the receivers.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bible Slide on Holiness

Preparing our hearts for worship. Read, meditate, pray, and worship God.

Have a great Lord's Day today!


Saturday, June 09, 2012

Catching the Snakehead

The big news yesterday was the catching of the ferocious top predator, the Snakehead fish. Since putting the video more than three weeks ago, on Youtube about this invasive "Frankenfish," many in the lower mainland have expressed fears of how this fish can potentially decimate the entire fish population in Burnaby lake. If this fish breeds and swims to rivers and other parts of the water channels, it will wreak havoc on the entire ecosystem, not just the precious salmon population. For nearly 27 days, park officials, researchers, and volunteers, comb the entire lake (or some say lagoon), using nets, partially draining the lake, to catch this elusive fish. At one point, many have said the video was a hoax. Yesterday proved that it is an authentic video. There is really a snakehead on the loose. It has been captured. Here's the proof.

Captured 8 June 2012, (Photo Credit:

Deemed a top predator in North America, this foreign fish from Asia and Africa, eats up literally anything smaller than itself. When in their natural habitats, the alligators, crocodiles, sharks, and bigger fishes, can easily gobble them up. Unfortunately, in North America, snakeheads reign supreme, which is why park officials and environmentalists are especially concerned. The only way this fish ever existed in the lake is due to irresponsible individuals releasing them illegally. Popular among some Asians, the snakehead fish is a delicacy, often sold in local Asian supermarkets. For some reason, someone has decided to buy it alive as a pet, and then release it in a public park.

I believe this incident has taught us how fragile our ecosystem is. Mess with it and we are in for big trouble. It is time to call for a ban on any live imports of such fish. The only good snakehead fish in North America is a dead one.  I love my salmon.

Three lessons from this Snakehead saga

Firstly, I marvel at the power of social media. Put on Youtube, the social media spreads the news far and wide. This is an excellent example of how social media can be used for good. Thankfully, the response from the authorities is quick.

Secondly, catching the fish needs teamwork. This also means leadership. I believe the BC authorities have learned a lesson from their counterparts in Maryland down South. They have had a devastating experience with the Snakehead on the loose. It was so bad that they had to kill everything in the waters just to rid the snakehead. Even then, there is no guarantee they have eradicated the problem completely. Leadership comes from being humble to learn from others, be open to consider appropriately the facts brought to attention, and then to do something about it. Thankfully, this fish was caught even after adopting a host of methods and patience to catch it. Sometimes I wonder, if the fish is smart enough to evade capture for another month, perhaps, it can slip away unnoticed?

Finally, things brought to attention normally get the most attention. Left untouched, unreported, it will simply be left alone to do the damage while we are all sleeping. This snakehead is a dangerous fish and rightfully it needs to be captured urgently. What about sin in us? Do we need to bring it to attention? Or are we content to let it fester, uninterrupted, simply because it is hiding under the covers of normalcy?


One snakehead launches a torrent of visitors and officials to the lake. Thanks to the quick action by the authorities, this invasive fish is caught before further damage is done. Bye snakehead. Outgunned, outmanuevered, outplayed, the snakehead has no chance. Lest it has laid eggs.


Friday, June 08, 2012

Recognition is a Narcotic

Ever experienced being overlooked for a promotion? Ever seen how all the credit for your hard work and creativity, being stolen by your boss? Ever been in a situation where your so called well deserved recognition is non-existent? It hurts, right?

A) Mark of Honour?

We love recognition. Make sure it does not become our love.
Recognition is one of the most visible signs of honour and worthiness people give to certain individuals. Whether one wins an Olympic medal, or appears on public media, or given honorary accolades at a graduation ceremonies, recognition is a key driver of human achievement and pride. The hunger for recognition begins at a very young age. In the West, building self-esteem in young children is almost a given. Teachers regularly use superlatives like, "Fantastic! Great job! You deserve 5 stars!" when they praise the children in their care. Parents are also in the same camp, often praising their kids for the littlest amount of achievement. It seems like the parents have more to give than the kid's readiness to receive. All it takes is for the child to do something, or anything, and praises will be lavished upon them.

In school, watch how teachers hold up model pupils in order to "spur" others to improve. By recognizing individual achievements, many educators hope to encourage more students to continue to press harder and more diligently. Recognition helps. Recognition motivates. However, too much recognition is not a good thing. It breeds arrogance. It cultivates pride. It becomes an addiction.

B) Mark of Pride

Success, fame, and fortune are often ingredients that trigger the beginning of the end. I think of King Solomon, who started humbly, peaked early, but ended poorly. Having accumulated massive wealth, wisdom, knowledge, reputation, and of course, women companions, he eventually sowed the seeds of his own downfall as he fell victim to idolatry. This is perhaps one of the saddest stories of how a great potential fails to reach his full potential. Reason: Idolatry.

As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. (1 Kings 11:4-6) 

Recognition is a narcotic. Receive it once in a while, it can be encouraging and helpful. The moment it becomes an expectation, as one starts to crave recognition, it marks the beginning of idolatry through the most powerful sin of them all: Pride. Here is a list of ten pride test questions provided by Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church.
  1. Do you long for a lot of attention? 
  2. Do you become jealous or critical of people who succeed? 
  3. Do you always have to win? 
  4. Do you have a pattern of lying? 
  5. Do you have a hard time acknowledging you were wrong? 
  6. Do you have a lot of conflicts with other people? 
  7. Do you cut in line at the store, airport, on the freeway, etc.? 
  8. Do you get upset when people do not honour your achievements? 
  9. Do you tend more toward an attitude of entitlement or thankfulness? 
  10. Do you honestly feel you are basically a good person and superior to others? 

In this test, Driscoll asks that we call ourselves prideful if we score at least '1' Yes to the above ten questions. If anyone of us score '0' yes, then we are "very proud."  Driscoll is often more provocative than most people. Whether we like him or not is another point altogether. If we look at the ten questions carefully, we will soon realize that they all point to a certain manifestation of pride.

For example, craving for lots of attention is a form of wanting recognition. Being jealous of other people's achievements is envy that wishes we are recognized instead. The desire to win is simply because we will then be recognized with a prize. We lie often because we fear losing, and in the process losing recognition. And so on.

C) Mark to Beware

Recognition is a narcotic. The more we crave it, the more we become addicted to it. Unaddressed, the craving becomes more and more obsessive. It fills the mind. It grips the heart. It directs the whole person to seek recognition not for other's sake but for self's sake. As it increasingly puts one above others, it will soon challenge the authorities. The recognition addict can lead one toward something much worse. Recognition can stem the hunger a little while, but the crave will return. As self becomes more important than others, one begins to create a little god out of self, making wants into needs, non-essentials into essentials, taking what belongs to God, and calling it our rights.

Recognition is a narcotic. Beware. When we are recognized for whatever work we have done, adopt a state of humility. This is the best way to arrest any orientation toward the idolatry of self.

"So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'" (Luke 17:10) 

Recognition can encourage. It can provided a much needed boost in self-esteem. That said, as much as we love recognition, make sure it does not become our love.

THOUGHT: "Don't worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition."  (Abraham Lincoln)


Thursday, June 07, 2012

Three Faces of Masculine Pride

Men often have a peculiar problem. Pride. Pride is one of the famous set (or infamous?) seven deadly sins. According to A.W. Tozer, in one of his best known works, The Pursuit of God, pride is a "burden," that sets ourselves up as "a little god." How are we consciously or unconsciously setting ourselves up? There are three ways that many men have adopted. Firstly there is the self-independent, "I can fix everything," mindset that refuses to ask for help even under the most dire circumstances. Secondly, it is the control freak, who basically becomes utterly restless when things are beyond his control. Thirdly, there is the self-justifying righteous person.

A) Mr Fix-It: "I Don't Need Help."

Men who have traveled with their lady companions will be familiar with this. When it comes to asking for directions, men simply don't. Whether it is a masculine factor, or a sign of being independent, I am not sure. The fact is, men simply are not oriented toward asking for help. They will always tend to want to fix it first. I remember traveling with my wife on a holiday trip on a self-guided tour. We were driving on a country hillside. After several miles of not seeing any signs pointing to our destination, my wife will start questioning.  Are we in the right direction? Have we missed a turn? Why is it so long? Of course, the question that most men hate: "Why don't you pull over to ask for directions?"

Like a macho man from Mars, I will continue driving as if I have been there. Asking for help? No way. There is no problem in the first place. As the incident goes, after driving more miles and not seeing anything helpful, I will grudgingly pull into a gas station and drag myself to speak to the gas attendant.

Thought: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less." (C.S. Lewis)

B) Mr Control Freak: "Don't Control Me. I Control You."

There are many things I like to be doing myself. From fixing the light bulb or the computer, to searching for a place when driving, I like to do things independently. When things are fixed according to my way, I feel good. I feel proud. I feel I am in control. Yet, when things spiral out of control, I feel lousy. It hits me hard, especially my pride.

Sometimes, in organizations we work in, there are bosses who seem to want to know everything we do. My colleagues frequently call it "micro-management," where every little detail needs to be reported up to the bossy guy up there. The moment we fail to meet his high demand for control, we will be in trouble. We hurt his pride. He hurts our pay.

One common example of pride is when someone overtakes us on the wrong side when we are driving. More often than not, if it is a male driver, there is a good chance he gets upset.  The desire to want to be in control comes across in very subtle ways. It is not the incident per se, but our responses to the offending act that reveals how prideful we are.

Thought: "The test of good manners is to be patient with bad ones." (Gabirol)

C) Mr Self-Justifying: "I am Right."
In discussions with men, I have encountered many situations in which a vigorous debate turns ugly. Refusing to concede their positions, sometimes, people resort to ridiculing each other just to make their positions superior. While accusations fly quickly, once the truth is revealed, more often than not, the party in error takes a while to admit his fault. This is intriguing. Why is this so? Why do men find it so difficult to say sorry? Perhaps, that has to do with the inability to swallow one's pride. The Scriptures say, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6b).

Thought: "The meek man will attain a place of soul rest. As he walks on in meekness he will be happy to let God defend him. The old struggle to defend himself is over. He has found the peace which meekness brings." (A.W. Tozer)

Indeed, one of the paradoxes of life is this. A proud man thinks he is humble, but the humble man thinks he is proud. Beware of the above three faces. They can actually be efforts to turn ourselves into little gods.


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Holiness is not an Option

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)
One of the struggles in which many churches encounter is that there is a lack of evangelistic zeal or earnest outreach. This is especially so for those of us who have been Christians a long time. In some ways, the very secular society and expectations of non-religious talk have caged us into silence. In other ways, people have dabbled in worldliness so much that they are more often than not, "Christian" by name only. What if, the problem lies not in the secularism around us, or the worldliness all over us? What if the problem is something more internal? A lack of holiness.

Dr J.I. Packer in his book Rediscovering Holiness, makes three observations about why holiness is missing in the modern Church or Christian lives nowadays.
  1. There is a lack of teaching and preaching on holiness. 
  2. We have not insisted upon holiness on our leaders. 
  3. We fail to address the need for personal holiness. 

After commenting about how many Christians of old place such heavy emphasis on holiness, Packer laments the modern state of worldliness. He writes:

 "The Puritans insisted that all life and relationships must become 'holiness unto the Lord." . . . . . But how different it is today! To listen to our sermons and to read the books we write for each other and then to watch the zany, worldly, quarrelsome way we behave as Christian people, you would never imagine that once the highway of holiness was clearly marked out for Bible believers. " (J.I.Packer, Rediscovering Holiness, Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2009, p12-3) 

I wonder what will happen if Christians, instead of worrying about sharing the gospel, start LIVING the gospel. Through honest living. Through purity of thought and word. Through holiness that starts from the inside out. Once holiness takes shape inside us, perhaps, others around us will sit up and take note. How do we do that? Packer recommends the following:

  1. Serve one another, especially the least attractive among us.
  2. What we do for others is a test of our love for God. 
  3. Think of holiness often, as we work and serve. 
  4. See negative circumstances as opportunities to learn.
  5. Even when we do not understand, continue to do good and to trust God. 

Holiness is not an option. It is a calling, a duty, and an expression of love to God. Let us not be Christians by name, but people of holiness in our words and in our works. Be holy in ALL we do. It is a biblical imperative, not an option. I echo Major Allistaire Smith's words about the call for Christians to be holy. There will then be a revival. Holiness may very well be the gospel's most powerful witness.


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

"Where is God when it hurts?" - 3 Responses

One of the biggest struggles people of faith have is to reconcile God's goodness with the evil and suffering they see each day. Simply put, if God is a good Creator who creates all good, then why is there evil in the world? If God creates everything, isn't it true that evil is also created by God? While philosophers ponder about the problem of evil, people who suffer from evil under the sun often ask: "Where is God when it hurts?"

There are at least three ways to approach this question. The first counters the question with another question. The second does not even bother to ask the question, but rally around the people in pain. It defaults to simply trusting God to reveal answers in God's perfect time.

A) "Where is the Church when it hurts?"

This is Philip Yancey's approach when he was asked the same question following the Virginia Tech University gun massacre back in April 2007. The main point is to refocus the question back to the person asking the question. Philosophers tend to treat the problem of evil from a distant perspective, bringing forth all kinds of arguments for or against any type of answers. We are not able to speak for God for things we do not understand. The best way for us on earth is to learn to comfort, to walk with, and to understand as best as we can, the suffering our friends or loved ones are going through. The Church is called to do this. In the beatitude, it says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). God often use people of faith to comfort people in their communities. In the age of the Internet, this ability to comfort can reach a great distance. A warm assuring hug is far better than a good intellectual answer.

B) A Band-Aid Community, Not Questions and Answers

This approach is practised by the Amish people. In the aftermath of the horrible killings of four young Amish girls, the rest of the world watched in bewilderment to see how the Amish community banded together without even bothering to ask the question about "Where is God?" Instead, they already knew where God is, and their focus was on healing, on recovery, on forgiveness, and on adopting a fear of God first. Yancey notes:

"They knew where God was. With their long history of persecution, the Amish were not for an instant surprised by another horrifying outbreak of evil. They rallied around, ministered to one another, and even embraced the killer's family. In sum, they healed wounds by relying on a sense of community that had solidified over centuries." (Philip Yancey, What Good is God?, New York, NY: Faithwords, 33)

In the absence of questions or answers, the Amish people simply provide a Ministry of Presence. True healing needs a community who can be present, when the need arises.

C) God the Most Perfect Comforter

God is there in the pain. God is there in the suffering. God is with each of us where we are. He is not the instigator of evil. Suffering in itself is a mystery. We can try to explain it, but we will always come up short. In times of pain and suffering, asking philosophical questions are not only mind-boggling, it is unhelpful. Better to put our faith and trust in God, who spared not His own Son, but allowed His Son to die on the Cross. Think about it. A sinless man. A blameless man. An innocent man, purest of the pure, fairest of the fair. Yet He suffered unjustly, died cruelly, and buried unceremoniously. This is God who understands to the core of our being what it means to suffer. It is because God understands perfectly, we can trust Him.

May the Lord guide us when and how to adopt a ministry of presence, of comfort, and of trust.


Latest Posts