Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Midweek Meditation: "What If We Really Get What We Want"

Oscar Wilde once wrote, "There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."

Both statements point to the same thing. What we want is not necessarily what is best for us. Have we ever thought about the treasures we seek on this earth? Is it worth it to devote all your time just to get that object of your affection? Is it your priority to run after these things? Once we get that first million dollars, or that coveted prize, or the highest accolades for that particular sector, what next?

Judas Iscariot is one person who gets what he wants, money at the expense of betraying Jesus. The very money he gets becomes the very thing he does not want, throwing the very money away when he realizes his folly. It's too late for Judas. It's too late for regrets.

What about us? Are we chasing after an illusive dream that once we get it, we do not want it? Here is an old favourite song of mine. Ponder over the words.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How NOT to Choose a Church?

Church Hopping
Hopping around for a church to fit in? Church shopping? Well, this article is for you. It is an abridged version of the original published earlier here.

Hundreds, if not thousands of people church hop. I know of many who do so at various phases of their lives. Some move because of an unmet need in their own lives. Others move because of their children. Still, others move because they needed a break.

Fair enough. For some, we really needed the break. For others, not so. Church is not for the faint-hearted. In a world of freedom of choice, and how our own priorities increasingly trump community needs, when the "I" becomes bigger than the "you," or the "we," the decision to jump-ship is a no-brainer. Before I go on, let me offer a piece of advice. This is for those of us who are looking for a "perfect church" to go to. If you eventually find one, do NOT join it. Stay away. Keep it separate from your influence. For if you do, you will make it imperfect. If in doubt, check out Romans 3:23. Let me put together seven thoughts on how NOT to choose a Church.

#1 - The Church adopts the latest and the greatest new stuff

In our world of latest and the greatest technological gizmos, a higher version number of anything generally means a faster, better, and more improved version. From iPads to iPhones, from software version 1 to the next upgrade, whatever new and fresh almost always looks better. Most of the time, people who are attracted to the latest-and-the-greatest churches will tend to let the facade drives their decision making. Just because the Church uses the latest Powerpoint projector, or biggest sound system, does not necessarily mean it is better. Beware the danger of fascination with the idol of technology or the neo-ism (new things - ism).  Not all new things are good. Neither are all old things bad. If we can learn to see new things with old, tried and tested wisdom, and old things with a fresh perspective, it augers well for all generations, both young and old. If your reason for joining a church is on the basis of new stuff, the latest and the greatest, do not join them.  For if that is your criteria, all it takes is a brand new church next door to make you jump ship again.

#2 - The Church never talks about tradition or history

This flows from the first point. Some churches are so full and excited about new things that they totally ignore the historical past or the traditions that have stood the test of time. It is one thing to embrace the new, it is yet another to do so at the expense of the past. A church that forgets about its past is erasing its own sense of identity. I have seen young people who get easily tired about their old traditional churches, and leave for supposedly "greener" pastures. After a while, they too grow tired of their adopted church. Worse, they have lost the opportunity to learn the wisdom and the tradition that have faithfully given the Church its very identity.

The author George Santayana writes, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." We need to let history be our guide for the future. Without a firm foundation of the past, how can one even how how to think or plan for the future? If the church you are considering, NEVER talks about their story, their history, or the traditions of the faith, do not join it. They are fast losing their sense of identity. If you join them, you too may lose your own sense of identity.

#3 - The Church never questions my views or values

In an individualistic society that is high on personal rights, it is common for society at large to accept that everyone has a right to their own views and opinions. This places the Church in a strange situation. On the one hand, individuals do have a right to their own opinion. What if they are wrong? What if the Church fails to speak out, just because they have to toe the line of "respecting" people's individual rights? Sometimes, people become so sensitive about comments on them that they are ready to go on the defensive everytime they find themselves questioned about anything. So everyone has a right to their own opinion, and no one dares to speak out. If you go to a Church that behaves exactly that way, that never ever question your behaviour, even when the behaviour is sinful and wrong, the Church is not living as the true Church. If the Church largely leaves me alone to live my own life my way, it has become a consumer church rather than a community church.

#4 - The Church is entertaining (High Entertainment Value)

We live in an e-world. From TV to movies, from Internet apps to all kinds of social activities, entertainment is a way of life. Sometimes, we bring that expectation to church on Sundays. People come with expectations of a great worship time, a place honed for maximum experiential value, and of course, great sermons! I liken these things to spiritual steroids. They beef us up for a little while. After the effect wears off, like energy drinks, we become worn out after the kick factor is gone. If one chooses a Church on the basis of entertainment value, I will question what is the priority of the person attending church. Is worship for self or for God?

#5 - The Church meets my needs (High in Meeting Needs)

Once I hear a church member say this. "I'm leaving this church because this church does not meet my needs, or my family's needs." I shudder when I hear that. What? Is Church about meeting your needs? Are you not bringing in a consumerist mindset into the church of God? What happens if the new church you are going to, no longer "meets" your need? Does it mean you will hop on to the next church? Where then is your sense of calling? You may say you have a right to have your needs met. What about your responsibilities as a church member?

Hey. I have been in church for more than 28 years, and I cannot remember a time where the church fully meets my needs. If you want entertainment, turn on the TV. If you want babysitting, go get a babysitter. If you want good songs, hop onto to the Internet radio. Church is not for entertaining you. Church is us worshiping God. Together.

#6 - The Church is open to all kinds of values

If one chooses a church simply because it puts openness above doctrinal truths, one may start to question whether it is a church or simply a spiritual club. In an age where many people espouses a form of spiritual-but-not-religious, it is tempting for churches to jump on the bandwagon of syncretism, where anything and everything goes. One reason why many people prefer spirituality instead of religion is because they do not want to be hemmed in any one view or religious position. They prefer an undefined idea of spirituality instead of a rigid persuasion of religion, so that they can be free to believe and to practise whatever they WANT to believe, without feeling judged by anyone, even God. The center of decision making is not truth. It is their own perception of truth.  If one does not stand for anything, one essentially stands for nothing. If the Church you are about to attend is open to all kind of values, think again. Churches like these are interested in numbers and a false sense of openness.

#7 - The Church never challenges me, and requires very little from me.

It is easy to say nice things to one another, and feel like we are accepted. Did Jesus say nice things to all people he meets? Yes, he is compassionate. Yes, he is gentle. Yes, he speaks and shares lovingly with the poor, the weak, and the handicapped. Yet, he challenges the Pharisees, the Zealots, and the Sadduccees not to be hypocrites. He gives his disciples the challenge to love one another, to lay down their lives for each other, to deny themselves, take up the cross and to follow Jesus. He even tells Peter to brace himself for the worse. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns us of cheap grace.  Let me close by sharing an excerpt of his writings.
CHEAP GRACE is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, SCM Press, 1959, p43)

If any of these seven reasons forms a big criteria in your choosing of a church, think again. For the sake of your family, think double. For the sake of yourself, think thrice. For the sake of the gospel, think.


Monday, October 29, 2012

BookPastor >> "The Anxious Christian" (Rhett Smith)

This is a book with a provocative title. We have often seen anxiety or worry as a bad thing. Can it ever be used for good? The author of this book argues in the affirmative. This review was published on August 3rd, 2012 at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good?
AUTHOR: Rhett Smith
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2011, (208 pages).

What if anxiety is good for you? What if being anxious is part of God's design for our lives to do something with any stuck-in-the-rut situations? This book is an interesting effort to turn our "problems" into solutions. The author's conviction is that God can indeed use our anxiety for good. Beginning with a stunning reflection on the popular movie, "The King's Speech," Rhett Smith points out the stutterer's struggle with his speech. Guided by an able linguist therapist, King George VI was able to make and complete a stirring speech to the nation, as the country declares war on Germany in 1939. At each stutter, King George VI had to consciously decide how to deal with it. The coaxing and the comforting presence of the therapist friends was able to carry him through. In the same way, we can learn from this experience, not to hide from our anxieties but to face them head on. Using his rich experience as a therapist, a counselor, a Christian speaker, Smith guides us through a process of dealing with our fears and worries boldly by embracing them. Instead of running away from anxiety, or avoiding them, he urges us to "welcome uncertainty" to learn to journey with God through the different stages of our life's transitions. Instead of remaining stuck in the rut, responding positively to anxiety can rid us of habitual patterns, to "be challenged, face risk, and grow in the process." He puts a new spin to our common perceptions of anxiety as a bad thing by showing us how to "reimagine" anxiety. Using Paul's epistles to the Philippians, the Corinthians, and other biblical passages, Smith argues for a "normal, healthy anxiety" that causes us to pay attention to any anxiety that may arise, to do something about it. Instead of being "unduly concerned," he teaches us to care for it in a positive and healthy manner. In order to make the turn, one needs to deal with present concerns.

"Viewing anxiety as a negative force only left me paralyzed in a prison of fear and shame. I was tired of living in fear of failure, worrying about other people's opinions about whether I was good enough. But viewing anxiety as a catalyst for growth in my life could set me free to take more risks, and help me to become more of who I believe God created me to be." (15)

Anxiety is also another way to wrestle with God, to listen to the Spirit, to see God, and to let God shape us through anxieties. God can use anxieties to use the broken us and make us beautiful in His time.  Such a lifestyle of positive response comes about when we learn to be intentional by fostering our heart, soul, mind, and strength, demonstrated through initiative, gratitude, prayerfulness, and determination. Having laid the ground for a new paradigm on anxiety, Smith proceeds with a chapter on "Creating boundaries and Space." Here begins the role of reforming the soul through healthy boundaries, self-care, Sabbath keeping, giving ourselves space, and to learn to live within our limits. An important area of soul shaping is through our relationships. Anxieties can push us to seek help, and to avoid self-seeking ways.

My Thoughts

The more choices we have, the more easily anxious we become. This is an increasingly familiar situation. Many of us in the West have become so fixated on choices that we unwittingly sow the seeds of uncertainty in us. We have increased our range of selections but have failed to cultivate any skills to choose. We have developed a strong sense of freedom of choice, but have become enslaved by indecision or simply a loss of courage to make bold hard choices. We have also reacted destructively to anxieties by running away from it, avoiding it, delaying our responses, or simply passing the buck to society through complaints. Rhett Smith has given us a lifeline that is reasonable, comforting, and downright motivating. We do not need to fear anxiety that tempts us to retreat back amid the uncertainty. Instead, we are given another opportunity to be intentional about our anxieties, that they will have no hold on our souls.

Reading this book gives me a sense of hope. There are lots of anxious people around. Many of them are simply shrugging their shoulders and not knowing what to do about it. Some even attempt to dismiss all references to anxieties as a bad thing, using Scripture references of "Do not worry," or "do not be anxious" as their key support.  What I like about this book is that Smith writes in a compassionate manner, helping us to deal with anxieties as they are. He makes a good case for positive engagement and gives us hope that God can use our anxieties for our good.  Backed by research and raw openness with his own shortcomings, accompanied by biblical support, this book is poised to help readers go through the eye of the storm of anxiety. The book is very well structured, eloquently argued, and is filled with many practical examples and illustrations. I appreciate the discussion questions at the back of each chapter that help refresh the learning tips and for opening the topic for discussion. Deeply personal and highly practical, for anyone who reads this book, be prepared to have your old paradigms about anxiety changed. For the better.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Three Steps to Battle Spiritual Lethargy

Feeling spiritually lethargic? Aimless in your spiritual life?

I understand. I have been there too. Often, it is when I am most comfortable in my financial or material wealth, that I am most lethargic. Spiritually. What can we do? 

Here are 3 things you can consider doing. Call it the three steps to battle spiritual lethargy.


Giving (Credit:
Recognize it. In many churches, the level of giving has been very lopsided. Most of the giving are done by the Baby-Boomer generation, or post-Baby-Boomers. Generations X,Y,Z and those born after the 90s are not exactly that passionate. Many are born with the silver spoon. Many do not even see a need to give at all, much less to a church. Yet, tithing or giving is not something that we have to do. It must be something that we WANT to do. The apostle Paul makes New Testament giving very clear. We give out of a cheerful heart. When we give, let us not be restricted to 10% tithe. We give all we can even as we earn all we can. Give to the Lord, and watch how that attitude of giving, loosen the stranglehold of money on our own hearts, and see our spiritual lives liberated from boredom.

I recommend this step highly, especially for those who have never given before.


Look Out for others
The Apostle Paul reminds us to look out for others. He writes to the Philippians,
"Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:4)
As a community of Christ, when we care for one another, we practise true "koinonia" (Greek word for fellowship). When we give, we nourish one another. We let the Holy Spirit create a multiplier effect to use our resources and our lives to bless other people. When we truly begin to consider others more important than ourselves, we let go of the stranglehold of individualistic lifestyle or selfish thinking. We begin to grow outward. We begin to see that the world is much bigger than our small selves.

When we learn to look beyond ourselves and our own needs, we are learning to trust God to meet our needs, as we venture to meet the needs of others. This is a strange thing in life. The more we try to cling on to things, and to accumulate our own interests, the less fulfilling we get. The more we try to give and to help others become better people, strangely, we find ourselves manifesting a kind of goodness that we never know we have. 


Depending on God
Finally, it is only when we start to help others, we will realize that the world is larger than our own. The more we try to help others, the more we will realize how weak and inadequate we are. We can then learn to be open to God, that true help and true giving comes from the life-giving reality of the Holy Spirit. After all, if we want to do God's will, we can be sure that the Spirit will lead and guide us to do what it takes to glorify God. See how Paul the Apostle begins his epistles with a declaration of his identity in Christ, and as a recipient of God's grace and peace?
"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:2)
God is our true source of help. It is only when we are free from material entanglement (Step 1), when we start to look more to the interests of others (Step 2), we begin to realize that only God can help us grow (Step 3). Try that.

"Self-surrender is moving out of the center and letting God take the center with self in the margin, with God in control and the self in obedience." (E. Stanley Jones)
If we only live for ourselves, we will find our world getting smaller and smaller. If we begin to live for others, our world will be enlarged a little more. When we start to live for God, something else becomes bigger. Our hearts.


Friday, October 26, 2012

How to Show Your Appreciation to Your Pastor

October is Pastor Appreciation Week. How do we show our appreciation to our pastors? Yes, I know. It is the end of the month. I should have published this piece earlier. Having said that, appreciating your pastor need not be limited to October right?

In several places, if you do a search on Google, offers can be found about gifts and special things to do for your pastor. As a pastor, I feel privileged to be able to serve a small church here in Vancouver. Many people have been gracious and encouraging to me and my family. As October comes to a close, I like to offer my thoughts about how best to show your appreciation to your pastor. Let me call them the seven habits of highly appreciative congregation members.

#1 - Encourage your pastor 

The biggest challenge of any ministry worker is discouragement. This is something that WILL happen. The basic question is 'when?' Many things the pastor do remain confidential to the general congregation. It is a sacred trust that pastors hold to ensure that privacy and confidentiality is maintained. This is a very heavy burden to carry. Knowing the need and not being able to share the burden with someone else lest the pastor breaks confidence. Prayer is often the only way to find comfort and solace. This also means that there needs to be a high level of trust between pastor and the rest of the church. Encouragement can come in many ways. In our electronic day and age, a short and simple email can often work magic in the world of encouragement. Think of special quotes, or bible verses to share with your pastor once in a while. I tell you, they will be most encouraged.

#2 - Show restraint when praising your pastor

From my interactions with people, it is common to have individuals praising their pastors in front of others, especially guests. Sometimes, it can make the pastor uncomfortable. Not only will the praising set unnecessarily high expectations on the hearers, the pastor can be tempted in two ways. First, he may start to think erroneously how great he is. Second, he may be tempted to take the credit and the glory that rightly belongs to God. You can praise your pastor, but do it gently and show restraint. Better still, speak with your pastor one on one if you are intending to praise. 

#3 - Send Short Notes /Feedback after each sermon

Too many people think that giving sermons is the pastor's responsibility. Not necessarily. The pulpit ministry can be a multi-directional ministry. Hearers can feedback. Preachers can listen. God can speak. Pastors who preach regularly can also feel a sense of fatigue. While preaching the Word of God is a calling and also a privilege, pastors are human too. They cannot maintain a high octane level preaching every week. Sometimes, they will preach very mediocre sermons despite their best efforts. If there is cooperation, to see the pulpit ministry as a community activity, it can be life-giving. Preachers speak the Word of God from the pulpit. Congregation members give short and honest feedback about the sermon. The goal is to help the whole Church grow as they feed on the preaching of the Word. Faithfully. Congregation members, you are critical to the success of every Sunday service.

#4 - Don't give lavish gifts

This is something I feel is important. Buying expensive gifts will make most pastors very uncomfortable. Keep the gift very small. Gift cards of a small value will suffice. Make sure it is very small. A $5 coffee card is one example if you know your pastor loves coffee. If you feel you need to buy something more, I recommend a good book. Personally I am biased toward books. However, since I am a frequent book reviewer, many publishers send me their new books for free. If you are afraid that the book you buy may be something your pastor already own, one good strategy is this. Do not write anything on the new book. Attach a simple card to it so that if your pastor already has that book, he can give away that new book to some other persons.

#5 - Volunteer without being asked.

One of the biggest encouragement members of the congregation can contribute is to volunteer without being asked. Doing ministry in the Church is a marathon. Volunteers can come and go. When the need is there, and if there is no one else to volunteer, very often, the paid staff of the Church will have to double-up or triple-charge themselves to take up the slack. This leads to staff often doing many things at one time, at the expense of quality. Sometimes, staff can become so fixated on getting things done that they can be deemed impersonal, as they have no time to interact with people. Give them a break. Help them out. Volunteer. With church services being held at least once a week, 52 times a year, the demands are great. Week in, week out, there will be needs for people to fill in the empty slots of all ministries in the Church. From refreshments to Sunday schools, from ushering to organizing the worship teams, there are lots of opportunities to encourage your pastor. Volunteer with a cheerful heart. In blessing others, do not be surprised to find yourself being blessed too.

#6 - Grow and demonstrate a desire to discipleship

There is no greater joy than to see the flock demonstrating a desire to grow, and having done that, to grow. It makes all the preaching, all the teaching, all the caring, and all the sharing, totally worth it. Pastors are most encouraged when they see fruits in the growth of their congregational members. Personally, when I see people taking initiative to learn, to grow, and to challenge one another to become better persons in Christ, I am super charged!

#7 - Pray for your pastor (and let him/her know!)

Last but not least, pray for your pastors. They need God's help more than any other. They need the unction of the Holy Spirit. They need the grace and love of God to continue in this spiritual marathon. Prayer is food for the soul, fuel for the ministry, and fodder for overcoming the daily challenges of people, relationships, and programs.

Practise any of the seven things above all year round. Remember. The Church ministry belongs not just to the pastors. You have a big role to play too.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Testimony of Dr Richard Teo (1972-2012)

This is a powerful testimony of Dr Richard Teo, who passed away in Singapore on October 18th, 2012. It has gone viral as it has spoken to many who identified with a society that basically chases after material riches. Some unknowingly, many knowingly.

In his last months, he has taken upon the task of letting his own life inform others, to put the more important things in life, FIRST! This particular talk is one of them. It was first given to a group of people at the Dental Christian Fellowship back in November 24th, 2011.

There are three options for you to choose.

1) Read the full transcript below. I've done some minor editing for ease of reading without change of contents.

2) Read the condensed version here.

3) Listen to the Youtube link here.



Original Link: Memorial Page.

[Note that the contents below are credited to the transcript of the talk given by Dr Richard Teo, and is provided here in the event the link above does not work. Credit goes to the transcript writer, Eric Tham.]

Date of Speech: Nov 24th, 2011

Below is the transcript of the talk of Dr. Richard Teo, who was a 40-year-old millionaire and cosmetic surgeon with a stage-4 lung cancer, sharing at a Dental Christian Fellowship Meeting. He would have liked to share this with you too.


Dr Richard Teo (1972-2012)
Hi good morning to all of you. My voice is a bit hoarse from the chemotherapy, so please bear with me. I thought I'll just introduce myself. My name is Richard, I’m a friend of Danny’s, who invited me here.

I’d just begin to say that I’m a typical product of today’s society. Before this, I was talking about how the media influences us etc. So I’m a typical product of what the media portrays. From young, I’ve always been under the influence and impression that to be happy, is to be successful. And to be successful, is to be wealthy. So I led my life according to this motto.

Coming from a poor average family, back in those days, I was highly competitive, whether in sports, studies, leadership. I wanted it all. I’ve been there, done that. But at the end of the day, it’s still about money.

So in my recent last years, I was a trainee in ophthalmology, but I was getting impatient, cos I had friends of mine who were going out into private practise, making tonnes of money. And there I was, stuck in a traineeship. So I said, ‘Enough, it’s getting too long.’ At that time, there was a surge in protégés of aesthetic medicine. I’m sure you’re aware, aesthetic medicine had peaked over the last few years, and I saw good money in there. So much so that I said, ‘Forget about ophthalmology, I’m gonna do aesthetic medicine.’ So that’s what I did.

The truth is, nobody makes heroes out of the average GP in the neighbourhood. They don't. They make heroes out of rich celebrities, politicians, rich and famous people. So I wanted to be one of these. I dived straight into aesthetic medicine. People were not willing to pay when I was doing locum back in those days. Anything more than $30, they would complain that “Wah, this lo kun (doctor) jing qwee (very expensive)”. They made noise and they were not happy. But the same people were willing to pay $10 000 for a liposuction. So I said, ‘Well, let’s stop healing the sick, I’m gonna become a beautician; a medically-trained beautician.’

And that was what I did – liposuction, breast augmentation, eyelid surgeries, you name it, we do it. It was very good money. My clinic, when we started off, waiting time was 1 week; 1 month; became 2 months; became 3 months. There was so much demand that people were literally queuing up to have aesthetic work done on them. Vain women – easy life!

So the clinic grew. I was so overwhelmed, from 1 doctor, I employed 2, then 3, then 4 doctors, and carried on. Nothing is ever enough. I wanted more and more and more. So much so that we set up shop in Indonesia to lure all the Indonesian tai tai’s. We set up shop, set up a team of people there, to get more Indonesian patients to come in.

So, things were doing well. I’m there, my time has arrived. 

Around some time in February last year, I said, ‘OK, I have so much spare cash, it’s time to get my first Ferrari. So there I was, getting ready for the deposit. ‘OK! There comes my first Ferrari!’ I was looking for land, to share with some of my friends. I have a banker friend who makes $5 million a year. So I thought, ‘Come, let’s come together. Let’s buy some land and build our houses.’

I was at my prime, getting ready to enjoy. At the same time, my friend Danny had a revival. They were going back to church, some of my close friends. They told me, ‘Richard, come, join us, come back to church.’

I have been a Christian for 20 years; I was baptised 20 years ago, but it was because it was fashionable to be a Christian then. All my friends were becoming Christians then. It was fashionable! I wanted to be baptised, so that when I filled in a form, I could put there “Christian” – feels good. In truth, I had never had a bible; I don’t know what the bible is all about.

I went to church for a while, after some time, I got tired. I said it’s time to go to NUS, stop going to church. I had a lot more things to pursue in NUS – girls, studies, sports etc. After all, I had achieved all these things without God today, so who needs God? I myself can achieve anything I want.

In my arrogance, I told them, “You know what? You go tell your pastor to change your sermon to 2pm. I will consider coming to church.” Such arrogance! And I said 1 statement in addition to that – till date, I don’t know I’ve regretted saying that – I told Danny and my friends, “If God really wanted me to come back to church, He will give me a sign.”. Lo and behold, 3 weeks later, I was back at church.


In March 2011, out of the blues – I was still running around, ‘cause I’m a gym freak and I always go to the gym training, running, swimming 6 days a week. I had some backache, and that’s all I had, but it was persistent. And so I went for an MRI to exclude prolapsed disc. And the day before I had my scan, I was still in the gym, lifting heavy weights, doing my squats. And the next day, they found that half my spine had bone marrow replacement. I said, “Woah, sorry, what’s that?” 

We had a PET scan the next day, and they diagnosed that I had terminal lung cancer, stage 4B. It had spread to the brain, half the spine, whole of my lungs were filled with tumour, liver, adrenals…

I said, “Can’t be, I was just at the gym last night, what’s going on?” I’m sure you know how it feels – though I’m not sure if you know how it feels. One moment I was there at the peak, the next day, this news came and I was totally devastated. My whole world just turned upside down. 

I couldn’t accept it. I have a hundred relatives on both sides, my mom and my dad. 100 of them. And not a single one has cancer. To me, in my mind, I have good genes, I’m not supposed to be having this! Some of my relatives are heavy chain smokers. Why am I having lung cancer? I was in denial.


So the next day, I was still in a state of denial, still unable to accept what was going on. There I was lying in an operating theatre in a hospital, for a needle biopsy (for histology). There I was, just completed the biopsy, and lying in the operating theatre. The nurses and doctors had left; told me I had to wait for 15 minutes to do a check X-ray to make sure there’s no pneumothorax (a complication).

And there I was, lying on the operating table, staring blankly at the ceiling in a cold, quiet operating theatre. Suddenly I just heard an inner voice; it was not like coming from outside. It was inside. This small inner voice that I had never felt before. And it said very specifically, it said, “This has to happen to you, at your prime, because it’s the only way you can understand.”

I said, “Woah, why did that come from?” You know, when you speak to yourself, you’d say, “OK, what time should I leave this place? Where shall I have dinner after this?” You’d speak from a first person point of view. You don’t say, “Where should YOU go after this?” Whereas the voice that came spoke as a third party. It said, “This has to happen to YOU, at YOUR prime, because this is the only way YOU can understand.” At that time, my emotions just overflowed and I broke down and cried, alone there. And I knew then, subsequently, what it means to understand that why this is the only way.

Because I had been so proud of myself, my whole life, I needed nobody else. I was gifted with things that I could do, why do I need anybody else? I was just so full of myself that there was no other way I could have turned back to God.

In fact, if I were diagnosed with stage 1 or 2, I would have been looking around busily for the best cardiothoracic surgeon, remove a section of the lobe (do a lobectomy), do preventive chemotherapy…The chances of it being cured is extremely high. Who needs God? But I had stage 4B. No man can help, only God can.

A series of events happened after that. I wasn’t sold after that, because of the inner voice, I became believing, prayers, all that. No I wasn’t. To me, it was just ‘maybe there was a voice; or maybe that was just me talking to myself.’ I didn’t buy the story.

What happened next was that I was being prepared for chemotherapy. I started off with a whole brain radiation therapy first; takes about 2 -3 weeks. In the meantime they prepared me for chemotherapy, supplements etc. One of the things they used for chemo was a thing called Zometa. Zometa - they use it to strengthen the bones; once the bone marrow (replacement) is cured of cancer cells, it becomes hollow, so we need Zometa to strengthen the bone to prevent compression fractures. 

One of the side effects of Zometa is that it can cause osteonecrosis (bone death) of the jaw, and I had to have my wisdom teeth removed. Years ago, I had my upper wisdom teeth removed, cos it was giving me trouble. The lower ones didn’t give me trouble so I said, “Forget it, just leave it.” So of cause, Danny volunteered to remove it for me.

So there I was, lying there in a dental chair, asking myself, suffering all the side effects of radiotherapy, and now I have to go through wisdom tooth surgery. As if I’ve not had enough to suffer! So I asked Danny, “Eh, bro, is there any other way? Can I not go though this?” He said, “Yes, you can pray.” 

I said, “What’s there to lose? Ok lah, pray lah!” And so we prayed. And we did an X-ray after that. Everything was all there, all the appliances and everything. And lo and behold, the Xray showed that there was no wisdom teeth in the lower jaw. I know most people have 4 wisdom teeth, maybe some have none, but to be missing one or 2, as I understand – I’m not too sure, as I understand – is not that common.

Still I was, “Nah, I don’t care about that.” To me, as long as I didn’t have to take out the tooth, I was happy. At that point, I still wasn’t sold on prayers. Maybe it was just a coincidence – for whatever it’s worth.

I continued meeting my oncologist, asking him, “How long do I have?” I asked him. He said, not more than 6 months. I said, “Even with chemotherapy?” About 3 – 4 months, he said. 

I couldn’t grasp that. It was difficult to come to terms. And even as I went through radiotherapy, I was struggling everyday, especially when I wake up, hoping that it’s just a nightmare; when I wake up, it’s all over.

As I was struggling, day after day, I went into depression, which is the typical denial, depression blah blah blah that you go through. But for 1 reason, I don’t know why, there was this specific day that I was supposed to meet my oncologist. At about 2pm, I felt this sudden surge of peace, comfort, and in fact, a little happiness. It was just overflowing. For no rhyme or reason, it just came about 2pm, as I was getting ready, dressing up to meet my oncologist. So much so that I whats-apped all my friends that, “Bros, I just feel so good suddenly! I don’t know why, it just came!”

And it was only days, or was it weeks after, that Danny revealed to me that he had fasted for 2 days for me, and he was bargaining with God, and fasted for 2 dyas, and he ended his fast at that exact same point, about 2pm thereabouts, that this surge of sensation came to me for no rhyme or reason. And I didn’t know that he was fasting for me. And when he ended the fast, I felt that sensation!

Whoa, things were getting a bit too coincidental. I was starting to buy a bit of the story, but still I wasn’t sold. As days passed by, I completed my radiotherapy, about 2 weeks plus. Getting ready for chemo, so they let me rest for a few days.

See, the mortality rate of lung cancer : Lung cancer has the highest mortality rate. If you add up breast, colorectal (colon) cancer, and prostate cancer (the top few cancers in Singapore for men and women), if you add up the mortality rate of these 3, it still doesn’t add up to lung cancer. Simply because, you understand, you can remove the prostate, the colon, the breast, but you cannot remove your lungs.

But there’s about 10% of lung cancer patients who do pretty well for some reasons, because they have this specific mutation; we call it the EGFR mutation. And it happens, only 90% of the time, in Asian ladies who never smoked in their lives. Me, first of all, I’m male. 2ndly, I’m a social smoker. I take one a day after dinner; weekends, when my friends offer me, I take it as well. I’m a light smoker, not a social smoker. But still, my oncologist was still not hopeful for me to have this mutation. 

The chances of it happening for me was maybe 3-4% for me to get it. That’s why I was being primed to go for chemo. But through all the intense prayers, friends like Danny, people that I don’t even know, it turned out that, during my waiting for chemo, the results came back that I was EGFR positive. I was like, “Woah, good news!” Cos now I don’t have to undergo chemo at that time, because there’s this oral tablet that you can use to control this disease.

Just to share with you some idea – this is a CT scan – thorax – of my lungs, before treatment. 

(Clipped from Youtube)


Every single dot there is a tumour. You can see all the mets (metastasis) there. This is just one single plane. Literally I had it in both lungs, and I had literally tens of thousands of tumour. That’s why the oncologist told me, even with chemo, at most 3-4 months.

But because of this mutation, they have this oral medication. This is what happened after 2 months of treatment. As you can see over here; this is what God can do. And that’s why I’m still here having this opportunity to share with you. As you can see over here, the difference between before and after treatment.

At that point, I said, “Well, it’s to be expected, isn’t it? The medicine is good.” I’m still not buying the story. Well, the guys prayed for me and the tumour markers started to come down. 90% of the tumours were wiped out, and the tumour markers came down to more than 90% over the next few months.

But still, you know, once you have the clinical knowledge, you know the statistics. One year survival, two year survival; having all this knowledge is not a good thing. Cos you live with the knowledge that even with all this, the cancer cells are so unstable, they keep mutating. They will overcome and become resistant to the drugs, and eventually you’re gonna run out of medication.

So living with this knowledge is a huge mental struggle, a huge mental torture. Cancer is not just about a physical struggle, it’s a huge mental torture. How do you live with no hope? How do you live with not being able to plan for the next few years? The oncologist tells you to bear with it for the next 1 – 2 months. So it’s a lot of struggles as I went through: March, then April. April was my lowest point, in deep depression, struggling even as I was recovering.


And one of those days, I was there in bed, struggling in the afternoon, asking God, “Why? Why do I have to go through this suffering? Why do I have to endure this hardship, this struggle? Why me?” 

As I fell asleep, in my dreamy state, a vision just came, that says Hebrews 12:7-8.

Now mind you, at this time, I had not read the bible. I have no clue what’s Hebrews, I don’t even know how many chapters there are. Totally clueless.

But it says Hebrews 12:7-8, very specifically.

I didn’t think too much of it. I just continued sleeping. Then I woke up, and I said, “What’s there to lose? I’d just check it out lah!” Danny had bought me a bible; it’s still quite new. I said, “It’s ok, just try.” So I flipped to the Old Testament. Hebrews to me sounds like something ancient, so it should be in the Old Testament right? So I flipped through the Old Testament. No Hebrews there. I was so disappointed.

Then I said, “Maybe New Testament, let’s have a look!”. WOW – New Testament, there’s Hebrew’s!! It says Hebrews 12:7-8. It says, “Endure hardship as discipline as God is treating you as His children.”

I said, “WAH!! Where did that come from?” I was getting goose pimples all over my body. I said, “This can’t be, right?” I mean, what’s the chance of somebody, who has never read the bible, to have a vision of a chapter of a specific verse, that answers my question directly?

I think God called to me directly as I was there sleeping, struggling with it, asking God, “Why do I have to suffer? Why do I have to suffer this?” And God says “Endure hardship as discipline as God is treating you as His child.”

At this point, the chance of that happening is even lesser than my EGFR being positive. There’s just no way; there’s so many millions of thousands of verses in the bible, how can I just conjure up something like that?

So at that point, I was sold I said, “YOU WIN! YOU WIN!!”

Ok , I was convinced. And so from that day onwards, I started believing in my God. And the last time I heard that inner voice was the end of April. And that inner voice, same thing, in the afternoon, as I was sleeping (this time I wasn’t struggling, just going to sleep). In a dreamy state I just heard Him say, “Help others in hardship.”

It was more like a command, rather than a statement. And that’s when I embarked on this journey, helping others in hardship. And I realised that hardship is not just about being poor. In fact, I think a lot of poor people are probably happier than a lot of us here. They are so easily contented with whatever they have, they’re probably pretty happy.

Hardship can happen to rich people; it can be physical hardship, mental hardship, social, etc. And also over the last few months, I started to understand what this true joy is about. In the past, I substituted true joy with the pursuing of wealth. I thought true joy is about pursuing wealth. Why? Cos let me put it to you this way, in my death bed, I found no joy whatsoever in whatever objects I had – my Ferrari, thinking of the land I was going to buy to build my bungalow etc, having a successful business.

It brought me ZERO comfort, ZERO joy, nothing at all. Do you think I can hold onto this piece of metal and it’s going to give true joy? Nah, it’s not going to happen. 

True joy comes from interaction with other people. And at a lot of times, it is a short term pride, the past. When you pursue your wealth, Chinese New Year is the best time to do it. Drive my Ferrari, show off to my relatives, show off to my friends, do my rounds, and then you thought that was true joy? You really think that those guys who sold you your Ferrari, they share their joy with you? And your relatives, wow, they share this joy with you? In truth, what you have done is just to illicit envy, jealousy, and even hatred. They are not sharing the joy with you, and what I have is that short-term pride that wow, I have something you don’t have! And I thought that was joy!

So what we have is basically a short-term pride at the expense of somebody else. And that wasn’t true joy. And I found no joy at all on my deathbed, thinking of my Ferrari – to hold on to it, sayang it?!?

True joy I discovered comes from interaction. Over the last few months I was so down. Interaction with my loved ones, my friends, my brothers in Christ, my sisters in Christ, and only then was I able to be motivated, able to be uplifted. To share your sorrow, to share your happiness – that’s true joy.

And you know what makes you smile? True joy comes from helping others in hardship, and because I’ve gone through this, I know what hardship entails. In fact, there’re some cancer patients who tell me a lot of times, people come up to them and tell them, “Stay positive. Stay positive.” Yah, right. You come in my shoes and you try to stay positive! You don’t know what you’re talking about!

But I have the licence. So I’ve been going out to meet other fellow cancer patients, to share with them, encourage them. And I know, because I’ve been through it, and it’s easier for me to talk to them.

And most importantly, I think true joy comes from knowing God. Not knowing about God – I mean, you can read the bible and know about God – but knowing God personally; getting a relationship with God. I think that’s the most important. That’s what I’ve learnt.

So if I were to sum it up, I’d say that the earlier we sort out the priorities in our lives, the better it is. Don’t be like me – I had no other way. I had to learn it through the hard way. I had to come back to God to thank Him for this opportunity because I’ve had 3 major accidents in my past – car accidents. You know, these sports car accidents – I was always speeding , but somehow I always came out alive, even with the car almost being overturned. And I wouldn’t have had a chance. Who knows, I don’t know where else I’d be going to! Even though I was baptised it was just a show, but the fact that this has happened, it gave me a chance to come back to God.

Few things I’d learnt though:
1. Trust in the Lord your God with all your heart – this is so important.
2. Is to love and serve others, not just ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with being rich or wealthy. I think it’s absolutely alright, cos God has blessed. So many people are blessed with good wealth, but the trouble is I think a lot of us can’t handle it. The more we have, the more we want. I’ve gone through it, the deeper the hole we dig, the more we get sucked into it, so much so that we worship wealth and lose focus. Instead of worshipping God, we worship wealth. It’s just a human instinct. It’s just so difficult to get out of it.

We are all professionals, and when we go into private practise, we start to build up our wealth – inevitably. So my thought are, when you start to build up wealth and when the opportunity comes, do remember that all these things don’t belong to us. We don’t really own it nor have rights to this wealth. It’s actually God’s gift to us. Remember that it’s more important to further His Kingdom rather than to further ourselves.

Anyway I think that I’ve gone through it, and I know that wealth without God is empty. It is more important that you fill up the wealth, as you build it up subsequently, as professionals and all, you need to fill it up with the wealth of God.
Quote from "Tuesdays with Morrie."

I think that’s about it. It’s good to share. Thanks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Midweek Meditation: "A Prayer of Jesus Speaking"

This particular devotional reading is from Sarah Young's book, "Jesus Today: Experiencing Hope Through His Presence."

"Keep returning your focus to Me! I am always thinking about you and watching every-thing that concerns you. You, however, are only human, and you will lose sight of Me at times. I know how hard it is for you to stay focused on Me, especially when you are feeling weak or weary. So give yourself grace whenever you realize your mind and heart have wandered from Me. And waste no time in returning to Me by praising Me in thought, word, or song. Even whispering My Name—reverently, lovingly— can be worship.

Let Me have all your worries and cares. This may sound easy, but it is not; you are accus-tomed to worry-thoughts roaming freely in your brain. So you must train yourself to bring all your cares into My Presence, trusting Me to help you. Remember that you are never alone in your struggles: I am always aware of you and your circumstances. I can help you because I have all authority in heaven and on earth. As you come into My Presence, let go of your worries and cares—so you can cling to Me in childlike trust." (Sarah Young, Jesus Today, Thomas-Nelson, 2012, p226)


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

God Told You That? Really?

This article was first published yesterday at here


If one stays around long enough in religious circles, one will be familiar with "God speak." In churches or Christian organizations, there will be words like, "Hallelujah! Praise God!" when one is happy. Then there will be words like "God's will is this, or God's will is that." Some people will boldly proclaim,

"Few days ago, God spoke to me about ......."

Who is right? Or is God wrong?
Really? Did God appear to you in a vision or some kind of a dream? Did God just email you or send you a letter from heaven? Is there a visible voice that is whispered from above? God told you that, really?

Don't misunderstand me. I believe God speaks to us. I believe that there are legitimate ways in which God can use the media of the world to speak to us. Having said that, the devil uses the media too. In fact, the devil tempts Jesus by quoting the Word of God to Jesus almost verbatim! God-talk can be deceiving. For some, it can be downright dangerous. Recently, Mark Galli writes about the dangers of God-talk.
"The Incarnation and Jesus' talk about God suggest that there is more than one way to blaspheme—that is, to be irreverent and impious. That would be to so exalt the transcendence of God that there is no room left in the imagination for the scandalous Emmanuel, God with us." (Mark Galli, "God Talk is Dangerous," Christianity Today, July 2012)
He argues for the merits of apophatic theology. In contrast to a Western world that prides in an affirmative "God is like this," or "God is like that," apophatic theology prefers to speak on what it does not know and affirms in in a negative manner, such as, "God is NOT like this," or "God is NOT that."

Personally, I have three reservations whenever people use the Name of God as a prefix to their words.

1) Danger of Pontification

Whenever people invokes the Name of God in their phrases, if our first instinct is complete belief in what they say, we will be asking ourselves, what kind of position are we to speak against the Messenger of God? If God is speaking through that person, boy we better listen fast, listen hard, and be ready to do something about it. Cult leaders are masters of this art. By invoking God's Authority and Power in their words, followers will be bound to obey them, for to disobey them is tantamount to disobeying God.

Sometimes, this happens to congregational members who follow passionately their leaders. Whether it is the bishop or the priest, the senior pastor or the chief prophet, the highly regarded spiritual leader, rightly or wrongly, will be deemed to be closer to heaven than anyone else in the congregation. I have heard a fair number of people calling their pastors or respected preachers, "He is anointed," or "He is Holy-Spirit driven."

In this case, spiritual leaders especially must be on constant guard, not to misuse the Name of God in their ministry to the flock, lest they pontificate without knowing it.

2) Blaspheming God in the Name of Self

According to Elmer Towns in "When God is Silent," there are four possible scenarios whenever people claim to speak for God. Firstly, they are "self-deceived." They have lost touch of reality, either due to physical or medical conditions. Secondly, they can be "self-induced" mystics. The mystery of their words from God raises more questions than giving answers about God's speaking. Thirdly, there is the plain liar, who just wants to use God's Name for self gain. Some of the biggest culprits tend to be those miracle healers or word of faith preachers. Fourthly, there is the demonic source.What Towns is arguing for is the need to listen to God as a community rather than a sensational revelation to only one individual. In other words, if God is speaking, in the New Covenant era, He does not limit it to only one person. He speaks to more.

Spiritual discernment as a community is a common practice among many Christian groups. One such group is the Quakers, where community discernment remains the key way to practice their understanding of God's guidance and calling. Spiritual discernment is community discernment. This is the modus operandi of the Church after Pentecost.

The Mosaic commandment remains very instructive for us.

"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name." (Deuteronomy 5:11)

If we need God's Name just to beef up our own sense of ego, or our own worth, then we have failed to appreciate what it means to be made in the image of God. We do not need a label to be deemed worthy. We are already worthwhile that Jesus died for us on the cross.

3) Plain Ignorance / Bad Use of Language

My third concern is about the ignorance of people simply because they do not know the Word of God. Jesus' reprimand needs to be remembered. When He heard about the arguments of marriage and how the Sadducees and Pharisees argued about the resurrection and the marriage in the afterlife, he corrected them by saying, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? "

Poor leadership is bad. Poor followship is equally bad. If members of the congregation fail to adopt the Berean mindset of checking out the Scriptures, and compare them with what they have seen or heard, it is bad for the entire community. Let me also remind leaders that when members check out what you say with Scriptures, it is not a slight on what you say. It is basically preferring to check back with what God has said in the Bible. There is no need to take things personal.

Along with this potential plain ignorance of the common folk, there is also the bad use of language, not knowing the implications of what one is saying. Some time ago, I hear my kids blurting out, "Hallelujah!" to the tune of Handel's Messiah when they feel momentarily happy. When the printer finally works, they sing, "Hallelujah!" by reflex. When the bus arrives, they chimes, "Praise God!"

Yes, happiness deserves some verbal release. But not in the name of God. Use other words please.

God Can Still Speak, Silent or Otherwise

So where does this leave us? Let me say that I am not against people who have actually received a word from the Lord. I am simply practicing discernment, suspending of judgment for or against, retaining a careful balance of checking with the Scriptures, and discerning what kind of a voice is speaking. I am not dismissing anybody's claim. I just do not want to take in things I am not sure about so quickly.

Finally, there is the discomfort of silence. Here, I like to take a leaf from Ruth Tucker's book, that when God is silent, it does not mean He is slighting us or ignoring us. He is actually giving us space to celebrate.
"God's silence is not something that we ought to merely accept or endure. The silence is our refuge. We can find solace in the silence of God. Should we not therefore celebrate the silence of God - or if not celebrate it, at least cultivate it as part of our spiritual sojourn? Barbara Brown Taylor offers insights as she captures the essence of Max Picard's poetic eulogy, The World of Silence: 'Pickard says that silence is the central place of faith, where we give the Word back to the God from whom we first received it. . . In silence, we travel back in time to the day before the first day of creation, when all being was still part of God's body. It had not yet been said, and silence was the womb in which it slept." (Ruth A. Tucker, God Talk, IVP, 2005, p165)
We do not need to affix God's Name before or after our words, in order to authenticate our talk. As long as we speak the truth, and not use the Name of God in vain, we are already honouring God in spirit and in truth. We can still talk as believers without having to insert God's Name in all of our conversations. Honouring God is in speaking the truth in love. God's Name is not diminished just because we do not use His Name literally. His Name is proclaimed each time we uphold truth and love one another as Jesus has loved us.


Monday, October 22, 2012

BookPastor >> "Honoring God in Red or Blue"

With the coming US elections, this book will provide some guidelines on how to vote. More importantly, it shows us that whichever candidates one votes for, it makes no sense to demonize people who disagree. After all, one can still honour God, independent of party affiliation. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on October 11th, 2012.


TITLE: Honoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace, and Reason
AUTHOR: Amy E. Black
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012, (208 pages).

The reactions to politics are often negative, even dismissive. It is common to hear people saying things like:
  • "Politics is dirty."
  • "Politics is a four-letter word."
  • "We cannot mix politics with religion. Separation of Church and State remember?"
  • "All politicians are crooks."
Rarely do we find informed opinions from laypersons that not only explain the preconceived notions of such negativity, but provide insights into the world of politics, especially the American political scene. Published at a time when the two major American political parties are revving up their rhetoric and campaigns, this book helps us to not only understand what politics are all about, it educates us on what is and what is not, the right and wrong ways to engage politics, and more importantly, how to think and respond Christianly toward the political scene. As the title suggests, whether we support the Republicans (Red) or the Democrats (Blue), honoring God is possible either way. In other words, God is neither Republican, Democrat, Independent, or whatever visible party out there. God is God, and we can all honor God regardless of what party lines are saying.  The key point is that all parties have mixtures of good and bad, and we ought to be aware of the potential as well as the constraints of each position taken.

Amy Black, a Professor in political science at Wheaton College shares with us a wealth of information regarding the modern cultural perceptions of politics and parties, an insight into how the American political system is designed, a brief history of the separation of powers and the separation of Church and State, and a hugely beneficial section on how Christians can engage constructively in the political arena. In Part One, Black makes a case that there are more upsides to politics than what most people think. While there are perils of political work, we need to keep in mind the promises and the potential of God working out for good in the world of politics. Black puts forth ample biblical support for the active engagement of politics simply because religion and politics inform each other. If that is the case, retreating from talking about it is unhelpful. Constructive engagement is needed. She suggests four principles on how to do this.
  1. When talking about politics, display humility
  2. It is ok to disagree without calling each other unChristian. Diversity always imply a difference of opinions.
  3. Do not use the label "Christian" to validate any political stand, simply because such labels belong solely to God. In other words, don't say things like, "God tell me......" frivolously.
  4. Use politics as a way to demonstrate love for God and neighbour, and not a sledgehammer to pound our views across.
Part Two is a fascinating tour of the American political system, how the government works. This part alone is worth the price of the book as it not only helps readers to understand the party ideologies and the overall checks and balances of the American separation of powers, it shows us the ingenious ways in which the system is able to correct itself and avoid any movements toward totalitarian regimes.  It is one of the finest demonstration of democracy and freedom of all to participate or to switch parties based on conscience, not fear.

Part Three is the key section for readers who are Christian, and want to learn how to honor God when engaging in politics.  Black compares and contrasts four different traditions of political theology, namely the Catholic, Lutheran, Anabaptist, and Reformed perspectives. She shows us how to avoid tribal politics and engage more in dialogue and how to disagree peacefully. Learning how to disagree is so important that Black sets aside more than one chapter to let Scriptural truth shine and guide our steps. She also gives tips on how to evaluate any policy or party stand. One way is to first search for common ground, and then agree to disagree on the rest, later. The late Dr Martin Luther King Jr describes the role of the Church as follows:

"The church must be reminded that it is not the master or servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state."

This wisely put phrase sets into perspective how Christians are to interact with the State, maintaining a separation of religion from politics without missing a beat with regards to engagement meaningfully and purposefully. Finally, when deciding how to vote, Black provides the following tips:
  • Evaluate each candidate on the basis of how trustworthy he/she is, based on one's understanding of fair representation.
  • Be prepared with what political issues most matter to us
  • Set priorities on which issues are most important
  • See how well the running candidate fits the requirements, duties for the post
  • Learn about the candidate and the office
  • Discern what the campaigns are trying to communicate
  • If needed, volunteer to get a closer look at the person, the party, and how well the candidate is practicing the political ideology.
In summary, the best way for us to engage constructively is to have adequate knowledge of the political system, meaningful understanding of the people and parties involved, and purposeful engaging of the entire political process. This book not only launches us to this end, it shows us the way to do just that. 

Ratin: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, October 19, 2012

How Then Shall We Speak Up?

Can we make a judgment call without becoming judgmental?
In a society that ensures free speech for all, we often straddle between saying anything versus saying nothing. The former refers to people with glib tongues, uttering things thoughtlessly, gossiping or slandering others needlessly. The latter refers to people who prefer to mind their own business, retreating behind the banner that says, "I cannot impose my view on others."

Either extremes are unhelpful. On the one hand, loose tongues hurt people. One can claim the right to freedom of speech. Words that clearly defame another person can trigger legal actions. Others that infringe on the right and dignity of other people will raise the ire of the common folk. On the other hand, absolute silence emboldens the practice of evil. Edwin Burke has famously said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

How do we arrive at a healthy position of necessary speaking without judging others unfairly? Is it really possible to totally not judge anybody, or anything at all? Honestly, making a conscious decision ourselves is already an act of judgment. When we say something is right or wrong, it is already a judgment call. In fact, not judging anything is in itself a judgment call to refuse to decide. In some cases, it is a cop-out option in the light of two equally difficult stands.

October is Anti-bullying month. Can we truly not make a judgment at all? Anyone who comes up in support of "Anti-bullying" actions, will they be accused of "imposing" their values on others who disagree? For that matter, whichever stand we take with regards to legalizing or banning marijuana is also a judgment call. The issue is not the stand, but the reasons behind why we take any such position.

  • What is our basis of right and wrong?
  • Making a decision is one thing. Is it possible to make a judgment call without being judgmental?
  • Is there a way to hold our core beliefs without making it seem like we are imposing it on others?
When we misunderstand people, we risk misrepresenting them or their views. When we fail to consider others more important than ourselves, we elevate our self-importance. When we do not know the surrounding contexts or reasons, we are in danger of misjudging people for whatever decisions they have made. Misunderstandings can lead to people of both sides painting erroneous and even hurtful caricatures of each other. How then shall we speak up? 

The fact is this. All of us are judgmental. Some more, some less, but we all are. This is part of being human. We have to decide or discern, distinguish right from wrong, navigate our paths through tricky situations that require us to make frequent judgment calls. That said, judging people harshly is bad. Not judging at all is silly. Fair judgment is essential.

The following table is my personal paraphrase of Terry Cooper's list that contrasts "healthy judgment" and "judgmentalism." I find them very practical and helpful. Note that I have paraphrased a lot of them, and I take responsibility for the adaptation. The last part about prayer is my own contribution.

"Healthy Judgment" "Judgmentalism"
CONCERN: Involves concern for others Not concerned for others
TRUST: Trusts that others have a good motive, that people mean well Claims to suspect other people's ulterior motives.
HUMBLE: Practises religious or moral values with humility, charity, and tolerance toward different views Hold personal convictions but treat others with disrespect and intolerant behaviour
RESPECTFUL: Denounces ideas or behaviour, but respects the dignity of people Denounce people without separating act from person
OPEN: Retains personal opinions, and remains open to different views. Insists on absolute certainty without recognizing its limits or constraints.
THOUGHTFUL: Takes time to consider differences before coming to a well-thought out response. Lets emotionally charged behaviour makes a summary judgment, especially based on superficial evidence.
ASSERTIVE: Shows courage to make a firm decision. Shows fear of being wrong, and is unreflective, and shows lack of understanding of other viewpoints.
PRAYERFUL: As a Christian, I believe that being prayerful is key to learning to discerning the what, the when, the where, and the how to say or not to say certain things. Prayerless persons tend to be susceptible to careless decisions.

[Adapted from Terry Cooper's "Seven Distinctions between Healthy Judgment and Judgmentalism" in Making Judgments Without Being Judgmental, IVP, 2006, p28]

Let us all learn to think well with regards to judging well. One more thing. In our world of ideas and free speech, Christians ought to be reminded of their calling to be peacemakers wherever they are. This calling is to be lived out, even when there is a risk of people judging us. We live under the Judgment of God. How then shall we speak up? Begin with any of the eight above.


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