Sunday, September 30, 2012

The 3Ps of Ministry

This week has been a particularly busy one. It has affected my time for reflection and writing. Thankfully, this week I have a friend who will be a guest preacher, so that frees me to do other ministry work. For me, writing is very much a part of my gifting and ministry work. I try to write as much as I can, but as we all know, time and environment is important. That is why I rely a lot on books. I let the Bible direct my thoughts too. Today, my anchor verse is Paul's word to the Ephesians.
"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." (Ephesians 4:1)
3Ps of Ministry
I have always been concerned for committed members of the Church, who run the second, the third, and even the fourth mile. The more I see them run like horses, or busy themselves non-stop like bees, I marvel at the energy. Over time, there will be the state of feeling burn-out, tired, and feeling helpless at the mountain of work and the tiny number of available people. If not addressed, some will move toward discouragement and dejection. A small number even goes into depression. Finally, if the work continues to pile up, when the physical tiredness meets the emotional weariness, we have a formula for burning out. Like a candle burning up on both ends, the time will come when the whole candle disappears altogether.

As I look at the life of Paul, I am encouraged. Such a man of zeal, a man of passion in his constant yearning for the people. A man of purpose, who begins each epistle with a declaration of his identity and calling in Christ, who learns to see people from the eyes of God, I see hope. Here is the 3Ps of Ministry which I hope will encourage you, my reader, and especially the weary worker in Christ.

1) Purpose

When we know the 'why,' the 'how' and the 'what' will fall in its proper place. This is one reason why Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven-Life has made such a huge impact not just for Christians, but also for non-believers. Man is made for a purpose. The trouble is, sometimes, we forget the purpose. In fact, knowing a purpose is not just writing down a purpose or a mission statement. It is to see the SIGNIFICANCE of the purpose. Paul has seen Jesus on his journey to Damascus. It is this sight of the Divine Christ that begins it all. His eyes is so fixed on Jesus that the main part of his ministry is not the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Corinthians, etc. His main purpose is Christ. Everything else flows from that purpose. Note Paul declaring himself not simply as a "prisoner" but a prisoner "for the Lord."

Have we forgotten our purpose of being in Christ when we serve? Have we become too embroiled in ministry work that we forget about the Person of Christ? Mind you, we can serve a lot, do a lot, minister a lot, and still not be a person secure in Christ.

Check our hearts. Check our relationship with God. Caring for others begins with soul-care.

Reflection: How is your personal walk with the Lord today? Strengthen this, and your purpose will naturally be strengthened.

2) Passion

When the demand piles up, we can feel as if we are imprisoned in a cage of ministry work. Any pastor who is too busy working his heart out without adequate reflection is digging his own grave of bruning out. Worse, he may start to lose his passion for God, and subsequently the people he loves.

It is the passion of Christ that has driven Jesus to willingly come to earth, be humiliated, arrested, pierced for our transgressions, and died a cruel death. This passion drives him. His prayer life reflects this deeply.

"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:35)

How can one man give up his heavenly luxury, and be humiliated so badly on earth? If you watch the movie, "The Passion of Christ," you can feel the pains of the whipping and the torturing. Sometimes you may even wonder if it is all worth it at all to die for people who are ungrateful. As followers of Christ, are we to do any less than our Master? Yes, we may not necessarily be whipped and crucified like Him, but the moment we move our eyes away from our own disappointments, to look at the glory and the sacrifice of God, our perspectives can be renewed from needless competition, to loving passion to compassion.

Reflection: Where is your passion? Radical conviction and deep compassion are the twin engines of godly passion.

3) People

Finally, Christ comes down to earth not to die for a ministry. He comes down to die to for people like you and me. Jesus is not interested in constructing big buildings made of stone. He wants to bring together the lost sheep from near and far. For as far as the East is from the West, that is the extent of His love. Not just some, but all of us.

What is worthy? What is our calling?

If your answer is a project, it is to short term. If your answer is to achieve a certain target in life, that is too limited. If your answer is a tangible benefit, that is too narcissistic. If your answer is to serve people, now you are talking. More importantly, the people ministry is about discipleship.

Our calling as disciples of Christ is to MAKE disciples of Christ beginning with ourselves. Both can be done TOGETHER. Sometimes, making disciples can happen at the self first, or for the others first, but discipleship is never about programs or processes. It is about people. Our calling is never to fight over personal principles at the expense of people.

Reflection: Ministry is more about people than principles.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Midweek Meditation: Think Little of Self

Thomas a Kempis once said,

"He who would learn to serve must first learn to think little of himself. This is the highest and most profitable lesson, truly to know and to despise ourselves. To have no opinion of ourselves - and to thik always well and highly of others is great wisdom and perfection."

In a world that worships success, material things, money, and fame, we are often tempted to copy what the world is pursuing. We buy into the mistaken belief that more is more, and that God only helps those who help themselves. No. The world is not about us. The world is beyond us. We are but participants in the universe of life. We need guidance ourselves, instead of thinking that we must be guided by our fancy wishes. Like John the Baptist who proclaims that "I must decrease, and He must increase," we adopt this attitude of servanthood. When we learn to see others more important than ourselves, we are not necessarily downplaying our worth. We are actually right-sizing ourselves, and to make sure that our sinful selfish selves are kept in its proper perspective. For many of us, hemming ourselves in to think little of our own selves is a good start.


Monday, September 24, 2012

BookPastor >> "The 5 Levels of Leadership" (John C. Maxwell)

This book review was first published at "Panorama of a Book Saint" on March 6th, 2012.  I recommend it warmly for your consideration. Maxwell writes in a very readable and structured way. The ideas are vivid and can be very practical for everyday usage.


TITLE: The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential
AUTHOR: John C. Maxwell
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Center Street, 2011, (296 pages).

As a leadership guru, John Maxwell has a way of putting important ideas into a very teachable format. Through what he calls the 5 levels of leadership, he enables readers to immediately hook on the intentionality of leadership. He says that the book is a result of more than 5 years of work, as well as his most popular request so far among all his leadership materials. The 5 levels of leadership in increasing order of influence are:

  1. POSITION - closely linked to your rights, where people follow you simply because they have to.
  2. PERMISSION - associated more with the level of your relationships, people follow you because they respect you.
  3. PRODUCTION - linked to results, people follow you because you are competent and delivers results.
  4. PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT - linked to reproduction, people follow you because you are a people developer based on what you have done for them.
  5. PINNACLE - linked to respect, people follow you because of what you represent and for the person that you are.

Following this model, Maxwell provides 10 insights to use with regards to the progression of leadership levels. Of course, one needs to move from Level 1 to the highest Level 5.
(John Maxwell, The Five Levels of Leadership, p6)

  1. You can move up a level but you never leave the previous one behind
  2. You are not on the same level with every person
  3. The higher you go, the easier it is to lead
  4. The higher you go, the more time and commitment is required to win a level
  5. Moving up levels occurs slowly, but going down can happen quickly
  6. The higher you go, the greater the return
  7. Moving farther up always requires further growth
  8. Not climbing the levels limits you and your people
  9. When you change positions or organizations, you seldom stay at the same level
  10. You cannot climb the levels alone.

It is tempting to think that there is nothing really new with regards to the author's way of explaining leadership. Yet, I admit it is amazing for Maxwell to be able to present his ideas in simple ways, packed with  witty advice, and concise applications. He gives a leadership assessment exercise for readers to immediately use and apply in order to determine their present levels. He explains each level in detail, complete with survey results, stories, experience, and humor. One of the pleasant finds in the book is the examples he used. For instance, the Chinese word,  has been explained through the following ways:

  • Ears (耳) - I hear what you say
  • Eyes (眼) - I see what you say
  • Heart (心) - I feel what you say
  • Undivided attention - I value who you are and what you say.
It is a simple word, but the explanation itself is compelling. While the concepts are really simple, I must acknowledge the brilliance behind the way the author is able to keep the readers engrossed in the book's stories. Learning is fun and educational! As a learning tool, the book is an excellent tool to motivate leaders to improve. It is easy to use and very entertaining as well. On the application side, things are not necessarily as neat as what Maxwell has painted it to be. Life is often more complex than the 5 levels of leadership. Perhaps, the best way to use this book is to have it as a rough map for one to determine leadership style and position. The true measure of one's leadership ultimately lies in the practice of leadership. Good teaching and good tools can only help one so far. There is the school of hard knocks. Both success and failure of leadership efforts are also teachers of leadership in their own ways. Powerful stuff this book may contain, do not be too myopic to limit your leadership learning only to this book. It is important for readers to use this book as one of their many resources of leadership.

That said, if you have not read any of John Maxwell's book before, I strongly recommend that you pick this book as your first. What I find particularly helpful is the way Maxwell points out the pros and cons of each level, and how to make the best use of that level, for the benefit of others.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Midweek Meditation: Lectio Divina

The Lectio Divina is a spiritual practice of meditative reading, or spiritual reading. Instead of reading to harness information, it is a kind of reading that moves toward spiritual formation. When we read the Bible, we listen. Then we listen some more, pausing when necessarily, cruising when needed. It lets the Word of God take root in our hearts, or sit above us as we settle our minds toward obedience. Classical lectio divina comprises four elements.
  1. Lectio - reading;
  2. Meditatio - reflecting;
  3. Oratio - responding;
  4. Contemplatio - resting.
All of these actions are focused and guided by the Scriptures. Richard Foster calls the lectio divina as "a meditative, spiritual reading in which both the mind and the heart are drawn into the love of God." Once this practice is done, we can apply the same method to other kinds of spiritual literature.

"The masters of the spiritual life advise that we should, when contemplating, make use of the imagination. For example, we should visualize an incident such as the miracle of the draught of fishes as vividly as we can. We should be present in mind as though we had just stopped on our way and were witnessing the event. This is most useful because it brings the event to life and makes it part of our inner experience." (Romano Guardini)

Let us apply the lectio divina to the reading of this verse.

"In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men." (John 1:4, NAS)

  • In - not outside, nor sideways, up, or down. It is in. It is inclusive. It is inner being. 
  • Him - Why is "Him" so special? It is a Person, not a Principle, not a Force, not an element, not something that is impersonal or metaphysical being. It is in the flesh.
  • Life - It is alive. It is a flowing dynamic, not a static block of inanimate thing. It moves, it beats, it lives.
  • Light - In a world of darkness, things are gloomy and scary. When the light comes, the darkness flees. Darkness is not a dark force per se, but a place where there is absence of light. With light, there will be no darkness. With darkness, we need the light. 
  • Men - Not animals or plants, not machines or technology. It is purely the human concern. God loves people.
  • Put them all together, and we have one verse that speaks of the Giver of Life, the Light of Men, in one Person: Jesus Christ.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


One of the reasons why our worship is delinquent is simply because of our lack of desire to wonder. We are proud of our ability to solve problems. We revel in our capacity for ready-made solutions. We aim toward mastery so much that we are unable to appreciate the mystery of everyday life. Gayle Erwin's book, "YHWH Style" has this core conviction, that we can only know God according to what God says about Himself.  Watch creation. Watch people. Watch the weather. Watch. Then slowly but surely, as we seek to look for God, we will gradually realize that God is already looking at us.

"If one eats the bread of harvested grain;
If one plucks and eats a sweetened fruit;
If one watches wounds heal;
If one gazes at a distant star;
One can know the grace of God."
(Gayle D. Erwin, YHWH Style, Cathedral City, CA: Yahshua Publishing, 2001, p172)


Monday, September 17, 2012

BookPastor >> "Invitations to God"

This week, my book recommendation is Adele Calhoun's excellent book on spiritual formation. It is one thing to try to force ourselves to do devotions. It is yet another to feel that we are invited into a time to commune with God. We will learn that prayer and devotion is not about us bulldozing our way through in order to get our devotions done. It is about God inviting us in.


TITLE: Invitations from God: Accepting God's Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive, Wait, Remember and More
AUTHOR: Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011, (208 pages)

This book is written by a fellow alumnus from my alma mater. With "invitation" as a key theme, Calhoun weaves in 11 areas in which we can find ourselves invited to do. "Invitation" is a great word to use with regards to spiritual formation. It is something unforced but encouraged. It is attractive yet gentle. It is an open invite that has our closest interests in mind.

"Invitations are powerful. Like tides, they ebb and flow, sharing the contours of our existence. . . . Invitations shape who we know, where we go, what we do and who we become. Invitations can challenge and remake us. They can erode and devastate. And they can also heal and restore us.... The things we say yes to and the things we say no to determine the terrain of our future." (9-10)

There are four types of invitations. The first are the "business and career invitations" that "invite us to more productivity, vision, initiative and profitability." The second are the "family invitations" that can affect how closely knitted the family can become. The third kind is "educational" which offers ways to improve or enrich oneself through learning.  The fourth is "entertainment and social" which is an invitation to party. What makes God's invitation different from all of these is that God wants to "mend, shape, anchor and grow us into the character of Jesus."  Our spiritual journey is about how we RESPOND to God's invitation to grow into Jesus. Throughout the twelve invitations, the format is similar. There is first an invite followed by a key passage of Scripture. The author then highlights a roadblock that threatens to derail us from an appropriate response to the invitation. It shows us the way to let the Holy Spirit help us, and then to practice in a way to enlarge our receptivity that God may work even more in our hearts.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Three Reflections: Of Anti-West, of Will and Kate, and of .....

My three reflections on the top three news events this week.

The past week has been a sad testimony of the wrong end of the debate between the rights of self-expression vs the responsibility of neighbourliness. I want to take some time to reflect on three major news events this week. The first is about the anti-American violence in the Middle East, no thanks to the film and the notorious Terry Jones. The second is about the irresponsible publishing of private photos of the British Royal couple, William and Kate. The third, read on....

A) Anti-Western Sentiment

(Credit: MFS - The Other News)
The first is the wave of anti-American (even anti-Western) sentiment gushing through the Middle East this moment. In the West, the laws of the Western world allows film-makers pretty much a free hand to make films that are offensive to other cultures. In the name of free speech and self-expression, a group has made a film called "Innocence of Muslims" which essentially depicts images of Islam which are clearly offensive to Muslims. Worse, the notorious American pastor, Terry Jones, previously known for his stance on burning Qurans, openly supports the movie. Even sillier, is the provocative 2-minute clip played on Egyptian Islamic TV! As a result, like a spark that lights up a trail of gunpowder, anti-American sentiment swept through the Middle East. From Egypt to Yemen, Syria to Libya, Lebanon to Jordan, angry mobs hit out at American symbols. One US diplomat was killed in Jordan. Many compounds of American embassies were stormed, despite the police presence. Even commercial outlets like KFC were not spared. What seemed to be a set of personal beliefs that are anti-Islam in the film had generated so much violence. Worse, even today, I got an email from someone that uses the recent Islamic violence as evidence of "great darkness" and "radical Islamic militants" in the Middle East. I strongly object to these for the following reasons.

  1. Great darkness is already everywhere. is not only on the Middle East. The whole world is in Great Darkness. If anyone in the West is adamant that the darkness is elsewhere, especially the Middle-East, they ought to take a look at their own backyard. Look at the sinful environment, the poverty, the drug problem, the symbols of sexual immorality, and so on. Look at the secularism of society that has cast doubts on the sanctity of life, or the sexual perversions.
  2. "Radical Islamic Militants" are not the only ones who are radical. I think Terry Jones is also radical. Why leave him out? The majority of the Christian world do not support him or his actions. 
  3. Tempting Violent Behaviour: The provocative film has basically one goal: to taunt Muslims in the name of "sharing truth." Dangle a fish before an eagle, or a goat before a tiger. The predator will gobble up the prey. For that matter, what if someone outside a West produces a movie that taunts the integrity of the American society? Will that not inflame feelings in the West? 
  4. Balance Right of Free Speech with Responsibility. Just having a gun in our hands does not mean we can go around shooting people. It is wrong to use our license for free speech to hurt others. Ever watch Spiderman? The classic words at the end of the movie is this: With great power comes great responsibility. 
  5. Creating New Radicals Instead: Most critically, films like these or anything that denigrates other beliefs or people groups will raise up the real radicals. Even if there are no radicals in the first place, repeated signals will easily create one. The younger ones who are watching television or modern media on the Internet, can be easily influenced or inflamed by all kinds of things. 
Unfortunately, one radical Terry Jones and the small filmmaker have cast a long dark shadow that has implicated and ruined any good impressions outsiders ever had on the West. For that matter, if we are able to recognize that Terry Jones do not represent the rest of the Christian world, let us also remember that the scattered groups of Islamic radicals DO NOT represent the rest of the Muslim world.
B) Photos That Embarass the Royal Couple

(Credit: CBSNews)
In Singapore and Malaysia during their tour in the Far East, Prince William and Kate were both "deeply saddened" by photos from a French tabloid that published photos of their private moments during their holiday.  It brings back moments of how Lady Diana had been taunted and pursued by the Papparazi just before her death in a tragic accident. Are all these necessary? Don't these press people have more important things to do? I am also appalled at the way the French magazine has behaved. Free speech that infringes on the privacy of others is not free speech. It is irresponsible use of freedom of speech. I posted on Facebook the following seven things.

  1. Don't Google for the pictures. Never ever. 
  2. Don't publicize the magazines that produce the offensive photos.
  3. Boycott them or any of their agents.
  4. Condemn the act not just on privacy invasion but for irresponsibility of their use of freedom. 
  5. Tell others not to search for the pictures. 
  6. Remember the golden rule. Do to others what you want others to do to you. Those of us who have children, will we want people to violate their privacy?
  7. Respect the privacy of the royals. They need privacy too, like you and me. 
In defending the publication of the "topless photos," the editor of the magazine defended their actions by saying that "they are not shocking." Even if it is true, I find their attitude and stance, "shocking."
C) The Apple iPhone 5

(Photo Credit:
Set to become one of the best runaway hits by the present most valuable company in America, Apple is poised to grab even more market-share with their latest version of the popular smartphone. Even as competitors are coming up with powerful and competent alternatives, Apple still has the leadership in terms of marketing and fan following. Do we really need to upgrade? I must say the Apple marketing engine has never been so effective and convincing. Even my daughter has told me about friends of hers who can rattle off Apple information better than any school subject. Here is a tip from Wendell Berry about upgrading our technologies. In his classic statement about "Why I am NOT going to buy a computer," Wendell Berry gives the following guidelines when it comes to technological upgrading.

  1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
  2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
  3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces. 
  4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces. 
  5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body. 
  6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools. 
  7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible. 
  8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair. 
  9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.
Whether we ought to upgrade to iPhone 5, and to enrich the more than US$97billion cash hoard at Apple, we must also seriously think about the opportunity cost of the upgrade. Can our money spent on upgrading be used better elsewhere?


Friday, September 14, 2012

Level 5 Leadership: The Pinnacle

(Credit: John Maxwell)
For the past few weeks, we have been reflecting on John Maxwell's 5 levels of leadership. We have covered the Positional (Level 1), the Permission (Level 2), the Production (Level 3), and last week, we dealt with Level 4, the People Development level of leadership.

In this final stage and the highest level of leadership, people will follow because of who you are, and what you represent. Level 1 is about rights, titles, and jostling for position. Level 2 is about relationships. Level 3 is about production where results are key factors for leadership influence. Level 4 is about reproduction where the leader is helping others succeed. Level 5 represents the pinnacle of leadership, where respect is the trademark. The problem is that this level is often not a permanent position. They are often playing at Level 4 because their primary task is to develop Level 4 leaders.

A) Upsides of Level 5 Leadership

There are three major upsides according to Maxwell. The first is that Level 5 leaders will work toward creating a Level 5 leadership culture within the organization. It is about empowering. It is about a high level leading. It is about rising above the rest. Second, Level 5 leaders aim toward creating and leaving behind a legacy. Whether convictions or principles, leaders are measured on how well they have developed other leaders. Third, level 5 leaders set the stage or the platform for developing others. They learn, they earn, and they eventually return back the benefits in some way.

B) Downsides of Level 5 Leadership

Likewise, Maxwell highlights three major downsides. First, leaders may start to let pride in, and think one has arrived. They fall on their own idea of achievement that they fail to be humble and grow. Second, they start trusting themselves more than others. They deceive themselves. They start to think whatever they touch turns into gold. Third, they lose focus of the key objectives the moment the focus move to self.

C) Toward a Level 5 Leadership Level

Thankfully, there is a way. People wanting to grow to this level of leadership have six ways to do that.
  1. They make room for others at the top
  2. They continually mentor other potential Level 5 leaders
  3. They create an inner circle that they may be held accountable
  4. They let their unique leadership level do unique things for the sake of the organization
  5. They plan for succession
  6. They leave a positive legacy.
Of all the six, I think the most important is to be able to move away from "being needed" toward "be succeeded."  Such leaders work on other people's strengths instead of exploiting their weaknesses. They learn to give rather than to keep for themselves. 

D) Some notable Quotes

  • "Wouldn't having more leaders create less room? No. And here's why: when you develop a leader who develops other leaders, you create more room at the top because you increase the size and power of the entire organization. Every time you develop good leaders and help find a place for them to lead and make an impact, they gather more good people to them." (243-4)
  • "Leadership author and former FedEx executive Fred A. Manske Jr., observed, 'The ultimate leader is one who is willing to develop people to the point that they eventually surpass him or her in knowledge and ability.' On the Pinnacle level, that should always be your goal." (244)
  • "Writer Lorin Woolfe says, 'The ultimate test for a leader is not whether he or she makes smart decisions and takes decisive action, but whether he or she teaches others to be leaders and builds an organization that can sustain its success even when he or she is not around.' True leaders put ego aside and strive to create successors who go beyond them. And they plan to hand off the baton of leadership in stride when they are still running at their peak." (250)

My Comments

We have come to the end of the reflection on John Maxwell's five levels of leadership. It is an enriching exercise. While there is no such thing as a permanent "laws" per se, the framework drawn up by Maxwell is an easy to follow structure for us to learn within. Most importantly, the framework tells us that leadership is not about ourselves. It is about others. At every level, this single most important point needs to guide our thinking and our leading. If leaders fail to show the way toward unselfish leadership, they are risking becoming pawns that build up a selfish organization where every worker only cares for themselves. When this happens, it is the beginning of the end, not just for the organization, but for the individual as well. Let me close with this snippet from Coach John Wooden.

Making the Most of One's Self
  • Be true to your self
  • Make each day your masterpiece
  • Help others
  • Drink deeply from good books
  • Make friendship a fine art
  • Build shelter against a rainy day
  • Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

Thank you for following me on this series on the Five Levels of Leadership.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Midweek Meditation: Letting creation point us to the Creator

For this week, we enter into Autumn in the Western world. Throughout the city, trees are beginning to shed leaves. Yellow and orange are slowly engulfing the lush greens. The Summer heat is slowly dissipating. Nature has a visual way of telling us that the season is about to change. As we admire and ponder about creation, may our hearts be moved to worship. Let us be amazed at how the trees and the plants are able to sense the invisible changes in weather. We may feel the temperature spikes with our skin. The trees demonstrate the changes with their leaves.

As we pray and as we reflect upon these words, let us draw near to God. This prayer by Thomas Merton talks about learning to be guided by creation toward the Creator of these creation. It is a spiritual act of worship.

There is no leaf that is not in Your care.
There is no cry that was not heard by You before it was uttered.
There is no water in the shales that was not hidden there by Your wisdom.
There is no concealed spring that was not concealed by You.
There is no glen for a lone house that was not planned by You for a lone house.
There is no man for that acre of woods that was not made by You for that acre of woods.

But there is a greater comfort in the substance of silence than in the answer to a question.
Eternity is in the present.
Eternity is in the palm of the hand.
Eternity is a seed of fire whose sudden roots break barriers that keep my heart from being an abyss.

- (Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence, HarperSanFrancisco, 2001, p89.)


Monday, September 10, 2012

BookPastor >> "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work"

TITLE: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert
AUTHOR: John M. Gottman and Nan Silver
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1999, (274 pages).

This is one of the best books on marriage that I have read. Beginning with a startling announcement that 91% of his predictions on the success or failure of a marriage within a 5 minute observation, Gottman makes several other claims which are quite controversial.
  • That most marriage therapy fails. For example, "active listening" and "conflict resolution" simply does not work.
  •  "Emotionally intelligent marriages" is a predictor of whether a marriage will be happy or not.
  • That the percentage of first time marriages ending in divorce being a whopping 67%
  • That happy marriages lead to stronger physical immune systems. 
The authors are careful to note that while they are effective predictors of the health of a marriage, their primary concern is on how to enhance and preserve good marriages.  Other myths they expose are:
  • Blaming bad marriages on personality issues;
  • Assuming common interests will keep marriages together;
  • Believing that reciprocity relationships work better;
  • Using conflict avoidance to save marriages;
  • That affairs are the cause of marriage breakdowns;
  • That men are not "biologically built for marriage"
  • The popular notion of "men from mars and women from venus"
What Gottman is pointing at is that there are many myths out there, and even marriage manuals are full of myths that need to be uncovered. Instead of depending on ideas without much factual support, Gottman says that he based his seven principles on scientific evidence and mathematical analysis. These seven principles are themselves based on two fundamental statements.

  1. "Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship." (19)
  2. The success of a marriage is dependent on a "deep sense of meaning." (23)

How Gottman Predicts Divorce

Basically, he looks for 5 signs.
  1. A Harsh Startup: where within three minutes of a conversation, whether the response builds up or tears down the initiative to heal.
  2. The Four Horsemen of Impending Trouble (in increasing order): Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.
  3. Flooding: where one's negativity and defensiveness 'floods' the other so much that there is a feeling of shell-shocked and helplessness
  4. Body Language: Words alone are not the tell all. The body language during a couple's communications can reveal sad truths about the relationship.
  5. Failed Repair Attempts: Not much success comes from any attempt to heal or to repair the relationship.
  6. Bad Memories: When a spouse starts to remember only negative history, or increasing despondency whenever the past is recalled, the end is near.

PRINCIPLE #1 - Enhance Your Love Maps

A love map is basically how much we know about each other. From personal interests to best friends, inner secrets to outer preferences, important events, emotions, personal triumphs and despairs, happy couples do not just know, but continue to enhance their knowledge of each other.

PRINCIPLE #2 - Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration

Learning to work on positive things will definitely help any marriage. It is an antidote against contempt. Using "I appreciate" often, one avoids fanning any flames of negativity. One can be intentional about inculcating a fondness and admiration for each other through consistent exercise and expression of appreciation in spite of weaknesses.

PRINCIPLE #3 - Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away

Whenever there is a conflict, there is a common tendency to turn away from each other. The fear of "accusations, recriminations or awkward silences" can often lead to missing out opportunity for greater growth, understanding, and maturity in dealing with differences. Gottman suggests accumulating one's "emotional bank account." He encourages couples toward "stress-reducing conversation" that take turns for speaking, avoiding unsolicited advice, showing genuine interest, communicating and paraphrasing what one hears, taking the side of the other person, expressing solidarity through more use of WE, showing affection and validating emotions.

PRINCIPLE #4 - Let Your Partner Influence You

Rather than becoming a total sponge of accepting everything our spouses say, Gottman teaches gradual acceptance through open influence. Husbands can learn from their wives through recognition of how the wives have influenced them in their decision making. Emotionally intelligent husbands are those who honour their wives and respect them for who they are. At the same time, they are comfortable with the fact that letting themselves be influenced by their wives is not a sign of weakness, but strength.

PRINCIPLE #5 - Solve Your Solvable Problems

 Gottman makes a distinction between solvable and "perpetual" problems. Knowing which is which is critical because it gives a realistic assessment of what couples can do and not do. It is meaningless to pour extensive resources over perpetual problems, much like trying to empty the sea of water. Here, Gottman makes a core statement about how to cope.

"communicating basic acceptance of your partner's personality. Human nature dictates that it is virtually impossible to accept advice from someone unless you feel that that person understands you. So the bottom-line rule is that, before you ask your partner to change the way he or she drives, eats, or makes love, you must make your partner feel that you are understanding. If either (or both) of you feels judged, misunderstood, or rejected by the other, you will not be able to manage the problems in your marriage. This holds for big problems and small ones." (149)

This fifth principle comprises of five steps.
  1. Soften your startup
  2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts
  3. Soothe yourself and each other
  4. Compromise
  5. Be tolerant of each other's faults
PRINCIPLE #6 - Overcome Gridlock

Here, Gottman shows from his experience what can and cannot be done realistically. He argues that the way out of any gridlock is not resolution but conversation.  Move from "gridlock to dialog." Understand the cause. Know the identity and the dreams of your partner. Respect the dreams of the spouse. He suggests four steps. Firstly, to become a dream detective by finding out what dreams our spouses have. Secondly, work on the gridlock issue by clearly explaining one's position without degrading the other. Thirdly, take time to soothe each other and avoid flooding each other out. This can be done through gentleness, understanding, and realistic expectations. Fourthly, compromise if necessary. Not all problems can be resolved within any set time. Fifthly, be tolerant of each other's fault.

PRINCIPLE #7 - Create Shared Meaning

Gottman here gives us a key idea on what makes marriages work best.

"A crucial goal of any marriage, therefore, is to create an atmosphere that encourages each person to talk honestly about his or her convictions." (245)

When this happens, the meaning of marriage becomes more and more significant and clear in both persons.

My Thoughts

This is one of the best marriage books out there in the market. It spells out the problems and the solutions clearly. It lists the many practical issues affecting many marriages. While there is a tinge of arrogance in the way Gottman disses many marriage books and therapy treatments, I believe he is sincere in his approach. Some may accuse him of over-sensationalizing his research to the detriment of others, if the book can help any struggling couple improve their marriage, it will certainly be worth it.


Saturday, September 08, 2012

Three-Fold Reminder for Christian Leadership

Title: Three-Fold Reminder for Christian Leadership
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 8 September 2012
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;” (Philippians 3:10, KJV)

Christian leadership is not easy. We can all say that easily. Living it is hard. Those of us who have assumed a position of leadership can attest to this challenging role. For some leaders, they feel unappreciated or underappreciated. Worse, whatever they do, the naysayers and the complainers are always on a lookout for negative things, and conveniently forget the positive aspects. This tempts many leaders to fall into a sad state of joyless service. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t. Having served in church for many years, I am familiar with the behaviour of various kinds of church people. In smalltalk they proclaim the goodness of fellow brothers and sisters. In private, they complain. They despise. They gossip. Such hitting under the belt behaviour does not glorify God. That said, how good Christian leaders respond CAN glorify God. This is where I want to begin.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul not only continues to serve God’s people fervently, he continues to let his service be focused on the Person of Jesus Christ. Imagine being imprisoned, being prosecuted unfairly by worldly authorities, and being a suffering servant for God, how can this apostle rise above the torment? Paul has this single-minded focus. Whatever is gain to him, he considers it loss for Christ. Whatever confidence he has about his worldly skills and knowledge, he prefers to be more confident in Christ. Why? Three things strike me.

Firstly, “that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection” puts his objective clearly forward. It has been said that if there is a why, we will be creative enough to find out the how. Why then do many people continue to look for the “hows” and the “whats” of Christian ministry at the expense of the “Why?” Perhaps, we all need reminders. We need to be taken to task about how central is our focus on Jesus. If we are willing to let all of our thoughts and our works be centered upon glorifying Jesus, our preoccupation will move away from the worries and the challenges of Christian ministry to the joy of serving Christ.

The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions, and not on our circumstances. We carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us in our minds wherever we go.” (Martha Washington, wife of George Washington)

While perspective can motivate us, let us be focused on the resurrection of Christ, to be the chief hope of it all. It is real. It will happen again.

Secondly, do not ask why it is hard to be a Christian leader. Ask for strength to overcome the challenges of Christian leadership. If we wear the hat of “avoidance” of difficulty, it is only a matter of time before other kinds of difficulty will come. Instead, wear the hat of willingness to suffer, just like Christ. Be joined to Christ in the fellowship of his sufferings. Christian leadership may be difficult, but at least we have a Model of Suffering to follow. That is Jesus. Suffering humbles us. It cuts our arrogance down to size. It pushes us to seek the True Source of Comfort. The Holy Spirit. The great Martin Luther King Jr suffers greatly, often fighting alone against an establishment that is overwhelmingly white. Yet, he continues to press on. He says,

Everybody can be great... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.

Love overcomes a multitude of challenges.

Finally, remind ourselves who we are serving. Fix in our minds and in our hearts that the reason for our serving is also a personal journey of counting the cost of discipleship. “Being made conformable to his death” reminds me of a stubborn mule being forced to do things against its will. Discipleship according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer 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.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, SCM Press, 2001, p44)
The words of Bonhoeffer continues to echo in my mind what true discipleship entails. That I must decrease, that others may increase. My brothers and sisters in leadership, press on. The three calls for you are as follows.

  1. Knowing the Word of God.  Are you reading the Bible daily? When was the last time you embark on a program to read through the Bible in 1 year?

  1. Growing in Love of God. Are you serving with joy? When was the last time you feel like you want to quit? Have you prayed for God’s strength to lead and to guide you through?

  1. Showing in Discipleship and Witnessing for God. Discipleship is not an option. We are called to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. It is not how much we have given to God. Perhaps, for many of us, it is a question of how much we have NOT given to God.

My brothers and sisters, I am praying with you. May we grow to be more like Christ, learning from the Apostle Paul. May our focus for Christian leadership reflect Philippians 3:10 word for word.


Friday, September 07, 2012

Level 4 Leadership: People Development

(Credit: John Maxwell)

For the past few weeks, we have been reflecting on John Maxwell's 5 levels of leadership. We have covered the Positional (Level 1), the Permission (Level 2), the Production (Level 3). Today, we will touch on Level 4, the People Development level of leadership.

In Part 4 of the leadership series, John Maxwell calls this "People Development" level of leadership, as one that helps to develop the potential of individuals through influence and impact. Instead of growing onself per se, one helps others to grow more and more. When this is done consistently, the end result is not just individual growth, but also helps the organization reach its highest potential. The benefits of such level of leadership are as follows.

  1. It sets one apart from most leaders.
  2. It assures toward sustaining growth among individuals as well as the organization.
  3. It empowers others to fulfill their leadership responsibilities.
  4. It empowers the leader to lead larger.
  5. It leads to personal fulfilment, when we see others grow, and when we learn to forget our own selves and focus on others.

Several thoughts come to mind as I reflect on the above five things. Firstly, there is a difference between delegating and dumping. Simply telling people to do things without much supervision or guidance is not delegation. It is simply dumping stuff on others. Worse are those leaders that dump stuff with the intention of seeing their subordinates fail, so that they themselves look good. I think delegation must always involve a close watch by the leader to help others succeed. This is the core motivation of delegation. Helping others succeed. Secondly, learning to focus on others rather than self is a mark of unselfishness. The human nature is selfish by default. We use self-preservation as an end in itself. We fear that if we do not try to help ourselves, we will fail. We will lose out. We give in to all kinds of suspicions that seem to pit the world and everyone against us. As a result, such actions breed distrust and distrust leads to disunity. In trying to consolidate one's power, one gets tempted toward tyranny. In wanting to control others, one moves toward preventing others from achieving their potential. Thirdly, we fail to be leaders. Leaders are to lead people toward personal growth and organizational success. Not training others is essentially preparing for eventual demise of the whole organization. A healthy organization can only thrive well if there is an atmosphere of trust, of learning, and of giving. Some of the quotes from John Maxwell are appropriate.

  • "To reach the upper levels of leadership that create elite organizations, leaders must transition from producers to developers." (181)
  • "Former Secretary of Lanor Robert Reich pointed out, 'If employers fail to upgrade their workers, then they're trying to be competitive only with their capital.'" (185)
  • "Never forget that leadership is the art of helping people change from who they're thought to be to who they ought to be." (187)
  • "Don't allow yourself to become the lid on your organization. Give it the best chance for a bright future by developing other leaders." (188)
  • "Farzin Madjidi, professor of leadership at Pepperdine University, asserts, 'We need leaders who empower people and create other leaders. It's no longer good enough for a manager to make sure that everybody has something to do and is producing. Today, all employees must 'buy in' and take ownership of everything they're doing. To foster this, it's important that employees should make decisions that most directly affect them. That's how the best decisions are made. That's the essence of empowerment.'" (190)
  • "You cannot become an effective Level 4 leader unless you are willing to let go of some of your responsibilities. So what's a good rule of thumb for transferring ownership of a leadership responsibility to someone else? I use the 80 percent rule. If someone on my team can do one of my tasks 80 percent as well as I do (or better), then I give him or her responsibility for it. If you want to be an effective leader, you must move from perfectionist to pragmatist." (191)

A) Barriers to People-Development Level Leadership

The chief reason why many leaders are unable to progress toward Level 4 leadership is insecurity and a lack of maturity. Four barriers are mentioned by John Maxwell.

  1. Self-centeredness
  2. Insecure and easily threatened by others
  3. Shortsightedness
  4. Lack of Commitment

The word 'equip' seems to be a foreign term in people who are insecure and unwilling to train others. They think of themselves being the disadvantaged. They are fearful that no one will help them if they try to help others. Gerald Brooks says it well, "When you become a leader you give up the right to think about yourself." This is worth pondering. Indeed, leaders must be others-centered. Christian leaders must be God-centered so that they can be others-centered in Christ-like ways. When one overcomes self-centeredness, one is free to empower others, to help others do their job better. When tackling insecurity, three areas need to be tackled.

  • Ego: Are you doing things to beef up your ego? Are you using others for your ego's ends?
  • Control: Are you trying to take credit or to assign blame to others? Do you tend to control people more or to energize and encourage them more?
  • Trust: Secure leaders see trust as the glue of any organization.

B) Developing People

Level 4 leaders need to be able to KNOW the potential of people through recruiting and positioning, to SHOW the leader by modeling and equipping, and to GROW a leader by developing, empowering, and measuring. These 7 areas are keys to developing Level 4 leadership.

  1. Recruiting: Maxwell lists 4 Cs when looking for potential leaders. Chemistry is needed. Character is critical. Capacity ensures sustaining of the long process. Contribution is expected, that leaders will learn not just to do the bare minimum, but their best.
  2. Positioning: This places the right people in the right positions.
  3. Modeling: Showing others how to lead resembles Jesus' call to his disciples to come and see.
  4. Equipping: This is helping others to do well. I like the way Maxwell puts it through the five-step equipping model.
       Step 1 - I do it (competence)
       Step 2 - I do it and you are with me (demonstration)
       Step 3 - You do it and I am with you (coaching)
       Step 4 - You do it (empowerment)
       Step 5 - You do it and someone is with you (reproduction)
  5. Developing: Not only is one only trained to do the job, one is trained to live life well. Challenge them to grow and reach their highest potential. Support them where necessary.
  6. Empowering: The joy is to enable others to succeed and to celebrate their successes.
  7. Measuring: Feedback mechanism is important for improvement as well as training leaders. Maxwell proposes a six-degrees checklist.
    1. Look into it. Report. I'll decide what to do.
    2. Look into it. Report alternatives with pros and cons and your recommendation.
    3. Look into it. Let me know what you intend to do, but don't do it unless I say yes.
    4. Look into it. Let me know what you intend to do and do it unless I say no.
    5. Take action. Let me know what you did.
    6. Take action. No further contact required.

C) Cultivating Level 4 Leadership

Four things to do with others.

  1. The highest goal of leadership is to develop leaders, not gain followers or do work
  2. Create a leadership culture by championing and defining good leadership. Teach leadership through regular, frequent basis. Practice leadership by helping leaders to plan and execute. Coach them. Reward them.
  3. Not just  a job but a life commitment. This enables leaders to look beyond the 9-5 job environment. After all, leaders are people, not machines.

Eight things to self-examine and cultivate.

  1. Be willing to keep growing yourself
  2. Make a decision to know that developing people is worth it
  3. Work through your insecurities, and don't give in to them
  4. Find the best people, develop and train them
  5. Commit your time with them
  6. Create a personal development process
  7. Work with people
  8. Use both hard and soft skills
  9. Be responsible in energizing others
  10. Remain approachable through leading, role modeling, and coaching.

My Comments

Of all the levels so far, I find this Level 4 most energizing for the following reasons. Firstly, it points us away from ourselves and to focus on others. This is what Philippians 2:3-4 is all about. We need to learn to put the interests of others above ourselves, regardless of our leadership titles. Secondly, it is life-giving and is long-term in nature. I like teachings that aim to sustain people for the long haul. Life is not a sprint. It is a marathon. Thirdly, there is a great need in this world to grow leaders and to enable leaders to be the best versions of themselves.

Next week, I will discuss Level 5 leadership: The Pinnacle.


Thursday, September 06, 2012

Hypocrisy According to Craig Groeschel

This book by Craig Groeschel essentially talks about people who says something but behaves almost opposite to what they have said. Hypocrisy. In a hard-hitting book on Christians who are hypocritical in their behaviour and lifestyle, Groeschel lists 12 things that epitomizes Christian Hypocrisy. He has a phrase to describe it. "Christian Atheist." If you think they do not apply to you at all, think again.

The following 12 things are self-explanatory.

  1. When you believe in God but don’t really know Him.
  2. When you believe in God but are ashamed of your past.
  3. When you believe in God but aren’t sure He loves you.
  4. When you believe in God but not in prayer.
  5. When you believe in God but don’t think He’s fair.
  6. When you believe in God but won’t forgive.
  7. When you believe in God but don’t think you can change.
  8. When you believe in God but still worry all the time.
  9. When you believe in God but pursue happiness at any cost.
  10. When you believe in God but trust more in money.
  11. When you believe in God but don’t share your faith.
  12. When you believe in God but not in His Church.
I think all of us need to be reminded, or warned, constantly about our tendency to be hypocritical. It is not a Christian or Church concern. It is a human concern. This is because all people on earth are stricken with the sin of hypocrisy. For people who constantly attack the Church or blame Christians, let it also be known that they too are not immune from the hypocrisy that has tainted the entire human race.


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Midweek Meditation: Give Me a Pure Heart

This prayer by the late Swedish statesman, Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961), is our guide for this week's mid-week meditation. Hammarskjöld was also formerly a secretary-general of the United Nations. His prayer is one of the most beautiful prayers ever shared. I have made bold and blue the parts that seek to see, to hear, to serve, and to abide in God. This is a prayer that acknowledges that we can do nothing, except in Christ.

Prayer of Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961) You who are over us, You who are one of us, You who are also within us, May all see you - in me also. May I prepare the way for You, May I thank You for all that shall fall to my lot, May I also not forget the needs of others. Give me a pure heart - that I may see You. A humble heart - that I may hear You, A heart of love - that I may serve You, A heart of faith - that I may abide in You. Amen.


Monday, September 03, 2012

BookPastor >> "Evil and the Justice of God." (NT Wright)

This book review was first published at Yapdates here on June 5th, 2007.


TITLE: Evil and the Justice of God
AUTHOR: Nicholas T. Wright
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006, (176 pages).

No theologian is ever a theologian if he/she does not tackle head on, at some point of their life, the problem of evil and the goodness of God. NT Wright, a world renowned scholar is one who recently tackled this in his book "Evil and the Justice of God" (IVP, 2006). At 176 pages over five chapters, Wright gives a broad overview of the past attempts by different quarters in explaining the problem of evil. He bemoans the present postmodern ideas of dualism and progressivism (that things will get better and better), arguing that they are inadequate. He challenges Christians at the present to think Christianly in terms of three recognitions:

  1. To recognize the flaw that assumes Western type democracy is perfect, complete, or a climax of a long drawn process of wise noble libertarianism.
  2. To recognize that there is a deep dimension of evil in this world.
  3. To recognize the line between good and evil is not simply between 'us' and 'them' but through everyone of us.

An interesting suggestion Wright makes is in terms of imagining a world without evil. This is a cogent thought as it broadens our typical approach to 'explain' into the realm of imagination. Our imagination needs to be educated, and one way is through the arts which can help us to integrate heart, mind and soul on the matter.
Art at its best not only draws attention to the way things are but to the way things are meant to be, and by God's grace to the way things one day will be, when the earth is filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea. And when Christian artists go to that task they will be contributing to the integration of heart, mind and soul which we seek, to which we are called. They will be pointing forward to the new world God intends to make, to the world already seen in advance in the resurrection of Jesus, to the world whose charter of freedom was won when he died on the cross. (p128)
Finally, Wright urges for the understanding of evil in the light of the cross of Christ, of which we see a forgiveness in ourselves and others. Wright recommends three books, namely Miroslav Volf's Exclusion and Embrace, Gregory Jones's Embodying Forgiveness and Desmond Tutu's No future without forgiveness. Volf's argument is that one must face and name evil head on when dealing with international relations or one-to-one personal relations, to identify and then embrace. Jones touches the pastoral and personal details while Tutu brings in practical and political perspectives. Wright concludes by mentioning three ways to be able to be delivered from evil.
1) The death of Jesus of Nazareth at the cross has confronted and dealt with evil once and for all, that evil has already been defeated once and for all.
2) At the cross of Jesus, lies forgiveness that will release (not relief) us from guilt
3) The cross of Christ is the final victory over the forces of evil, and will usher in the new world eventually, a world with a future.

What about forgiveness in terrible evils done in the past, like the Holocaust? Wright puts it very pastorally, saying that the present ill-feelings over the evils committed will also be healed in the eschatological future. One will indeed find true forgiveness eventually in our new resurrection bodies. The physical, the mental pain of unresolved anger and bitterness will be dissolved, as one allows oneself to be forgiven and to forgive. I like his articulation which I reproduce below:

"The quest for a solution is not a quest for the intellectually satisfying answer to the problem of why evil is there in the first place. Rather, the quest for a solution to the problem of evil is a seach for ways in which the healing, restorative justice of the Creator God himself - a justice which will one day suffuse the whole creation - can be brought to bear, in advance of that ultimate reality, within the present world of space, time, matter and messy realities in human lives and societies." (p149-150)
In a nutshell, forgiveness is only possible in the power of the Cross. I agree.


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