Friday, November 30, 2012

"Count Your Blessings" (Ali Matthews)

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Love Came Down At Christmas" (Ali Matthews)

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


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Midweek Meditation: "There Is Always a Cost"

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

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

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


Monday, November 26, 2012

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

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


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Midweek Meditation: A Prayer of a Reluctant Leader

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tips for Black Friday Shopping Week

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

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

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

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

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

#1 - Be Considerate Through Self-Limits

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

#2 - Remember that We are Guests

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

#3 - Be Neighbourly

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

#4 - Look Beyond Dollars and Cents

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

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

#5 - Shop Local

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

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


Monday, November 19, 2012

BookPastor >> "The Gospel Commission"

This review was first published on 13 April 2011. It is a powerful work to make disciples of all nations.


TITLE: Gospel Commission, The: Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples
AUTHOR: Michael Horton
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011, (320 pages).

Is there anything new in this book? No. Is there a more jazzy message in there? No. Is there something hip and clever in the book? No. Horton shows us that we do not need these things to dress up the gospel message and mission. The pure gospel and mission can stand on its own.

Do not let this book's simple innocent title fool you. True to its message, the author base his ideas on biblical foundation. True to the gospel message, he makes the reader more attentive to the gospel itself. True to the gospel mission, Horton exemplifies in this book the words of the great missionary to China who famously says:
"God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply." (James Hudson Taylor)
What the Book is About
Simply put, the book continues where the author's two previous books have left off. In Christless Christianity and The Gospel-Driven Life, Horton talks about the need to take the gospel seriously, calling on believers toward the gospel MESSAGE. In this book, Horton continues with a renewed focus on taking the MISSION of the gospel seriously. He has several concerns. Firstly, he urges Christians NOT to take the Great Commission for granted. Secondly, he is arguing for a shift away from the tendency in many churches toward 'mission creep.' Such 'mission creep' tends to puff up church mission and strategies instead of sharing God's mission and kingdom. The former is more man-centered while the latter is God-centered. Thirdly, and most importantly, Horton writes:

"There is no mission without the church and no church without the mission." (14)

He announces:

"The Great Commission begins not with an imperative, a plan, a strategy for our victory in the world, but with the announcement that Christ has conquered sin and death." (89)

This is followed by a reminder that the Church need not invent new mission or strategies. Tying together the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, Horton says that Jesus himself has given us the mission and the strategic approaches. Horton interacts widely with leaders of the Emerging Church Movement, like Brian McLaren, as well as the spiritual contemplative writers like Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. He is not afraid to disagree with them when he feels they are out of sync with the Great Commission. Yet, he is respectful of the teachings from these esteemed authors. I appreciate the sensitivity and balanced manner, as well as the measured criticism from the author.

My Comments
One stark observation is that Horton does not lace this book with fancy titles or colourful glossy covers. Neither are there any big name endorsements on the inner and outer flaps that we have gotten so used to, especially for authors desperate to attract more readers to buy their books. If a book is good, the message alone suffices. If a book is no good, no amount of who's who on the covers helps. Horton does not need nice packaging. He lets the message be the message.

Kudos to the author, who is not interested in chasing after the latest fad in spiritual matters but stick to ancient truths that are theological sound, and biblically faithful. I find myself highlighting many powerful statements that hits home. I enjoy the way the author weaves together biblical theology and the mission emphasis of God's love. It is an important book that deserves a wider readership.

One critique I have is that such a book may not appeal as much to the general reader. Leaders and concerned church members who have some kind of theological training will benefit most. Apart from this, I think Horton is very passionate about the Gospel Commission, and sees all manner of Church and Christian Living from this perspective. I am glad to see Horton applying the mission focus on the fundamentals of Matthew 28:18-20. He exhorts the reader to put a renewed energy back into preaching, teaching, baptizing, and making disciples of all nations. Calling these as means of grace, the GC is not something that Christian 'have' to do, but is one that true disciples will love and long to do.

Did Michael Horton do a good job in 'recovering God's strategy for Making Disciples?' The answer is a resounding YES!

I strongly recommend this book.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Tale of Two Stories

Every media has its own bias. No matter how big or how small, there is always a biased perspective. That is why we need at least two points of view. With the Palestinian and Israeli violence going on right now in the Middle East, the war has also spread from the battlefields to the Internet world. Call it propaganda or misrepresentation the other side, the truth is, people are prone to have a strong first impression when the news is dramatically described. Let me share just one example.

Story #1 - A Pro-Palestinian Bias

There is a map that has been circulated widely on the Internet recently. It certainly makes the Israelis look bad. The way the visual goes is that the problem lies in only one party. Israel is the bully.

Story #1 - A Pro-Palestinian Bias

Story #2 - A Pro-Israeli Bias

Check out the next story, which is pro-Israeli. It addresses each of the four maps individually, calling it a misrepresentation of facts.

  1. Map 1 (1946): No State of Palestine but the British Mandate
  2. Map 2 (1947): The U.N. Partition Plan - never came into existence (where the Palestinians openly reject the plan.
  3. Map 3 (1949-67): Jordanian West Bank, Egyptian Gaza (map changes due to Arab aggression and Israel retaliation)
  4. Map 4 (2000): Omitting the key facts
Story #2 thus proposes a new map.

Story #2 - Pro-Israel Bias

Who is correct? You tell me.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Musings on Self-Help Programs

TITLE: Musings on Self-Help Programs 
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 17 November 2012

Once in a while, someone will come up to me and say something like, “I’ve had it with all those motivational gurus, and those books that give you all kinds of steps to be a better person. Such things wow initially, but over time, the novelty wears out.

I understand. In fact, it is not surprising why the same old people who have been inspired by some moving talk or literature, pledges to do something about it, but eventually returns to the point where he needs another shot of motivation.

I hear the sentiment. Perhaps, one reason why self-help gurus continue to make money is because their formulas are not only easy to understand, people who needed help never grow out of needing help. In some countries, seminars, conferences, and motivational events are opportunities are held so often that they have become the main staple for any motivational need or spiritual diet. Take for example leadership conferences. People spend hundreds of dollars to attend talks by so-called “world-class” leader of some amazing organization. After the big publicity and the packed houses of eager attendees, soon after, the hunger returns. The same people come back to the same kind of conferences and seminars. My question: Why?

Seminars like these are popular, can they help?
The trouble with many people is that they think the magic lies with the motivational speaker or the materials they provide. Pay the fees, buy the books, and the change happens automatically. At least, that is how their behaviour demonstrates. As one who has attended many conferences, I have learned that what I do with the materials in the first 48 hours will determine the depth of my learning. Whatever notes I have copied. Whatever books I have purchased or received. Whatever recordings I have taped, if I do not do something with it, they are gone. Disappear. Poof.

Come Monday, we go on to our usual selves and our regular set of activities. The weekend infatuation has gone. The normal reality has come. Nothing has changed. Such people are immediate candidates for motivational gurus, and various organizations to continue to milk and cash in. So what do we do with conferences, motivational talks, books, music, and all kinds of self-help materials? Let me offer three musings.

A) Do Not Condemn Them

There is a place of everything. In fact, there is always a first time for anyone. As much as some of us may dislike the idea of motivational gurus and the feel-good atmosphere generated, they do serve a purpose of bringing like-minded or people who share similar concerns. First-timers will benefit the most. There are good in it too. I have been assisting Regent College’s conference programs for many years. From the annual Pastor’s Conferences to occasional theological seminars, I have seen many famous names enter the chapel halls and leave people gasping for more. The quality is top. Even the attendees of such conferences are willing to fly more than half the world to Regent College in order to attend a 1-day seminar! There is a place for motivational seminars. The trouble is when motivational seminars become the main staple of any person’s diet. That will then be a problem.

Another point to note is that we do not need to put any person up there on stage on the pedestal. They are also ordinary people like you and me. Put on the appropriate makeup, wear the wireless lapel microphone, and we too can learn to speak, to look, and walk like them. Invite them over for a meal, and we learn that they too are people who had very ordinary beginnings. The secret is in the hype or the marketing that goes with it.

B) The 48-Hour Rule

What we do with what we have learned within the first 48 hours is critical for our learning. One thing I do is to summarize my notes. Whether through memory devices or re-written essays, I find myself more equipped to engage the material, putting down what I like, what I dislike, and what are the pros and cons of what I have heard. Within the first 48 hours, many of the things remain fresh in the head. It is easy to recall the powerful stories and pointers. For those of us who have been moved by any one story, try telling the same story to another person in your own words. Talk to another person, preferably with people who have attended the same conference. Engage the material. Work through the pros and cons. When purchasing the audio-visual materials, make sure they are kept in sight, that is, we know where they are. Often, we tend to misplace them as we go back to our usual routines.

Whatever 7 steps to becoming more effective person, or 8 ways to lead, or 9 techniques to sell, we all need to learn to summarize and to decide what makes sense for us personally. Without adequate reflection, we lose what we learn. Not only that, we have wasted our time and money on mere entertainment.

C) Personal Disciplines

After 48 hours, make it a personal effort to record or to remember what we have learned. Over time, things appear very different. Contexts vary. Facts increase. We change. That is why we need to continue to update ourselves in terms of learning. Learning is not the responsibility of the motivational gurus. It is our own responsibility. Each of us needs to discover how best we learn. For some of us, we need to maintain a regular regime of exercise and active working out of what we learn. For others, all it takes is for an appropriate device to jigger our memories. For all of us, we need a certain learning discipline in order to maximize our education. Take time to update our facts. Take time to learn.

So when you see the next conference in town, do not be too quick to dismiss them. At the same time, do not be too ready to blame the gurus or organizers for organizing the same old thing. Whether people chooses to go or not, is basically part of their journeying process. For some, they may need several more seminars before they can benefit in the long-term. Such people need to be wealthy enough to fund this expensive option. For others, once may be more than enough. Whatever it is, learning is not the responsibility of the organizers or the motivational gurus. Learning is our responsibility. We cannot blame organizers or the motivational gurus for what they do best. If we feel tired or frustrated by our lack of learning, the problem is less of theirs but more of ourselves.

What are you going to do when you receive the next motivational brochure? If you have done your homework after your previous seminar, you will pass the brochure to someone else. If you have not, chances are, you will feel the itch. You will start to budget. You will likely begin the vicious cycle again, and again, and again.

Where there is this cycle, there the motivational speakers will be also.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Midweek Meditation: A Birthday Prayer

We all celebrate birthdays once a year. This prayer is appropriate for those of us wanting to do something special for ourselves. By prayer and mediation. (Credit to

Birthday Prayer

"Thank you, God, for giving me another year of life.
Thank you for all the people who remembered me today
by sending cards, and letters, gifts and good wishes.

Thank you for all the experience of this past year;
for times of success which will always be happy memories,
for times of failure which reminded me of my own weakness and of my need for you,
for times of joy when the sun was shining,
for times of sadness which drove me to you.

Forgive me
for the hours I wasted,
for the chances I failed to take,
for the opportunities I missed this past year.
Help me in the days ahead to make this the best year yet,
and through it to bring good credit to myself,
happiness and pride to my loved ones,
and joy to you.

(Prayer credited to here)


Monday, November 12, 2012

BookPastor >> "Sanctuary of the Soul" (Richard J. Foster)

TITLE: Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer
AUTHOR: Richard J. Foster
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011, (170 pages).

This is not just a book about prayer. It is a book that guides us toward a JOURNEY into meditation and prayer. Using the teachings of various spiritual pilgrims through the ages, Foster helps us to read them as guideposts in our spiritual pilgrimage. Foster calls this book as "Entering the Experience." He asks readers not to rush into the whole exercise, but to be patient to listen. Learn to recognize the still small voices outside and inside us. In three parts, Foster shows us the way by first laying the foundations of faith, stepping through meditative prayer, and finally, to deal with the difficulties of everyday distractions and problems surrounding our devotional lives.

Part One lays the foundation of learning to be still, to pause, to wait, and to listen for God who is speaking, who is teaching, and who is acting. The two Hebrew words "haga and siach" can be understood as "to mutter, to moan, to whisper, to reflect, to rehearse, to muse, and even to coo like the dove (Isa 59:11)." It calls us to cultivate a delicate familiarity of Jesus, that we are totally dependent on God to transform our heart. The central reality is this: "God is the ultimate form-er and trans-former of the human heart" (29). Three things accompany our seeking.
  1. We are always ASKING for God to change our heart to be more like Him.
  2. We are always LISTENING for the still small voice of God.
  3. We are always OBEYING the Spirit in all circumstances.
Learn to use imagination in prayer. Learn to read spiritually using practices like the Lectio Divina. Learn to affirm the centrality of Scriptures in our lives.

Part Two shows us the steps forward to meditative prayer. It is not a jump or a leap. It is a step. We begin where we are, and aim toward God with a sense of collectedness. Romano Guardini teaches:

"Prayer must begin with this collectedness. As said before, it is not easy. How little of it we normally posses becomes painfully clear as soon as we make the first attempt. When we try to compose ourselves, unrest redoubles in intensity, not unlike the manner in which at night, when we try to sleep, cares or desires assail us with a force they do not possess during the day. When we want to be truly 'present' we feel how powerful are the voices trying to call us away. As soon as we try to be unified and to obtain mastery over ourselves, we experience the full impact and meaning of distraction. . . Everything depends on this state of collectedness. No effort to obtain it is ever wasted. And even if  the whole duration of our prayer should be applied to this end only, the time thus used would have been well employed. For collectedness itself is prayer. . . Finally, if at first we achieve no more than the understanding of how much we lack in inner unity, something will have been gained, for in some way we would have made contact with that center which knows no distraction." (61-2)

It requires us to give a ready surrender, to repent and to confess of our sins. Then we learn to accept the ways of God. In our pristine humble posture, we learn to behold the presence of God. Our inward attentiveness to our soul helps us to discern God's voice and whisper, to enter into the sanctuary of God.

Part Three of the book is particularly interesting. It deals with three major themes. Firstly, it deals with the distracting or the wandering mind. For this, Foster urges us to go easy on ourselves, to be patient and wait for the dust of distractions to settle down. When that happens, we let our thoughts flow like appreciating poetry. Learn to appreciate the economy of words in poetry. Learn to go over and over again the phrases and words we read. More meaning can be gleaned through multiple readings. Learn to see a metaphor forming as we read. Move from words outside to forming a thought or an impression inside. Secondly, be aware of spiritual warfare. Learn from Jesus on how he manages the forty days being tempted in the wilderness. Totally resist the occultic practices the pagans and the demonic forces espouse. Beware of people who claim to be able to exorcise evil spirits. Do not give Satan too much credit. Pray instead for protection. Thirdly, Foster deals with some common questions about prayer and meditation. He gives practical answers like where and when to pray, and how physical demands on new parents can hinder meditative praying, how to meditate on select verses, and to recognize that every place can be sacred to God. What is most pertinent is to recognize that not every question need to be answered. Not every answer needs to be given. We need wisdom and discernment to know which question to ask, and which answer to discern for us.

My Thoughts

This is a simple but well thought out book, laid out in a way that promotes meditative reading and praying. Foster shows his deep knowledge of spiritual classics and devotional literature. Like a gentle spiritual guide, he offers easy steps to follow, and examples to illuminate the salient points. He shares a personal "Entering the Experience" to show us that the teachings are also applied to his own life. Personally, I like this book for the very inviting way it offers for readers to enter into the experience of meditative prayer. It does not list a time schedule. Instead, readers are free to plan their own. It does not fix our minds on any system. Instead, it frees us to move in or out of the practices of prayer and meditation. Above all, it is a lamp that lights up the path for us. When the path is well lit, the next step is ours to take.  Let me conclude with the words of Toyohiko Kagawa.

"Since I learned how to enter the forest of meditation, I have received sweet dewlike drops from that forest. I have found that the door to meditation is open everywhere and any time, at midnight, or at noonday, at dawn or at dusk. Everywhere, on the street, on the trolley, on the train, in the waiting room, or in a prison cell, I am given a resting place of meditation, wherein I can meditate to my heart's content on the Almighty God who abides in my heart. . . Those who draw water from the wellspring of meditation know that God dwells close to their hearts. For those who wish to discover the quietude of old amid the hustle and bustle of today's machine civilization, there is no way save to rediscover this ancient realm of meditation. Since the loss of my eyesight, I have been as delighted as if I had found a new wellspring by having arrived at this sacred precinct."


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day 2012

We remember.

Nov 11th, 2012


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Midweek Meditation: God be in me

Here is a prayer that we can meditate on today.

"God be in my head, and in my understanding;
God be in my eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at my end, and at my departing." (Sarum Primer, 1538)

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24)


Monday, November 05, 2012

BookPastor >> "Radical" (David Platt)

TITLE: Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
AUTHOR: David Platt
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2010, (232 pages).

This book is a clarion call for all to take discipleship not just seriously but radically. Like Francis Chan's Crazy Love, or John Stott's The Radical Disciple, and to some extent, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship, David Platt issues this one big challenge: Radical abandonment for Jesus is worth it.

Taking a fresh look at the call for discipleship in Luke 9, Platt sees the call of Jesus for us to "abandon everything - your needs, your desires, even your family." Isn't that radical enough? For those of us who finds it hard to abandon our dependence on current lifestyles, Platt issues the following rationale:

"The price of our nondiscipleship is high for those without Christ. It is high also for the poor of this world." (15)

The commitment to believe Jesus must match our commitment to obey Him. For us to really discover the truth and beauty of the gospel, we need to practice radical discipleship. In Platt's words, "radical revelation" is "to be radically received." In radical living, "unconditional surrender" is a given. Total abandonment is normal. Spirit dependence is an imperative. Prayer is the lifeblood of spirituality. God's radical initiative in Christ warrants a radical obedience. Before such things can happen, Platt has to unearth some deeply rooted impediments to radical faith. Let me mention seven of them. First of all, he attacks the age-old problem of sin.  It is the separation from God that pulls us away from any life that is "God-centered, Christ-exalting, self-denying gospel." Second, he warns us of the subtle dangers of the American Dream, which makes us dependent on our own selves, to exalt our own "inability," in order to attain the worldly goals that ultimately do not satisfy. Third, he aims at the self-centered religion that many possess that believes and behaves in a way as to merely suggest Christ only died for them, and not others. Four, he attempts to help us unlearn any idea of discipleship as merely a program or an event. It is a relationship, and because it is a relationship, we are to live as Christ lived. In other words, we need to practice discipleship for Christ by disinfecting ourselves from the world. Five, we need to take seriously our mandate to care for the world's people, and to reflect and take action about American wealth in the light of much poverty going on in the world. Learn to ask, "What does it take?" instead of "How much can we spare?" The former is active, while the latter is passive. Six, get away from any kinds of suggestion that mission is merely an "option." No! Mission is a command. It needs to be urgently addressed. It is not optional, or just one choice out of many. Finally, learn to measure the risks and rewards by counting the cost of discipleship, and having done so, to make a conscious commitment to obey God rather than man.

Platt then goes on to make some positive steps we can take if we are serious about discipleship. First, while there are risks inherent in our obedience to Christ, learn to see the needs beyond the dangers. In other words, let the love of people overcome any fears of the dangers and risks. Second, when Christians reach out, dangers are to be expected. There is no such thing as a safe harbour kind of an outreach. After all, no ship ever sails to the high seas without expecting storms. Third, be prepared for persecution, for betrayal, and for being hated. Jesus, Paul, Peter, all remind us that persecution comes with discipleship and obedience.  Four, discipleship is spiritual warfare, and not a luxury liner cruise holiday. Thankfully, Platt also puts in view the reward of discipleship: courage, trusting in God's Sovereignty and ultimate Safety, Love, Security, Love, Satisfaction, and above all, His Presence.

Platt closes with a powerful call for a year of radical living. This for me is worth the price of the book. Five challenges are issued to be done in 1 year.
  1. Pray for the whole world
  2. Read through the whole Word.
  3. Sacrifice our money for a specific cause.
  4. Spend our time in another context, rather than sticking to familiar territories.
  5. Committing ourselves to a multiplying community.

My Thoughts

The call for radical living has great implications for mission and outreach to the rest of the world. Platt addresses the common excuse of "I'm not called" by highlighting the hypocrisy of such people, who want the "privileges" of Christianity but are unwilling to pay the price or follow through on the "obligations of Christianity." Radical living may seem to be a tall order or a hard call for anyone to follow at first. Yet, I urge readers to be patient. As you read the book, be aware of how the Spirit is moving in your heart. Recognize that fear is not a good excuse. Lack of love is the root of all unwillingness. When we come to God with an obedient heart, an open mind, and with willing hands, trust the Lord to turn our radical living into life giving work. If you are bored with your Christian life today, take this book as a challenge. When you take back erroneous ideas about the American Dream, and wake up from our slumber in the comfort zone, we will be living the kind of disciples that Christ has called us to be.

Perhaps, the word radical may not be that "radical" after all. For the cold or the luke-warm, it looks radical. For the convicted and for those burning with fire for the kingdom, these radical acts of devotion and Christian living are but most ordinary. They will delight in the living and be light to the world, freely, passionately, and joyfully.


Thursday, November 01, 2012

Billy Graham's Conversion (Nov 1st, 1934)

Billy Graham's Decision Card at 16 years old.
(Photo Credit:
Many of us have heard of this great name, Billy Graham. He is one of the world's most well-known evangelists, and influential person of this century. Exactly 78 years ago, this day, the young Billy Graham, then 16 years of age, heard the powerful sermon of one Mordecai Ham. Billy made a decision for Christ. In those days, people still write decision cards in detail, unlike our modern days of electronic communications and digital trail that can be easily deleted at the touch of a button.

Not only is there his own contact information, there is also an emergency contact, a place for one to put a signature, and "important verses for memorizing." We do not do these anymore. Instead, we simply abbreviate any references to a website, or a Facebook page.

I still remember the influence of Billy Graham during his earlier years touring the world to do evangelistic rallies. Many people made decisions for Christ, just like how Graham has done. Not many of us knows Mordecai Ham, the one that God has used to touch the life of the young Billy Graham. I think Ham does not mind. He will be most happy to see that someone else has far exceeded what his little effort has done.

Lesson for me. Even when I feel my role is puny or my influence small, all it takes is for the Holy Spirit to touch one life, and who knows, that person may touch even more lives. When the Holy Spirit works, He works mighty wonders even with just one person.

For more information, go here.

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